The Revolutions of 1848 in Europe

Proclamation of a Venetian republic in St Marks Square Venice 1848

In Europe, a wave of nationalism and liberalism led European citizens to erupt in protest against the conservative governments.

In 1848, many revolutions broke out throughout Europe. These revolutions were marked by nationalism and liberalism. These revolutions planted the seed for national movements in many parts of Europe. They also introduced the idea of socialism throughout much of Europe. The organized working class in Europe became a factor in politics during 1848 for the first time. After 1848, however, the triumphant reactionary, conservative powers reimposed very repressive regimes on their people.

The German People in 1848

The German-speaking people were divided into about 40 different states. This patchwork of German mini-states was dominated in the south by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The north Germans were dominated by Prussia. In 1848, an alliance of nationalist and liberal intellectuals gathered in Frankfurt and proclaimed a national assembly for all the German people.

This hope for a German state is known as “The Springtime of the Peoples.” It proclaimed a German nation-state, which would be democratic. This movement was put down by the Austrian army. Many hoped Prussia would come to their aid, but they did not and many Germans felt betrayed.

France Revolts Against Louis Philippe

In February 1848, barricades were once again erected. In France, like much of Europe at the time, there was a growing angst among the peasantry and the proletariat due to inequality. In France, the idea of revolution in France was patriotic.

Louis Philippe had introduced some liberal reforms in the 1830s. This encouraged the socialist movement and extension of the franchise throughout France. However, many believed that these reforms had not gone far enough. Also, freedom of the press exposed a corrupt parliament under Louis Philippe. By 1846, many felt the monarchy of 1830 had failed to deliver on its promises and it was time to rise up and cleanse the July Monarchy.

There had been a steady migration of landless peasants who had moved to Paris by 1848. At the same time, the middle class was agitating for a wider expansion of the franchise. This is what led to the actual outbreak of 1848. In February, the government outlawed large meetings which advocated for parliamentary reform. The meetings took place anyway and barricades were erected.

Supposedly, the army accidentally began firing on a large demonstration outside the foreign ministry, killing about 50 people. This led Paris to rise up in revolt. Louis Philippe abdicated and called for a new national assembly on the basis of universal male suffrage. The government was split by socialists led by Louis Blanc, who set up the idea of national workshops for the poor.

By May 1848, at least 100,000 people were working in the workshops. This brought about immediate ruin to the national economy. A vote was held and produced an overwhelmingly right-wing and conservative parliament, reflecting the Catholicism and conservatism of the French countryside, who closed down the national workshops. The proletariat resisted this and threw up new barricades.

The June Days

Workers united under the red flag of the working-class international movement. They fought with the French republican army, but their revolt was put down. This is known as the June Days. On December 10, 1848, the new bourgeois republic had a directly elected national assembly and president. Louis Bonaparte was elected as president. In 1852, Louis Bonaparte conducted a military coup and installed himself as Emperor Napoleon III and was built on military conquest, expansion, and imperialism.

Why Britain Did Not Revolt

Despite there being many revolutions throughout Europe, there was no revolution in Britain in 1848. The Reform Act 1832 allowed more people to vote. British national identity was reinvented and reconstructed. Many believed that the British were “respectable,” which meant reform and not revolution.

The Chartist campaign remained respectable and they saw themselves as moral reformers who wanted to get the government to do the right thing. Some “physical force” Chartists were not so sure that reform could take place without revolution but they were a minority in the Chartist revolution.

The Irish During the Revolutions

The Chartists looked to the Irish to sign their petitions. Many Irish had left Ireland due to the potato famine. Many went to Liverpool and, even to this day, Liverpool’s soccer team is seen as Catholic. Many also moved to London in large numbers. Many Irish were militant and believed the Irish could only gain independence through physical force.

In 1848, the most committed Irish militants, however, had moved to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston and they wanted to raise money in order to help achieve Irish independence through force. The Irish came to be seen as dangerous by the British. However, fighting never broke out in 1848. Tory intellectuals began to see the Irish as an unwanted enemy within.

A consequence of the 1848 revolutions was a renewed emigration of people from Europe to the United States. Many European countries became incredibly poor due to a lack of liberal economic reforms. Intellectuals and Jews were also persecuted and many made their way to the U.S.

Because of the failures of the 1848 revolutions, many historians have argued that they should be known as the “Great Illusion.” The dreams of nationalism and liberalism spreading throughout Europe was crushed by reactionary and conservative forces.