5 and 6 June 1832

The 1832 uprising, brought vividly to life by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables, was preceded by months of destabilizing events. Parisian activists emotionally embraced the heroic, ill-fated Lyon uprising of November 1831. The legitimist threat was represented by the abortive rue des Prouvaires conspiracy of February 1832 and by the duchesse de Berry, who arrived secretly in France in May 1832 to rouse Provence and the Vendée on behalf of her son, Charles X’s only grandson, the pretender Henri V. Berry was finally captured in November; in an unchivalrous act that embarrassed even the Orléanists, the government held the pregnant widow captive until she gave birth the following spring. She was forced to confess to a “secret marriage,” and eventually to produce a bridegroom from the ranks of the minor Italian nobility.

The spring of 1832 also saw Paris ravaged by a Europe-wide outbreak of cholera, which ended with a death toll of 18,402 in the city. The statistics verified what everyone already knew, that the poor neighborhoods were particularly devastated by the disease. In response to the crisis, Prefect of Police Gisquet published a well-meant but remarkably clumsy declaration that the government wasnot poisoning public wells, though he acknowledged that evildoers had spread such a rumor and might even, to gain credit for it, have thrown suspicious matter into them–a convoluted revelation that contributed to several ugly scenes of mob violence. A contemporary noted that after the proclamation “men of the people” posted themselves in the streets, “suspecting and believing they saw poisoners everywhere.” Dr. Poumiès recalled a crowd gathered around a speaker who proclaimed “that cholera was a pretext invented to disembarrass [society] of poor people, that doctors and pharmacists were the chosen exécuteurs of the government, that the public fountains were all poisoned, etc.”

The epidemic soon claimed two famous victims. Casimir Périer fell sick on 5 April and died on 16 May; the government drifted through his illness, and after him there were a series of colorless ministers and unstable coalitions until Louis-Philipe settled on Guizot in 1840. In late may the National began to include daily bulletins about the health of General Maximilien Lamarque, who died on 2 June, one of the last links with that “glorious generation” of the revolution.

Périer was given a grand state funeral; it was decided that Lamarque’s funeral would demonstrate the strength of the opposition. On 5 June the National, by now an openly republican newspaper, published the order of the procession (as it would publish a similar order in February 1848, precipitating the revolution), inviting Deputies, national guards in uniform, foreign refugees, and the décorés de juillet to participate. According to historian Louis Blanc, the Société des Amis du Peuple had decided to hold themselves in readiness for any “collision” that might develop. On the morning of 5 June, law and medical students joined the assembled Amis along the route; many of the young men provocatively had daggers and pistols half-visible under their coats.

Gisquet posted the uniformed sergents de ville along the route, and throughout the morning there were skirmishes (or as the republicans told it, the sergents de ville engaged in attacks on peaceful working men). When the procession reached the Place de la Bastille, the crowd cheered the sudden appearance of a group of 60 polytechniciens, out of breath and disheveled after escaping over the walls of the elite École Polytechnique. At almost the same time there arrived an unidentified column of about 400 to 600 men, “rather poorly dressed and threatening,” “with sinister faces, for the most part with sleeves rolled up, armed with large clubs,” who joined the cortège. Blanc asserted that soldiers, including officers, approached the students and assured them of their willingness to “fraternize.”

At about 3:30 PM, the head of the convoy reached the speakers’ platform on the right bank of the Pont d’Austerlitz, where the eulogies were to be spoken. After a number of brief tributes, Lafayette was brought to the podium by popular demand. As he was speaking, there were rumors that he was about to proclaim the republic and establish a provisional government. Several men, members of the shadowy Association gauloise, suddenly shoved him into a carriage bound for the Hôtel de Ville; Lafayette kept his head sufficiently to escape from his escort and make his way home. A detachment of 200 dragoons was seen to be heading towards the Pont d’Austerlitz; Prefect Gisquet had summoned them, concerned about the passage of the coffin over the bridge. Suddenly, there appeared the spectre that republicans later blamed for their defeat: a cadaverous man with a ghastly white face, dressed in black, riding on horseback through the crowd and carrying a red flag on which was written Liberté ou la mort!–an embodiment and reminder of the horrors of the Year II.

But the episode that later caused the most debate concerned the detachment of the dragoons. Blanc praised them for their self-control under a barrage of stones; at least two were wounded before several deputies interposed themselves between the soldiers and the people. But the dragoons had already sent to their nearby barracks for help; the second group of 200, led by the colonel of the regiment, had barely left their quarters when they came under a fire that killed six men and seriously wounded the colonel and lieutenant colonel. In the sudden leaderless confusion, the second column apparently galloped straight into a group of “inoffensive citizens,” those who had neither thrown rocks nor fired. A number of national guards–including Charles Jeanne, who would become the archetypal montagnard hero of this day–now joined the side of the rebels. At the same time there was an attempt to hijack Lamarque’s coffin and take it to the Panthéon. The municipal guard cavalry, waiting on the other side of the river, secured his remains with the loss of one killed and several wounded, and put him on the road to his final resting place.

The authorities were now confronted with a far more aggressive insurrection than the one that had triumphed in 1830. In under two hours the center of Paris was taken; more than 4,000 muskets and rifles were seized from barracks, guard posts, and gunshops. But on the government’s side, the Paris garrison at 18,000 men included nearly twice as many soldiers as Chalres X had had at his disposal. The police forces, the sergents de ville and the Municipal Guard, took back the Ile de la Cité and the Châtelet on the Right Bank in short order; within hours the Left Bank was once again under control. And the government also had the citizen-soldiers of the National Guard, the symbols of the regime, who were soon out in force. Later that night Louis-Philippe, who like Charles X in 1830 had been at Saint-Cloud, arrived at the Tuileries. (Some hoped he would be less bold: Besson, a carpenter, was arrested in the middle of the night with a glue pot and brush, pasting up a placard entitled “Flight of Louis-Philippe.”)

By midnight, the insurgents were entrenched in only a few pockets in the east, and the mopping-up began in the early morning hours of 6 June. The hotly contested passage du Saumon was taken before dawn. The large barricade that closed off the faubourg Saint-Antoine was taken in mid-morning, finally falling after an artillery barrage. Whenever possible the national guards marched with the troops, providing political cover; for the same reason Marshal Lobau, as their commandant, was in overall command. The élan was now entirely with the government forces, as the last few bands of rebels were quickly cut off and defeated.

At noon General Tiburce Sébastiani was ready to take the last enclave of revolt, the Right Bank area around the Saint-Méry church, when suddenly all action was halted for nearly two hours. The delay was caused by Louis-Philippe, who rode through the city to the cheers of the Paris crowd. The king was urged to take some precautions for his safety; his answer was widely reported: “I have an excellent cuirasse, my five sons.”

Finally, Sébastiani was given permission to finish. Most of the barricades of the rue Saint-Martin were barely manned, abandoned as their defenders retreated; Sébastiani’s troops were met with gunfire from windows, as well as paving stones, tiles, logs and boards dropped from the roofs: “The soldiers penetrated [the buildings], killed all who defended themselves and conducted [prisoners] to the [nearby] Hôtel de Ville . . . they fought in the stairways, in the apartments; but everywhere the advantage remained with our soldiers.” Those who could not escape by way of roofs or alleys ended up inside a large, several-sided barricade that closed off the intersection of Saint-Martin and Saint-Méry; it took the artillery to end their resistance. “From the moment the gunfire ceased, the inhabitants of all the quartiers that we had just passed through showed themselves in the streets,” reported Sébastiani; “they accepted us with cries of Vive le Roi! vive la liberté!, showing us their joy at the success we had just obtained and their indignation at the attentatthat had troubled the tranquillity of the capital for two days.

The total cost of the insurrection was high: for the National Guard, 18 dead, 104 wounded; for the regular army, 32 dead, 170 wounded; for the Municipal Guard, 20 dead, 52 wounded. There was no way to determine the total insurgent casualties, though contemporary estimates put the number at from 80 to 100 dead, with 200 to 300 wounded. Of the slightly more than 200 identified insurgents, 34 percent were “petty bourgeois,” predominantly shopkeepers and clerks; but 66 percent were workers, with construction workers accounting for nearly a third. After peace was restored, the police conducted house-to-house searches, their efforts yielding nearly 3,000 muskets and rifles as well as quantities of sabers, épées, pistols, and daggers. With over 1,500 prisoners in the city jails, the king’s ministry recommended that the capital be placed in a state of siege, under military courts–a dreadful political blunder, the more remarkable since Charles X had taken the same step in 1830.

The danger of hasty military justice was clearly evident in one of the first cases tried, that of the young painter Michel Geoffroy, who was convicted as the bearer of the notorious red flag and sentenced to death. His attorney Odilon Barrot appealed the case to theCour de Cassation, which met on 29 June and declared the state of siege to be in violation of the Charter. Geoffroy was sent before theCour d’Assisses and his “natural judges” for retrial, where he received a shorter sentence for his other rebellious activities. (The real flag-bearer was found a few weeks later, and sentenced to only a month in prison because of his obvious mental instability.)

The cases of individual insurgents went forward throughout the rest of the year. A total of 82 people were convicted by juries in theCours d’Assises, of whom 7 were sentenced to death; all 7 death penalties were commuted to “deportation,” which in practice meant a prison term in one of the state fortresses. The two most famous capital cases involved Cuny and Lepage, on whose behalf the fledgling Société des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen threatened an armed rescue. Lepage, a 24-year-old porter in the markets, was accused of having taken a shopkeeper’s iron door-bar (for which he had left a deposit) to rip up paving stones for a barricade. The jury found him guilty only of one of the charges, that of “inciting citizens to arm themselves”; upon hearing the death sentence the startled jurors immediately drafted a petition for mercy. (Years later, La Réforme reported his death in 1843, impoverished, mentally ill, and consumptive from his captivity in the prison of Mont-Saint-Michel.) Cuny, a cook, claimed that the stolen weapon in his possession had been forced on him and denied that he had fired it. Upon hearing his death sentence he shouted Vive la République!, making his case a cause célèbre; the National asserted that his would be the regine’s first execution for “political beliefs.” His lawyer Adolphe Crémieux, future member of the Provisional Government of 1848, successfully solicited Louis-Philippe for clemency: “King of the barricades of July, pardon the barricades of June.”

The other death sentences seemed equally random. Pierre-Joseph Lecouvreur, a 44-year-old stonemason, had rushed home from the cortège, shouting to his wife as he entered the house: “Quickly! quickly! hurry up, give me the you-know-what!” He exited shortly with two sacks of about 1,500 homemade cartridges. (His defense was that a “stranger” had left the sacks, their contents unknown to him, in his apartment that morning.) He was one of the neighborhood republicans, and only the day before had harangued a local gardener, making him listen to passages from a brochure about Robespierre. The other four men sentenced to death–three of them for the batle in the Passage du Saumon–also had their sentences commuted, and after they helped to fight the fire at Mont-Saint-Michel in late 1834 they were amnestied, after only two years in prison.

While few workers had considered themselves republican in 1830, many of those now on trial were explicitly republican in sentiment and montagnard in their theatricality. The tailor Prosper, a 30-year-old décoré de juillet, had gone to his local mayoralty to protest. There he had encountered a bourgeois national guard: “‘What,’ he said to me, ‘you’re fighting againt the government, you who founded it?’ ‘I didn’t found it,’ I said; ‘and when I spilled my blood in the Three Days, if someone would have shouted in front of me vive le duc d’Orléans I would have shot him as a traitor.'” He was sentenced to ten years, after delivering a lengthy speech, later published, to the jury. F. Petel, a printer who worked for the Tribune, fought at the Passage du Saumon, and he and his two companions in arms, Joseph and Casimir Roussel, each received five years in prison. They began a series of “seditious cries” (“Vive la république! Death to tyrants! We will see you at the barricades!“) and were threatened with additional punishment. As their lawyers attempted to repair the situation, each spoke separately. Said Joseph Roussel: “I shouted vive la République because I was upset”; Petel: “I shouted vive la République because I’m a republican”; and finally, Casimir Roussel: “I wasn’t a republican but now I am!”

The most compelling narrative was that of the battle of the Cloître-Saint-Méry, which provided republicans with their first montagnard martyr in the worker Charles Jeanne. The mutation of this final military episode into legend is evident in the account by Louis Blanc, only a few years after the fact, as he described the insurgents down to their last hundred cartridges:


Thus, in the heart of a city with more than a million inhabitants, in the most populous quarter of Paris, and in the open light of day, sixty citizens were seen utterly defying the government, keeping its army in check, parleying, and giving battle. . . . An old man, with a bald head and grey beard, fell dead just within the barricade, at the moment when, elevating a tricoloured flag, he was calling upon his comrades to make some grand, desperate effort. . . . One of the combatants complained of hunger, and asked for provisions: “Provisions!” exclaimed Jeanne: “it is now three o’clock; at four o’clock we shall all be dead.”

The trial of Saint-Méry finally began in late October. Virtually all 22 of the defendants denied their guilt; they claimed that they had been trapped on the wrong side of the barricades, menaced by the insurgents, even forced to take up a gun and shoot. In stark contrast were Jeanne’s frank avowals. As a national guard, he had attended Lamarque’s funearl unarmed, when he and his colleagues had suddenly been stampeded by the dragoons. Convinced that the government had deliberately sent troops against its opponents, he had rushed home to build barricades for self-defense–just as he had done in July, when the former government had also launched an assault against its own people.

Jeanne acknowledged his actions with a bravado that even his opponents could admire, particularly given his physical frailty; Gisquet recalled that “under a spindly physique and suffering in appearance, he unveiled an inflexible character.” He was particularly insistent upon the honor of himself and his men, protesting (when a witness suggested that he had been firing from a protected position), “I always presented my breast to the bullets of the enemy.” He and his men had retreated only when they ran out of cartridges–“without that we would have remained.” And for the same reason he disputed the number of his troops, insisting that they had been overwhelmingly outnumbered. The porter of no. 30 Saint-Méry, their headquarters, estimated about 300 insurgents, as did the National Guard Claris. Jeanne asserted that there had been no more than 110; he received unexpected support for the lower number from Gisquet. The neighbors (battered by constant shouts of vive la république!, endless choruses of patriotic songs) nevertheless praised Jeanne for his restraint. Mme Gravelle, a jeweler, recalled taht “They shouted ‘qui vive?‘ [who goes there?] It was necessary to answer ‘Citizens!‘” Still, what she feared most was property damage, and Jeanne had kindly agreed not to shoot from her windows. Another woman in no. 30 reported that “These gentlemen announced to me that the provisional government m’indemniserait.” And according to the surgeon Dalvigny, who spend the night of 5-6 June tending the wounded: “I advanced to the barricade, the sentinel shouted ‘Qui vive!‘ and took aim; Jeanne threw himself on him, raised the weapon, and said: ‘Poor creature! One does not fire on an unarmed man!'”

Jeanne’s defense had been prefigured as early as 10 June in Le National by Armand Carrel, who had stated unequivocally that the dragoons had provoked the insurrection by charging into an unarmed crowd. The task for Jeanne’s attorney Alexandre Marie (future member of the Provisional Government in 1848) was to show why he had acted, and to provide some mitigating circumstances that might lighten his penalty–a difficult burden, in that Marie addressed a jury that was essentially supportive of the troops. (Early in the trial, when a witness had claimed that the soldiers had fired on civilians, one of the jurors had spoken up: “That’s an error.”) Thus Marie had to stress that he was merely trying to explore the perception of his client, who had genuinely believed himself attacked, and he called as witnesses many obviously bourgeois guards who had shared Jeanne’s impression. Delair, an attorney, had suddenly been confronted with galloping cavalry: “There was a lot of exaltation among the national guads who had also been charged, each shouted ‘To arms!’ . . . I was strongly moved. Two national guads had just been wounded beside me.” Another witness had seen the dragoons suddenly increase their speed to a gallop, “and divided up firing left and right with pistols. We fell back onto the bridge screaming, as you can well imagine.” Thibaudot, a manufacturer, stated that “the general sentiment was that it was a surprise, and that one had been attacked by the troops.” Marie had shifted the focus of the trial away from Jeanne, so much that it became necessary to call the officers of the dragoons, who spoke of being pelted with rocks, even assaulted by gunfire. Chef d’escadronDesolliers emotionally denied that he and his men had fired even a single shot.

The verdict was delivered on 31 October 1832; 15 of the 22 were acquitted. Jeanne was sentenced to deportation, which meant incarceration for life in the fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel. At first he continued his militancy, organizing a protest against prison conditions. But soon he became ill; from the Bicêtre prison hospital in Paris, where he lived in April 1834, he wrote to the Nationalto protest that he had not requested his transfer, that he was not–as vicious rumour had put it–exchanging “revelations” for favors. Olivier Dufresne, the inspector-general of prisons, confirmed that it was the authorities who had made the decision to move him, and he provided one of the last descriptions of Jeanne: “I found him [in his cell] in bed, having beside him two crutches without which he could not walk, and victim of a continual trembling, the result of the bad treatment he had experienced at Mont-Saint-Michel.” Dufresne asserted that since his stay in Bicêtre he had made steady progress; he deplored Jeanne’s tendency to exaggerate his hardships, which his own improving health belied. Charles Jeanne died of tuberculosis in 1837.

Moderate bourgeois republicanism had been defeated in Paris. It would experience a brief revival in 1839 and 1840, in the campaign to extend the suffrage; it would dominate the early months of the Second Republic; it would triumph in the Third. But for the moment the montagnards led the movement, insistent on blood and martyrdom, and consumed with violent fantasies of power.

© 2002 Jill Harsin; reproduced for nonprofit educational purposes.

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