- Victor Hugo felt that the Revolution of 1848, which
culminated in June, "was,
let us hasten to say, a thingapart, and almost impossible to
class in the philosophy of history. . . . But at the bottom,
what was June, 1848? A revolt of the people against itself."
-Les Miserables, Jean Valjean,
order to understand why Hugo felt that the June insurrection
was a revolt against the people by the people, we must look at
the Revolution as a whole, which spanned five months, and many
- The May 15, 1848 invasion of
the National Assembly. (Amann,
- The Background of the Revolution of
- Economic troublesof 1847-1848 led to the
February Revolution. However, the economic crisis can be traced
back a few years
- In 1845, there was a devastating potato
- 1846 a disastrous wheat harvest caused
the price of grain to double. This led to tax and food riots,
and an increase in begging.
- The argricultural crisis "had
an adverse effect on French industrial production," and
"between March and June, the level of unemployment among
Parisian workers attained 54 percent overall, surpassed 70 percent
fro entire sectors . . ., and reached as high as 90 percent in
- Political troubles aslo played a part
in effecting the revolution.
The government also addressed pressing
- They "responded
to the insistent demands of the workers who had made the revolution
by gauranteeing the right to work
- and moving to establish
workshops' in which
the unemployed could find an assured source of livelihood"
the spirit of the revolution and of the Republic was initially
strong, it began to diminish rapidly as the political influence
of the radicals diminished, and peaceful protest gave way to
increased reliance on armed force.
March 17, the Parisian democratic clubs
organized a massive demonstration against the bourgeois forces
trying to reverse the revolutionary momentum, which is illustrated
in the picture to the left.
- Over 100,000 workers marched in protest,
and demanded the removal of all troops from the city and the
postponement of elections.
The workers' and "the left's ability to mobilize the masses
and extract concessions from a government in which moderites
predominated gave telling evidence of the power it then wielded" (Traugott 20).
- On Easter Sunday, April 23, the
elections for the Constituent Assembly were held which the radical
workers had been preparing.
- There was an 80 percent voter turnout
- Out of the 900 members of the Constituent
Assembly landlords, clergymen, and aristocrats held the largest
percentage of seats.
- Only 34 representatives were from the
- The largest percentage were Republicans.
This caricature represents
a cynical view of the National elections held in April. The caption
stated, "Many are called, but few are chosen." The
man in the background is climbing up the pole to reach the money
bags. The moneybags refer to the elected representative's 25
franc daily allowance. The men are pushing and pulling to win
the race to the top of the pole. As it is depicted in this cartoon,
the electees are in it for the money, not the politics.
Throughout April and May the working class
became increasingly frustrated by the Republic that was "set in place by universal
suffrage, [but] seemed intent on dismantling even those modest
reforms introduced since February,"
which had benefited the working class (Traugott,
On May 15, the frustrated workers
invaded the Assembly, and brought the social conflict into the
forefront. The invasion ended practically all possibilities of
a resolution by peaceful means.
- The invasion was not well organized by
the workers and, though they had set the stage for insurrection,
they did so prematurely. They failed to meet their immediate
objectives and alienated a large portion of the working class.
The Assembly continued to dismantle the
programs set out to help the workers.
- The Assembly planned to phase out the
National Workshops, which employed 100,000 workers
the workers, the changes made by the Assembly "symbolized the government's lack of commitment
to a program of social and economic reforms" (Traugott, 27).
With the failure of the government to support their needs, the
working class prepared for the final insurrection of the Revolution
Revolt of the People Against Itself"
- "The two
most memorable barricades . . . . do not belong to the period
in which the action of [Les Miserables] is placed. These two
barricades, symbols both, under two different aspects, of a terrible
situation, rose from the earth at the time of the fatal insurrection
of June, 1848, the grandest street war which history has seen."
- - Les Miserables, Jean
Valjean, Book I
- The workers protesting (Amann, 106)
Assembly's decision on June 17 to immediately dissolve
the National Workshops outraged the workers.
- On June 22, 1,500 workers assembled
on the Place de la Bastille to protest shouting "Bread or
Lead" and "We won't Go!"
- On June 23, a crowed of 100,000
filled the Hotel de Ville, and the slogan had changed to "Liberty
- By afternoon, the streets were crowded
with 1,000 barricades, the insurgents controlled half the surface
area of the city.
- However, the insurrection only mobilized
a small percentage of the Parisian working-class. Out of the
300,000 workers in Paris, only around 50,000 participated in
- By Sunday, June 25, the resistance
was overcome, for the insurgents were no match for their opponents,
the National Gaurd and the Mobile Gaurd.
The Picture to the right depicts the capture of the insurgents.