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- Features of the Revolutions of 1848
- The upsurge of uprisings across Europe
- Outcomes of the revolutions
Key Facts And Information
Let’s find out more about The Revolutions of 1848!
- In 1848 and early 1849, Europe witnessed its most widespread revolutionary wave, now often referred to as the Springtime of Nations or the Year of Revolution. The increasingly radical protests affected more than fifty countries with France, the states of the German Confederation, Italy, and the Austrian Empire having the most important revolutions.
- Most of the Revolutions of 1848 generally failed and led to the conservatives regaining power. Nevertheless, they effectively catalysed significant reforms such as the abolition of feudalism in Austria and Germany, the end of absolute monarchy in Denmark, and the introduction of representative democracy in the Netherlands.
Features of the Revolutions of 1848
- At the outbreak of the Revolutions of 1848, the streets of several European cities including Paris, Palermo, Budapest and Berlin were filled with barricades out of paving stones, carriages, and furniture. With numerous changes taking place in Europe over half a century after the French Revolution of 1789, these uprisings were caused by a wide variety of factors.
- What were the shared aims of the revolutions?
- Eradicate the old monarchical structures
- Create independent nation-states
- Main stimulus of the revolutions
- Dissatisfaction with the poor governance and the negligence of the European monarchs towards the people
- Emergence of new ideas such as nationalism, liberalism, and socialism in Europe
- Shared desire for reform of the middle and working classes
- Other factors that sparked the revolutions
- Severe economic crisis and food shortages - The crop failures and Irish potato famine led to food supply problems and high food prices.
- Poor conditions of the working class - Workers in both urban and rural areas were undernourished, disease-ridden, and struggling.
- Widespread unemployment - Elimination of certain trades due to mechanisation led to the decrease in the overall number of jobs.
- Who were the revolutionaries?
- The liberals - They generally wanted a republican government, economic freedom, and civil liberties.
- The nationalists - They wanted a national unity based on common language, culture, religion and shared history.
- The radical democrats - They wanted universal male suffrage which was not popular amongst liberals.
- The radical socialists - They wanted ownership of the means of production and redistribution of wealth.
The upsurge of uprisings across Europe
- Following a severe famine across Europe in 1846, economic depression was experienced in the continent. These difficult economic conditions coupled with the rise of new ideas and values ignited revolts in various European countries, primarily in urban areas.
- In France, the suppression of the campagne des banquets by Paris officials on 22 February 1848 resulted in the February Revolution.
- The banquet campaign was mainly planned to actively push for the extension of suffrage, however, it was cancelled due to the government's fear of an organised protest by the middle and working classes.
- This repression angered the skilled workers, factory labourers, and middle class liberals who poured into the streets and were later joined by the National Guard and the army garrison stationed in Paris.
- King Louis Philippe's attempt to bring swift reform was rejected by the general public.
- The constitutional monarchy ended and the Second Republic that hoped to address the economic and social concerns of the working class was created on 24 February.
- However, the power struggle between the bourgeoisie and the working class weakened the revolutionary aims.
- Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon I, was elected president of the new government. He would later stage a coup d'état in 1852 and established himself as a dictatorial emperor of the Second French Empire.
- In Italy, a desire for the establishment of a liberal government sparked the uprisings.
- The first major outbreak in Sicily in January 1848 inspired revolts in other parts of the country.
- The nationalists sought to eliminate conservative Austrian control and create a unified government independent from foreign rule.
- During this time, Italy had separate kingdoms, duchies, and states, and was fragmented under foreign dominance: the Austrians in the north and the Bourbons in the south. In central Italy, the Pope personally controlled the Papal States.
- These barriers would stand in the way of Italian unification and nationalism.
- Led by Charles Albert of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, a war on Austria was declared in March 1848.
- An Austrian general was forced to retreat in the Quadrilateral fortress in Milan.
- However, the Austrian Empire Army won when Charles Albert's allies pulled back their support.
- The Piedmont-Sardinia ruler was forced to sign a truce and withdraw his forces.
- Consequently, the Revolution was lost and a divided Italy remained under Austrian power.
- In the German states, the idea of pan-Germanism led to the March Revolution. The revolts took place in the south and the west of Germany.
- Whilst they were poorly coordinated, they had in common a rejection of traditional, autocratic political structures in the 39 independent states of the German Confederation and demands for a German national unity, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.
- Swift reform from local princes was carried out in the provinces.
- Revolts in Berlin forced Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to accept the creation of a united Germany with a constitutional monarchy in Prussia.
- This encouraged the middle class civil servants, lawyers, and intellectuals dedicated to liberal reform to join together and frame a constitution at the Frankfurt Assembly.
- However, after the Kaiser was offered the crown and boundaries were drawn for a German state, he changed his mind and imposed his own new constitution in 1849.
- This happened with the split of the middle and working classes.
- The March Revolution was defeated by the conservative aristocracy.
- In Austria, revolutionary movements fueled by nationalism became a threat to the Habsburg Austrian Empire who ruled from Vienna and encompassed a multitude of ethnicities and cultures.
- The desire for nationalism was made increasingly difficult as the wide range of ethnic groups began to demand their own government or political agenda.
- The revolution in the empire was sparked by an independence movement of a radical Hungarian Magyar group in Budapest in March. Similar movement in Prague revolted in the name of self-government.
- To avoid further conflict, the government forced the resignation of Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister who became a symbol of repression.
- A significant degree of autonomy was granted to Hungary, and laws were passed that put an end to the transfer and restrictions of land use.
- Other groups also demanded independence but were defeated one by one by the Austrian Empire army due to a lack of cooperation between them.
- The varying revolutionary aims of each group were further complicated by the simultaneous events in the German states that moved toward greater German national unity.
- In Denmark, the death of the absolute monarch in January 1848 amidst the rising oppositions from liberals and farmers resulted in a popular march on 21 March that demanded for constitutional monarchy.
- The new king, Frederick VII, agreed with the National Liberal government to share power with a bicameral parliament which effectively abolished absolutism.
- However, this new arrangement was not extended to the Duchy of Schleswig as the Germans in the region protested the integration of the duchy into Denmark.
- Other European states also experienced unrest in 1848, albeit relatively minor.
- In the Swedish capital of Stockholm, a series of riots that called for political reform was immediately dispersed by the military.
- In Belgium, Belgian émigré groups from France attempted to infiltrate the country to overthrow the monarchy but were defeated by the border troops.
- In Ireland, the Young Irelander Rebellion was launched against a new policy of the British parliament but soon collapsed.
- The absence of uprisings in other countries was partly due to their respective government’s preemptive actions.
- In the Netherlands, King William II decided to alter the Dutch constitution to reform elections and voluntarily reduce the power of the monarchy, which prevented further conflict in the country.
- Similarly, in Switzerland, the introduction of a new constitutional regime held off the uprisings.
- In England, apart from outbursts of Chartist protest for democratic reform, there was no major revolution due to Parliament's prior enactment of liberal reforms. Some freedoms and protection of the English people were restored through the Factory Act, Mines Act and the great Reform Bill of 1832.
- On the contrary, in Russia, the conservative government immediately put down revolts, silencing any sort of demands for liberal reforms or enlightenment teachings that emerged.
- Moreover, the support of the Russian Tsar Nicholas I to the Habsburg Emperor was instrumental to the defeat of the revolution in Hungary.
Outcomes of the revolutions
- The Revolutions of 1848 led to little political change but brought substantial social and cultural changes. Although immediate successes were achieved by the coalition of the middle and working classes, most of them ended in failure.
- Immediate successes
- In the Habsburg lands, feudalism was eliminated in Austria and Prussia.
- The middle class in Europe made political and economic gains over the next decades.
- France retained universal male suffrage.
- The revolutions inspired lasting reform in Denmark and the Netherlands.
- Why did the revolutions fail?
- Conflicting philosophies of the revolutionaries: moderate liberals feared radicalism
- Lack of organisation and a united revolutionary goal: nationalism became divisive rather than unifying
- Lack of leadership and administrative experience among the revolutionaries
- The widespread uprisings across Europe in 1848 had small achievements, but they had ended the Concert of Europe that emerged in the post-Napoleonic era. After 1848, the capability of the European powers to maintain the status quo was disrupted. This proved that revolutions had the potential to bring about significant changes but it would take coordination and organisation to change the monarchical system that dominated Europe for hundreds of years.