The French Revolution, which began in 1789, marked the beginning of a period of social and political upheaval in Europe. French revolutionary armies, and then Napoleon Bonarparte, spread French revolutionary ideals across continental Europe.
But after Napoleon’s defeat, the European allies, led by Austria’s leading statesman Metternich, tried to re-establish the old order in Europe. States and dynasties that had been destroyed by the revolution and Napoleon were restored.
In France Louis XVI had been deposed and guillotined for treason in the 1790s, along with his wife Marie Antoinette, at the height of the revolution. His young son, and titular successor, Louis XVII, had died in prison.
After Napoleon’s defeat, however, the victorious allies restored Louis XVI’s brother, Louis XVII to the throne. This is what was called the Bourbon Restoration. Across Europe ruling monarchies and states were similarly restored.
In 1830 the last Bourbon king, Charles X, was overthrown in a revolution. He was replaced on the throne by Louis Philippe, a member of the House of Bourbon. Louis Philippe, however, was overthrown 18 years later, in an 1848 uprising. The 1848 revolution in France led to the abolition of the monarchy, making France a republic.
Throughout 1848, similar revolutions spread across Europe. In Sicily, in January people rose up against the local Bourbon dynasty. The French revolution against Louis Philippe began a month later. In March revolutions swept across western and southern German states, with the people demanding German unification and more freedoms. In Prussia the king, Frederick William IV, first gave in to protesters’ demands.
Similar revolutions broke out in Rome, where the Pope was temporarily deposed as the temporal ruler, in Denmark, in the various Italian states, Switzerland, Belgium, and Ireland. Nationalist rebellions broke out against Russian rule in the western Ukraine and Romania, and against Prussian rule in Greater Poland.
In the Habsburg Empire, a nationalist revolt broke out in Hungary, demanding increased autonomy. In Austria itself, an uprising in Vienna forced Metternich, the main architect of Europe’s post-Napoleonic reactionary order, to resign and flee the country.
Even though many of the revolutions of 1848 were unsuccessful, they did mark the collapse of Metternich’s conservative reactionary order. In France, the monarchy gave way to a republic, which later paved the way for the crowning of Napoleon III as emperor, before the republic was restored.
In Germany and Italy, the revolutions of 1848 helped to bring about the eventual unification of these two nations by the latter part of the 19th century.
This article, published in a Hawaiian newspaper in 1848, describes the European revolutions of 1848 as they took place.
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