1848 Revolutions Notes
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1848 Revolutions Revision
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1848 REVOLUTIONS IN EUROPE Any quotes or comments from the below notes must be referenced accordingly, e.g. (Hamerow, 'History and the German Revolution'). Plagiarism of these notes T.S. Hamerow, 'History and the German Revolution of 1848'
The system of conservative restoration, erected with such painstaking care in 1815 at Vienna, collapsed, and with its collapse an era came to an end. It must have been exciting to be alive in the spring of 1848, that "spring-time of nations," when God smiled with favor upon every parliamentary subcommittee and the liberal millennium was just around the corner. Barricades were springing up in the capitals of Europe; angry mobs stoned royal palaces; unpopular ministers were hastily signing resignations and hurrying into exile; exiled revolutionaries were hurrying home to a hero's welcome. To liberals witnessing these events it appeared as if a new world were about to be born, as if a new reign of liberty and justice were beginning. The sense of participation in the creation of a better society seemed to intoxicate them. But the brave dream of a European polity of free individuals organized in free nations turned into a nightmare. The Revolution, greeted as the opening act of a process of cosmic liberation, degenerated before long into a war of all against all, of proletarian against bourgeois, Dane against Prussian, Pole against German, German against Czech. Like the sorcerer's apprentice, liberalism could not control the forces it had unleashed and was defeated by the Revolution it had created. By 1849 its strength was exhausted, and conservatives returned to the seats of power which liberals had occupied a year earlier. The effect of 1848 was to discredit political ideals and ideologies and to prepare the way for "strong" men, men who at least got what they wanted, even if what they wanted was not always morally justifiable. In Germany, liberalism was dealt a blow from which it never recovered; it lost faith in its own mission and was never again able to win the allegiance of the masses which it had led to defeat in 1848. German historiography has not been unaware of the significance of the Revolution for the course of modern German history. If anything, there has been too much awareness of the fact that 1848 was a turning point. Historian Hermann Oncken pointed out at the beginning of the twentieth century that "nothing is more certain than that the political and spiritual heirs of the parties of 1848 still look today upon those events with the eyes of their fathers and . . . maintain their views as shibboleths of the orthodoxy of their political ideologies." The 'school of the left' (socialist view) believed the German middle class failed to perform the task which the socialists had assigned to it, the task of preparing the way for the rule of the proletariat. Instead, it suffered a severe defeat at the hands of a reviving conservatism. Its sin lay not in being defeated but in being defeated by the wrong party, and it was a sin for which there could be no forgiveness from Marx and Engels. In Revolution and Counter-Revolution, therefore, they referred to the leaders and ideas of the Revolution in terms of strongest contempt: "poor, weak-minded men," "the most hackneyed commonplace themes of superannuated philosophical and juridical schools," "this assembly of old women," "a body so abnormal, so ludicrous by its very position, and yet so full of its own importance, that history will, most likely, never afford a pendant to it." Leftist and Prussian schools differ only on the protagonist of the piece; for Treitschke and Sybel it is Bismarck groping toward an awareness of his high destiny; to the Marxians it is the industrial proletariat learning the hard lesson of class interest and struggle In 1892 Professor Karl Binding of the University of Leipzig delivered an academic address in which he summoned the historical profession to present a new interpretation of the Revolution. An objective history of 1848, he pointed out, had not yet been written. The dust raised by party struggles and ideological conflicts had made it impossible for the scholar to look at the Revolution with that calmness and dispassion which alone can produce an enduring work of history. But now almost half a century separated Germany from those terrible March days, and it was high time that the nation recognized the debt it owed to the thinkers and fighters of 1848. To Namier and his school the Revolution demonstrated that the Germans suffered from a form of intellectual schizophrenia: they were innocents in their parliamentarianism but Machiavellians in their power politics. Their efforts to achieve liberal institutions clearly revealed a congenital German ineptitude for self-government. The French historian Edmond Vermeil is quite emphatic on this point: "If one investigates the reasons for the disastrous climax to the events of 1848 and 1849 within the German Confederation, one discovers that they lie not so much in external causes as in the mentality of the German people." The American Arnold Whitridge agrees: "Why did all the splendid dreams never come true? Partly because the King of Prussia never overcame his terror of democracy. . . . Partly, too, because the German people were, as indeed they still are, politically inept." And a German expatriate, Monty Jacobs, summarizes the argument: "Why was the play bound to end tragically? Because it was a German play and because the German people, to quote the words of young Fontane, had not been brought up in liberty." In 1949 Oscar J. Hammen, writing in the American Historical Review, observed: "Economic and social factors helped to precipitate and to determine the course of the German Revolution of 1848. Yet, aside from a number of special studies by German historians, the standard accounts of the Revolution of 1848 place an almost exclusive emphasis upon the political aspects of the movement and upon the constitutional and national strivings of the liberal middle class. Generally ignored are the economic and social considerations which made the masses ripe for revolution."
(cf. Oscar J. Hammen, "Economic and Social Factors in the Prussian Rhineland in 1848," American Historical Review, LIV (1949), 825. This article not only exposes a gap in the history of I848 but also helps to fill it by dealing with the economic discontent in western Germany which contributed to the outbreak of the Revolution).
M. Fulbrook, (ed.), German History since 1800 Three Chapters; (i) Chris Clark, Germany 1815-1848: Restoration or pre-March?; Wolfram Siemann, The Revolutions of 1848-1849 and the Persistence of the Old Regime in Germany, (1848-1850); John Breuilly, Revolution to Unification Clark, Germany 1815-1848: Restoration or pre-March?
Both of the terms of 'restoration' (righting the wrongs of the French Revolution and adoption of a slightly reactionary, backward-looking character of the era) and 'pre-March' (looking forward to the upheaval of 1848) have their respective problems; in using them we either view the era as a reconstruction of the past or as a rehearsal for the future
There was no thorough-going restoration of the old regime after 1815, nor, on the other hand, were traditional structures and allegiances entirely destroyed to 'make way for the new'; period 1815-1848 one of heightened political and social that often turned on the question Gerland had asked ("should the half-dead forms of the old regime, which still contain so much of the beautiful life of the past, be maintained? Or should they be boldly destroyed to make way for the new?")
Guilds, corporate privilege, feudal tenure, dynastic particularism -all these not-so-dead forms inherited from the old regime had their defenders and detractors; it was conflict over these and related issues which made the years between 1815 and 1848 an 'epoch of polarisation' across a broad range of fronts
After Prussia and the Austrian Empire, the remaining states ranged in size and significance, from the most powerful middle-states (Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg and Hanover) all of which had made substantial gains at the loss of the smaller states since the dissolution of the Reich, to the tiny Duchy of Lichtenstein, with a population of just 5,000 Confederation managed to get by on a minimum of institutions and personnel; only one statutory body, the Federal Diet (Bundesversammlung) which met in Frankfurt; effectively a permanent congress of diplomatic representatives appointed and instructed by their respective governments; primacy of great states of Prussia and Austria here Confederation did not, has not, enjoy a good reputation; bitter disappointment to those federalists and nationalists who had hoped for a more cohesive organisation of the German territories, and it has been much criticised since; one historian recently described it as "a prediluvian (before the Flood) monster" that had no place in the age of the emergent nation state, another as an "incarnation of illiberality and oppression"; these reproaches reflect two distinct, though related, lines of argument that have often been advanced against the Confederation Certainly true that the Confederation failed to create genuinely national institutions; Act of 1815 had left open a number of important issues, including joint defence policy, the creation of a unified economic area within the Confederation, the legal status of the Jews and constitutional reform; subject to constant debate in, but no resolution from, the Confederal Diet; the plausible prospect of gradual extension of the central powers and responsibilities of the Confederation, and perhaps even emergence of a genuinely 'federal' German authority did not emerge There had been talk at the Congress of Vienna of harmonising the various political systems within the new German Confederation; in fact, however, the individual states took matters into their own hands and the result was a diverse array of constitutional arrangements that makes any generalisation problematic; broadly speaking, one can distinguish between those states -the Free City of Lübeck, Hanover, Electoral Hesse, Mecklenberg, Saxony, Prussia and other small north German states - in which the old corporate representative bodies remained all or much of their power and those - Nassau, Württemberg, Bavaria, Baden and several of the small Thuringian states - which issued formal constitutions providing for the convocation of bicameral representative assemblies
W. Siemann, The Revolutions of 1848-1849 and the Persistence of the Old Regime in Germany (1848-1849)
Fundamental problem of the revolutionary era: the lack of readiness and maturity among the reigning elites to tolerate the achievements and changes the revolution brought in its wake
At the beginning, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV did not react as brusquely as his Austrian colleague: he promised, in March 1848, that Prussia would forthwith be one with the rest of Germany; he put on the black, red and gold national colours, ordered troops to retreat from Berlin and seemed to accept national unification on a democratic basis; however, in November 1848, he confessed to the Bavarian ambassador "now I can be honest again"; he had democratic newspapers and organisations banned and declared a state of siege in Berlin
Politics became, however, for the first time in Germany, the subject of free public debate; but the question remains as to whether the populace was mature enough for practical democracy; there still exists the idea of the impractical 'professors' parliament' at Frankfurt, the idealist liberal dreamers of 1848 with no sense for Realpolitik
European context; different kinds of constitutional demands and several models to which people could appeal; one was the French chartre constitutionelle of 1814, which became exemplary for several constitutions in the separate German states, and the Deutsche Bundesakte of 1815, the constitutional charter of Germany, which laid down that all the member states of the Confederation should proclaim a constitution which included consultative assemblies organised on the principle of the social estates (nobles, burghers, peasants)
Political struggle everywhere developed into struggle for a new order based on a written constitutional charter; across Europe, the struggle was for civil and political rights
Second basic condition was the European undercurrent of nationalism; the endeavour for national selfdetermination and independence was embodied in the German, Polish, Czech, Hungarian and Italian nationalist movements; among many nationalities, the myth of the unredeemed nation grew and flourished during the first half of the nineteenth-century, especially among the Greeks, Italians, Hungarians and Poles
During the 'pre-March' period, the myth of the Völkerfrühling developed under the Restoration systems; in the 1820s, it took the shape of philhellenism throughout Europe, and in the 1830s, after the failure of the Warsaw uprising, it manifested itself in a pro-Polish attitude
Third basic condition was the socio-economic crisis of pre-industrial crafts; this stemmed from the effects of overpopulation and the beginnings of proletarianization in the cities and wide areas of the countryside; the common European factor was the final collapse of the old estate system, which had been the basis of the legal and social order governing everyday life; pauperism, industrialisation and orientation of crafts and professions of all classes towards a market economy marked the long-term crisis of the traditional crafts
Importantly, with respect to these issues, the crisis of 1848-49 seemed to hark backwards: with Luddite unrest, antiSemitism or the demand for guild protection of the craft, as opposed to the principle of freedom to practice a trade; this element especially reveals the ambiguous character of the 1848-49 movement, contradicting the interpretation of those events as an early state of history of progressive emancipation
Fourth European dimension is manifested in the crop failures and subsequent famine and inflation of 1845 and 1846, culminating in 1847; responses before the revolution grew to European dimensions: local unrest caused by famine spread in waves across the country on the one hand; on the other, there was a growing tide of emigration in the second half of the 1840s, which have, after all, been called the 'hungry forties' (Theodore S. Hamerow); suffering was worst in Ireland; but episodes of famine in many German regions - especially in Silesia - found much public resonance
Demands for democracy, nationalist movements and the accumulated socio-economic conflicts combined to form a more general crisis, suddenly accelerating all political processes; demands were speedily met which would have been punished as treason only a short time before; the escalating popular movement seemed so outrageous to some of its contemporary observers, 'crazy' even, that it was soon called the 'mad year'
Most recent research on the revolution has been following the manifold strivings and movements on a local, regional and broader level; to guard against glib interpretations of the aims and driving forces in the revolution, its chances of success, and its reasons for final failure, historians have drawn attention to the 'complexity of 1848'; in hindsight, they find themselves faced with a revolution that failed because of the very diversity of the demands made of it
To the contemporary observer, it might have appeared as though the multi-faceted combination of pent-up conflicts caused a huge surge of hope the moment it was unleashed; peopled believed that all the ills of their time could be cured at once, with the introduction of new political institutions and men Revolution at the Grass Roots
Revolution at grass-roots gave vent to spontaneous movements of the people; this happened on the barricades and at protest meetings in front of town halls and royal seats
The population was fundamentally concerned with politics as never before; even contemporary observers were astonished at this process, like the Breslauer Zeitung, which reported on 23 March 1848 that it was 'quite common to hear men from lowest classes, even women, uttering clear and sensible opinions about political and social questions; just as if they had studied them for years'
Following E.P. Thompson and George Rudé, the more recent German research on the revolution has discovered social protest as a special driving force of revolution; importance of peasant uprisings and actions has become evident; usually, the 1848-9 revolution is represented as a middle-class democratic revolution, but in fact, in its early phases, around 1/3 of uprisings were agrarian in character
Farmers seldom pursued the same goals as the middle classes; they aimed to be free of their landlords but recognised the authority of the princes; some understood freedom of the press, not as freedom of the printed word, but as freedom from the oppression of their landlords
Another third of those participating in the revolution from below consisted of members of the urban lower classes: labourers, apprentices, journeymen, impoverished tradesmen, railroad and factory workers took part in the event; in April 1848, the public was agitated by a series of strikes, especially in factories and railroad construction sites
Victims of the street fighting in Berlin, Vienna and Frankfurt were predominantely small tradesmen, journeymen and apprentices; they were simple townspeople in general; people driven onto the barricades through desperate economic plight; structural problems had existed in small trades for many years
People taking part in the revolution had many different goals, not only 'unity and freedom' like the liberal and democratic middle-classes; the lower classes that carried the revolution reflected the decay of pre-industrial society - they aimed in many cases for the social conditions of the past, against free professions and freedom of movement, for the expulsion of strangers from town and state Political Revolution
Grass roots action opened the way for the second level of action: for a free press and public organised into political parties; everywhere the governments had to concede freedom of the press and free information of political societies, for the first time in German history
In 1848, there is the very beginning of organised political parties in Germany; freely formed organisations; made up their opinions internally by majority votes; submitted to a common programme and open to anybody of the same views; aimed for votes in coming elections, which they achieved quite effectively; not only the parliaments which proved their political competence in 1848; large parts of the urban population showed their own political maturity Parties no longer just appendages of parliamentary factions, or the result of state protection; they developed their own life and the variety of this party life has so far not been adequately assessed; roughly, five political lines of thought can be distinguished: conservatives, constitutional liberals, democrats, political Catholics and the Arbeitervereine, organised nationally in the Arbeiterverbrüderung Public life came to the revolution readily prepared; political societies across German lands; the revolution was deeply rooted in regional life through these societies and the city became the centre of the revolution wherever the historical traditions of local self-government persisted Political societies founded their own newspapers; hitherto moderate tone of the press replaced by forceful polemics; local newspapers of every town, city or region were suddenly dealing with national politics and the work of the Frankfurt National Assembly All movements of the popular revolution, the press and the parties, aimed for political influence, and this was seen to be concentrated in the regional parliaments and the Frankfurt National Assembly
Third level of action: the electoral bodies
Frequently overlooked fact that in the year of the revolution, there were elections not only in Frankfurt, Berlin and Vienna, but also in Munich, Stuttgart, Oldenburg, Bremen, Altenburg and so on; everywhere where there were constitutions, that had to be revised and made democratic
Parliamentary parties which developed maintained close ties with their constituents; grass-roots, press and societies and parliamentary levels of the revolution closely interconnected
Even if nationalist feeling ran high in the German National Assembly, one could argue that a reasonable answer to the national question was proposed by the assembly; the aim of establishing a constitutional state within 'national' borders offered protection to national minorities and respected their languages and traditions
In 1848-49, the Frankfurt National Assembly not only worked out a constitution for a unified Germany (which ultimately failed) but also engaged in concrete parliamentary politics; as the parliament achieved astonishing results there is no reason to deny its astonishing political maturity Government Revolution
During the events of March the reigning monarchs were for a time disorientated and at a loss what to do
The revolution almost everywhere stopped short of toppling the Princes; parallel to the revolutionary events of March, the reigning monarchs appointed commoners and liberal noblemen from oppositional factions into their governments; these were the so-called 'March Ministries', by means of which the monarchs seemingly gave power to the pre-March opposition; these reshuffles within governments seemed to provide evidence of the long-awaited breakthrough of the middle-classes
Even during the revolution though, counter-revolutionary politics began in the separate states; as they did against individuals, so governments also took measures against political societies; the government of Baden had Gustav Struve and Karl Blind tried by jury as leaders of the Revolution; the Württemberg government accused the Württemberg revolutionaries of treason and tightened criminal law concerning political offences; even during the revolution, counterrevolutionary politics began in the separate states
As early as 12 July 1848, the Württemberg government had a democratic society in Stuttgart (the Kreisverein) banned; Bavaria prohibited democratic associations on 12 August 1848 - the governments of Hesse-Darmstadt suppressed local unrest by means of the army and the police
State security decrees demanded no less than the general surveillance of all political societies by the police; the central power instituted by the revolution thus undermined its own roots; the March ministries did likewise; already in Autumn 1848 Hanover, Bavaria, and Prussia began their surveillances records on political activities; the persecuting authorities of counter-revolution later used them to eradicate the remnant of the political societies Monarch and Counter-Revolution
The central government used troops to achieve law and order; the revolution had 'stopped before the throne' as the contemporaries put it; this meant that the executive power remained with the monarchs; the noble officers, the common soldiers of the professional armies and civil servants in the administration and the police force stood ready in the hour of counter-revolution - the part local officials, magistrates and militias played in this context is little-researched
The army was used against the Revolution for the first time in Baden in April, then on a smaller scale in several places, in September 1848 at Frankfurt, and again in the summer of 1849; the example of Baden shows that the revolution was successful when it was taken up by the troops; this happened temporarily in Vienna, during the militia uprisings in the Rhineland and Westphalia, but completely and effectively only in Baden
In contrast to events in Saxony and the Palatinate, in Baden, Prussian court-martials bloodily liquidated the revolution; in addition, courts of war and civil judges sentenced another 1,000 revolutionaries
1848-49 was part of a European movement that failed everywhere with the exception of Switzerland; the turning point in the European revolutions were reached in other places much earlier than in Germany; in the summer and autumn of
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