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2. The Ballot Box or the Rifle, an engraving by M.L. Bosredon, April 1848, BNF

The Ballot Box or the Rifle Click image to enlarge
Source: The Ballot Box or the Rifle, an engraving by M.L. Bosredon, April 1848, BNF, Paris.


  1. Identify and discuss this document. To which social class does the character belong?
  2. Explain the engraving’s title and the meaning of the text.
  3. With the help of an encyclopedia or the Internet, write down the main events in the history of suffrage from 1789 to nowadays, in a chronological order.

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Presentation and analysis of the historical context

The Constitution of 1793 adopted the universal suffrage but the Republicans of 1848 implemented it under the popular Parisian movement’s pressure. Despite claims expressed by Feminist, men of 1848 excluded women from voting. Women gained the right to vote in 1944. In 1946, the right to vote was extended to “natives” from colonies but they were not enough represented (“double collège”). Nowadays, the voting rights of foreigners living for a long time in France are questioned.

On 2March 1848, the temporary government proclaimed that: “the suffrage will be universal and direct without any seigniorial tax’s condition”. On 5 March 1848, a decree of the provisional government introduced the Universal Suffrage (cf. doc. Infra). The electorate went suddenly up from 246 000 voters to more than 9 million. On the 23April 1848, the Constituent Assembly was elected. The rate of voting attendance is 83,69% among the registered (7 835 000 voters of 9 400 000 registered voters). The Constitution of 4 November 1848 (the Second Republic) included the Universal Suffrage in its 24th article (“the suffrage is direct and universal. The ballot is secret”) and in its 25th article (“Regardless of the issue of seigniorial tax, every 21-year-old French who have civil and political rights is eligible to vote.”). The Constituent Assembly decided, after stormy debates, that the executive power would return to the President of the Republic elected by the Universal Suffrage.

“For a long time, Elites have been agreeing to a law which was based on the majority only if the majority admitted that they were right. As far back as in 1850, the election law prepared by the conservative Assembly has excluded well-known dangerous parts of population. The following year, a military coup, led by an authority of a great name, justified itself restoring the Universal Suffrage... in authoritarian government’s service. By contrast, others, at the Left, suspected the institution which gave so easily in to the powerful men and didn’t counterbalance the means of domination exercised by these people. Demands (the people were finally sovereign so revolutions stopped) were promptly suppressed by June 1848 when workers fought against the abolition of national workshops. And again, we had: barricades, dead men and suppression. Would it have been better if they had agreed on the majority law without any fight? These are the words of a worker who was attempting treconciliation: “You have never been hungry!” The success of the Universal Suffrage was thanks to the citizens’ commitment to an institution which didn’t just store power relations but gave men and women a dignity that they have been denied due to their social status.” (Alain Garrigou, “The Universal Suffrage, a French Invention”, in Le Monde diplomatique, April 1998).

The engraving of Bosredon (1848) shows a Parisian worker identified by his clothes. He gave up the idea of using his rifle bayonet to put a ballot paper in a ballot box shaped in “the ancient manner” with an inscription: “Universal Suffrage”. Notices show the vivacity of the political debate where propaganda should replace fights on the barricades (Question 1).

The engraving addresses violent fights for political democracy. The picture and its caption evoke a peaceful vision of national politics: the rifle that was introduced by “enemies from outside” has to be replaced by the ballot box, because the defense of the homeland is necessary for the republicans who keep the memory of Revolutionary wars. The aim of the supporters of the Universal Suffrage is to prove that the popular vote is not necessarily revolutionary to its opponents. Despite the author’s hopes, France didn’t finish with insurgencies and bloody repression: June 1848, the Commune (Question 2).

1791: Indirect census suffrage: only men over 25 years of age and paying a direct tax equal to the value of three days of work have the right to vote. They are called “active citizens”.

1792: Universal Male Suffrage

1795: reintroduction of the Universal Male Suffrage

1848: Universal Male Suffrage

1944: French women citizens are given the right to vote

1974: The age of majority is lowered from 21 to 18

1992: The Maastricht treaty introduces the European citizenship. The right to vote in municipal elections is granted to the citizens of the European Union. (Question 3).


http://www.histoire-image.org/site/oeuvre/analyse.php?i=576&oe_zoom=997&id_sel=997 : The “1789-1939: History through images” (Réunion des Musées nationaux et Direction Générale du patrimoine) website offers outstanding materials including a thematic presentation of the historical context, analysis and interpretation of selected works. Alain Garrigou wrote the text on the engraving of Bosredon, The Ballot Box or the Rifle.

http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/histoire/suffrage_universel/suffrage-1848.asp The National Assembly offers a lot of documents (engravings, notices, speeches, songs, and legislative texts), chronologies and clear recapitulations (comprehensible to students) on the history of the suffrage.