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France: Second Republic (1848-1852)

Last modified: 2002-10-12 by ivan sache
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[France]by António Martins

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History and institutions of the Second Republic

The birth of the Second Republic

On 24 February 1848, following a week of riots in Paris, the Roi-Citoyen ('King-Citizen') Louis-Philippe abdicated. A provisional government was immediatly constituted and the (Second) Republic wasproclaimed in the city Hall as follows:

Le gouvernement provisoire déclare que le gouvernement actuel de la France est le gouvernement républicain et que la nation sera immédiatement appelée à ratifier la résolution du gouvernment du peuplede Paris. ('The provisional government states that the current government of France is the government of the Republic, and that the nation shall immediately be asked to ratify the resolution of the government of the people of Paris.']

On 23-24 April 1848, an Assemblée Constituante was elected, including c. 300 Monarchists, 500 moderate Republicans and 100 Radicals and Socialists, and was therefore dominated by the conservatives.
On 4 May 1848, during the first session of the Assembly, the Republic was proclaimed again au nom du peuple français et à la face du monde ('in the name of the French people and to the whole world'). An 'Executive Commission' of five members (Arago, Garnier-Pagès, Marie, Lamartine and Ledru-Rollin) and a government, with General Cavaignac as Minister of War, replaced the provisional government.

On 24 June 1848, following street riots in Paris, the Assembly proclaimed the state of siege and gave full powers to the republican General Cavaignac. The Executive Commission was dissolved. On 26 June 1848, the riots were stopped and a violent repression took place; Cavaignac was asked by the Assembly to constitute a new government with moderate Republicans.

The Constitution of 1848

On 4 November 1848, the Constitution, on which the Assembly had been working for months, was adopted.

The executive power should be exercised by a President of the Republic, elected for four years by direct universal suffrage, and non re-eligible. The President should appoint and dismiss the Ministers and the high-ranking civil servants.

The legislative power should be exercised by a single Assembly of 750 members, elected for three years by direct universal suffrage according to list system.

The judicial power should be exercised by independent, irremovable judges.

The Presidential election of 1848

Election of the President of the Republic took place on 10 December 1848. Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoléon I's nephew, who had just came back from exile in England and had been considered as unsignificant by his rivals,triumphally won with 5,454,000 votes (c. 75%) against General Cavaignac (1,448,000 votes), Ledru-Rollin (371,000 votes), Raspail (36,000 votes) and Lamartine (17,000 votes).

On 20 December 1848, the newly elected President took the oath to respect the Constitution in the Assembly.

The end of the Second Republic

On 20 July 1851, a revision of the Constitution which would have allowed the President to compete for a second mandate, was rejected.

On 2 December 1851 (anniversary of both the battle of Austerlitz and Napoleon I's coronation), the President proclaimed the dissolution of the Assembly.

On 14 January 1852, a new Constitution was proclaimed, which claimed to preserve the Republican institutions but in fact prepared the establishment of the Second Empire. The President should be elected for ten years, propose the laws, appoint the Ministers and could canvass the people's opinion by holding a plebiscite. A 'Legislative Corps', elected by universal suffrage, should vote the laws. A Senate, constituted by admirals, marshalls, cardinals and other members appointed by the President, should check if the laws were in agreement with the Constitution and could amend them by senatus-consultum. A State Council of 40-50 members appointed by the President should elaborate the laws.

On 7 November 1852, a senatus-consultum reestablished the title of Emperor (Napoléon III) for Louis-Napoléon. On 21-22 November 1852, a plebiscite (7,824,000 / 253,000) approved the senatus-consultum.
Napoleon III was crowned on 2 December 1852, one year after his constitutional coup.

Source: B. Melchior-Bonnet. Restauration et re'volutions, 1815-1851. Histoire de France Illustrée (Larousse, 1988)

Ivan Sache, 9 July 2001

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