Revolutions of 1848-49

Figure 1.--The Revolution of 1848 began in France. Parisians rose up to demand the abdication of King Louis Philippe of Orleans. They proclaimed the Second Republic (February 22). Here the people are depicted invading the the National Assembly (February 24). We are sure who the artist was.

Revolution swept Europe in 1848. The European rRevolutions of 1848 were a series of revolts caused by a heady mixture of rising nationalism mixed with the economic change resulting from the Industrial Revolution and political and social represson. The rising middle class created by the Industrial Revolution were demanding liberal reforms. An economic recession further heigtenened tensions. The major participants in the revolutions were the Czechs, Croats, Danes, French, Germans (including the Austrians), Hungarians, Italians, Poles, Slovaks, and the Romanians. Many of these nationalities did not yet have a country. The French monarchy fell. The Austrian monarch was forced to make concessions as did the Prussians. Other German monarchies introduced liberal reforms. In Britain he Chartists failed. Why did Britain prove less succetable to Revolution? Some have argued the Victorian penchant for constructive self criticism. [Wilson] The Revolutions of 1848 did overturn some regimes, although most were soon restored. Only the French monarchy was permanretly overturned. The revolutions did demonstrate that that popular unrest could overthrow monarchial government.

Pattern of Change

YThere was a common pattern that the revolutions of 1848 seemed to follow. The revolutions were led by a varying mixture of the middle class, workers, university students, ethnic groups, and others agitating for change. Demonstrations and riots brought about political concessions and even actual revolutions. Monarchil leaders were forced to go into seclussion or even flee the country. The essential problem was the revolutianries were not united in their vission for the future. This made it possible for the nonarchial regimes, often with foreign military backing, to restablish control. Revolution succeeded in France, in patt because no foreign army intervened to restore order. When assessing why the popular movements of 1848 failed, there are two factors which must be considered. First, the popular movement and the support for change xcame primarily from the cities. Rural areas were much more conservative or apolitical. Second, the military remained for the kmost part loyal to the estblished order and royalty generally used their militarry to support other belefgered monarchs. It was only in 1914 when the major royal families of Europ went to war against each other that the great autocratic empires were doomed (Austro-Hungary, Germany, the Ottomans, and Russia).

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial revolution was in 1848 in the process of transforing Europe. The process was uneven. It had begun in England in the late 18th cenury, but by 1848 was well advanced in France and the Low Countries as well as areas of Germany. Further east, especially in Russia, it had not yet made a significant impression. The Industrial Revolution was building two important classess with vastly different experiences and hence social outlooks. The middle class was expanding and becoming increasingly affluent as a result of the new industries. Some industialists were amassing fortunes. Meanwhile the rapidly expanding working class was finding it difficult to earn even the bare minimum needed to survive.

Country Developments

The disturbances and revolutions began in France and soon soread all over the continent, except Russia and England for very different reasons.


The revolutions of 1848 began in France during February. The French people were demanding liberal reforms, especially universal male sufferage. (This was a revolutionary concept at the time. Even in England, elections were determined by a small numbere of propertied electors.) Unemployment was a serious problem and contributed to the revolution. Louis Blanc emerged as the most importnt leader of the revolutio which over threw King Louis Philippe. Louis Blanc oversaw the establishment of the short-lived Second Republic. Workshopds were set up to provide relief to the unemployed. The elections for a new National Assembly returned a conservative majority, reflecting the power of rural constituencies. One clear message was that French farmers were not prepared to fund relief for unemployed urban workers. The National Assembly abolished the workshops. The workers rebeled and attempted to overthrow the government. Riots in Paris were supressed by the by the Army which remained loyal to the Government in what became known as the June Days. Many liberal thinkers were even more perplexed when the newly enfranchised French people elected Louis Napoleon in 1849.


The February revolution in France inspired others in Europe to demand liberal reformns or seek to change recalitrant monarchial governments by force. In Germany the issue of German unification was strongly associated with demands for liberal reform. Both the Prussian and Austrian monarchies were threatened. Germany ws divided into two major states (Austria and Prussia), several small states (Bavaria and Hanover), and a large number of small principalities. These states were loosely associated in the German Confederation. Many Germans were inspired by the French revolutioin with bith liberal and national ideals. The unwillingness of monarchial regimes to implement liberal reforms led in 1848 in riots and disturbances throughout Germany. Many German rulers were forced to agree to liberal reforms. Even in Prussia, King Frederick Wilhelm IV was forced to accept a democratic constitution. The Frankfurt Parliament was organized to draft a constitution for a new united Germany and met in May. Considerable discension developed in the Prliament. The Parliament offered Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm IV thecrown, but he refused because the constitution of the new state would have diluted his power. He dismissed the offer with the comment, "I do not accept a crown from the gutter!" By this time Frederick Wilhelm was in firm control of the Prussian army. The disturbances continue in 1849, including revolts in Baden and Dresden.


Austria while a German state controlled much larger non-German people, including Czechs, Hungarians, Italians, Poles, Slovaks, and others. Many of these restive minorities were demanding greater rights or even independence. In Austria itself there were demands for liberal reforms. Vienna was the capital of the Austrian Empire and dominated by the now aging arch-conservative Prince Klemens von Metternich, the mastermind behind the Congress of Vienna (1815). Thus it was earh shattering when the Vienese, watching events unfold demanded a liberal constitution which besides establishing a constituent assembly and ending serfdom and offered the Hungarians autonomy. The revolutionaries forced Emperor Ferdinand I to acceeded to the demands and Metternich to resign. A second revolutioin forces Ferdinand I who is unwilling to accept the new situation to flee and eventually abdicate. Ater a third revolution Francis Joseph in December becomes the new emperor.


Czech leader Frantisek Palacky in June called a Pan-Slav Congress which met in Prague. The Congress demanded equality with the Germans within the Austriam Empire. The Austrian army was ordered on June 17 to seize Prague and arrest the Czech and other Slav leaders.


Lajos Kossuth declared Hungary independent, but his rebellion was supressed by the Austrian army aided by the Tsar's Russian army.


The Greater Poland uprising of 1848 is also refrred to as the Poznań Uprising (powstanie wielkopolskie 1848 roku or powstanie poznańskie). It was a military insurrection largely occuring in the area of the Grand Grand Duchy Warsaw obtaine by the Prussians which became known as the Greater Poland area. Most of the fighting occurred in Greater Poland region, bit there was violence in other part of the Prussian Partition of Poland, and protests were held in Polish inhabited regions of Silesia. The politics was complicatd. Some Poles had become won over by the Prussian state which at first did not pursue Germaniuzation and has abolished serfdom. By the time of the 1848 revolutions, however, the Prussians concerned with the substntial Polish population in the east had begun to press germanization policies. The French supported the Poles, in part to get radical Poles out of France. There was some common cause between Poles in Prussia with Prussian revolutionaries seeking to unify Germany under a democratic constitutiom. A Polish Legion was formed in Berlin.


Tsarist Russia like Austria was another huge multi-national empire. Russia still had millions of serfs. Serfs had at one time had some rights, but by the 19th century had become virtual slaves tied to huge rural estates. At the time the Industrial Revolution was beginning to change the European power ballance, but the Russian army was the largest in Europe and the absolutist Russiaan Tsar was willing to use it to support other monarchies fighting liberal reformers and national revolutionaies. What the Tsar had not realized was how much the Industrial Revolution had changed the military ballance. Suppressing poorly armed Hungarian revolutioinaries was one thing, going up against a modern European army was a very differnt matter as the Russinns ere to discover in the Crimean War.


Italy like Germany in theearly 19th century was still divided into a number of independent states (Sicily, Papal state, Savoy, Sardinia, and others) as well as areas under Austrian control (Milan and Venice). Also as in Germany, the French Revolution had inspired liberalism and nationalism in Italy. Increasingly Italians began to demand a unified country and a republican constitution. This movement for unification became known as the Risorgimento (Resurgence). Guiseppe Mazzini in 1832 founded Young Italy, a patriotic society dedicated to Italian unification. Revolts break out in Venice, Milan (cinque Giornate), and Parma. Inspired by events to the north, Revolutionaries oust the Austrians from Milan. The Austrian army after suppressing the Czechs in June, regain control of Milan in July. Additional revolts take place in other Italian states. Revolutionaries forced monarchial leaders to grant constitutions. In Sardinia, King Charles Albert was one who voluntarily granted a new constitution to his people. Mazzini and Guiseppe Garibaldi attempted to unify Italy. They declared a Roman republic in 1949. Pope Pius IX was forced to flee. The Austrian army interceedes to restore the old order. Charles confronts the Austrians and gains some victoiries (Goito and Pastrengo), but was defeated at Vicenza, Custoza, and Novara. Sardinians forced to leave Venice and the Austrians regain control. Charles in 1849 was forced to abdicated. There is even a revolt in Rome and the papal premier was assasinated. Pope Pius IX flees to Gaeta. He is restored by a Frebnch army in 1849. While the efforts to expel the Austrians failed, the events of 1848-49 were the first steps toward Italian Unification.


It looked fo a time like the Chartists might succeed in England. The srtruggle was conducted throughout the 1840s. But even before 1848 support for Chartism was declining. As Marx saw the differing interest of the middle class and working class would create differences that would make common action possible. The 10 Hour Act placated many. For the mass gathering on Kenington Green only 20,000 assembled. The Government preoaing for the worst has assemed a security force of nearly 100,000. Even so the royl family decided it was prudent to leave London. Why did Britain prove less succetable to Revolution? Some have argued the Victorian penchant for constructive self criticism. [Wilson, pp. 113-120.] The Revolutions of 1848 did overturn some regimes, although most were soon restored. Onlt the French monarchy was permanretly overturned. The revolutions did demonstrate that that popular unrest could overthrow monarchial government.

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

A new political philosophy was developing in Europe. As part of the turmoil of 1848, the first powerful statement of Communism was issued by Karl Marx a(1818-83) and his associate Friedrich Engels, although it was to have little immediate affect. The two became the founders of modern socialism and communism. Marx was the son of a German lawyer. He studied law and philosophy. While rejecting the idealism of Hegel, Marx was greatly impressed with the writing of Ludwig Feuerbach and Moses Hess. He edited the Rheinische Zeitung newspaper (1842-43), but the authorities suppressed the paper nd Marx went into exile. While in Paris he met Engels (1844). This began a close collaboration between the two men. At a conference of the Communist League in London Marx and Engels were commissioned to write a succinct declaration of their concepts (1847). They wrote the "Communist Manifesto" (1847-48). It began, "A spectre is haunting Europe -- the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies. ...." Political philosophers since the 18h century had appealed to the natural rights of man to justify social reform. Marx and engles made an entirely new argument. They invoked economic forces which would determine history inevitably lead to the triumph of the working class. There were other authors addressing the same issues as Marx nd Engles, but Marx's contribution to socialism was to maintai that it was scientifically based. He saw history as a continuing process of social evolution. The process was feudalism, mercantilism, capitalism, and then finally socialism. Marx returned to Paris (1848) and then when revolution broke out onto. He foundedthe Neue Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne. Marx supported democratic reforms to the Prussian autocracy. Prussian authorities suppressed the paper ans Marx was forced to seek refuge in London during May 1849 to begin the "long, sleepless night of exile" that was to produce Das Kapital.

Meternich and Bismarck

Two men dominated 19th century Europe after Waterloo, Austrian foreign minister Meternich and German Chancllor Bismarck. The revolutions of 1848 occurred at mid century, tey also marked the transition between Meternich and Bismarck. Meternich was forced to resign as a result of the 1848 disorders. Bismarck played little role in the 1848 disorders, but his his steadfast support of the monarchy during the crisis and his reputation as a conservative politican was to lead to his appointment as chancellor.



Wilson, A.N. The Victorians (W.W. Norton: New York, 2003), 724p.


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Created: December 20, 2002
Last updated: 5:35 AM 10/16/2017