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The Revolutions of 1820, 1830 and 1848

Europe lived several revolutionary cycles during the first half of the nineteenth century, among the most important in 1820, 1830 and 1848.
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Elliot Fernández

Elliot Fernández

He has a degree in History from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (2009) and a Master's in World History from Pompeu Fabra University (2011).

14/06/2019 | Last update:

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Europe lived several revolutionary cycles during the first half of the nineteenth century, among the most important in 1820, 1830 and 1848.

The various revolutionary cycles that occurred in Europe during the first half of the nineteenth century— among the most important in 1820, in 1830 and 1848— had liberalism, nationalism, and democratic radicalism as their main ideological axes. The revolutions of this period are liberal, while promoting the establishment of parliamentary constitutional regimes, and are fundamentally urban phenomena.

The revolutionary cycle of 1820

The revolutions of 1820 took place primarily in the countries of the Mediterranean arch. They were minority movements, with a “broad” program that is not very precise, with a liberal and democratic-radical tendency. All the revolutionary movements of 1820 are characterized by the participation of popular classes. Except in Greece, the rest fails.

The first revolutionary wave took place from 1820 on:

  • Spain (January 1820), under General Riego, the troops are piled up.
  • Portugal (July 1820).
  • Italian peninsula: Naples (1820); Piedmont (March 1821).
  • Greece: 1821. Insurrection of the Greeks against the Ottoman Empire, a combination of liberalism and nationalism.
  • Russian Empire (December 1825). Liberal attempt. Decembrist Revolt or Decembrist Uprising, young officers of the Russian army, supported by some Russian liberal aristocrats. Conspiracy failed. He intended to end Tsarist autocracy. The uprising was defeated by the new Tsar, Nicholas I (1825-1835), and brutally crushed.
Trienni Liberal. Triomf General Riego 1820
This engraving recreates the moment when the Constitution of Cádiz was proclaimed in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid in 1820. Source: Museo de Historia, Madrid.

General characteristics of the revolutionary movements of 1820:

The revolutions of 1820 took place in countries where the return to absolutism had been strongest, after the restoration of the old European order to the Congress of Vienna in 1815. And they also take place there, where Napoleonic ideas had had the greatest influence, especially in Spain and Naples. They were minority revolutions, eminently liberal, but of moderate tendency.

In Naples, the revolution was organized and carried out by the middle and upper bourgeoisie sectors: political elites who conspire in hiding against the repressive policy of their government. They organized themselves in secret societies: the most important was “La Carbonara”, founded in 1810.

Revolucions 1820
Map of Europe with the points where revolutions occurred in 1820 (red).

In both Spain and Naples the revolutionaries tried to achieve:

  • Overthrow of absolutist governments. They use the formula of “military pronouncement,” which consisted of a military rebellion in which officers stand against established power. It is a political change without major social upheavals. In 1820 General Irrigation mutinied with the military and ruled in favour of the restoration of the Constitution of 1812, and forced Ferdinand VII to establish a monarchy of a liberal nature between 1820 and 1823 (Liberal Triennium).
  • Broad political program Because it was a common front, it concealed important ideological differences from each other. Agglutinated different ways of understanding liberalism.
  • They rebel against absolutism, and are in favour of a constitution.
  • As a result there were clashes between liberals: between moderates and liberal democrats.
  • In Spain these differences are manifested between the moderates and the exalted. The moderate doceañistas are in favour of the implantation of the Constitution of 1812. The exalted ones represent the tendency of the moderate radicalism. It goes beyond the liberal claims.

A common point in all European revolutionary movements is the claim of 1812 Spanish Constitution, as it is inspired by the French of 1791. The Spanish Constitution of 1812 was fully liberal because it contemplated a constitutional monarchy, with a king with broad powers like the suspensive veto, whereby the monarch can reject any proposal from parliament and where he could appoint the ministers. He drew a parliament with two cameras. The exercise of voting was restricted to men and owners, which acts as a filter based on social position and gender. And granted a privileged situation to the Catholic religion and censorship in religious matters.

Jurament constitucio 1812
King Ferdinand VII of Spain swears in the Constitution of 1812 after the proclamation of General Riego in 1829. Source: Museo Romántico, Madrid.

But the 1820 revolution was a movement starring urban elites, who completely disregarded the social demands coming from the rural world. They were in favour of a moderate agrarian policy, for economic interests of the same protagonists of the liberal revolutions. Neglect motivated by a total ignorance of the peasant world.

The liberals participated in an urban and bourgeois political culture, which had moved away from the traditional culture, deeply rooted in rural areas. This led to the failure of liberal movements. The liberal movements stumbled upon the peasant opposition. What happens in Spain during the Liberal Triennium was:

  • In agrarian policy: the confiscation of ecclesiastical and civil (municipal) property was developed. At that time, buildings such as the mill or the butcher shop were goods belonging to the municipalities. Ownership was held by the municipality, and the income they generate went to the municipal coffers with the obligation to cover social needs. And there were also the common goods, which belonged to the community, like the mountains. The income generated by the exploitation of these goods was distributed among all the neighbours who were entitled.

To what extent did the agrarian policy of the Liberal Triennium affect the peasantry? They did not benefit at all, as the peasants did not have enough money to participate in the auctions promoted by the State to buy the confiscated land. And they also lost the traditional rights of exploitation: they are going to be deprived of being able to take advantage of the pastures, the firewood… Liberals wanted the perfect private property.

The agrarian policy of the Spanish liberals revolved around the promulgation of provisions on stately regimes that led to the recognition of the properties of the nobility. In June 1821, the government decided to reduce the payment of tithing by half and established a new system of contributions that considerably increased the payment of taxes.

This agrarian policy gave rise to an anti-liberal rural movement (Carlism). Peasants were affected by liberal policies that did not defend their interests. The revolution was not perceived by the peasantry as its own. These peasants who did not own their land were the most exploited social class in the Old Regime.

The liberal movements were opposed by the great conservative powers that made up the Holy Alliance. The congress system, the “Metternich System” or “Concert of Europe”, which aimed at maintaining order and peace between European states, was put in place to combat liberal revolutions:

Military intervention in Piedmont was decided at the Congress of Ljubljana in 1821.
At the Congress of Troppau, in 1820, the intervention in Naples was decided to quell the revolution. Naples fell into the hands of the Austrian army.
In 1822, at the Congress of Verona was authorized France to intervene in Spain, with the well-known invasion of the “100 thousand children of St. Louis”, who entered the country in 1823.
The liberal revolutions of 1820 were crushed, except that of Greece. Why not in Greece? The Greek movement had the help of foreign powers (Russia and the United Kingdom). Both powers were very interested in controlling this area.

To develop a European peace policy, the biggest threat was “the question of the East.” This area was a powder keg. In the first place, the weakness of the Ottoman Empire and also the beginning of the awakening of the Balkan peoples under its control, without considering the growing interest of Russia and the determined will of the British to prevent it at all costs. England and Russia had very tense relations at the time.

The revolutions of 1830

In 1830, a series of revolutions was developed in Europe. Many of them succeeded, such as the one that led to the independence of Belgium from the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Mapa Europa 1830
Map of Europe in 1830. France, Belgium, the Italian states and Russia were the main territories with revolutions.

The objectives of the revolutionary movements of 1830 were:

  • The struggle of liberalism against absolutism.
  • The struggle of the new upper middle classes, the bourgeoisie, against the aristocracy.
  • The struggle of nationalisms against foreign occupants.


Unlike the revolutions of 1820, the revolutions of 1830 occur in France, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Duchy of Parma and Modena.

Characteristics of the revolutionary movement of 1830

Especially in France, now there was a greater participation of urban popular sectors in the revolutionary movements. The elitist scheme of the 1820 revolutions was overcome. The revolutions of 1830 precipitated the progressive disintegration of the political order emerged after the Restoration.

La llibertat guiant al poble (Eugène Delacroix)
Freedom guiding the people (Eugène Delacroix, 1830). Oil painting. It can be seen in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The work is directly inspired by the revolutionary days of Paris in 1830.

Once more, it was France that triggered the revolutionary wave. The people of Paris who remained silent since 1789 rose in 1830 during the July 27th, 28th, and 29th, “the three glorious days.” It was no longer resorted to the military pronouncement to deal with the armed forces, but to the barricades, improvised with any material: carriages, barrels, sacks of dirt, pavers… The Paris Revolution managed to bring down the monarchy of the House of Bourbons, that never again will reign in France. Moreover, it transformed the contemporary political instability of Europe into revolutionary movements: in 1830 and 1831, Europe revived the revolutionary wave of 1789.

Spotlights of the 1830 revolutions

  • Belgium, August 1830.
  • Poland, November 1830. They rebelled against Russia. The Polish issue became a goal for the liberals.
  • Italy, February 1831. Revolutions erupt, with almost immediate failure.
  • There were riots in the German states, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain (civil wars between liberals and absolutists).
  • In Great Britain, there were no revolutions of this kind. However, they were years of great social turmoil. The English popular radicals were struggling and managed to impose some of its ideas on the Parliamentary Reform of 1832, where the electoral census was expanded, increasing the parliamentary power of the bourgeoisie against the great power of the landowners (the right to vote mainly to the middle class).

During the revolutions of 1830 there was the triumph of moderate liberalism in France, accompanied by the national component in Belgium. In France, the high bourgeoisie accessed power.

The revolutions of 1830 also led to an expansion of democratic radicalism with socialist elements through the prominence acquired in some cities by the petty bourgeoisie and the workers (Paris, and later Lyon). Important contribution of Neo-Babouvism (followers of Babeuf, 1760-1797). This movement was very important in the development of egalitarianism. In 1830 a movement of workers and radical democrats was launched in France, centred on Paris and Lyon (1831, Revolt of the Canut).

The success or failure of these revolutions depended on:

  • The correlation of forces in each state;
  • The degree of economic and social development of each state;
  • The importance of the winning powers that are organized in the Holy Alliance.

In France, why did the revolution triumph?

  • There was a certain degree of economic and social development.
  • The bourgeoisie had a considerable social and economic weight.
  • There was no foreign military intervention, as France was part of the Quadruple Alliance.

In central Italy, revolutions were stifled by Austrian troops. There was a foreign military intervention. Little representation of the bourgeoisie, which reduced the possibility of the success of the revolutionary movement.

Poland was a deeply agrarian society. The agriculture was little developed, with a system of triennial rotation of crops without fallow. Regarding the ownership structure, the nobility controlled most of the land. The Catholic Church and the nobility continued to maintain great relevance, and industrialization had barely taken place.

The 1830 Revolution in France

The July Revolution of 1830, after three days of disorder on the street, succeeded in demolishing the Bourbon monarchy (King Charles X) and establishing a moderate liberal monarchy, under the reign of Louis Philippe I (1830-48).

Battle outside the Hôtel de Ville, by Jean Victor Schnetz
Battle at the 1830 Hôtel de Ville by Jean Victor Schnetz

Immediate cause of the 1830 Revolution

The last king of the Bourbon House of France, Charles X, ruled with the support of far-right politicians. His reign gave the government of the country an involved turn. The revolutionary movement began after the proclamation of new ordinances, on July 25, 1830, when in the chamber there was a strong opposition to the government, composed of Bonapartist and Republican forces. The ordinances were intended to reduce the power of the opposition in a Parliament with many hostile deputies. What did these ordinances collect?

  • Press suspension.
  • Dissolution of the cameras.
  • New electoral regime, with much more restrictive rules. New elections are called for September 1830.

In the early stages, opposition politicians limited themselves to discussing the different texts. What nobody imagined was that the manifestations of the street, of a spontaneous nature, would change everything. Why this time the urban working classes supported the mobilizations that would end in a revolution?

To understand it, it is key to mention the economic crisis that France suffered from several years and that generated great social unrest. In 1825 there was a worsening of the national economy, as a result of a financial crisis. The social unrest was aggravated by the bad harvests of 1828 and 1829. And this episode caused the reduction of the purchasing power of the population. The products became more expensive and consequently there was a decrease in demand in a series of articles, a fact that causes the closure of a few factories. This ended up causing a considerable decrease in French industrial production.

The French historian Ernest Labrousse wrote in “Economic fluctuations and social history” that the economic crisis was prior to 1830, and that this led to a political discontent deepening the reason to protest versus the government, regarded as the main responsible for this crisis.

The Marquis de Lafayette, supporter of Louis Philippe of Orleans, found something that escaped his hands. Lafayette decided to lead a movement that he had not initiated, to channel it and conduct it to a moderate solution. The consolidation of this monarchy under liberalism was a guarantee for the absolutist powers, a lesser evil in the face of the dangers that a continuing revolution could represent.

After the revolutions of 1830 there was a division of the European continent into two areas:

  • United Kingdom and France nearer their positions. They are liberal powers, compared to absolutists.
  • The Europe of the absolutist powers: Russia, Austria, Prussia.

France and the United Kingdom supported, in 1834, the Spanish and Portuguese constitutionalists. In Europe, agreed solutions were being developed in the face of revolutions: a fact that involved incorporating bourgeois elites into governments.

The revolutions of 1848

The economic crises (in the rural, industrial and financial spheres), and the political and social crises are the main causes of the revolutionary cycle of 1848. The study of these revolutions puts problems in determining where the different foci arose. Given the panorama of heterogeneity of its causes, we must bear in mind the differential characteristics of the 1848 revolutions in each country.

Mapa d'Europa de les revolucions de 1848
Map of the Revolution of 1848

Main demands of the revolutionaries:

  • France: political and social type
  • Hungary: national character
  • There are some common factors that affect each territory to varying degrees: the political and social changes experienced in Europe in the period 1789-1848, and the Industrial Revolution.

Two types of causes explain 1848 movement:

  • Economic crisis that affected Europe from 1845 to 1848.
  • Political and social crisis caused by the discontent generated by the economic crisis. In France, the fall of the Orleanist monarchy is motivated by the worsening economic situation in the country. Between 1845-1848 there is the loss of 4 crops, followed by the potato crisis in Ireland that produces a great famine on the island. 25% decline in the population: 40% died of hunger and disease, and the remaining 60% chose to emigrate to the United States.

Characteristics of the revolutions of 1848

All the revolutions occurred in the spring of 1848, and had common ideological components: liberalism, nationalism and democratic radicalism. The 1848 revolutions occurred almost simultaneously, between February and May, and spread almost in all Europe. Revolutions occurred in France, the Habsburg Empire, Prussia, and the Italian Peninsula. They took particular strength in cities like Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Milan, Venice, Rome, Palermo

Revolució de 1848 a Berlín
Revolution of 1848 in Berlin

The 1848 revolutions have been labelled “Spring of the Peoples”, mainly for seasonal Spring and in reference to the national uprising movements in German states, the Italian Peninsula, and the Austrian Empire. Moreover, there had liberal demands coming from the great bourgeoisie and the democratic radicalism, but also from the petty bourgeoisie and popular sectors.

In France, the participation of Parisian urban workers was fundamental. Georg Simmel says that “since 1830 there has been a growing awareness of the working class in France.”

But revolutions ended with failure everywhere after a phase of momentary success. By the end of 1848 the fate was determined and against the revolutions. In the summer of 1848, the last rebel outbreaks were extinguished. On the Italian Peninsula, the revolution was crushed by the intervention of French troops, and in Hungary by the intervention of the Austrian and Russian army, which ended the revolution in August 1849 (on April 14 Hungary had proclaimed its independence).

Why did the rapid failure of the 1848 revolutions occur?

  • For the abandonment by the liberals of the revolutionary claims. The historian Eric Hobsbawm explains it very well: in 1848-1849 the bourgeoisie realized that the revolution was dangerous and that some of its demands could be met without the need for revolutions.
  • For the conflicts between nationalisms. The Habsburg Empire and the United Kingdom dispute over the Germanic hegemony.
  • Because of the implementation of, the workers’ movement was still weak.
  • We can not to consider that the revolutions of 1848 constituted an unprecedented historical episode. It is not possible to govern with the back to the people: the state has to gain public opinion. Louis Napoleon III, in December 1848 will be proclaimed President of the French Republic.

During the revolutions of 1848, the abolition of serfdom in the Habsburg Empire took place. It was a concession made for the fear of peasant uprisings and to avoid greater evils. In Russia, servitude was not abolished until 1861, and in Romania in 1864. The abolition of serfdom in other countries occurred during the Napoleonic regime.

These revolutions were an important step in the creation of a national conscience in Italy, and in a more general way the revolutions contributed to a definite break with the time of the Restoration.

Europe after 1848

The bourgeoisie, which was already part of the upper middle class, came to power after 1848. The upper bourgeoisie maintained alliances with sectors of the Old Regime. Moderatism was imposed as a dominant political ideology. Nationalism was increasingly at the service of the creation of new states: in 1870 the unification of Italy occurs and in 1871 that of Germany. Socialist currents manifested as a destabilizing danger from 1828 and during the second half of the nineteenth century.

The revolutions of 1848 become the line of separation between the first and second half of the nineteenth century. It is the logical end of a process that in 60 years transformed the European political and social atmosphere. The Restoration, after the Napoleonic era, saved a part of the conquests of 1789.

The revolutionary cycle of 1820-1830 contributed to expanding concessions. And those of 1848 completed them. The date of 1848 completes the series of revolutionary cycles of the first half of the nineteenth century. Close a whole process of transition from the Old Regime to the New Liberal Regime.

The revolutions of 1848 showed that the middle classes, the bourgeoisie, liberalism, political democracy, nationalism and the working classes were going to be the permanent elements of the political landscape.


All articles of the course: Late modern History in Europe (19th and 20th Centuries)

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