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Why Did Revolutions Break Out in Germany and Italy in 1848 Essay

The “Spring of Nations”, which consisted in the popular uprisings and revolutions that occurred in 1848, was caused by a series of factors which included social, economical and government crisis. Although these problems were serious and well eradicated, the major factor that caused these revolts was the rise of nationalist and liberalist ideas. When in 1845 a combination of massive crop failure in a mainly agricultural subsistence economy and a overproduction followed by an underconsumption of goods typical of the early industrialization led to a destructive economic crisis and recession.

That year the “potato blight”, which was a vegetal desire that affected tubers such as potatoes, struck Europe making entire countries which their whole agriculture, since the Spanish brought the potatoes in Europe in the late 1400s, was based on the growth of this crop. Because of this disease, countries such as Ireland and Germany faced a great lack of food. The following year also a grain failure made the situation, if possible, even worse.

This lack of food caused the prices of aliments to rise incredibly to the point where the daily pay of a factory worker wasn’t enough to buy food to feed his family, of corse supposing that the factory worker didn’t get fired because of the fall in demand of industrial products. With such an economical situation riots and acts of violence soon broke out. In 1846 the peasants in the Austrian provence of Galicia revolted against their landlords burning the documents regarding their feudal dues and attacking wealthy people.

Similar hunger-driven acts of violence occurred in all of Europe. Soon the Austrian army put down the revolt but no actions were taken by the government to solve the problems that made it happen. The combined effect of a agricultural lesser production and the industrial overproduction affected negatively trade. Exports and imports dropped in all of Europe, even in the tax free zones such as the Zollverein where in three years the cotton exports dropped by 40%, and this angered greatly the people who controlled commerce at that time: the middle class.

Although the middle class didn’t start to riot straight away, this tension due to the economic losses will drive them towards liberal ideas and off from supporting the traditional government. After Napoleon’s definitive defeat in 1815, the liberals and the other carriers of the French revolution’s ideas lost the hope to see reform brought out directly from the government. In a absolute monarchic Europe where these ideas were suppressed there was no space for political opposition because the governments outlawed any right of speech or press. Because of this repressive situation, secret societies started rising.

Both nationalistic and liberalistic driven, these societies had the goal to promote reform and patriotism thus inspiring the people, especially the middle class, to revolt and embrace radical ideals. Major evidence of the popular will of independence and reform, was the burn ing of puppets which represented the leaders of the ancient regime. Particularly popular especially in the German Confederation, Italy and Hungary was the burning of puppets representing the maximum exponent of conservatism and reactionism: Prince Klemens von Metternich.

The counter-liberalist policies carried out by the members of the holy alliance, Austria, Prussia and Russia, were ineffective. By censuring the press and removing the right of speech, the people didn’t stop asking for change and reading about these ideas but they started to feel more repressed thus angering the people. Since the French revolution of 1789, Europe had been struck with innovative enlightened ideas such as the rights of man, the idea of universal suffrage (not including though women) and the idea of political liberalism.

These ideas were mostly successful in the middle class which, over the past 250 years, became increasingly richer due to trade, banking and manufactory substituting “de facto” the nobility as most rich class. Although the middle class obtained economical power, the states offices were run by aristocrats and nobles appointed by the king. The middle class started growing resentment towards the monarchy and wanted their economical power to match their political power which, at the moment, they didn’t have.

Because of the repressive acts issued by the governments, especially the Austrian one, any kind of manifestation of liberal or nationalist ideas was to be punished (often with exile or prison), so secret societies started rising. These secret societies had the aim to promote liberalism and nationalism throughout actions against the governments. Mazzini, an italian radical, found “Young Italy” and “Young Europe” to promote the ideas spawned by the revolution. Although there were many secret societies, the most prominent was the italian “Carbonari”.

The Carbonari were responsible and financed both the 1821 and 1848 uprisings in Italy. In conclusion all the factors that led to the “Spring of Nations” were important, especially the economic crisis and the famine because it angered the lower class making them too riot and revolt against the government, but without the nationalistic and liberal ideas that came along with the revolt made the difference. If it hasn’t been for those ideals the “Spring of Nations” would have only been a mass of angry peasants rioting for the food shortages.


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