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Chapter 8

1848 -- The Springtime of Nations
Success and Failure in Revolution

The Parisian revolution of February, 1848, which resulted in the abdication of Louis-Philippe and the proclamation of the Republic of France, had a considerable effect on the rest of Europe, inciting varying degrees of revolutionary fervor everywhere -- with the exceptions of Great Britain and Russia. The revolutionary explosion in the spring of 1848, or the "Springtime of Nations," as it is often called, was the result of several converging factors. Beginning in 1845-1846, Europe had entered a period of economic difficulties and social tensions due to a series of bad harvests. Consumption of manufactured goods declined and investment came to a standstill. Misery stalked the countryside, and in the cities, prices and unemployment rose. These economic difficulties and their attendant social problems gave rise to widespread political dissent. As political discontent intensified, calls for nationalism grew more strident, although here too the intensity varied by country.


The different parts of former Poland reacted differently to the general climate of agitation. The Poles of Prussia, like all other subjects of Frederick William IV, took part in demonstrations for freedom. Initially, the liberals were satisfied. The king of Prussia promised a constitution and announced to

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the Polish delegates in April, 1848, that Posnania would be granted special status. Polish delegates elected to the Constituent Assembly tried to assure that promises made would be kept, but in vain. The failure of the revolutionary movement in Berlin and the army's tight control of the country after December, 1848, put an end to liberal hopes. The constitution finally made public on January 31, 1830, by Prince Regent William made Prussia into a single state. It was a bitter disappointment for the Poles to be stripped of their political identity and absorbed by the Prussian state.

The Poles in Austria stayed out of the turmoil affecting the Empire for the most part. Still, a National Polish Council was organized in Leopol by Smolka, a lawyer. Smolka single-mindedly demanded the abolition of serfdom on the feudal estates, a measure immediately adopted by the Austrian government in order to cut short any unrest. To thwart Polish actions the Austrian authorities encouraged the creation of a National Ruthenian Council. On the whole, Polish territories under Austrian rule remained calm. Only a few Polish officers of the 1830-1831 revolution -- Bem, Dobrowski, and Wysocki -- who had taken refuge in Galicia, demonstrated their sympathy for the rebellious peoples. Galicia as a whole remained loyal, however, and in recompense Emperor Franz Joseph named a Polish aristocrat, Prince Goluchowski, as governor of the province in 1849.

Poland, under the close surveillance of the Russian occupying forces, appeared very calm in 1848. The Russian governor of Poland, Marshal Paskievitch, was even sent by Czar Nicholas I to restore order in Hungary in 1849 during the rebellion against Franz Joseph. Nevertheless, the Poles felt deep sympathy for all those who were fighting for their freedom.


In the Ottoman Empire, 1848 was a relatively calm year. Neither the Serbs nor the Bulgars took part in the turmoil that most European countries were experiencing. Only the Rumanians in Moldavia and Wallachia demonstrated their interest in freedom. Intellectuals, students, and professors, as well as the progressive part of the nobility, were enthusiastic about the ideas from Paris.

In Moldavia, a revolutionary committee set up in Jassy on March 27, 1848, demanded that the Hospodar Sturdza respect the Organic Ruling of 1831, abolish censorship, and form a national guard. The Russians, who had troops stationed there, broke up the movement with the approval of Turkish authorities. The members of the Revolutionary Committee were arrested, and calm was quickly restored, mainly because the countryside had hardly been aware of the occurrences.

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The revolutionary movement in Wallachia was of more consequence, however. As in Moldavia, the revolutionaries demanded certain reforms, but they also asked for a union of the two principalities. The hospodar of Wallachia, George Bibesco, appeared sympathetic to the request. Several years earlier, in 1846, he had abolished the customs border that separated his principality from Moldavia. Bibesco firmly opposed any restraint on his authority, however. Trouble began in April, and on June 11,1848, the people of Bucharest revolted. Bibesco was forced to give in, and agreed to a constitution. Feudal rights and serfdom were abolished, the Jews were given equal rights, and a national guard established. The blue, yellow, and red flag -- which is still the flag of the Rumanian Republic -- was hoisted. Bibesco abdicated after having agreed to the liberals' demands, and a provisional government was formed under the direction of the archbishop and the principle leaders of the insurrection, including M. Balcescu and D. Bratianu. A split quickly developed between the moderates and radicals wishing to form a republic uniting all Rumanians, however. The radicals wished to include the Rumanians in Transylvania, who had been demonstrating since April, 1848, demanding independence from the Hungarian regime. Fearing further disturbances, the Russians and Turks together put down the Vlach Revolution, as it was called. In September, the Russians reinforced their troops in Moldavia and even occupied part of Wallachia, while the Turks set up a garrison in Bucharest. Then in May, 1849, through the Baltaliman Pact, the two powers agreed to designate two new hospodars to govern for seven years and restore order. Numerous exiles fled the country, mainly for Paris, where a number worked actively to interest the French government in the Rumanian cause. Reportedly, Napoleon III himself was receptive to their appeals.


The authoritarian character of the rule personified by Metternich and the rising tide of nationalism within the Empire set a course for an eventual explosion. The news from Paris, which had already set off revolutionary action in southern Germany, had a similar effect in the major cities of the Empire.

The First Revolutionary Wave

The first echo of the successful Parisian revolution resounded in Prague. On March 11, 1848, Bohemian liberals, Germans, and Czechs alike organized a public meeting on Wenceslas Square. The resulting Committee of St. Wenceslas worked out a program of demands to present to the government in Vienna: freedom of the press, equality of all nationalities and

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of all languages, and regular meetings of the Diet were foremost among them. Since March 13, Viennese liberals and students had been noisily demonstrating in the streets, crying "Down with Metternich!," Faced with the gravity of the situation, Emperor Ferdinand and his entourage -- la camerIlla -- demanded the aging chancellor's resignation. On March 15, the emperor gave in to all of the demands. He announced the abolition of censorship, the creation of a civil guard to guarantee order in place of the regular army, and the convocation of a constituent assembly.

The movement spread further. Lombardy and Venetia, the principle Habsburg possessions in northern Italy, revolted and between March 17 and March 22, drove out the Austrian garrisons. The Viennese government was forced to send reinforcements, since the Italian revolution seriously threatened the vital interests of Austria. This was in fact not only a liberal revolution; it was also a widespread national movement aimed at expelling the Austrians and unifying Italy.

From Prague and Vienna, the unrest spread to Hungary. Just as the revolution in Paris was claiming victory, the Hungarian Diet was in full session at Pozsony. On March 3 , in the name of the liberal opposition, Lajos Kossuth had already demanded a Hungarian Ministry accountable for their actions, expansion of the right to vote, abolition of the political privileges accorded to Transylvania and Croatia, and the relocation of the Diet from Pozsony to Budapest. On March 5, a revolutionary mob invaded the assembly room and forced the deputies to vote for a message to the emperor containing Kossuth's demands. Soon after, a delegation was sent to "King" Ferdinand, not to the Emperor of Austria. This delegation arrived in Vienna on the day of Metternich's departure. The Emperor-King promised the Hungarians satisfaction, but in the meantime, the Diet proceeded to adopt a series of reforms known as the March Laws. The special privileges of the nobles and gentry were abolished, as was feudalism; all citizens were proclaimed equal, and freedom of the press was established. As Crane Brinton notes in his A History of Civilization,

The March Laws instituted parliamentary government and substituted

an elected legislature for the feudal Hungarian Diet. They abolished

serfdom and ended the immunity of nobles and gentry from taxation.

In Pest, however, revolutionary spirit was riding high on the crest of

events, and students far more radical than members of the Diet staged their

own demonstration on March 15, even though the principle of the reforms

had already been accepted. The students rallied around the poet Sandor

Petofi and the writer Mor Jokai in front of the National Museum, and drew

up a list of twelve demands. After the rally, the crowd proceeded to search

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the prisons for political prisoners and liberated all they found.

Fearing the spread of revolution, on April 7, King Ferdinand conceded to all the Hungarian demands. As Palatin (viceroy), he appointed his brother, Archduke Stephen, who was sworn in by the first elected Hungarian government. A liberal magnate, Count Lajos Batthyany, presided over the government, which included representatives of all political persuasions: moderates like Deak and Szechenyi, and radicals like Kossuth and Szemere. As King of Hungary, Ferdinand came in person on April 11 to close the parliamentary session and to swear to uphold the constitution. It was the last session of the Diet at Posony. From then on, Pest became the political center of the country.

The Hungarian and Austrian revolutions appeared to have succeeded, with Metternich's rule a feature of the past. Liberalism was the reigning ideology of all the new governments. In reality, the situation was far more complex. First, although the Austrian Empire was momentarily deprived of the armed forces sent to Italy, it still had several crucial advantages. Revolutionary fervor had touched only the cities, while the large majority of the population -- that of the countryside -- had hardly been affected. Second, the liberals in power were divided between moderates favoring an agreement based on loyalty to the throne, and radicals anxious to totally alter the political and social make-up of the Empire.

Demands for more freedom were soon joined by separatist demands from the various ethnic groups, while the contradictions inherent in such nationalist demands quickly made themselves apparent and led to violent internal struggles. Many German intellectuals in Austria hoped to integrate Austria into the Greater German confederation under consideration since 1815, and to this end sent deputies to the parliament in Frankfurt. But Czech liberals, who thought of themselves as Slavs and not Germans, rallied around Palacky to stand up for Bohemia's individual status. Kossuth's radicals wanted to transform Hungary into an independent national state, but in the process they both antagonized and intimidated the non-Hungarians within Hungary's borders. With the encouragement of conservative elements at court, different ethnic groups in Hungary quickly began to react. The Croats were the first to demonstrate their displeasure at the extremely pro-Magyar character of the revolution; the idea of total independence was beginning to make its way into Croatia. On March 25, the Diet at Zagreb named one of the leaders of the Illyrian movement, Colonel Jellachich, as ban. Fueled by nationalism and unhappy with the policies of the government at Pest, the Croatian deputies took matters into their own hands by declaring Croatia independent on June 5. The Magyar government refused to recognize an independent Croatia, however, and on August 16 Jellachich declared war on Hungary.

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The Croats were not the only ones to rise up against the Magyars. On May 11, 1848, a group of prominent Slovak writers, teachers, and priests met at Lipto-Szent Miklos (today named Liptovsky Sv. Mikulas), and voted for a declaration of autonomy for the Slovak regions within Hungary. Simultaneously, representatives of the Hungarian Serbian minority were meeting at Karlovici, and on May 13, they assembled similar demands and sent a copy of their grievances to Vienna and Zagreb. Unrest was also fermenting among the Rumanians in Transylvania. In response to a call from the Uniate clergy, a large gathering at Balazsfalva (Blaj) voted to obtain special status. A minority agitated for the formation of a state incorporating Rumanians from both sides of the Carpathian mountains. The weight of all the ethnic groups' demands, however, only caused the Magyar government to harden its position. As all of the ethnic groups except the Slovaks had come as refugees to Hungary and had been warmly welcomed, their behavior seemed all the more outrageous. Their ingratitude was deemed incomprehensible, and Kossuth's allies blamed their behavior on imperialist intrigues.

I am not German, or at least I am not consciously so... I am Czech, of

Slavic origin, and the little that I am worth is entirely at the service of my

country. This country is no doubt small, but from the moment of its birth

onward, it has had a historic individuality. Its princes have joined with

German princes, but its people have never thought of themselves as

German. . . Moreover, you desire to weaken the existence of Austria as an

independent state. But the maintenance of Austria's integrity and

Austria's development are of the highest importance, not only for my

people, but for all of Europe, for humanity, and for civilization itself...

Excerpted from Frantisek Palacky's response to an invitation from the

Vorparliament of Frankfurt, May, 1848.

It would be a crime against all the rights of humanity if in Bohemia,

Moravia, and Silesia they sacrificed a civilization built on German

culture for a new attempt at political organization... Let us therefore

rejoice in the victory that extinguished the Czech insurrection in Prague

and look for ways to make this victory a lasting one...

From a speech to the Parliament of Frankfurt by Karl Giskra,

German deputy of Moravia, July 1, 1848.

The Imperial government was uncertain in its stance toward ethnic unrest, and its policies reflected its hesitancy. It saw advantages both in condemning the disturbances and in encouraging them in order to create trouble for the independent Hungarian government. This hesitation was also due to the fact that the Imperial government had more urgent problems to consider. Foremost was Italy, where nationalists led by King Charles Albert

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of Piedmont carried off several victories in May, 1848. The Piedmontese forces were finally defeated at Custoza on July 25 by the Imperial Army under Marshal Radetzky. Austria was also concerned with Bohemia, where the victorious liberal movement was quickly divided by quarrels between German nationalists and Czech patriots. The Pan-Slavic tendencies of the Czech intellectuals deeply worried the Bohemian Germans who, for their part, would have liked to see the province integrated into a united Greater Germany. The anti-German sentiment expressed by liberal Czechs emerged at the meeting of the Pan-Slav Congress on June 2, 1848, whose object was "to promote the solidarity of all Austrian Slavs and to resist incorporation of non-German peoples into the new German Empire. " This declaration was an allusion to the Greater Germany idea favored by German nationalists in Bohemia and Austria. The Congress further declared that their intention was "to act together in the national interest, to find the means to organize Austria into a federated state, to send the rulers a document detailing the needs and desires of the Slavs." Not surprisingly, the declarations of the Congress infuriated German Bohemians, and the Imperial Army took advantage of the situation to step in, in order to "restore order." After bombarding Prague, General Windischgratz took the city on June 15 and dissolved the Congress. The other Bohemian cities and the countryside had not participated in the turmoil, and by the end of June all of Bohemia was back under Imperial authority.

The victories of the Imperial armies in Italy and Bohemia renewed confidence in Austrian rule. The court took note of this, and gave support to the Croats, who had just declared war on Hungary. Croatian troops, along with Serbian volunteers from southern Hungary, crossed the Drava and Danube rivers, and entered Hungarian territory. The Hungarians did not have a national army, and the Hungarian contingents of the Imperial Army were scattered in garrisons throughout the Empire. The undisciplined Serb forces engaged in massacre and pillage, most notably at Szeged, where hundreds of Magyars were slaughtered. In response to an appeal from Kossuth, Hungarian soldiers returned to serve their national government. The new Hungarian parliament, elected in July, 1848, had just declared a state of "national emergency," and decided to raise a national guard of 200,000 men, named the Honved. The first Croatian victories, as well as the quasi-official support given to Jellachich by the Imperial government, put Hungary in a delicate and potentially dangerous situation. The danger materialized with the emperor's repudiation of the Archduke Stephen, Palatin of Hungary. Stephen resigned on September 9, and his resignation was followed two days later by that of the Batthyany government.

The emperor decided that it was in his immediate interest to crush the Hungarian rebellion, and sent General Lemberg as Plenipotentiary Imperial

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Commissioner to Pest with the task of reestablishing "order" in Hungary. The appointment of Lemberg and the threat of the advancing Croatian force galvanized the Magyar deputies into action. Kossuth was named president of the Committee for Defense on September 22, in the midst of a rapidly worsening situation. The Croats took Veszprem, only 60 kilometers from the capital, and the news incited mobs in Pest to riots which lasted for a week. On September 29, an incensed crowd Iynched General Lemberg, and on the same day the Honveds defeated Jellachich's force at Pakozd. For the moment the country was saved, but in Parliament the moderates were alarmed at the violence of the extremists who appeared to be out of Kossuth's control. By October, 1848, the gap between Magyar moderates and radicals was complete, as was the separation between the Hungarian revolutionary government and the Imperial court.

Kossuth and the War of Independence (1848-1849)

By October, 1848, Kossuth was master of the country. His armies were led by such former Imperial Army generals as Arthur Gorgey and George Klapka, and by Polish officers such as General Bem, and succeeded in pushing the Croats westward toward the Austrian border. Count Latour, the Imperial government's Minister of War, wanted to send the Italian regiments stationed in Vienna against the Hungarians. The Italians, however, refused, and on October 6 pro-Hungarian Viennese workers and students began erecting barricades in the center of Vienna. During this second Viennese revolution, Minister Latour was killed, and a thoroughly intimidated Imperial court left Vienna for the safety of Olomouc in Bohemia.

The Honveds attempted to aid the Viennese revolutionaries, but were driven back at Schwechat on October 30 by the same Imperial Army that was laying siege to the Austrian capital. Vienna was finally stormed and taken after intense artillery bombardment on November 1 . The Constituent Assembly was dissolved and most of the reforms of March, 1848, were abolished.

Shortly thereafter, a tired and ill Ferdinand abdicated and was succeeded by his 18-year-old nephew, Franz Joseph. Advised by the conservative factions of the court, Franz Joseph made it clear that he intended to restore order in his empire. Conscious of the problems that had arisen, however, he told a Viennese audience, "We are firmly resolved to preserve the unblemished magnificence of the crown, but are willing to share our prerogatives with representatives of the people, and we hope, with the aid of God, to reunite in one great state all the countries and all the races of the monarchy." The accession of Franz Joseph and his words radicalized the Hungarian revolutionaries. Kossuth quickly made it known that Hungary would not

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recognize the new sovereign's authority unless he pledged to uphold the Constitution. The Imperial government responded by launching a general military offensive against Hungary. On December 18, 1849, Imperial forces took Pozsony, and Buda and Pest fell on January 4. Kossuth's government and what remained of Parliament after the departure of the moderates took refuge in Debrecen. Seizing the opportunity, the Rumanians in Transylvania and the Serbs of the Banat and Bacska (Vojvodine) began massacring the Magyar population. The Honveds quickly moved in to rescue Kossuth's precarious situation.

With 10,O00 men, General Bem restored order in Transylvania, while Generals Damjanich and Perczel crushed the Serbian insurrection. General Gorgey retook Pest on April 24 and the fortress of Buda on May 21. Once again, the Imperial forces appeared to be defeated. With his power and popularity at a pinnacle, Kossuth hoped to follow his military victory with a political one. On April 14, 1849, on the initiative of the radical deputy Madarasz, the Hungarian parliament at Debrecen (reduced to barely a quarter of its members) proclaimed Hungarian independence, the deposition of the Habsburgs and the election of Kossuth as Regent. In the days that followed, a series of reforms were enthusiastically voted in.

The decision of the Hungarian Parliament prompted Emperor Franz Joseph to act on the advice of his entourage, who were pressing him to accept the offer of assistance from the Czar of Russia. In June, 1848, Nicholas I had offered Austria his services in putting an end to the revolutions. His offer had been politely declined. In early summer of 1849, however, the situation had changed radically enough to lead the Austrians to reconsider Nicholas's offer. Kossuth's actions were seen as leading to the secession of Hungary from the Empire; something which, clearly enough, the Austrians were unwilling to allow. Russian intervention was accepted. In July, a Russian army of over 200,000 men commanded by Marshal Paskievitch, responsible for putting down the Polish revolution of 1830-1831, invaded Hungary from the north and east. Simultaneously, the Austrian army of Marshal Haynu attacked from the west. Kossuth was in open conflict with General Gorgey and found himself increasingly isolated. He attempted to rally various ethnic groups to his cause by passing a liberal law intended to benefit them, but it was too late; no friends of the Magyars, they waited until the end of the war to take sides. At the battle of Segesvar on July 31, the Honveds were defeated, and among the fallen was the poet Petofi. On August 9, virtually abandoned on all sides, Kossuth decided to go into exile in Turkey, where he was very well received. Kossuth left General Gorgey in power. On August 1 3, 1849, at Vilagos, the Hungarian Army surrendered, although certain strongholds held out longer. Arad held until August 17, and the last to surrender was Komarom on September 25, 1849, when its commander,

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General Klapka, was offered honorable terms.

The Austrians dealt harshly with the defeated nation. Hungary was put under marshal law under Marshal Haynu, called the Hyena of Brescia for his harsh suppression of the Italian revolution. Haynu organized military tribunals to punish those who had participated in the insurrection. Prince Batthyany, head of the first independent Hungarian government, was shot on October 6, 1849 in Pest, while on the same day in Arad, 13 Hungarian generals were executed. They were recorded in Hungarian history as the martyrs of Arad. Only General Gorgey was spared, escaping the death penalty with a heavy prison sentence. Gorgey won his reprieve by merit of always having tried to temper the more radical elements in the government and army. In total, more than a hundred executions were carried out, and thousands received prison sentences of varying length in Hungary and Austria. While the Magyars were harshly punished, the other ethnic groups that had challenged Austrian hegemony received similar treatment.

The Hungarian revolution that began with such hopes in March, 1848, ended in blood in August of 1849. It was the longest of all the European revolutions of the mid-19th century. Its failure was due mainly to the fact that its leaders, in spite of idealism and liberal ideas, had not found a solution to the problem of nationalism. Inspired by a romantic patriotism and blinded by their own enthusiasm in creating a Hungarian state both national and independent, they alienated the ethnic minorities who were themselves awakening to their own national identities. In their rush to destroy the traditional structures, the revolutionaries put a match to the powder keg of central Europe and cleared the way for open conflict between the different nationalities. In the short run, the revolutions of 1848 appeared to have failed without exception. The framework created by the Congress of Vienna appeared to have remained intact, despite the absence of Metternich. Viewed from a different angle, however, the revolutions left their mark. Some important reforms passed by the revolutionary regimes remained: feudalism was definitively abolished and the equal rights of all Austrian subjects proclaimed. And a problem that had never troubled the Habsburgs before had been raised. The questions of relations between the different nationalities and of nationalism itself were to trouble the Austrian Empire up to its dissolution.

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