Europe’s revolutions of 1848 did not fulfill their goals for most participants and, as a result, many participants and supporters felt that the future in their European homelands was particularly bleak. This sense of disillusionment, along with fear of persecution for their actions during the uprisings, led many to leave Europe in search of a better political environment. A majority of them chose to emigrate to go to the United States.
During the 1840’s, Europe was swept up in a whirlwind of political and social turmoil. Among the forces leading to this development liberalism, frustrated nationalism egged on by the Romantic movement, the tensions of burgeoning industrialism, and an agricultural revolution. The popular uprisings challenged the conservative order of Europe, characterized by monarchical-autocratic governments, hierarchical society, and aversion to ethnic determinism.
The years directly following the 1815
The traditional home to European revolution, Paris, lit the match of revolutionary fire in February, 1848. An uprising ousted the monarchy of Louis Philippe and created the Second French Republic, which adopted universal manhood suffrage and a guarantee of the right to work. This success set off a chain reaction of revolution throughout Europe. Insurrections broke out in the major European cities of Vienna, Milan, Berlin, and Budapest and throughout the Habsburg Empire and in the numerous Italian and German states.
There were minor differences among the revolutionary movements in the various countries, as each uprising had its own local concerns. However, their general patterns were essentially the same. During the spring of 1848, the revolutionary cause was going well throughout Europe. A republic replaced the monarchy in France, rulers in the Italian and German states as well as the Habsburg emperor were forced either to abdicate or to grant liberal constitutions, and the Italian and Germanic states found themselves on the path to unification. Within the multiethnic Habsburg Empire, many ethnic groups, most notably the Magyars and the Czechs, were given autonomy. This series of revolutionary successes appeared to have broken the hold of conservative Europe and appeared poised to begin a new chapter in European history.
During the summer, however, the political inexperience of the revolutions’ leaders became apparent as each movement went through a series of internal crises. The divisions between the leaders of liberal and nationalist causes led to clashes among the social classes. These were most evident in the bloody street fighting in Paris in what became known as the June Days. Bitter jealousy among leaders in the Italian states weakened their military campaign against Italy’s Austrian rulers. In the German states, delegates to the Frankfurt Assembly wasted precious time arguing about boundaries and minute details of the Germany they hoped to create. While all this infighting was dividing the revolutionaries and sapping their strength, the conservative powers were recovering their strength and regaining their authority. Most liberal reforms that had been granted were rescinded, and military force was used to overthrow the incipient nationalist republics that had arisen, such as the Magyar Republic that
By 1851, virtually all of Europe was politically back to where it had been before the outbreaks in 1848. Dreams of unifying Italy and Germany had been crushed, and the heyday of liberalism was over. In the final analysis, the revolutions of 1848 were long on ideals but short on practicality. From the beginning, they suffered from divisions in leadership and confusion in strategy. Many of their leaders had a passion for criticism and opposition but little talent for organization. As a result, the revolutions fell victim to the more experienced conservative authorities and the bullets and bayonets of Prussian, Russian, and Habsburg armies. Those who had harbored optimism for the future in the spring of 1848 were now disillusioned and angry. Many chose to seek their fortunes elsewhere and turned their attention across the Atlantic.
Emigration from Europe seemed to be the only answer for many of the former revolutionaries. Several feared reprisal by the restoration authorities and faced criminal charges including high treason. Others felt that the future in their homelands was too bleak to bear. The
The influx of Germans led to an increase in nationalistic activities of previous German immigrants and tended to retard their assimilation into the American mainstream. The revolutionary struggles rekindled interest in the homeland and cultural traditions that had been abandoned upon entering the United States. Immigrant organizations underwent a transformation and increased in power and membership. Many put political pressure on the United States to intervene in the affairs of Europe. This political activism increased as revolutionaries came to the United States. Also, the
The surge in ethnic pride and radical politics led to an increase in
Regardless of the nativist reaction, the German Forty-eighters brought with them more than radical political ideas. Many of the immigrants were artisans who contributed considerably to the arts and crafts world of America. Among the Forty-eighters were also a number of
Perhaps the most identifiable contribution was in the realm of education. One of the best schools
Brancaforte, Charlotte L., ed. The German Forty-eighters in the United States. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. Collection of eighteen essays covering a wide range of topics, including a reappraisal arguing that many Forty-eighter immigrants were not radicals or revolutionaries. Rapport, Mike. 1848: Year of Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 2009. Covers each of the revolutions and discusses the implications for later events in European history. Robertson, Priscilla Smith. Revolutions of 1848: A Social History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1952. Classic work on the 1848 revolutions that focuses on the roles of various social classes and the impact of the failed uprisings for each of the classes. Sperber, Jonathan. The European Revolutions, 1848-1851. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Comprehensive coverage of the events, written in a highly readable narrative. Excellent introduction. Wittke, Carl. Refugees of Revolution: The German Forty-eighters in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1952. Classic work on the experience of the Forty-eighters in the United States. Heavy emphasis on biography. Zucker, A. E., ed. The Forty-eighters: Political Refugees of the German Revolution of 1848. New York: Columbia University Press, 1950. Lays out the political beliefs of the German immigrants and how they evolved in the United States.
Czech and Slovakian immigrants
German American press