Chapter 12


Revolutions and the Reimposition of Order, 1848–1870


In 1848, the forces of reaction toppled as revolutionary movements spontaneously broke out all over Europe. While no single organization or doctrine united these movements, many made similar demands for constitutional governments, the fulfillment of nationalist aspirations, and the end to the restrictions of serfdom. However, the Revolutions of 1848 failed almost as rapidly as they won victories. While some governments made constitutional concessions, many resorted to military repression to stem the revolutionary tide. In France, the July Monarchy was overthrown and, temporarily, the Provisional Government sought to fulfill republican and radical ideals. Yet it was soon replaced by the authoritarianism of Napoleon III. The government of the Austrian empire collapsed under pressure from nationalists and republicans. However, the forces of counterrevolution soon reasserted themselves, and a new government sought to centralize the region. The Frankfurt Assembly failed to unify the German states, and liberal nationalism suffered another defeat. The Revolutions of 1848 brought a new toughness of mind to Europe, which showed itself in the philosophies of materialism, positivism, and realism. Among the disappointed revolutionaries of 1848 was Karl Marx, whose theories of dialectical materialism and historical development would soon earn both adherents and critics.

Chapter Outline

12.58 Paris: The Specter of Social Revolution in the West

a. The “February” Revolution in France

i. Proclamation of the Republic

ii. Louis Blanc

iii. The National Workshops

b. The “June Days” of 1848

i. Paris on the verge of revolution

ii. Class war

iii. The revival of Chartist agitation

c. The Emergence of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte

i. Bonaparte’s background

ii. Louis Napoleon becomes president

iii. Antirepublican government

iv. The demise of parliamentary government

12.59 Vienna: The Nationalist Revolutions in Central Europe and Italy

a. The Austrian Empire in 1848

i. The diversity of the empire

ii. Vienna’s authority and leadership

b. The March Days

i. Metternich’s fall

c. The Turning of the Tide after June

i. The first Pan-Slav assembly

d. Victories of the Counterrevolution, June-December, 1848

i. The Italians defeated

ii. Magyar nationalism

iii. Vienna recaptured

e. Final Outburst and Repression, 1849

i. Antirevolutionism

ii. The Bach system

12.60 Frankfurt and Berlin: The Question of a Liberal Germany

a. The German States

i. Obstacles to unification

ii. German dualism

b. Berlin: Failure of the Revolution in Prussia

i. Radical Prussian Assembly

c. The Frankfurt Assembly

i. An untimely revolution

ii. Questions of territory

iii. Dependence on Austrian and Prussian armies

d. The Failure of the Frankfurt Assembly

i. Frederick William tempted

ii. The failure of liberal nationalism

iii. The Prussian Constitution of 1850

12.61 The New European “Isms”: Realism, Positivism, Marxism

i. New freedoms for peasants

a. Materialism, Realism, Positivism

i. Auguste Comte

ii. Realpolitik

b. Early Marxism

i. The Communist League

c. Sources and Content of Marxism

i. The Young Hegelians

ii. Engels and British industrialism

iii. The Communist Manifesto

iv. British political economy

v. Dialectical materialism

vi. Historical development

vii. Class war between bourgeois and proletariat

viii. Worker solidarity

d. The Significanceof Marxism: Its Strength and Weaknesses

i. Conflicting working-class values

ii. Opportunism

12.62 Bonapartism: The Second French Empire, 1852–1870

a. Political Institutions of the Second Empire

i. Modern progress

ii. Authoritarian political institutions

b. Economic developments under the Empire

i. Expansion

ii. Napoleon’s “socialistic” initiatives

iii. Free trade treaty with Britain

c. Internal Difficulties and War

i. “The Empire means peace”


Chapter 12 teaches students about:

  1. the revolutionary upheavals that broke out across Europe in 1848.
  2. the common demands of revolutionaries, despite the lack of an international revolutionary movement.
  3. the achievement of some of the goals of revolutionaries, such as national unification and greater representation in constitutional governments.
  4. the end of the French republic and parliamentary government as radicalism was severely repressed.
  5. the role of nationalism in eastern European revolutionary upheaval, and the inability of eastern European governments to meet the challenges of nationalism.
  6. the victories of counterrevolution in France, Austria, and the German states.
  7. the new toughness of mind that emerged as a consequence of the revolutions of 1848.
  8. the early history and origins of Marxism.
  9. the strengths and weaknesses of Marxism.
  10. the authoritarian regime of Napoleon III, which foreshadowed the dictators of the twentieth century rather than symbolizing a return to the past.

Lecture/Discussion Topics

  1. What were the characteristics of the Revolutions of 1948? What were their main consequences?
  2. In what ways were Louis Blanc’s ideas and goals watered down by other members of the Provisional Government?
  3. What was the intended purpose of the National Workshops? How did their implementation differ from their intended purpose?
  4. What motivated workshop participants to attack the Constituent Assembly? Why were the Bloody June Days that followed considered class war?
  5. Was Chartist agitation in Britain comparable to the actions of the French working classes?
  6. How did Louis Napoleon and the French Assembly repress republicanism and socialism?
  7. How did Napoleon III become emperor?
  8. In what ways did Vienna exert influence throughout the Austrian empire?
  9. How did Metternich fall in March 1848? What did his resignation and flight indicate about the state of the Vienna government?
  10. What were the immediate gains of revolutionary forces in the months following the March Days of 1848? Why were those victories reversed so quickly after June?
  11. How did Austroslavs view the Austrian empire? How did their views differ from other nationalities?
  12. Why did other nationalities resist the domination of the Magyar nationalists in Hungary?
  13. What was the Bach system?
  14. What were the obstacles to German unification? What mistakes did the assembly make?
  15. Why did the Prussian Assembly prove surprisingly radical in 1848? What were the fears and hopes of the assembly participants?
  16. How would you characterize the outlook of most Frankfurt Assembly participants?
  17. Why did liberal nationalism fail in Germany? What were the long-term consequences of that failure?
  18. What did peasants gain from the revolutionary upheaval of 1848?
  19. How did the shift in attitude in the latter half of the nineteenth century reorient people’s view of the world?
  20. What was positivism? In what ways was positivism a repudiation of Romanticism? How did it reinforce ideals of progress and scientific advance?
  21. How did Realpolitik provide a justification for war?
  22. What causes did the Communist League advocate?
  23. Who were the Young Hegelians? How did they influence Marx’s ideas?
  24. How did Marx rework the labor theory of value, taken from British political economy?
  25. What was Marx’s vision of historical development? How, according to his theories, would revolution occur?
  26. What were the conflicts among working class interests? What did Marx mean by opportunism?
  27. What were the contradictions in Napoleon III’s political and economic ideas and policies? How did he resolve those contradictions?
  28. Describe the distinctive French version of the Industrial Revolution.
  29. What innovation in finance aidedFrench economic expansion?

Paper Topics

  1. Further investigate France’s National Workshops. Despite the fact that they functioned as little more than unemployment relief, how did the Workshops encourage revolutionary activism among Paris’ working classes?
  2. Research the Austroslavism that dominated the Prague congress of June 1848. What kinds of political ideas did Austroslavs embrace? How did culture play a part in their political agendas?
  3. Write a biography of Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels.
  4. Choose one of the three sources of Marxism—German philosophy, French revolutionism, or British political economy—and trace its impact on the ideas of Marx and Engels.
  5. Consider the contrast between Napoleon’s “socialistic” initiatives and the sumptuous court life he established at Tuileries. Which was more pivotal in gaining him public support from the working classes?
  6. Research the development of the railway network, banking, and the Stock Exchange in France between 1859 and 1869.

Multimedia Resources

Web Sources

Instructors should check the validity of each URL.

  1. The site below offers an encyclopedia of the revolutions of 1848, edited by James Chastain of OhioUniversity:
  1. At the following website, students can view photos of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, their families, and their homes:


  1. Cousin Bette (1998).This comedy drama was directed by Des McAnuff and starredJessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue, Hugh Laurie, Bob Hoskins, and Geraldine Chaplin. This film,based on Honoré de Balzac’s novel,offers a glimpse of Paris on the eve of the revolution of 1848.
  1. LesMisérables (1998).This film was directed by Billie August and starred Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, and Hans Mathenson. This film, based on theVictor Hugo novel of the same name, depicts the life of the French poor from the 1820s to 1848. (A film of the same name was also released in 2012. It was directed by Tom Hooper and starred Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, and Eddie Redmayne.)

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