Revolutions 1848/1849

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Centers of the revolutionary upheavals of 1848/1849 in Europe
February Revolution in Paris in 1848
Barricades during the Five Days of Milan in March 1848
Proclamation of the Repubblica di San Marco on March 23, 1848 in Venice
Barricades built by the revolutionaries in Vienna, May 1848
Pentecost uprising in Prague, mid-June 1848: Barricade fighting on the bridge tower of the "Prague Bridge" (renamed Charles Bridge in 1870 )
Proclamation of the revolutionary Wallachian constitution (Proclamation of Islaz) on June 27, 1848 in Bucharest
Folk festival in Rome at the proclamation of the Roman Republic , February 1849
May uprising in Dresden, 1849

The revolutions of 1848/1849 summarized revolutionary upheavals in various European territories that were an expression of the delayed modernization of society, the economy and the system of rule. This revolutionary movement was part of a pan-European process of change against the Metternich system . They developed the economic, social and political changes that began with the Industrial Revolution in England and the French Revolution of 1789 . The revolutionary movement of 1848/1849 was a major turning point in European history.

Social, economic and political tensions had built up in many regions of Europe, which erupted violently from the beginning of 1848. On the one hand, the revolutionary movement affected regions that were already in transition to industrialization, such as France, the states of the German Confederation and Northern Italy, but on the other hand also regions such as southern Italy and large parts of the Habsburg monarchy that were still structured purely agrarian. The pursuit of national self-determination can be seen as a common overarching element of these revolutions.

In addition to France, the states of the German Confederation and the Italian peninsula, the tripartite Poland and Hungary, which is striving for independence, are considered important centers of the “European Revolution” of 1848/1849 . In Eastern Europe, the uprisings spread to Transylvania and the Danube principalities of Wallachia and Moldova . In individual regions, events escalated to interstate wars or took on civil war-like proportions.

In the autumn of 1849, contemporaries saw the revolutions in Europe as a failure. For more than a century, so did many historians. Today one assesses the long-term effects and the immediate successes much more positively. In many European countries the peasants' liberation and agricultural reforms were completed, the constitutional principle enforced, individual basic rights largely secured and a parliamentarization of the political order initiated, although in this area in particular many resistance and counterweights persisted for a long time. The formation of the nation state, which was violently suppressed in the Italian and German principalities in 1849, led in the medium term to a kind of reversal of the revolution. Various German historians interpret the development that followed the revolution as a " revolution from above ". It led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy on the Italian peninsula in 1861 and between 1866 and 1871 to the establishment of a German nation-state, the German Empire under the rule of Prussia.

Factors and structural similarities of the European revolutions

According to the historian Wolfram Siemann, there are several similarities which, with different weighting, were decisive for the European countries and regions. First of all, the uprisings of the “grassroots revolution” were mostly carried by those strata that were hardest hit by hunger, unemployment and the lack of social prospects in rural and urban areas. After that, the liberals' struggle to establish civil rights in state constitutions began in the constitutional bodies newly created by the surveys .

The socio-economic crises

The socio-economic crises of pre-industrial, manual trades, based on the pre- March overpopulation of entire regions, favored the beginning proletarianization of the big cities and large parts of the rural areas. The old rules of the class finally collapsed. Pauperism , the beginning of industrialization , market orientation of professions and classes as well as the long-lasting crisis of the handicrafts are terms that characterize the profound change of the two pre-revolutionary decades. This crisis manifested itself in machine storming , persecution of the Jews or demands for guild protection of the handicrafts from the competition of capital. The movement of 1848 - together with the peasant revolt, often referred to as the basic revolution - was ambiguous in its nature: it expressed itself both as a defensive crisis against the direct manifestations of early industrialization and as a struggle for emancipation among the politically influential strata of the population.

Hunger crises

Another thing they have in common is the bad harvests and the subsequent hunger and inflation crises in 1845 and 1846, which reached their peak in 1847. It was the last great famine in the industrialized countries of Europe with riots and a huge increase in emigration in the second half of the 1840s. The worst was the pre-revolutionary hardship in Ireland , but famine in German regions - not least in Silesia - also met with a great public response.

International economic crisis

An international economic crisis superimposed the previous hunger crisis and in April 1848 led to a wave of strikes in German cities. Much data confirm a far-reaching process which, in retrospect, prompted Friedrich Engels to judge that the world trade crisis of 1847 was the actual mother of the February and March revolutions (→  British railway crisis ).

Struggle for law and constitution

A fourth European dimension lies in the systematic affinity of constitutional demands. Everywhere internal political struggles developed into a dispute over a new order on the basis of a written constitution. It was about law and the constitution - about civil rights and the constitution. This was already the case in the July Revolution of 1830 , but it happened even more strongly in the initial phase of the Revolution of 1848, which did not get its starting point from France, but from Switzerland and Italy. It was always about the revision or the enactment of a constitution: Example: At the center of the so-called "March demands" circulating in Germany were constitutional demands: basic rights, especially freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, jury courts, popular arming - in very different ways - and national elections Houses of Parliament.

The crisis of the international system of 1815

Another European dimension lies in the character of traditional international politics based on international treaties and relationships. It was immediately clear to contemporary politicians, especially Metternich, that in spring 1848 the international system established at the Congress of Vienna was at stake. This was about politics between European states, and the German Confederation, which was founded in 1815 as a subject under international law, also counted as such. In 1848 he was questioned; finally he transferred all powers to the revolutionary provisional central authority in Frankfurt. The initiative for this came from the Frankfurt National Assembly. Their actual purpose was to draft an imperial constitution for all of Germany. With its first big act, the National Assembly went far beyond that by establishing a national government. It was a revolutionary act. On June 28, 1848, the National Assembly established an imperial government consisting of an imperial administrator, a prime minister and imperial ministers for foreign affairs, interior affairs, finance, justice, trade and war. In the overall assessment, researchers today agree that the revolution and the work of unification did not fail because of a fundamental resistance of the European powers against German unity. The revolution of 1848/49 came to the brink of a possible great European war, which could have unleashed the breakthrough of the nationality principle and anticipated a later development in the 19th century. The European powers, first and foremost England and Russia, countered this.

The politics of European persecution and exile

Caricature by Ferdinand Schröder on the defeat of the revolutions in Europe, published in the Düsseldorf monthly issue under the title "Rundgemilder von Europa im August 1849"

A repressive variant of this international policy was the concerted action of the counter-revolution. Austria, Russia and, since 1850, also France and Belgium participated in police cooperation. This policy of European persecution - and the suppression of the European revolution - created a sixth dimension that corresponded to its European character: European exile. Switzerland and Alsace served temporarily for protection, London developed into the central transit point and the United States of America was the actual place of escape.

The European character of nationalism

A seventh dimension is related to the European character of nationalism. For many nationalities the myth of the "unredeemed" nation emerged in the first half of the 19th century; this included primarily the Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, Poles, as well as the Czechs and, according to the wording of some opposition propaganda, also the Germans. The roots of this nationalism lay in the French Revolution of 1789, which was the model for national symbols, colors and flags. In the pre-March period the further myth of the " spring of nations " developed under the system of restoration . In the 1820s it expressed itself throughout Europe in the movement of philhellenism, the enthusiasm for the Greek struggle for freedom, in the 1830s after the failed Warsaw uprising of November 1830 in the general European wave of friendship with Poland. This pre-March utopia shattered at the suddenly visible possibility in 1848 of converting nationality into a state nation. Hans Rothfels once aptly described the nationalities of the 19th century as "a kind of aspirants to a nation": as ethnic minorities who strived for more independence and were still looking for their political unity. "From the unity of the nation to the dissension of nationalities" - one could sum up the dilemma that developed from this to this formula.

In the Frankfurt National Assembly an answer to the nationality question was found within. The constitutional nationalism of 1848/49 offered the protection of national minorities by respecting their native languages ​​and religiosity. The Reich constitution of 1849 had guaranteed this as a basic right in its Paragraph 188. The balance in the draft that the constitutional committee of the Vienna Reichstag submitted for the multi-ethnic state of the Habsburg monarchy was similar. Both constitutions did not come into being in this form, but nevertheless pointed the way to peaceful coexistence of different nationalities in a united state.

Pacifist internationalism

A final - eighth - European dimension has only recently been properly perceived. It is " pacifist internationalism" (Dieter Langewiesche). In September 1848 the first international peace congress took place in Brussels, in August 1849 they met in Paris and a year later in the Paulskirche. The congresses called on the states to disarm, to abolish the standing armies, to refrain from interventions and not to finance wars by third powers.

Conditions, content and goals

In the run-up to this, there had already been tendencies towards liberalization in some principalities (for example in the Papal States from 1846 and subsequently in other Italian state structures in the form of the introduction of constitutions with civil rights) or revolutionary developments, such as the Sonderbund War of November 1847 between the Catholic-conservative and the liberal cantons in Switzerland , which resulted in the conversion of the Confederation from a confederation to a federal state with the uniform constitution of September 1848 ; - Developments that favored the surveys in France and the states of the German Confederation (see March Revolution ) from February / March 1848. These processes, sometimes referred to as the Spring of Nations , continued in some cases until 1849. These were essentially surveys directed against the restoration policy of the most powerful Central European principalities and monarchies of the so-called Holy Alliance , decided after the Vienna Congress of 1814/15 . The restoration powers - first and foremost the monarchs of Austria , Prussia , Russia and (to a limited extent) France , who were oriented towards the absolutism of the 18th century and the idea of divine right - had endeavored to restore the power and social structures in Europe since the end of the coalition wars ruled before the French Revolution of 1789 (cf. Ancien Régime ).

The bumps against the restoration of the in worn reconnaissance foot ends ideas of classical liberalism , which deals with the at the time progressively applicable national state idea ( nationalism ) and the principle of popular sovereignty association. In this respect, many of the revolutions of 1848/49 were also the result of differently developed national unity and independence movements that had already developed in the previous decades - often in the political underground (see also Vormärz and Democratic Movement (Germany) ). Constitutions for the respective state structures, freedom of the press , freedom of expression and other democratic rights, the arming of the people and the establishment of civil militias , liberalization of the peasants , liberalization of the economy, the abolition of customs barriers to the abolition of monarchical structures in favor of the establishment of republican states, or at least the restriction of princely power were called for in the form of constitutional monarchies .

At the socio-economic level, the socio-structural accompanying phenomena of the industrial revolution , which began in Great Britain with innovative technical developments in production and trade in the mid to late 18th century, and which had also spread across continental Europe during the 19th century, were important Breeding ground for the surveys. Caused by strong population growth during the early industrialization in the first half of the 19th century, with simultaneously stagnating productivity growth and a crisis-ridden development in the handicrafts (especially the textile industry) and in agriculture, aggravated by poor harvests and the resulting famines (hunger winter 1846 / 47, see also the so-called “ Potato Revolution ” of April 1847 in Berlin), the discontent with the prevailing social conditions also increased in the increasingly needy population of landless peasants and the newly emerging class of the industrial proletariat . Against this background, a new revolutionary basis developed on which early socialist ideas already had an impact (cf. also pauperism , pre-industrial mass poverty, and social question ).

The revolutions, which were initially weakened in some (e.g. Italian and German) countries by concessions from the ruling princes in the form of constitutional commitments and the introduction of liberal reforms, apply in particular to the imaginary Germany and Austria - at least with regard to its immediate suppression there by late summer 1849 - as a failure. Many activists emigrated or emigrated permanently from their countries of origin, often overseas. In the USA in particular, the new immigrants of this time were highlighted as Forty-Eighters over other immigrants of earlier or later times.

Longer-term strands of development

Although the nation-state objectives of most of the European revolutions of 1848/49 with their fundamental concerns for change had failed for the time being and led, especially in the German states, to a period of political reaction (see reaction era ), these revolutions, in retrospect, form the end point of one long-term process that began with the first bourgeois revolution in Europe, the French Revolution of 1789 , and which cemented the establishment of the formerly politically relatively influential third estate - the bourgeoisie - as an influential economic and power factor alongside the aristocracy . This process, which is sometimes referred to as the “age of bourgeois revolutions”, also includes various events and developments before 1848/1849, without which the revolutions around the middle of the 19th century would hardly be conceivable. These include, for example, the Napoleonic hegemony with the spread of the Civil Code between approx. 1799 and 1812 as well as the Spanish and Greek Revolutions in the 1820s, the French July Revolution of 1830 and the secession of Belgium as a constitutional liberal monarchy from the Netherlands ( Belgian Revolution ) also in 1830, as well as the various uprisings of the early Risorgimento in the Italian states. From 1848 at the latest, the bourgeoisie , in the narrower sense the upper middle class , became the economically ruling class of Central European societies . According to Marxist diction, the years 1848/1849 also marked the separation of the working class or the proletariat as a new, potentially revolutionary class from the bourgeoisie.

The revolutionary surges between 1789 and 1848/49 shaped the political culture and the pluralistic understanding of democracy of most of the states of Central Europe in the modern era in a long-term and lasting manner. So z. B. in the Federal Republic of Germany , whose Basic Law is based on the draft constitution drawn up in the first all-German National Assembly in 1848/49 , in Austria , France , Italy , Hungary , Poland , Denmark , Czechoslovakia or in today's Czech Republic and Slovakia . With the events of 1848 to 1849, the triumphant march of bourgeois democracy was initiated, which in the long term determined the later historical, political and social development of almost all of Europe .

The revolutions of 1848, in addition to previous developments based on the Enlightenment, provided some ideal impulses for the development of the European Union (EU) in the late 20th century. The Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini represented a Europe of the peoples even before the revolutionary turmoil around 1848 . He set this utopia against the Europe of the authoritarian principalities and thereby anticipated a basic political and social idea of ​​the EU.

References to the main regional articles


sorted alphabetically by author:

Web links

Commons : Revolutions of 1848  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files
Wikisource: Revolution of 1848  - Sources and Full Texts


  1. Thomas Nipperdey: Reflecting on German History. Essays. Beck, Munich 1986, p. 44 ff.
  2. ^ A b Dieter Hein: The Revolution of 1848/49. Beck, Munich 1998, p. 11.
  3. for example Heinrich August Winkler , Hans-Ulrich Wehler or Michael Stürmer
  4. European Dimensions of the German Revolution of 1848/49 by Wolfram Siemann (Introduction from Germany and Europe ), Edition 2/97: 1848/49 Revolution
  5. Ulrich Christian Pallach (editor): Hunger - Sources on an everyday problem in Europe and the Third World, 17th to 20th century , dtv dokumente, Munich 1986, p. 7.
  6. “Never before or after were hunger riots in Germany as widespread as during the 1840s. For the year 1847 alone, the climax of the last 'old-style' agricultural shortage crisis in parts of Western and Central Europe, around 200 revolts can be documented. ”- Food protests in the 19th century ,, accessed on October 26, 2014 .
  7. "[...] in the revolutionary years of 1848/49, when Germany's economy was hit by the first wave of work stoppages, which, however, were usually very harmless ...", why and for what people went on strike in the 19th century ,, accessed on October 26, 2014.
  8. ^ Willi Albers (Ed.): Concise dictionary of economics. Volume 9, 1982, p. 134.