Revolutions (1848)


1848 : Year Of Revolutions.


1848 was the year of Revolutions in Europe. In Sicily, France, London, Brussels, Zürich and other major European countries those who were exiled, through poverty or war, from their homelands began to return to their, by now, more prosperous and peaceful Native places. The new republic in France was the catalyst for Revolutionary central Europe. Clumsy attempts at suppression led to forced acceptance of a Liberal agenda. Only Britain and Russia were to escape the Revolutionary wave. In Many countries the Monarchy gave in to Liberal demands and new Governments were appointed. A common process was present in many of the European Revolutions. Mobilisation of Liberalism, republicans and nationalists unifying to anti-regime units combined with harvest and business failure had increased dissatisfaction with Conservatism. Essentially, middle class movements with the support of artisans believed that political change would inevitably change trade and profits but such victory would only come at a heavy price.

The late 1840s brought food shortages to Europe. Unemployment plagued Manufacturing towns. Economic discontent was not the cause of a wave of Revolutions across Europe. Hard times provided the impetus to political opponents of existing regimes. Liberal reformers pursuing change were ready to push for male suffrage, press freedom, radical reforms to improve the conditions of the labouring poor. When a spark ignited the fires of protest, moderates and radicals joined forces in Revolution. The sudden overthrow of the ‘July Monarchy’ in France was that spark.

The Monarchy in France had more enemies than friends. Nobles doubted its legitimacy while others demanded a more popular sovereignty. A disastrous harvest in 1846, which led to a severe recession in 1848 as workers, demanded voting rights and state assistance for their trades. A giant banquet on February 22nd 1848 in Paris was banned and in protest Demonstrators paraded the streets and the National Guard refused to disperse the crowd. However, as the day wore on violence broke out and forty people were shot dead. Protesters barricaded the streets and after the King was forced to abdicate the victorious crowd proclaimed the Second French republic at the town hall. Universal male suffrage and abolition of slavery in the French colonies were proclaimed. Soon the Revolution spread in the provinces of France and liberty trees were planted all across the country. The euphoric Revolutionary wave had begun in the new republic. Political clubs began to crop up and new newspapers began to appear and political awareness was on the increase.

German liberals and radicals had some fundamental differences. Liberals bided their time as radicals were more restive. The ‘hungry forties’ in Germany meant frustrated citizens started to cause riots and the formation of so called ‘craftsmen clubs’ meant political ideology began to spread. Demands for an end to feudalism, repression, unconstitutional states and voting expansion were proliferating. The outbreak of the 1848 Revolution in France forced the German states to start making concessions. One of the most significant of these was the ‘march Government’ of 1848 which was formed out of fear of Revolution. Barricades were erected at Altenburg and the military executed 250 people. The shootings led to further riots and soon the King of Prussia relented and announced unification with Germany. Industrialisation was also a source of civil unrest as artisans struggled to compete with mechanisation and mass production. Clubs and unions started to form in other German states that saw Prussian success. In a short few months Germany was unified and the political landscape had changed in favour of Liberalism.

In Habsburg the liberals wanted constitutional reform, emancipation of peasantry, freedom of press and voting rights. Rebels in Hungary also had similar demands and so had Austria. Poland and Italy sought freedom from Habsburg rule. Liberals and radicals in central Europe followed the lead of France and students and artisans demanded reforms. The Habsburg dynasty hopes for holding its Empire together was collapsing and fading into oblivion. Revolution soon came to Bohemia with demands for independence. The fire of Revolution was widespread.

Italians revolted against Austrian rule. Italian demands for political reform, Italian unification, radicals wanted a republic and workers wanted improved benefits. Street riots echoing Paris, Berlin and Vienna were organised. The Revolutions of 1848 generated resistance from the political and social forces that had most to lose. In Prussia it was Kings and Nobles, in Habsburg the Emperor and his army, in France the upper classes. The split between liberals and radicals worked to the advantage of the oppositions.

In France the political crisis intensified by May 15th 1848. Up to this point all Revolutions in France were caused by the fact that rulers that came to power were Conservative. That was the case up to Louis Philippe. He extended voting rights among other privileges to middle classes but also retained some of the qualities of previous rulers. The lower classes remained ignored and eventually Louis Philippe abdicated to England after civil unrest by the lower classes and the French second republic was formed. This Government got off to a good start. It introduced universal adult suffrage (everyone over 21 could now vote) and also made dramatic changes, for the better, to the streets of Paris and started to ‘national workshops’ scheme of Government supported employment for skilled and unskilled workers. However, these workshops were never financially viable and in a short period of time the system collapsed due to oversubscription.

The Government had no choice but to terminate the service which left thousands of men unemployed and infuriated and the so called ‘June Days’ began. More barricades were erected and fighting broke out. After three days of bloodshed the insurgents were defeated and departed and the Revolution abandoned. New laws were introduced to restrict freedom of press and public assembly while political clubs were closed down and women banned from political involvement. By November the new elections introduced Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as best candidate and he won with an overwhelming majority and became President of the second republic.

The Frankfurt assembly of 1848 was the first freely elected Parliament for all of Germany and it owed its existence to the March Revolution in the states of the German confederation. In the German states liberals and radicals split as Conservatives gained momentum. Liberals wanted unification under a constitutional Monarchy while radicals wanted a republic. In May 1848 over eight hundred elected delegates met at Frankfurt’s St. Paul’s Church   intending to share the future of the German states. Delegates had many different views as to how Germany should be unified and after months of deliberation the solution of a ‘smaller Germany’ came about. The Parliament voted that any state could join the Union but only if it had German speaking Natives.

Using the ‘American Declaration of Independence’ as a template the Frankfurt parliament declared the equality of every citizen. However, before the parliament could approve the constitution proposed by the Frankfurt liberals the King dissolved it in April 1849 and declared a state of emergency. Liberal abstentions and popular indifference gave Conservative domination and they created a new system of Nobles, officials and churchmen and others selected by King. The Frankfurt Parliament was an abject failure for liberals and nationalists. Germany would not be unified by liberals.

A lack of consensus among the Revolutionaries led to counter Revolutions in the Habsburg Empire and in German and Italian states. Ethic conflicts broke out across Europe and landowners and peasants went to war. The complexity of central Europe was far from being resolved by the 1848 Revolutions.

The confusion of competing national claims and rivalries within the Habsburg Empire made counter Revolution an easy task. To all states, freedom meant many things to many people. The only real agreement was on the contempt held for the Habsburg policies. This contempt for Austrian control was rampant. One by one in the German states the March Ministries of 1848 fell from power as rulers counter revolted against parliaments and assemblies that were quickly rendered powerless. Scattered radical insurrections failed. The German Revolution of 1848 was over and in August 1851 the German confederation annulled the basic rights of the German people. The major work of the Frankfurt parliament had been undone.

Now that the German Revolution had been swept away by counter Revolution the Prussian Monarchy proposed the creation of a Prussian union. It would consist of two unions. The German confederation and all German speaking nations. However, the proposal had a short life span because both Prussia and Austria wanted European domination. In 1848 Revolutionaries challenged the authority of the Pope in the Papal States. An insurrection against Pope Pius IX was suppressed but yet another outbreak came in Rome. In Rome, after Pope Pius fled a new cabinet met workers demands and confiscated church property. In elections, the radicals won an overwhelming victory and the Roman Republic was proclaimed. French troops were summonsed by Pope Pius but they had to retreat when met by resistance. Pro Papal forces were sent in by Naples and Spain and the French shelled Rome in 1849. The constitutional assembly capitulated under force and soon the lack of strong popular support for unification restored old powers.

The French Second Republic (or simply the Second Republic) was the republican government of France between the 1848 Revolution and the coup by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, which initiated the Second Empire. It officially adopted the motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The Second Republic witnessed the tension between the “Social and Democratic Republic” (French: la République démocratique et sociale) and a Liberal form of Republic, which exploded during the June Days Uprising of 1848. In France, the democratic socialist movement was gaining momentum winning major support among peasants. The ‘Montagnards’ called for progressive taxation, higher wages, no tax on wine, credit facilities for peasants and free primary schools. The left lost some credibility in the aftermath of a failed insurrection in 1849 when the French army were sent to support the Pope in Rome, which the left claimed, was a violation of the new constitution. The insurrection did not draw enough support to defeat the French army and the insurrection was quelled. However, Louis Napoleon was given the necessary motivation to act against the left wing liberals and ordered suppression of the left and curtailed freedom of association and assembly. For now, at least, the left were silenced.

The so called ‘springtime of the people’ of Europe led to a wave of repression that dashed the hopes of the Liberal movement in 1848. European history reached a turning point, in the words of some historians, and failed to turn. States became stronger and more unified in the common cause of Liberal suppression; more professional armies enforced the counter-revolutions and restored order. 1848 was the first time that European workers put forward demands for political rights and although they failed on this occasion they did leave some very crucial legacies.

Primary Source.

John Merriman

A History Of Modern Europe.


Posted on March 30, 2012, in European History. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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