The July Revolution of 1830

Posted: Friday, August 14, 2015

The July Revolution of 1830 was stunningly swift, a matter of days instead of years. On Monday, 26 July, King Charles X issued the four ordonnances, a bold attempt to subvert the constitution and increase royal power. By late Thursday morning, he had lost control of Paris; by Saturday, the duc d'Orléans had accepted an invitation from the Chamber of Deputies to become Lieutenant General of the kingdom. On Monday, 2 August-just a week after the ordonnances had appeared-Charles X abdicated on behalf of his grandson. On 7 August, the Chamber approved a hasty revision of the constitution. And on Monday, 9 August, a mere two weeks after it all began, the duc d'Orléans was installed as Louis-Philippe I, King of the French.

Republicans were not happy, but there were too few of them to affect the outcome. "We ceded only because we were not in force," said republican journalist Godefroy Cavaignac.  Nevertheless, the leading moderate republicans, all of them members of the educated middle classes-physicians, lawyers, hommes de lettres-were willing to tolerate a throne genuinely "surrounded by republican institutions," according to the popular formula. The July Monarchy soon disappointed expectations, first with a contrived political trial, the Proces des Dix-Neuf, and then with a series of judicial attacks against the free press, the right of association, and the Société des Amis du Peuple. By 5-6 June 1832, violent montagnardism had emerged, and active Parisian republicanism had become a largely working-class movement.

There were significant economic problems in the background of the 1830 revolution, acute in the period from 1827 to 1832; the years were marked by harvest failures, food shortages, and increases in the cost of living. These agricultural difficulties made worse the recession in the industrial economy, leading to an upsurge in the number of bankruptcies, a sharp rise in unemployment, and the lowering of wages in several important industries. During the unusually cold winter of 1828-1829, up to a quarter of Paris residents had depended on bread cards, which entitled them to cheap loaves. Yet the revolution was a political adjustment rather than an economic upheaval; the economic forces that drove it were not in the streets but in a struggle of the elites, and the regime that emerged-despite the continuing strength of the nobility-was called, with reason, the bourgeois monarchy.

The revolution began within the government itself. On 16 March 1830, by a vote of 221 to 181, the members of the liberal opposition in the Chamber of Deputies deliberately challenged the king by requesting that he change his council, which was headed by the reactionary Prince Jules de Polignac. Rather than concede, the king dissolved the chamber. New elections in June led to results even more lopsided; the opposition was now at least 270 votes strong, with only about 145 firmly for the Polignac ministry. In early July, after a very brief campaign, French forces seized Algiers. The initial conquest was easy; pacification would become the chief foreign military burden of the Orléans regime. But for the moment, it seemed that colonial success might embolden Charles X to use article 14 of the Charter, which allowed the monarch to issue ordonnances for "the security of the state," and thus effectively to assume dictatorial powers.

These premonitions were fulfilled on Monday, 26 July 1830, with the publication of the four ordonnances. The new regulation on the press prohibited newspapers from publishing without government authorization, renewable every three months and revocable at will. The already narrow voting rights (based on the payment of taxes) were further restricted to landowners, by a disqualification of the sorts of taxes paid by wealthy businessmen. Of the remaining voters, only the top one-quarter would elect deputies directly. The other two decrees dissolved the new Chamber and called for elections in September. If the ordonnances had stood, the monarchy would have been able effectively to muzzle a critical press and manipulate elections. To the liberal opposition, such a regime would have meant dominance by the old nobility and clergy.

July was the first of what would become an astonishing series of revolutions and unsuccessful rebellions. The National Guard of Paris, dissolved by Charles X after many of them had shouted against his ministry during an 1827 review, spontaneously began to appear on the streets to mediate between combatants and troops. Among the insurgents, ordinary working people predominated, with little to guide them except the energetic journalists' protest, drafted by Adolphe Thiers of Le National and read out on the streets by angry printshop workers (their livelihoods threatened) on Tuesday, 27 July. Those who fought, according to David Pinkney, were mostly respectable artisans and skilled workers. The construction and wood-working trades, including masons, carpenters, joiners, cabinetmakers, and locksmiths, were overrepresented, according to their total numbers in Paris. There were relatively few students. Pinkney suggested that the principle leadership was provided by veterans of the empire, an impression shared by physician F. Poumies de la Siboutie, who set out with his medical kit on the second day of the fighting and noted "uniforms of all branches [of the service], of all epochs, of the Republic, the Empire, worn by old soldiers or retired officers." The dead numbered 496 civilians and 150 soldiers.

But the insurgents were not republicans. Edgar Leon Newman has shown that the working classes of 1830 spurned the republican students and journalists who tried so desperately to enlist them. Instead, they had learned to trust the liberal opposition leaders of the Restoration, bound to them by a shared anticlericalism that was nourished with cheap reissues of Enlightenment classics. They followed these same leaders in 1830, to the amazement even of liberals; Le National editor Armand Carrel was frankly surprised that working people concerned themselves with the constitutional questions that agitated the political classes: "Everywhere in the streets men without coats, shirtsleeves rolled up, armed with muskets, and running to the defense of the barricades, said: `We want our Deputies; our Deputies know what we need, and the king doesn't.” The duc d'Orléans' oldest son later remembered the appeal of a wounded combatant: "`Prince,' he said to me, his eyes haggard and his hair bristling, `time presses. It is necessary to save the fatherland! Your father at our head, your father king, and we will finish with the emigrés and the Jesuits!'"


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