How many revolutions has France known? It seems like this question should have a quick and easy answer, and it is: three. But, as with everything historical, there is also a long and complex answer: it depends.
“If the revolution is regime change involving collective physical force, then the key dates are 1789, 1830 and 1848,” said Peter Jones, professor of French history at the University of Birmingham in the UK. The first revolt is the one we all know as the French Revolution, which ended with the loss of the head of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The second is commonly referred to as the July Revolution, which saw the House of Bourbon dethroned in favor of the House of Orleans. And the third is sometimes referred to as the February Revolution or the French Revolution of 1848, which put an end to the Orleanists and introduced a period known as the Second Republic.
The longer answer depends largely on your interpretation of what a revolution is; for example, some academics prefer a more complex definition.
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“You need a popular movement, a split in the ruling class where one side goes into revolution and offers its leadership – otherwise it’s just a riot – and you also need a crisis in the state, “said Robert Gildea, professor. of Modern History at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “If all of these elements are met and it leads to regime change, then we can speak of a revolution.”
Gildea agrees with Jones’ calculation that there were three definitive French revolutions. They are cast iron, he said. However, there are quite a few other notable rebellions in French a story worthy of discussion and capable of being interpreted as revolutions.
The last of the three revolutions, the February Revolution of 1848, overthrew the hitherto restored monarchy and initiated a period known as the Second Republic, but it was not long before political instability returned to France. The republic’s own elected president, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, also known as Napoleon III (a nephew of the Napoleon), dissolved the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, without any legal basis.
This Rebellion made him the sole ruler of France, and a new constitution gave him the right to be president for ten-year terms with no limit to his re-election. He didn’t stop there; in 1851 he held a referendum with the French people, asking them to support him as emperor and – wouldn’t you know – 97% of the vote is unlikely to be in favor. In 1852, the Second Republic was officially renamed Second Empire, with Bonaparte on the throne. While all this upheaval has totally changed the balance of power in France and it was not based on free and fair elections, historians do not call it a revolution, because there was no popular violence that started it. However, the subsequent demise of Bonaparte’s Second Empire coincided with a kind of revolution.
By 1871, it was clear that France was on the verge of losing a war with Prussia. Bonaparte was captured, and amid the political confusion, Republican forces returning to Paris took control and declared the Third Republic. But while Emperor Bonaparte was all but gone and Republicans were in the driver’s seat, that didn’t mean a significant change in government policy or tone.
“Strictly speaking, we wouldn’t say it was a revolution either, because it was just a takeover,” Gildea told Live Science. “Basically, they ended up building a fairly conservative republic.”
However, the backlash against this “same old, same old” conservative republic had some of the pitfalls of a revolution, such as barricaded streets and communist rulers. This revolt is known as the Paris Commune, and the leftists managed to control the capital for months before the Third Republic crushed the rebellion and reasserted its authority during what is known as the Week. bloody. The Paris Commune was indeed a revolution, said Gildea; it’s just that it failed.
“The defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871 is a founding moment of French socialism,” he declared. “The Third Republic then remained in place until its defeat by Germany in 1940.” During most of World War II, it was replaced by the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis. This was eventually replaced by the Fourth Republic when France was liberated, which was essentially a resettled version of the previously defeated conservative Third Republic. The constitution was then rewritten in 1958 to create the Fifth Republic, which reintroduced the office of president and survives to this day. But even that is not the end of the story; in its short history, the Fifth Republic has faced serious threats to its existence.
Since 1848, Algeria had been administered as an integral part of France. From the point of view of the French government, the North African territory was not a colony but was officially as much a part of France as Paris. Most Algerians would probably disagree with this status and say their country has been subjugated by the French. However, it is possible to argue on a technical point that the Algerian War of Independence in the mid-20th century was in fact a French revolution, Gildea said. In reality, however, most people would not include it in their count of French revolutions.
So how many revolutions have the French had? The short answer is three, but the long answer is three appropriate revolutions and a number of near revolutions. Long story short: For much of the 1800s and early 1900s, France wasn’t exactly a politically stable place.
Originally posted on Live Science.