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Cavaignac, Eugène

Cavaignac, General Louis Eugène was a previously obscure army general whose principal role in 1848 was to crush the insurrection of the Parisian workers during the June Days. The son of a Montagnard of 1792, Cavaignac imbibed republican ideals as a youth along with his older brother Godefroy, who was an insurgent in the revolution of 1830 and for several years thereafter was one of the most prominent republican opponents of the early July Monarchy. Louis Eugène, however, played no political role before 1848; instead, he forged a career in the army, where he was mildly suspect because of his sympathy for the views of his redoubtable brother. Indeed, Louis Eug&egave;ne was transferred to Algeria in 1832 because in the political crisis of that year the young officer said that he would refuse orders to fight against republican insurgents.

Before 1848, Cavaignac was known chiefly as one of the officers contributing to the conquest of Algeria, but after the February revolution the provisional government appointed him as governor-general of Algeria, succeeding a son of the ousted King Louis Philippe. But Cavaignac was eager to play a political role in France, where he was elected to the national constituent assembly in April and also was appointed minister of war.

He arrived in Paris on May 17, just after the abortive demonstration against the national assembly, and on June 23 the governing executive commission put him in charge of suppressing the massive armed insurrection in eastern Paris. By June 24 the insurgents seemed so threatening that the national assembly gave dictatorial powers to Cavaignac and placed Paris in a state of seige . Cavaignac viewed the uprising as a military problem above all, and thus relied on regular troops with some assistance from the new citizens' militia, the garde mobile; and he did not hesitate to use cannon to demolish barricades. By June 26 the uprising had been crushed, and, from the perspective of Cavaignac and the other governing moderate republicans, the republic had been saved.

General Cavaignac remained in power for the last half of 1848, no longer as dictator, but as pre sident of the council of ministers and de facto head of state. The general was no mere military figurehead, however, nor was this period simply one of bleak reaction. Taking his stand with the moderate republicans against not only the defeated workers, but also against the reviving monarchists and the emerging Bonapartists on the right, General Cavaignac dissolved the national workshops and imposed controls on the clubs and the press, but he also sought to preserve and extend the republican and demo cratic institutions stemming from the February revolution and even sponsored some primitive social legislation. Direct relief and public works projects supplanted the national workshops, and Cavaignac's government provided state funding for a number of producers' cooperatives, regularized maximum hours legislation for adult male factory workers, attempted to democratize educational institutions, and sponsored modern postal reform. During the Cavaignac period also, with the general's enthusiastic su pport the national assembly drew up a genuinely democratic constitution in France.

In foreign policy during that year of turbulence throughout much of Europe, Cavaignac essentially maintained the posture adopted by the provisional government; that is, he avowed sympathy for the national movements, particularly in Italy, Germany and Poland, but avoided any direct involvement. This pacific policy was dictated in part by worry about domestic security but also by the complexity and fluidity of the situation abroad. The chief area of concern for France was northern Italy, where Piedmont-Sardinia was waging a war of liberation against the tottering Austrian empire. After the Austrian victory at Custozza in late July, Cavaignac prepared an army but declined to intervene in the absence of a formal request from Piedmont. However, in late November, when revolution in Rome forced Pope Pius IX to flee, Cavaignac invited him to France and mounted an expeditionary force to rescue him that he canc eled when the pope was no longer in danger.

In December, General Cavaignac was a leading candidate for the presidency of France, and he received 1,448,302 votes, but was overwhelmed by the popular support for Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who won with 5,534,520 votes. Although some of his colleagues urged the general to stage a coup détat to prevent the republic from falling into the hands of a Bonaparte, Cavaignac refused, and stepped down on December 20, 1848. He lat er served as a deputy in the legislative assembly, and was one of those arrested during Bonaparte's own coup d'état on December 2, 1851. Cavaignac was one of the few successful electoral opponents of Louis Napoleon thereafter, but had to surrender his seat in 1852 and again in 1857 on his refusal to take the oath of loyalty to the new emperor. Cavaignac died later in 1857.
Frederick de Luna


Chastain, James G. The Liberation of Sovereign Peoples: The French Foreign Policy of 1848 Athens OH: Ohio University Press, 1988.

de Luna, F.A. The French Republic Under Cavaignac, 1848. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Ibos, Le Général. Le Général Cavaignac: Un dictateur republicain Paris, Hachette, 1930.

Jennings, L.C. France and Europe in 1848: A Study of French Foreign Affairs in Time of Crisis. Oxford: Clar endon Press, 1973.

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