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Definition: Revolutions of 1848 from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

A scene from a barricaded street in Paris, 1848. In France, the catalyst for the revolutions in the rest of Europe, the monarchy was replaced by the Second Republic, with Louis Napoleon as president from 1852.

(Image © Philip Sauvain Picture Collection)


revolutions of 1848

Summary Article: revolutions of 1848
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

in European history. The February Revolution in France gave impetus to a series of revolutionary explosions in Western and Central Europe. However the new French Republic did not support these movements. The stage was set when the unrest caused by the economic effects of severe crop failures in 1846–47 merged with the discontent caused by political repression of liberal and nationalist aspirations. In the German states, popular demonstrations and uprisings (Feb.–Mar., 1848) led to the dismissal of unpopular ministers and the calling of a national parliament (see Frankfurt Parliament) to draft a constitution for a united Germany. While the constitution was debated at length, rulers of the German states were able to recover their authority. By 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament and the provisional government it established had collapsed and the old order was restored. The revolution within the Austrian empire was one of initial success and subsequent defeat. In contrast to the situation in Germany, however, revolutionists in the Hapsburg domains (see Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia) demanded less central authority and a more autonomous role for the national groups. Lack of cooperation among the revolutionary movements and the loyalty of the armies to old authorities permitted the suppression of the insurgents by armed might. In Italy (see Risorgimento) the demand for expulsion of the Austrians and for national unification found a champion in King Charles Albert of Sardinia, but again the revolutions were put down by Austrian armies. The revolutions of 1848 failed notably because three kinds of demands—social and economic, liberal, and national—were not easily reconciled. This is illustrated in France by the Socialists Blanc and Albert on the one side, and the Liberal Republicans Marie and Arago on the other. Middle-class moderates like Lamartine gained control of the revolutionary movements and resisted the more radical demands of the lower classes, thus losing much of the popular support that was essential to their success. The results of the uprisings were the spread of parliamentary governments, the extension of manhood suffrage in France (and briefly in Austria), the abolition of manorialism in Central Europe, the beginnings of the German and Italian unification movements, and the establishment of Hungary as an equal partner with Austria under Hapsburg rule.

  • See studies by Sir L. B. Namier (1948), P. N. Stearns (1974), M. Agulhon (1983), and M. Rapport (2009).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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