Revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg areas

Revolutions of 1848 in the Habsburg areas

, which moved toward greater German national unity.

Besides these nationalisms, liberal and even socialist currents resisted the empire's longstanding conservatism.

Ultimately, the revolutions failed, in part because the various revolutionaries had conflicting goals.

The early rumblings

The events of 1848 were the product of mounting social and political tensions after the Congress of Vienna of 1815. During the "pre-March" period, the already conservative Austrian Empire moved further away from Enlightenment ideas, restricted freedom of the press, and limited many university activities, including banning fraternities.

ocial and political conflict

Conflicts between debtors and creditors in agricultural production as well as over land use rights in parts of Hungary (as in France) led to conflicts that occasionally erupted into violence. Conflict over organized religion was pervasive in pre-1848 Europe.Fact|date=March 2007 Tension came both from within Catholicism and between members of different confessions. These conflicts were often mixed with conflict with the state. Important for the revolutionaries were state conflicts including the armed forces and collection of taxes. As 1848 approached, the revolutions the Empire crushed to maintain longstanding conservative minister Metternich's Congress System left the empire nearly bankrupt and in continual need of soldiers.Fact|date=March 2007 Draft commissions led to brawls between soldiers and civilians. All of this further agitated the peasantry, who resented their remaining feudal obligations.

Despite lack of freedom of the press and association, there was a flourishing liberal German culture among students and those educated either in Josephine schoolsFact|date=March 2007 or German universities. They published pamphlets and newspapers discussing education and language, a need for basic liberal reforms was assumed. These middle class liberals largely understood and accepted that forced robota labor is not efficient, and that the Empire should adopt a wage labor system. The question was of how to institute such reforms.

Notable liberal clubs of the time in Vienna included the Legal-Political Reading Club (established 1842) and Concordia Society (1840). They, like the Lower Austrian Manufacturers' Association (1840) were part of a culture that criticized Metternich's government from the city's coffeehouses, salons, and even stages, but prior to 1848 their demands had not even extended to constitutionalism or freedom of assembly, let alone republicanism. They had merely advocated relaxed censorship, religious toleration, economic freedoms, and, above all, a more competent administration. They were outright opposed to popular sovereignty and the universal franchise. [Bidelux and Jeffries 1998, p. 315–6.]

To their left was a radicalized, impoverished . Educational opportunities in 1840s Austria had far outstripped employment opportunities for the educated. [Bidelux and Jeffries 1998, p. 316.]

Direct cause of the outbreak of violence

In 1846 there had been an uprising of Polish nobility in Austrian Galicia, which was only countered when peasants, in turn, rose up against the nobles. [Bidelux and Jeffries 1998, p. 295–296.] The economic crisis of 1845-47 was marked by recession and food shortages throughout the continent. At the end of February 1848, demonstrations broke out in Paris. French King Louis-Philippe abdicated the throne prompting similar revolts throughout the continent.

Revolution in the Austrian lands

An early victory leads to tension

After news broke of victories in Paris, uprisings occurred throughout Europe, including in Vienna, where the Diet of Lower Austria, on March 13, demanded Metternich's resignation. With no forces rallying to Metternich's defense, Emperor Ferdinand reluctantly complied and dismissed him. [Bidelux and Jeffries 1998, p. 298.] Metternich fled to London, [Leopold Schwarzschild, "The Red Prussian: The Life and Legend of Karl Marx", p. 174: "Metternich, like Louis Philippe, fled to London"] and Ferdinand appointed new, nominally liberal, ministers. By November, the Habsburg Empire saw four short-lived liberal governments: those of Count Franz Anton Klowrat (17 March4 April), Count Karl Ficquelmont (4 April3 May), Baron Franz von Pillersdorf (3 May8 July) and Baron Johann von Wessenberg (19 July20 November). [Bidelux and Jeffries 1998, p. 314.]

The established order collapsed rapidly because of the weakness of the Austrian armies. Field Marshall Joseph Radetzky was unable to keep his soldiers fighting Milanese insurgents in Northern Italy, and had to, instead, order the remaining troops to evacuate.

Social and political conflict as well as inter and intra confessional hostility momentarily subsided as much of the continent rejoiced in the liberal victories. Mass political organizations and public participation in government became widespread.

However, liberal ministers were unable to establish central authority. Provisional governments in Venice and Milan quickly expressed desire to be part of a united Italian state, a new Hungarian government in Budapest announced its intentions to break away from the Empire and elect Ferdinand its King, and a Polish National Committee announced the same for the province of Galicia.

ocial and political tensions after the "Springtime of Peoples"

The victory of the party of movement was looked at as an opportunity for lower classes to renew old conflicts with greater anger and energy. Several tax boycotts and attempted murders of tax collectors occurred in Vienna. Assaults against soldiers were common, including against Radetzky's troops retreating from Milan. The archbishop of Vienna was forced to flee, and in Graz, the convent of the Jesuits was destroyed.

The demands of nationalism and its contradictions became apparent as new national governments began declaring power and unity. Carlo Alberto, King of Piedmont-Savoy, initiated a nationalist war on March 23 in the Austrian held northern Italian provinces that would consume the attention of the entire peninsula. The German nationalist movement faced the question of whether or not Austria should be included in the united German state, a quandary that divided the Frankfurt National Assembly. The liberal ministers in Vienna were willing to allow elections for the German National Assembly in some of the Habsburg lands, but it was undetermined which Habsburg territories would participate. Hungary and Galicia were clearly not German; German nationalists (who dominated the Bohemian Diet [Bidelux and Jeffries, 1998, p. 310.] ) felt the old crown lands rightfully belonged to a united German state, despite the fact that the majority of the people of Bohemia and Moravia spoke Czech — a Slavic language. Czech nationalists viewed the language as far more significant, calling for a boycott of the German National Assembly elections in Bohemia, Moravia, and neighboring Austrian Silesia. Tensions in Prague between German and Czech nationalists grew quickly between April and May.

By early summer, conservative regimes had been overthrown, new freedoms (including freedom of the press and freedom of association) had been introduced, and multiple nationalist claims had been exerted. New parliaments quickly held elections with broad franchise to create constituent assemblies, which would write new constitutions. The elections that were held produced unexpected results. The new voters, naïve and confused by their new political power, typically elected conservative or moderately liberal representatives. The radicals, the ones who supported the broadest franchise, lost under the system they advocated because they were not the locally influential and affluent men. The mixed results led to confrontations similar to the "June Days" clash in Paris. Additionally, these constituent assemblies were charged with the impossible task of managing both the needs of the people of the state and determining what that state physically is at the same time. The Austrian Constituent Assembly was divided into a Czech faction, a German faction, and a Polish faction, and within each faction was the political left-right spectrum. Outside the Assembly, petitions, newspapers, mass demonstrations, and political clubs put pressure on their new governments and often expressed violently many of the debates that were occurring within the assembly itself.


On May 13, barricades were built in Naples, the capital city of the Italian radicals. Insurgents quickly lost in street fighting to King Ferdinand's troops led by General Radetzky, prompting several liberal government ministers to resign in protest. Ferdinand, now restored to power in Vienna, appointed conservatives in their places. These actions were a considerable blow to the revolutionaries, and by August most of northern Italy was under Radetzky's control. In Bohemia, the leaders of both the German and Czech nationalist movements were both constitutional monarchists, loyal to the Habsburg Emperor. Only a few days after the Emperor reconquered northern Italy, Prince Alfred Windischgrätz took provocative measures in Prague to prompt street fighting. Once the barricades went up, he led Habsburg troops to crush the insurgents. After having taken back the city, he imposed martial law, ordered the Prague National Committee dissolved, and sent delegates to the "Pan-Slavic" Congress home. These events were heralded by German nationalists, who failed to understand that the Habsburg military would crush their own national movement as well.

Attention then turned to Hungary. War in Hungary again threatened imperial rule and prompted Emperor Ferdinand and his court to once more flee Vienna. Viennese radicals welcomed the arrival of Hungarian troops as the only force able to stand up against the court and ministry. The radicals took control of the city for only a short period of time. General Windischgrätz led soldiers from Prussia to quickly defeat the insurgents. Windischgrätz restored imperial authority to the city. The reconquering of Vienna was seen as a defeat over German nationalism. However, it put an end to the power of all constitutional monarchists in the capital, as Emperor Ferdinand abdicated the throne to his nephew Franz Joseph. Parliamentarians continued to debate, but had no authority on state policy.

Ethnic disputes

Of all the nationalities—Germans, Czechs, Italians, Slovenes, Poles, Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Romanians, Ukrainians (Ruthenians) and Hungarians—the Hungarians pushed hardest for self-determination Fact|date=August 2007.

In Hungary, a new national cabinet took power under Lajos Kossuth, and the Diet (parliament) approved a sweeping reform package—referred to as the March Laws—that changed almost every aspect of Hungary's economic, social, and political life, giving the Magyar nobility and lower gentry in the parliament control over its own military, its budget, and foreign policy.

The Czechs held a Pan-Slav congress in Prague, primarily composed of Austroslavs who wanted greater freedom within the Empire, but their status as peasants and proletarians surrounded by a German middle class doomed their autonomy Fact|date=August 2007. They also disliked the prospect of annexation of Bohemia to a German Empire.

Both the Czech and Italian revolutions were defeated by the Habsburgs. Prague was the first victory of counter-revolution in the Austrian Empire.

Revolution in the Kingdom of Hungary

The Hungarian Diet (parliament) was reconvened in 1825 to handle financial needs. A liberal party emerged in the Diet. The party focused on providing for the peasantry in mostly symbolic ways because of their inability to understand the needs of the laborers. Lajos Kossuth emerged as the leader of the lower gentry in the Diet.

News of the outbreak of revolution in Paris arrived as a new national cabinet took power under Kossuth, and the Diet approved a sweeping reform package, referred to as the "April Laws", that essentially created an autonomous national kingdom of Hungary with the Habsburg Emperor as its king. They also demanded that the Hungarian government receive and expend all taxes raised in Hungary and have authority over Hungarian regiments in the Habsburg army. Further, the new laws ended the special status of Transylvania and Croatia-Slavonia. These demands were not easy for the imperial court to accept, however, its weak position provided little choice. One of the first tasks of the Diet was abolishing serfdom, which they did rather quickly.

The declaration of the new liberal government did not lead to national unity, but to proclamations of many new national movements.

The Hungarian government set limits on the political activity of both the Croatian and Romanian national movements. Slavs and Romanians had their own desires for self-rule and saw no benefit in replacing one central government for another. Armed clashes between the Hungarians and the Croats, Romanians, Serbs, along one border and Slovaks on the other ensued.

Croatia-Slavonia severed relations with the new Hungarian government in Pest and devoted itself to the imperial cause. Conservative Josip Jelačić, who was appointed the new Ban, or provincial governor of Croatia-Slavonia, in March by the imperial court, was removed from his position by the constitutional monarchist Hungarian government. He refused to give up his authority in the name of the monarch. Thus, there were two governments in Hungary issuing contradictory orders in the name of Ferdinand von Habsburg. [Jonathan Sperber 2005, p. 143.]

Aware that they were on the path to civil war in the summer of 1848when, the Hungarian government ministers attempted to gain Habsburg support against Jelačić by offering to send troops to northern Italy. Additionally, they attempted to come to terms with Jelačić himself, but he insisted on the recentralization of Habsburg authority as a pre-condition to any talks. By the end of August, the imperial government in Vienna officially ordered the Hungarian government in Pest to end plans for a Hungarian army. Jelačić then took military action against the Hungarian government without any official order.

With war raging on three fronts (against the Serbs in Banat and Backa, and Romanians in Transylvania), Hungarian radicals in Pest saw this as an opportunity. Parliament made concessions to the radicals in September rather than let the events erupt into violent confrontations. Shortly thereafter, the final break between Vienna and Pest occurred when Field Marshall Count Lamberg was given control of all armies in Hungary (including Jelačić's). In response to Lamberg being attacked on arrival in Hungary a few days later, the imperial court ordered the Hungarian parliament and government dissolved. Jelačić was appointed to take Lamberg's place. War between Austria and Hungary had officially begun.

The war led to the October Crisis in Vienna, when insurgents attacked a garrison on its way to Hungary to support Jelačić's forces. After Vienna was recaptured by imperial forces, General Windischgrätz and 70,000 troops were sent to Hungary to crush the last challenge to the Austrian Empire. By the end of December, the Hungarian government evacuated Pest.

The Second Wave of revolutions

Revolutionary movements of 1849 faced an additional challenge: to work together to defeat a common enemy. Previously, national identity allowed Habsburg forces to conquer revolutionary governments by playing them off one another. New democratic initiatives in Italy in the spring of 1848when led to a renewed conflict with Austrian forces in the provinces of Lombardy and Venetia. At the one year anniversary of the first barricades in Vienna, German and Czech democrats in Bohemia agreed to put mutual hostilities aside and work together on revolutionary planning. Hungarians faced the greatest challenge of overcoming the divisions of the previous year, as the fighting there had been the most bitter. Despite this, the Hungarian government hired a new commander and attempted to unite with Romanian democrat Avram Iancu. However, division and mistrust were too severe.

Three days after the start of hostilities in Italy, Carlo Alberto abdicated the throne, essentially ending the Piedmontese return to war. Renewed military conflicts cost the Empire the little that remained of its finances. Another challenge to Habsburg authority came from Germany and the question of either "big Germany" (united Germany led by Austria) or "little Germany" (united Germany led by Prussia). The Frankfurt National Assembly demanded the entire Austrian Empire, including Hungary, be united with the German provinces. In the end, Friedrich Wilhelm refused to accept the constitution written by the Assembly. Prince Schwarzenberg dissolved the Austrian Constituent Assembly in March 1849, and, instead, adopted by decree a new constitution for the Empire. It left virtually all the power in the hands of the emperor, rejecting even pre-1848 status quo by eliminating the Hungarian Diet. To finally suppress Kossuth's Hungarian forces, the Empire asked for Russian intervention. Austria and Russia successfully defeated Hungarian insurgents by August of 1849, bringing the revolutions of 1848 to an end.



* Robert Bidelux and Ian Jeffries, "A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change", Routledge, 1998. ISBN 0-415-1611-8.
* Jonathan Sperber, "The European Revolutions, 1848-1851", (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Further reading

*Robin Okey, "The Habsburg Monarchy c. 1765-1918: From Enlightenment to Eclipse", New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002
*Otto Wenkstern, "History of the war in Hungary in 1848 and 1849", London: J. W. Parker, 1859 ( [ Digitized version] )

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