The revolutions of 1848 swept across Europe from Paris in the west to cities throughout Germany and Italy, to Berlin in Prussia, and to Vienna and Prague and Budapest in the Austrian Empire.

The revolutions occurred in cities where a middle class was often joined by university students, who shared liberal goals. They united temporarily with urban working people who sought to relieve the oppressive working conditions imposed upon them in the early industrial period.

Middle class people; entrepreneurs, industrial managers, shopkeepers, professionals, could not identify with the workers and their goals. Therefore, the united front was short-lived.

They could cooperate in overthrowing the government of the old regime, but they could not share in the effort to create a new government.

The revolution hardly touched the countryside because the peasants did not participate in the revolution and had their own agenda. Wherever peasants enjoyed ownership of the land, they tended to be a conservative influence.

There was an element of crisis all over Europe which also contributed to the revolution. A depression and sporadic famine and high unemployment were involved.

Liberals had long wanted a unified Germany instead of a fragmented and quasi-feudal Germany. To this end, the National Assembly was convened.

The National Assembly, convened in Frankfurt on May 18, 1848, sought to:

  • Write a national constitution

  • Create a centralized government

  • Guarantee freedom of the press, trial by jury, and other basic rights by codifying the "Basic Rights for the German People"

However, the National Assembly itself was not a unified group, and infighting as well as outside opposition eventually led to its downfall. The Assembly was disbanded by military force; the German Revolution of 1848 was effectively over.

Historians often see the Forty-Eighters as the inheritors of the liberal tradition of Kant and Schiller, Washington and Jefferson (Tolzmann, German Corner). And while the ideals of the German Revolution were not successful in 1848, they provided a base for the Weimar Republic and for German unification in 1989.

Berlin 1848
Berlin 1848

Links to information about the revolutions of 1848