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The French Revolution of 1848: History, Causes & Events

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  • 0:07 Background to Revolution
  • 1:11 King Exiled
  • 2:22 June Days
  • 3:19 Napoleon Bonaparte III
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high History and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in Education.

This lesson will explore the French Revolution of 1848 that led to the eventual rise of Napoleon Bonaparte III. It will highlight the revolution of the bourgeoisie while also explaining the conflict of the middle classes known as June Days.

Background to Revolution

In European history, the year 1848 has become synonymous with bloodshed and revolution. It was a year when food shortage, unemployment, and economic depression moved the middle class to rebel against the ruling class. Nowhere was this more plainly seen than the country of France and its 1848 Revolution.

To get the French Revolutionary ball rolling, let's take a look at Louis Philippe, France's king at the onset of this bloody year. To put it mildly, Louis Philippe was not a fan favorite of the French middle class, known collectively as the bourgeois. To them, Philippe was the epitome of a wealthy, out-of-touch king who cared only for the elite. The fact that much of the middle and common class lacked the right to vote, only increased, if not proved, their opinion of the monarch. As the middle class strove for more rights, the aristocracy fought to hold their positions of power. However, by 1848, the bourgeois of France had endured. They were hungry for change.

King Exiled

Unfortunately for the people of France, their hunger was not merely metaphorical. The years leading up to 1848 had seen horrible harvests, causing a food shortage and a devastating spike in food prices. As people began to physically go hungry, and as jobs evaporated, riots filled the streets of French cities. The middle class began calling for reform, demanding fair wage and work practices, as well as the end to inflationary pricing. However, their cries fell on deaf ears and with each hungry mouth, and each riot, political unrest grew. Revolution was in the air.

As usually happens in times of political unrest, France's aristocracy worked to suppress rebellion by further limiting the rights of the disenfranchised. An excellent example of this occurred when the monarchy of Louis Philippe refused to allow a group of political dissenters to hold a banquet celebrating their revolutionary spirit. This could, perhaps, be labeled as one of the straws that broke the camel's back. In violence, the middle class took to arms, and King Louis Philippe was ousted from power. With this, the way was paved for the Second Republic of France.

June Days

Unfortunately for the country, their problems were not solved by the ousting of their king. Soon new political factions began to form from the very bourgeois that had incited the rebellion. On one side were those who felt voting rights were the primary concern of the new government. On the other were those who believed economic reform was of utmost importance. This latter group, which favored economic reform, was led by Louis Blanc. Under his leadership, national workshops were established, which provided much needed job opportunities.

However, when those more committed to voting were elected to power, they closed the national workshops created by Blanc and his followers. This threw France into even more violence, as the angry workers took to the streets in violence, protesting the closing of their places of employment. Occurring in June, this bloodshed claimed thousands of French lives and has come to be known as June Days.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Facing such chaos, the Second Republic of France chose to elect a president as a strong central leader. Although this move helped stem the bloody year of 1848, it saw France jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. Ironically, the man they elected was the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte III, who within a few years would strip the French of their political rights and declare himself emperor.

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