The vote or the gun

The vote or the gun

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Title: The vote or the gun.

Author : BOSREDON (-)

Creation date : 1848

Date shown: 1848

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Caption: "That is for the enemy from outside; for the inside, this is how we fight loyally the adversaries ..."

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: RES QB 370 fol Vinck 14061 (112)

© Photo National Library of France

Publication date: January 2005

Historical context

In February 1848, the Parisian revolution surprised everyone and, with the rapid flight of King Louis-Philippe, left the new improvised rulers quite helpless. The decree of March 5, 1848 was primarily intended to restore calm.

Image Analysis

Identified by his clothing, a worker abandons his gun to cast a ballot. In this allegorical scene, universal suffrage is symbolized by an antique urn whose model is quite different from the real urns but which links the procedure to the oldest sources. The allegory still presents the new institution as a popular conquest which justifies the laying down of arms. This may not have been the goal of all insurgents, or even most of them, but the idea prevailed. Beyond this kind of immediate interpretation of the revolution of February 1848 proposed by the republicans, the abandonment of arms for the vote has the value of exhortation: revolutionary violence was still threatening, many weapons were in the hands of the population. Parisian, and the success of universal suffrage remained uncertain. The popular uprising of June 1848 confirmed these fears, while providing the opportunity for law enforcement to disarm the Parisian population.


Beyond a historical moment dated from the revolution of 1848, the substitution of the ballot paper for the rifle aimed at a sense of general and universal scope; democratic rejection of political violence. The promoters of universal suffrage had partially convinced the partisans of the order by succeeding in organizing the first elections in April 1848 and also in demonstrating that the popular vote was not revolutionary in essence, that it could even turn out to be conservative. In a country and a century agitated by the incessant and ruinous course of revolutions, universal suffrage became, not without difficulties and following a long series of regular elections, what a man of the Third Republic called of his wishes: the “steady breath of democracy”. What could be the legitimacy of the recourse to violence when the people became sovereign by their ballot? If this institution could not immediately prevent insurrections like the Commune of 1871, the justifications for revolutions were now contested in the name of universal suffrage, and governments opposed universal suffrage in principle or in action, as in 1968, to "movements of the street ”.

  • Second Republic
  • elections
  • Lamartine (Alphonse de)
  • Republic
  • Revolution of 1848
  • Universal suffrage


Vincent DUCLERT and Christophe PROCHASSON (dir.) Critical Dictionary of the Republic Paris, Flammarion, 2002. Alain GARRIGOU Social history of universal suffrage in France, 1848-2000 Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points Histoire", 2002. Maurice AGULHON1848 or Learning of the Republic Paris, Le Seuil coll. "Points Histoire", new ed. 2002 Pascal PERRINEAU and Dominique REYNIÉ (ed.) Dictionary of the vote Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2001. Pierre ROSANVALLON The Coronation of the Citizen. History of universal suffrage in France Paris, Gallimard, 1992.

To cite this article

Alain GARRIGOU, "The vote or the gun"

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