Class 10 History

The Revolution of the Liberals

When the revolts of the poor took place in 1848, another revolution was being led by the educated middle classes. In some other parts of Europe, independent nation-states did not yet exist, e.g. Germany, Italy, Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Men and women of the liberal middle classes from these parts raised demands for national unification and a constitution. They demanded the creation of a nation-state on parliamentary principles. They wanted a constitution, freedom of press and freedom of association.

Frankfurt Parliament

In German regions, there were a large number of political associations whose members were middle class professionals, businessmen and prosperous artisans. They came together in the city of Frankfurt and decided to vote for an all-German National Assembly.

On18 May 1848, 831 elected representatives took out a festive procession to take part in the Frankfurt parliament which was convened in the Church of St. Paul. They drafted a constitution for a German nation. This German nation was to be headed by a monarchy subject to a parliament. Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia was offered the crown on these terms. But he rejected the offer and joined other monarchs to oppose the elected assembly.

The opposition of the aristocracy and military to the parliament grew stronger. Meanwhile, the social base of the parliament eroded because it was dominated by the middle classes. The middle class resisted the demands of workers and artisans and thus lost their support. Finally, troops were called in and the assembly was forced to disband.

Women in Movement

Women also participated in large numbers in the liberal movement. In spite of that, they were denied the voting rights during the election of the Assembly. When the Frankfurt parliament convened in the Church of St Paul, women were allowed only as observers to stand in the visitors’ gallery.

Although the liberal movements were suppressed by the conservative forces but the old order could not be restored. In the years after 1848, the monarchs began to realize that granting concessions to the liberal-nationalist revolutionaries was the only way to end the cycle of revolution and repression. Hence, the monarchies of Central and Eastern Europe began to introduce changes which had already taken place in Western Europe before 1815.

Abolition of Serfdom

Serfdom and bonded labour was abolished both in the Habsburg dominions and in Russia. The Habsburg rulers granted more autonomy to the Hungarians in 1867.

Unification of Germany

After 1848, nationalism in Europe moved away from its association with democracy and revolution. The conservatives now fanned nationalist sentiments to promote state power and to achieve political dominance over Europe.

The liberal movement of the middle-classes in Germany had earlier been repressed by the combined forces of the monarchy and the military. This repression was also supported by the large landowners (called junkers) of Prussia. After that, Prussia took on the leadership of the movement for national unification.

Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck; the chief minister of Prussia, was the architect of this process. He took the help of the Prussian army and bureaucracy in his endeavour. Three wars were fought over seven years; with Austria, Denmark and France. The wars ended in Prussian victory and completed the process of unification. The Prussian king, William I was proclaimed the German Emperor in a ceremony held at Versailles in January 1871.

The new state placed a strong emphasis on modernizing the currency, banking, legal and judicial systems in Germany. Prussian measures and practices often became a model for the rest of Germany.