HS-102 Readings

Revolutions of 1848



The Revolutions of 1848 are a part of the ongoing liberal revolution of
19th century Europe.

1. Paris
2. Eastern and Central Europe

     The revolutions did not affect England because England had already gone beyond the goals the revolutionaries sought to achieve. They did not affect Russia because Russia had not yet developed the economic and social pressures which stimulate the liberal revolution.

     The revolutions of 1848 did, however, sweep across Europe from Paris in the west to cities throughout  Germany and Italy, to Berlin in Prussia, and to Vienna and Prague and Budapest in the Austrian Empire.

    The revolutions occurred in cities where a middle class was often joined by university students, who shared liberal goals. They united temporarily with urban working people who sought to relieve the oppressive working conditions imposed upon them in the early industrial period.

     Middle class people; entrepreneurs, industrial managers, shopkeepers, professionals, could not identify with the workers and their goals. Therefore, the united front was short-lived. They could cooperate in overthrowing the government of the old regime, but they could not share in the effort to create a new government.

    The revolution hardly touched the countryside because the peasants did not participate in the revolution and had their own agenda. Wherever peasants enjoyed ownership of the land, they tended to be a conservative influence.
    There was an element of crisis all over Europe which also contributed to the revolution. That is, a depression and sporadic famine and high unemployment were involved.

       The Paris revolution shows all of these characteristics. Middle class elements demanding the vote were joined by workers demanding an end to their exploitation. King Louis Phillippe fled into exile. Revolutionary leaders formed a committee to rule while a Republican Constitution was prepared.

    Demands by workers, backed by their presence in the streets led to the creation of National Workshops, an idea based upon Louis Blanc's concept of social workshops. It was unworkable in a time of depression with large numbers of unemployed, because it placed the unemployed on a dole without providing jobs. It attracted migrants into the city adding to the swelling numbers of unemployed. When the National Workshops  were abolished in July, 1848, a National Guard, formed by middle class leaders, fought workers in the streets for several bloody days. The alliance between the middle class and the workers had not lasted long.
    The new Constitution provided for universal male suffrage for the first time in Europe.
    A conservative peasantry, already owners of the land, and now possessing the vote, did not share the liberal goals of the revolutionaries in Paris, and generally voted for conservative (aristocratic) candidates for the Assembly. They also voted overwhelmingly for Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon I, as the President of the 2nd Republic.

When Napoleon seized power in 1852, the people voted in approval of his actions.
The 2nd Republic was quickly followed by the 2nd Empire. There had been no consensus in support of a liberal government, nor was there much grass-roots support for the legislature.

The regime of Napoleon III was unique in history at the time. A liberal revolution had been turned back. Yet, the new imperial government did not base its power upon the aristocracy, as governments of the old regime had. The appeal of the new government was to all classes of people sharing the common bond of French nationalism. It was an authoritarian government with mass support.

Nationalism, which had been thought to be a development which accompanied liberal regimes, now was being used to defeat liberal ideals.

   The lack of national unity in Germany and Italy, and the different national groups in the Austrian Empire meant that revolutionaries in the cities in those areas could not successfully coordinate with each other. Prague was a Czech city, Vienna was German, Budapest was Hungarian, but all were rebelling against the Austrian Empire. During the counter-revolution of 1849, the revolutionaries in these and other cities throughout Germany and Italy were easily overthrown by armies led by aristocrats and soldiered by peasants.

    In Budapest, a local Magyar (Hungarian) aristocracy which seized its independence from the Austrian (German) government in Vienna, was overwhelmed by a Russian army which intervened in the cause of counter-revolution.

     In Berlin, the revolutionaries had extracted a Constitution from a reluctant emperor. Although Prussia became a Constitutional Monarchy, the emperor, backed by the Junker aristocracy and the army, still held most of the power.

      In Germany, revolutionary leaders (middle class) formed the Frankfort Convention for the purpose of unifying Germany under a Constitutional Monarchy. The "Greater Germany" solution would have the Austrian ruler as the monarch, while the "Lesser Germany" solution would exclude Austria and have the Prussian ruler as king.  To include Austria was to include large numbers of non-Germans. Prolonged disagreement over the issue culminated in the attempt to invite the Prussian monarch. He refused,
saying he would not accept a throne "from the gutter". The convention
subsequently broke up in failure.

    There were certain instances where liberal goals were achieved. For example, Prussia and Austria became a constitutional monarchies at least in form, if
not in reality. The Kingdom of Piedmont in Italy became a constitutional monarchy. But in most cases the counter revolutions, which followed in 1849, were quite thorough and undermined most of the revolutionary achievements of 1848.