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Why Did Revolutions Break Out so Widely Across Europe in 1848 and Why Did They Fail?

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Why Did Revolutions Break Out so Widely Across Europe in 1848 and Why Did They Fail? The revolutions of 1848 were born from the legacy of peasant grievances and the appalling conditions of the urban working classes, honed to a peak by the agricultural and financial crises of the two previous years. At the same time, the liberal and inexperienced middle-classes all over Europe saw this as their opportunity to gain more political power. The sheer variety of short-term triggers: the collapse of the French stock market, and the resignation of Metternich on 13 March, begins to explain the failure of these uprisings. These different reasons illustrate the divisions between groups that meant that none could fulfil its aims; the Bourgeoisie were too small a group to gain their political concessions, while the workers lacked a true leader to deliver them better conditions. In the end, as the rebellions got out of control, it was the middle classes that came down on the side of order and helped to quell them, while internationally Britain and Russia flexed the muscles of the ancien r�gime. The Industrial Revolution, which had begun late in the previous century, had caused massive social and demographic change. By 1846, the population of Paris had reached 1, 053, 9001, almost double her figure for fifty years earlier. Rapid urbanisation was a symptom of this social change with its creation of a new urban working class, but also one of the causes of their hardship. ...read more.


Despite the widespread similarity of conditions and long-term motivations across Europe, the short-term triggers for revolution were somewhat localised. In France, the banning of a protest banquet in Paris brought crowds onto the streets on 22 February, who were fired upon by troops; by the next morning 1500 barricades had been set up in the streets of Paris in protest. The news of the February Revolution in France helped to initiate the proceedings in northern Italy, Vienna and Budapest both because it illuminated the possibility of revolt to others and because France was now too tied up internally to suppress rebellion elsewhere: "the crowing of the Gallic cock will once more awaken Europe"4. By far the most vital short-term trigger in Italy and Austria was the fall of Metternich on 13 March, since he was the living symbol of oppressive rule in these states, but the Italians also looked to the successful Swiss Civil War against Austrian rule in 1847 for inspiration. Revolutions broke out so widely in Europe in 1848 because working class hardship after the Industrial Revolution, agricultural discontent and ideological change had been flourishing in all of its states. The crises of 1846-7 in terms of food and finances affected all of them, through trade if not directly, and once one state had gone into revolution, the peoples of others recognised an opportunity to express their troubles or force political change upon their nations. ...read more.


While revolutionaries had successfully overthrown the existing regimes in the European states, where they failed was, with the exception of France, in not getting the army on their side, or providing their own organised force for protection. The power vacuum left by the resignation of Metternich on 13 March could not be filled by spontaneous revolutionaries with no clear leaders and a huge range of objectives. As soon as General Widishgr�tz began to bombard Prague with the Imperial Army, it had fallen to him within three days, while Radetzky crushed the entire Piedmontese army at the battle of Custozza over just four days (23-27 July). A revolution whose causes split the insurgents so divisively could never work without the leadership of men who could successfully draw some of these forces together, and a collaboration and compromise between social classes. No such selflessness ever developed in 1848, each group or individual like Charles Albert, King of Piedmont, was simply out to fulfil his personal aims, so that when the rebellions became too violent and radical the middle classes, thinking of their own socio-economic well-being, gravitated to the side of order and suppressed them. The intervention of Britain and Russia and the defeat of Italian and Austrian rebels by the Habsburg armies showed that only one set of forces were united and determined enough to make a difference, those of the ancien r�gime. ...read more.

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