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Universal Suffrage as Counter-Revolution? Electoral Mobilisation under the Second Republic in France, 1848–1851

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Abstract

The advent of mass, male suffrage in France in 1848 is usually regarded as a great success. There was a huge turnout in elections for a Constituent Assembly, but the outcome disappointed republicans, who failed to win a majority and blamed a backward peasantry. This paper suggests that the electoral system was at fault rather than the electorate. A hastily devised procedure, based on collective voting and the absence of declared candidatures, enabled notables to dominate the new regime. Radicals revised their tactics with some success in 1849, but soon succumbed to the plebiscitary democracy of Louis-Napoleon. Universal suffrage might well mean counter-revolution.

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