Continuing from yesterday’s post about the Revolutions of 1848… Here are where some of the major uprisings took place:
Milan, capital of Lombardy-Venetia: where it is the Italian nobility who revolts against their Austrian overlords. The Lombardians realize how important their country is to the Austrians (accounting for one-sixth of the Empire’s population, according to Rapport, and nearly a third of the Empire’s tax revenue). So, to apply pressure against the Austrians for more liberty, they organize a boycott of tobacco in order to hurt Austrian tax revenues, the tax on tobacco producing much revenue for the Viennese treasury. Eventually, six people die as a result of the ensuing demonstrations, marking the first fatalities of the revolutionary year.
Sicily: where the Naples branch of the Bourbon family rules over the Sicilians. Perhaps neither side is helped overly much by the presence here of a proto-Mafia group, the “Squadre” which runs a protection racket.
Naples, itself: where the broker-than-broke “Lazzaroni” riot. The Lazzaroni class, living in the slums of Naples, were called by one traveler, “the lower stratum of everything defeated, the remnant of ten nationalities, intermingled and degenerate.” When the European economy tanked in the mid-1840s, the Lazzaroni, with nothing left to lose, rose up.
Tuscany: where the Grand Duke Leopold was forced to grant a constitution to the people.
The Piedmont of northern Italy: where King Charles Albert, Italy’s most powerful monarch, has to produce a constitution to quell popular unrest.
In Paris: where Louis-Phillip is forced to abdicate the throne, and the “Second Republic” is born for its short-lived existence.
Hungary: where a member of the Hungarian Diet (in which the Magyar ethnic group dominates over Slovaks, Romanians, Serbs, and Croats), Lajos Kossuth gives a such an great speech that it not only helps inspire his countrymen to move toward independence from the Austrian Empire, but adds fuel to the revolutionary fire all over Europe once copies of his address to the Diet begin crossing state boundaries. In the speech, Kossuth makes the point that the gains of a revolution in Hungary would not last long if the rest of the Empire remained unreformed. Kossuth’s speech has been called “the inaugural address of the revolution.”
Bavaria: where King Ludwig accedes to the “March Demands” of his people. Soon, most of the thirty-nine separate German states (loosely politically connected by a sort of “German United Nations’ in Frankfurt, says Rapport) are moving toward a closer union– especially the smaller states between the two great powers of Prussia and Austria. These middle, smaller states are sometimes known as the “Third Germany.”
Bohemia: where Czechs challenge the Germans for hegemony, and where some Czechs are demanding back the old lands of the ancient Czech crown, which included not only Bohemia, but Moravia and Silesia, as well.
Vienna: where Metternich, himself, falls from power and has to flee the Austrian capital.
Obviously, the upheaval in early 1848 in Europe can hardly be overstated. So why don’t we much hear about anymore? Why is that year not taught alongside other important years of world history such as 1492 and 1789? Because, ultimately, the revolutions of 1848 failed.
In Central and Eastern Europe, Rapport tells us that there existed what proved to be an insurmountable chasm between the nobles and the peasants that coincided with ethnic differences– the nobles being of one ethnicity, the peasants of another– a recipe for long-lived antagonism and resentment. The rural and peasant groups did not see that they had that much to gain by exchanging one ruling race for another. In fact, because the atrocities of the local nobles were more direct and daily, the peasants tended to see the Hapsburgs not as their enemies, but as their ultimate protectors from the most extreme abuses of the local nobles. Without their Emperor in Vienna to protect them, who would keep the rotten nobility at least partially in check?
The Hapsburgs were able to exploit this unbridgeable chasm between nobles and peasants and keep the each fledgling nation divided against itself.
Many of the different ethnic groups of Hungary wanted out from under the domination of the local Magyar people. Slovaks, Croats, Serbs, Romanians… they all wanted a nation of their own. The Slovaks were supported in their quest for more independence by the Czechs, who saw the Slovaks as their fellow countrymen. The Slovaks eventually proclaimed their loyalty to the Hapsburgs over the Magyars.
The Romanians had ties across borders to Romanians in Moldavia and Wallachia in the Ottoman Empire. When the Romanians finally rose up against the Magyars, it resulted in what Rapport calls “one of the most protracted and bloody ethnic conflicts in 1848-49.”
As already mentioned, the Polish nobles of Galicia were loathed by their Ukranian serfs. Taking advantage of this simmering hatred, the Austrian governor of Galicia emancipated the Ukranian serfs, gaining their loyalty and further distancing the Ukranians from the Polish nobility.
The Germans couldn’t decide if Austria (home of the Hapsburg Empire) should be or not be included in their emerging new nation-state (later, in 1866, the great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck would decide for them– making sure to keep the Austrians– the only German state that could challenge Prussian dominance– out of the nation). Bismarck, looking back on the failed revolutions of 1848 remarked in 1862 that, “The great questions of the age are not decided by speeches and majority decisions– that was the big mistake of 1848 and 1849– but by blood and iron.”
Italy, land of far-ranging latitudes, would also fail to cohere quickly into a nation. Only years later, and under force of arms, did locales as varied as Naples, Tuscany, Piedmont, and Sicily finally produce a nation.
France’s “Second Republic,” created in 1848, failed after a scant three years or so, with Napoleon’s nephew, now calling himself Napoleon The Third, taking over as Emperor after leading a coup d’etat. His regime, in turn, would last only about a decade, when it was replaced by the “Third Republic.” Rapport reports that some French historians do not consider that the revolution of 1789 was actually over until the advent of the Third Republic in 1870.
Even though the revolutions of 1848 ultimately failed, Rapport’s researches have convinced him that the upheaval did leave its mark– in people’s hearts, if not on state borders and the government apparatus. Peasants, ethnic minorities, and foreign-ruled peoples all over Europe got a taste of power in 1848, and a teasing glimpse of civil liberties. The spark of hope ignited would not be snuffed-out by a few battles during the counter-revolutionary pushback which followed the uprisings.
And there were also more tangible, direct, and lasting results of the revolutions of 1848… Serfdom and compulsory labor, once abolished, stayed abolished; not even a resurgent Empire can take back that kind of liberty once granted to a desperate folk. Also, the peasants obtained greater legal rights when nobles lost the privilege of sitting as judges over the local peasantry.
Though the battles were lost, the war was won; the revolutions of 1848 produced slow-ripening fruit. I think the lesson to be learned here is that military might is not always the strongest force to be reckoned with. Rapport quotes the Czech writer and statesman, Vaclav Havel, as saying that cultural opposition can ultimately be a greater force than the repressive instruments of the State.