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124 In late February 1848, Louis-Philippe, who had been brought to power by one popular insurrection, was dethroned by another. The time lapse between the first protests and the king’s abdication—barely forty-eight hours—was even briefer than it had been in 1830. Yet, if we step back from these individual insurrectionary episodes and compare the succession of forms of government in the first half of the nineteenth century with what it had been under the Great Revolution, we might almost say that the pace at which events unfolded was quite deliberate. After all, beginning in 1789, the French had passed from a divine-right to a constitutional monarchy and then to a republic in the span of little more than three years. In contrast, they took roughly ten times as long to recapitulate those same three stages of political development following the 1815 Restoration.1 This is not meant to imply that those who rebelled in 1848 were consciously aware of working through some grand historical pattern until they got it right. They were simply reacting to pressing political and economic concerns which happened to bear a strong similarity to those that had helped precipitate the 1789 and 1830 revolutions. Beginning in 1845, harvest failures, initially in potatoes, then in wheat, had thrown first the rural and then the urban segments of French society into chaos. In Paris and other big cities, a precipitous rise in the price of bread placed intolerable pressure on the family budgets of ordinary workers, even 6 The Barricade Conquers Europe, 1848 France’s influence over the fortunes of the world had never been raised so high or pushed so far. Europe can recognize that fact without regret—can even applaud it effusively—because this influence was not imposed by force of arms, nor through diplomatic guile, nor through the oppression of conquest. It was simply the result of an enthusiastic sense of affinity on the part of other peoples. A ray of hope illuminated everyone’s awareness. All those who were moaning in the darkness turned their eyes toward France. Our flag became the colors of redemption, our popular songs the hymns of liberty for the world. Louis Garnier-Pagès, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 The Barricade Conquers Europe 125 as a sharp decline in the demand for industrial goods caused a disastrous spike in unemployment. Just as in 1830, dislocations in agricultural production resulted in a crisis in the industrial economy that persisted even after grain harvests started to improve in the fall of 1847. The lack of jobs and deteriorating wages were reason enough for the gnawing sense of discontent that gripped the urban masses, but this sharp economic downturn also coincided with a national political mobilization , highlighted by the famous banquet campaign that brought conflicts over electoral reform simultaneously to a head. So much has been written regarding the revolution of 1848 that there seems little point in my undertaking an extensive analysis here. Still, an understanding of the diffusion process that took place in that year of turmoil requires that I attempt a rapid review of the critical role that barricades played not only in the February Days but in the other great Parisian insurrection that occurred just four months later.2 Since 1830, barricades had appeared on several occasions in Paris, so residents were well schooled in this technique of insurrection. A number of such structures had already been erected during the earliest protests against the government of Prime Minister François Guizot (1847–48), but combat took a more serious turn late in the day on February 23, after the king dismissed the ministry, a crowd gathered to celebrate this political victory, and a tense confrontation between these demonstrators and royal troops ended with an unprovoked fusillade that killed more than fifty civilians. It was this tragic outcome—the so-called massacre in the boulevard des Capucines—that triggered a full-fledged insurrection and doomed the Orléanist monarchy. Militants paraded the bodies of victims through the streets, much as they had done in 1830. By the morning of February 24, Paris was united in opposition to the regime, and some 1,500 barricades had been built. When the extent of defections in the ranks of the Paris militia became apparent , Louis-Philippe himself seemed to fall prey to the very myths that had taken hold in the general population in 1830. The reappearance of barricades and desertions in the National...


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