The Insurgent Barricade

The Insurgent Barricade

by Mark Traugott

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“To the barricades!” The cry conjures images of angry citizens, turmoil in the streets, and skirmishes fought behind hastily improvised cover. This definitive history of the barricade charts the origins, development, and diffusion of a uniquely European revolutionary tradition. Mark Traugott traces the barricade from its beginnings in the sixteenth century, to its refinement in the insurrectionary struggles of the long nineteenth century, on through its emergence as an icon of an international culture of revolution. Exploring the most compelling moments of its history, Traugott finds that the barricade is more than a physical structure; it is part of a continuous insurrectionary lineage that features spontaneous collaboration even as it relies on recurrent patterns of self-conscious collective action. A case study in how techniques of protest originate and evolve, The Insurgent Barricade tells how the French perfected a repertoire of revolution over three centuries, and how students, exiles, and itinerant workers helped it spread across Europe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520266322
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 12/02/2010
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 454
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Mark Traugott is Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of Armies of the Poor: Determinants of Working-Class Participation in the Parisian Insurrection of June 1848 and the editor and translator of The French Worker: Autobiographies from the Early Industrial Era (UC Press), among other books.

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The Insurgent Barricade

By Mark Traugott


Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94773-3


The Insurgent Barricade

Barricade: Type of entrenchment that is usually made with barrels filled with earth for the purpose of defending oneself or finding cover from the enemy.


In the early morning hours of June 5, 1832, crowds of workers, students, militants, and a scattering of political refugees began to gather in the streets of Paris. The intent of most participants was to express displeasure with the Orléanist July monarchy, which had been installed just two years earlier, though the occasion for their protest was provided by the death of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque. Once a stalwart of the First Empire, this military hero had undergone a political rebirth as an opposition leader in the Chamber of Deputies during the last years of the Bourbon Restoration and the first years of the July Monarchy. Parisians critical of the new government sought to honor this service by accompanying the general's mortal remains on a last tour of their city before the hearse departed for Lamarque's native province in the southwest of France.

There was nothing novel in thus taking advantage of the death of a public figure to make a political statement. The earliest precedents, associated with the state funerals of kings and princes, went back centuries into the Old Regime, but the revolutionaries of the 1790s had been quick to devise republican variants on this venerable practice for the processions honoring Mirabeau, Voltaire, and Marat before their induction into the Panthéon. More recently, funerary rites had been used by the political opposition to galvanize support in 1825 (for General Foy), 1827 (for Jacques Manuel), and late in 1830 (for Benjamin Constant). Thus, by 1832, events of this kind followed a pattern that was both long established and freshly imprinted in people's minds.

In the spring of 1832, France was struck by a deadly cholera epidemic, which compounded an economic crisis so severe that it had precipitated the previous fall's insurrection by Lyon silk workers. This combination raised the level of tensions within the Parisian working class to fever pitch. By June 2, when the popular Lamarque was struck down by the disease, fear and resentment over the threats to the population's physical and economic well-being had reached a critical stage. They built upon simmering political discontents, especially strong among republicans, who felt that they had spilled their blood on the 1830 barricades only to have their revolution "stolen" by a coterie of opportunists, who managed to get Louis-Philippe crowned king. Leftists were struggling to form their own alliance of convenience. Their partners included both Bonapartists, who claimed Lamarque as one of their own, and Legitimists, who were willing to lend their financial and logistical support to any initiative that, by overthrowing the upstart junior branch of the House of Bourbon, might rekindle hope for the restoration of the senior line of descent. This convergence of political forces explains why the cortège that accompanied Lamarque's casket attracted a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands.


The coffin's route across Paris on Tuesday, June 5, has been traced on map 1. The procession departed at 10 a.m. from the general's house in the rue Saint-Honoré, not far from the place de la Concorde. Its intended trajectory would have followed the grands boulevards across the northern periphery of Paris to the obligatory stop in the place de la Bastille. Soon after setting out, however, militants diverted the hearse to make a symbolic tour of the column in the place Vendôme, in homage to Lamarque's close ties to Napoléon. This was followed by a second unplanned stop, this time in the boulevard Montmartre, where the horses were cut from the traces and replaced by students, military veterans, and decorated heroes of the July revolution, who vied for the honor of pulling the hearse. Clearly, the crowd—which, by some accounts, had swelled to more than 100,000—was not allowing its enthusiasm to be dampened by the heavy rains that fell intermittently on this and the following day.

Once arrived at the place de la Bastille, militants tried to convince the column of marchers that Lamarque's body should find its final resting place, not in his ancestral home in the Landes near Mont-de-Marsan, but instead in the Panthéon, in the heart of Paris. Others argued in favor of proceeding directly to the Hôtel de Ville to proclaim a new French Republic. On the esplanade at the north end of the pont d'Austerlitz, a series of speeches, delivered from a podium draped in black, further inflamed the crowd. After listening to the words of the marquis de Lafayette, Maréchal Clausel, and representatives of the Polish and Italian expatriate communities, participants became aware of a spectral figure, towering above the crowd on a black stallion. Tall and gaunt, with a long, cadaverous face and flowing mustache, he was dressed entirely in black. Still as a ghost, he held aloft a red flag embroidered with a black border and the words "Liberty or Death!" This apparition had an electrifying effect on the crowd, almost as if "... the holy spirit had descended upon them prematurely; they began to utter the strangest prophecies as the sight of the red flag, acting like a magic charm, caused them to take leave of their senses."

The tense standoff between protesters and a corps of dragoons, under strict orders to refrain from the use of deadly force, was suddenly ended when a shot rang out from an unknown quarter. Members of the crowd began throwing stones at soldiers and municipal guardsmen and, for the first time that day, the time-honored cry "To the barricades!" echoed through the streets of Paris. The sound of the tocsin—the rapid ringing of church bells that served as both an alarm and a call to arms—soon pervaded the city, drowning out all casual conversation. Insurgents began uprooting the saplings planted to replace the larger trees cut down during the July Days. They also scavenged planks and beams from nearby construction sites and improvised tools for prying up paving stones. These classic raw materials were natural choices because they added mass, helped knit the structure together, and were usually found in abundance right at the site of barricade construction. Between 5 p.m., when the first sporadic gunfire was exchanged, and 6:30, when pitched battles were initially reported, dozens of barricades had been completed on both the right and left banks of the Seine. Individual structures took as little as fifteen minutes to erect.

Even as the first barricades were going up, a frantic search for arms began. Some rebels had to be content with sabers, staffs, or scythes, but rifles were the weapons of choice, and bands of insurgents boldly seized them from small patrols of soldiers encountered in the streets. Others joined in pillaging the premises of Lepage frères, the largest of the several Paris gunsmiths whose establishments were looted. (Figure 25 on p. 188 shows the same establishment being attacked during the revolution of 1830.) Still others assaulted a Municipal Guard post in the place de la Bastille, a barracks near the Jardin des Plantes, and a lightly guarded magazine, from which they made off with several barrels of powder. Soon small-arms and rifle fire was being directed against the mounted infantrymen who had been dispatched to hot spots on both banks of the Seine to prevent the unrest from spreading. Insurgents tried to fraternize with the troops, but their scattered initial success proved to be short-lived. Worse yet, only 500 to 1,000 of the original demonstrators arrived ready to fight, and their pleas for their fellow marchers to join them generally fell on deaf ears.

By early evening, the first deadly clash broke out near the porte Saint-Denis, where a number of barricades had been erected. It soon spread to traditional sites of resistance in the quartier Saint-Martin and further east in the faubourg Saint-Antoine. The affected area included the rues Aubry-le-boucher, Beaubourg, and Transnonain and the entire neighborhood surrounding the Eglise Saint-Merri—territory that would also lie at the heart of another celebrated insurrection in April 1834.

Informed of the initial scope of the unrest, Louis-Philippe immediately returned from Saint-Cloud to rally his forces. He conducted a review of the troops on the place du Carrousel around nine or ten o'clock on the evening of June 5 and was received with enthusiasm. Troop strength was rapidly augmented thanks to the arrival of National Guard forces from the suburbs and the deployment of additional army units from garrisons in the Paris basin. The army was prepared to make use of every weapon in its arsenal. The newspaper Le Temps reported that dragoons had even built a "barricade" of their own and forced the inhabitants of nearby houses to place lighted candles in upper-story windows as a sign of support. More critical to the victory of the forces of order was the military's willingness to bring cannon to bear against the insurgents' best-entrenched positions. The thunder of artillery barrages could be heard throughout that night.

By the morning of June 6, the last pockets of resistance on the left bank had already been contained and the insurrection confined to the three right-bank neighborhoods marked as centers of combat on map 1. Counting all units of the National and Municipal Guards in addition to the larger complement of soldiers from the regular army, the forces at the government's disposal now approached 60,000 men. Given the lack of popular response to the insurgents' appeals, the outcome could no longer be in doubt. At noon on the second day of fighting, the king again reviewed the troops on the place de la Concorde before setting out on an intrepid (and still quite perilous) horseback tour that took him across the city to the place de la Bastille via the grands boulevards and back again through the faubourg Saint-Antoine and along the quays.

Despite their fading chances of victory, militants continued the struggle through the daylight hours of Wednesday in isolated locations like the Marché des Innocents and, as evening approached, staged a desperate last stand in and around the Eglise Saint-Merri (fig. 1). The rebels, led by army veterans and commanded by a decorated hero of the July Days, had taken over the café Leclerc and the rest of the building located at 30, rue Saint-Martin, where they established their "headquarters, fortress, and first-aid station." This complex was flanked on either side by a huge barricade, whose defenders were protected by snipers posted at the windows of the adjoining buildings. About one hundred of the most committed insurgents—predominantly the young, but joined by a few elderly veterans of previous revolutionary conflicts—had resolved to die with arms in their hands.

With all other districts of the capital pacified and the opposition press muzzled, the full weight of the repression could be concentrated on this last remaining stronghold of rebellion. Successive attacks by the Parisian National Guard, the National Guard of the suburbs, and the Municipal Guard were repulsed, but a final assault by regular army units, supported by four large cannon, reduced the last pair of barricades to rubble. The last guns were silenced barely twenty-four hours after hostilities had begun. The casualty toll among the insurgents, mounting as high as 800 dead and wounded, was particularly heavy because the people of Paris withheld their support, leaving most of the committed insurgents of June 1832 to pay for their rebellion with their lives.


Though it culminated in a spectacular armed confrontation, the 1832 revolt was in many respects unremarkable. Gauged in terms of numbers of participants, it was of no more than average size. It never seriously imperiled the regime in power and had no lasting political impact. Indeed, it would doubtless have been dismissed as just one more unsuccessful nineteenth-century insurrection had Victor Hugo not chosen it as the setting for the climactic scene of his epic novel, Les misérables. Like that other classic of the literature on barricades, Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education, Hugo's actually dates from the 1860s and illustrates the heights to which insurrectionary consciousness had vaulted by the second half of the nineteenth century, when, for Europeans, the very word "barricade" had become all but synonymous with the concept of revolution.

Though barricades had by then been an established element in Parisian insurrections for nearly two and a half centuries, the uprising of June 5–6 has inevitably been measured against the standard set by the successful revolutions of 1830 and 1848. However different in scale and outcome, the disturbances associated with General Lamarque's funeral shared with these far more consequential events a number of remarkable similarities, starting with the patchwork of Parisian neighborhoods most affected and extending even to the physical location of individual barricades.

Although no systematic inventory of the structures erected during the 1832 insurrection has survived, we do possess highly detailed maps that pinpoint the site of each such structure in both July 1830 and February 1848. If we focus on the Saint-Merri district, which was a principal locus of combat in both those conflicts (as it was on June 6, 1832), we come across an observation familiar to anyone who has studied the revolutionary struggles of that period. Maps 2A and 2B show precisely where each barricade was situated in each of the two major revolutionary conflicts of the mid-1800s. Map 2C transposes this information onto a single map and uses small dark circles to highlight instances where barricades reappeared in the exact same location in the two uprisings. In quantitative terms, 72 of 140 specific sites within this one, arbitrarily defined quarter where barricades were built in 1848 had been occupied, eighteen years earlier, by similar structures.


The 1832 uprising makes a useful backdrop against which to explore the question of what should count as a barricade. The challenge lies in arriving at a definition that can be applied regardless of the size, objectives, social base, outcome, or other characteristics of the event in question, but that nonetheless delimits a coherent and recognizable category, the contents of which can be understood in common terms.

If one were to take at face value the 1694 definition offered by the Académie française in the epigraph to this chapter, the essence of the barricade consisted in either the materials from which it was fashioned or the purpose it fulfilled. Yet, with the benefit of over 300 additional years of experience, we can see that neither of those considerations is determinative. Though specific components like barrels played a noteworthy role in the origin of the barricade, an incredible diversity of raw materials has been used in their construction over the centuries without ever rendering the resulting structure any less identifiably a barricade. And though the first barricades were built for protection, they have since shown that they are capable of performing a remarkable range of functions. Some of their most important uses defy straightforward classification as defensive or offensive and may in fact have little to do with military or practical objectives at all.

What is truly remarkable about the barricade is, not its physical form in any particular era, but rather the fact that, despite all its varied manifestations, it has retained its identity, making it possible to speak of the barricade as having a history of its own. The barricades of 1648, the barricades of 1795, and the barricades of 1832 shared common characteristics that allowed observers and participants alike to see them all as part of a single insurrectionary lineage. Allowing for differences in weaponry, ideology, and political context, the same sort of underlying continuity linked those who participated in the June Days of 1848 to the partisans of the Holy League in 1588.


Excerpted from The Insurgent Barricade by Mark Traugott. Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments

1. The Insurgent Barricade
2. The First Barricades
3. The Barricades of the Fronde
4. The Long-Term Incidence of Barricade Events and the Lost Barricades of the French Revolution
5. Barricades in Belgium, 1787–1830
6. The Barricade Conquers Europe, 1848
7. The Functions of the Barricade
8. Barricades and the Culture of Revolution

Appendix A. Database of European Barricade Events
Appendix B. Did the Wave of Revolutionism in 1848 Originate in Paris or Palermo?
Appendix C. The Barricade and Technological Innovations in Transportat and Communications


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"Brilliant and elegantly written. . . . [A] masterful work of historical

sociology."—Contemporary Sociology

"This fascinating study should be a priority for every university's collection."—Choice

"Insurgent Barricades is a work that should have been written ages ago, filling a gaping hole in revolutionary studies."—The Historian

"An engaging and important book."—Journal of Modern History

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