View Full Version : The Causes of the 1848 Revolution


Camikaze
Feb 28, 2009, 06:15 AM
For Love (the poster, that is).

Maybe slightly short, but there was a 1500 word limit.
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Account for the Revolutions of 1848

The Revolutions of 1848 that swept across Europe were important to the history of the continent. They were social revolutions of discontent that can be put down to three main factors. The first is the overall discontent in Europe at the time. The second is the large tide of liberalism in Europe, and the third is the large sense of nationalism created by foreign rule and hopes of unification. Despite the Paris Revolution of February 1848 being generally considered the cause of the revolutions, this revolution itself was created by the three aforementioned factors and was only the spark that set off the European-wide wave of revolutions.

Discontent at poor governance and life was a major cause of the Revolutions of 1848. Bad harvests and economic depression in the years leading up to the 1848 created massive discontent throughout all of Europe, and food riots were common. Unemployment was also created due to the economic crisis. These large-scale problems were obviously a precursor to large-scale revolutions, with building discontent coming with each bad harvest. However, it was not just a lack of food that caused discontent in Europe at the time. Poor governance was also a factor that caused unhappiness for many. The laissez-faire attitude of the French government and monarchy was a factor that caused many to be unhappy. They saw the government as useless. This discontent can be seen in the fact that there were 80 attempts on King Louis Philippe’s life in his eighteen-year reign. When the people of Paris first revolted on the 22nd of February, the dismissal of the government leader Guizot was a major step taken by Louis Philippe to placate the Parisian mobs, but an accidental attack from a military unit on the crowds destroyed any chance of reconciliation. The dismissal of Guizot shows that the discontent was directed at the government, and that it was even acknowledged by the monarch. The discontent in France not only came from the poor governance of what is known as the July Monarchy, but also from the violence in the country during this rule. This violence came from the many rebellions and insurrections against the government after it came to power in a social revolution itself in 1830. Throughout Europe almost all governments were the subject of popular discontent. For example, the first major uprising of 1848, in Palermo, Sicily, was an uprising mainly against the poor governance of the ruling Ferdinand II. As you can see, general discontent caused by food shortages, economic depression and poor governance was a major factor in causing the Revolutions of 1848.

The large tide of liberalism in Europe leading up to the revolutions of 1848 was the major contributing factor to the unrest. Liberalism was present in all places that experienced revolution during 1848. Firstly, in the Sicilian uprising, the revolutionaries, as well as revolting against the misrule of their leader, were revolting against the repressive society in which they lived, and demanded the installation of the liberal and democratic 1812 constitution. In France, the government had over the previous years of its rule repressed its people also. Universal suffrage was still elusive in France, and many felt excluded by this. This can be seen as a cause of revolution by the fact that after the Paris Revolution, universal male suffrage was installed. The outbreak of the Paris Revolution was also directly related to liberalism. After the liberal opposition in the French Chamber of Deputies had gained ground on the ruling group in elections, they organized a ‘propaganda banquet’. The government banned this banquet, and this caused the masses of Paris to take to the streets. Therefore it can be seen that the repressive nature of the French government and their decision to stop free speech was the major cause of the Paris Revolution. In Austria, the repressive system of Prince Klemens von Metternich, which can be seen with the exceptionally rigid Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, was despised by the masses, and after the Paris Revolution, the people took the chance to revolt. This forced the resignation of Metternich. As David Thomson writes, “In the first week of March 1848, the opposition to the long rule of Prince Metternich reached its climax. It was drawn from all social classes… who had come to detest his rule”. A week before this uprising, the Vienna Legal/Political Reading Club decided on constitutional proposals, which included religious toleration, the right to petition, and the abolition of censorship. These proposals show that the people of Vienna wanted liberal change. In the Germanic states, similar proposals were made in petitions. On February 27th, the people of Mannheim made out a petition demanding, amongst other things, trial by jury and freedom of the press. Similar petitions in Cologne and Mainz over the next week also demanded these liberal measures, as well as a more extended franchise, religious toleration, free speech, free elections for officers in a citizen’s militia, and the swearing of an oath to the constitution by the armed forces. These petitions also show what the people wanted. Of course, when the people didn’t get these changes, they resorted to revolution. These cases of the tide of liberalism were also seen in other countries, such as Spain and Hungary throughout 1848. As you can see, liberalism was a very major cause of the Revolutions of 1848.

The last major contributing factor to the Revolutions of 1848 was the large sense of nationalism created by foreign rule and by hopes of unification. The Italian peninsula was an important place in the context of the 1848 revolutions. At the time the peninsula was split up into various kingdoms, such as Sicily and Piedmont, and Austrian satellites, such as Venetia and Lombardy. The Sicilian uprising in February 1848 gave hopes to all Italians who wanted one united Italy. They saw this revolution as a chance to unite the nation, and this caused revolutions to rise up in various cities, such as Milan, where bitter fighting initially forced the Austrians out of the city. Foreign rule was also a major cause of revolution in Hungary in 1848. Hungarians were unhappy at Austrian rule, and in March took to the streets demanding autonomy from Austria, with what Michael Rapport describes as, “only a dynastic link” of the Hapsburg monarchy.

The hope of unification was a major factor in the revolutions in the Germanic states. The aforementioned petitions of Mannheim, Mainz and Cologne not only demanded liberal reforms, but also called for a general German parliament. David Thomson writes, “the central revolutionary impulse was one of nationalism- for the overthrow of Austrian domination and of the princely sovereignties which served that domination, and for the unification of German territories into one state”. As with the liberal demands, when the people did not get these changes, they revolted. This very strong nationalist feeling was summed up in the successful Heidelberg Declaration made on March 5th, which, similarly to the petitions of the previous days (Mannheim and Mainz), demanded a national German parliament. This nationalist sentiment was such a force behind the revolutions that German leaders were forced to give in to the declaration’s demands.

As well as the sense of nationalism created by foreign rule and hopes of unification was also a small amount of nationalism in France created by the July Monarchy’s foreign policy. Some saw the government’s position as weak and compared it not at all favourably with previous monarchies in French history. Although this was only a small factor, it nevertheless contributed to the Paris Revolution.

As you can see, nationalism was a major force behind the Revolutions of 1848, both due to the hate of foreign rule, and the hopes of unification.

As this all shows, the Revolutions of 1848, and the Paris Revolution that sparked these revolutions, were caused by three main factors. The first was the discontent caused by food shortages, economic depression, and poor governance. The second was the large tide of liberalism in Europe caused by the repressive policies of various governments, and the third was the large sense of nationalism created by foreign rule and hopes of unification. These three factors, in combination with one another, created the stimulus for the Revolutions of 1848.

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Sorry I couldn't put in my footnotes- they don't seem to copy and paste well. Here's the bibliography
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Thomson, D. (1966), Europe Since Napoleon, Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Craig, GA. (1966), Europe Since 1815, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, US.

Rapport, M. (2005), Nineteenth-Century Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
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These three were definitely the most useful sources, particularly Thomson's.
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Grant, RG. (1995), 1848: Year of Revolution, Wayland Ltd., East Sussex.

Richards, D. (1977), An Illustrated History of Modern Europe 1789-1974, Longman Group, London.

Baycroft, T. (1998), Nationalism in Europe: 1789-1945, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Anderson, M., Low, A., Keese, I. (2008), Retrospective: Year 11 Modern History, John Wiley & Sons, Milton.

World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia (Computer program), (2002), World Book Inc.

Silva, Brett, “Revolutions of 1848”, http://www.cusd.chico.k12.ca.us/~bsilva/projects/revs/1848essay.html, August 5th 2008.
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Apparently this doesn't exist anymore. Doesn't matter. IIRC, it wasn't all that useful.
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“German Revolution of 1848/49”, in Welcome to Germany.info, http://www.germany.info/relaunch/culture/history/1848.html, August 5th 2008.
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When I visited here, there was a bit in the history sections dedicated to the revolutions in Germany.
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“The French Revolution of 1848”, in age-of-the-sage.org, http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/1848/french_revolution_1848.html, August 5th 2008.
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This one was a bit useful, but it isn't groundbreaking.
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“The French Revolution in 1848”, in Modern History Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1848johnson.html, August 5th 2008.
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This is an eyewitness account of the outbreak in Paris. Very interesting and informative.
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“The Royal House of Savoy”, in Regalis, http://www.regalis.com/reg/savhistory.htm, August 6th 2008.
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And this one is all about Italy. Italy was more hard to find stuff about, so this was quite useful.
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“Hungary Revolution of 1848”, in Wars of the World, http://www.onwar.com/aced/nation/hat/hungary/fhungary1848.htm, August 6th 2008.
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This was pretty much the only thing on the internet about Hungary (that I could find, and use). So in that regard, it's pretty useful.
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Breuilly, Prof. John, “Popular Politics and the Revolutions of 1848”, in Revolutions of 1848, http://web.bham.ac.uk/1848/coredocs/coredoc2.htm#title, August 6th 2008.
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I thought that this was by far the best internet source I found. Search all the links for heaps of details and stats, IIRC.
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“The Kingdom of Two Sicilies 1815-1848”, in World History at KMLA, http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/italy/nap18151848.html, August 14th 2008.
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This one is all about Italy, and this particular page was about the Revolutions. Brief, but nevertheless, slightly useful.
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Oh yeah, and the title of the thread should really be revolutions, not revolution.

Love
Feb 28, 2009, 06:18 AM
Thankyou Camikaze :D

I'm having trouble to understand my history book...

Camikaze
Feb 28, 2009, 06:21 AM
Thankyou Camikaze :D

I'm having trouble to understand my history book...

I've linked the website sources for you, and I'll edit the opening post to tell you a bit more about them.

Love
Feb 28, 2009, 06:31 AM
I read it through and it's a good text, also as the subject is pretty blurry you summed it up pretty well.

Thankyou again and i hope others have use of it too :goodjob:

Arwon
Feb 28, 2009, 06:56 PM
In 1848 Spain actually already had a liberal government, it was just a particularly conservative and oligarchic and military-dominated one. They also didn't really experience revolutionary unrest, although it was experiencing a period of Carlist rebellion.

Hmmm.

Camikaze
Feb 28, 2009, 07:09 PM
Yeah, Spain stayed out of the revolutions for the most part. I can't really remember any details, but they did have some revolutions.

Rapport, M. (2005), Nineteenth-Century Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

That source was the one with Spain in it.

Arwon
Feb 28, 2009, 07:25 PM
Yeah, I once wrote an post about something a bit related to this. http://forums.civfanatics.com/showthread.php?t=295729

My last post there is about Spain, I'll repost here:

In the case of Spain, I don't think it's the aristocracy's inherent strength that is key, but rather the weakness of everything else. I think the most important difference in the 19th century was the War of Independence (which you probably know as the Peninsular Campaign), and the three big consequences of that: the impact on the elites of Spain, the impact on the military, and the weakness of the crown. These three things conspired to give Spain a very strong elite consensus in favour of the most conservative variety of liberalism, coupled with a lack of ability to achieve stability or development within a system defined by that liberalism.

Observe!

1808. Forced succession by Ferdinand VII to Joseph Boneparte. French troops are in the peninsula in force, Spanish people rise against them. The war really destroyed the ancient regime in Spain and it never recovered. The rising against France happened against the wishes of the Bourbon crown, technically there had been a legitimate cession of the crown to the Bonapartes, so everyone was breaking with the crown in the name of "the nation" or "the people", even the traditionalists.

After the war there was a few years of absolutism after 1814. Spain was significantly poorer than it had been in 1808. The colonies had revolted and were in the process of gaining independence, the country was exhausted, many cities lost significant percentages of population (Zaragoza went from 100 000 to 15 000 people). So the king died in 1833 and there was a civil war over the succession, liberals backing Isabella, absolutists and traditionalists backing Don Carlos (the Carlists). You had the weird irony of a popular revolt in favour of absolutism against an elite and oligarchic liberalism which threatened to destroy the social order to the detriment of a lot of people (people in a seignorial situation had rights and guarantees against their landlords that private property would destroy, the "losers" under liberalism would be significant chunks of the peasantry, the landless nobility which often lived as peasants themselves, and the lower clergy).

The Carlists never had a chance despite some significant popular backing in some zones, notably Catalonia and the Basque Country (yes them. That's not a coincidence). The entire establishment backed the liberal government, which won after about 10 years of war. They dissolved the feudal property system during wartime, essentially transferring the church's land and other expropriated lands to their own hands (ie, without the peasants gaining any) with the government using the funds to wage war. The result was a constitutional government, but the people in charge were all the functionaries, lawyers, aristocrats, bankers, military officers etc, that had been the bulk of the governing elite in the 18th century. It's not that the hierarchy was rigid or entrenched nor specifically aristocratic - it wasn't, except by poverty and education keeping most people out. It's just that the class, as a whole, was self-perpetuating and quite ideologically homogeneous, even as people moved around within it. Aristocracy was a common characteristic, but not universal. Historians used to speak of a "pact" between bourgeoisie and aristocracy, but this doesn't make sense as they were never a differentiated class... the common denominator is property, not peerage.

The military impact was also huge. Politics was heavily military-dominated from 1814 until 1874, at one point mid-century 80% of government functionaries were military men. Spain's military had expanded hugely during the war, with people of all classes being promoted based on actual merit. Its cohesion as an aristocratic body was destroyed. The next 50 years saw constant military discontent fuel instability - opposition politicians curried favour with disgruntled officers, basically whoever didn't have political and military officers conspired to take it, leading to a series of pronunciamientos (something like a vote of no confidence by a section of the army) with little or no ideological content except to put another faction and another group of notables in charge of the parliament.

It wasn't the military as an institution doing this, and it wasn't a dictatorship, but rather sections of it in a situation where civil authority was very very weak. The general opinion in the military was liberal (after all, it was the first meritocratic institution in spain) but also obsessed with heirarchy, law and order and discipline, making them natural allies of the elite liberal consensus and the essential guarantor that the system would stay within a moderate liberal position.

The third thing was the weakness of the crown. As I said, the Crown essentially lost most of its prestige in the War and only managed to regain any power in cooperation with the bureaucratic elite and military. Isabella II was an idiot, too, which didn't help matters. The crown had an arbitration role in the post '43 constitutional system, but utterly failed to reimpose itself against the continued instability and chaos. The conservative liberal elites ruled only because, even though they were themselves too weak and divided to govern effectively, they were strong enough to negate any other possible counterweight from above (crown despotism or a Bonepartist solution) or below (more radical liberals).

There was a revolution in 1868, with radical liberals taking power (note that this was 3 years prior to the Paris Commune...), but after 6 years of chaos, order was restored and the same people taking power back. The difference was the new system managed to end the pronunciamiento culture and establish a much more stable two-party system. This situation persisted into the 20th century, when the working class began to get strong enough to threaten the established order.

Basically Spain went to a different timetable: 1812 (1st constitution, written during wartime), 1820 (failed 3 year period of liberal rule), 1833 (death of Ferdinand, Carlist War, beginning of legal entrenchment of liberalism), 1841 (the Espartero regency - 2 years of progressive liberal rule before a moderate coup restored the prevailing order) and then the 1868-74 revolutionary period which ended with essentially the pre-revolution order back in control.

The dates just don't match up with other events in Europe. I mean 1868 pre-empted the Paris commune, for example - I've never read anything talking about how those two events were related or if they influenced each other.