(REFORM and REVOLUTION in EUROPE to 1850 – continued)

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REFORM and REVOLUTION in EUROPE to 1850 (2 of 5)

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Revolutions in 1848

By the early 1840s, industrialization in Great Britain was almost three times what it had been in 1800. Industrial production during this period had doubled in Belgium, while remaining half that of Britain. France's industrial output had increased 77 percent in this period, with its per capita industrialization about 35 percent that of Great Britain. Industry in Germany (still only a geographical expression) was beginning to grow faster than it was in France, but per capita production was only one quarter that of Britain and Ireland combined.

The Austrian Empire was growing slower industrially than Germany, while railways had just begun to connect a few points within the empire – Prague, Budapest and Trieste – and Austria's steamships were plying the Danube River. And Italy and Russia lagged behind Austria.

Then progress in mechanization was accompanied by a disaster in agriculture. The faster shipment of potatoes from the Americas, across the Atlantic to Europe, allowed the survival of mold arriving with the potatoes. A potato blight in Europe in the mid-forties, accompanied by drought and bad harvests, caused food shortages and higher prices. Ireland was especially hard hit, with typhus coming on the heels of the potato blight. Ireland had a population of 8.5 million in 1845, and six years later its population would be down to 6.5 million. In 1845, the number of people leaving Europe for the United States began rising: Germans looking for land to farm, English artisans looking for work in their crafts and the Irish running from hunger. Thousands of Irish died on the ships taking them to the United States.

On February 20, 1846, people hurt by the harder times rioted in Krakow and its surrounding countryside. Barricades went up in the city. Intellectuals declared Polish independence. Peasants armed with scythes and flails killed or mutilated nearly 1,500 noblemen before Russian troops arrived in early March, joined by Habsburg troops from Austria. The Austrians pacified the peasantry and restored the feudal order. The Russians and Austrians agreed to end Krakow's status as a free city. The leader of the short-lived revolutionary government, Jan Tyssowski, escaped with 1,500 troops into Prussia where he was jailed, and he later emigrated to the United States.

In April 1847, people in Berlin were angry over the price of food, and for four days they rioted, plundering stores and markets and erecting barricades against attacks by the Prussian king's military.

Something different happened in June 1847 in liberal Britain. Parliament passed the "Ten Hours Bill," which limited the hours of work per week for women and children to sixty-three. That month a small group of radical Europeans with little influence – including Karl Marx, now 29 – met in the safety provided by Britain, in London, and changed the name of their organization from League of the Just to the Communist League. The League commissioned Karl Marx to write a manifesto.

The Early Risings of 1848

In January 1848, sixty-one people were killed in Milan protesting against a rise in taxes by their Austrian rulers. And that month in Palermo, Sicily, people rioted.  There, people were interested in a liberal constitution and an end to the despotic rule of Ferdinand II, king of Naples-Sicily since 1830.

In January 1848 the Swiss were having a civil war. People in Switzerland were divided by language and religion. Cantons (subdivisions) that were predominately Catholic were more conservative and opposed to a politically unified Switzerland. They had joined a military alliance called the Sonderbund supported by Foreign Minister Metternich of Roman Catholic Austria and supported by other European conservatives. Their rivals in Switzerland were interested in national unity, more democracy and inspired by France and the United States.

The Uprising by Daumier

The Uprising, by Daumier

In February, people demonstrated in Paris. Until the 1840s, France had enjoyed a so-called Golden Age under King Louis-Philippe, but hard times had returned. The king's government feared radicals, and it declared political meetings illegal. A refusal to allow a "banquet" to discuss reforms brought workers and students into the streets. They clashed with police and built their barricades with roadway pavement blocks. A demonstrator shoved a burning torch into a soldier's face and violence followed in which demonstrators were shot and around forty died. Rather than try to crush what became a more intense rebellion, Louis-Philippe abdicated in favor of his nine-year-old grandson and he headed for exile in Britain. Parisians invaded the Chamber of Deputies and demanded a republic. The Deputies created a provisional government that was mostly of moderates but with a few radicals, and they declared what became France's Second Republic.

Rebellion in Germany

It took days for news of the rising in Paris to reach cities outside of France, and the news inspired copy-cat risings. Thirty-thousand peasants marched on the seat of the Duchy of Nassau, Wiesbaden, thirty miles west of Frankfurt. For sometime these peasants had been upset about others having been freed from serfdom but not them. They forced Duke Adolf of Nassau to abolish serfdom.

A rising against serfdom came also in Baden and Wuerttemburg, where ruling families had been ignoring the growing resentment of their serfs. The serfs there were violent in a way that had not been seen in Germany since the 1500s. The Grand Duke of Baden fled, and in Baden a revolutionary government was founded.

In the eastern part of Prussia's Westphalia, violence erupted among free peasants and the landless. They were angry about the economy, which seemed to them to favor the well-to-do. The violence spread to Saxony and to neighboring Thuringia and Silesia to the west and east, where more castle burnings took place. Disturbances erupted also in the cities of Hamburg, Cologne, Brunswick, Munich, and Mannheim, to name a few. There were demands for constitutional government – and some admiration for the United States Constitution. There were demands for a people's army (national guard), trial by jury, freedom of assembly, freedom of worship and equitable taxation. In Bavaria, King Ludwig decreed freedom of the press. Tens days later, to appease his subjects, who were angry over his affair with Lola Montez, Ludwig (not quite sixty-two) abdicated in favor of his son Maximilian.

In Prussia's capital city, Berlin, soldiers and demonstrators clashed, and the emperor, William IV, withdrew his soldiers to avoid more bloodshed. A great crowd gathered at William's palace and demanded that he join them in paying respect to the 303 who lay dead at the barricades. William went, and the crowd shouted hat's off, and William removed his hat. The crowd then sang an old German hymn, "Jesus is my refuge," after which William withdrew. Pressure from the Berliners continued and William was compelled to order the release of all of the political prisoners in Berlin jails and to greet each of those leaving the prison.

One of the hopes among German liberals was a united Germany as opposed to a lot of states run by dukes or petty kings, and a few days later William proclaimed himself head of the whole of the German fatherland. By the end of March the desire for unity among Germans was expressed by 600 delegates from across Germany gathering in Frankfurt for the purpose of creating a constitution for a united Germany.

Germany's few industrialists tended to have mixed feelings about the risings. They distrusted the passions of poor people, but they had also been unhappy working under a government bureaucracy that to them seemed out of touch with modern times. They wanted reforms that worked in their favor, while some landowning aristocrats, Otto von Bismarck among them, with their traditional rural values, looked down upon the industrialists. Capitalism, complained Bismarck, was enriching individuals but creating a lot of poorly nourished proletarians. Bismarck joined other conservatives around Emperor William in urging a counter revolution.

German intellectuals were also attacking capitalism, complaining that machines should be freeing men from animal servitude rather than fashioning workers "to a terrible bondage." They advocated government enforced reductions in work hours, the banning of child labor, subsidizing decent housing for workers, sickness and disability programs and public education.

Rising in Vienna, Austria

In Vienna,10,000 factory workers had recently been laid off.  Students there favored democracy and civil liberties, and they joined forces with the unemployed. On March 12, 1848, a crowd of demonstrating workers and students was fired upon, and this unleashed a popular rising. Barricades went up, and the municipal guard went over to the side of the rebellion. Austria had been ruled largely by a State Council consisting of Metternich and four others. It was against Metternich, the State Council and the police that the rising voiced its wrath – not the Habsburg-Lorraine king, Ferdinand I.

A terrified and scornful Metternich, not quite seventy-five, went into exile in England. King Ferdinand accommodated the rebels. On March 15, his proclamation read:

We, Ferdinand the First, by the grace of God, Emperor of Austria, king of Hungary and Bohemia ... have adopted such measures as we have recognized as necessary to fulfill the wishes of our loyal people.

Ferdinand promised to provide his subjects with a constitution, and people spoke of the coming constitution with joy. People were delighted by the thought of an end to police intimidation and censorship. Professors were enthusiastic about an end to restrictions and police spying. For a few days people danced, sang, wined and paraded in the streets. It was as if the Viennese were one happy family, including the city's Jews.

Some conservatives saw it as the wanton masses exercising their lack of discipline. Princess Sophia was outraged at the weakness of her father-in-law the king, and she was outraged at what she called the "liberal stupidities" of King William in Berlin.

Then, a week after the rising, Vienna calmed down. Ferdinand abolished serfdom and promised more reforms. Talk of liberalism and reform remained. But, with the economy damaged accompanied by the spirit of cooperation, word passed through the city that for the sake of everybody it was necessary to get back to work.


The peasants of Hungary were still largely serfs – almost slaves. And Hungary had a small middle-class. It had intellectuals from families of the nobility and from families of men in the civil service and the professions. Affected by travel and reading, they were interested in liberalism, in human rights and emancipations, including nationhood similar to that possessed by the French and the United States. The sons of these intellectuals were students in the city of Budapest. They had rioted in February – before the rising in Vienna. They wanted more liberty and the removal of Habsburg authority.

Already the Hungarians had a degree of autonomy. The Habsburg Francis in Austria recognized that power to tax in Hungary lay with Hungary's Diet (parliament). For revenue regarding Hungary, Francis was dependent on the goodwill of Hungary's Diet. He had been allowing local government for the Hungarians within an overall rule from Vienna.

Perhaps inspired by the rising in Vienna on March 13, people rallied in Budapest on March 15. For the occasion, the words of a twenty-five year-old poet, Sandor Petofi, were read: "Arise Hungarians, the Fatherland is calling. The time is here, now or never." The crowd responded. The Hungarians and their leaders were inspired to a new fervor for independence, and March 15 was to be their equivalent to America's Fourth of July. On March 17 the stunned and overwhelmed monarchy in Vienna granted Hungary's demand for independence, offering it a completely voluntary association within the Habsburg empire and their own constitution. In Hungary, freedom of the press was proclaimed, and a move to abolish serfdom was begun by the Diet.

The Italians, Poles and Ukrainians

In February – before Metternich's move into exile – Pope Pius IX, had published an allocution beginning with the words "God Bless Italy." Metternich had questioned it, worried about dislike by Italians for Austrian rule. Italy, he complained, was only a geographical expression.

In March, the Pope granted a constitution for his papal states – where he was a secular prince. This permitted an elected legislature while leaving authority with himself and the College of Cardinals. Already, when becoming Pope in 1846 he had granted amnesty to thousands of political prisoners and exiles, and in 1847 he had relaxed press censorship.

In 1848, following news of the rising in Vienna, the Austrian-ruled Italian cities of Venice and Milan erupted in rebellion. Fighting in Milan raged for five days (from March 18 to 23). On March 22, Venice declared independence. Austria's troops felt forced to withdraw from Milan, and Milan called upon the liberal king of nearby Piedmont-Savoy (and Sardinia), Charles Albert, to put Milan under his protection. And Charles Albert did so by declaring war on Austria.

In March, Polish nationalists in Posen also rose in opposition to foreign rule – rule from Berlin. They were encouraged by the rising in Berlin, and they declared home rule. And following the rising in Vienna, riots occurred again in the Polish city of Krakow – under Habsburg rule since 1846. Also, in the Polish areas of Galicia, people demanded civil liberties, use of the Polish language in schools, freedom of the press and amnesty for political prisoners. And people rebelled in the Austrian-ruled city of Lemberg (Lviv). That city created a people's army (national guard), and Ukrainians there demanded a Ukrainian nation that extended into eastern Galicia.

The Romanians

With other Europeans in the great rising against authoritarianism, Romanians in the city of Czernowitz (Cernauti), on February 20 that year, drew up a petition demanding autonomy within the Habsburg Empire, and they set up a local "national guard." Romanians were encouraged by the turn of events in Vienna in March. Romanian students had taken part in the March rising in Paris and then returned to their Romanian homes. Meanwhile, Romanians in Transylvania, were discussing issues. There, under Habsburg rule, they were upset over a lack of recognition of their religion (Eastern Orthodoxy), their language and culture and an increased domination by Hungarian nobility. In March and April the Romanians of Transylvania organized and launched manifestos, culminating in a meeting on April 30 in the city of Blaj, attended by approximately 4000 people, including peasants. They called for Romanian nationhood, ancient rights, an end to serfdom and for the avoidance of violence in achieving their goals.

Bessarabia was also a homeland for Romanians, but there was little resistance to foreign rule. Tsar Nicholas in 1837 had taken control of Bessarabia, abrogating its autonomous status, and he had begun appointing Russians to administrative positions and colonizing the area with Germans and others, while Romanian peasants were running to Moldavia to escape what they feared would be a descent into Russian-style serfdom. The Romanians of Moldavia were within the Ottoman Empire with aristocrats (boyars) ruling locally. Moldavia was poor, without little that was industrial and without much of a middle-class. There, in March, following the arrival of news of revolution in the West, posters went up. In April, a thousand Romanians assembled in Moldavia's capital, Jassy, followed by a petition for civil liberties and a new national assembly. The ruling aristocracy responded by sending out its militia, which arrested 300 and sent others fleeing Moldavia.

The biggest move for establishing an independent Romanian nation came in the region of Walachia (Wallachia) – today a southern part of Romania. Walachia was overwhelmingly Romanian, recently under Russian military rule, Ottoman suzerainty, with a Habsburg intrusion and domination by a local prince. A Romanian nationalist movement had been founded, and it had become more militant as it moved from a religious to a more secular and liberal orientation. The younger generation in Walachia's major city, Bucharest, was interested in liberalism, and, on June 9, 1848, the city erupted. There were calls for civil liberties, social and economic reforms, including the emancipation of Jews, a call for a constituent assembly and for the independence of Walachia from foreign rule.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.