The 1848 Revolutions

[ Maps ][ Images ][ Documents ][ Anecdotes ][ Caricatures ]


1948 map

Europe 1848 - The Year of Revolutions



Alphonse de Lamartine, 1790-1869
Charles Louis Napoleon
 Bonaparte, Napoleon III
 of France, 1808-1873

Franz Josef - Emperor of Austria,
King of Hungary, 1830-1916

Lajos (Louis) Kossuth, 1802-1894
Frederick William IV
of Prussia, 1795-1861


Pope Pius IX, 1792-1878

Prince, Klemens Wenzel von Metternich

Ferdinand I Karl
 Leopold Joseph Franz
 Marchlin Emperor of
 Austria King of
 Hungary and Bohemia
 1793-1875 (abdicated

louis philiph
Louis-Philippe of
 France, 1773-1850
 (abdicated 1848)

Felix, Prince zu Schwarzenberg 1800-1852



Alphone de Lamartine  'Manifesto on Europe' (1848)
(sent to France's representatives abroad on his appointment 
as foreign minister of the new Republican government)

from Lamartine, History of the French Revolution of 1848, II, 
translated from the French, London, 1849, pp. 3 ff.


You know the events of Paris – the victory of the people; their heroism, moderation, and tranquillity; the re-establishment of order by the co-operation of the citizens at large, as if, during this interregnum of the visible powers, public reason was, of itself alone, the Government of France. 

The French revolution has thus entered upon its definitive period. France is a republic. The French republic does not require to be acknowledged in order to exist. It is based alike on natural and national law. It is the will of a great people, who demand the privilege only for themselves. But the French republic, being desirous of entering into the family of established governments, as a regular power, and not as a phenomenon destructive of European order, it is expedient that you should promptly make known to the Government to which you are accredited, the principles and tendencies which will henceforth guide the foreign policy of the French Government. 

The proclamation of the French republic is not an act of aggression against any form of government in the world. Forms of government have diversities as legitimate as the diversities of character – of geographical situation – of intellectual, moral, and material development among nations. Nations, like individuals, have different ages; and the principles which rule them have successive phases. The monarchical, the aristocratic, the constitutional, and the republican forms of government, are the expression of the different degrees of maturity in the genius of nations. They require more liberty in proportion as they feel equality, and democracy in proportion as they are inspired with a greater share of justice and love for the people over whom they rule. It is merely a question of time. A nation ruins itself by anticipating the hour of that maturity; as it dishonours itself by allowing it to pass away without seizing it. Monarchy and republicanism are not, in the eyes of wise statesmen, absolute principles, arrayed in deadly conflict against each other; they are facts which contrast one with another, and, which may exist face to face by mutually understanding and respecting each other. 

War, therefore, is not now the principle of the French republic, as it was the fatal and glorious necessity of the republic of 1792. Half a century separates 1792 from 1848. To return, after the lapse of half a century, to the principle of 1792, or to the principle of conquest pursued during the empire, would not be to advance, but to regress. The revolution of yesterday is a step forward, not backward. The world and ourselves are desirous of advancing to fraternity and peace. 

If the situation of the French republic in 1792 explained the necessity of war, the differences existing between that period of our history and the present time explain the necessity of peace. Endeavour to understand these differences and to make them understood by those around you. 

In 1792 the nation was not united. It may be said that two nations existed on the same soil. A terrible conflict was kept up between the classes who were deprived of their privileges and the classes who had just conquered equality and liberty. They dispossessed classes coalesced with captive royalty and jealous foreign powers, to deny France her right to revolution, and by invasion to force back upon her monarchy, aristocracy, and theocracy. At the present time, there are no distinct and unequal classes. Liberty has enfranchised all. Equality in the eye of the law has levelled all; fraternity, whose implementation we proclaim, and whose blessings the National Assembly will administer, will unite all. There is not a single citizen in France, whatsoever may be his opinion, who does not rally round the principle of the Fatherland before every other consideration, and by that very unity France is rendered invulnerable to attempts and alarms of invasion. 

In 1792 it was not the whole body of the people who made themselves masters of the Government; it was the middle class alone that wished to exercise liberty, and to enjoy it. The triumph of the middle class was therefore selfish, like the triumph of every oligarchy. The middle class wished to secure to itself alone the privileges acquired by all. Accordingly it was found necessary to create a powerful diversion against the advent of popular supremacy, by urging the people to the field of battle, and hereby preventing them from taking part in their own government. This diversion was war. War was the ardent wish of the monarchists and the Girondins; but it was not desired by the more enlightened democrats, who, like ourselves, were anxious for the genuine, complete, and regular reign of the people themselves; comprising under that denomination all classes, without exclusion or preference, which compose the nation. 

In 1792 the people were made the instrument of the revolution, but they were not its beneficiaries. The present revolution has been achieved by them and for them. The people and the revolution are one and the same. When they entered upon the revolution, the people brought with them their new wants of labour, industry, instruction, agriculture, commerce, morality, welfare, property, cheap living, navigation, and civilisation. All these are the wants of peace. The people and peace are but one word. 

In 1792 the ideas of France and Europe were not prepared to conceive and to accept the great harmony of nations among themselves for the benefit of the human race. The views of the century, then drawing to its close, were confined to the heads of a few philosophers. But at the present day philosophy is popular. Fifty years of the freedom of thought, speech, and writing, have produced their results. Books, journals, and tribunes, have accomplished the apostolic mission of European intelligence. Reason, dawning everywhere over the frontiers of nations, has given birth to that great intellectual commonwealth, which will be the achievement of the French revolution, and the constitution of international fraternity throughout the globe. 

Finally, in 1792, liberty was a novelty, equality a scandal, and the republic a problem. The very name of the people, only just then revived by Fénelon, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, had been so far forgotten, buried, profaned by old feudal, dynastic, and ecclesiastical traditions, that even the most lawful intervention of the people in their own affairs appeared a monstrosity in the eyes of statesmen of the old school. Democracy at once spread terror among thrones, and shook the foundation of society. But now, on the contrary, both kings and people are accustomed to the name, to the forms, and to the regular agitations of that freedom which exists in various degrees in almost all states, even those subject to monarchical rule. They will become accustomed to republicanism, which is public liberty in its most perfect form, among the more mature nations. They will acknowledge that there is a conservative freedom; they will acknowledge that there may exist in a republic not only greater order, but that there may even be a more genuine order in the government of all for the .sake of all, than in the government of the few for the sake of the few.

But independently of these disinterested considerations, interest alone for the consolidation and duration of the republic would inspire the statesmen of France with a desire for peace. It is not the country, but liberty, which is exposed to the greatest danger in time of war. War is almost invariably a dictatorship. Soldiers pay more regard to men than to institutions. Thrones tempt the ambitious; glory dazzles patriotism. The prestige of a victorious name veils the design against national sovereignty. The republic doubtless desires glory, but she desires it for herself, and not for Caesars and Napoleons.

But let no misapprehension exist. These ideas, which the Provisional Government charges you to convey to the powers as the pledge of European security, must not be understood as suing for pardon to the republic for having presumed to rise into being; still less must they be regarded as humbly soliciting that a great right and a great people may hold their place in Europe. They have a more noble object in view, which is to make sovereigns and people reflect, and to prevent them from being deceived respecting the character of our revolution; to place the event in its true light, and in its proper character; finally, to give pledges to humanity before giving them to our rights and our honour, should they be disavowed or menaced.

The French republic, therefore, will not commence war against any state; it is unnecessary to add, that it will accept war should conditions incompatible with peace be offered to the French people. The conviction of the men who govern France at the present moment is this: it will be fortunate for France should war be declared against her and should she be thus constrained to augment her power and her glory, in spite of her moderation; but terrible will be the responsibility of France should the republic itself declare war without being provoked thereto! In the first case, the martial genius of France, her impatience for action, her strength accumulated during many years of peace, would render her invincible on her own territory, and perhaps redoubtable beyond her frontiers: in the second case she would turn to her own disadvantage the recollections of her former conquests, which give offence to the national feelings of other countries; and she would compromise herself with her first and most universal allies, the good-will of nations and the genius of civilisation.

According to these principles, Sir, which are the principles coolly and deliberately adopted by France and which she avows without fear and without defiance, to her friends and to her enemies, you will impress upon your mind the following declarations.

The treaties of 1815 have no longer any lawful existence in the eyes of the French republic; nevertheless, the territorial limits circumscribed by those treaties are facts which the republic admits as a basis, and as a starting-point, in her relations with foreign nations.

But if the treaties of 1815 have no existence – save as facts to be modified by common consent – and if the republic openly declares that her right and mission are to arrive regularly and pacifically at those modifications – the good sense, the moderation, the conscience, the prudence of the republic do exist, and they afford Europe a surer and more honourable guarantee than the words of those treaties, which have so frequently been violated or modified by Europe itself.

Endeavour, Sir, to make this emancipation of the republic from the treaties of 1815, understood and honestly admitted, and to show that such an admission is in no way irreconcilable with the repose of Europe.

Thus we declare without reserve, that if the hour for the reconstruction of any of the oppressed nations of Europe, or other parts of the world, should seem to have arrived, according to the decrees of Providence; if Switzerland, our faithful ally from the time of Francis I, should be restrained or menaced in the progressive movement she is carrying out, and which will impart new strength to the fasces of democratic governments; if the independent states of Italy should be invaded; if limits or obstacles should be imposed on their internal changes; if there should be any armed interference with their right of allying themselves together for the purpose of consolidating an Italian nation, – the French republic would think itself entitled to take up arms in defence of these legitimate movements towards the improvement and nationhood of states.

The republic, as you perceive, has passed over at one step the era of proscriptions and dictatorship. It is determined never to veil liberty at home; and it is equally determined never to veil its democratic principle abroad. It will not suffer anything to intervene between the peaceful dawn of its own liberty and the eyes of nations. It proclaims itself the intellectual and cordial ally of popular rights and progress, and of every legitimate development of institutions among nations who may be desirous of maintaining the same principles as her own. It will not pursue underhand or incendiary propagandism among neighbouring states. It is aware that there is no real liberty for nations except that which springs from themselves, and takes its birth on their own soil. But by the light of its intelligence, and the spectacle of order and peace which it hopes to present to the world, the republic will exercise the only honourable proselytism, the proselytism of esteem and sympathy. This is not war, it is nature; it is not the agitation of Europe, it is the life of nations; it is not kindling a conflagration in the world, it is shining in our own place on the horizon of nations, and is at once to anticipate and to direct them.

We wish, for the sake of humanity, that peace may be preserved; we also expect that it will. There was a war agitation a year ago between France and England; the agitation did not come from republican France, but from the dynasty. The dynasty has carried away with it that danger of war which it created for Europe by the exclusively personal ambition of its family alliances in Spain. That domestic policy of the fallen dynasty, which for the space of seventeen years has been a dead weight on our national dignity, has also, by its pretensions to a crown in Madrid, operated as an obstacle to our liberal alliances, and to peace. The republic has no ambition; the republic has no nepotism, and it inherits no family pretensions. Let Spain govern herself; let Spain be independent and free. For the consolidation of this natural alliance, France relies more on conformity of principles than on the succession of the house of Bourbon.

Such, Sir, is the spirit of the councils of the republic; such will invariably be the character of the frank, firm, and moderate policy which you will have to represent.

The republic pronounced at its birth, and in the midst of a conflict not provoked by the people, three words, which have revealed its soul, and which will call down on its cradle the blessing of God and man: liberty, equality, fraternity. It gave on the following day, in the abolition of the punishment of death for political offences, the true commentary on those three words, as far as regards the domestic policy of France; it is for you to give them their true commentary abroad. The meaning of these three words, as applied to our foreign policy, is this: the emancipation of France from the chains which have fettered her principles and her dignity; her reinstatement in the rank she is entitled to occupy among the great powers of Europe; in short, the declaration of alliance and friendship to all nations. If France be conscious of the part she has to perform in the liberal and civilising mission of the age, there is not one of those words which signifies war. If Europe be prudent and just, there is not one of those words which does not signify peace.

  Germany 1848

The Question of German Unification

Johann Gustav Droysen: Speech to the Frankfurt Assembly, 1848

We cannot conceal the fact that the whole German question is a simple alternative between Prussia and Austria. In these states German life has its positive and negative poles--in the former, all the interests which are national and reformative, in the latter, all that are dynastic and destructive. The German question is not a constitutional question, but a question of power; and the Prussian monarchy is now wholly German, while that of Austria cannot be. . . .We need a powerful ruling house. Austria's power meant lack of power for us, whereas Prussia desired German unity in order to supply the deficiencies of her own power. Already Prussia is Germany in embryo. She will "merge" with Germany. . .

Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia: Proclamation of 1849

I am not able to return a favorable reply to the offer of a crown on the part of the German National Assembly [meeting in Frankfurt], because the Assembly has not the right, without the consent of the German governments, to bestow the crown which they tendered me, and moreover because they offered the crown upon condition that I would accept a constitution which could not be reconciled with the rights of the German states.


From: James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History, 2 Vols., (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1904-1905), II:571-575



Louis Philippe

When Louis XVIII's successor was ousted by the July Revolution, Louis Philippe came to power. Faced with constant threats to his rule, his initial liberal approach soon turned to oppression, however, and in the turmoil of 1848 he was forced to flee Paris for England. As he climbed into a carriage, a strange man closed his door. "Thank you," the king remarked. "Not at all," the man replied. "I've waited eighteen years for this day!"


fleeing vienna

Metternich Fleeing Vienna
german rev

Revolution in Germany


back to index