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Jonathan Lindsell Were revolution and the fear of revolution central to politics in the 19th century?
The politics of revolution, and the politics arising from the fear of revolution directly contributed to humanity's greatest disaster, the First World War. The successful Belgian Revolution, declaring its independence on 4th October 1830, was met by the approval and support of most Western Powers, who at Viscount. Palmerston's direction signed treaties safeguarding the new state's safety and neutrality. The fear of democratic and socialist tendencies in the lower orders convinced the German establishment, the likes of von Moltke, to insist that "middle class aspirants to the officer corps should be rejected"1. This meant that aristocrats such as Schlieffen remained in control, and it was Schlieffen who devised the supposedly watertight plan of sweeping through Belgium to attack Paris. The fear of revolutions caused one of two broad policy spectrums in nineteenth century politics: compromise or repression, the aristocratic nature of the Prussian then German army being firmly the latter. Were revolutions to occur, as they did in Europe, South America and China frequently, then they would also have paramount political effects. The revolution might be utterly successful, but more often internal divisions would lead to a settlement usually biased towards the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, a state's revolution frequently clashed with the conservative-interventionist policy of neighbouring states, which were liable to invade to restore the status quo, were counter-revolutions unsuccessful. In the wake of such restorations, a political lockdown on freedoms and a rise in oppression were common political response procedure. The 1832 Reform Bill is the premium example of a government compromising with the demands of its people to avoid more catastrophic and radical change, heeding Bacon's pronouncement "the surest way to prevent sedition is to take away the matter of them"2. The 1819 meeting of unhappy taxpayers at St. Peter's Square, Manchester, had been met with a cavalry charge, but after a wave of revolutions swept Europe in 1840, the Whigs were all too happy to redistribute the seats from rotten boroughs to populous towns and increased the electorate from 478,000 to 814,000 if it meant the protection of stability. Similarly, Chartists were monitored and blocked ever since their instigation in 1838, but to avert any strife (and certainly full-scale revolution was not expected) Peel allied with the Whigs to repeal the unpopular and aristocratic Corn Laws. This saved the constitution and "knocked the wind out of the sails of popular radicalism"3. Britain was not by any means the only state to embrace a flexible, progressive approach to revolutions. Out of fear many governments made concessions, although often these were not enough to stem the populist flow for long. Andrew Jackson's expansion of suffrage in America quelled working class agitation. Charles Rogier, the head of Belgium's parliament, convinced King Leopold to hastily enact Lower Franchise in 1848, which met popular demonstrations head on and cut off the most radical leftists. William II followed their example in the Netherlands, reducing his previously autocratic status. Even Pope Pius IX saw fit to release 2,000 political prisoners, relax censorship, advocate a pan-Italian customs union and establish a council of lay ministers to improve the railways and education system. However Pius, like Friedrich Wilhelm IV upon calling together the "United Diet", told this new, ostensibly democratic assembly that he retained full autocratic rule by God's will. 1
The German Empire 1871-1918, Hans-Ulrich Wehler, p. 158 Europe in 1830, Clive H Church, p.187 3 Barricades and Borders, Robert Gildea, p. 83 2
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