Controlling Paris

Armed Forces and Counter-Revolution, 1789-1848

Jonathan M. House

NYU Press (publisher)

When not at war, armies are often used to control civil disorders, especially in eras of rapid social change and unrest. But in nineteenth century Europe, without the technological advances of modern armies and police forces, an army’s only advantages were discipline and organization—and in the face of popular opposition to the regime in power, both could rapidly deteriorate. Such was the case in France after the Napoleonic Wars, where a cumulative recent history of failure weakened an already fragile army’s ability to keep the peace. After the February 1848 overthrow of the last king of France, the new republican government proved remarkably resilient, retaining power while pursuing moderate social policies despite the concerted efforts of a variety of radical and socialist groups. These efforts took numerous forms, ranging from demonstrations to attempted coups to full-scale urban combat, and culminated in the crisis of the June Days. At stake was the future of French government and the social and economic policy of France at large. In Controlling Paris, Jonathan M. House offers us a study of revolution from the viewpoint of the government rather than the revolutionary. It is not focused on military tactics so much as on the broader issues involved in controlling civil disorders: relations between the government and its military leaders, causes and social issues of public disorder, political loyalty of troops in crisis, and excessive use of force to control civil disorders. Yet somehow, despite all these disadvantages, the French police and armed forces prevented regime change far more often than they failed to do so. 

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