The European Political System – 1830 & 1848

Posted: Friday, January 22, 2010
The revolutions of 1830 showed the flexibility of the system. The new French regime was accepted, with Palmerston leading the way. The British doctrine that the territorial status quo, and not the domestic regime, mattered was accepted by the other powers. But the revolt in Belgium in the same year against William I, king of the Netherlands, showed that even the territorial status quo could alter. His appeals to the sanctity of the 1815 treaties went unheeded, an illustration of the primacy of power over law in international relations, and the vulnerability of small states in nineteenth century diplomacy. Belgium’s creation in 1831, bolstered by a guarantee of its neutrality by the great powers, was the destruction of one state (the Netherlands), as much as the formation of a new one. Belgian security was only important to the great powers because they feared that the Belgian revolutionaries might unite with France, damaging the territorial buffers of 1815. If the Concert of Europe was sufficiently flexible to accommodate Belgian independence, the new state proved a model of restraint, eschewing any aspirations towards union with France which would have meant war. Belgian independence was preserved by the constellations of great power politics, rather than the flimsy treaty guarantees of 1831 to which no great power felt bound.

Security concerns rather than ideological principles had dictated the policy of the three eastern and conservative great powers. Austria’s and Russia’s repression of revolts in Italy in 1830 and Poland in 1831 respectively showed that the spheres of influence marked out in 1815 were broadly respected. Prussia also fulfilled its role as guardian of the Rhineland against any possible French invasion in 1830, underlining the geopolitical shift of its priorities towards western Germany, which had taken place in 1815. The German Confederation could not play the defensive role assigned to it by the 1815 settlement. Military mobilization was dependent on the initiative of individual states, most notably Prussia. That state confirmed itself as the leading German power, while Austria had non-German commitments in Italy. The Third Germany looked to Prussia for protection against the potential French menace – the rights enshrined in treaties still depended on military force. It remained a balance of power system, not an equilibrium of rights and interests. Restraint was induced by calculations of power, spheres of influence, and grouping rather than an automatic respect for international treaties.

The 1830 revolutions appeared at first glance to have opened an ideological rift within Europe with three conservative eastern great powers facing liberal France and Britain. In 1833 Austria, Prussia, and Russia concluded a treaty allowing intervention in aid of any legitimate ruler against revolution. In 1834 France, Britain, Spain, and Portugal concluded the Quadruple Alliance.
The 1848 revolutions represented a massive challenge to the territorial settlement of 1815, particularly in Central Europe where the formation of German, Hungarian, and Italian states became possible. The Concert of Europe demonstrated its continued strength in preventing any territorial change and averting a war between the great powers. This was partly due to the monarchical solidarity of the three eastern powers, though calculations of power relations played the decisive role. For the most part, the habits of grouping and restraint informed the foreign policies of the great powers, despite nationalist pressures. Small states, such as Piedmont-Sardinia in Italy, which challenged the territorial order were left to pay the price, while those, like Belgium and Denmark, which sought the maintenance of the status quo were supported. The incentives during the international crisis were for restraint. Yet there was also evidence of flexibility. Statesmen were willing to countenance change – such as the unification of Germany under Prussia – as long as it did not disrupt the balance of power. To this extent, the Concert system survived 1848 in terms of the principles of the behavior of the great powers.

Britain and Russia played a particularly important role in controlling the international consequences of the revolutions in their particular spheres of influence. Britain recognized another new French regime which signaled its conservative foreign policy by assuring Spain and Belgium of its peaceful intentions. Russia played a much more dramatic role in Central Europe where it suppressed a Hungarian revolt which threatened the Habsburg Empire. Austria was active in Italy, defeating Piedmont- Sardinia in 1848 and 1849.

Polish Insurrection 1830

Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010


The most dramatic surge of resistance to the conservative order came in Poland, where in November 1830 the patience of the patriotic Polish nobility within the Russian partition snapped when the Tsar mobilised the Polish army in response to the revolutions in Western Europe. The insurrection lasted ten months and was crushed – after some bloody and intense fighting – by a 120,000- strong Russian army under General Ivan Paskevich (who would help repress another revolution in 1849). In the retribution that followed, a staggering eighty-thousand Poles were dragged off in chains to Siberia.

Poland sat uneasily under Russian rule. The revolutions of 1830 provided inspiration for Polish revolutionaries, and a ticking clock. Poland would soon be occupied by massive numbers of Russian troops preparing for foreign intervention, meaning revolution had to come quickly or not at all. In November 1830, Polish cadets and junior officers launched a coup in Warsaw. They occupied public buildings, Warsaw crowds seized weapons from a government arsenal, and Russian authority evaporated. Nicholas’s brother Constantine, governor of Poland, escaped capture but begged Nicholas to show restraint. Constantine’s hopes for moderation were dashed. The Polish insurgents grew increasingly radical, formally deposing Nicholas as king of Poland at the beginning of 1831. Nicholas in turn resolved to crush this by force.

As in the two preceding wars, Russia found it difficult to employ its potential strength effectively. Nicholas’s troops invaded Poland in February 1831, and the early clashes were inconclusive enough to give Poles some hope of success. The spring thaw of 1831 turned roads to mud and delayed Russian progress, along with supply problems, a cholera epidemic, and harassment by Polish partisans. Finally, at the end of May, the Poles suffered a major defeat at Ostroleka, and the cohesion of Polish resistance broke down. A Russian army reached Warsaw in September 1831, and resistance collapsed. Thousands of Poles went into exile in western Europe, boosting an already-burgeoning wave of Russophobia. Nicholas was restrained in his reimposition of order in Poland, though the separate Polish army was abolished and its troops integrated into Russian forces.

Book Review: 1848: Year of Revolution.

Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Mike Rapport. 1848: Year of Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 2009. xvi + 461 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-465-01436-1.
Reviewed by Andreas Fahrmeir (Historisches Seminar, Universität Frankfurt)
Published on H-German (January, 2010)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher

1848--Yet Again?
Mike Rapport is one of the few scholars who write European history not as the history of a few select countries, but of the entire continent. Rapport is at home in the history of the Balkans as well as France, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Scandinavia, and well versed in the historiography published in English, French, and Italian.[1] Rapport's well-rounded viewpoint is one excellent argument for anyone suffering from "1848 fatigue" after the sesquicentennial celebrations and their aftermath in conference volumes and historiographical reviews to put aside any skepticism regarding the possibility of anyone presenting a novel perspective; the book itself is another. In it, Rapport offers a narrative history of the events of 1848 in those European countries and regions affected directly by the revolution--France, Italy, the German states, Denmark, and Rumania--with some remarks on areas where the impact was more indirect (Britain, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Scandinavia). This book is less obviously an academic textbook than Jonathan Sperber's excellent survey of the revolutions of 1848,[2] and less encyclopedic than the survey of national events and overarching themes edited by Dieter Dowe and others for the 1998 anniversary.[3]

Rapport divides his book into an introduction and four large chapters. The introduction presents the tensions that erupted into revolution in 1848: constitutional debates and demands for broader participation in government, the "social question," and calls for national unity. Rapport distances himself from interpretations of 1848 as a "bourgeois" revolution. In line with the results of recent research, he emphasizes the limits of the social impact of industrialization even in the more economically advanced European countries. The first extensive chapter describes the collapse of the old order in the spring of 1848. The following three chapters continue the chronological account, but combine it with particular themes. "The Springtime of Peoples" is concerned with various attempts to institutionalize the gains of the revolution's first weeks, which led to various clashes between competing national agendas. "The Red Summer" takes the story forward and highlights the increasing incidence of social conflict that encouraged, if it did not bring about, the split between a radical-socialist Left and a conservative-liberal center. "The Counter-Revolutionary Autumn" focuses on the resurgence of the pillars of the old order: courts, conservative politicians, and the military, partly exemplified by the return of Louis Napoleon to France. "The Indian Summer of Revolution" is devoted to the defeat of the remaining islands of revolutionary republicanism in Germany and Italy and to the war against the Hungarian revolution in the first half of 1849. The book's conclusion describes the conversion of France's Second Republic into a Second Empire, but does not pursue the story in other European countries into 1850 (which witnessed Prussia's attempt to impose a German nation-state from above) or 1851 (when the last remnants of the Hungarian army moved into exile from Ottoman captivity).

Rapport's account is lively and eminently readable. Though it steers clear of presentism, the conclusions of each chapter discuss the legacy of 1848 for the history of Europe (and individual European countries) in the twentieth century: debates and decisions on the emancipation of religious and ethnic minorities; the trials and tribulations of parliamentary and republican government; or the paradox of attempts by parties composed of socially privileged members to ally with the lower orders against the forces of order without affecting the distribution of property.

Confusion and chaos were two of the lasting impressions the revolutions of 1848 left behind. This effect makes organizing any narrative of events difficult. While it is plausible to (re-)construct a typical revolutionary trajectory (liberal-democratic union, social and national tensions, conservative resurgence, and the revolutionaries' defeat), these phases occurred in different countries at very different times. Not all "March ministers" in German states, for example, were actually appointed in spring.[4] In Germany, the "red summer" coincided with the peak of the nation-state debate in autumn. The Indian summer of revolution in some places (notably in Rome, Venice, central Italy, and southwestern Germany) delayed the conservative resurgence until well into 1849, and given Prussia's non-conservative politics, one could argue that it was only fully in place in Germany in 1851. The decision to organize the narrative around broad themes thus involves some (inevitable) back-and-forth, thus requiring the reader to keep the chronology in the different regions in mind.

Rapport's "year of revolution" is clearly centered on France. The revolutionary events that had already begun in 1846 (the Krakow rebellion, the Lola Montez crisis in Bavaria, or the Swiss civil war), which Karl Marx took to be the beginning of the revolutions, do not seem as decisive to Rapport: Paris provided the spark that set Europe ablaze. The organization of his book highlights this implicit thesis: each phase of the revolution, the radical Indian summer excepted, begins with an event in Paris that provides a signal of change, transmitted by modern means of communication (telegraph, railway, steamer) to the rest of Europe and setting events in other countries in motion. Thus the elements of chance, chaos, and contingency, which shaped much of the year everywhere, appear most pronounced in descriptions of French scenes; once the outcome in Paris was decided, it was likely to be repeated elsewhere. This position could be debated at length--I would be inclined to highlight the variation between revolutionary demands and thus the revolutions' relative independence. The model of a central revolution in Paris with complementary revolutions elsewhere also downplays the connections between events: for example, the impact of refugees from crackdowns in Germany (on Marx's Cologne paper, for example) and Italy on developments in France.

To my mind, Rapport's account is at its best when it reconstructs the genesis of individual revolutionary events, blending lively and complex narratives with structural observations. It is somewhat less colorful in its descriptions of individuals. This result, too, stems from a narrative choice: the story begins in early 1848 and ends in the middle of 1849, thus providing little room for describing the political or intellectual experiences of most revolutionaries--or their fate after 1849. It is characteristic that most illustrations are of mass scenes, not portraits--except of conservative generals. Likewise, in contrast to some recent research on the revolutions, Rapport is inclined to treat the military outside France as a fairly homogenous, reliable tool of state power, rather than questioning whether the resurgence of the military might have something to do with the politicization of the armed forces against some of the radicals' demands.[5] This reservation should not be read as a criticism of Rapport's brilliant book, merely as a description of his narrative choices and his implicit interpretation of the revolution. Focusing more on individuals and chronology would have involved different problems, such as the need to submerge common patterns too much. Overall, I do not think a better account of the revolutions could have been written in the space available.

Rapport's account of the outcome is pessimistic. France reverted to a Bonapartist empire, though 1848 may have served as an apprenticeship in democracy. Elsewhere, liberals demonstrated that they preferred national unity to freedom and were unable to even grasp, let alone cope with, the gravity of the social question. While this account rings more true than some celebrations of the impact of 1848 in commemorations did, one could place a bit more emphasis on the introduction of parliaments and the expansion of the franchise in most German states and the further isolation of non-constitutional regimes in post-1848 politics.

Overall, Rapport has provided a standard survey of the revolution of 1848, one that should attract broad interest inside and outside of the classroom.

[1]. Michael Rapport, Nineteenth-Century Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005).
[2]. Jonathan Sperber, The European Revolutions, 1848-1851 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
[3]. The English translation is Dieter Dowe, ed., Europe in 1848: Revolution and Reform (New York: Berghahn Books, 2000).
[4]. Eva Maria Werner, Die Märzministerien: Regierungen der Revolution von 1848/49 in den Staaten des Deutschen Bundes (Göttingen: V&R Unipress, 2009).
[5]. Sabrina Müller, Soldaten in der deutschen Revolution von 1848/49 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1999).