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The Origins of the Interventionist State in France, 1830-1870

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-416
JournalThe English Historical Review
Issue number573
Early online date17 Jun 2020
Accepted/In press17 Jun 2020
E-pub ahead of print17 Jun 2020
Published17 Jun 2020

King's Authors


The historiography of the French state’s economic interventionism has focused primarily on the Ancien Régime and the period from the 1850s into the twentieth century. This article argues that, though often overlooked, the French state embarked on a major expansion in the 1830s and 1840s, as government spending on public works grew sharply. Most notably, the government contributed to the financing of railways and urban improvements. Following the 1848 revolution, rising pressure for fiscal rectitude forced a reconfiguration of the interventionist Orleanist state. While the new Bonapartist regime remained committed to public works, it relied more heavily on private finance than its predecessor, benefiting from the ‘great boom’ of the 1850s. Still, private enterprise remained inadequate to sustain public works without the support of public money, particularly once economic expansion began to slow in the 1860s. As a result, government spending on public works continued to rise under the Bonapartists. In this respect, they sustained the conception of an interventionist state developed by the Orleanists.

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