[Back to Modern Europe Syllabus]

Paul Halsall
Modern Western Civilization

Class 18: 1848: The Course of Events and 19th-Century Liberalism

I. Introduction

1848 saw a series of revolutions throughout Europe. The

first time a revolution had happened spontaneously throughout

the continent.

Liberalism and Nationalism both implicated in these events.

Compare with 1989 revolutions - boucing around Europe, with news

of one affecting developments elsewhere.

II. Origins

Inflexible governments.

New classes - Middle Class and working class.

Growth of liberal and nationalistic ideals.

Food shortages and unemployment

A. Inflexible governments

in France, Austria and Germany (cf. Britain)

B. Growth of classes excluded from power by the governments

after 1815 (and even after 1830)

The Middle class in Germany and Austria generally lacked

political power. (also excluded were national groups in


The working class in France. The most revolutionary section

was not the factory workers - in 1848 still not a major group

in Europe - but artisans, who as a group prospered in the

factory economy.

In Britain, where middle class were given a say, no

revolution in 1848 - Chartism, a working class movement

was a real threat.

In Russia, where there were no important new groups,

there also was no revolution.

C. Liberal and Nationalistic ideals throughout Europe.

The liberal middle classes were still willing to work with

              working class groups to pressure governments.

Political liberals were the most dynamic force in 1848,

not working class groups.

Nationalism was allied with liberalism outside of France.

D. Food shortages and unemployment provided immediate causes

for discontent in 1848.

III. France

A. Louis Philippe's regime refused any electoral reform.

B. Working class agigitation - rising food prices - again

they take to the streets.

C. 1848 a revolt in Paris (February 22-24 1848)

Led to the establishment of a Provisonal Assembly which

granted universal male suffrage and other reforms.

Liberals wanted a republican constitution. The working

class groups wanted social and economic reforms.

Workers led by Louis Blanc - had place in the Cabinet.

D. National Workshops were a compromise between the socialists

demand for work for all and the moderates' determination to

              provide only temporary relief for the massive unemployment.

E. The revolutionary coalition cound not agree on a common

programme as the liberal republicans split with the

"socialist" republicans.

F. New National Assembly - April 23 1848

Universal Male suffrage.

Dominated by moderates and conservatives since peasants,

the majority of voters, were now a conservative group.

G. Fear of socialism led to a clash of classes.

The language of class conflict comes from the bourgoisie, not

the socialists.

H. June Days

The closing of the workshops led to a violent uprising

-The June days (June 1848) - Social reformers were attacked

by (liberal) government troops - 400 killed.

Social Reform would have to wait.

New form of class warfare was perceived as starting.

I. Presidential Elections in 1848

A split between radicals led to the election of Louis

Napoleon in 1848. He was to use the plebiscite to gain more

power - eventually got himself made Emperor Louis Napoleon

III 1852 (1808-1873).

[Another Napoleon or proto-Hitler?]

The Napoleonic Legend

Among peasants who had voted. They believed it was

Napoleon who had given them their land. [some thought

Louis Napoleon was Napoleon I]. Encouragment of this idea

under Louis Philippe. This Napoleonic myth mixes up ideas

of romanticism, nationalism, and peasant desires.

IV. Austria

A. Revolution in France led to popular upheaveals throughout

Europe, especially in the Austrian Empire - most illiberal

and anti-nationalist state in Europe. At least 12


B. Hungarian nationalism resulted in a revolution against the

Austrian overlords. Leader Louis Kossuth (1802-94) -

March 3 1848 - called for independant Hungary.

C. March 13 1848 Student led riots in Vienna - in support

of Magyars. Workers provided the riot-power. Metternich

forced to resign. The Emperor flees to Salzburg. The

whole structure fell down in just a few days.

D. The peasants, the vast majority of the population in Austria,

were not part of the revolution. They were in fact a

conservative group. After radicals procured release from

feudal dues (the robot) in 1848, the peasants supported the

Imperial cause.

E. The alliance between the working and middle classes in

Vienna soon collapsed. Many middle class people never

supported the revolts. The working class was important

in revolts in Vienna, but did not exist outside that city.

There were very few cities in Austria in any case.

F. Hungarians wanted to dominate other nationalities.

[fanatical nationalism]

Conflict among the different nationalities (Hungarians against

Croats, Serbs and Romanians, Czechs against Germans) weakened the

              Revolution. Croats in particular fought for the Habsburgs.

G. In general there were many competing groups in Austria, but

no one group strong enough to enforce its will. The result

was the Hapsburgs were able to regain control. Policy of

Divide and Conquer.

H. Conservative aristocrats crushed the revolution. The military

force available to the government remained loyal - enabled

Habsburgs to crush opposition. New Emperor Franz Josef


I. The Russian Army helped defeat the Hungarians.

J. Austria remainded conservative, but in the long run the blows

dealt in 1848 to the concept of Austria were to prove fatal.

V. Prussia and Germany

A. Many politically active middle class Prussians wanted to

create a unified liberal Germany.

B. Inspired by events in France, the working people of Prussia

sought and got a liberal constitution.

March 18th 1848 - riots in Berlin. Got a constituent Assembly

from Frederick William IV. FW4 - seemed to have capitulated.

There were also revolts in Wurttemburg, Saxony, Hanover,

and Bavaria.

C. The Prussian Assembly lasted - but was ignored and then

              restructured by the King.

All men had the vote - but the top 5% of taxpayers elected

1/3 of the seats.

D. The Frankfurt Assembly of May 1848 was a middle

class liberal body that began to write a constitution for

a unified Germany. In reality it had to always depend on

existing states - it had no power of its own.

Further worker demands for suffrage and socialist reforms

caused fear amongst the Middle classes. The Assembly actually

called in troops in Sept 1848 to put down a workers revolt.

The Assembly was thus hated by Conservatives, and by the


But the split between liberals and workers continued for

rest of century - gave conservatives the power to govern.

E. There was also dispute over grossdeutsch or kleindeutsch


F. The Assembly becomes irrelevant - it offered a crown to

FW4 - but he refused it. Germany was to be united by Prussia,

not by liberals.

VI. Italy

A. Italy divided - but nationalist ideals spread there also.

Many nationalists looked to Piedmont/Sardinia - in fact had

              little war, lost, vs Austria in 1848.

Pope Pius IX (1846-78) was seen as a liberal, and some

looked to him.

B. November 1848 Rome - Popular demonstrations.

Pope flees to Naples.

Roman Republic proclaimed 1848 - radicals and Nationalists,

inc Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72) and Giuseppe Garibaldi

(1807-1882) flock to Rome.

Piedmont fails to help after it is defeated by Austria at

Novara in 1849. [succession of Victor Emmanuel II (1849-78)]

C. Louis Napoleon intervenes on behalf of the Pope - June 1849

Rome is beseiged and falls. The pope is henceforth protected

by French troops unitil 1870.

D. Pio Nono Secondo- The Church in the 19th Century.

Pius IX - renounced liberalism. Papcy now opposed to

all forms of liberalism and Italian Nationalsism.

Beginnings of modern Papacy - appeals for popular support,

              usurpation of appointments to dioceses.

VII. Where the 1848 Revolutions a Failure?

A. Initial success of 1848 was stunning - downfall of French

              Monarchy, other monarchies badly shaken.

B. None achieved their aim of a liberal state. In many

countries conservative groups took the initiative.

C. But in all the countries where revolution happened the

middle class and even the working class are taken into

political considerations.

D. However, the middle class were scared by the threat of

worker' power - after 1848 the middle class ceases to be

              revolutionary - it becomes concerned to protect its


E. Ideas of nationalism and liberalism now predominate

absolutely in the middle class and amongst almost all


Nationalists now more hard-headed - saw need for guns as

well as ideals.

Also workers and socialists now know not to trust liberals.

              Workers turn to trade unions and political parties.

F. In the next class we are going to take a look at

Nationalism, but for the remainder of this class we are

going to be looking at what is exactly this "Liberalism"

we have been talking about.

VIII. Liberal Politics and Economics

A. Early Origins

John Locke - Individual Liberty and Rights

Rousseau - Sovereignity comes from the people

Enlightenment and French Rev.

- Declaration of the Rights of Man 1789

B. Idea of Liberty

To do what you want with the minimum of state interference

Liberty is political freedom, which consists in the absence

of external restraint.

C. Early Political Goals

To replace elitist and aristocratic societies and states,

with governments based on constitutional principles: Legal

Equality, religous toleration, and freedom of the press.

To gain some say in government for the people who called

              themselves Liberals - that is, in general, educated

members of the middle class - this was to be through

              representative institutions such as parliaments.

As long as most governments were conservative or

aristocratic, Liberals confined the political activities

to achieving the kind of constitutional meritocratic state

they wanted. They wanted to repeal laws that were for the

              benefit of a small landed aristocracy.

D. Economic Goals

Liberals wanted the removal of control over the economy,

whether from the government or guilds. Adam Smith supported

this idea. In Britain especially they wanted to get rid of

the corn laws.

They did not really consider wider social change. Or

have a social programmme. They made arguments about

majorities etc, with themselves in mind. It was something

of a shock when they had to consider the workers. Their

arguments and activity was directed at the traditional

enemy of the Middle Class, the landed aristocracy.

E. Utilitarianism and Bentham (in a Pickle)

Once grasped the idea of Liberty does not need any great

              philosophy to back it up, but in fact there was an attempt

made to create a liberal philosophy.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) a leading proponent of


He was and atheist. Founder of University of London.

[kept there in a pickle jar!].

His arguments was as follows - Nature has placed man

between the two sovereign masters of pain and pleasure,

therefore actions should be judged right or wrong simply

              according to whether they increased pain or pleasure -

summed up in the Utility Principle:-

The greatest happiness of the greatest number

-also known as the greatest happiness principle.

This is the most famous ethical philosophy ever outlined

in the English speaking tradition.

There was a whole school known as Philosophical Radicals,

or Benthamites.

It was a philisophy which emphasied eduction, and did work

for practical gains - eg the Great Reform Act, and

improvement in factory conditions.

But it could seem soulless - eg. arguement that food in

UK depended on imports, which depended on profits, which

depended on cheap labour, therefore children should be

employed in factories.

Problems with Utilitarianism

1. it is difficult to know what will produce the greatest

happiness - who decides.

2. It is unfair - the happiness of the majority might best

be served by sacrificing the innocent - eg in slavery,

[or with kidney transplants]

3. It is odd to see morality purely in terms of actions, and to

ignore motives or intentions.

F. Classical Economics and Ricardo

As well as a moral philosophy there were also liberal or

              "classical" economics.

Built on Adam Smith - Govt should not interfere with

competition in the market. Society concieved of as full

of atomistic individuals. Govt should maintain sound

currency and defence. =Lassiez faire economics.

David Ricardo (1772-1823) Principles of Political

Economy (1817)

Iron Law of wages - wages will always be low, as

more money means more children and so more poverty.

Confirmed employers in keeping wages low. Also provided

arguments to oppose trade unions.

Also lead to the British Poor Law - Workhouses - blaming

the poor for being poor.

Classical economics had less impact in Germany where

government intervention was what brought about industrial


G. Social Make-Up of Liberals

Educated middle class - not factory owners at first, as

liberal ideas emerged before the Industrial Rev.

But as Ind. Rev took hold in England and then Europe, many

of the new manufacturing class supported Liberal ideas -

They could see that they were making an important

contribution to the country but were excluded from its

power structures.

As factory owners they abhorred restrictive trade practices

that limited their markets. For similar reason they opposed

Trade Unions. In some areas Liberalism and Free Trade

become almost synonymous - Manchester.

You get what might seem odd to modern users of the word,

but in England, it was the Tories, such as Lord Shaftesbury,

and later Benjamin Disraeli, who promoted laws to protect

and increase factory workers rights, as the liberals opposed

things that affected the factories they owned.

Tories sometimes acted out of paternalism, to use the

working class to attack the powerful middle class.

H. 1848 and Change in Liberalism

From 1830 in France, 1832 in England Liberals in some power.

In other Areas - Austria, Germany - Liberals first get taste

of power.

This changes liberalism

The basic problem is what does a political philosophy that

has been based on getting rid of aristocrats in government

do when its supporters are actually in power.

Liberals had to face social realities of power. A state must

have power over its members. Liberals had spent all their

time opposing excessive power. Now they had to face the

question what are the proper limits for individual

and collective action.

The Liberals who took power, eg in GB after 1832, did not

believed in democracy, rather that an elite of wealth and

talent, not of birth, should rule. They had used the

utility principle - action and government, should be for

the greatest good of the greatest number to justify

their goals.

But as soon as the Liberals obtained their goals they faced

the workers using the same principle to make their claims.

The important factor to realise is that after 1848,

Liberals were also aware of the workers, and their demands

for political and economic power. But the view of many

liberals was that workers were unfit for power, and the

Liberal m/c interest in preserving its own wealth, led

after 1848 to a real split between the liberals and the

urban and rural working classes.

I. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

Brought up by a strict utilitarian father. He could read

Greek at age 4. A Genius.

Later on he became more open to feelings and had a life long

affair, eventually leading to marriage with Mrs. Harriet


One of most important Liberal thinkers. He is at the

transition stage between old individualist Liberalism and

the later Liberal parties which took the utility principle

and used it to promote social welfarism.

On Liberty (1859) is his most famous political work. In

it he outlined three fundamental freedoms:-

of Belief,

of Taste and pursuits,

of Uniting with others.

But he also discussed the rights of society as he saw

individual actions have social consequences.

Sometimes the interests of the community must come first.

IX. Liberalism in Later 19th Century

The Liberal response was either to emphasise individual

liberty above all - even when workers could only be powerful

collectively, or to move, as the British Liberal party did

o welfarism - but that was to lose the manufacturing class

           support to the new type of conservative parties.

Mrs. Thatcher was a 19th C. Liberal in many of her ideas, and

so was George Bush.

X. French Third Republic

Louis III Napoleon

Liberal Empire

The Mexico Fiasco

1870 - War with Prussia

XI. Britain Under Gladstone and Disreali

A. Whigs and Tories

B. Split of Peelites from Tories

C. New Conservative Party under Disraeli

D. The issue of Ireland

Old Whigs leave Liberal Party and become Unionists.

E. In later 19th C. increasing suffrage given - under

conservative government on occasion.

F. Britain becomes a democracy, without a revolution.