Spring of Nations (1848) | World Revolutions #3
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Spring of Nations (1848) | World Revolutions #3

September 26, 2019


Cypher here. Before we get started, I want to point out that this is the third episode in a hot potato history series I’ve been doing with Step Back History. We’re covering the world revolutions. Last time, Tristan covered the Bourgeois Revolution, which you can click here for that. But now, let’s jump half a century ahead to 1848. After the Napoleonic wars and the wave of revolutions around the Atlantic that began with the USA declaring independence, the world had experienced a proper world revolution, but it had left the old empires torn to shreds. By the 1840s, new empires were on the rise and the old Spanish and Portuguese ones were unrecoverably declining. As the world splintered around the rise and decline of European powers, so did the sense of borders. Where once people thought of the kingdom in which they lived as something that was defined by whomever exercised their power over that, a new conception was on the rise due to this fractiousness. People began to identify themselves as part of a larger culture that defined the borders of their country or language group. This was fostered by the final breakup of major empires throughout Europe and the beginning of overseas empires. Furthermore, historians and philosophers had started to argue that their particular region was unique culturally. This was especially present with the new German conception of “Kultur”. After so much of the New World had declared independence, much of Europe wanted to do the same. This movement would begin the rise of nationalism. The first revolution took place in Sicily in 1848, where the kingdom of the two Sicilies was considered to not represent the island. They created a republican form of government that was quickly suppressed by other monarchies coming to the aid of the original kingdom and defeating the Constitutional government that had been created on the island. Next came France. Since Napoleon had been ultimately defeated in 1815, France had gone through two monarchies and a couple of coup attempts by Louis Napoleon, a familial relation to Napoleon Bonaparte. In the beginning of 1848, political and economic tensions led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the Second French Republic. People tried to steer the government away from a more conservative approach with riots and barricades in Paris. The republic did make some attempts at unifying the workers behind an early version of a national labor union, but this was ultimately a fight over defining what being French meant. They chose to emphasize the revolution of 1789 by electing Louis Napoleon as head of the republic by the end of the year. Four years later, he refused to step down and became the new French Emperor, calling himself Napoleon the Third. After France started its revolution, numerous revolutions broke out across all of Europe. People were trying to secede from empires or unify new ones. The new nationalism drove these revolutions. People wanted to create a unified Germany, Italy, Poland and various other states. Europe was in turmoil and there were too many revolutions in 1848 to even count. For the most part, all of these were suppressed by bigger empires. France was really the only successful revolution of 1848. Russia even invaded a bunch of other empires to stop these revolutions: Milan, Berlin, Venice, Budapest and all of Poland, Bavaria and the Balkans saw revolutions that were promptly suppressed with brute force. But the ideas were planted: people continued to campaign for unified nations. Before 1848, the idea of nationhood hadn’t taken hold yet. But afterward, it was perhaps the most powerful and dangerous drivingfForce in global politics. Nationalism transported elsewhere. Suddenly, countries were fighting to define their national borders and what their ideology represented. As early as 1848, the Chartists in England reignited democratic reforms, campaigning to redefine citizenship as a national identity. Ireland’s independence movement basically began in 1848. Canada created its own home democracy, called the responsible government, which answered to the British parliament rather than imperial government. Brazil and what is now called Colombia had revolutions of their own. In the United States, 1848 saw the annexation of a whole lot of territory from Mexico and the British Empire. For the following decade, they grappled with whether slavery could expand into the new territory, which ultimately ended in the Civil War; the bloodiest war in their history. In many ways it was a dispute over the definition of the USA as a nation. In fact, the word nation wasn’t used to referred to the US until President Lincoln did so in the 1860s. I’ve done a couple of episodes on that subject if you’re interested. Asian countries experienced similar nation forming conflicts with the Indian Revolt in 1857, the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion in China and the Meiji restoration in Japan. Nationalism spread like wildfire in 1848 and it’s never gone away. But it began in 1848. After campaigning for two decades, Italians and Germans managed to finalize their own nation-states in 1871. Others were not so lucky. Poland and the Balkans continued to be suppressed, eventually leading to World War One. Next week, Step Back History will be tackling one of the results of that war, the Communist world revolution, so go check out his channel if you haven’t yet, and I’ll link to that episode when it’s up. But while you’re here, don’t forget to like and subscribe. I’ll see you next time. today

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  1. I wonder if we'll ever have a shift away from the concept of nation-states. These days nation and state are treated almost as synonyms but that really is such a new and atypical idea in our history.

  2. As far as Prussia is concerned, I can say that the biggest contributing facor to the outbreak of revolution was the incredible poverty of the people caused by the industrialisation. The Prussian people wanted reforms, and when the soldiers in Berlin opened fire on the protesters, they got their weapons and fought back. The nationalism and ideas of a unified Germany weren't that big in the Prussian's heads, at least not when the revolution broke out. But this is just some nitpicking, since it would be rather hard to not spend too much time on one country alone in a shorter video without neglecting the other ones 🙂

  3. nice video, only one small correction: there was a successfull revolution in 1848 in the case of Switzerland

  4. In my personal opinion, while the Revolutions of 1848 propelled nationalism to the level it is today, I think the 20th century was more of a Springtime of Nations due to the sheer explosion in the number of new countries that were created during 20th century, in 1914 there were 58 countries, 1999 there were over 197 countries.

  5. "Ireland's independence movement basically began in 1848"

    Not true at all. There have been many rebellions throughout Irish history, but if one is to be chosen as the beginning of nationalism, it would have to be the United Irishmen and the 1798 rebellion. While the Young Ireland movement certainly had a cultural impact, Wolfe Tone is generally considered the father of Irish nationalism.

  6. Regarding nationalism, Tim Blanning wrote a book about European History from the Peace of Westphalia to the end of Napoleon (Pursuit of Glory). He discussed nationalism and how was already forming in Europe, particularly in Britain.

  7. Hey @Cynical Historian, thank you for allowing me to discover Step Back History´s channel, and of course, also thank for all you insightful content too! keep up the marvelous work, cheers from Bogotá!

  8. I don't know if one could call France's 1848 revolution "successful" considering it transformed France from a conservative Constitutional Monarchy to a psuedo-liberal Presidential dictatorship.

    Revolutions have a bad habit of just making things worse or the same.

  9. Switzerland constituted itself as a modern nation state in 1848 and exists to this day. So maybe more successful than the French Revolution of 1848? Cheers from Basel! 🙂

  10. Ireland's independence movement began in 1166 but the republican movements began in 1848 with the young irelander rebellion

  11. I think one of the most important things I learned about the American Civil War was that America as a whole identified their nation as where they lived. America was their home town not anywhere else in the nation, which would explain why most of the fighting forces in that war were drawn from state raise volunteer regiments rather than from the regular army.

  12. I have a couple of problems with the Russia invaded Budapest:
    – Budapest did not existed at the time, it was created 30 years later.
    – Russian intervention started mid-june 1849 and the siege of Buda was in may, 1849.
    – The Austrians were conquered Buda in january, we took it back in may, then left it, so the Austrians reconquered it in the summer. (The sources are a bit hazy because of the dire situation and the later retalliation)
    – The Russians never fought with the Hungarian army, however we capitulated to them.

  13. It's weird, I could have sworn I watched and liked this video already, but the youtube doesn't seem to remember that. Oh well, I definitely watched it and clicked "like" now.

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