Turmoil and Transformation
Mid to Late 19th Century Europe
History is a vast early warning system.
- Norman Cousins
History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.
- Abba Eban
The Empress Eugénie, Wife of Napoléon III, Surrounded by Her Ladies-in-Waiting
Europe in the 19th century had been transformed. The industrial revolution increased prosperity and convenience, but also brought in a new problems as people reacted to change and poor working conditions by turning to dictators, Marxism, revolutions, and reactionary repression. In the political realm, the map of Europe was tightened into the form it retained until the outbreak of World War I. The overarching theme of the latter half of the 19th century was nationalism, which became more and more important (and more of a problem) as empires were replaced by nation states. The old empires (with Austria as a prime example) usually tried to encompass quite diverse ethnic groups – they were simply conglomerations of whatever the rulers had managed to conquer, and grew, shrank, and moved as the rulers won and lost battles. The “peasants” were seen as unimportant – as an example of this, by firm custom, the religion of a region was set by the religion of the local noble or prince, and might change frequently over a single lifetime.
In 1815, the powers-that-be after the Peace of Vienna felt that they had redrawn the map of Europe such that there was a stable balance of power. This was intended to prevent future conflicts, such as revolution and expansion attempts. But, within a mere 20 years, it had become clear that the isolation and death of the first Napoléon was not the end of European conflict. A few of Napoléon's reforms and ideas were adopted elsewhere. Many of his ideas – such as the Code Napoléon - inspired revolution in places such as Russia in 1825. A min-revolution was carried out by a small group of army officers after the death of the old Tsar during a period of confusion as to whom would be the new Tsar. Nicholas I was eventually chosen, and put this down very quickly. He also instituted a secret police to prevent further incidents.
In 1821, Greece rebelled against Turkish rule – the Turks, who had a history of conquest, had controlled Greece since the 1400s. After the Peace of Vienna, it had been agreed that if there was a revolution anywhere on the European continent, it would be crushed by an alliance of monarchs to keep revolution from becoming rampant - but the Greek revolt was seen as acceptable to European powers because it was a case of Christians revolting against Muslims. Besides, the revolution culminated with a constitutional monarchy being installed – a form of government of which Britain was particularly fond. Freedom was consequently granted to Greece in 1829. Likewise, in 1830, Belgium gained independence from the Dutch, who had forced them to be a vassal in a previous conflict. They, too, instituted a constitutional monarchy. The treaty of 1815 was effectively revised to mean "Just don't let anything change too fast." However, in France, things soon began changing dramatically.
In 1830, Louis XVIII, who had been operating under the old constitutional monarchy system, tried to incorporate a few compromises, but mainly succeeded in angering everyone. Political liberals were not satisfied, the common man considered that he had too little say, and royalists felt previous reforms had already gone too far and were encouraging revolts. France had a two-house legislature but voting was restricted to 100,000 wealthy property owners.
Louis XVIII died in 1824 and Charles X (1824 - 1830) became the new monarch. Charles favored the ultra-royalists, who wanted to turn back the clock and return to absolutism. Charles decreed that the wealthy would be compensated by the government for any property losses incurred during the Revolution. To put it mildly, this was not a popular policy with the middle and lower classes. In the 1830 elections, the liberals won a major victory. In retaliation, Charles X issued the punitive July Ordinances which reduced the number of people able to vote, increased censorship, and reduced other freedoms. A new revolt broke out. However, this revolt was short-lived as the upper-middle class feared any revolt could flame into a new, bloody revolution. It was imperative that all revolts be put down immediately to keep one from spreading. Charles was “persuaded” to abdicate.
Louis Philippe (1830 – 1848) became France’s new king. He was a moderate who was acceptable to the middle class – and politics returned to the old status quo, back to many of the ordinances of Louis XVIII, although a few more people were given the right to vote. Unfortunately, none of these new voters were members of the lower class, so France’s long-term problems did not go away. Over the next 18 years, the Industrial Revolution began in France, and there, too, workers felt the pain, enduring the same problems as those had in England (long hours, poor working conditions, poor pay, and child labour). In France, however, the government was more oppressive and absolutist than in England. England had by then passed an election reform law that opened voting up to the industrial classes, so workers had begun to improve their lot in that country. This had kept revolutionary fervor low there. Not so in France! French workers were very unhappy.
Finally, in 1848, events exploded. The government of France had come to be called "Party of Resistance" because they felt that no further reform was needed. The leader of that party, François Guizot, was contemptuous of the lower classes. He went so far as to say at one point, "So? If you don't like it, get rich – then you can vote." After such speeches as this, even the middle class began to fear they might lose their own ability to speak out - the Party of Resistance, they felt, had gone too far. Nevertheless – it went still further.
Soon, political rallies were banned. In response to this, “banquets” began to be regularly held so that people could continue to voice their displeasure to each other. In retaliation, the government banned banquets. In response to this, students and workers began to march in the street. Soldiers were sent to repress this. Panic ensued. Shots were fired, killing some 50 or so protesters. Louis Philippe removed François Guizot from his post. But this was not seen as sufficient. Two months later, Louis Philippe was forced to abdicate and the French monarchy ended once and for all. France declared itself a republic.
The upper-middle class gained power. They wanted to avoid trouble, so they decreed that all adult males were thereby granted the right to vote. All censorship was removed as well, promoting freedom of the press. But working conditions were still bad. The middle class felt the reforms workers demanded went too far, but workers felt that they didn’t go far enough to alleviate their horrid working conditions. By June 1848, workers initiated a new uprising to redistribute wealth. This came to be called the June Revolution; it called for Marxist ideals. In the chaos, a thousand were killed with many wounded and over a thousand subsequently deported to Algeria. Moreover, the revolution was a failure as the sentiments of the dissenters represented only a minority of Frenchmen. The majority of Frenchmen could now be considered members of the bourgeois class.
By the end of 1848, a presidential election was held for the first time. At that point, it was decided the new legislature would have only one house. The winner of France’s very first presidential election was none other than Louis Napoléon, nephew of Napoléon I, riding high on his family name. He won by an overwhelming majority. Like his uncle before him, Louis Napoléon wanted personal power and tried to gain it by cultivating popular support. He was uncommonly successful during his first few years – so much so that, after a disagreement with the National Assembly over his ideas on constitutional revision, he used the military to shut it down, then legitimised his actions by holding a popular election and asking the French public to elect him to office for a 10 year term. This they did, supporting him overwhelmingly (more than 90%). One year later, he asked the people to elect him emperor which they did virtually unanimously. He called himself Emperor Napoléon III. This was basically a shorter repetition of the tactics of his predecessor.
Napoléon endured in power for the next 20 years. He restored economic prosperity to France during this time and helped the country adjust to the social upheavals engendered by the Industrial Revolution. Napoléon instituted some much-needed reforms. (This, at least, was the situation around 1852.)
Napoléon III's Accomplishments
Referring to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, François Guizot once said:
Elsewhere in 1848, there were other revolutions taking place in Europe based on rising nationalistic fervour. In Austria, the Hungarians desired greater political autonomy. So did the Czechs. (There were others, including the Slovaks, Slovenes and Croats – but the fervour was not yet as strong in these smaller countries.) The Hungarians and Czechs were ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria, the European family with the longest continuous rule ever. While the Hungarians and Czechs wanted to be in control of their destinies (with their own legislatures), they were willing to continue to swear allegiance to the Hapsburgs and King Ferdinand I. But a new Hapsburg emperor, Franz Josef I, came to power in 1848 (continuing as emperor until 1914). Franz Josef sent troops in to crush the independence movement because he had seen what had come to pass in France and wanted to avoid that at all cost. The Czechs were quickly put down by the military, but the Hungarians, under leader Louis Kossuth, were proving rather more difficult. Austria appealed to Russia. Tsar Nicholas I sent troops in to help. Eventually, the Hungarians were suppressed, mainly due to a political blunder of Kossuth’s – his proposal for the Hungarian nation included several ethnic groups that were not Hungarian; these minority groups felt threatened and fought against Hungary, helping to insure her defeat. Kossuth has failed to grasp the rising power of nationalism, and lost due to the same reasons for which Austria would eventually crumble.
Hungarian intransigence continued, and by 1864 Austria was sufficiently weakened that Hungarian nobles forced through the “Compromise”, inaugurating the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Emperor Franz Josef was officially crowned King of Hungary (in addition to his title of Emperor), and the new Austro-Hungarian Empire was often called the “dual-monarchy” (that id, one king on two thrones). Although still ruled by the Hapsburgs, Hungary had much greater autonomy.
In Germany, the various German principalities still had not fully unified. The Confederation of the Rhine was hanging together, but in 1848, nationalist feelings dictated that Germany needed unification. Both the middle class and the urban poor called for more open politics. Toward this end, throughout Germany the princes of German States made reforms – they opened their borders more and more – which sometimes caused minor revolutions to break out. Reforms were even made in Berlin which was at that time located in Prussia. King Friedrich William IV (who ruled 1840 – 1861) did not crack down on them as he felt that maybe some reforms were needed. This openness led to the Frankfurt Assembly, formed to unify Germany, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Soon, reforms were turned back. The King had seen how France had been able to successfully put down its revolt. When Friedrich William had been asked to become emperor of a unified Germany, he had refused. He felt he could use his military might to quell any uprising, did not need to grant concessions, and was better off at that point just maintaining the status quo. The liberals had failed. (After that, the idea grew that perhaps there were other ways to achieve national unity that did not involve liberal revolt. This soon culminated in Otto Von Bismarck’s rise to power, unifying Germany in a very heavy-handed, autocratic way.)
On the Italian Peninsula, the states of Italy were still fragmented, with most of the northern states under Austrian control and virtually all under Austrian influence; Austria controlled uprisings. Giuseppe Manzini created a party called “Young Italy” to encourage national unity, even though that task had proven unsuccessful in 1830. Finally, in 1848, unrest caused a revolt to ignite. It began in Sicily and swept throughout the Italian states, which all agreed to liberal reforms. Pope Pius IX was forced to flee to France for a while. Napoléon used his power to return the Pope to Rome and the revolt came to a quick end by 1849 – but the status quo had been shaken.
Nationalist sentiment in both Germany and Italy remained strong in the late 19th century. By the 1860s, a dynamic change throughout the European continent enabled the unity of both German and Italy. First, in the early 1850s, the Crimean War (1853 – 1855) broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Turks. Russia invaded parts of the Ottoman Empire, but soon withdrew in the face of threatened Austrian support. Russia continued to demand that the Ottomans name Russia as the protector of all Christians in the Empire. This was the first war since the Peace of Vienna. The outbreak of war prompted England and France to declare war against Russia as well, though they were not allied with Turkey, and Russia had already withdrawn from the disputed regions. Britain declared war because she did not want the Ottoman Empire to be beaten (and consequently absorbed) by Russia as this would make Russia too powerful, destabilizing the tenuous peace Europe had enjoyed for a long time. The Ottoman Empire was on the wane, and losing the war to Russia would fatally destabilise it. Russia, a neighbour of the Turks, was positioned to become the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean, which was not at all to England’s liking. The French had completely different reasons for entering the war. In their case, it was more injured pride. The Turks controlled Jerusalem. France felt they had long held the “privilege” of protecting Christian shrines in the Holy Land. Russian has tried to take over this task and France was angered.
Russia, for her part, expected support from Austria because she had helped Austria control the revolt in Italy and in Hungary. But Austria, saying she would “surprise the world with her ingratitude", did do a surprising thing – she stayed neutral in the Crimean War, and even threatened to enter the war on the Ottoman side. The war was a messy one – ending with 250,000 dead, most of them from disease. There would have been many more casualties had it not been for the heroic efforts of Florence Nightingale, who insisted on hygiene in battlefield medical camps, saving thousands of lives and revolutionising nursing, which was henceforth seen as an acceptable profession for women.
Russia lost the war, but actually ceded only a small piece of territory. The Black Sea was made neutral in the Treaty of Paris, however, and strategically this was a drastic setback for Russian plans to absorb the Ottoman's. The Austrian empire was also weakened by the disruption of the war, and could no longer rely on Russia to help them suppress Hungarian dissent. The Crimean War was a minor war - but it was important in that it disrupted the feeling that European powers were unified. A new dynamic had taken hold - thereafter, nations began acting more and more on their own. After the war, the Russians felt that they had troubles enough within their own borders; the Austrians were isolated, not championed by anyone, especially after the lack of support they had shown to Russia in her hour of need; England had lost so many men that she had decided to tend to life safe on her island for a while, no longer needing to defend the continent. From this time on, alliance schemes had no precedent; they became ad hoc, based solely on national convenience. Countries might be allies one year, enemies the next.
As empires weakened, and with the largest nations preoccupied, Italian and German unity had finally come within the realm of possibility. From 1850-1870, Italian nationalists took advantage of conflicts to further their goal of unifying Italy. In 1868, the Kingdom pf Piedmont (a Northern Italian state) allied with France and went to war with Austria in an attempt to drive the Austrians from the northern Italian states. Italy had agreed to give Nice to France if victory was achieved. The first skirmish was a victory, but was more costly than Napoléon had anticipated. He decided early on that this war was not to his advantage and made an early peace with Austria. Italy was angry, but the war accomplished most of what it had set out to do. Italian nationalism had been strengthened and the Kingdom of Piedmont was able to consolidate Northern Italy - with the exception of Venice.
At about the same time, in Sicily in Southern Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi organised an army called the Red Shirts, and began a revolution that swept through Southern Italy. The Kingdom of Piedmont wished to install a more conservative government than that espoused by Garibaldi, so they decided to stop him. Piedmont forces skirted around Rome and met up with Garibaldi where they issued an ultimatum - join with Piedmont or fight them. Garibaldi did not wish to precipitate a civil war. In the interest of a unified Italy, he chose to step aside. Italy then proclaimed Victor Immanuel king in 1861.
However, the unification was incomplete at this point. Rome was still under control of the Papacy, and Venice was still under control of Austria. Italy joined with Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Italy’s reason for fighting was to drive the Austrians out of Venice. Next came the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 – 71 which resulted early on in France relinquishing control of the Papal states – so, by 1870, the unification of Germany was complete. Furthermore, the art of international diplomacy was flowering.
The Austro-Prussian war also weakened Austria enough that the following year (1867) the dual monarchies were instituted, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was formed.
In Germany, unification was achieved within a decade. In 1860, there were many states. By 1870, there was one. William I was King of Prussia (he was the younger brother of the previous king, Frederick William IV). William desired to institute military reforms, thus improving Prussia’s military might, but Parliament had refused to approve his requests. Frustrated, William turned to his trusted aide, Otto von Bismarck, and appointed him Chancellor. Bismarck was an aristocrat who was fully behind German unity. He also believed that only autocratic, heavy-handed methods would achieve the desired ends. Bismarck upgraded the military even without parliamentary approval. This set a precedent; thereafter, for the most part, Bismarck ignored Parliament completely – they approved his actions after the fact, if at all. In retaliation, Parliament at first tried to stir up a revolution, however, they failed due to Bismarck’s popularity. Bismarck was skilled leader.
Bismarck thought a unification centred in Prussia was best and further felt that this could only be accomplished through conquest. To this end, he waged several small wars by only fighting one isolated power at a time. By declaring war against a “safe” European power, he could rally the Germanic states to join together to fight this international “threat.” His wars were all against diplomatically isolated single powers. He wanted to use “realist” means. The years 1864 – 1870 saw three wars. The first was against Denmark. Denmark had tried to wrest the territories of Schlesweg and Holstein back from Germany. Prussia convinced Austria to join with her to defeat Denmark in the Danish War (1864), which they easily did. Prussia got Schlesweg and Austria got Holstein. But this small war showed off Austria's might, and, in von Bismarck’s opinion, that would never do. So Bismarck made certain that Austria was isolated in terms of diplomatic treaties (he knew that Russia was miffed over Austria’s refusal to fight in the Crimea and would not come to her aid; further, neither England nor Napoléon in France were at that time interested). He then allied Prussia with Italy (promising to secure Venice for Italy); next, he occupied Holstein to goad Austria – who complied exactly as planned and declared war against Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War (1866). Prussia won, proving itself a major power. Because of his positive public image, Bismarck was able to solidify control over the northern Germanic provinces, who agreed to consolidate. Further, Bismarck made sure the Austrians were not humiliated because he felt he might need them for an ally at some point in the future. His major goal had been to force Austria out of the Confederation of German states, paving the way for Prussia to take over. This was done.
Bismarck still needed to unify with the southern German states, who had allied with Austria against Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. Bismarck had the idea that he would fight France in order to bring the southern states into the fold. So, according to plan, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 started right on time and (as planned) was conveniently initiated by France. How did Bismarck bring that to pass?
The German Empire in 1871
The event directly precipitating the Franco-Prussian War (1870 -1871) was the candidacy of Leopold, King William’s cousin, for the throne of Spain, rendered vacant by the Spanish revolution of 1868. Leopold had accepted the candidacy under persuasion from Bismarck. The French government, alarmed at the possibility of a Prusso-Spanish alliance resulting from the occupancy of the Spanish throne by a member of the Hohenzollern dynastic family, threatened Prussia with war if Leopold's candidacy was not withdrawn. The French ambassador to the Prussian court was dispatched to a spa in north-western Germany being visited by Prussian King William I. The ambassador had been instructed to demand that the Prussian monarch order Prince Leopold to withdraw his candidacy. William, though angered, gave the ambassador permission to communicate directly with Leopold by telegraph. Leopold could not be reached, but his father, Prince Charles Anthony, wired a retraction of the candidacy in the name of his son.
The government of Napoléon III, still not content, was determined to humiliate Prussia, even at the cost of war. The French foreign minister demanded that William submit a personal letter of apology to Napoléon III and a guarantee that the Hohenzollern candidacy would never be renewed. The Prussian king rejected the French demands. That same day, Bismarck obtained William's authorisation to publish the French demands and the Prussian rejection. But Bismarck edited the document in a manner calculated to aggravate the resentment of the both the French and the Germans. Bismarck planned that this move would in all probability precipitate war and knew that Prussia was prepared. He counted on the psychological effect of a French declaration of war to rally the south German states to Prussia's cause, thus accomplishing the final phase in the unification of Germany.
The Prussians were vicious on the battlefield. The French were armed with the breech-loading Chassepot rifle, a miracle of modern engineering, which included rubber seals, great range, and fast firing times. The Prussians had a decent design as well, but it was now 25 years old, and showing its age – in particular, it had a much lower range. The French also had mitrailleuses, which were early machine guns. On the other hand, Prussian artillery was better, and included the first breech-loading cannon. The primary deciding factor was not weapons technology, but numbers and organisation. France had a standing army of 400,000 well-trained men (many veterans); Prussia had a conscript army of 1.2 million men (many unenthusiastic farmers). It took time for Prussia to raise, gather, equip and train their army and in the mean time France did well. Once Prussia was ready, she began to dominate based on numbers. Further, Prussia was the first country to have a General Staff.
William I Is Proclaimed German Kaiser in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, 18 January 1871
The end result was that a very bitter and humiliating defeat was forced on the French, along with reparations demanded of 5 billion francs. France also lost control of Alsace-Lorraine (which would change hands many times in the future). The supreme insult to France was yet to come. In a ceremony at the Palace of Versailles, William I was crowned the emperor of the unified German states – he became Kaiser Wilhelm I. (Bismarck realised that it was better to call the new empire “Germany” rather than “Greater Prussia”. William had argued about this, but Bismarck had been adamant.) These events left the relationship between Germany and France a very bitter one and set the stage for important later conflicts: World Wars I and II.
Bismarck was also famous for instituting the first state pensions, and accident insurance for workers. He did so out of a deep fear of revolution, but his efforts to appease the workers were themselves quite revolutionary. Somewhat ironically, an aristocrat who devoted himself to fighting social democrats did more than most to forge the institutions of a social democratic state. Following the unification of Germany, he also worked hard to preserve peace in Europe, thinking that given Germany's location, any war in Europe would devastate Germany. On his death bed, he remarked that "If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans". He was correct, and less than two decades after his death, a silly thing in the Balkans embroiled Germany in exactly the war he'd devoted much of his life to preventing.
After all this, the Emperor Napoléon was deposed. Released after the armistice (1871), he went into exile, bearing defeat with remarkable dignity. He joined the Empress at Chiselhurst, Kent in England where he resided until his death 2 years later. France wished to become a monarchy, but the various royalist factions couldn't agree between the various Bourbon and Orleanist kings. Finally a compromise was reached – the elderly and childless “legitimist” candidate would rule until his death, then the younger “pretender” candidate (who already had several children) would take over. The “legitimist” candidate refused – in particular, he demanded the return of the Fleur-de-Lis. To many in France, the tricolor represented all the gains that had been made since the revolution – the compromise collapsed. Fearing a coup, probably to instate another member of the Bonaparte dynasty, and unable to decide on a candidate for the throne, France settled on the “least bad” option, and returned to being a republic. England at this time was the greatest Western power. Germany was now tied with the US for second place. It is difficult to underestimate the effect this had on the average German.
Britain, through all this, remained neutral. She was undergoing profound changes domestically, which kept her attention focused inward. One external event however was worthy of note: in 1867, Britain gave greater autonomy to Canada, creating the Dominion of Canada. This essentially meant that Canada could assume full domestic control of her affairs – however, international policy was still Britain's prerogative (but nothing else).
Europe remained fairly stable, industrialising, for the next 40 years. Right at the end of the 19th century, women’s rights began to emerge.
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