LOUIS-PHILIPPEroad to the throne
king of the french
revolutionary end to reign
LOUIS-PHILIPPE (1773–1850; ruled 1830–1848), king of the French; known as the duc d'Orléans before accession to the throne.
Louis-Philippe d'Orléans was the eldest son of the liberal prince who became Philippe Égalité. An enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution of 1789, Louis-Philippe had risen to the rank of lieutenant general in the army by 1792. When the monarchy fell that year, he embraced the new republic and fought at the victorious battles of Valmy and Jemappes. In the wake of escalating political violence and problems of discipline within a volunteer army, he lost his enthusiasm for the republic. His father's vote in the National Convention to execute Louis XVI outraged him, and he approved of General Charles-François Dumouriez's military conspiracy to restore the monarchy. The government's interception of an incriminating letter led to an order for his arrest and his flight into exile on 5 April 1793. His flight precipitated the Convention's vote to imprison his father and two younger brothers. Philippe Égalité was guillotined seven months later, at which time Louis-Philippe became duc d'Orléans. His siblings remained in prison until 1797, when the Directory agreed to release them in return for a pledge that all three brothers leave Europe for the United States. In 1800 the duc d'Orléans found asylum in England and swore allegiance to Louis XVIII. His brothers died of ailments contracted while in prison. Suspicions that his father and later he, himself, aspired to the throne of France fed endless rumors among Bourbon supporters and republicans alike of an Orléanist plot. No reliable historical evidence supports that accusation.
This troubled past with its tragic personal dimension gave Louis-Philippe's political career its distinctive features. In exile, he refused to join the prince de Condé's army of aristocratic émigrés made up of his family's bitterest enemies. Politically, he became an advocate of constitutional monarchy. He blamed its failure in France on the aristocratic emigration and Louis XVI's own irresolution. He attributed the violence of the Revolution to democracy. In 1809 he married Marie-Amélie de Bourbon, daughter of the king of the Two Sicilies. Implacable in his opposition to Napoleon I, the duc d'Orléans sought military commands in Spain and Sicily to fight the French. Fortunately for his subsequent career, he did not succeed.
Napoleon's defeat in 1814 made it possible for the duc d'Orléans to return to France until Napoleon's Hundred Days drove him into exile againin 1815. This time he refused to settle with his family in France until 1817, when the reactionary political climate that followed the second Bourbon Restoration had subsided. He had already established a reputation for liberal political views that he intended to protect. Both Louis XVIII and Charles X denied him any official function throughout the Restoration Monarchy. This official marginalization had the paradoxical effect of making him more popular with the liberal opposition. His popularity increased after he demonstrated his support for a meritocratic social order by sending his sons to a state secondary school. In July 1830 Charles X's four edicts that dissolved the Chamber of Deputies and disenfranchised many liberal voters touched off a popular revolution in Paris. To end the political crisis, liberal royalists prevailed on the duc d'Orléans to accept an offer from the legislature to replace the Bourbon family on the throne of France. The marquis de Lafayette's endorsement guaranteed him popular support.
Louis-Philippe knew that his decision would brand him as a usurper in the eyes of Bourbon loyalists. But he believed that only he could halt the civil war, shore up the monarchy, and prevent another foreign invasion of France. As "king of the French," he swore absolute fidelity to a liberal constitution that abolished censorship. A revised electoral law increased the number of male taxpayers eligible to vote from 90,000 to 170,000. Hereditary peers were abolished. The principle of merit was to regulate access to all public offices except the throne. Louis-Philippe hoped to consolidate a constitutional monarchy through economic growth, expanded public schooling, and a diplomatic alliance with England that would guarantee peace in Europe.
Over the course of his reign, known as the July Monarchy, Louis-Philippe oversaw the execution of these policy objectives. The number of public primary schools increased by a third for boys and a fifth for girls. After 1840, the French economy entered a period of rapid growth. Though France went to war with Holland to defend Belgium's internationally recognized boundaries in 1832, the king prevented a diplomatic crisis precipitated by his premier and minister of the interior, Adolphe Thiers, from escalating into war with England in 1840. To unite the French around a glorious image of themselves while avoiding war in Europe, the king created a new museum at Versailles celebrating French achievements. He approved the return from St. Helena of Napoleon's ashes, and he continued the conquest of Algeria begun by Charles X. Four of his five sons served in Algeria to prove their value to the nation.
Throughout his reign, Louis-Philippe retained considerable support from government officials and business elites. Popular approval for the July Monarchy waned, however, as supporters of the Bourbons (Legitimists) and republican advocates of universal suffrage and workers' rights discredited the regime in the popular press. Within five years, several short-lived insurrections and attempted assassinations of the king had prompted repressive laws that by limiting freedom of association and the press, belied the monarchy's liberal origins. Unstable majorities in the Chamber of Deputies made for a succession of fragile ministries in the 1830s. François Guizot managed to guarantee his own survival as chief minister in the 1840s through a combination of electoral manipulation and patronage for elected deputies. Despite the accidental death of the heir apparent in 1842, the regime appeared solid if unpopular in the 1840s.
The rhetorical strategy adopted by republicans to discredit the regime pitted a greedy, self-interested bourgeoisie, out to profit at the expense of public interest, against a selfless working class of honorable men. Caricatures carried the message to even the illiterate. Louis-Philippe appeared the worst offender when he claimed that despite his enormous personal fortune, he could not afford to dower and support his numerous offspring in keeping with their stature as French royals. The Spanish marriages in 1846 that sacrificed the Anglo-French alliance for a dynastic triumph allowed his enemies to repeat the charge. In 1846 and 1847, a severe economic downturn amplified the persuasive power of this morality tale for elite and populace alike.
The final crisis of the regime originated in Louis-Philippe's refusal to consider any electoral reform for fear that populists would stir up popular passions. The decision to ban a political banquet in Paris in support of electoral reform set the stage for violent confrontation. On 23 February 1848 municipal guards fired on a chanting crowd in front of Guizot's ministry. Popular anger led to an insurrection the following day that made any compromise by the regime arrive too late. Louis-Philippe abdicated in favor of his grandson. After revolutionaries declared France a republic, he escaped to England, where he died on 26 August 1850.
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Jo Burr Margadant