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Thomas, Emile

Thomas, Emile (1822-1880) On March 3 an eager young engineer came to Alexandre-Thomas Marie, minister of public works, with a proposed solution to the labor confusion which reigned in the city torn by financial problems. Emile Thomas, a manufacturing chemist and a product of the Ecole Centrale des arts et manufactures, presented his plan to Marie and Etienne Garnier-Pagès, mayor of Paris. His proposal was for a centralization of the national workshops in a semi-military fashion. Workers were to receive two francs a day and the unemployed one and a half (women, 12 sous). Thus began, on March 5, the organization of the national workshops (ateliers nationaux), with a headquarters at the old royal palace at Monceau. Marie saw the organization as a means of offsetting the influence of Louis Blanc and the Luxembourg commission.

Thomas, aged twenty-six, worked hard but was soon disillusioned. In his April 11 report to Marie, he complained that he was able to give work to only one in four men. Meaningless jobs were being performed by twice as many men as were needed and skilled workers could not be employed in their trades. He was seemingly thwarted by the government in his plans for such constructive and needed projects as work on the roads.

Some workers were sent to clear away the trees that had been uprooted for barricades in February and others sent to obtain trees to replace them. Most of the men were idle--reading, playing games, lying in the grass or participating in club activities.

During the disturbances of March and April, Thomas tried to keep workers from participatig and urged them to answer at once any call to arms by the national guard.

In May, the director gradually lost control and there were rumors that he was going to be murdered. On May 15 he was unable to keep fourteen thousand from joining the mob making its way to the Palais Bourbon. By now he was in disfavor with the government in spite of his plans for the reorganization of the national workshops. On May 12 Ulysse Trélat, who succeeded Marie, had learned of Thomas's opposition to the government's plan to abolish the workshops and set in motion secret proceedings to abolish them. On hearing of the plans, Thomas refused to carry out the order and publicly criticized the government at a meeting of the labor committee.

Trélat requested the director's resignation on May 26 and, at a meeting that evening, Thomas gave in and resigned. Ordered to leave immediately for Bordeaux to design a canal, he was escorted by two policemen. The unrest that followed among the workers increased until its culmination in the June Days.

Thomas remained in Bordeaux until after the elections. On his return to Paris he resumed his career as an engineer.

Helen Castelli


McKay, Donald Cope. The National Workshops: A Study in the French Revolution of 1848. (Cambridge: Havard University Press, 1965).

Thomas, Emile. Histoire des Ateliers Nationaux. (Paris, 1848).

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