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The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.



Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.






After Napoleon I, France returned to the circle of European great powers. The Bourbons tried to restore their prerevolutionary monarchy, but political suppression and social injustice led to several revolts which increasingly gained momentum and strength. The Second Republic, which resulted from the revolution of 1848, was once again transformed into an empire through a coup d'etat by President Louis-Napoleon. With time, however, the social desire for liberal policies grew again, and the conservatives found themselves under increasing pressure. The empire ended with its defeat by Germany in 1870-1871, and the Third Republic finally vanquished "Bonapartism" in the struggle between republican and conservative ideas.


The Reign of the Bourbons and the Revolution of 1830

France became a constitutional monarchy under the Bourbons, whose restoration policies resulted in the July Revolution of 1830.


On June 4,1814—almost exactly a year before Napoleon's final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo and exile on Elba—France received the Charte constitutionelle, a new charter for a constitutional monarchy. It included some democratic elements such as the Code Civil and a two-chamber parliamentary system with a Chamber of Notables chosen by the king and an elected Chamber of Deputies.

The Bourbon 2 Louis XVIII headed a restoration regime that favored the aristocracy and property-owning bourgeoisie.

Old Bumblehead the 18th trying on the Napoleon Boots – or, Preparing for the Spanish Campaign
(Caricature of Louis XVIII de France)

This policy was continued after the intermezzo of Napoleon's Hundred Days  in 1815. In 1818 the Congress of Aachen, a follow-up conference to the Congress of Vienna, resolved to recognize France once again as a European major power. Louis's brother Charles was a leading member of the ultraroyalists, who gained great influence in domestic politics after 1820.

They succeeded in pushing through restrictions on the right to vote, reestablished press censorship, and restored to the Church its properties.

When Louis died in 1824, 3 Charles X ascended the throne and continued his reactionary policies by, for example, compensating the aristocracy that had emigrated during the French Revolution.

2 King Louis XVIII in Coronation robes by Francois Gerard
3 King Charles X in Coronation robes by Francois Gerard

The liberal middle-class opposition under the leadership of 6 Adolphe Thiers won a majority in the lower chamber in 1830, whereupon Charles dissolved it.

6 Adolphe Thiers, president of the Third Republic
from 1871-73, ca. 1860

A caricature of Adolphe Thiers
charging on the Paris Commune,
published in Le Père Duchêne illustré

The next day, the 1, 4 July Revolution began, which resulted in the 5 abdication of Charles X and his emigration to England.

King Louis-Philippe took the throne.

1 Liberty Leading the People, allegory of the July Revolution depicting liberty as Marianne,
icon of the French Republic, painting by
Eugene Delacroix, 1830

see also:

Between Two Revolutions

(From David to Delacroix)


4 July Revolution: Street fighting in the Rue de Rohan
on July 29, 1830

5 King Charles X emigrates to Great Britain following
his abdication in 1830



The restoration and constitutional monarchy

The Revolution of 1830

Scene of the 1830 Revolution, a painting by Jean Louis Bezard

The July Revolution was a monument to the ineptitude of Charles X and his advisers. At the outset, few of the king's critics imagined it possible to overthrow the regime; they hoped merely to get rid of Polignac. As for the king, he naively ignored the possibility of serious trouble. No steps were taken to reinforce the army garrison in Paris; no contingency plans were prepared. Instead, Charles went off to the country to hunt, leaving the capital weakly defended.During the three days known to Frenchmen as Les Trois Glorieuses (July 27–29), protest was rapidly transmuted into insurrection; barricades went up in the streets, manned by workers, students, and petty bourgeois citizens (some of them former members of the National Guard, which Charles,in pique, had disbanded in 1827). On July 29 some army unitsbegan to fraternize with the insurgents. The king, on July 30,consented at last to dismiss Polignac and to annul the July Ordinances; but the gesture came too late. Paris was in the hands of the rebels, and plans for a new regime were crystallizing rapidly.

As the insurrection developed, two rival factions had emerged. The republicans—mainly workers and students—gained control of the streets and took over the Hôtel de Ville, where on July 29 they set up a municipal commission. They looked to the venerable Marquis de Lafayette as their symbolic leader. The constitutional monarchists had their headquarters at the newspaper Le National; their candidate for the throne was Louis-Philippe, Duke d'Orléans. Louis-Philippe was at first reluctant to take the risk, fearing failure and renewed exile; Adolphe Thiers undertook the task of persuading him and succeeded. On July 31 Louis-Philippe made his way through a largely hostilecrowd to the Hôtel de Ville and confronted the republicans. His cause was won by Lafayette, who found a constitutional monarchy safer than the risks of Jacobin rule; Lafayette appeared on the balcony with Louis-Philippe and, wrapped in a tricolour flag, embraced the duke as the crowd cheered.Two days later Charles X abdicated at last, though on condition that the throne pass to his grandson, “the miraclechild.” But the parliament, meeting on August 7, declared the throne vacant and on August 9 proclaimed Louis-Philippe “king of the French by the grace of God and the will of the nation.”

The July monarchy

The renovated regime (often called the July monarchy or the bourgeois monarchy) rested on an altered political theory and a broadened social base. Divine right gave way to popular sovereignty; the social centre of gravity shifted from the landowning aristocracy to the wealthy bourgeoisie. The Charter of 1814 was retained but no longer as a royal gift to the nation; it was revised by the Chamber of Deputies and in its new form imposed on the king. Censorship was abolished; the tricolour was restored as the national flag, and the National Guard was resuscitated. Roman Catholicism was declared to be simply the religion “of the majority of Frenchmen,” the voting age was lowered to 25, and the property qualification reduced to include all who paid a direct tax of 200 (formerly 300) francs.The suffrage was thus doubled, from about 90,000 to almost 200,000.

The new king seemed admirably suited to this new constitutional system. The “Citizen King” was reputed to be a liberal whose tastes and sympathies coincided with those of the upper bourgeoisie. He had spent the Revolutionaryyears in exile but was out of sympathy with the irreconcilable émigrés; and since his return, his house in Paris had been a gathering place for the opposition. Yet, in spite of appearances, Louis-Philippe was not prepared to accept the strictly symbolic role of a monarch who (in Thiers's phrase) “reigns but does not govern.” His authority, he believed, rested on heredity and not merely on the will ofthe Chamber; his proper function was to participate activelyin decision making and not merely to appoint ministers who would govern in his name. As time went by, he was increasingly inclined to choose ministers who shared his view of the royal power. The Orleanist system thus rested on a basic ambiguity about the real locus of authority.

In the Chamber two major factions emerged, known by the rather imprecise labels right-centre and left-centre. The former group, led by the historian François Guizot, shared the king's political doctrines; it saw the revised Charter of 1814 as an adequate instrument of government that needed no further change. The left-centre, whose ablest spokesman was the kingmaker Adolphe Thiers, saw 1830 as the beginning rather than the culmination of a process of change. It favoured restricting the king's active role and broadening the suffrage to include the middle strata of the bourgeoisie. These differences of viewpoint, combined with the king's tendency to intrigue, contributed to chronic political instability during the 1830s.

The decade of the 1830s was marked also by repeated challenges to the regime by its enemies on the right and the left and by a series of attempts to assassinate the king. Both the ultras (who now came to be called legitimists) and the republicans refused to forgive “the usurper” of 1830. In1832 the Duchess de Berry, mother of “the miracle child,” landed clandestinely in southern France in an effort to spark a general uprising; but the scheme collapsed, and most legitimists withdrew into sullen opposition. More serious wasthe agitation of the republicans, fed by rising labour discontent. In the most serious of these outbreaks (Lyon, 1831), 15,000 workers confronted the National Guard in the streets and suffered some 600 casualties before capitulating. Again in 1834 there were serious disturbances in Lyon and Paris. In 1836 it was the turn of the Bonapartist pretender to challenge the regime. Since Napoleon's death in 1821, a legend had rapidly taken shape around his name. No longer detested as a ruthless autocrat who had sacrificed a generation of young Frenchmen on the battlefield, he became transmuted into the Little Corporal who had risen tothe heights by his own talents and had died a victim of British jealousy. The emperor's nephew Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte presented himself as the true heir; he crossed the frontier in 1836 and called on French troops in Strasbourg to join his cause. The venture failed ignominiously, as did also a second attempt on the Channel coast in 1840. Louis-Napoleon was condemned to prison for life but managed in 1846 to escape to England. Interspersed with these attempts at political risings were individual attacks on the king's person; the most elaborate of these plots was the one organized by a Corsican named Giuseppe Fieschi in 1835.

By 1840, however, the enemies of the regime had evidently become discouraged, and a period of remarkable stability followed. François Guizot emerged as the key figure in the ministry; he retained that role from 1840 to 1848. One of the first Protestants to attain high office in France, Guizot possessed many of the moral and intellectual qualities that marked this small but influential minority. Hard-working and intelligent, Guizot was devoted to the service of the king and to the defense of the status quo. He was convinced thatthe wealthy governing class was an ideal natural elite to which any Frenchman might have access through talent and effort. To those who complained at being excluded by the property qualification for voting and seeking office, Guizot's simple reply was “Enrichissez-vous!” (“Get rich!”). His government encouraged the process by granting railway and mining concessions to its bourgeois supporters and by contributing part of the development costs. High protective tariffs continued to shelter French entrepreneursagainst foreign competition. The result was a modest economic boom during the 1840s, beginning the transformation of France from a largely rural into an industrial society.

Guizot shared with Louis-Philippe a strong preference for a safe and sane foreign policy. The king, from the beginning of his reign, had cautiously avoided risks and confrontations and had especially sought friendly relations with Britain. In 1830, when the revolution in Paris inspired the Belgians to break away from Dutch rule, Louis-Philippe avoided the temptation of seeking to annex Belgium or of placing one of his sons on the Belgian throne. Again in 1840, when a crisis flared up in the Middle East and Thiers (then head of the government) took an aggressive stance that threatened to coalesce all of Europe against France, the king had found an excuse to replace his firebrand minister. Guizot continued this cautious line through the 1840s, with the single exception of an episode in Spain. A long contest involving rival suitors for the Spanish queen's hand finally tempted Guizot, in 1846, to try for a cheap diplomatic victory; it infuriated the British and helped to destroy the Anglo-French entente. One problem Guizot inherited from his predecessors was that of Algeria. Since 1830 the French had maintained an uneasy presence there, wavering between total withdrawal and expanded conquest. The decision to remain had been made in the mid-1830s; during the Guizot era, General Thomas-Robert Bugeaud de La Piconnerie's forces broke the back of Algerian resistance, pushed the native population back into the mountains, and began the process of colonizing the rich coastal plain.

Encyclopædia Britannica



The Revolution of 1848 and Louis-Napoleon's Coup d'Etat

Social problems during the reign of Louis-Philippe culminated in the February Revolution of 1848 and a new constitution which introduced a conservative presidential system that was soon replaced by a second empire.


The workers and the middle class, who had until then been under-represented due to the census suffrage (voting only by owners of substantial property), wanted a republic.

But the upper-middle-class deputies who dominated the second chamber decided to continue with the constitutional monarchy under the 8 "Citizen King," Louis-Philippe of Orleans.

8 The "Citizen King" Louis-Philippe swears upon
the charter of Aug 7, 1830

In the following years, France experienced rapid industrialization, which resulted in grave social problems.

Thinkers and social philosophers such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and 9 Charles Fourier, who were critical of society, expressed the demands of the lower classes for improvement in their living conditions.

9 Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier
French philosopher

born , April 7, 1772, Besançon, Fr.
died Oct. 10, 1837, Paris

French social theorist who advocated a reconstruction of society based on communal associations of producers known as phalanges (phalanxes). His system came to be known as Fourierism.

While working as a clerk in Lyon, Fourier wrote his first major work, Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales (1808; The Social Destiny of Man; or, Theory of the Four Movements, 1857). He argued that a natural social order exists corresponding to Newton’s ordering of the physical universe and that both evolved in eight ascending periods. In harmony, the highest stage, man’s emotions would be freely expressed. That stage could be created, he contended, by dividing society into phalanges. The phalange, in Fourier’s conception, was to be a cooperative agricultural community bearing responsibility for the social welfare of the individual, characterized by continual shifting of roles among its members. He felt that phalanges would distribute wealth more equitably than under capitalism and that they could be introduced into any political system, including a monarchy. The individual member of a phalange was to be rewarded on the basis of the total productivity of the phalange. After inheriting his mother’s estate in 1812, Fourier was able to devote himself exclusively to writing and refined his theories in Traité de l’association agricole domestique (1822; “Treatise on Domestic Agricultural Association”) and Le Nouveau Monde industriel (1829–30; “The New Industrial World”). His emphasis on adapting society to human needs and on the wastefulness of the competitive capitalist system foreshadowed the ideas of Karl Marx.

Cooperative settlements based on Fourier’s ideas were started in France and especially the U.S., among which the best known were the short-lived Brook Farm in Massachusetts (1841–46) and the North American Phalanx at Red Bank, N.J.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

The criticism of the conditions first erupted in weavers' rebelions in Lyon in 1831 and 1834.

Crop failures and economic crises, as well as an unbroken desire for real democracy rather than a government which was seen as ever more corrupt than the last, eventually led in 1848 to the 12 February Revolution.

The provisional government proclaimed the Second Republic, and Louis-Philippe and Prime Minister Francois Guizot took their leave.

After the suppression of a workers' 7 revolt in June of the same year 3 by the newly elected moderate government, France enacted a constitution in November 1848.

12 February Revolution of 1848:
The Tricolor remains the national flag
of the second Republic

7 Battle at Soufflot barricades at Rue Soufflot Street on 24 June 1848 by Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet

In December Louis-Napoleon, a nephew of Napoleon I, was elected president by the people.
Louis-Napoleon sought support from the lower middle class, rather than from the parliamentary majority, with the aim of restoring Bonapartism.

When his government's four-year term reached its end in 1851, he dissolved the parliament and had his most important opponents 10 arrested.

In January 1852, a referendum decided on a new constitution that provided for a term of office often vears. A few months later, Louis-Napoleon declared the end of the Second Republic, and on December 2,1852, he 11 ascended the throne as Emperor Napoleon III.

10 Coup d'etat by Louis-Napoleon on
February 2, 1851, and the imprisonment of
representatives of the opposition

11 From left to right: Napoleon III,
his son Louis-Napoleon,
Napoleon I Bonaparte, and his son Napoleon


see also:

Gustave Courbet


In response to the demand of the people to abolish census suffrage, Francois Guizot, the moderate liberal prime minister for Citizen King Louis Philippe, is said to have answered: "There will be no reform. Get rich, and then you can vote."

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), a printer and later journalist, formulated his famous statement "Property is theft" in an 1840 pamphlet entitled What Is Property? As an anarchist, Proudhon rejected every form of state and dreamed of a society in which people lived and worked of their own accord, with no self-interest but rather in the interest of all.

Proudhon was a member of the Constituent Assembly after 1848 and was arrested as an opponent of Louis-Napoleon in 1849. Following his release in 1852, he lived in exile in Belgium, but was able to return to France, where he hoped to be able to further the cause of social reform, after being pardoned in 1862.

Proudhon and his children, 1863, painting by
Gustave Courbet




Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Gustave Courbet
Portrait of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

French philosopher

born January 15, 1809, Besançon, France
died January 19, 1865, Paris

French libertarian socialist and journalist whose doctrines became the basis for later radical and anarchist theory.

Early life and education
Proudhon was born into poverty as the son of a feckless cooper and tavern keeper, and at the age of nine he worked as a cowherd in the Jura Mountains. Proudhon’s country childhood and peasant ancestry influenced his ideas to the end of his life, and his vision of the ideal society almost to the end remained that of a world in which peasant farmers and small craftsmen like his father could live in freedom, peace, and dignified poverty, for luxury repelled him, and he never sought it for himself or others.

Proudhon at an early age showed the signs of intellectual brilliance, and he won a scholarship to the college at Besançon. Despite the humiliation of being a child in sabots (wooden shoes) among the sons of merchants, he developed a taste for learning and retained it even when his family’s financial disasters forced him to become an apprentice printer and later a compositor. While he learned his craft, he taught himself Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and in the printing shop he not only conversed with various local liberals and Socialists but also met and fell under the influence of a fellow citizen of Besançon, the utopian Socialist Charles Fourier.

With other young printers, Proudhon later attempted to establish his own press, but bad management destroyed the venture, and it may well have been compounded by his own growing interest in writing, which led him to develop a French prose difficult to translate but admired by writers as varied as Flaubert, Sainte-Beuve, and Baudelaire. Eventually, in 1838, a scholarship awarded by the Besançon Academy enabled him to study in Paris. Now, with leisure to formulate his ideas, he wrote his first significant book, Qu’est-ce que la propriété? (1840; What Is Property?, 1876). This created a sensation, for Proudhon not only declared, “I am an anarchist”; he also stated, “Property is theft!”

This slogan, which gained much notoriety, was an example of Proudhon’s inclination to attract attention and mask the true nature of his thought by inventing striking phrases. He did not attack property in the generally accepted sense but only the kind of property by which one man exploits the labour of another. Property in another sense—in the right of the farmer to possess the land he works and the craftsman his workshop and tools—he regarded as essential for the preservation of liberty, and his principal criticism of Communism, whether of the utopian or the Marxist variety, was that it destroyed freedom by taking away from the individual control over his means of production.

In the somewhat reactionary atmosphere of the July monarchy in the 1840s, Proudhon narrowly missed prosecution for his statements in What Is Property?; and he was brought into court when, in 1842, he published a more inflammatory sequel, Avertissement aux propriétaires (Warning to Proprietors, 1876). In this first of his trials, Proudhon escaped conviction because the jury conscientiously found that they could not clearly understand his arguments and therefore could not condemn them.

In 1843 he went to Lyon to work as managing clerk in a water transport firm. There he encountered a weavers’ secret society, the Mutualists, who had evolved a protoanarchist doctrine that taught that the factories of the dawning industrial age could be operated by associations of workers and that these workers, by economic action rather than by violent revolution, could transform society. Such views were at variance with the Jacobin revolutionary tradition in France, with its stress on political centralism. Nevertheless, Proudhon accepted their views and later paid tribute to his Lyonnais working-class mentors by adopting the name of Mutualism for his own form of anarchism.

As well as encountering the obscure working-class theoreticians of Lyon, Proudhon also met the feminist Socialist Flora Tristan and, on his visits to Paris, made the acquaintance of Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, and the Russian Socialist and writer Aleksandr Herzen. In 1846 he took issue with Marx over the organization of the Socialist movement, objecting to Marx’s authoritarian and centralist ideas. Shortly afterward, when Proudhon published his Système des contradictions économiques, ou Philosophie de la misère (1846; System of Economic Contradictions: or, The Philosophy of Poverty, 1888), Marx attacked him bitterly in a book-length polemic La misère de la philosophie (1847; The Poverty of Philosophy, 1910). It was the beginning of a historic rift between libertarian and authoritarian Socialists and between anarchists and Marxists which, after Proudhon’s death, was to rend Socialism’s First International apart in the feud between Marx and Proudhon’s disciple Bakunin and which has lasted to this day.

Early in 1848 Proudhon abandoned his post in Lyon and went to Paris, where in February he started the paper Le Représentant du peuple. During the revolutionary year of 1848 and the first months of 1849 he edited a total of four papers; the earliest were more or less regular anarchist periodicals and all of them were destroyed in turn by government censorship. Proudhon himself took a minor part in the Revolution of 1848, which he regarded as devoid of any sound theoretical basis. Though he was elected to the Constituent Assembly of the Second Republic in June 1848, he confined himself mainly to criticizing the authoritarian tendencies that were emerging in the revolution and that led up to the dictatorship of Napoleon III. Proudhon also attempted unsuccessfully to establish a People’s Bank based on mutual credit and labour checks, which paid the worker according to the time expended on his product. He was eventually imprisoned in 1849 for criticizing Louis-Napoleon, who had become president of the republic prior to declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III, and Proudhon was not released until 1852.

His conditions of imprisonment were—by 20th-century standards—light. His friends could visit him, and he was allowed to go out occasionally in Paris. He married and begat his first child while he was imprisoned. From his cell he also edited the last issues of his last paper (with the financial assistance of Herzen) and wrote two of his most important books, the never translated Confessions d’un révolutionnaire (1849) and Idée générale de la révolution au XIXe siècle (1851; The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, 1923). The latter—in its portrait of a federal world society with frontiers abolished, national states eliminated, and authority decentralized among communes or locality associations, and with free contracts replacing laws—presents perhaps more completely than any other of Proudhon’s works the vision of his ideal society.

After Proudhon’s release from prison in 1852 he was constantly harassed by the imperial police; he found it impossible to publish his writings and supported himself by preparing anonymous guides for investors and other similar hack works. When, in 1858, he persuaded a publisher to bring out his three-volume masterpiece De la justice dans la Révolution et dans l’église, in which he opposed a humanist theory of justice to the church’s transcendental assumptions, his book was seized. Having fled to Belgium, he was sentenced in absentia to further imprisonment. He remained in exile until 1862, developing his criticisms of nationalism and his ideas of world federation (embodied in Du Principe fédératif, 1863).

On his return to Paris, Proudhon began to gain influence among the workers; Paris craftsmen who had adopted his Mutualist ideas were among the founders of the First International just before his death in 1865. His last work, completed on his death bed, De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières (1865), developed the theory that the liberation of the workers must be their own task, through economic action.

Proudhon was not the first to enunciate the doctrine that is now called anarchism; before he claimed it, it had already been sketched out by, among others, the English philosopher William Godwin in prose and his follower Percy Bysshe Shelley in verse.

There is no evidence, however, that Proudhon ever studied the works of either Godwin or Shelley, and his characteristic doctrines of anarchism (society without government), Mutualism (workers’ association for the purpose of credit banking), and federalism (the denial of centralized political organization) seem to have resulted from an original reinterpretation of French revolutionary thought modified by personal experience.

Proudhon was a solitary thinker who refused to admit that he had created a system and abhorred the idea of founding a party. There was thus something ironical about the breadth of influence that his ideas later developed. They were important in the First International and later became the basis of anarchist theory as developed by Bakunin (who once remarked that “Proudhon was the master of us all”) and the anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin. His concepts were influential among such varied groups as the Russian populists, the radical Italian nationalists of the 1860s, the Spanish federalists of the 1870s, and the syndicalist movement that developed in France and later became powerful in Italy and Spain. Until the beginning of the 1920s, Proudhon remained the most important single influence on French working-class radicalism, while in a more diffuse manner his ideas of decentralization and his criticisms of government had revived in the later 20th century, even though at times their origin was not recognized.

George Woodcock

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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