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coins of the month - december 2016
Parties and symbols of the 1848 Revolution in France
On 22-24 February 1848 a new Revolution in the streets of Paris led to the final fall of the monarchy in France. The liberal-conservative King Louis Philippe d’Orléans was overthrown, like his legitimist Bourbon predecessors Louis XVI in 1792 and Charles X in 1830. The 1848 revolution was precipitated by economic and climatic crises which had led to famine, rising prices, unemployment and misery around Europe. But it interacted with the political transformations of the industrial revolution and the development of Socialism.
When the new French Republic had to choose its new coinage it had to deal with a wide array of political positions associated with ideas, interests and symbols, struggling for dominance. Before the second Republic settled on a new currency those competing images appeared in the public sphere as decorations, badges and pins, often associated with cocards of various types (red for socialists, red-white-blue for republicans), worn as signs of pride for the role played on the barricades or to signal new allegiances. Effectively they replaced what had been during the post-revolutionary Restoration the white cocards of legitimist monarchists. It is not clear how widespread was their use but a selection of those pins offers an opportunity to review the existing political tendencies, parties and possible new symbols of the Republic’s coinage.
The Republicans were divided between radicals and moderates. The republican left wing, with many shades of socialists and of democrats, were defined most frequently as Démocrates socialistes or Républicains avancés. They were led by the interior Minister of the Provisional Government of the Republic, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, who later formed the parliamentary group of the Montagnards, resuscitating the term and the heritage of the revolutionary Convention of 1792-95. On Ledru Rollin’s left a number of socialist revolutionaries were agitating with poor results, such as Francois-Vincent Raspail, Armand Barbes, Louis Blanc, or Auguste Blanqui. They were all arrested or escaped into exile after various additional insurrectional attempts in May and particularly in June 1848, when the Parisian working class took up arms again after the Government, pressed by moderates and conservatives, had decided to close public works programs to support the unemployed (Ateliers nationaux).
A working man and a representation of liberty, holding a rifle and the flag on top of a barricade composed of Parisian paves, were logical symbols of revolutionary socialists. The left also identified with the symbols of Liberty and Equality, represented by the red cap and a surveyor’s level, or a combative Marianne, descended from the barricade but still holding a fighting dagger and the surveyor’s level.
Moderate republicans were often former supporters of Louis Philippe, disappointed by his regime which had progressively abandoned many of the liberal promises of its beginnings. They were led by the romantic poet and Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government Alphonse de Lamartine. General Cavaignac took over the leadership from Lamartine in June 1848, commanding the assault against the barricades set up against the abolition of the Ateliers nationaux. Four days of fighting and subsequent repression produced several thousand victims within the Parisian working class, but also six generals and several hundred soldiers and national guards, an anticipation on a smaller scale of the massacres accompanying the fall of the Commune of Paris in 1871.
In February Lamartine had refused to replace the republican flag with a red flag, as demanded by some socialists. He was a moderate, inspired by the Girondins of 1793, of whom he had published a timely history in 8 volumes one year earlier, with great commercial success. Moderate republicans could identify with moderate representations of liberty, with a red cap but without weapons and aggressive poses against established order and private property. After all the classic profile of liberty with red cap was introduced into the French currency by the Directoire, after the defeat of the Montagnards in Thermidor an II (July-August 1794, when Robespierre, Saint-Just and many others were executed). Even better, moderates preferred a classical liberty referring to antiquity and law but without subversive references to red hats (as in one of the badges here illustrated). That was indeed the final decision taken when the symbols of the second republic were officially adopted.
On the right wing, the so-called Party of Order grouped together conservatives of various shades, supporters of Louis Philippe (Orleanist monarchists), of the Bourbons (legitimist monarchists) and Bonapartists. The legitimists had the Bourbons’ lily as their symbol, but would have hardly dared to exhibit it in the streets in 1848. The Orleanists did not have a very clear symbol of their own; often the image of the Constitutional Charter of 1830, on which the regime had been based, was used as a symbol.
Catholics harbored the portrait of the Archbishop of Paris Denys Affre, who was mortally injured atop a barricade on 25 June 1848, while trying to broker a ceasefire and convince the insurgents to desist.
The Bonapartists counted on the popularity of the memory of Napoleon I to put forward the candidacy of his nephew, Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, elected to Parliament in multiple constituencies at the same time and then as President of the Republic in December, defeating the other candidates Cavaignac, Ledru-Rollin, Lamartine and Raspail. Images worn by Bonapartists referred both to the uncle (the Napoleonic eagle or portraits of the former Emperor) and to the nephew (his profile or full figure, as here illustrated).
As it happened, most of these images were transferred for a short time into the French coinage between 1848 and 1853: first the Marianne iconography of liberty; then the conservative vision of a neutral apolitical female portrait; then after the coup d’état of 2 December 1851 Louis Napoleon Bonaparte extended his term of office as President the Republic and introduced his civilian portrait into French coinage. Finally one year later he proclaimed himself Emperor under the name Napoleon III and the Napoleonic eagle appeared on all French copper coins and, within the imperial crest, on all silver and gold coins.
As a final satirical token of the year 1848 commented: “la suite prochainement”, showing all the regimes kicked out by their successors: from the right Louis Philippe is recognizable in his uniform and with his bourgeois umbrella, kicked out by Lamartine with his poetic harp, booted out himself by the Parti de l’Ordre, dressed as a member of Parliament, booted himself out by Louis Napoleon, dressed as his more illustrious grandfather.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics