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REFORM and REVOLUTION in EUROPE to 1850 (1 of 5)

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Reform and Revolution in Europe to 1850

Revolt and Reaction to 1840 | Revolutions in 1848 | Revolutions Lost | Reversals for Italians, Czechs, Hungarians and German Liberals | Economic Recovery, Political and Social Change, 1848-50

Cosette, of Les Miserables

Cosette sweeping, an engraving for Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (The Poor Ones), made into a musical about rebellion in Paris in 1830.

Revolt and Reaction to 1840

Liberty at the barricades

Click for explanation and to enlarge   Liberty at the barricades, enlarged

By 1825 the religious sentiments of Russia's Tsar Alexander had intensified. He left his Polish mistress of thirteen years and returned to his wife, Elizabeth. In August that year he took Elizabeth to southern Russia for her health and better weather. His subjects believed he was going south to put himself at the head of the Russian forces gathered at the border of the Ottoman Empire. Alexander died in December, followed by a persistent rumor that the victor over Napoleon was just tired of being tsar and was living as a hermit.

In Russia, the old problem of succession reappeared. Officers who had been with the Russian forces occupying France had been exposed to the Enlightenment, and they hated what they had found when returning to Russia: corruption, censorship, rigid control over higher education and serfdom. They disliked the military's resort to gross brutality in attempting to instill military discipline among soldiers. St. Petersburg's main square, around three thousand of them tried to overthrow the tsarist government. They took no control of anything strategic and were supported by no general rising. Their naiveté became known as the Decembrist Rising, and they were crushed by forces loyal to Alexander's twenty-nine year-old brother, Nicholas the First.

Fear of contact by Russian officers with the liberal West was to reappear again in the 20th century with Joseph Stalin. Meanwhile, Nicholas (r 1825-55) had been hardened in his conservatism by the Decembrist Rising. He feared the masses, the nobility and intellectuals. He extended the use of secret police. In Russia, fear of informers, arrest and arbitrary police procedures increased.

The Paris Rising of 1830

In France, the restored monarchy of Louis XVIII had preserved some of what had been won during the French Revolution, namely a constitution that provided for a parliament – a parliament composed of an elected Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Peers. But voting for members to the Chamber of Deputies was restricted to the wealthiest of men.

In 1824, Louis XVIII died and was succeeded by his brother, the Count of Artois, who became Charles X. Then came the 1925 stock market panic and a bank crash in Britain. This was followed in 1826 by bad harvests and the hard winters in 1828-29 and 1829-30. People in France were burdened by high food prices. King Charles was displeased with parliament. He and his ministers suspended the constitution as allowed during an emergency. He imposed censorship on the press, altered the electoral system and called for new elections. The result was disheartening for him: a return of people to the barricades. The following day, July 28, 1830, there were clashes between people in the streets of Paris and agents of authority,  a clash to be depicted in Delacroix's painting "Liberty Leading the People."

Business in Paris was at a complete standstill. Troops were deserting. Crowds were rushing through the streets. Shouts could be heard: "Down with the king!" and "to the guillotine!"

Charles X was almost 73 and left his palace in Paris for what he thought would be the safety of his palace at Versailles. There his Swiss guards at the Louvre had run away rather than face the crowds swarming toward them. They didn't want to be torn apart like their predecessors had been back in 1792. Learning that there was no safety there he and his family made it to his castle at Rambouillet, 20 miles farther to the southeast, arriving there just before midnight on July 31. On August 2 he abdicated in favor of his grandson Henry, Duke of Bordeaux, who was not yet ten years old.

Instead, parliament elected Louis-Philippe, 57, as the new king. His coronation was on August 9. His father had supported the Revolution but had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror. He was one of the more progressive members of France's Bourbon family, and people proclaimed him the "Citizen King."

With communications still slow in Europe, it was August 4 before news of rising against Charles X and Charles' abdication had reached Klemens von Metternich, one of the founders of the Holy Alliance of 1815 and chancellor for Emperor Francis in Austria. It is claimed that Metternich fainted dead away, and it is reported that when he revived he said that his life's work had been undone. Metternich viewed the reign of Louis-Philippe as a return to France's constitutional monarchy of 1792 and expected that France would continue downhill in giddy revolutionary politics. Princess Sophia, influential wife of the brother of the Habsburg king in Austria, agreed that the new monarch in Paris was illegitimate, and she prayed for the divine destruction of revolutionary Paris.

With help from the "Citizen King," Charles and his family, using pseudonyms, left Rambouillet for England on a regular steamer. There they were greeted without warmth or cheer.

Rebellion in Belgium

In Belgium, on August 25, following a performance of La Muette de Fortici – an opera with appeals to liberty – people went on a rampage. The Belgians spoke either Flemish (a dialect of Dutch) or French, and unlike the Dutch they were mostly Roman Catholic. They resented rule by the Protestant Dutch, and some wanted to join France in revolution.

Before the year was over, the Belgians created a provisional government and declared independence from the Dutch. The French were willing to wage war in support of the Belgians. In Vienna, Metternich wanted to avoid war. The British and French summoned a conference that began in November, 1830, in London and lasted through much of 1831. At the conference it was decided that Belgium would be independent and ruled by Prince Leopold – uncle of the twelve-year-old future Queen of England, Victoria. (Leopold was from Saxe-Coburg, one of the many small duchies around Saxony and Thuringia.)

In August 1831, the Dutch responded by invading Belgium, and in a ten-day campaign that had the approval of the London Conference, the French drove the Dutch back to their Netherlands.

A Nationalist Uprising in Poland

Meanwhile, in November 1830 Polish soldiers in Warsaw had revolted. Crowds took control of the city of Warsaw and were backed by aristocrats, intellectuals and young army officers. The Poles declared independence from Russian rule. Austria and Prussia agreed on joint action to put down the revolt. The rebellion sought help from France. Freedom for the Poles was popular in France as well as Britain, and Britain was not about to send troops that would clash with the Russians or Austrians. Some French veterans of the Napoleonic wars joined the Polish combatants. Then in September 1831, Nicholas I, who considered himself both the Tsar of Russia and King of Poland, sent troops into Poland that overwhelmed the rebellion.

The Germans during Karl Marx's Early Teenhood

In 1830, uprisings occurred under the rule of various German aristocrats. Common people across borders were annoyed by military conscription and higher food prices. In Prussian-ruled Westphalia just south of the Netherlands, rent, tax and military records were burned. Authorities there addressed people as children and asked what they really wanted, and people replied: "Bread and jobs!"  note34  

In neighboring Brunswick, Grand Duke Karl fled, and a liberal constitution was created. To the southeast, the king of Saxony felt forced to grant his subjects a liberal constitution. In Hesse-Kassel, feudal dues were weighing down the peasantry and customs duties between the petty domains within the state were a burden on commerce. There, people rioted for bread. Peasants destroyed manorial records, and a constitution and a unicameral legislature were created.

Germany remained little changed from what it had been in 1800. It didn't have as much of a middle-class as Britain for a liberal movement. Conservatives commented that people were worse off where states had liberal constitutions, and by the mid-1830s a reaction inspired by the German chancellor to the Habsburg emperor, Metternich, brought an end to liberal constitutions, and it brought a new repression that included persecution of teachers, suspension of professors and the banning of writings including the works of Heinrich Heine.

In Prussia in 1833-34, King Frederick William III had begun cracking down on dissents. His regime was afraid that intellectuals were turning the ideas of the celebrated German philosopher Hegel (who died in 1831) into a belief that change would eventually bring an end to the status quo in Prussia. William and the liberal ideology of businessmen were in conflict. The king remained adamantly opposed to ideas of liberty, which he associated with the French Revolution, and his officials were trying to weed ideological enemies from educational institutions.

King William III died in 1840 and was succeeded by his son, Frederick William IV, age forty-five. He was more removed from the struggle with the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte than his father had been. Prussia's businessmen looked to their new king for political reforms that would match the economic advances they believed they had produced for his realm. They wanted a constitutional government and an ability to express their interests to government so that Prussia and neighboring German states could advance economically similar to England.

William IV made some token gestures for the business class, but in general he ignored their requests for reform. He kept members of the nobility in positions of power in government and the military. He remained opposed to a constitution, and he didn't trust the common people. And from propertyless working people came murmurs of revolt. They didn't feel as blessed by God as much as did the middle-class, and they were inclined to question the monarchy's claim about God and the status quo.

Britain to 1840

In 1830, British workers were organizing and pushing for political reform, including universal male suffrage. In 1831, a reform bill passed in the House of Commons, but the bill was defeated in the House of Lords. Lacking other means of political expression, many saw rioting as their only recourse, and riots followed in various cities. Elections to the House of Commons gave liberals – the Whig party, largely aristocrats with liberal leanings – a majority, and in October, 1831, the Labour in Cotton Mills Act was passed. This eliminated night work for persons under twenty-one and restricted working hours for those under eighteen to 12 hours per day.

More legislation in 1832 ended "rotten boroughs" – a system by which a very small electorate could gain unrepresentative influence within Parliament. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to cities that had risen during the Industrial Revolution, and Parliament gave suffrage to select members of the middle class, but blue-collar workingmen had gained nothing, and agitation began for complete manhood suffrage.

In 1834 a Factory Act became law. It regulated child labor in textile factories. No child under nine was to be employed, and children under twelve were to work no more than 48 hours per week.

That year a strike paralyzed much of Lancashire for sixteen weeks, and in other places troops clashed with the working poor, and the working poor burned down the "workhouses" that had been built for them.

In 1836, the London Working Men's Associate formed. In 1837, cotton spinners were out on strike for three months, and Victoria, recently turned eighteen, became queen. By law, Hanover could not accept the succession of a woman, and the crowns of Britain and Hanover were separated, ending 123 years of union between Britain and Hanover, the kingship of Hanover passing from William IV to his brother, the duke of Cumberland.

In 1839, working people presented to Parliament a "Charter" of political reforms. Conservatives in Britain saw reform as antagonistic to their economic ideology of laissez faire. Parliament rejected the reforms and riots followed in cities such as Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham, and in Wales.

The kingdom's cities were increasing in population, with people together with hardly any park or open spaces, with many houses for common people built wall to wall, without yards, often with six to ten persons living in one room, without sewer pipes or running water. With water scarce, common people in the cities became indeed the unwashed, some people not bathing at all and adjusting to the smell. Excrement ran down the middle of unpaved streets, often clogged with garbage. As many as a couple hundred people might share a single outhouse. Excrement sometimes piled up in basements and dung hills piled up outside homes. A British reformer, Edwin Chadwick, championed the idea of a program of iron pipes carrying clean water into homes and sewage away from homes. The removal of sewage, he calculated, would cost one-twentieth of the current method – removing it by hand – and gains would be made in disease abatement. He was opposed by Britain's upper-bourgeoisie. They stood by their attachment to laissez-faire economics, their lack of imagination and their opposition to tax-and-spend politics.


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