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Revolution of 1848

The European Revolutions of 1848 were a bloody culmination of prior events -- crop failures, dreams of bourgeois reformers, economic downturn, and radical politics. Although the immediate effects of the revolutions were short-term, there were lasting legacies.

Only England and Russia were left out -- the revolution was mainly the bourgeois opposition to reactionary governments, but Russia had no bourgeois, and England's had been pacified by the electoral reform of 1832.

There was horrific violence on all sides.

In France, bourgeois liberals had sought to maintain privileges acquired under the French Revolution, while the reactionary nobility sought to regain their former position. The bourgeois wished to establish constitutional governments, which in turn would be more concerned for the rights of the peasants and workers, who were not unified.

From 1845 - 46, there were poor grain harvests and out-and-out crop failures in Europe (the Irish potato famine exploded in late summer 1845 and soon migrated to the rest of the continent), and poor economic conditions. Soon there were rising food prices, unemployment, and radical politics. This combined with unification and irredentist movements, and liberal, socialist, and nationalist ideologies to produce the Revolutions of 1848.

At this time, France was under the rule of Louis Philippe, a regime with few supporters in the common people. Few could vote in elections, and the possibility of getting ahead seemed dim. The revolutions started in France.

In February 1848, French socialists demanded worker rights; in days, King Louis Philippe was overthrown and the Second French Republic[?] was declared. Unrest leaked over to German and Italian states (both were a collection of states at the time; the Italian unification movement was called the Risorgimento[?]), seeking unification, freedom of the press, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and constitutional governments. In the least this shook conservative Austria.

Unrest soon spread throughout the continent. Liberals in Germany pushed for unification, but this fell apart as the provisional government could not decide upon a constitution (both Catholic Austria and Protestant Prussia wished to be the dominant power, among other differences), and the declining of the crown by the king of Prussia without whom no German unity was possible. Spring 1849 saw the return of the old 1815 German Confederation. Prussia enacted some reforms in adopting a parliamentary government, but the king dissolved the constituent assembly and gave Prussia a constitution favoring the wealthy classes. The year 1848 saw Germany as close as it got in the 19th century to a liberal government; the result of 1848 was a more autocratic system.

In Italy, the revolution made Pope Pius IX flee Italy, but the Risorgimento failed due to the protectiveness of the Italian states.

Within the Austrian Empire, nationalism among disaffected groups such as Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, and others led to riots in March 1848. The conservative Prime Minister, Chancellor Prince Metternich, was overthrown and fled to England. A constitution was drafted in Vienna, abolishing serfdom, but the constituent assembly was overthrown by a working-class rebellion, and there shortly was a centralized, autocratic administration.

While the Italian and German movements failed, they provided an important impetus. Germany was unified under the iron hand of Bismarck in 1871 after her 1870 war with France; Italy was unified in 1861 as the United States was split into two nations and exploding into internecine civil war.

Some disaffected German bourgeois liberals (the "Forty-Eighters") migrated to the United States after 1848, taking their money, brains, and skills out of Germany and siding with the Union in the American Civil War, as they found slavery (and by implication, the Confederacy) distasteful with their image of America, then two nations. Over 177,000 served the Union cause.

In Hungary, serfdom and feudal privileges were abolished; freedom of the press and religion were declared. Legislation was enacted to provide for the union of Transylvania and Hungary. Ethnic Romanians[?] had no voice in the decision, and shortly revolted, escalating into full-scale war, Romanians siding with the Austrians, expecting equal rights in return. Atrocities were committed on all sides, and the fighting ended with Russian intervention winning the day for the Austrians, ending the bid for independence.

The usual view is that the revolutions of 1848 failed and produced horrific violence. Yet there were lasting legacies such as nascent unification movements in German and Italian states, the equality of Hungary in the Austrian Empire under the Hapsburgs, and the ultimately realized dreams of freedom of the press, religion, and trial by jury.

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