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1848 as the “Year of the Barricades” in Europe Essay

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Updated: Jan 17th, 2021

Sequence of events that took place across Europe in 1848 made it the “year of barricades”. During that time, two classes of people – the poor citizens, who were the majority, and the ruling class (kings, princes, and the elite in the community) emerged. The ruling class held most of the state’s wealth and ruled with authority while the citizens felt oppressed, detested, and lived in abject poverty. These disparities between the two classes gave rise to the revolution. In January 1848, the outcry for liberty and equality was profound in the whole of Europe. Rebellious citizens threw barricades across the streets on one side and on the other side crushed by soldiers of the old regime. It was a bloody affair to say the least (Merriman 641).

France had slowly recovered its strength after the defeat of its ruler Napoleon at the Waterloo field by the Duke of Wellington in 1845. Louis Philippe had taken over power through a revolution in 1830, but he had no support of the masses (Merriman 645). His critics and opponents used to hold regular banquets to raise and discuss political issues. During these meetings, the leaders were becoming more vocal and aggressive on their demands for liberty and freedom. The government did not take this kindly and in February, the government decided to ban such activities.

All hell broke loose as the crowds took to the streets in protest. What ensued were heavy clashes between the protesters and the armed forces. Eventually, when Louis Philippe had lost his power; he fled to Richmond near London where he lived in exile (Merriman 650). After this, a provisional government came in place, and the republic of France was born. This republic of France was the platform for other revolutionary movements in Central Europe. Slavery abolishment took place and Louis Blanc together with other socialists declared the “right to work”.

In German, Richard Wagner who was a German nationalist had predicted the revolution in 1846. Mainly few German radicals who called for the sovereignty and unification of the many German states drove the revolution. German had experienced one of her worst droughts in an era known as the “hungry forties” (Merriman 657). This sparked some series of riots from workers agitating for among other things: – freedom of press, better wages, and equal representation in parliament and political reforms. Their major drive was economic goals.

Revolutions started in Bavaria as protesters rose against the rule of Ludwig I. They put up barricades and demonstrations demanding for a republic. Ludwig granted some concessions, and a March government or parliament was formed. The other two largest and the most powerful German states in Prussia and Austria followed suit. In Berlin, demonstrators agitated for reforms in favor of German nationalism (Merriman 665). Hungary, on the other hand, pushed for independence. Clubs’ and workers’ associations were formed, and eventually, they were able to pressure the government to fulfill their demands.

What motivated and justified the last wave of imperialism between 1848 and 1914 was the need for reforms both political and ideological. It was very common across all Central Europe that the masses were tired of the imperial regimes and sooner or later change was bound to take place. The three major imperial events during this age were – slavery, unequal political representation and thirdly unfair distribution of wealth (Merriman 675). In most European regions during this age, peasants used to work for rich land merchants in their farms with little or no pay at all. The workers did not own land. This was pure slavery at its best.

As discussed earlier, during this age there were two classes of people: the citizens or subjects and the ruling class (kings and princes).The ruling class made all the laws, constitution and other decisions concerning the running of the state with unquestionable authority. The citizens did not have representation in parliament to champion for their needs and welfare (Merriman 682). Lastly, wealth was a preserve of the few mainly the rulers and the elite in the society. Workers who were the majority received poor wages and lived in abject poverty. All these issues were amicably resolved but not without bloodshed and a lot of violence. Demonstrators got shot and killed in the streets by soldiers as kings and emperors got dethroned and exiled from their states.

Italy did not have a major obstacle in attaining its unification since it is only Austria, which resisted. All the other states, such as- Naples, Parma, Tuscany, and the Papal States, united in the fight for an Italian republic (Merriman 695). After the “Five Glorious Days”, the fighting subdued, and the leaders led by Charles Albert heeded to the call for a unified Italy

Germans, on the other hand, faced serious difficulties towards its unification. First, it had many states and each state spoke a different language. Hungary also agitated for self-independence. In order to gain unification, the assimilation method took place whereby the stronger states subdued the weaker ones. Eventually, the states merged to form West and East Germany (Merriman 698).

Works Cited

Merriman, John. A History of Modern Europe: From the French Revolution to the Present, New York: Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "1848 as the “Year of the Barricades” in Europe." January 17, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/1848-as-the-year-of-the-barricades-in-europe/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '1848 as the “Year of the Barricades” in Europe'. 17 January.

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