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Politics & Views

The Revolution of 1848

« And so the French Revolution began anew. »

Paradoxically, Alexis de Tocqueville's political career reached one of its high points during 1848, although he had never been swayed by republican arguments under the July Monarchy, and had refused to take part in the "Campagne des Banquets" that had resulted in the downfall of Louis-Philippe. He was even the first to announce that a revolutionary movement was brewing in France, fueled by the regime's corruption and the misery of the poorest social classes, and proclaimed it in a famous speech to the Chamber of Deputies on January 27, 1848. He gave a well-reasoned and prophetic analysis of the future popular uprising, which broke out on February 24th of the same year. From this date on, Tocqueville rapidly became a privileged witness and a front-row participant in the events that rapidly unfolded in the "Red Spring" of 1848. He did so without abandoning his convictions or espousing the cause of a mass movement whose socialist leanings he feared and hated. In the days following the events of February, he rallied to the side of the Republic, declaring that he would support it "with all my strength" against the repeated assaults of hardened revolutionaries who dreamed of a socialist regime.

« This is no 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. »
(Letter to Paul Clamorgan, June 24, 1848)

To do this, he began by declaring - to his constituents, who were voting for the first time under universal (though male only) suffrage - his candidacy for the seat of deputy from La Manche in the new Constituent Assembly. A famous page from his Souvenirs records the moment of pure political grace that this particular election day represented for him, when he left the village of Tocqueville and traveled to the town of Saint-Pierre-Église, where the vote took place, and where he was surrounded by the benevolence and confidence of his new electors.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  
His election victory was so decisive that it resembled a plebiscite.
In addition, in the Constituent Assembly, Tocqueville found himself surrounded by a majority of politicians who were also ready to defend the Republic against the vague socialist leanings of the people of Paris, ready to make a stand against the civil war that still threatened. The danger was indeed great: Tocqueville stoically took part in the session on May 15, 1848, during which the far left socialist leaders (among them Louis Blanc, Barbès and Blanqui) failed to weaken the newly-forme Second Republic, due to their troops' lack of discipline. But it was above all in the bloody days of June 1848 in which he courageously defended the new regime: on June 25, wearing a red, white and blue scarf, he traveled through the barricaded streets of Paris, urging on the National Guard in their cruel combat against the rebels.
Flush with this victory over the working classes of Paris, the Republic attempted to organize itself, and under this regime Tocqueville would live his finest political hour on a national level. Nevertheless, he seemed to have a premonition, in the aftermath of the 1848 uprising, that the nation would lose, at least for a time, its taste for free institutions and liberty.

Political Figures

Portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville

Portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville
© AD Manche/A. Poirier


Minutes of the January 27, 1848 session of the Chamber of Deputies

Minutes of the January 27, 1848 session of the Chamber of Deputies

The barricade of the Rue Saint-Antoine

The barricade of the Rue Saint-Antoine, anonymous,
© AD Manche/ A. Poirier

Types of rebels

Types of rebels
© AD Manche/ A. Poirier

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