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1848 Revolutions

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Question 5: Discuss the causes of the 1848 revolutions in Europe. While studying the history of Europe, one cannot omit the 1848 revolutions. Soon after the New Year, Europe exploded in revolutions as Mike Rapport stated, “in 1848 a violent storm of revolutions tore through Europe.”1. As with many revolutions, the main cause was economic that channeled into political, social, cultural, and national demands for reforms. Europe experienced rather significant economic recession in 1844 and its effects were felt for several years. The revolution can be summarized to three particular factors; the prevailing discontent in Europe at that time, the urge for liberalism in Europe, and lastly, the large sense of nationalism crates by foreign rule and hopes for unification.

The poor quality of life mainly caused turmoil in the mid-19th century. Years prior to the 1848 revolution, bad harvest and economic depression infuriated the masses all throughout Europe, and food riots were recurrent. The economic crisis also increased the rate of unemployment. Large scale revolutions advertently followed these social issues, with even more discontent building up from each bad harvest. To cause further discontent was the poor governance. The laissez faire attitude of the French Government and monarchy displeased many people. They treated that the government as useless. And in France, not only poor governance but violence from the numerous rebellions and revolts against the government, after it took over control in a social revolution itself in 1830, accentuated this discontent of the masses. And discontent for all governments was common throughout the European continent. For instance, the first major riot in Palermo, Sicily, in 1848, was one against the poor governance of the ruling Ferdinand II. In 1846, Europe went through a severe famine. Wages remained unchanged while prices of food increased due to a lack of grain. Profits eventually decreased as consumers were buying less thus giving rise to another social issue, many industrial workers found themselves unemployed. 1. Mike Rapport (2008), 1828: Year of Revolution, preface, basic books
The sudden rise of liberalism in Europe which led to the 1848 revolution, was the main factor contributing to the unrest. Liberalism was omnipresent in all places that witnessed the 1848 revolution. Protest which were led by radical liberals and workers, asked for constitutional reform or complete government change. In Germany, during the month of March, protests brought prompt amelioration. While Kaiser Friedrich Wilhem IV surrendered to revolts in Berlin by promising to build up a Prussian Assembly. The disintegration of the dictatorship in Prussia encouraged liberals in the different German provinces to participate in the Frankfurt Assembly to establish a constitution and unite the German nation. Yet, after being crowned, in March 1849 Friedrich Wilhem refused thus ruing all hopes for a united, liberal Germany. In Sicilia, the revolutionaries were not only fighting against the incompetence of their leader but also to an authoritarian society in which they lived, and requested for establishment of the liberal and democratic 1812 constitution. The people of France were also victims of their oppressive government. Universal suffrage was still unachievable, and many felt excluded by this. This can be seen as a provocation to revolt as after the Paris Revolution universal male suffrage was established. The outburst of the Paris Revolution was simultaneously linked to liberalism. The liberal opposition became more popular than the ruling group in election thus they organized ‘propaganda banquet’. The masses revolted in the streets of Paris when the government banned the banquet. Therefore it can be concluded that the two major reasons for the Paris Revolution were firstly the oppressive character of the French Government and secondly their decision to stop free speech. In Austria, the masses despised the tyranny of Prince Clemens Von Metternich, which can be seen with the particularly rigid Carlsbad Decrees of 1819. And the Austrian took the risk to revolt as well after the Paris Revolution. Thus leaving no other choices to Metternich than to resign. A week prior to this uprising, Vienna came forward with their constitutional proposals, which comprised of religious toleration, the right to petition, and the abolition of censorship, showing that they wished for liberal change too. Even in German states, petitions were carried out for similar proposals. The people of Manheim demanded trial by jury and freedom of the press amongst others, on the 27th of February. Similar petitions continued over the few following weeks, Cologne and Mainz demanded for their liberal rights as well, including 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 most and for all reflected what the people wanted and were not afraid to revolt to obtain these changes. Liberalist movement also took place in countries like Spain and Hungary throughout the 1848. This sums up the importance of liberalism as a cause to the 1848 European revolution.

The last main cause of the 1848 revolution is the sense of nationalism created by foreign rule and the hope for unification. The Italian peninsula plays a key role to the 1848 revolutions, despite being divided into different kingdoms, such as Sicily, Piedmont and Austrian satellites such as Venetia and Lombardy. The revolt in February 1848, in Sicilia nurtured the hopes of all those Italians who wanted a united Italy. This revolution was for them a way to unite the nation, and this cause up rise in many cities, such as Milan, where Austrians were driven out of the city through bitter fight. In 1848, foreign rule was a main reason for revolution in Hungary. The people of Hungary were not satisfied with the Austrians rule, so they carried out rebellion on the streets in the month of March demanding for their independence from Austria.

In Germanic States, the hope of unification was a major factor in the 1848 revolutions. The petitions carried out by Mannheim, Mainz and Cologne not only asked liberal reforms, but also called for a general German parliament. As with the liberal demands, the people revolted to obtain what they wanted. They were indeed successful, their nationalist sentiment was such a force behind the revolutions that German leaders had to agree to the declaration’s demands. In France as well the people developed the sense of nationalism created by foreign rule and hoped for unification. Though it was a small factor, some people compared the monarchies in French history with the government, which also led to the Paris Revolution. Therefore it can be said that nationalism played a quiet important role in the Revolutions of 1848, both due to the hate of foreign rule, and the hopes of unification.

Despite that the revolution is said to have been mostly a failure, major changes did occurred. Quoting Mike Rapport again,
“The events of 1848 gave millions of European their first taste of politics: workers and peasants voted in elections and even stood for and entered parliament. The civil liberties that flourished all too briefly in the year provided Europeans with the free space in which they – including women – were politicized, through participation in political clubs and worker’s organizations” 1
Although the revolutions all failed, European rulers became more sensitive to the demands of nationalists and began experimenting with more liberal forms of government. The different social and economic problems Europe faced during this revolutions have largely influenced the world today. And helped in shaping it in what Europe is today.

1. Mike Rapport (2008), 1828: Year of Revolution, p.400, basic books

Jonathan Sperber (1994), The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition (2005),
Mike Rapport (2008), 1828: Year of Revolution, basic books
T.C.W Blanning (2000), the Oxford History of Modern Europe, Oxford University Press
Robert Dowe et al (2001) , Europe in 1848: Revolutions and Reforms, Berghanh Books

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