In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

316 The rail system in France had begun a tremendous expansion in the 1840s, but the midcentury economic crisis brought much of that activity to a halt. At the time of the February revolution in France, only a few of the major domestic lines had been completed and, with the exception of Belgium, international rail connections were lacking. The semaphore telegraph invented by Claude Chappe had actually been in use in France since the 1790s, but it had not caught on elsewhere on the Continent , and in 1848, it continued to operate only within the borders of France. Because it relied on line-of-sight transmission, requiring relay stations spaced at roughly five-to ten-mile intervals, this technology was expensive to set up and maintain and therefore limited to a few major routes. The network had, however, already come into play during the 1830 revolution, in two entirely different contexts. According to Alexande Dumas père, the government used it to make a futile attempt to summon additional troops to the capital, while telegraphic reports of the Paris uprising spurred residents of Lyon to erect barricades there.1 By February 1848, an expanded telegraphic network enabled large provincial cities (and smaller centers that happened to be located directly along the semaphore routes) to stay abreast of events in Paris, although the government’s strict control over access to the system meant that all communications reflected the official viewpoint. By the time of the June Days, insurgent forces, recognizing the potential advantage to be gained by capturing a transmission station, used the telegraph to send out news of the Paris uprising. They succeeded, in fact, in alerting the people of Arbois (in the Jura mountains), though this effort to elicit APPENDIX C The Barricade and Technological Innovations in Transport and Communications The Barricade and Technological Innovations 317 provincial support for the rebellion in the capital proved to be of little practical consequence. Louis Garnier-Pagès may have been technically correct when he hinted that the telegraph had played a role in the spread of revolution to neighboring countries , even though no international telegraphic network yet existed. Members and representatives of the provisional government who were at odds with its noninterventionist foreign policy hatched a plan to provide surreptitious support for the invasion of Belgium. As related in chapter 6, a critical last-minute exchange between Ledru-Rollin, minister of the interior in Paris, and his collaborator Charles Delescluze, the radical commissaire of the département of the Nord, was conveyed by semaphore. Delescluze had urgently inquired whether he should deliver arms to members of the Belgian Legion before they crossed the border with the intention of overthrowing King Leopold. Unfortunately, LedruRollin ’s telegraphically ambiguous one-word response—“Non!”—was misinterpreted somewhere along the line of transmission as a refusal to reply on the part of the minister rather than an answer to Delescluze’s question. As a result, the message was never delivered, and, left to decide on his own, Delescluze consigned a wagonload of rifles to this ill-fated incursion into Belgian territory, with the disastrous consequences recounted earlier.2 In many ways, the relationship between the emerging infrastructure of communications and transport and the outbreak of revolution in 1848 was the opposite of what has been asserted by Garnier-Pagès and others: the events of that year demonstrated the enormous political benefits that governments could realize by investing in the new technologies. Take as a case in point the vote of the Assembly in the mid-1840s that committed France to a plan to install a new electric telegraph line between Paris and Lille. It was not yet in service at the time of the revolution of February 1848 and played no part in those events. However, following the 1848 experience, the government rapidly implemented a system based in part on Samuel Morse’s innovations—which made the new system faster, cheaper, and more secure; and, unlike the semaphore telegraph, it was also less subject to meteorological disturbances and capable of operating both day and night. Crosschannel service began in 1850, and, by 1851, the government’s use of the system to send dispatches to provincial prefects played a critical role in restricting the spread of uprisings against Louis-Napoléon’s coup d’état.3 Development of trans-European rail connections followed a somewhat similar pattern. At the time of the Dresden uprising in May 1849, the Saxon and Prussian governments, which had already inaugurated...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.