|Date||23 February 1848 – early 1849|
|Location||Western and Central Europe|
|Also known as||Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples, Year of Revolution|
|Participants||People of France, the German states, the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Italian states, Denmark, Wallachia, Poland, and others|
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The Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, People's Spring, Springtime of the Peoples, or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It remains the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history.
The revolutions were essentially democratic in nature, with the aim of removing the old feudal structures and creating independent national states. The revolutionary wave began in France in February, and immediately spread to most of Europe. Over 50 countries were affected, but with no coordination or cooperation between their respective revolutionaries. According to Evans and von Strandmann (2000), some of the major contributing factors were widespread dissatisfaction with political leadership, demands for more participation in government and democracy, demands for freedom of press, other demands made by the working class, the upsurge of nationalism, and the regrouping of established governmental forces.
The uprisings were led by shaky ad hoc coalitions of reformers, the middle classes and workers, which did not hold together for long. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and many more forced into exile. Significant lasting reforms included the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungary, the end of absolute monarchy in Denmark, and the introduction of parliamentary democracy in the Netherlands. The revolutions were most important in France, the Netherlands, the states that would make up the German Empire in the late 19th and early 20th century, Italy, and the Austrian Empire.
The revolutions arose from such a wide variety of causes that it is difficult to view them as resulting from a coherent movement or set of social phenomena. Numerous changes had been taking place in European society throughout the first half of the 19th century. Both liberal reformers and radical politicians were reshaping national governments.
Technological change was revolutionizing the life of the working classes. A popular press extended political awareness, and new values and ideas such as popular liberalism, nationalism and socialism began to emerge. Some historians emphasize the serious crop failures, particularly those of 1846, that produced hardship among peasants and the working urban poor.
Large swaths of the nobility were discontented with royal absolutism or near-absolutism. In 1846, there had been an uprising of Polish nobility in Austrian Galicia, which was only countered when peasants, in turn, rose up against the nobles. Additionally, an uprising by democratic forces against Prussia, planned but not actually carried out, occurred in Greater Poland. [clarification needed]
Next, the middle classes began to agitate. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, working in Brussels, had written Manifesto of the Communist Party (published in German in London on February 21, 1848) at the request of the Communist League (an organization consisting principally of German workers). Following the March insurrection in Berlin, they began agitating in Germany. They issued their "Demands of the Communist Party in Germany" from Paris in March; the pamphlet urged unification of Germany, universal suffrage, abolition of feudal duties, and similar middle-class goals.
The middle and working classes thus shared a desire for reform, and agreed on many of the specific aims. Their participations in the revolutions, however, differed. While much of the impetus came from the middle classes, much of the cannon fodder came from the lower. The revolts first erupted in the cities.
The population in French rural areas had risen rapidly, causing many peasants to seek a living in the cities. Many in the bourgeoisie feared and distanced themselves from the working poor. Many unskilled laborers toiled from 12 to 15 hours per day when they had work, living in squalid, disease-ridden slums. Traditional artisans felt the pressure of industrialization, having lost their guilds. Revolutionaries such as Karl Marx built up a following.
The situation in the German states was similar. Parts of Prussia were beginning to industrialize. During the decade of the 1840s, mechanized production in the textile industry brought about inexpensive clothing that undercut the handmade products of German tailors. Reforms ameliorated the most unpopular features of rural feudalism, but industrial workers remained dissatisfied with these and pressed for greater change.
Urban workers had no choice but to spend half of their income on food, which consisted mostly of bread and potatoes. As a result of harvest failures, food prices soared and the demand for manufactured goods decreased, causing an increase in unemployment. During the revolution, to address the problem of unemployment, workshops were organized for men interested in construction work. Officials also set up workshops for women when they felt they were excluded. Artisans and unemployed workers destroyed industrial machines when they threatened to give employers more power over them.
Rural population growth had led to food shortages, land pressure, and migration, both within and from Europe, especially to North America. In the years 1845 and 1846, a potato blight caused a subsistence crisis in Northern Europe. The effects of the blight were most severely manifested in the Great Irish Famine, but also caused famine-like conditions in the Scottish Highlands and throughout continental Europe.
Aristocratic wealth (and corresponding power) was synonymous with the ownership of farm lands and effective control over the peasants. Peasant grievances exploded during the revolutionary year of 1848.
In the language of the 1840s, 'democracy' meant universal male suffrage. 'Liberalism' fundamentally meant consent of the governed and the restriction of church and state power, republican government, freedom of the press and the individual. 'Nationalism' believed in uniting people bound by (some mix of) common languages, culture, religion, shared history, and of course immediate geography; there were also irredentist movements. At this time, what are now Germany and Italy were divided into small, independent states. 'Socialism' in the 1840s was a term without a consensus definition, meaning different things to different people, but was typically used within a context of more power for workers in a system based on worker ownership of the means of production.
Although little noticed at the time, the first major outbreak came in Sicily, starting in January 1848. There had been several previous revolts against Bourbon rule; this one produced an independent state that lasted only 16 months before the Bourbons came back. During those months, the constitution was quite advanced for its time in liberal democratic terms, as was the proposal of an Italian confederation of states. The failed revolt was reversed a dozen years later as the Bourbon kingdom of the Two Sicilies collapsed in 1860–61 with the Risorgimento.
The "February Revolution" in France was sparked by the suppression of the campagne des banquets. This revolution was driven by nationalist and republican ideals among the French general public, who believed the people should rule themselves. It ended the constitutional monarchy of Louis-Philippe, and led to the creation of the French Second Republic. This government was headed by Louis-Napoleon, who, after only four years, established the Second French Empire in 1852.
The "March Revolution" in the German states took place in the south and the west of Germany, with large popular assemblies and mass demonstrations. Led by well-educated students and intellectuals, they demanded German national unity, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. The uprisings were not well coordinated, but had in common a rejection of traditional, autocratic political structures in the 39 independent states of the German Confederation. The middle-class and working-class components of the Revolution split, and in the end, the conservative aristocracy defeated it, forcing many liberals into exile.
Denmark had been governed by a system of absolute monarchy since the 17th century. King Christian VIII, a moderate reformer but still an absolutist, died in January 1848 during a period of rising opposition from farmers and liberals. The demands for constitutional monarchy, led by the National Liberals, ended with a popular march to Christiansborg on March 21. The new king, Frederick VII, met the liberals' demands and installed a new Cabinet that included prominent leaders of the National Liberal Party.
The national-liberal movement wanted to abolish absolutism, but retain a strongly centralized state. The king accepted a new constitution agreeing to share power with a bicameral parliament called the Rigsdag. Although army officers were dissatisfied, they accepted the new arrangement which, in contrast to the rest of Europe, was not overturned by reactionaries. The liberal constitution did not extend to Schleswig, leaving the Schleswig-Holstein Question unanswered.
Schleswig, a region containing both Danes and Germans, was a part of the Danish monarchy, but remained a duchy separate from the Kingdom of Denmark. Spurred by pan-German sentiment, the Germans of Schleswig took up arms to protest a new policy announced by Denmark's National Liberal government, which would have fully integrated the duchy into Denmark.
The German population in Schleswig and Holstein revolted, inspired by the Protestant clergy. The German states sent in an army, but Danish victories in 1849 led to the Treaty of Berlin (1850) and the London Protocols (1852). They reaffirmed the sovereignty of the King of Denmark, while prohibiting union with Denmark. The violation of the latter provision led to renewed warfare in 1863 and the Prussian victory in 1864.
From March 1848 through July 1849, the Habsburg Austrian Empire was threatened by revolutionary movements, which often had a nationalist character. The empire, ruled from Vienna, included Austrians, Hungarians, Slovenes, Poles, Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Ukrainians/Ruthenians, Romanians, Serbs and Italians, all of whom attempted in the course of the revolution to achieve either autonomy, independence, or even hegemony over other nationalities. The nationalist picture was further complicated by the simultaneous events in the German states, which moved toward greater German national unity.
The Hungarian revolution of 1848 was the longest in Europe, crushed in August 1849 by Austrian and Russian armies. Nevertheless, it had a major impact in freeing the serfs. It started on 15 March 1848, when Hungarian patriots organized mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda (today Budapest) which forced the imperial governor to accept their 12 points of demands, which included the demand for freedom of press, an independent Hungarian ministry residing in Buda-Pest and responsible to a popularly elected parliament, the formation of a National Guard, complete civil and religious equality, trial by jury, a national bank, a Hungarian army, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Hungary (Austrian troops), the freeing of political prisoners, and the union with Transylvania. On that morning, the demands were read aloud along with poetry by Sándor Petőfi with the simple lines of "We swear by the God of the Hungarians. We swear, we shall be slaves no more". Lajos Kossuth and some other liberal nobility that made up the Diet appealed to the Habsburg court with demands for representative government and civil liberties. These events resulted in Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian prince and foreign minister, resigning. The demands of the Diet were agreed upon on March 18 by Emperor Ferdinand. Even though Hungary would remain part of the Empire through personal union with the emperor, a constitutional government would be founded. The Diet then passed the April laws that established equality before the law, a legislature, a hereditary constitutional monarchy, and an end to the transfer and restrictions of land use.
The revolution grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire when Josip Jelačić, Ban of Croatia, crossed the border to restore Habsburg control. The new government, led by Lajos Kossuth, was initially successful against the Habsburg forces. Although Hungary took a national united stand for its freedom, some minorities of the Kingdom of Hungary, including the Serbs of Vojvodina, the Romanians of Transylvania and some Slovaks of Upper Hungary supported the Habsburg Emperor and fought against the Hungarian Revolutionary Army. Eventually, after one and a half years of fighting, the revolution was crushed when Russian Tsar Nicholas I marched into Hungary with over 300,000 troops. Hungary was thus placed under brutal martial law, with the Austrian government restored. The leading rebels like Kossuth fled into exile or were executed. In the long run, the passive resistance following the revolution led to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise (1867), which marked the birth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The center of the Ukrainian national movement was in Galicia, which is today divided between Ukraine and Poland. On April 19, 1848, a group of representatives led by the Greek Catholic clergy launched a petition to the Austrian Emperor. It expressed wishes that in those regions of Galicia where the Ruthenian (Ukrainian) population represented majority, the Ukrainian language should be taught at schools and used to announce official decrees for the peasantry; local officials were expected to understand it and the Ruthenian clergy was to be equalized in their rights with the clergy of all other denominations.
On May 2, 1848, the Supreme Ruthenian (Ukrainian) Council was established. The Council (1848-1851) was headed by the Greek-Catholic Bishop Gregory Yakhimovich and consisted of 30 permanent members. Its main goal was the administrative division of Galicia into Western (Polish) and Eastern (Ruthenian/Ukrainian) parts within the borders of the Habsburg Empire, and formation of a separate region with a political self-governance.
During 18–19 March, a series of riots known as Marsoroligheterna took place in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Declarations with demands of political reform were spread in the city and a crowd were disbanded by the military, leading to 18 casualties.
Switzerland, already an alliance of republics, also saw an internal struggle. The attempted secession of seven Swiss cantons to form an alliance known as the Sonderbund ("separate alliance") in 1845 led to a short civil conflict in November 1847 in which around a hundred people were killed. The Sonderbund was decisively defeated and a new constitution of 1848 ended the almost-complete independence of the cantons, transforming Switzerland into a federal state.
A Romanian liberal and Romantic nationalist uprising began in June in the principality of Wallachia. Closely connected with the 1848 unsuccessful revolt in Moldavia, it sought to overturn the administration imposed by Imperial Russian authorities under the Regulamentul Organic regime, and, through many of its leaders, demanded the abolition of boyar privilege. Led by a group of young intellectuals and officers in the Wallachian military forces, the movement succeeded in toppling the ruling Prince Gheorghe Bibescu, whom it replaced with a provisional government and a regency, and in passing a series of major liberal reforms, first announced in the Proclamation of Islaz.
Belgium did not see major unrest in 1848, although numerous small-scale confrontations did occur. A number of local riots broke out, concentrated in the sillon industriel industrial region of the provinces of Liège and Hainaut. The most serious threat of revolutionary contagion was posed by Belgian émigré groups from France. Shortly after the revolution in France, Belgian migrant workers living in Paris were encouraged to return to Belgium to overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic. Karl Marx was himself expelled from Brussels in early March on accusations of having used part of his inheritance to arm Belgian revolutionaries.
Around 6,000 armed émigrés of the "Belgian Legion" attempted to cross the Belgian frontier. The first group, travelling by train, were stopped and quickly disarmed at Quiévrain on 26 March 1848. The second group crossed the border on 29 March and headed for Brussels. They were confronted by Belgian troops at the hamlet of Risquons-Tout and defeated. Several smaller groups managed to infiltrate Belgium, but the reinforced Belgian border troops were successful and the defeat at Risquons-Tout effectively ended the revolutionary threat to Belgium. The situation in Belgium began to recover that summer after a good harvest, and fresh elections returned a strong majority to the governing party.
The Young Irelander Rebellion was a failed Irish nationalist uprising led by the Young Ireland movement, part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affected most of Europe. It took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, South Tipperary. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, an armed Irish Constabulary unit of nearly 50 men raided a house and took those inside as hostages. A several-hour gunfight followed, but the rebels fled after a large group of RIC reinforcements arrived. It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it took place during the Great Irish Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.
As with the earlier United Irishmen's mass Rebellion in 1798, who sought to emulate the French Revolution, and Robert Emmet's Rising in 1803, the Young Irelanders were inspired by Republicanism on the continent.
Great Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the Russian Empire (including Poland and Finland), and the Ottoman Empire did not encounter major national revolutions over this period. Sweden and Norway were also little affected. Serbia, though formally unaffected by the revolt as it was a part of the Ottoman state, actively supported Serbian revolutionaries in the Habsburg Empire.
Russia's relative stability was attributed to the revolutionary groups' inability to communicate with each other. In the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, uprisings took place in 1830–31 (the November Uprising) and 1846 (the Kraków Uprising, notable for being quelled by the anti-revolutionary Galician slaughter). A final revolt took place in 1863–65 (the January Uprising), but none occurred in 1848.
Switzerland and Portugal were also unaffected in 1848, though both had gone through civil wars in the preceding years (the Sonderbund War in Switzerland and the Liberal Wars in Portugal). The introduction of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848 was a revolution of sorts, laying the foundation of Swiss society as it is today.
In the Netherlands, no major unrests appeared because the king, William II, decided to alter the Dutch constitution to reform elections and effectively reduce the power of the monarchy. While no major political upheavals occurred in the Ottoman Empire as such, political unrest did occur in some of its vassal states. In Serbia, feudalism was abolished in 1838, and power of the Serbian prince was reduced with the Turkish constitution.
In Britain, the middle classes had been pacified by general enfranchisement in the Reform Act 1832; the consequent agitations, violence, and petitions of the Chartist movement came to a head with their peaceful petition to Parliament of 1848. The repeal in 1846 of the protectionist agricultural tariffs – called the "Corn Laws" – had defused some proletarian fervour.
In the United States, the main impact of the revolutions and their failure was substantially increased immigration, especially from Germany. This, in turn, fuelled the nativist "Know Nothing" movement in the years preceding the American Civil War. The "Know Nothings" were opposed to Catholic immigration, especially immigration of German and Irish Catholics and held Pope Pius IX, responsible for the 1848 revolutions' failure.
1848 in Canada saw the establishment of responsible government in Nova Scotia and The Canadas, the first such governments in the British Empire outside of Great Britain itself. John Ralston Saul has argued that this development is tied to the revolutions in Europe, but described the Canadian approach to the revolutionary year of 1848 as "talking their way...out of the empire's control system and into a new democratic model", a stable democratic system which has lasted to the present day. Tory and Orange Order in Canada opposition to responsible government came to a head in riots triggered by the Rebellion Losses Bill in 1849. They succeeded in the burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal, but, unlike their counterrevolutionary counterparts in Europe, they were ultimately unsuccessful.
In Spanish Latin America, the Revolution of 1848 appeared in New Granada, where Colombian students, liberals, and intellectuals demanded the election of General José Hilario López. He took power in 1849 and launched major reforms, abolishing slavery and the death penalty, and providing freedom of the press and of religion. The resulting turmoil in Colombia lasted four decades; from 1851 to 1885, the country was ravaged by four general civil wars and 50 local revolutions.
In Brazil, the "Praieira Revolt", a movement in Pernambuco, lasted from November 1848 to 1852. Unresolved conflicts left over from the period of the regency and local resistance to the consolidation of the Brazilian Empire that had been proclaimed in 1822 helped to plant the seeds of the revolution.
We have been beaten and humiliated ... scattered, imprisoned, disarmed and gagged. The fate of European democracy has slipped from our hands.
There were multiple memories of the Revolutions. Democrats looked to 1848 as a democratic revolution, which in the long run ensured liberty, equality, and fraternity. Marxists denounced 1848 as a betrayal of working-class ideals by a bourgeoisie indifferent to the legitimate demands of the proletariat. For nationalists, 1848 was the springtime of hope, when newly emerging nationalities rejected the old multinational empires. They were all bitterly disappointed in the short run.
In the post-revolutionary decade after 1848, little had visibly changed, and most historians considered the revolutions a failure, given the seeming lack of permanent structural changes.
Nevertheless, there were a few immediate successes for some revolutionary movements, notably in the Habsburg lands. Austria and Prussia eliminated feudalism by 1850, improving the lot of the peasants. European middle classes made political and economic gains over the next 20 years; France retained universal male suffrage. Russia would later free the serfs on February 19, 1861. The Habsburgs finally had to give the Hungarians more self-determination in the Ausgleich of 1867. The revolutions inspired lasting reform in Denmark, as well as the Netherlands.
The Texas Hill Country was settled by German intellectuals fleeing the reactionary purges (German Texans). More widely, many disillusioned and persecuted revolutionaries, in particular (though not exclusively) those from Germany and the Austrian Empire, left their homelands for foreign exile in the New World or in the more liberal European nations: these emigrants were known as the Forty-Eighters.
The first deaths came at noon on 23 June.
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