Courtesy Reuters

1848: The Year of Revolution

ON February 22, 1848, Richard Rush, the American Minister to the Court of the Tuileries, noted in his diary that he had just returned from a soirée at the Roche-foucaulds'. The party was not large but very agreeable. There was some talk about a political "banquet" that had been organized to further the cause of electoral reform. The company present were not enthusiastic about these banquets, but there was nothing to be worried about. After all, only the middle class attended the banquets, and the proposed reforms would merely enfranchise another section of this middle class. Why should anyone be uneasy? If King Louis Philippe were known to be suffering from a cold there might be some cause for anxiety, but every diplomat in Paris knew that as long as the King was well there could be no serious disturbance. His health was the key to the political stability of Europe.

Forty-eight hours later the King and Queen had fled, the Tuileries had been completely gutted, the whole seemingly solid structure of government had crumbled to pieces, and such families as the Rochefoucaulds were probably wondering whether once again the mob would be lusting for their blood. Within a week Mr. Rush, acting on his own initiative -- there was no transatlantic cable yet -- had recognized the new Republic. Lord Normanby, the British Ambassador, thought that Mr. Rush had acted too hastily, but President Polk subsequently commended him for being the first ambassador to welcome France into the family of republics. What could be more gratifying than the knowledge that Europe at last was following in the footsteps of the United States! Public opinion in America was convinced that Europe too was now to enjoy the blessings of liberty and justice. Resolutions were offered in the Senate and in the House tendering the congratulations of the Senate and the House to the French people. Among those who voted in favor of the resolutions were Jefferson Davis in the Senate, and Abraham

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