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BOOK FIRST: A Few Pages of History
We are given an account of the mistakes of the House of Bourbon, which led to the collapse of the French restoration. The Restoration failed because it failed to recognize conquests and rights of the people, instead interpreting such as concessions” which the House of Bourbon could take away at will. The Restoration “denied sovereignty to the nation and liberty to the citizen.” In other words, it denied to the nation what made it a nation and to the citizen what made him a citizen.
The Bourbons did allow for some freedoms, especially in the areas of thought and free speech. It was an age-until 1830- when people could exercise their intelligence. For 15 years, France enjoyed a form of equality-freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The Revolution of July of 1830 brought about the fall of the Bourbons, a sequence that lacked the violence of the earlier revolution led by Robespiere. The Bourbons simply removed the crown and disappeared into exile. Following the revolution of 1830, Louis Philippe D’Orleans was placed on a sort of “demi-throne.”
Louis Philippe knew how to please all. He spoke the languages of Europe and wore no crown. He wore the dress of the National Guard and the cordon of the Legion of Honor-a combination pulling the customs of both Charles X and Napoleon into one. His greatest fault was that he was “modest in the name of France.” He was too fatherly, too timid and too domestic to last. Known as “Prince Equality,” he bore in himself the contradictions of Restoration and Revolution. He was a good man who spent his own time reviewing criminal cases in the attempt to save as many as possible from execution.
Louis Philippe accepted the throne under the belief that he had been elected to it and that it was right, and hence a duty. His weakness was an inability to manage wealth and the distribution of it. Poverty, human rights, money, rights of capital, and rights of labor were the subject of stirrings among the people, which created confusion and tension. Frequent riots occurred and were quickly suppressed.
By April of 1832, revolutionary groups throughout Paris spring up. They hold meetings in the back rooms of wine shops and pass secret messages about the accumulation of weapons and ammunition. Enjolras and the other friends of the ABC go into various parts of Paris to take stock of the numbers who can be counted on to join them in an uprising.
The new kings fail to realize that the people are looking to the Revolution of 1798 as an event that was not quite completed. Even across the channel, the English poets of the day had believed that the French Revolution would end tyranny everywhere. It did not do that, but it planted the seeds of freedom and gave people a taste of equality. The new monarchy failed because the Bourbon kings thought they could give and take rights in an arbitrary fashion.