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The uprisings were led by shaky ad hoc coalitions of reformers, the middle classes and workers, which did not hold together for long. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and many more were forced into exile. The revolutions arose from such a wide variety of causes that it is difficult to view them as resulting from a coherent movement or set of social phenomena. Numerous changes had been taking place in European society throughout the first half of the 19th century. Technological change was revolutionizing the life of the working classes. A popular press extended political awareness, and new values and ideas such as popular liberalism, nationalism and socialism began to emerge. Polish nobles by Polish peasants in Galicia in 1846.
Large swaths of the nobility were discontented with royal absolutism or near-absolutism. Next, the middle classes began to agitate. The middle and working classes thus shared a desire for reform, and agreed on many of the specific aims. Their participations in the revolutions, however, differed. While much of the impetus came from the middle classes, much of the cannon fodder came from the lower classes. The revolts first erupted in the cities. The population in French rural areas had risen rapidly, causing many peasants to seek a living in the cities.
Many in the bourgeoisie feared and distanced themselves from the working poor. Significant proletarian unrest had occurred in Lyon in 1831 and 1834, and Prague in 1844. The situation in the German states was similar. Parts of Prussia were beginning to industrialize. During the decade of the 1840s, mechanized production in the textile industry brought about inexpensive clothing that undercut the handmade products of German tailors.
Urban workers had no choice but to spend half of their income on food, which consisted mostly of bread and potatoes. As a result of harvest failures, food prices soared and the demand for manufactured goods decreased, causing an increase in unemployment. During the revolution, to address the problem of unemployment, workshops were organized for men interested in construction work. Officials also set up workshops for women when they felt they were excluded. Rural population growth had led to food shortages, land pressure, and migration, both within and from Europe, especially to the Americas. Despite forceful and often violent efforts of established and reactionary powers to keep them down, disruptive ideas gained popularity: democracy, liberalism, nationalism, and socialism.
In the language of the 1840s, ‘democracy’ meant universal male suffrage. Liberalism’ fundamentally meant consent of the governed and the restriction of church and state power, republican government, freedom of the press and the individual. What are now Germany and Italy were divided into small, independent states. Socialism’ in the 1840s was a term without a consensus definition, meaning different things to different people, but was typically used within a context of more power for workers in a system based on worker ownership of the means of production. Episode from the Five Days of Milan. Although little noticed at the time, the first major outbreak came in Sicily, starting in January 1848. 16 months before the Bourbons came back.
The “February Revolution” in France was sparked by the suppression of the campagne des banquets. This revolution was driven by nationalist and republican ideals among the French general public, who believed the people should rule themselves. Alexis de Tocqueville remarked in his Recollections of the period, “society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy, and those who had anything united in common terror. The “March Revolution” in the German states took place in the south and the west of Germany, with large popular assemblies and mass demonstrations. Denmark had been governed by a system of absolute monarchy since the 17th century. King Christian VIII, a moderate reformer but still an absolutist, died in January 1848 during a period of rising opposition from farmers and liberals.
The national-liberal movement wanted to abolish absolutism, but retain a strongly centralized state. The king accepted a new constitution agreeing to share power with a bicameral parliament called the Rigsdag. It is said that the Danish king’s first words after signing away his absolute power were, “that was nice, now I can sleep in in the mornings”. Danish monarchy, but remained a duchy separate from the Kingdom of Denmark. The German population in Schleswig and Holstein revolted, inspired by the Protestant clergy.