In February 1848, after the Industrial Revolution had increased the poverty of many people, especially in Paris, where thousands were starving, an uprising of the working and non-working poor overthrew the government that had been in place for eighteen years. It had been a repressive government, prohibiting political gatherings and allowing the vote to no women and to only about one percent of the men, landowners all. Crucially, most men in the military, in various guards and police forces did not have the vote. Modern history has shown that poverty and disenfranchisement can pretty much be counted on to bring about a revolution and so it was in Paris.
It was a time when the railways were being built to connect Paris with each of the Hexagon's frontiers and when the beautiful passages, or shopping arcades, were being built while, at the same time, the areas of the Marais, around the Louvre and in the Faubourg Saint Antoine were slums. Horne describes how Paris was a public health nightmare at the time: raw sewage poured into the Seine, which was the source of drinking water for the poor and where they tried to wash their clothes, there was no rubbish collection, the stench in the City of Light was vile.
On the 22nd of February, students and workers started barricading the streets with trees they cut down and paving stones they pulled up, and with carriages they turned over. They were dispersed, without fighting, by the army and Paris Municipal Guard, made up mostly of poor, disenfranchised men, just like many of them. The next day, the revolutionaries were back in larger numbers and in a more aggressive mood. After a tense day, during which the government began to crack, a group of soldiers finally opened fire on demonstrators, killing fifty, and the Revolution of 1848, the "February Revolution", began.
On the 24th, troops were ordered to fire on demonstrators, which they did. Then, losing heart and feeling more sympathy with them than with their officers, they stopped. It is said that some even gave their guns to the workers. A few days later, the king and his family ran off to England, the government fallen. The July Monarchy (1830-1848) was over and the Second Republic took its place. Many of the day wrote that the workers’ legitimate claims had been co-opted by louder and more radical people; they urged the mobs, when victorious, to ransack the palatial private apartments of the departed royals, to the shock of many (does this bit sound similar to recent news reports?).
In April, national elections in which most men (but still no women) could vote were held. As in the French Revolution (and as it is today, some might say), Paris found itself much farther to the left than the rest of the country. Parisian radicals were distressed to see that most of the newly elected from the rest of the country were conservatives. How could the workers of Angouleme or Nice or Colmar not have voted with them? So, again, Parisians demonstrated, some 100,000 taking to the streets and (again, reflecting Parisian bullying of the legislature during the French Revolution) dissolved the Assembly. In June, outraged at the continued inequality between the rich and the poor, Parisian workers began another uprising in the Faubourg Saint Antoine quarter in eastern Paris.
Those who held opposing views, (and the power) had had enough. On the 25th of June, the government began to respond. Over 120,000 armed men from the Army, the National Guard and the Mobile Guard, in the west of the city, began to move across Paris toward the Faubourg Saint Antoine in what was called, literally, a “cleansing”. The “June Days Uprising”, les journées de juin, was a ferocious battle every inch of the way. Houses were raided, battles were fought at barricades in the streets. When it was over, some four thousand revolutionaries and sixteen hundred guards or soldiers had died, and bloodied Paris was not pretty. The workers, of course, lost. (Read a nice summary of articles on the Revolution of 1848 and "the right to work" at RetroNews.)
Promptly, the surviving revolutionaries and their supporters were rounded up and imprisoned, eleven thousand of them. The worst offenders were transported to Guyana for fifteen years. More than four thousand were transported to Algeria. The complete files (this links to the finding aid) of their arrests and the decisions about them are held in the Service Historique de la Défense at Vincennes. Many of the soldiers, guards and others were wounded or for some other reason merited compensation, and the files (another finding aid) on their applications and awards are in the Archives nationales.
Over the next couple of years, French people were offered the opportunity to emigrate to Algeria (see our post on this revolution and the workers' convoys) or to try their chance in the California gold fields (see our post about French gold miners). Unsurprisingly, nearly all of those accepted by the various schemes were from the volatile poor of Paris.
If your ancestor left France in 1848 or quite soon thereafter, you may now have an inkling as to why, especially if he or she were from Paris. As a matter of fact, if your ancestor happened to have been a French worker or journalist who emigrated in 1848 or 1849, it is a good guess that he was from Paris.
You can do more than guess. You can look to see if your ancestor were among those prosecuted and/or deported. Two excellent websites have listed all of those arrested after the June Days Uprising, Inculpés de l’insurrection de Juin 1848 and those who were arrested for opposing the subsequent 1851 coup d'état, Poursuivis à la suite du coup d’État de décembre 1851. As with the database of French judiciary, these two were created under the auspices of Jean-Claude Farcy, and they have the same basic format. If you are seeking a particular name, the quickest way to find it is to click on "Recherches" in the menu, then on "Liste nominative" in the drop-down menu. That takes you to an alphabetical listing that is easy to navigate.
We remain in awe of Dr. Farcy's prodigious productivity, all of it most helpful to French genealogical researchers.
N.B. We are much indebted to Monsieur L.....D. for starting us on this sojourn and for introducing us to the Rohrbough book.
©2019 Anne Morddel
Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris : Portrait of a City. London : Pan Books, 1998.
Mansel, Philip. Paris Between Empires 1814-1852 : Monarchy and Revolution. London : Phoenix Press, 2005.
Rohrbough, Malcolm J.. Rush to Gold: The French and the California Gold Rush, 1848–1854. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2013.
Numerous Wikipedia articles.