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Central European Revolutions of 1848: History, Causes & Effects

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  • 0:07 Revolution in France
  • 2:06 Prussia and Germany
  • 2:40 Austrian Empire
  • 3:19 Italy
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high History and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in Education.

This lesson explores the Central European revolutions of 1848. In doing so, it will highlight the nationalist movements across Germany, Austria, and Italy. It will also signify the revolution in France as the catalyst for this historic year.

Revolution in France

There's an old saying that goes something like this: 'When France sneezes, all of Europe catches a cold.' Although there are a few different versions of this saying, they all mean pretty much the same thing - if something starts brewing in France, it usually ends up affecting all of Europe. Perhaps never has this saying proved more true than in the bloody year of 1848.

Not surprisingly, the first of this year's revolutions occurred in France as the middle class, also known as the bourgeois, grew more and more intolerant of King Louis Philippe and his aristocratic cronies. Facing economic depression, a food shortage, inflation, and political inequality, the bourgeois were ready for change. When the French monarch refused to meet the needs of the common class, tensions rose into revolution and King Louis Philippe was ousted from power. However, the bloodshed in France did not end.

Upon ridding themselves of the king, the revolutionaries could not agree on how to run the country. Some felt voting rights were of supreme importance, while others created national workshops, which supplied jobs for the common people of France. When those who favored voting rights were elected into power, they closed these national workshops. Not very happy about losing their jobs, people rioted and blood returned to the streets of France.

This chaos would soon lead to the election of one central figure within France. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte, and as history testifies, the French would find themselves again under the rule of a dictator. All in all, not the happiest of endings - yet France still set the fires of revolution across Europe. Seeing the monarch of France ousted from power, radicals throughout Europe caught the revolutionary spirit. Unfortunately, most would meet a similar fate to that of France.

Prussia and Germany

In Germany, radical groups began calling for the unification of German states. When Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia folded under the demands to create a Prussian assembly, the people of the German provinces became hopeful for themselves. Soon, radicals from all over the German states convened at the Frankfurt Assembly in order to work toward the unification of the German provinces. Although the assembly did make some progress, the lack of a strong leader kept their hopes from becoming a reality.

Austrian Empire

A similar scene played out in Central Europe as the people called for freedom from Prince Metternich and his Austrian Empire. At first, things looked rather promising for the revolutionaries. Vienna was taken by groups of revolutionary students and common-class workers, while the nationalist Lajos Kossuth inspired the people of Hungary to call for a constitution. It seemed like the people of the Austrian Empire might just get their freedom. However, with the help of a strong army, the Austrian Empire regained control. From Vienna to Prague to Budapest, rebellion was crushed within the Empire.

Italy

Southern Europe also caught the revolutionary fever, but unfortunately, its fate was the same. Fueled by the revolutionary spirit, the radicals of Italy moved to create their own democratic state. Like their other European counterparts, the middle class Italians called for the unification of an independent Italy, free from Rome and the grips of the Austrian Empire of the north. For some time, these rebels experienced success.

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