The Revolutions of 1848 Essay

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The Revolutions of 1848

The Revolutions of 1848 have been described as the “greatest revolution of the century”1. From its mild beginnings in Palermo, Sicily in January 1848, it did not take long to spread across the rest of Europe (Britain and Russia were the only countries not to experience such revolutions). “In 1848 more states on the European continent were overcome by revolution than ever before and ever since”2. The Revolutions became more radical but after June 1848 these revolutionary events began to overlap with those of counterrevolutionary actions, thus enabling the old regimes to return to power. 1848 was described as “a sunny spring of the peoples abruptly interrupted by the winter of the princes”3.

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The situation was the same across central and west Europe. Revolutionaries found that the high hopes they had held in 1848 were pushed aside by the reality of different aims. As a result the counter-revolution continued to develop and gain the upper hand, particularly in the Habsburg monarchy, where rivalries within the monarchy itself and the confusion of competing national claims made counter-revolution easier, and in the Italian states where a lack of support had proved too powerful.

This division amongst revolutionaries was further heightened by the continued existence of social and economic problems throughout Europe. It was these social problems which had helped bring about the 1848 Revolutions in the first place. In the 1840s there was increased food shortage and business failure along with high unemployment, which had increased the dissatisfaction with the existing conservative or moderate regimes. Although this economic discontent had not been enough on its own to bring about the 1848 Revolutions, it definitely played a key part in their development and their collapse. These problems were still apparent in 1848 and consequently took some of the focus away from the revolutionaries’ cause. Along with the growing strain on food supplies and the increase of unemployment, Europe was also suffering from cholera and the plague. The plague had spread across Europe, starting

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