After the Congress of Vienna, liberal and nationalist ideas spread easily in the new European context. Uprisings were common, especially where there were also socioeconomic problems.
The nineteenth century was the century of industrialization, modernization, demographic explosion, new means of transportation and communication as well as of great transformations in other spheres.
It was the century of grandiose changes that the world had never seen before: growing literacy, rapid urbanization, changes in political institutions, the rise of national identity, the rise of culture, fantastic discoveries in science, and a powerful change of lifestyles. Such tremendous transformations naturally led to drastic social changes.
Revolutions of 1820´s
The first in the series of these revolutions took place in 1820 in Spain. In 1812 a liberal constitution had been agreed (The Cádiz Constitution), but after the Congress of Vienna, King Ferdinand VII ignored the Constitution. In 1820 there was a military uprising led by General Riego to restore the liberal ideas, and Ferdinand was obliged to accept the constitution. In 1823 the Congress of Verona sent French soldiers – ‘100,000 Sons of Saint Louis’, to restore Ferdinand’s authority, and defeat the rebels.
Nevertheless, these liberal ideas spread quickly to Portugal, Two Sicilies, Sardinia, and to some German states, but in all these places the revolts were crushed by the army.
In 1821, A Greek revolution against Ottoman control fared better, for Greek nationalists appealed to European sympathy for a Christian nation struggling against Muslim dominance. With French, British, and Russian backing, Greece finally won its independence in 1829. and by 1832 Greece was recognised as a sovereign nation.
Liberal agitation began to revive in Britain, France, and the Low Countries by the mid-1820s. Liberals wanted stronger parliaments and wider protection of individual rights. They also sought a vote for the propertied classes. They wanted commercial legislation that would favour business growth, which in Britain meant attacking Corn Law tariffs that protected landlord interests and kept food prices (and so wages)artificially high. Belgian liberals also had a nationalist grievance, for the Treaty of Vienna had placed their country under Dutch rule.
Revolutions of 1830´s
Liberal concerns fueled a new round of revolution in 1830, sparked by a new uprising in Paris. Called the ‘July Revolution’, it deposed the ultraconservative Bourbon King Charles X and replaced him with a more liberal oriented king, LouisPhillippe I. Charles, who favoured absolutism, had tried to return to the Ancient Régime but the upper bourgeoisie and many influential liberals opposed him, encouraging the people to rise up against him. France became a constitutional monarchy.
Belgium: The Kingdom of the Netherlands, established after the Congress of Vienna, included a southern part (now Belgium) which was Catholic and mainly Frenchspeaking. The north (now Holland) was Dutchspeaking and Protestant (Calvinist). In 1830 a rebellion began in Brussels which finally resulted in Belgian independence (1831), with a new king, Leopold Ist, and a liberal regime.
After the revolutions of 1820 and 1830, liberal governments spread throughout Europe. Only Central Europe, the German and Italian states (except Savoy), and the empires of Russia, Austria and Turkey remained absolutist.
Europe was now divided between a liberal west and a conservative centre and east. Russia, indeed, seemed largely exempt from the political currents swirling in the rest of the continent, partly because of the absence of significant social and economic change. A revolt by some liberal-minded army officers in 1825 (the Decembrist revolt) was put down with ease, and a new tsar, Nicholas I, installed a more rigorous system of political police and censorship. Nationalist revolt in Poland, a part of the 1830 movement, was suppressed with great force. Russian diplomatic interests continued to follow largely traditional lines, with recurrent warfare with the Ottoman Empire in an effort to gain territory to the south. Only after 1850 did the Russian regime seriously rethink its adamantly conservative stance.
This pattern could not prevail elsewhere in Europe. Scandinavian governments moved toward increasing liberalism by expanding the power of parliaments, a development that was completed in the late 1840s; the Dutch monarchy did the same. Elsewhere, the next major step resulted once again from a series of revolutions in 1848, which proved to be western Europe’s final revolutionary round.
Revolutions of 1848
1848 was a special year in European history because of a general outbreak of revolutions and uprisings. Historians call this year “The Spring of Nations”. Added to the factors of the previous revolutions, we could argue the following causes:
Some of the previous revolutions began to take effect – for example in France.
In the countries where absolutism was still strong, the bourgeoisie rose up against it. But in the countries that already had a constitutional monarchy, the radical politicians, usually proletarian, (called democrats), were looking for greater changes in their parliamentary governments (for example, universal suffrage).
Technological changes were taking place in society through industrialisation, creating a new class, the proletariat.
Technological changes were also responsible for a wider press, helping to spread ideas more quickly to a wider range of people in society.
Nationalism was becoming stronger.
Socialism appeared, growing more rapidly after Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848.
Another factor was the crop failures in 1846 in Europe. The resulting economic crisis caused discontent among the peasants, and also in the new working classes.
The revolutions of 1848 took place in most of the Western and Central european countries (France, Austrian Empire, Kindom of Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, Belgium, Ireland, some German states like Prussia, Saxony, Venice-Lombardy…) and also parts of South America such as Brazil. Some of these uprisings had also nationalist components as in the Italian and German territories.
Important changes resulted from the 1848 rising, which are mentioned in the folowing:
Manorialism was permanently abolished throughout Germany and the Habsburg lands, giving peasants new rights.
Democracy ruled in France, even under the new empire and despite considerable manipulation; universal manhood suffrage had been permanently installed.
Prussia, again in conservative hands, nevertheless established a parliament, based on a limited vote, as a gesture to liberal opinion.
The Habsburg monarchy installed a rationalized bureaucratic structure to replace localized landlord rule.
Some feminist agitation had surfaced in France and Germany. The stage was set for rapid political evolution after 1850, in a process that made literal revolution increasingly difficult.