Topics: EUROPE - Europe 1849-1913: The Age Of Liberalism

Europe 1849-1913: The Age of Liberalism

"The revolutions of 1848, that convulsed two dozen countries, ended the monarchy of Orleans in France and the government of Metternich in Austria. The movements accomplished significant reforms but were unable to change the Old Regime: Europe was still governed by monarchs. The period from 1854 to 1870 experienced five wars: the Crimean War, the War of Italian Unification, and three wars for the unification of Germany. This last war sealed the long dispute between France and Prussia but fed the basis for the disputes between France and Germany in the World Wars. The social movements attained little achievements like a slow liberalization in Victorian Britain and the abolishment of serfdom in Russia by Alexander II.

The Revolutions of 1848

"The event that conservatives had feared for a generation (and which Marxists predicted for the next century) - widespread revolutions - swept Europe in 1848. Governments fell in France, the Italian states, the German states, and the Austrian Empire; revolutionary turmoil lasted for two years. Liberals and nationalists initially won great victories. Constitutions, bills of rights, even republics sprang up. Enthusiasm for national autonomy, independence, or unification was so universal that the revolutionary period became known as the springtime of peoples. The alliance of nationalism and liberalism drove monarchs to abdicate and sent their ministers into exile. One of the more convincing explanations of the origins of the revolutions has come from economic historians. In the late 1840s Europe simultaneously experienced the last great subsistence crisis as a result of agricultural failure and the first severe depression of the industrial age. Crop failures meant expensive bread (which had also preceded the French Revolution); the downturn in the business cycle meant high unemployment.

"The agricultural crisis began with the potato famine of 1845. Ireland suffered horribly from this catastrophe, and all regions that depended upon the potato as a staple of the diet (such as the German states) had problems. Grain famines followed in 1846 and 1847, causing hardship for many people and mortal danger for some. In the Alsatian industrial center of Mulhouse, for example, the price of bread increased 67 percent during this crisis; in some German states, the price of staple foods rose between 250 percent and 450 percent. The depression of the 1840s multiplied the suffering and political agitation that grows when food does not. The member states of the Zollverein experienced a mild depression in textiles, but a collapse in business and banking. Between August 1847 and January 1848, 245 firms and 12 banks failed in Prussia alone. France experienced a fearful collapse of the textile industry; consumption of cotton fell by 30 percent, reducing output to the lowest level in the industrial era. The human meaning of such numbers was reduced incomes or unemployment while the price of food was skyrocketing. In Silesia, one of the hardest hit regions in Prussia, an estimated 75 percent of the population sought poor relief. In Paris, unemployment exceeded 40 percent in most trades and ranged between 50 percent and 75 percent in the worst cases.

"All over Europe, however, democratic socialists contended with Marxists for control of working-class political movements. Philosophical disputes, such as the abolition of private property, separated these two wings of the socialist movement. The greatest of these disagreements involved the seizure of power. Marxists expected the working-class victory to come through violent revolution. Force, Marx and Engels wrote, is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. Democratic socialists rejected revolution and believed that they could achieve their objectives through elections. Industrialization stimulated other movements. None had more far-reaching importance than the women rights movement. Industrialization contributed to the rise of feminism by transforming the roles of women in Western societies. It broke down the traditional household economy in which women labored at home, sharing in agricultural duties or the work of a family run shop, plus non-wage-paying work such as spinning yarn or making candles. That economic model yielded to a family wage economy in which women (and children) provided less home labor and more wage-earning labor. Families increasingly bought their yarn or ready made clothing, candles, or vegetables; women increasingly worked outside the home to pay for them."

Source: Steven Hause and William Maltby, Western Civilization: A History of European Society (Cengage Learning, 2004), chapters 25 and 26

The Belle Epoque, 1871-1914

The Belle Epoque (the beautiful era) was a period of extraordinary peace and wealth when compared with the previous century or the nest generation. Since the Paris Commune of 1871 until the World War I in 1914, Europe did not witness out any war or revolutions among the great powers. However, the four greatest powers - Great Britain, the French Third Republic, the German and the Russian Empires- set the basis for political and economic control not only of Europe, but the world. Despite progresses in democracy, the imperial though of the powers persisted. The socialist movements of the past decades originated consolidated rising labor movements, socialist political parties, the emergence of feminism, the creation of universal education in France and the social security in Germany. Despite the concessions of power by the Old Regime, persecutions to the Catholic Church in Germany, the anti-Semitism in France and the British rule over the Irish people were undeniable proof of the fragility of the democratic reforms. The end of this period (1881-1914) marks the world history for the next century: the new imperialism, where great European powers seized control of most of Africa and a large extent of Asia. It settled the basis for the World War I (1914-18) and the end of the monarchical empires of the Old Regime and the Russian Revolution (1917-20).

Europe 1849-1913: The Age of Liberalism
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