Note : Historians from the United States make extensive use of the term 'Revolution', a terminology which this website applies because it attempts to help students prepare for tests complied in the U.S. In this chapter, a narrower, political definition is applied.

Etymologically, Revolution derives from Latin revolutio, a turnaround. In a political context, in a literal application it refers to a process in which the social hierarchy is turned upside down (thus rather, half a revolution), usually in a violent manner.
A number of attempts have been made by historians, political scientists etc. to examine revolutions closer, and to come up with a more precise definition of a revolution and the distinct stages involved, taking the French Revolution as the archetype of the modern revolution. Here it is not the intention to enter into that debate, rather to point at common and particular aspects of the revolutions of the early 19th century.

Early 19th century liberals regarded certain values and principles established by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution as fundamental for a modern, progressing society, and strove seeing them guaranteed in form of written constitutions. The monarchs instead dreamt of restoring absolute rule and identified liberalism with the excesses of the French Revolution.
While the liberals were well aware of those excesses, and tried to avoid a repetition - none of the revolutions of the early 19th century was, from the side of the revolutionaries, involving unnecessary bloodshed that would compare to the Jacobin terror; there was no attempt to abolish the church, introduce anything compatible to the cult of reason or a new calendar, by being rejected limited political participation and by being subjected to an oppressive state policy, to a certain extent they were driven to taking a revolution as a last option. For the revolutions of the early 19th century, the French Revolution proved an orientation, both in a positive and negative way.

Paris was the epicenter of European revolutions; from France the spark spread quickly throughout Europe, in 1830 as well as in 1848 (that year, twice). The Revolutions of 1830 and 1848 can be differentiated into
(1) successful and unsuccessful revolutions (successful : France, Belgium 1830; unsuccessful : Poland 1830-1831, Italy 1830, Germany, Hungary, Italy 1848-1849),
(2) in single-centered and polycentric revolutions (the first : France 1830, 1848-52, Belgium 1830, Hungary 1848; the latter : Italy 1830, 1848-49, Germany 1848-49),
(3) in the dominant social group supporting the revolution (in most cases the Bourgeoisie, in Hungary 1848-49 the liberal nobility). (4) in the degree to which traditional structures were left intact (in France 1830, the monarchy was not abolished; the German revolution of 1848 did not attempt to abolish the monarchy (on the national level); France, 1848, Mazzini in 1848 strove for an Italian republic)

The term 'revolution' is applied inconsistently, as Paris in 1848 is said to have been the stage of two revolutions. If so, the French Revolution of 1789 to 1799 is not one revolution, but a series of revolutions. The 1830 revolution in Belgium aimed at and resulted in independence from the Netherlands. If this is a revolution, then the Greek struggle for independence (1821-1832) may also be referred to as a revolution.

Most of the revolutions of the early 19th century were suppressed. In the climax year of 1848-1849 the simultaneous revolutions came close to reorganizing the political map on a basis of democratic nation states; a number of monarchic governments were either eliminated or paralyzed. Disunity among the revolutionaries, regarding their political goals, and the armies decided the fate of the revolutions.

Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 6th 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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