The Massacre in Rouen: The Central Republican Society to the Provisional Government (2 May 1848)


The counter-revolution has just bathed itself in the blood of the people. Let the assassins be brought immediately to justice!

For the past two months the royalist bourgeoisie of Rouen has been secretly plotting a Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre2 of the workers. It had stocked up on cartridges. The authorities knew of this. Deathly threats had been issued here and there, warning signs of the impending catastrophe: we must have done with the rabble! That same rabble who in February, after three days of resistance, forced the bourgeois guard to submit to the Republic!

Citizens of the Provisional Government, why is it that, over these last two months, the working class population of Rouen and the surrounding valleys has not been organised into National Guard units? Why has only the aristocracy was organised and armed? Why, at the moment it carried out its hideous plot, did it encounter only the resistance of unarmed bodies? Why was the 28th Regiment of the line, that sinister hero of the faubourg de Vaise in 1834,3 in Rouen? Why did the garrison obey the orders of generals who are sworn enemies of the Republic, and notably of General Gérard, that lackey and henchman of Louis-Philippe?

They were thirsty for a bloody revenge, these hired assassins of a fallen dynasty. They needed an April massacre as consolation for a second July [monarchy]! They did not have to wait long. To undertake the April days barely two months after the revolution is quick work, citizens of the Provisional Government! And April’s new recruits were deprived of nothing! Neither the grapeshot, nor the cannonball, nor the demolished houses, nor the state of siege, nor the ferocity of the soldiers, nor the insulting of the dead, nor the unanimous insults from the newspapers, those cowardly admirers of force! The massacre at the rue Transnonain4 has been surpassed! To read the loathsome story of the exploits of these brigands is to be returned to the aftermath of the disastrous days that recently covered France in mourning and shame.

These are exactly the same executioners and the same victims! On one side are the frenzied bourgeois, inciting to carnage stupid soldiers whom they have gorged on wine and hatred. On the other side, poor and defenceless workers falling under the bullets and bayonets of the assassins!

And for a final mark of resemblance, here comes the royal court, Louis-Philippe’s judges, pouncing like hyenas on the debris of the massacre and filling the dungeons with 250 republicans. At the head of these inquisitors is Franck Carré, the execrable public prosecutor of the Court of Peers, this Laubardemont5 who furiously demanded the heads of the insurgents of May 1839. The arrest warrants for those patriots who fled the royalist proscription pursue them all the way to Paris.

For it is a royalist terror that reigns in Rouen: do you not know this, citizens of the Provisional Government? The bourgeois guard of Rouen furiously rejected the Republic in February. It is the Republic that it blasphemes and that it wants to overthrow. All of the city’s republicans have been put in chains. Your own agents have been threatened with death, removed from office, detained. The municipal magistrates, Lemason and Durand, have been dragged through the streets, bayonets at their chests, their clothing in shreds. They are being held in secret by authority of the rebels! It is a royalist insurrection that has triumphed in the ancient capital of Normandy, and it is you, republican government, that supports these rebel assassins! Is this treason or cowardice? Are you cowards or accomplices?

You know full well that there was no battle – it was a slaughter! And you let the slaughterers gloriously recount their feats of prowess! In your eyes, as in those of kings, is the blood of the people nothing but water, good for washing down the overcrowded streets from time to time? If so, then erase from your buildings that detestable three-word lie you have just engraved on them: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!

If your wives, your daughters, those brilliant and frail creatures who promenade their gold- and silk-woven idleness in sumptuous style, had been thrown at your feet, their chests ripped open up by the iron of pitiless enemies, how your cries of pain and vengeance would ring out to the ends of the earth!

Well then, open your eyes! Go see stretched out on the slabs of your hospitals, on straw mattresses in attics, those corpses of slaughtered women, their breasts pierced by bourgeois bullets – the very breast, mark you, that bore and nourished the workers whose sweat fattens the bourgeois! The women of the people are worth as much as yours, and their blood should not, cannot, be spilled without vengeance!

So let the assassins be brought immediately to justice!

We demand:

  1. The dissolution and disarmament of the bourgeois guard of Rouen.
  2. The arrest and trial of the so-called members of the court of appeals, these henchmen appointed by Louis-Philippe who, acting in the name and on behalf of the victorious royalist faction, imprisoned the legitimate city magistrates and filled the dungeons with republicans.
  3. The immediate removal from Paris of the troops of the line who at this very moment, at fratricidal banquets, are being urged by the reactionaries to carry out a Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Parisian workers.
  1.  Source: MF, 142-145, based on the text in MSS 9591(1), f. 197. Workers’ protests in Rouen on 26-27 April against the results of the rushed legislative elections held on 23 April were violently suppressed by government troops, with dozens killed. This text was signed by the Société Républicaine Centrale’s central committee.
  2. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 saw Catholics kill tens of thousands of Protestant Huguenots in Paris and across France.
  3. The Faubourg de Vaise was a central battleground during the April 1834 canuts uprising in Lyon.
  4.  A reference to the killing on 15 April 1834, by the National Guard, of a dozen people in a barricaded house on Rue Transnonain, Paris.
  5.  A reference to Jean Martin de Laubardemont (1590-1653), a magistrate allied to Cardinal Richelieu and notorious for the prosecution and execution of women accused of witchcraft.