The 1848 Revolution in France repeated much of the processes that led to the ousting of the Bourbon monarchy, with King Louis Phillipe sharing the same fate as Charles X. The Banquet Campaign in Paris intensified into street fighting between soldiers and protesters as barricades were erected in the streets and the National Guard sided with the insurgents. Louis Phillipe fled and the 2nd French republic is established although its foundation rested on a shaky reliance between moderate liberals and radical socialists. The republic sought to answer the ‘social question by efforts to improve the living conditions of the working class, as well as forming various workers trade associations and political clubs.[1]

It is ironic that the democratic institutions, i.e. universal manhood suffrage, that came with the 2nd republic resulted in an electoral victory for French monarchists in April. Radicals rebelled against the electoral results in May without the support of the moderates or the national guard. The resulting backlash saw labor leaders and other Leftist figures arrested as the government took a conservative direction. Leftist demonstrations erupted again in June when the government ended social programs and once again failed against the “forces of order.”[2] In November a constitution for the 2nd French Republic was finished and presidential elections were held, despite the Left finding a place in the formation of Republican Solidarity political clubs, Louis Napoleon III, nephew of the French Empire wins in a surprise election. Living up to his family name, Napoleon III stages a coup on December 2, 1851 assuming dictatorial powers.[3]

The 1848 Revolutions in Germany saw liberals and conservatives alike seeking a unification of Germany, either under the leadership of Prussia or Austria. Like France the revolution began with intense street fighting by demonstrators in Berlin were the insurgents were victorious. When the army withdrew from the city in March, Prussian King Frederick William IV conceded to liberal demands by promising a constitution, appointing left-leaning ministers, and voicing his support for German unification as similar nationalist uprisings occur in smaller German states. [4]  Germany’s revolutions were place under pressure when Prussia went to war with Denmark in April, as Prussian forces were spread then both supporting insurgent revolutionaries as well as foreign conflict.[5] The revolution’s potential success rested on support of Prussia, which found itself bogged down in war and political pressure from England, Austria, and Russia.

The German Central Government established in Frankfort is not consulted in August when Prussia signs an armistice with Denmark as well as stopping its support of German unification movements. As chaos ensues in other German states, Prussia’s forces are used as muscle to restore order in Frankfort and squash several republican uprisings in Grand Duchy of Baden. Prussia forms its own constitution that provides a strong monarchy and executive as polarization between the Left and Right weaken the revolution in Germany. When the Frankfurt National Assembly writes a constitution that gives the office of Kaiser to King Frederick William IV, the Prussian kind turns the offer down refusing to accept “crown from the gutter.” As it lacked the support of Germany’s monarchs.[6] Any chance at unification eroded when Austrian threatened Prussia with war in 1850. Prussia gives ways to Austria’s demands and Germany is restored to a pre-1848 German Confederation under Austrian leadership.[7]

The 1848 Revolutions in the Austrian Empire revolved around several competing nationalist movements in Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, and in Vienna in the heart of Austria. Like in France and Germany, the revolution began when street-fighting, demonstrations, and riots broke out in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, and Cracow. A new government arises in Vienna as Prince Metternich flees, and the new revolutionary government becomes more liberal with the ousting of conservative ministers. Two military leaders arise as the empire is coming apart at the seams; Generals Jelacic and Windischratz. In Hungary a civil war breaks out between the Hungarians and Romanians, while insurrection in Prague and Cracow demand military intervention.[8]

The Austrian Revolutionary government abolished serfdom but promises reparations for nobility. The restrictions on suffrage lead to an insurrection by Austrian Democrats which are defeated by Jelacic and Windischratz. A constitution by the Austrian Constituent Assembly is decreed in March 1849 but is never put into effect. Austrian Emperor Ferdinand is forced to abdicate in favor of his nephew Franz Joseph, and with the use of its military, and with some assistance of the Tsarist regime in Russia, Austria is able to intimidate Prussia away from German Reunification and regain order in Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia. In December 1851, the un-used Austrian constitution was abolished as the imperial government attempted to bring about a centralized absolutist regime.[9]

Comparing this series of Revolutions with one another we find that it the conflict factions pushing revolution attributed to the failure of 1848. The disorder and dismantling of institutions gave cause for a strong leadership, backed by the military, to come in a bring order. In France Napoleon III took power for himself as socialists, liberals, and monarchists feuded with each other. In Germany, Prussia’s military controlled the course of German unification as it stymied radical republican movements and assisted others. King Frederick was more concerned with Prussian the cause of German unification as when he was offered the position of emperor his pointedly turned it down. In the Austrian Empire the various nationalist movements fought amongst themselves “weakening the revolution rather than radicalizing it, a situation cleverly exploited by the Habsburgs’ servants to bring the revolutionary movement to an end.”[10] However, the peoples of Europe all had participated massively in attempts to change their governments. This gave Europeans the experience and the historical memory needed for future revolutions to take place again in 1918 after Great War. Likewise, German Unification was not a dream that would die, but be realized and have great repercussions for Europe and the modern world.

Required Reading

Sources Cited

  • Sperber, Jonathan. The European Revolutions, 1848–1851, 2nd Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Rapport, Michael. Nineteenth Century Europe. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.
  • [1] Jonathan Sperber, The European Revolutions, 1848–1851, 2nd Edition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), iX-XX.
  • [2] Sperber, The European Revolutions, xii.
  • [3] Sperber, The European Revolutions, iX-XX.
  • [4] Sperber, The European Revolutions, X.
  • [5] Sperber, The European Revolutions, iX-XX.
  • [6] Rapport, Nineteenth Century Europe, 154.
  • [7] Sperber, The European Revolutions, iX-XX.
  • [8] Sperber, The European Revolutions, iX-XX.
  • [9] Sperber, The European Revolutions, iX-XX.
  • [10] Sperber, The European Revolutions, 269.