Louis-Eugène Cavaignac (French pronunciation: [lwi øʒɛn kavɛɲak]; 15 October 1802 – 28 October 1857) was a French general and politician who served as head of state of France between June and December 1848, during the French Second Republic.
Before coming to power, as Minister of War in the French provisional government he was tasked with putting down the June Days uprising, a large-scale revolt in Paris against the National Assembly, and was temporarily given emergency powers to do so. After suppressing the insurrection he renounced his dictatorial powers and was confirmed by the National Assembly as the provisional head of state of France, serving as "Chief of the Executive Power" for nearly six months until the 1848 presidential election, in which he ran but came in second place after Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.
Family and early life
Cavaignac was born in Paris on 15 October 1802, as the second and last son of Jean-Baptiste Cavaignac (1762–1829) and Julie-Marie Olivier de Corancez (1780–1849). His elder brother was republican activist and journalist Éléonore-Louis Godefroi Cavaignac. Jean-Baptiste, who had been a Jacobin member of the Convention and representative on mission during the French Revolution, married in 1797 to Julie-Marie, from a wealthy family prominent in the liberal intellectual circles of Paris, who was the daughter of Guillaume Olivier de Corancez, founder of the Journal de Paris and a friend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Through his mother, Cavaignac was a great-grandson of Genevan encyclopédiste Jean Romilly. He and his brother were raised in accordance with Rousseau's philosophical principles established in Emile, or On Education.
Cavaignac entered the École Polytechnique in 1820, then left two years to continue his studies in Metz. Having finished his military education he joined the army as a sub-lieutenant of the 2nd regiment of military engineers. Promoted to Lieutenant in 1826, he served between 1828 and 1829 in the Morea expedition, the French intervention in the Greek War of Independence. He was stationed in Arras when the July Revolution broke out, and became one of the first officers to join the revolt against the Bourbon monarchy, and was soon promoted to Captain in October 1830, under the new July Monarchy.
Military career in Algeria
In 1831, Cavaignac was removed from active duty in consequence of his declared republicanism, when he responded negatively to his colonel when questioned if he would obey orders to fight against an eventual republican insurrection, but was recalled in 1832 and sent to serve in the French invasion of Algeria, as part of the Army of Africa. In the early years of the campaign he saw action at Oran (1833), Mascara (1834) and Tlemcen (1836), which earned him praise from his commanding officer, Marshal Bugeaud, who described Cavaignac as "an instructed officer", whose "high capabilities" made him "ready for great things and assure him of a future". In April 1837 he was given the command of a batallion of zouaves, and later won special distinction in his fifteen months' command of the exposed garrison of Tlemcen, a command for which he was selected by Marshal Clauzel, and in the defence of Cherchell in 1840.
In his biography of Cavaignac, Hippolyte Castille remarked that "those who had known general Cavaignac in the battlefield knew what intelligence and energy he deployed in action". Almost every step of his promotion was gained on the field of battle. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in June 1840, to colonel in August 1841, and in 1844 Henri d'Orléans, Duke of Aumale himself, son of King Louis Philippe, asked for Cavaignac's promotion to the rank of maréchal de camp. As he rose through the ranks in Algeria, Cavaignac's correspondence with the Republicans in France became increasingly rare. In the last years of the July Monarchy, Cavaignac was appointed governor of the province of Oran, replacing general Lamoricière.
Early political career
After the February 1848 Revolution and the establishment of the Republic, Cavaignac received the promotion to general of division and was appointed Governor General of Algeria by the French provisional government, succeeding the Duke of Aumale. On 20 March he was offered the post of Minister of War, but refused it in a letter addressed to the provisional government, written from Algiers on 27 March. About a month later, Cavaignac left Algeria to take his seat as a representative of Lot in the constituent National Assembly, after being the most voted in that department on the 1848 legislative election.
Cavaignac arrived in Paris on 17 May 1848, and that same day accepted from the Executive Commission the position of Minister of War he had previously refused. At the National Assembly he sat with the Moderate Republicans, and there, at the 10 June session, he engaged in a debate with the Bonapartist deputy Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès, which began a lasting antagonism between the general and Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.
June Days uprising
On 23 June, the Executive Commission put Cavaignac in charge of suppressing an armed workers' insurrection in eastern Paris, which would become known as the June Days. By 24 June, the insurgents posed such a threat that the National Assembly gave Cavaignac dictatorial powers, disbanding the Executive Committee. Cavaignac viewed the insurrection mainly as a military issue, and thus relied on the regular army with assistance from the National Guard, and was not hesitant to use cannons to break through barricades. When his troops advanced in three strong columns every inch of ground was disputed, and government troops were frequently repulsed, requiring reinforcement by fresh regiments, until he forced his way to the Place de la Bastille and crushed the insurrection at its headquarters. By 26 June the uprising had been put down.
In the view of Cavaignac and other Moderate Republicans in government, the young Republic had just been saved. The general had suppressed the revolt with strong determination, and took his time preparing to attack. At the time Alphonse de Lamartine even suspected Cavaignac of having deliberately chosen to delay the government's response, allowing the early demonstrations on 23 June to grow, so that his ultimate victory over the insurgents would be more decisive.
Chief of the Executive Power
Presenting himself before the National Assembly after defeating the insurrection, Cavaignac announced his intention to renounce the dictatorial powers delegated to him, which he did on 28 June. The chamber therefore confirmed him in power as Chief of the Executive Power (Chef du pouvoir exécutif). As a committed Republican, Cavaignac strove as head of state of France to secure the country's recent democratic institutions, achieved with the February Revolution, and selected the members of his cabinet accordingly. Many government ministers were also connected to the Le National newspaper, the press of the Moderate Republican majority of the National Assembly.
In his early government, Cavaignac imposed control over political clubs and suppressed the left-wing press, which he deemed responsible for inciting the armed insurrection of June. He temporarily prohibited the publication of eleven newspapers, including Le Père Duchêne, named after the 1790s radical publication. He would later, in August, indefinitely ban Le Père Duchêne along with three other journals for being "instruments of civil war and not of liberty".
As previously decided by the National Assembly before the June Days, Cavaignac closed down the national workshops in July. Direct relief was provided by the government to supplant the national workshops, and large-scale public works were undertaken in order to reduce unemployment. Cavaignac's government gave support to many producers' and workers' cooperatives, sponsored legislation on maximum working hours for adult factory workers, and promoted the modernization of the French postal system. During this period, with the Chief of the Executive's support, a genuinely democratic constitution was prepared by the National Assembly.
During a year marked by the Spring of Nations through much of Europe, in foreign policy Cavaignac essentially maintained the stance, adopted by the provisional government, of asserting sympathy towards the national movements, specially those in Italy, Germany and Poland, but avoided direct involvement. The worry about internal security and the complex situation abroad prompted this policy of neutrality. The chief concern for his government was the Italian War of Independence, being waged by Piedmont-Sardinia against the Austrian Empire in northern Italy. After the Austrian victory in late July at the Battle of Custoza, Cavaignac organized an army to support Piedmont-Sardinia, but in the absence of a request did not intervene. In contradiction, he also organized, and later cancelled, an expeditionary force in November to rescue Pope Pius IX, who had fled from a republican revolution in Rome.
On 8 October, the National Assembly voted to submit the election of a President of the Republic to popular suffrage. As election day approached, increasing evidence suggested that it would most likely be a contest between Cavaignac and Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. Both leading candidates attempted to gain the support of the conservative Party of Order. With that goal, Cavaignac in October introduced two Orleanists into his cabinet (Vivien and Dufaure) when chance appeared for a ministerial reform, and even indirectly approached Adolphe Thiers, leader of the party, with a proposal for the vice-presidency in his government. Thiers however considered Cavaignac too left-leaning, and the general would not commit himself to the conservatives as much as they wanted him to. He instead preferred Louis-Napoléon, who, according to Thiers, "seems to dissociate himself more from the reds and socialists than does General Cavaignac".
After much internal debate, the Party of Order decided, on 5 November, not to give their endorsement to any candidate. In this situation Cavaignac's supporters had hoped that the party would put forward their own candidate, therefore splitting the popular vote and increasing Cavaignac's chances of victory, for in the case of no absolute majority the final decision would be taken by the Assembly, where Cavaignac was backed by the majority. The absence of a third candidate worked for the advantage of Louis-Napoléon, who was the evident favorite of the popular classes. Cavaignac nevertheless was supported by most French newspapers, including liberals such as Le Siècle and the Journal des débats, which could lead to his potential victory as campaigning was mainly carried out by the press.
Voting took place on 10 and 11 December. As the first results to come in already suggested an imminent victory for Louis-Napoléon, Cavaignac was reportedly urged by his adviser Colonel Charras to carry out a coup d'état, but he refused. To Charras' argument that handing over power to Louis-Napoléon would compromise the Republic, Cavaignac responded, "it is possible that it will succumb, but it will rise again". In the final results, Louis-Napoléon won by an absolute majority of 74% of the votes cast, with Cavaignac coming in second place with 19.5%. The only four departments to not give the winner a majority were won by Cavaignac; two of these were in Brittany (Finistère and Morbihan) and two in Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône and Var). A peaceful transfer of power took place on 20 December, in the chamber of the National Assembly. In a brief farewell speech, Cavaignac thanked the parliament for “its confidence and its kindness toward me" and presented the resignation of himself and his cabinet, then proceeded to return to his seat as a member of the Assembly. Armand Marrast, president of the parliament, subsequently proclaimed Louis-Napoléon as President of the Republic.
Cavaignac continued to serve as a representative in the National Assembly for the remainder of the Second Republic. Reelected for Lot but also for Seine in the May 1849 election, he chose to continue to represent Lot and took his seat with the Moderate Republicans on the left. Cavaignac mostly voted with the opposition; he voted against the military expedition sent by the president to end the revolutionary Roman Republic, and opposed the law of 31 May 1850, which restricted universal male suffrage, and a 1851 proposal to revise the constitution. The law against suffrage of 31 May was approved and was later used by Louis-Napoléon as a pretext for his coup d'état of 2 December 1851, in which he seized dictatorial powers and dissolved the National Assembly.
In the early hours of 2 December, Cavaignac was awaken and arrested by the police at his house in Paris's 9th arrondissement, at the same time as other members of the opposition. First imprisoned in Mazas Prison, he was later transferred to the Château de Ham but soon released on 29 December to marry Mademoiselle Odier, a young woman from the Odier banking family, as they were engaged at the time of Cavaignac's arrest. He retired from the army after his marriage, and the couple's son, Jacques Marie Eugène Godefroy Cavaignac, was born in May 1852. Under the French Empire of Louis-Napoléon (now emperor Napoleon III) which replaced the Republic, he was elected to the Corps législatif, on the 1852 and 1857 elections. On both occasions, however, Cavaignac refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Empire and was therefore barred from taking his seat.
In 1855, Cavaignac bought the Château d'Ourne in Flée, in the department of Sarthe, where he died on 28 October 1857, aged 55. His funeral was held in Paris and had as pallbearers his former colleagues Michel Goudchaux, Joseph Guinard, Jules Bastide, and a worker named Bayard. He was buried next to his brother Godefroi in the Montmartre Cemetery, in Paris.
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