Alexis de Tocqueville

The Revolution of 1848

The Predicted Fall of the July Monarchy

27 January 1848: Speech to the Chamber

"Gentlemen, it is my profound conviction that we are asleep on a volcano, of this I am certain. … Yes, the danger is great! Let us take steps to prevent it while there is still time."

February 24, 1848

"This time it's not a riot. It's a revolution.""

"I entered the Chamber. … The session had not yet begun. The deputies wandered the corridors as if the were lost, hungry for rumors and without news."

""But the moment Lamartine spoke …""

"The door gave way under pressure and shattered. The podium was suddenly invaded by an armed mob, which noisily occupied it, and before long they were everywhere. … At that point the only conservative deputies remaining scattered, and the mob, which until then had remained standing, now sprawled over the center benches, shouting, "Let's take the places of the traitors!"

"So the July Monarchy fell, collapsing without a fight rather than succumbing to the blows of its conquerors, who were as amazed by their victory as the vanquished were by their defeat."

"The moment the Republic was proclaimed, I accepted it without hesitation and adopted it without a second thought. My wish was truly not only that it should live, but that I should be able to support it with all my might."

February 25, 848

"Two things struck me above all that day. The first was the character, I won't say primarily but solely and exclusively popular of the revolution that had just taken place. The omnipotence that it gave to the people properly so called, that is, to the classes who work with their hands, over all the others. The second was the small degree of hateful passion and indeed of vehement passion of any kind that the lower classes of the people exhibited as they became sole masters of the government."

"It was the socialist theories, what I earlier called the philosophy of the February revolution, that later kindled true passions, embittered jealousies, and in the end sparked war between the classes."

Universal Suffrage and the Chamber of Deputies

24 April, 1848: First election of representatives of the people by universal suffrage

"I decided … to throw myself into the arena, come what may, and dedicated myself to defending not any particular government but the laws that constitute society itself along with my fortune, my peace, and my person. The first goal was to get elected, and I set out immediately for my home in Normandy in order to present myself to the voters."
"We all had to go to the town of Saint-Pierre, one league from our village, to vote. … All the votes were cast at the same time, and I have reason to believe that all were cast for the same candidate."
"Only in Paris did I learn that I had received 110,704 of the roughly 120,000 votes cast."

May 4, 1848: First meeting of the Constituent Assembly

"The National Assembly met on May 4. Right up to the last moment there were doubts that it would be able to do so."

"I will say that, all things considered, this Assembly was worthier than any of the others I have known. In it there were more sincere, disinterested, honest, and above all courageous men than in the Chambers of Deputies I have experienced."

France Divided in Two

May 15, 1848

"The look of Paris. … In the city I found a hundred thousand workers, armed, organized, and without work, dying of hunger, but their minds filled with useless theories and fantastic hopes. I saw society divided in two: those who owned nothing were united in one common desire, while those who owned something were united in common anguish. Between these two great classes, no bond or sympathy remained; everywhere the idea of an inevitable impending struggle had taken hold."

"I arrived … at the Assembly on May 15 without an inkling of what was about to take place. … In an instant the crowd filled the great void at the center of the Assembly, squeezing into the space, which soon became crowded, so that people began to filter up the narrow aisles between our benches toward the corridors. … But honor riveted us to our benches."

"The tumult returned, increased, and as it were fed on itself, for the people were no longer sufficiently in control of themselves even to understand that if they held themselves in check a moment longer, the object of their passion would be achieved."

Festivals of Fraternity and Concord

"The revolutionaries of 1848, being unable or unwilling to imitate the bloody follies of their predecessors, often consoled themselves by imitating their foolishness. That is how they came to stage vast allegorical spectacles for the people. Despite the terrible condition of the state's finances, the provisional government decided to allocate a million or two to celebrate the Festival of Concord on the Champ de Mars."

"I attended this lengthy spectacle with a heavy heart. Never had so many weapons been placed in the hands of the people at one time. … I saw … that all the bayonets glittering in the sun would soon be brandished against one another. … The distant peril was as apparent as the near one."

The June Days

June, 1848

"I am writing to you, my dear friend, to the sound of cannon and rifle fire after the most terrible day and cruelest night one can imagine. This is not a riot; it is the most dreadful of all civil wars, the war of class against class, of those who have nothing against those who have. I hope that we shall prove stronger; the national guard from surrounding areas are arriving in force, along with line regiments."

"Yet only God knows what the outcome of this great battle will be. … What is at stake here is not a political form but property, family, civilization-everything, that is, that attaches us to life."

"Paris that day resembled one of those ancient cities whose citizens heroically defended its walls because they knew that if the city fell, they themselves would be dragged off into slavery."

""People walked through the debris left by the receding insurrection: broken windows, smashed doors, houses pocked by bullets or pierced by cannonballs, felled trees, and piles of paving stones behind which lay straw mixed with blood and filth: these were the sad vestiges."

"At that moment I regarded the June battle as a necessary crisis, after which the temperament of the nation would somehow be changed. The love of independence would be followed by fear of and perhaps disgust with free institutions. After such an abuse of liberty, a change of sentiment of that sort was inevitable."