Nations of Europe and the Great War - Charles Morris

Europe in Arms in 1848

Outbreak of Nineteenth Century Democracy


The revolution of 1830 did not bring peace and quiet to France nor to Europe. In France the people grew dissatisfied with their new monarch; in Europe generally they demanded a greater share of liberty. Louis Philippe delayed to extend the suffrage; he used his high position to add to his great riches; he failed to win the hearts of the French, and was widely accused of selfishness and greed. There were risings of legitimists in favor of the Bourbons, while the republican element was opposed to monarchy. No less than eight attempts were made to remove the king by assassination—all of them failures, but they showed the disturbed state of public feeling. Liberty, equality, fraternity became the watchwords of the working classes, socialistic ideas arose and spread, and the industrial element of the various nations became allied in one great body of revolutionists known as the "Internationalists."

Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

In Germany the demand of the people for political rights grew until it reached a crisis. The radical writings of the "Young Germans," the stirring songs of their poets, the bold utterances of the press, the doctrines of the "Friends of Light" among the Protestants and of the "German Catholics" among the Catholics, all went to show that the people were deeply dissatisfied alike with the State and the Church. They were rapidly arousing from their sluggish acceptance of the work of the Congress of Vienna of 1815 and the spirit of liberty was in the air.

The King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, saw danger ahead. He became king in 1840 and lost no time in trying to make his rule popular by reforms. An edict of toleration was issued, the sittings of the courts were opened to the public, and the Estates of the provinces were called to meet in Berlin. In the convening of a Parliament he had given the people a voice. The Estates demanded freedom of the press and of the state with such eloquence and energy that the king dared not resist them. The people had gained a great step in their progress towards liberty.

In Italy also the persistent demands of the people met with an encouraging response. The Pope, Pius IX, extended the freedom of the press, gave a liberal charter to the City of Rome, and began the formation of an Italian confederacy. In Sicily a revolutionary outbreak took place, and the King of Naples was compelled to give his people a constitution and a parliament. His example was followed in Tuscany and Sardinia. The tyrannical Duke of Modena was forced to flee from the vengeance of his people, and the throne of Parma became vacant by the death in 1847 of Maria Louisa, the widow of Napoleon Bonaparte, a woman little loved and less respected.

The Italians were filled with hope by these events. Freedom and the unity of Italy loomed up before their eyes. Only two obstacles stood in their way, the Austrians and the Jesuits, and both of these were bitterly hated. Gioberti, the enemy of the Jesuits, was greeted with cheers, under which might be heard harsh cries of "Death to the Germans."

Such was the state of affairs at the beginning of 1848. The measure of liberty granted the people only whetted their appetite for more, and over all Western Europe rose an ominous murmur, the voice of the people demanding the rights of which they had so long been deprived. In France this demand was growing dangerously insistent; in Paris, the center of European revolution, it threatened an outbreak. Reform banquets were the order of the day in France, and one was arranged for in Paris to signalize the meeting of the Chambers.

Reform Outbreak in Paris

Guizot, the historian, who was then minister of foreign affairs, had deeply offended the liberal party of France by his reactionary policy. The government threw fuel on the fire by forbidding the banquet and taking steps to suppress it by military force. The people were enraged by this false step and began to gather in excited groups. Throngs of them—artisans, students, and tramps—were soon marching through the streets, with shouts of "Reform! Down with Guizot!" The crowds rapidly increased and grew more violent. Those in favor of peace and order were too weak to cope with them; the soldiers were loath to do so; soon barricades were erected and fighting began.

For two days this went on. Then the king, alarmed at the situation, dismissed Guizot and promised reform, and the people, satisfied for the time and proud of their victory, paraded the streets with cheers and songs. All now might have gone well but for a hasty and violent act on the part of the troops. About ten o'clock at night a shouting and torch-bearing throng marched through the Boulevards, singing and waving flags. Reaching the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they halted and called for its illumination. The troops on duty there interfered, and, on an insult to their colonel and the firing of a shot from the mob, they replied with a volley, before which fifty-two of the people fell killed and wounded.

This reckless and sanguinary deed was enough to turn revolt into revolution. The corpses were carried on biers through the streets by the infuriated people, the accompanying torch-bearers shouting: "To arms! they are murdering us!" At midnight the tocsin call rang from the bells of Notre Dame; the barricades, which had been partly removed, were restored; and the next morning, February 24, 1848, Paris was in arms. In the struggle that followed they were quickly victorious, and the capital was in their hands.

A Republic Founded

Louis Philippe followed the example of Charles X, abdicated his throne and fled to England. After the fate of Louis XVI no monarch was willing to wait and face a Paris mob. The kingdom was overthrown, and a republic, the second which France had known, was established, the aged Dupont de l'Eure being chosen president. The poet Lamartine, the socialist Louis Blanc, the statesmen Ledru-Rollin and Arago became members of the Cabinet, and all looked forward to a reign of peace and prosperity. The socialists tried the experiment of establishing national workshops in which artisans were to be employed at the expense of the state, with the idea that this would give work to all.

Yet the expected prosperity did not come. The state was soon deeply in debt, many of the people remained unemployed, and the condition of industry grew worse day by day. The treasury proved incapable of paying the state artisans, and the public workshops were closed. In June the trouble came to a crisis and a new and sanguinary outbreak began, instigated by the hungry and disappointed workmen, and led by the advocates of the "Red Republic," who acted with ferocious brutality. General Brea and the Archbishop of Paris were murdered, and the work of slaughter grew so horrible that the National Assembly, to put an end to it, made General Cavaignac dictator and commissioned him to put down the revolt.

A terrible struggle ensued between the mob and the troops, ending in the suppression of the revolt and the arrest and banishment of many of its ringleaders. Ten or twelve thousand people had been killed. The National Assembly adopted a republican constitution, under which a single legislative chamber and a president to be elected every four years were provided for. The Assembly wished to make General Cavaignac president, but the nation, blinded by their faith in the name of the great conqueror, elected by an almost unanimous vote his nephew, Louis Napoleon, a man who had suffered a long term of imprisonment for his several attempts against the reign of the late king. He had hurried to France on learning of the outbreak, offered himself as a candidate for the Presidency, and the magic of his name served to carry him triumphantly into the office. The revolution, for the time being, was at an end, and France was a republic again.

Revolt in Germany and Austria

The effect of this revolution in France spread far and wide through Europe, where, as stated, the seeds of revolt had been widely sown. Outbreaks occurred in Italy, Poland, Switzerland and Ireland, and in Germany the revolutionary fever burned hot. Baden was the first state to yield to the demands of the people for freedom of the press, a parliament and other reforms, and went so far as to abolish the imposts still remaining from feudal times. The other minor states followed its example. In Saxony, Wurtemberg and other states class abuses were abolished, liberals given prominent positions under government, the suffrage and the legislature reformed, and men of liberal sentiment summoned to discuss the formation of new constitutions.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


But it was in the great despotic states of Germany—Prussia and Austria—that the liberals gained the most complete and important victory, and went farthest in overthrowing autocratic rule and establishing constitutional government. The notable Austrian statesman who had been a leader in the Congress of Vienna and who had suppressed liberalism in Italy, Prince Metternich, was still, after more than thirty years, at the head of affairs in Vienna. He controlled the policy of Austria; his word was law in much of Germany; time had cemented his authority, and he had done more than any other man in Europe in maintaining despotism and building a dam against the rising flood of liberal sentiment.

The Metternich Policy Fails

But the hour of the man who had destroyed the work of Napoleon was at hand. He failed to recognize the spirit of the age or to perceive that liberalism was deeply penetrating Austria. To most of the younger statesmen of Europe the weakness of his policy and the rottenness of his system were growing apparent, and it was evident that they must soon fall before the onslaught of the advocates of freedom.

An incitement was needed, and it came in the news of the Paris revolution. At once a hot excitement broke out everywhere in Austria. From Hungary came a vigorous demand for an independent parliament, reform of the constitution, decrease of taxes, and relief from the burden of the national debt of Austria. From Bohemia, whose rights and privileges had been seriously interfered with in the preceding year, came similar demands. In Vienna itself the popular outcry for increased privileges grew insistent.

The excitement of the people was aggravated by their distrust of the paper money of the realm and by a great depression in commerce and industry. Daily more workmen were thrown out of employment, and soon throngs of the hungry and discontented gathered in the streets. Students, as usual, led away by their boyish love of excitement, were the first to create a disturbance, but others soon joined in, and the affair quickly became serious.

The old system was evidently at an end. The policy of Metternich could restrain the people no longer. Lawlessness became general, excesses were committed by the mob, the dwellings of those whom the populace hated were attacked and plundered, the authorities were resisted with arms, and the danger of an overthrow of the government grew imminent. The press, which had gained freedom of utterance, added to the peril of the situation by its inflammatory appeals to the people, and by its violence checked the progress of the reforms which it demanded. Metternich, by his system of restraint, had kept the people in ignorance of the first principles of political affairs, and the liberties which they now asked for showed them to be unadapted to a liberal government. The old minister, whose system was falling in ruins about him, fled from the country and sought a refuge in England, that haven of political failures.

The Struggle in Vienna, and Berlin

In May, 1848, the emperor, alarmed at the threatening state of affairs, left his capital and withdrew to Innsbruck. The tidings of his withdrawal stirred the people to passion, and the outbreak of mob violence which followed was the fiercest and most dangerous that had yet occurred. Gradually, however, the tumult was appeased, a constitutional assembly was called into being and opened by the Archduke John, and the Emperor Ferdinand re-entered Vienna amid the warm acclamations of the people. The outbreak was at an end. Austria had been converted from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

In Berlin the spirit of revolution became as marked as in Vienna. The king resisted the demands of the people, who soon came into conflict with the soldiers, a fierce street fight breaking out and continuing with violence for two weeks. The revolutionists demanded the removal of the troops and the formation of a citizen militia, and the king, alarmed at the dangerous crisis in affairs, at last assented. The troops were accordingly withdrawn, the obnoxious ministry was dismissed, and a citizen-guard was created for the defense of the city. Three days afterwards the king promised to govern as a constitutional monarch, an assembly was elected by universal suffrage, and to it was given the work of preparing a constitution for the Prussian state. Here, as in Austria, the revolutionists had won the day and irresponsible government was at an end.

A Federal Empire in Germany

Elsewhere in Germany radical changes were taking place. King Louis of Bavaria, who had deeply offended his people, resigned in favor of his son. The Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt did the same. Everywhere the liberals were in the ascendant, and were gaining freedom of the press and constitutional government. The formation of Germany into a federal empire was proposed and adopted, and a National Assembly met at Frankfort on May 18, 1848. It included many of the ablest men of Germany. Its principal work was to organize a union under an irresponsible executive, who was to be surrounded by a responsible ministry. The Archduke John of Austria was selected to fill this new but brief imperial position, and made a solemn entry into Frankfort on the 11th of July.

All this was not enough for the ultra-radicals. They determined to found a German republic, and their leaders, Hecker and Struve, called the people to arms. An outbreak took place in Baden, but it was quickly suppressed, and the republican movement came to a speedy end. In the north war broke out between Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein, united duchies with a large German population, which desired to be freed from Danish rule and annexed to Germany, and in consequence called for German aid. But just then the new German Union was in no condition to come to their assistance, and Prussia preferred diplomacy to war, with the result that Denmark came out victorious from the contest. As will be seen in a later chapter, Prussia, under the energetic leadership of Bismarck, came, a number of years afterwards, to the aid of these discontented duchies, and they were finally torn from Danish control.

Italy Strikes for Freedom

While these exciting events were taking place in the north, Italy was swept with a storm of revolution from end to end. Metternich was no longer at hand to keep it in check, and the whole peninsula seethed with revolt. Sicily rejected the rule of the Bourbon king of Naples, chose the Duke of Genoa, son of Charles Albert of Sardinia, for its king, and during a year fought for liberty. This patriotic effort of the Sicilians ended in failure. The Swiss mercenaries of the Neapolitan king captured Syracuse and brought the island into subjection, and the tyrant hastened to abolish the constitution which he had been frightened into granting in his hour of extremity.

In the north of Italy war broke out between Austria and Sardinia. Milan and Venice rose against the Austrians and drove out their garrisons, throughout Lombardy the people raised the standard of independence, and Charles Albert of Sardinia called his people to arms and invaded that country, striving to free it and the neighboring state of Venice from Austrian rule. For a brief season he was successful, pushing the Austrian troops to the frontiers, but the old Marshal Radetzky defeated him at Verona and compelled him to seek safety in flight. The next year he renewed his attempt, but with no better success. Depressed by his failure, he resigned the crown to his son Victor Emmanuel, who made a disadvantageous peace with Austria. Venice held out for several months, but was finally subdued, and Austrian rule was restored in the north.

Meanwhile the pope, Pius IX, offended his people by his unwillingness to aid Sardinia against Austria. He promised to grant a constitutional government and convened an Assembly in Rome, but the democratic people of the state were not content with feeble concessions of this kind. Rossi, prime minister of the state, was assassinated, and the pope, filled with alarm, fled in disguise, leaving the Papal dominion to the revolutionists, who at once proclaimed a republic and confiscated the property of the Church.

Mazzini, the leader of "Young Italy," the ardent revolutionist who had long worked in exile for Italian independence, entered the Eternal City, and with him Garibaldi, long a political refugee in America and a gallant partisan leader in the recent war with Austria. The arrival of these celebrated revolutionists filled the democratic party in Rome with the greatest enthusiasm, and it was resolved to defend the States of the Church to the last extremity, viewing them as the final asylum of Italian liberty.

A French Army Occupies Rome

In this extremity the pope called on France for aid. That country responded by sending an army, which landed at Civita-Vecchia and marched upon and surrounded Rome. The new-comers declared that they came as friends, not as foes; it was not their purpose to overthrow the republic, but to defend the capital from Austria and Naples. The leaders of the insurgents in Rome did not trust their professions and promises and refused them admittance. A fierce struggle followed. The republicans defended themselves stubbornly. For weeks they defied the efforts of General Oudinot and his troops. But in the end they were forced to yield, a conditional submission was made, and the French soldiers occupied the city. Garibaldi, Mazzini, and others of the leaders took to flight, and the old conditions were gradually resumed under the controlling influence of French bayonets. For years afterwards the French held the city as the allies and guard of the pope.

The Hungarian Revolution

The revolutionary spirit, which had given rise to war in Italy, yielded a still more resolute and sanguinary conflict in Hungary, whose people were divided against themselves. The Magyars, the descendants of the old Huns, who demanded governmental institutions of their own, separate from those of Austria, though under the Austrian monarch, were opposed by the Slavonic part of the population, and war began between them. Austrian troops were ordered to the aid of Jellachich, the ruler of the Slavs of Croatia in South Hungary, but their departure was prevented by the democratic people of Vienna, who rose in violent insurrection, induced by their sympathy with the Magyars.

The whole city was quickly in tumult, an attack was made on the arsenals, and the violence became so great that the emperor again took to flight. War in Austria followed. A strong army was sent to subdue the rebellious city, which was stubbornly defended, the students' club being the center of the revolutionary movement. Jellachich led his Croatians to the aid of the emperor's troops, the city was surrounded and besieged, sallies and assaults were of daily occurrence, and for a week and more a bloody conflict continued day and night. Vienna was finally taken by storm, the troops forcing their way into the streets, where shocking scenes of murder and violence took place. On November 21, 1848, Jellachich entered the conquered city, martial law was proclaimed, the houses were searched, the prisons filled with captives, and the leaders of the insurrection put to death.

Kossuth and the Magyars

Shortly afterwards the Emperor Ferdinand abdicated the throne in favor of his youthful nephew, Francis Joseph, who at once dissolved the constitutional assembly and proclaimed a new constitution and a new code of laws. Hungary was still in arms, and offered a vigorous opposition to the Austrians, who now marched to put down the insurrection. They found it no easy task. The fiery eloquence of the orator Kossuth roused the Magyars to a desperate resistance, Polish leaders came to their support, foreign volunteers strengthened their ranks, Gorgey, their chief leader, showed great military skill, and the Austrians were driven out and the fortresses taken. The independence of Hungary was now proclaimed, and a government established under Kossuth as provisional president.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


The repulse of the Austrians nerved the young emperor to more strenuous exertions. The aid of Russia was asked, and the insurgent state invaded on three sides, by the Croatians from the south, the Russians from the north, and the Austrians, under the brutal General Haynau, from the west.

The conflict continued for several months, but quarrels between the Hungarian leaders weakened their armies, and in August, 1849, Gorgey, who had been declared dictator, surrendered to the invaders, Kossuth and the other leaders seeking safety in flight. Haynau made himself infamous by his cruel treatment of the Hungarian people, particularly by his use of the lash upon women. His conduct raised such widespread indignation that he was roughly handled by a party of brewers, on his visit to London in 1850.

How the Conflict Ended

With the fall of Hungary the widespread revolutionary movement of 1848 came to an end. The German Union had already disappeared. There were various other disturbances, besides those we have recorded, but finally all the states settled down to peace and quiet. Its results had been great in increasing the political privileges of the people of Western Europe, and with it the reign of despotism in that section of the continent came to an end.

The greatest hero of the war in Hungary was undoubtedly Louis Kossuth, whose name has remained familiar among those of the patriots of his century. From Hungary he made his way to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for two years at Kutaieh, being finally released through the intervention of the governments of Great Britain and the United States. He then visited England, where he was received with enthusiastic popular demonstrations and made several admirable speeches in the English language, of which he had excellent command. In the autumn of 1851 he came to the United States, where he had a flattering reception and spoke on the wrongs of Hungary to enthusiastic audiences in the principal cities.