Ledru-Rollin, Alexandre-Auguste

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LEDRU-ROLLIN, ALEXANDRE-AUGUSTE (1807–1874), French politician.

The most prominent French left-wing republican in the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849, Alexandre-Auguste Ledru-Rollin was born in Paris on 2 February 1807, the son of an inspector of pawn shops. Educated at the Lycée Charlemagne and at the University of Paris, he became a lawyer. He frequently defended republicans accused of political offenses, and in 1834 he published a pamphlet on the so-called massacre of the Rue Transnonain.

In 1841, Ledru-Rollin was elected a deputy for Le Mans. Reelected in 1842 and 1846, he became the leader of the small band of left-wing republicans in the Chamber of Deputies. With Godefroy Cavaignac in 1845, he also founded La Réforme, which became the main left-wing republican Paris newspaper. At first Ledru-Rollin and La Réforme were critical of the reform banquet campaign of 1847–48, which preceded the Revolutions of 1848. However, Ledru-Rollin changed his attitude and gave radical and well-publicized speeches at the reform banquets of Lille (7 November 1847), Dijon (21 November), and Chalon-sur-Saône (19 December). In another well-publicized speech (9 February 1848), he defended in the Chamber of Deputies the right of public assembly.

Following the banning of a proposed reform banquet in the twelfth arrondissement, or district, of Paris by the government of François-Pierre-Guillaume Guizot (1787–1874), Ledru-Rollin attended a meeting of supporters of the twelfth arrondissement banquet at the offices of La Réforme on 21 February. The meeting agreed not to support violent resistance, but after the massacre on the Boulevard des Capucines (23 February 1848), Ledru-Rollin publicly demanded major concessions from King Louis-Philippe (1773–1850): an amnesty, the liberation of all political prisoners, the recognition of the right of public assembly, and the introduction of manhood suffrage.

During the afternoon of 24 February, after Louis-Philippe's abdication, Ledru-Rollin in the Chamber of Deputies successfully demanded the formation of a provisional government. Soon afterward, at the Paris Hôtel de Ville (city hall), Ledru-Rollin joined the provisional government as minister of the interior. He introduced manhood suffrage for local and parliamentary elections, replaced the prefects with commissaires (commissioners), and tried to exploit government influence and propaganda to secure the election of genuine republicans in the National Assembly elections of 23 April 1848. All this associated Ledru-Rollin with political radicalism and made him unpopular. Three departments elected him on 23 April, but his electoral performance was worse than that of most of his government colleagues. Due to the insistence of Alphonse-Marie-Louis de Prat de Lamartine (1790–1869), Ledru-Rollin was included in the five-man Executive Commission that replaced the provisional government on 10 May 1848.

Following the outbreak of a working-class insurrection in Paris on 23 June, Ledru-Rollin had to resign the next day with the other members of the Executive Commission. In the parliamentary debates on the new constitution during September and October, he unsuccessfully argued for a declaration of rights and a chairman of the council of ministers rather than a president, but a single-chamber parliament was maintained, as he wished. In the presidential election Ledru-Rollin, as the left-wing republican candidate, received just 371,431 votes. After December 1848 he emerged as the leader of the extreme left-wing group of representatives in the National Assembly known as the Mountain.

When Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (laterNapoleon III; r. 1852–1871) sent a military expedition to Rome to overthrow the Roman Republic and restore papal rule, against the wishes of a majority in the National Assembly, Ledru-Rollin on 11 May 1849 voted for Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte and his ministers to be impeached. The Roman expedition was unpopular and in the elections to the new parliament, the Legislative Assembly, five departments returned Ledru-Rollin (13 May 1849). When the Legislative Assembly first met on 28 May, he argued that the government had violated the constitution by ordering an attack on the Roman Republic. On 11 June he again argued for the impeachment of the ministry, and threatened to defend the violated constitution, even by violence. Encouraged by such rhetoric, on 13 June demonstrations against the government's Roman policy turned violent.

Provoked by General Nicolas-Anne-Theodule Changarnier (1793–1877) and the army (according to the Left), or attempting to carry out a premeditated coup d'état (according to the Right), Ledru-Rollin and his supporters occupied the Conservatory of Arts and Trades in Paris. Changarnier sent troops to the Conservatory and, without any resistance, the Conservatory was captured. Ledru-Rollin managed to escape by train to Belgium and then to London, but he was tried in absentia. On 15 November 1849, he was found guilty of conspiracy and insurrection and sentenced to transportation. He did not return to France until 1870, but then, disgusted by the Paris Commune, resumed residence in England for two years. He died at Fontenay-aux-Roses on 31 December 1874. Although a powerful orator, a consistent advocate of manhood suffrage, and the leading left-wing republican in 1848–1849, Ledru-Rollin had a limited long-term influence. His brand of republicanism owed too much to the Jacobin past and too little to the socialist future.

See alsoFrance; Republicanism; Revolutions of 1848; Socialism.


Primary Sources

Ledru-Rollin, Alexandre-Auguste. Discours politiques et écrits divers. 2 vols. Paris, 1879.

Secondary Sources

Calman, Alvin Rosenblatt. Ledru-Rollin après 1848. Paris, 1921.

——. Ledru-Rollin and the Second French Republic. New York, 1922.

William Fortescue

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