February Revolution (in French history)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

February Revolution (in French history)

February Revolution, 1848, French revolution that overthrew the monarchy of Louis Philippe and established the Second Republic. General dissatisfaction resulted partly from the king's increasingly reactionary policy, carried out after 1840 by François Guizot, and partly from the poor conditions of the working class, which were intensified by the economic crisis of 1846–47. A banquet campaign, organized to promote political opposition to the regime, led directly to the revolution when a huge banquet scheduled for Feb. 22, 1848, in Paris was forbidden by the government. On Feb. 22 street fighting began in Paris; on Feb. 23, in an incident that set off the revolution, government troops fired on the demonstrators. Louis Philippe abdicated the following day. The discrepancy of aims between bourgeois revolutionaries such as Alphonse de Lamartine and A. T. Marie and the radicals, led by Louis Blanc, contributed to the eventual failure of the revolution. The chamber of deputies appointed a provisional government, including Lamartine, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, and L. A. Garnier-Pagès, and, under popular pressure, proclaimed a republic. To appease the workers, the government guaranteed the right to work and established the national workshops. The workshops took their name from Louis Blanc's social workshops. The plan was mishandled, however, and amounted to little more than a dole. Radical demonstrations erupted (March), but these were turned into peaceful channels by Blanc himself. Many conservatives feared the "specter of communism." Elections in April gave a majority to the moderates, whose strength was greater in the provinces than in Paris. The provisional government was replaced by an executive commission (again including Lamartine and Ledru-Rollin). In the middle of May the workers attempted to overthrow the newly elected national assembly, but the revolt was quickly put down. The assembly determined to dissolve the national workshops. The resulting workers' rebellion, known as the June Days, was crushed. After the completion of a republican constitution Prince Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III) was elected president. The February revolution set off revolutions in most European nations, but, as in France, the movement failed virtually everywhere (see revolutions of 1848).

See A. de Tocqueville, Recollections (new tr. 1970); studies by D. C. McKay (1933, repr. 1965) and G. Duveau (1965, tr. 1968).

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