Publication: France Speaks!: Petitioning for Louis-Napoléon in 1851
Full text at PDC
Advisors (or tutors)
Duke University Press
In 1851 more than 1.6 million signatures endorsed petitions for an amendment to the 1848 constitution that would have allowed Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte to stand for reelection. Following contemporary critics who claimed that the movement had been orchestrated by the government, scholars have been little impressed by this mobilization, which produced the largest petition of nineteenth-century France. By analyzing the petitions and the signatures themselves, official reports, correspondence of key actors, and the public debate, this article reappraises the campaign, making three claims: that a government-sponsored petition merits analysis in the context of the explosion of popular mobilization that followed 1848, that the depiction provided by the republicans of the participation of the administration in the campaign is partial and incomplete, and that the petitioners were not dependent and manipulated individuals but purposeful citizens who understood and supported the petitions they signed. The article concludes that the campaign would not have succeeded without the genuine popularity of the president and the surfacing of a strong popular Bonapartist undercurrent.