1848: Tumult Across Europe

Approximately forty years after the French Revolution ended, political unrest was once again on the rise in France and throughout Europe. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the entire continent of Europe was undergoing a transformation. The population nearly doubled in some areas (Berman, 78) and new inventions in transport, technology, and communications caused the economy to boom in unprecedented ways (Berman, 79). Governments across Europe had no experience dealing with such remarkable changes, and they were ill-prepared for the consequences that followed. Many people began relocating to urban areas in order to pursue emerging employment opportunities there. “By 1850, the rate [of Europeans who lived within cities] was approximately 20% and rising” (Berman, 79). 

However, the masses of working-class people flooding Europe’s cities brought some rather unpleasant side effects. Because of the abundance of new workers, wages for industrial jobs began declining. On top of the low pay, these industrial jobs were also quite dangerous, and living conditions were horrific. (Berman, 80). This is a prime example of the negative effect that the industrial revolution had on workers. People would relocate to a big city in hopes of discovering new opportunities, only to discover that they were underrepresented and that industrialization mainly benefited those in positions of economic power, despite the fact that the working class was becoming increasingly important to the economy. Together, these frustrating factors created a powerful movement fueled by the discontent of working-class people. Lower-class and middle-class Europeans started rallying behind the idea of installing a more democratic government, one that would represent them and their growing importance to the economy. 

In France, discontented workers went as far as to protest violently. Some members of the French National Guard chose to no longer protect the old regime when faced with rioting citizens. (Berman, 87). Realizing that he had no other choice, the King of France at the time, Louis-Phillipe, chose to flee the country and give in to the rioters’ demands. In a way this short-lived conflict was a success because the king gave in to the demands of the protesters, but it also created a whole new set of challenges. What would replace the old regime? Who would fill the power vacuum left by Louis-Phillipe?

The working class in France and other European nations was composed of people from many different backgrounds, ethnicities, and political parties. Bringing an end to the old regime and replacing it with a democracy became a common interest for all different kinds of people and gave them a goal to work toward together. But this unity did not last long. After Louis-Phillipe fled from France, the political and social differences within the new government became quite apparent, and so the political unrest and dissatisfaction continued. 

During this time, many different political parties and ethnic groups banded together with one common goal: to bring down the existing old regimes that had ruled Europe for centuries. The working middle class, which had become increasingly important within European economies, demanded more representation within the government. In this way, the 1848 revolution in France was both a success and a failure. The revolutionaries successfully removed King Louis-Phillipe from power, but when faced with the daunting task of replacing his regime with a democracy, conflict and disagreements broke out between the formerly-united opposition. “The year 1848’s combination of great promise, wide scope, almost immediate initial success, and then rapid backsliding led many to view it as a complete failure” (Berman, 103).

Works Cited

Berman, Sheri. Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2019.

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