Political turmoil that had begun with the French Revolution over forty years before continued as France once again rebelled against a ruler, King Louis Philippe. After experimenting with Republicanism and suffering the Reign of Terror, France had finally become unified behind the Emperor Napoleon. Napoleon proved too ambitious, however, and the congress of Europe finally defeated him in 1816. France was restored to a monarchy under Louis XVIII, pushing for a return to absolute rule and even dispatching the expeditionary force known as the “Hundred Thousand Sons of Saint Louis” to put down liberal government in revolutionary Spain in 1823. The growing bourgeoisie struggled against the return of an unquestionable king, finally leading to the overthrow of Charles X with the July Revolution of 1830 after years of economic trouble in France. Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans and cousin to the king, was instated as a constitutional monarch determined by popular sovereignty.
Not everyone was pleased with the balance of power, however. Conservatives known as “Legitimists” wanted a return to the House of Bourbon, and they began their own schemes at overthrowing Louis-Philippe, whom they saw as illegitimate to the throne. An attempt at kidnapping the royal family out of Paris failed, as did a rebellion led by Princess Caroline of Naples and Sicily to install her son and would-be heir to Charles X, Henry V, as king in Marseilles. The insurrection was put down, and the Legitimists determined not to fight again, rather to argue their side through the press.
Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie had grown to great stature in France, much of which was at the cost of the petit bourgeoisie, “small businessmen” such as shop keepers, restaurateurs, and craftsmen. In Lyon, the second-largest city in France, there was an uprising of the canut (silk workers) in 1831. They called for a fixed price on silk goods to stop the drop in wages by those employed by large silk manufacturers and earnings among those who owned their own loom workshops. Manufacturers determined a fixed price would undermine free enterprise and reminded the local prefect of laws banning guilds and strikes. Outraged by the dismissal of their demands, the workers rose up in an enforced strike, barricaded the town, and defeated the national guard, many of whom were affiliated with the canut anyway and eagerly joined the cause. The king and his government, particularly Casimir Perier, President of the Council of Ministers, responded by dispatching a 20,000 man army to put down the insurrection. The soldiers arrived without bloodshed, and the uprising ended with only a few arrests, all of whom were acquitted.
Republicans in Paris saw the near-success of the workers and determined a sense of camaraderie with them, setting up linked secret societies. The workers had already been in touch with Catholic royalists, but the republicans had their own network known as The Rights of Man Society. Since it was illegal to have meetings larger than twenty people, the society was organized into a militaristic system of 20-man groups headed by a president, who met with the next level of twenty, who had their own leaders up a chain of command. A cholera epidemic with rumors of poisoning by the wealthy spread unrest, and leaders determined to begin an uprising at the funeral of respected General Jean Maximilien Lamarque, who was a benefactor to the poor (hated Casimir Perier had died a month before, also victim to the plague). A new republic was declared, and rebels quickly seized the city, setting up barricades and arming themselves. Five thousand national guard backed by twenty-five thousand soldiers marched into Paris to end them.
However, the republicans had learned about the key to the canut’s temporary success: winning over the guard. Using their societies, the leftists had gotten into contact with likeminded thinkers among the army who supported Lamarque’s philosophy. As the soldiers entered the city, many of them disbanded and joined the barricades, turning the battle into a stalemate. The show of weakness from Louis-Philippe inspired cities all over France to join the rebellion, particularly Lyon, whose model for societies based on skilled laborers acted as conduit for revolution. Without enough soldiers to put out all the fires, Louis-Philippe abdicated, and many of the bourgeoisie found their industrial empires broken up.
The next few years in France proved happy as crops at last gave good harvests and the economy rebounded. Fixed prices and firm laws on how far businesses could expand forced the benefit to be shared by the widest number of hands. France seemed to become a model for republican revolutionaries, who began a wave of uprisings demanding economic as well as civil constitutions. Eventually, however, economies turned downward again in the late 1840s. Fixed prices meant that many luxury items simply were not purchased rather than being purchased at a lower rate, and shop owners and manufacturers found themselves with warehouses of useless goods. Black markets and bartering surged across Europe, calling into question the worth of economic intervention. While laws in royal countries were overturned quickly, France’s republican government debated endlessly. Finally, in 1848, Henry V was made regent of France by Legitimists working alongside Orleanists, who eagerly awaited the coming-of-age of Louis-Philippe’s ten-year-old grandson, Philippe I, who would rule until 1894 as an outspoken democrat, often chaffing his longtime prime minister, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.
In reality, the French National Guard and Army surrounded the June Rebellion, crushing it at the Battle of Cloître Saint-Mercy. The rebellion was witnessed firsthand by a hapless Victor Hugo, who would use it as a basis for his famed novel Les Misérables, idealizing the revolution.