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Lamartine, Alphonse de (1790-1869)

Prior to 1848 Lamartine had enjoyed a distinguished career and fame as a statesman-politician, poet and historian. A polished orator, he was able to sway and influence the public and the government. He had made many speeches in behalf of the workers and the poor in an effort to make life more bearable for them. The organization of labor and the right to work, demanded by the masses in February, had already been advocated by him.

In 1847 Lamartine had prophesied the fall of the monarchy and the country's slide into despotism, making frequent references to himself as a "man in reserve." He challenged the monarchy to help solve France's social and financial problems, warning of war if solutions were not found.

Finally, on February 24, Louis-Philippe abdicated and left France hurriedly. The February days were in full swing. On the twenty-fourth, ill at home, Lamartine decided to go to the chamber of deputies upon being informed of an impending invasion there. Accosted by journalists at the entrance, he spoke at length and declared in favor of a republic. Wildly applauded on his entrance to the chamber, Lamartine spoke to advocate a provisional government which would establish order and arrange for elections.

Although there was considerable danger for Lamartine in the streets during the February days, his courage and oratory won over the crowds as he moved from group to group and declared his support for a republican form of government.

As the bloody street battles were subsiding, the provisional government met to form a government. The aged and revered Dupont de l'Eure became pres ident while Lamartine, named foreign minister, held the real power. In this capacity, he persuaded a ragged crowd on the twenty-fifth to accept the tricolor instead of the red flag of revolution.

The provisional government that began its work with high hopes soon found itself mired in political and social problems needing solutions, despite the fact that conservatives, moderates and radicals tried their best to work together. To reassure foreign governments, Lamartine issued a "Manifesto to Europe," stressing France's peaceful intent but, ambiguously declaring that she would take the 1815 treaties as the point of departure in foreign affairs.

Lamartine belonged to no political faction (although many refer to him as a "leftist"). HIs aristocratic and provincial background comforted the notables and bourgeois. Republicans and radicals approved of his a ctions in the February days. Workers and peasants championed him because of his struggle to make life more bearable for them. Following his victories in ten departments in the April elections, Lamartine could have become president, but he discouraged efforts in his behalf.

Meanwhile, many immigrants were stirring up trouble in France, especially the popular Poles, in an effort to win support in their struggle for independence. Lamartine's firm rejection of the Poles' demands contributed to his problems.

Attempts to solve the country's economical and financial crisis were serious but the problems were insurmountable. The national workshops were a terrible drain on the treasury, with no apparent solution, and complaints quickly increased. The situation in the workshops was another factor in Lamartine's political downfall. A polarization of society set in, caused largely by the proliferation of clubs and newspapers after the September Laws were repealed.

Lamartine's influence and popularity remained intact through most of May while the government was steadily losing its grip. When the assembly decided on a five-man Executive Committee to replace the Provisional Government, Lamartine threatened not to serve unless Ledru-Rollin was included. He won his battle but this also contributed to his declin. In June, threatening to resign over the seating of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, he was persuaded to stay by Cavaignac.

Lamartine tried to influence affairs during the June Days but Cavaignac was firmly in power. He continued to write and speak and ran in the October presidential election, placing last in a field of five. He refused a place offered him by Napoléon in his government. In 1849 Lamartine was elected to serve in the Constituent Assembly but his charisma had dissipated.

Helen Castelli


Castelli, Helen. Alphonse de Lamartine: A Reevaluation of His Role in Nineteenth Century French Political Life. (Ann Arbor: Xerox University Microfilms, 1975).

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

Lamartine, Alphonse de. Oeuvres complètes de M. A. Lamartine. 41 vols. vols 37-40 contain his Mémoires politiques. (Paris, 1860-66).

_______. Histoire de la Révolution de 1848. 2 vols.(Paris, 1849).

_______ . Trois Mois au pouvoir. (Paris, 1848).

Whitehouse, Henry Remsen. The Life of Lamartine. 2 vols.(Freeport, 1969. Reprint.).

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