One-off Democracy: When the First Election is the Last

Today is the anniversary of the first election in history in which a nation's leader was selected by universal male suffrage.  On December 10, 1848, Frenchmen went to the polls for the first time in fifty-six years.  For a third time, a revolution had overthrown the king, and for the second time, a republic was proclaimed. But the French voters blew it.  The surprise winner was a seedy forty-year-old adventurer who had lived in exile in Switzerland and England, except for two ignominious coup attempts.  He ran on a vaguely socialistic platform of hope and change -- his first book was called Rêveries politiques, another, L'extinction du paupérisme.  He'd been a carbonari in Italy, a constable in London.  He had a taste for archeology, architecture, and teenage girls.  De Tocqueville called him "an enigmatic, somber, insignificant numskull."  Incredibly, he won in a landslide, getting 5.4 million votes, almost 75%; the favorite, a conservative...(Read Full Article)