(REFORM and REVOLUTION in EUROPE to 1850 – continued)

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

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Europe to 1850

Gains by liberalism remained in late 1848. In the German states the National Assembly in Frankfurt remained in session, and liberal constitutions remained in Saxony and Bavaria, where liberals won election victories. Another state that remained liberal was Belgium, with lowered requirements for participating in elections.

In Switzerland those favoring liberalism and national unity were victorious. Switzerland's civil war was over, and Switzerland was unified into a single federated nation with a constitution modeled after that of the United States. Democratic rights were guaranteed to all people of the Christian faith. September 12, 1848, the day the new constitution was issued, became an annual celebration. (In 1866 democratic rights would be extended to everyone.)

In France the Second Republic remained. In December a nephew of Napoleon, Louis-Napoleon, a member of France's Constituent Assembly, ran for president. He was helped by his name, but he disassociated himself from his uncle, saying "I am moved by no ambition which dreams one day of empire and war." He ran as everybody's friend and announced that he would "ever remain faithful to the duties which your suffrages and the will of the Assembly impose upon me." He was overwhelmingly elected, winning by a margin of almost four to one – supported by some wealthy bourgeoisie, by peasants, some workers, socialists and by the Catholic Church.

Austria and the boy king Franz Joseph to May, 1849

In December, 1848, in Austria, people around Emperor Ferdinand convinced him to step aside in favor of his eighteen-year-old nephew, Franz Joseph, who had been carefully groomed for rule by his mother, princess Sophia. Ferdinand was only fifty-five, but he had been subject to periods of mental incapacity and was childless. He went along with the transfer of power, telling Franz Joseph "Be good and God will protect you."

Franz Joseph had demonstrated an ability in learning languages. He had a love of uniforms and the military, and he was devoted to his duties and to his Catholic faith. He believed in the sanctity of his Habsburg inheritance and ignored its mundane origins in property ownership, opportune marriages, bloodshed and historical accident. He held a firm and intense belief that rule by the House of Habsburg-Lorraine was ordained by the grace of God.

Franz Joseph taking the throne was the beginning of a harder line in Austria. Parliament was forced to drop the claim that sovereignty was derived from the people – which to Franz Joseph and his mother was blasphemy. And the position taken by those around the new emperor was that Franz Joseph was not bound by any of the agreements or promises that had been made by Ferdinand, including promises to the Hungarians.

In April, Franz Joseph's government formally withdrew from the monarch's 1848 agreement with Hungary and considered Hungary to be one of its provinces. Hungary responded by declaring itself independent and a constitutional republic, with Louis Kossuth its president. International backing did not follow, with Britain among those who rejected Hungary's claim to independence.

Italy into May: Conservatives versus Liberals

In January, 1849, troubles were brewing in Rome. Pellegrino Rossi, who had been chosen by Pope Pius IX as prime minister had been assassinated. Conservatives in Rome boycotted elections for the new Constituent Assembly, resulting in mostly left-wingers being elected as deputies, and on February 8 the new assembly replaced the Pope's secular monarchy with a republic. Religious conformity was removed as a qualification for citizenship. Some resisted these changes by resorting to violence. The Pope disguised himself as a monk and fled to the conservative haven of Naples-Sicily.

In Piedmont, just northwest of the Italian peninsula, democrats won parliamentary elections. In March, 1849, a new prime minister took office, and he discarded the peace agreement with Austria and moved troops toward Lombardy. General Radetzky and his army intercepted the Piedmontese ten miles short of the border with Lombardy, at Novara, and he defeated them. King Charles Albert took refuge in a Portuguese monastery and died in July, leaving his son Victor Emmanuel to deal with the victorious Radetzky.

In Florence an uprising against the authority of its Grand Duke back in February had resulted in the Grand Duke and his minister fleeing and revolutionaries taking power. Encouraged by Radestzky's victory at Novara the countryside in Tuscany rallied in favor of the restoration of their Grand Duke and restoration of Pope Pius IX in Rome. The radicals who had taken power in Florence withdrew to the stronghold of radicalism in the port city of Livorno, where people were determined to resist the conservative forces. At the end of April, Austrian troops arrived in Tuscany to secure the rule of the Grand Duke, and an assault on Livorno suppressed the rebels there.

In April, Louis-Napoleon sent French troops on a mission to restore the power of Pope Pius IX in Rome, the French troops believing they would be welcomed as liberators. Catholic Austria was also determined to restore the Pope. Its troops were advancing through the Papal States while in Rome were the Italian nationalists Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi and his troops, supporting republicanism.

In May another rising occurred in Sicily, and the king of Naples-Sicily, Ferdinand II, sent an army that crushed it.

More Triumph for Authoritarians

In June 1849, the economy was recovering from the hard times created by the uprisings of the year before.

The National Assembly in Frankfurt completed by liberals in March 1848, completed its constitution for a united Germany, and the Assembly offered King William IV, in Prussia's Berlin, imperial authority over a united Germany. But William turned it down, saying in private that he did not want a crown given him from the gutter.

William's rejection of the assembly's constitution inspired mass meetings and demonstrations in much of Germany, except where people had recently been defeated at the barricades – as in Berlin. The mass meetings and demonstrations developed into armed rebellions, with armed civil guards and army reservists pledging loyalty to the National Assembly's constitution. Prominent in the gatherings were red flags – symbols of radical republicanism. Speakers denounced William as a blood-soaked murderer and a tyrant. In the city of Dresden in Saxony, in the Grand Duchy of Baden and in the Palatinate in the Rhineland, revolutionaries took power. But in June these risings were overpowered by Prussian or Austrian armies in the usual manner of artillery shelling followed by a cleanup assault by infantry. The National Assembly fled from Frankfurt to Stuttgart, and there it was scattered by troops from the German kingdom of Wurttemberg.

Another armed rising took place also in Paris, and people in Lyons raised barricades in opposition to Louis-Napoleon's intervention against the Roman Republic. These risings were easily overwhelmed by military force followed again by the arrest or flight of many of the leaders of the political left.

In early July, French troops overcame the resistance of Rome's republican forces. Garibaldi fled to Piedmont and later to the United States, to fight another day. Rome's republic was no more. The Pope and his authority were soon to return.


In June, Franz Joseph's government asked Tsar Nicholas of Russia for help against the Hungarians – in the spirit of the Holy Alliance against ungodly rebellion. Nicholas was eager to crush Hungarian nationalism to prevent it from spreading to his Polish subjects. Indeed, some Poles were fighting alongside the Hungarians. The Russian force was around 370,000 men, against Hungary's 152,000, and the Russians had the advantage in artillery.

In August the Russians overwhelmed the Hungarians at Világos, near the city of Arad, ending Hungarian resistance. Louis Kossuth fled to the United States. The Austrians took control of Hungary, and they executed thirteen who had been high-ranking officers in the Hungarian army.

A five-week siege by Austrian troops against Venice ended with the surrender of Venice in August – Venice suffering also from cholera and starvation. And with the surrender came the reprisal executions of Venetian leaders.

The nationalist movement among Romanians was also crushed, most of its leaders fleeing to Paris – Napoleon III, not quite an ally of Austria, in sympathy with their cause.

Austria was exhausted and satisfied that its wars were over. It left Savoy-Piedmont independent and a constitutional monarchy under Victor Emanuel. Austria imposed a repressive regime on Hungary and ruled Transylvania directly through a military governor.

In Austria itself the Constituent Assembly had been dissolved and a constitution created that left no checks on the power of the monarchy. The monarchy wanted whatever reforms that were created to be seen as its creation, not a creation from below. The Church retained all the powers that had been denied it in 1848, including in schooling. Freedom of the press was nominal, but the press and publishing of ideas was again subject to restrictions. Secular teachers were harassed and professors again subject to governmental scrutiny and harassment.

Some achievements of the uprising in 1848 remained. Tariffs that had served local lords within the Habsburg empire remained abolished. And feudal obligations were no more – a move to help the monarchy win the hearts of its god-fearing peasants. It was a move that had the blessing of those who had been feudal lords, who were paid compensation for their loss.

In Europe, serfdom remained only within the Russian empire and Ottoman-ruled territory.

More Changes for


Prussia emerged from the turmoil of 1848-49 with government programs to mollify peasants and others who labored. Prime Minister Count Brandenburg was one of those aristocrats who disliked the way that industrialists were treating their workers. He believed that the times called for governmental action that provided common people with some protections – while preserving conservative monarchism.

Count Brandenburg created a constitution as did other German states. William IV was to eventually (in 1859) swear allegiance to "a piece of paper."

Prussia's new constitution maintained upper and lower chambers of parliament with powers over taxes and the budget. A third of its seats went to those who paid the top third in taxes.

Prime Minister Brandenburg made some concessions to the industrialists, seeing industrial and technological advances as good for the country. Freedom of the press and expression was nominal under Prussia's new constitution and subject to government control. The conservatives were devoted to improving education and science, which they saw as contributing to the nation's power.

Prussia's government had ended Serfdom earlier in the century, "looking enviously at England and the Netherlands," according to Joyce Appleby, they hoped to make agriculture more efficient. A decree in Prussia in March, 1850, moved 640,000 peasants to free farming. Landlords received the same kind of compensation that the aristocrats did in Austria's empire. Appleby writes:

...landlords who controlled the government, took hundreds of thousands of acres from these newly freed serfs, who were left to fend for themselves as agricultural laborers. note35


The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, by Jonathan Sperber, 1994

Men In Crisis: The Revolutions of 1848, by Arnold Whitridge, 1949

The Relentless Revolution: a History of Capitalism, by Joyce Appleby, 2010

German History, 1789-1871, by Eric Dorn Brose, 1997

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