The Revolutions of 1848 Essay

The Revolutions of 1848 Essay

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The Revolutions of 1848


The Revolutions of 1848 have been described as the “greatest revolution of the century”1. From its mild beginnings in Palermo, Sicily in January 1848, it did not take long to spread across the rest of Europe (Britain and Russia were the only countries not to experience such revolutions). “In 1848 more states on the European continent were overcome by revolution than ever before and ever since”2. The Revolutions became more radical but after June 1848 these revolutionary events began to overlap with those of counterrevolutionary actions, thus enabling the old regimes to return to power. 1848 was described as “a sunny spring of the peoples abruptly interrupted by the winter of the princes”3.

     “It has often been said…that in 1848…European history reached its turning point and failed to turn”4. There are a variety of reasons that can be given for the failure of the Revolutions, these include the divisions amongst revolutionaries, the continuing social and economic problems of the countries involved, the difficulty in replacing the old regimes and the problem of the new inexperienced electorates. There does not appear to be one clear, defining reason which led to the old regimes regaining power after the 1848 Revolutions. All the factors seem to be equally important and to some extent, connected.

     Across Europe, the revolutionaries of 1848 came from a variety of different social backgrounds and they all held different political beliefs. They could be liberals, republicans, nationalists or socialists and therefore they all wanted different things out of the Revolutions. Each group was also internally divided, with a radical faction and a more moderate one. Initially they all joined forces to overthrow the existing regimes with which they were discontent. However once power was in their hands, they found that ‘Revolutionary Consensus’ was virtually impossible. Their initial victory was “followed by ensuing struggle to implement change”5. The people had taken to the streets not knowing what they would do if they did manage to take power. Now that they had, because of their different individual aims, they found it hard to compromise. This eventually led to a growing split between moderates and radicals, as well as between social classes, particularly in France. The moderates did not want a government based on universal male...


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... voted into the new republic. “France was a republic, but one now in the hands of an assembly dominated by conservatives, many of whom were monarchists”7.

     As you can see all these factors enabled the reactionary regimes to return to power after the 1848 Revolutions. I do not think that one was more influential than another but that they are all connected. Perhaps without one, another may not have had such an effect. For example, the existence of social and economic difficulties increased the divisions between the revolutionaries. They found it increasingly difficult to agree with one another on how to combat them, let alone be able to compromise on a new form of government. Also if the new widened franchise had not been so inexperienced the revolutionaries would have had an easier time replacing the old regimes, which had in fact not been that strong to start with. The reactionary regimes regained power so quickly because of all of these reasons and although the 1848 Revolutions had emphasised the “ineptitude and impotence”8 of the old sovereigns and governments, they brought with them too many resentments, grudges and radical changes, for which Europe was not yet ready.

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