During the spring of 1848, several republican uprisings took place across Europe in countries like Italy, France, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Only the French Revolution of 1848 succeeded, yet these uprisings were all followed by changes in their respective political systems. I believe it’s important to mention these historical events since they created space for heroic acts, a chance for liberal ideologies to spread in Europe in the 19th century, and a chance for people to raise their voices against political oppression.
Italy – 13 January 1848
As a little background information, the former kingdoms of Naples and Sicily were formally reunited following the 1815 Congress of Vienna to become the Bourbon kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Both kingdoms had previously comprised the single Kingdom of Sicily (created by the Normans in the 11th century) during the 12th and 13th centuries and were split in two following the revolt of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282.
The seeds of the revolution of 1848 were sown in 1814, prior to the Congress of Vienna. This was during the tumultuous Napoleonic period, when the Bourbon court was forced to escape from Naples and set up its royal court in Palermo with the assistance of the English navy. The Sicilian nobles were able to take the opportunity to force a new constitution on the Bourbons that was based on the Westminster system of parliamentary government and was in fact quite a liberal constitution for the time. However, post-Congress of Vienna, Ferdinand IV of Naples (and III of Sicily) immediately abolished the constitution upon returning the royal court to Naples. The Sicilian revolution was the first revolt of the liberating movement that occurred that year. This was a revolution against Bourbon rule that resulted in Sicily becoming an independent state. However, it remained independent for only sixteen months.
France – 24 February 1848
Also known as the “February Revolution”, this was a revolt against the Bourbon monarchy and resulted in the end of the Bourbon Restoration, the so-called July Monarchy, that eventually led to the establishment of the French Second Republic. The February Revolution was sparked by the suppression of meetings of the political opposition, the campagne des banquets. This revolution was inspired by nationalist and republican ideals among the French general public, who believed the people should rule themselves. It ended the constitutional monarchy of Louis-Philippe and led to the creation of the French Second Republic. This government was headed by Louis-Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, who in 1852 staged a coup d’état and established himself as a dictatorial emperor of the Second French Empire.
Austria – 13 March 1848
By March, the revolutionary movement had reached the German states of central Europe. Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I was highly conservative and unwilling to grant reforms or make room for liberal political developments. Events compelled a decision at last. Thousands of people full of high hopes, among them a great number of students, gathered before the House of Estates (Standehaus) in Herrengasse on the occasion of the opening session of the Lower Austria Landtag (legislature) to support the demands of the opposition. Mistrust of the estates’ willingness to grant reforms and rumours led to the storming of the House of Estates and the Landtag was forced to send a delegation to the court. The revolt resulted in significant changes in the political system that influenced the revolution in Hungary too.
Hungary – 15 March 1848
The Austrian rebellion was followed by an uprising in Budapest that spread across the country later on and resulted in a war of independence that took place in Hungary between 1848 and 1849. It was a rainy day and a group of young people called ‘The Youth of March’ initiated the revolt by creating their 12 Points of Reforms at Cafe Pilvax in District V of Budapest. It was also the place where Hungarian poet Sandor Petofi performed his “National Song” for the first time.
In this document, the Hungarian youth addressed its demands to the Habsburg Monarchy, including demands for freedom of the press; the freeing of political prisoners; the abolition of feudalism, socage and peasantry; and furthermore the establishment of rule-of-law and democratic elections, influenced by Western European countries like the British Empire and France.
The Austrian monarchy resisted and this led to the Hungarian war of independence, which ended in 1849. The 12 Points of Reform can be considered as the Hungarian declaration of independence. Even though the uprising and war of independence resulted in military failure, significant changes were made in the political system and the era of rule-of-law began.
Vive la liberté
All the above-mentioned revolutions were triggered by those who were oppressed by conservative political systems, and who were influenced by nationalist, liberal, and even socialist ideologies. They were eager to change the course, the general direction of their motherlands and all of these revolutionaries deserve to be remembered because they had the courage to speak out, take action, and make sacrifices in the name of liberty.
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