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Champ-de-mars demonstration The journée of April 16 marked a decisive turning point in t he revolution of 1848 in Paris. The day began with the election, on the Champs-de-mars in western Paris, of fourteen national guard officers from workers' trade corporations, to be followed by a march to the Hôtel-de-Ville to present a "patriotic donation" and a petition to the provisional government calling for the "organization of labor." Some thirty thousand workers gathered, including perhaps fifteen thousand from the national workshops, then, led by the typogra phers, they paraded west through the streets of Paris under banners proclaiming "Organization of Work!" and "The End of Man's Exploitation of Man!"

In the electric atmosphere of April, the capital was alive with tension and rumor: unemployment was increasing dramatically, Blanqui's reputation had been questioned by claims that he had been a police agent in 1839 and, most importantly, militant workers were anxious about the likely conservative outcome of national elections scheduled for a we ek later. In such a situation there were widespread rumors that various groups of revolutionary leaders--among them Blanqui, Cabet, Raspail, Louis Blanc--planned to use this show of workers' strength to pressure the government to further delay the elections or even to purge it of its moderate republican majority. The veracity of these rumors has never been proven; moreover, the fact that few if any demonstrators were armed makes them doubtful. More likely, workers associated with the Luxembourg C ommission hoped simply to bolster Louis Blanc's flagging influence within the government (however, unlike Blanqui, Blanc did not join the demonstration).

Even though the government knew the details of the demonstration in advance (Lamartine had met Blanqui on April 15), its fears of a threat to its power led it to take emergency measures. The director of the national workshops, Emile Thomas, urged the members not to go to Champs-de-mars but rather to join the national guard un its the deputy-mayor of Paris, Philippe Buchez, had called to the Hôtel-de-Ville. Perhaps 100,000 guardsmen answered the call and, with members of the mobile guard, formed a hostile, jeering gauntlet through which the demonstrators had to pass. To their taunts of "Long live Lamartine!", "Down with the communists!", "Death to Cabet!", the demonstrators retorted "Long live the Good Republic!", "Long live Equality!" and "Long live the True Republic of Christ!". Significantly, Lamar tine made a point of thanking the national guard for its support, while the demonstrators' donation and petition was received coolly by a deputy-mayor, Edmond Adam.

The reaction to the Champs-de-mars demonstration was important for several reasons. It pointed the way to two subsequent defeats for the radical labor movement, on May 15 and in June. By issuing a mandate for Blanqui's arrest, the government had taken the first step to control the massive club movement in Paris. Significantly, members of the provisional government had united in opposition to their perceived fears of threats from the militant section of Parisian workers (although the radical republican newspaper La Réforme claimed the next day that it had been a "day of dupes" that had only benefitted reactionaries). Moderate republicans were now encouraged in their belief that most Parisians supported them; this was borne out by the results of the elections of April 23 in Paris when, pe rhaps in response to the Champ-de-mars demonstration, electors gave 210,000-260,000 votes to the seven moderates on the provisional government and only 100,000-120,000 to the four radicals. The anti-socialist fears and rhetoric following April 16 were only temporarily stilled by the huge "festival of fraternity" on April 20, significantly an occasion for which the government felt emboldened to recall five companies of the regular army to the capital.
Peter McPhee


Amann, Peter. Revolution and Mass Democracy: The Paris Club Movement in 1848. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975).

Duveau, Georges. 1848: The Making of a Revolution. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967.

Gossez, Rémi. Les ouvriers de Paris I L'organisation, 1848-1851, "Bibliothèque de la Révolution de 1848" (La Roche-sur-Yon, 1967).

Guillemin, Hen ri. La première résurrection de la République 24 février 1848. (Paris: Gallimard, 1967).

Loubère, Leo A. Louis Blanc. (Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1961).

McKay, Donald C. The National Workshops: A Study in the French Revolution of 1848. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933).

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