The Revolutions of 1848

Toward the middle of the 19th century, France was not the only country to have found itself embroiled in uprisings, revolts, and revolutions. The Revolutions of 1848, as they are now remembered, were a series of political upheavals that took place throughout the continent of Europe. Although they were widespread, many of these revolutions fizzled out and collapsed within a year of their start date. The countries to find themselves in the midst of revolution included France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Denmark, and the Austrian Empire.

The primary causes for these revolutions stemmed from dissatisfaction with the monarchies which were at the helm of each country. The citizens were tired of feeling oppressed and controlled, and there was a widespread demand for democracy, versus a monarchy. Others were overwhelmingly angry at how neglectful their country’s monarchy could be, as food shortages and economic turmoil spread throughout various areas.

A strong sense of nationalism, in this case referring to the support of a country’s own political independence, was growing due to the fact that some countries had leaders belonging to other nations (for example, when Napoleon Bonaparte of France made his brother the King of Spain). Finally, the people had a demand for various liberties, such as freedom of the press.

Like many revolutions both past and modern, the leaders were groups of reformers and middle class workers, typically from urban areas as well as from the rural farmlands. These were the groups of people who felt misunderstood and disconnected from their monarchs, and it was a source of tension for them to see their country’s leaders living so lavishly while they endured famines.

Although many consider the revolutions to be failures, there were some positive outcomes which resulted. For one, serfdom was put to an end in Austria. This is the practice by which an individual, the serf, must work land and render services to the lord, who owned the land. Serfs had very few rights and were treated poorly. Denmark experienced an end to its monarchy under which the country had been ruled for almost 200 years.

Due to the fact that there were some divisions within the factions of people uprising, it was easy for counter-revolutions to quash their efforts thanks to a lack of organization and disagreements among the individuals. By the time the revolutions were finally stopped, thousands of people had lost their lives in the conflict. Today, there is widespread debate as to the success of the revolutions, with some historians pointing out that, if nothing else, the revolutions served to inspire reforms which would take place in the latter half of the century.