1848: Students of Paris

An article about the politicisation of the students of Paris and the role they played in the revolt and reaction of 1848.

Submitted by Reddebrek on November 22, 2018

The students of Paris played a significant role on February 22, 1848 in the opening phase of the revolution. Students had taken part in the July Revolution of 1830 and in the revolts and demonstrations during the Orleans Monarchy, but their presence was of little consequence. However, they became increasingly politicized in the 1840s as the result of the government's continual conservative positions on domestic and foreign affairs. The firing or cancellation of the courses of Adam Michiewicz, Edgar Quinet and Jules Michelet especially angered the students. The exiled Polish poet Michiewicz had become a popular lecturer at the Collège de France and the students were quite displeased when he was removed from his chair at the Collège for his outspoken Bonapartist sympathies and his criticism of the catholic church. Quinet was a brilliant scholar, but his anti-clericalism and strong republican sentiments caused the government to strip him of his chair at the Collège de France in 1845. On the eve of the revolution of 1848 Michelet was perhaps the most popular professor in Paris. When his lectures were cancelled on Jan. 2, 1848, for his attacks on the catholic church and his liberal political views, the students demonstrated against the government in large numbers. They were angry that the government had deprived them, one after the other, of the most popular lecturers. The foreign and domestic policies of the regime of Louis Philippe and François Guizot were also unpopular with the students who shared the widespread sympathy if the general public for such causes as Polish and Irish independence, and a free and united Italy. They were anti-Austrian, Prussian, Russian and English. At home they supported "reform" as expressed by the banquets of 1847.

By February 1848, they were the ready ally of any demonstration against the government. As the banquet campaign reached its climax in the fall of 1847, the more active Parisian students planned to hold their own banquet. When the police were able to thwart their efforts, they threw their support behind the banquet being planned by the liberals of the 12th arrondissement. This culminating banquet was moved to the right bank of Paris and scheduled for February 22. On the night of the twenty-first, despite the government's prohibition of the banquet and the conservative banquet committee's cancellation of the affair, crowds gathered before the church of the Madeleine on the morning of the twenty-second. At the same time about three hundred students and workers assembled in the square before the Panthéon (near the law school) as planned and set out to march through the Latin Quarter, across the Seine, to the Madeleine. As they passed the medical school they were joined by more students, and by the time they reached their destination their numbers had been doubled by students and workers. When they reached the Place de la Madeleine at about 11 a.m., they found a crown of about a thousand five hundred milling aimlessly. There were the curious, the disappointed, and the angry. However, until the students and their friends arrived there was little evidence that anything would happen. It was the students who gave direction to the crowd before the Madeleine. As there would be no banquet, they would cross the Seine and protest before the Palais-Bourbon, the home of the Chamber of Deputies. When soldiers and police dispersed the crowd on the afternoon of the twenty-second, the first blood was shed.

Most of the students returned to the Latin Quarter and disrupted the tranquillity of the 12th arrondissement. Some students joined different crowds of people on the right bank. The law student M. Presseq was said to have pried up the first paving stone with his cane for the barricade built across the rue de Rivoli. Edouard M. Commelin worked on the barricade in the rue Saint Honoré and the medical student Auguste Corlieu aided the wounded in the rue Saint Martin. Charles L. Guibega, a law student, was the first student to shed his blood when he was ridden down before the ministry of foreign affairs.

The students of the École Polytechnique were not involved on February 22, but on the twenty-third and twenty-fourth they were active throughout the city. Conspicuous because of the uniforms they wore, it is sometimes said that their numbers were small but their profile high. Their more active members directed the construction of barricades and even "commanded" barricades. The troops were reluctant to fire on these students, thus they were able to negotiate with the soldiers and to act as intermediaries between the army and the people. In this manner they were able to prevent bloodshed on several occasions.

The students were not a dominating factor in the three days of fighting. Yet the dossiers of the wounded show that of the five hundred sixty wounded, nine were students. In the June Days they were less of a factor, although ten of the 4,318 wounded were students. The schools had ended the spring semester early because of the turbulence of the spring of 1848, and most of the students had gone home by the middle of June. In general, the students supported the government in this last phase of the revolution.

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