July Monarchy

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The July Monarchy was established in France with the reign of Louis Philippe of France. His predecessor, Charles X, abdicated during the July Revolution, which had been launched in July of 1830 by the merchant bourgeoisie, who were outraged to be ousted from the limited voters list. Charles X's chosen successor was his young grandson, Henri, comte de Chambord (18201883), but Henri never received the throne. The "July Monarchy" was to last until 24 February 1848 when the Second Republic was established.

The Policies of the July Monarchy

When Louis-Philippe, the Orleanist “King of the French,” ascended to power, he certainly understood his base of power. The wealthy bourgeoisie carried him aloft through their work in the Parliament, and throughout his reign, he kept their interests in mind. For the first several years, though, the monarchy appeared to move toward legitimate, broad-based reform. This movement was largely illusory. While the source of the regime’s legitimacy, the Constitution of 1830, was written upon a platform of religious equality, the empowerment of the citizenry through the creation of a National Guard, electoral reform, the reformation of the peerage system, the lessening of Royal Authority, and the rise of some sort of popular authority, the regime paid only lip service to those aims.

During the years of the July Monarchy, enfranchisement roughly doubled, from 94,000 under Charles X to more than 200,000 by 1848. However, this represented only roughly one percent of population, and as the requirements for voting were tax-based, only the wealthiest gained the privilege. By implication, the enlarged enfranchisement tended to favor the wealthy merchant bourgeoisie more than any other group, giving them the ability to challenge the nobility in electoral matters. Thus, while appearing to honor his pledge to increase suffrage, Louis-Philippe acted primarily to empower his supporters. The inclusion of only the wealthiest also tended to undermine any possibility of the growth of a radical faction in Parliament, effectively serving socially conservative ends.

The reformed charter of 1830 limited the power of the King – stripping him of his ability to propose and decree legislation, as well as limiting his executive authority. However, the limits placed upon Louis-Philippe accomplished very little. The King of the French still believed that he should not become a king who, “reigns, but does not rule,” and as such, he was deeply involved in legislative affairs. He manoeuvered to have his two eldest sons appointed to the Chamber of Peers, and increasingly appointed ministers who adhered to his vision of conservative liberalism and strong Constitutional Monarchy. Thus, again, while appearing to adhere to notions of popular sovereignty and reduced royal power, the Crown actively worked toward completely opposite conservative ends.

In addition, one of the first acts of Louis-Philippe, ostensible champion of liberalism and reform, in constructing his cabinet was to appoint the rather conservative Casimir Perier as the premier of that body. Perier, a banker, was instrumental in shutting down many of the secret societies and labor unions that formed during the early years of the regime. In addition, he oversaw the dismemberment of the National Guard after it proved too supportive of radical ideologies. He performed all of these actions, of course, with royal approval. He was once quoted as saying that the source of French misery was the belief that there had been a revolution. “No Monsieur,” he said to another minister, “there has not been a revolution: there is simply a change at the head of state.” He thus viewed the purpose of the government as preserving the status quo against republican and radical agitators. He garnered the support of the cabinet through oaths of solidarity and strict discipline for dissenters. He excluded reformers from official discourse, and abandoned the regime’s unofficial policy of mediating in labor disputes in favor of a strict laissez-faire policy that favored employers. Thus, one sees the emergence of a clear trope of supporting the rights of the wealthy bourgeoisie while actively working to protect the status quo.

Further expressions of this trend came under the supervision of Perier and the then Minister of the Interior, Francois Guizot. The regime acknowledged early on that radicalism and republicanism threatened it, undermining its laissez-faire and pro-business policies. Thus, the Monarchy declared the very term republican illegal in 1834. Guizot shut down republican clubs and disbanded republican publications. Republicans within the cabinet, like the banker Dupont, were all but excluded by Perier and his conservative clique. The National Guard was disbanded after it failed to break up labor strikes, and the army was reformed in order to ensure its loyalty to the government.

Though two factions always persisted in the cabinet, split between liberal conservatives like Guizot and liberal reformers like the aforementioned journalist Thiers, the latter never gained prominence. After Perier came Mole, another conservative. After Mole came Thiers, a reformer sacked by Louis-Philippe after attempting to pursue an aggressive foreign policy. After Theirs came the conservative Guizot. In particular, the Guizot administration was marked by increasingly authoritarian crackdowns on republicanism and dissent, and an increasingly pro-business laissez-faire policy. This policy included protective tariffs that defended the status quo and enriched French businessmen. Guizot’s government granted railway and mining contracts to the bourgeois supporters of the government, and even contributing some of the start-up costs. As workers under these policies had no legal right to assemble, unionize, or petition the government for increased pay or decreased hours, the July Monarchy under Perier, Mole, and Guizot generally proved detrimental to the lower classes. In fact, Guizot’s advice to those who were disenfranchised by the tax-based electoral requirements was a simple “enrichessez-vous” – get rich.

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