Alexis de Tocqueville

Political figures

Louis-Philippe I (1773-1850)

Louis-Philippe I, King of the French Franz-Xaver Winterhalter; Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon © RMN / All rights reserved

Louis-Philippe I (1773-1850)
Louis-Philippe d'Orléans was a descendant of the younger branch of the Bourbons. His father was won over by liberal ideas and, under the name of Philippe-Égalité, voted for the death of his cousin, Louis XVI. After the Three Glorious Days of 1830, Louis-Philippe seized the throne and was proclaimed King of the French. Both his family origins and his role in the events of 1830 earned him the undying hatred of the legitimist monarchists and the mistrust of the major European courts. He was the incarnation of the triumph of the bourgeoisie, but was also the target of liberals, and had to contend with challenges from every quarter. His reign was punctuated by insurrections and assassinations, and the first part of it was also characterized by significant ministerial instability, until Guizot stepped in and left his mark (1840-48). With the financial crisis of 1846-47, opposition to the regime became more virulent, and the Revolution of February 1848 finally got the best of this unloved king. After abdicating, he sought refuge in England where he died, forgotten by his former subjects.

Odilon Barrot (Villefort, July 19, 1791 - Bougival, August 6, 1873)

Odilon Barrot, C. Bornemann; Compiègne, château de Compiuègne © RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Odilon Barrot (Villefort, 19 juillet 1791- Bougival, 6 août 1873)
A brilliant lawyer, Odilon Barron entered politics as president of the society "Aide toi, le ciel t'aidera" [God Helps Those Who Help Themselves], founded by Guizot in August 1827. Taken by surprise by the events of July 1830, and defender of the idea of "a monarchy surrounded by republican institutions", under the July Monarchy he became the leader of the "dynastic" (i.e. moderate) left. A reformer and enemy of Guizot, he was overtaken by the democratic forces of the revolution of 1848, but nevertheless won election to the Constituent Assembly on April 23, 1848. He was head of the first and second ministries under Louis Napoleon Bonaparte between December 1848 and October 30, 1849. After he was ousted, he took his place among the monarchists in the Legislative Assembly before resisting, like Tocqueville, the coup d'état of December 2, 1851. He was arrested and imprisoned in Vincennes along with Tocqueville and, like him, refused all favorable treatment and offers to be freed before his colleagues. Liberated a few days later, he withdrew from political life until Adolphe Thiers appointed him president of the Council of State, following the proclamation of the Republic in 1871. He died two years later, at Bougival, on August 6, 1873.

Félicité Robert de Lamennais (Saint-Malo, July 19, 1782 - Paris, February 27, 1854)

Félicité Robert de La Mennais, Jean-Baptiste Guérin, painting, 1827; Montpellier, musée Fabre © RMN

Félicité Robert de Lamennais (Saint-Malo, 19 juillet 1782-Paris, 27 février 1854)
After a late religious calling, Lamennais was ordained a priest at Vannes in 1816. He was slowly won over by progressive ideas, and later became one of the noteworthy figures of French liberal Catholicism in the early 19th century. Three significant dates mark his philosophical and religious turnaround: in 1817, he published his Essay sur l'indifférence en matière religieuse, a veritable manifesto for ultramontanism and Catholic intransigence which won him a great deal of notoriety. In 1830, he founded the journal L'Avenir [The Future], which advocated the foundation of a new society based on an alliance between the Church and the people. Finally, in 1834 he published his Paroles d'un croyant [Words of a Believer], which was very successful but brought about a break with the Papacy. His entry into political life began in 1848, as one of the people's representatives in the Constituent Assembly, where he took his seat among the Republicans of the left. The coup d'état on December 2, 1851 brought his political life to a close. He died destitute and alone on February 27, 1854 in Paris, after having considerably influenced his contemporaries.

Alphonse de Lamartine (Mâcon, October 21, 1790 - Paris, February 28, 1869)

Alphonse de Lamartine, Théodore Chassériau, drawing, 1844; Paris, musée du Louvre

Alphonse de Lamartine (Mâcon, 21 octobre 1790 - Paris, 28 février 1869)
Before playing a very active role in French political life, and becoming the hero of the Revolution of February 1848, Alphonse de Lamartine was first a poet. He was famous for his collections of poetry, starting with Les Méditations poétiques, which was published in 1820, and he became one of the most brilliant members of the new generation of Romantics. Although he was elected to the Académie Française in 1829, he nurtured the desire to embark on a political career, and in 1833 he entered the Chamber of Deputies. He proclaimed his independence of spirit, and at the same time benefited from a special aura due to his considerable qualities as an orator. Nevertheless, beginning in 1842, his opposition to Louis-Philippe became more and more blatant, and he took an active part in the "Campagne des Banquets" which overthrew the July Monarchy. He then became the figurehead of the February 1848 popular uprising: his hour of glory as an influential member of the provisional government lasted until the new insurrection in June 1848, which swept him from power. After suffering a stinging defeat in the presidential elections in December of the same year, he quit political life and devoted himself once again to writing poetry as well as some historical works. He died on February 28, 1869 in Paris.

Victor Considérant (Salins, October 18, 1808 - Paris, December 27, 1893)

Victor Considérant © PMVP

Victor Considérant (Salins, 18 octobre 1808-Paris, 27 décembre 1893)
Victor Considérant began studying at the Ecole Polytechnique in 1826, and was very much influenced at the time by the theories of Charles Fourier, who advocated a new model of society based on the establishment of phalansteries. He became an enthusiastic disciple and even decided to abandon his military career to be able to spread Fourier's ideas. To this end, he founded the review La Phalange in 1836, and the daily newspaper La Démocratie pacifique in 1843, thanks to which his influence among Fourier's disciples grew considerably, and he thus became one of the principal opponents of the July Monarchy. In 1847 he published Principes du socialisme: manifeste de la démocratie au XIXe siècle, and welcomed the February 1848 Revolution with enthusiasm. Elected to the Constituent Assembly and then to the Legislative Assembly, he immediately rallied behind the Republic, even though he was greatly disappointed by the direction taken by the new regime. He tried in vain to organize a new popular uprising on June 13, 1849, the failure of which forced him into exile. He decided to go to the United States, where he attempted to found a real phalanstery. This was a failure, and he returned to France in 1869, where he took part in the Commune, and then retired from public life definitively. He died in Paris on December 27, 1893.

Pierre Antoine Berryer (Paris, January 4, 1790 - Angerville, November 29, 1868)

Pierre Antoine Berryer © PMVP

Pierre Antoine Berryer (Paris, 4 janvier 1790-Angerville, 29 novembre 1868)
A lawyer by training, Pierre Antoine Berryer never hid his royalist leanings. Indeed, he spent forty years of public life under the sign of complete loyalty to the older line of the Bourbons. He entered the Chamber of Deputies on January 26, 1830 and very quickly made use of his considerable talents as as orator to defend the crown of Charles X, attacked by the "Address of the 221" parliamentarians. The fall of the July Monarchy placed him squarely in the camp of the opponents to the new regime. Far from wanting to retire from political life, however, he decided to fight the July Monarchy from the inside and - until the Bonapartist coup d'état - never missed an occasion to defend his convictions before the Chamber. During the entire period he was leader of the legitimist party, and under the Second Republic he sincerely believed that the Monarchy would be restored. Thus, he refused to vote for the change in the Constitution that would allow Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte to be re-elected, despite Tocqueville's attempts to convince him. The two men were finally arrested and jailed at the same time during the coup d'état, after which Berryer retired from public life. He nevertheless rejoined the ranks of the opposition of the Corps législatif beginning in 1863, where he continued to make his conflicting opinions known until 1868. He died on November 18th of the same year.

François Guizot (Nîmes, October 4, 1787 - Val-Richer, September 12, 1874)

François Guizot, Thierry Delaroyère, known as Jeahn George Vibert; Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et Trianon © RMN/G. Blot

François Guizot(Nîmes, 4 octobre 1787 - Val-Richer, 12 septembre 1874)
François Guizot was born into a Protestant family, and shared Tocqueville's traumatic heritage from the French Revolution: his father was guillotined under the Terror in April 1794. After a brilliant course of studies, he was appointed to the Modern History chair at the Sorbonne, where he taught until 1830. His course on the history of civilizations in France and Europe (1829-30) was attended by a young Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont, who were permanently influenced by it. Parallel to his work as a historian, he embarked upon an administrative career in 1814, which introduced him to political questions. Opposed to the regime under Charles X, he founded the society "Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera" [God Helps Those Who Help Themselves] in August 1827, and actively campaigned for a regime change up until 1830. He then became one of the most powerful and influential figures of the July Monarchy, in which he was, in turn, Minister of the Interior (1830), Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Public Instruction (1832-47). Dismissed by Louis-Philippe in 1837, who reproached him for his great rigidity, he became French ambassador to England starting in February 1840, in the reign of Queen Victoria, before being recalled to the Council of Ministers as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1840-47). He was finally appointed Council President (1847-48) and introduced a rigorous economic policy that was much more favorable to the bourgeoisie (to whom he addressed his famous "Enrich yourselves!") than to the lower social classes. Forced to resign in the face of the Revolution of 1848, he joined the ranks of the opponents of the Second Republic and then of the Second Empire. He continued his work as a historian, which earned him election to the Académie Française on April 28, 1836 (Histoire de la Révolution d'Angleterre, 1856; Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de mon temps, 1858 to 1867). He finally supported the Second Empire starting in 1860, although without really finding a political role. His influence on French Protestantism was nevertheless considerable. He died on September 12, 1874 at Val-Richer in Normandy.

Adolphe Thiers (Marseille, April 15, 1797 - Saint-Germain-en-Laye, September 3, 1877)

Adolphe Thiers, Nadar, circa 1870; Archives photographiques (Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine) © CMN

Adolphe Thiers (Marseille, 15 avril 1797 - Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 3 septembre 1877)
Adolphe Thiers was born into a modest family in Marseille, but his brilliant studies enabled him to become a lawyer. In 1821, he arrived in Paris, where he began a remarkable career as an opposition journalist, and published a vast work on the History of the Revolution between 1824 and 1827. After the Revolution of 1830, he made his entry into the Chamber of Deputies on July 5, 1831 as deputy from Aix. He then became one of the most influential figures of the July Monarchy, under which he was appointed Minister of Public Works and the Interior on October 11, 1832. He distinguished himself at this post through his harsh stance concerning the new regime's political enemies, and through the firmness with which he suppressed the insurrections in April 1834. He was reappointed in 1834, and even became Council President on February 22, 1836, and then from March 1 to October 28, 1840. He was ousted after a decisive diplomatic failure, and joined the ranks of the opposition as a stanch adversary of François Guizot. He took advantage of his absence from power to publish Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire in 1845. Hostile to the Revolution of 1848, he finally lent his support to the Republic, and was elected to the Constituent Assembly on June 4, 1848. In the December presidential elections that same year, he supported the candidacy of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he thought could be easily manipulated. He turned out to be nothing of the kind, and Adolphe Thiers found himself forced into exile in Switzerland for several months in the aftermath of the coup d'état. It was not until May 30, 1863 that he finally took a seat in the Corps législatif, where he became one of the party leaders of the opposition to the Empire. In 1870, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War and after the restoration of the Republic, his role earned him a place in the very highest circles: on February 8, 1871 he was elected "Chief of the Executive Power of the French Republic", and signed the Treaty of Frankfort with Prussia, which put an end to hostilities. He then led the reconquest of Paris and the bloody repression of the Commune. He was appointed the first president of the Third French Republic on August 31, 1871, and rallied to the cause of the Republic against any attempts to restore the monarchy, which was nevertheless supported by a parliamentary majority. This disagreement led to his resignation in 1873. He died on September 3, 1877.

Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoléon III (Paris, April 20, 1808 - January 9, 1873)

Napoléon III empereur, Nadar; Archives photographiques (Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine) © CMN

Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, Napoléon III (Paris, 20 avril 1808 - 9 janvier 1873)
As the nephew of Napoleon I, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to leave French soil at the age of eight, and was barred from returning by the Law of 12 January 1816. He thus spent the first part of his life between Switzerland, Italy and England, before attempting to return to France by mounting two failed coup d'états against the July Monarchy (the first on October 30, 1836 at Strasbourg, and the second in Boulogne on August 6, 1840). After the second Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was sentenced to life in prison, and was jailed in the fort at Ham, from which he escaped in 1846. From his exile in England, he attentively followed the events of the 1848 Revolution, which considerably changed his career prospects: thanks to the influence of his supporters in France, he was elected in absentia to the Constituent Assembly. He initially refused to take his seat, but - certain of his popularity - he finally accepted to return to France after being reelected on September 17, 1848 in five French departments. Three months later, on December 10, 1848, he was triumphantly elected President of the Second Republic, and appointed Odilon Barrot to head up the two prime ministries of his mandate. Tocqueville was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs under the second Barrot government, and had the chance to visit with the president often, winning his esteem. Tocqueville's Recollections testifies to the fact that the admiration was not returned, all the more as Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's personal ambition led him to carry out a coup d'état on December 2, 1851 in order to seize a second mandate as President, since the Constitution forbade him from seeking a second term. The Second Empire, proclaimed on December 2, 1851, took the form of an authoritarian regime based on the worship and popularity of the new Emperor. The war with Prussia, declared on July 19, 1870, and the subsequent French defeat was the downfall of the regime, which since 1860 had been faced with an ever more virulent opposition. The Third Republic, which was proclaimed on September 4, 1870, forced Napoleon III into a final exile in England, where he died on January 9, 1873.

John Stuart Mill (London, May 20, 1806 - Avignon, May 7, 1873)

John Stuart Mill; BnF, département des Estampes © BNF

John Stuart Mill (Londres, 20 mai 1806 - Avignon, 7 mai 1873)
The son of James Mill, a disciple of Ricardo, John Stuart Mill was famous for being the eminent thinker who developed the idea of "utilitarianism", a philosophy that advocated "the greatest happiness for the greatest number". Mill was influenced by Bentham, whose doctrine he modified by insisting on the various types of happiness, as well as by Auguste Comte. He was also an ardent defender of freedom in all its forms, including the most avant-garde: he campaigned for the emancipation of women and for the diversity of both scientific and political thought. The closeness of his thinking to that of Tocqueville, as their regular correspondence attests, came from the fact that both of them were acutely aware of the danger that the tyranny of the majority over the individual represented in a democracy. In addition to his Essais sur Tocqueville et la société américaine, he is principally read today for his books On Liberty (1858) and Utilitarianism (1861).

Louis Mathieu Molé (Paris, January 24, 1781 - Champlâtreux, November 23, 1855)

Louis Mathieu Molé; BnF, département des Estampes © BNF

Louis Mathieu Molé (Paris, January 24, 1781 - Champlâtreux, November 23, 1855)
Mathieu Molé, whose father was guillotined under the Terror, was Alexis de Tocqueville's cousin. For the entire first half of the 19th century,he moved in the very highest circles of power: a minister under Napoleon and then under Louis XVIII, he was made a Peer in 1815 and wasted no time - out of fear of "Republican anarchy" - rallying to the side of Louis-Philippe in 1830. When the first government of the July Monarchy was formed, he was given the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Louis-Philippe's liking for him, and his own passion for power, led to an unbroken stint as Council President between September 6, 1836 and March 31, 1839, until his cabinet fell victim to a opposition coalition led by François Guizot, Adolphe Thiers and Odilon Barrot. He continued to exert his influence, however, throughout the following decade, and on February 23, 1848, in the midst of the Revolution, he was offered a new ministry, created in order to quell the insurrection. Molé refused, and quit political life, faithful in this to his unwavering political line, as the leader of the "party of order". He died on November 23, 1855 at Champlâtreux.