Revolutions of 1848

   On 13 March 1848, mass demonstrations broke out in Vienna. Instigated by students, more radical elements of the city’s middle class, and some factory workers, the dissidents called upon Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I (1793–1875) to grant a constitution to ensure greater popular representation. Parallel outbursts, though with a pronounced national slant, followed in northern Italy, Hungary, and the Kingdom of Bohemia. Among the first major changes in the government of the Habsburg Empire was the dismissal of Imperial Chancellor Metternich, whose name the crowds associated with the antiliberal policies of the ruling regime. For the first weeks of the upheavals, the Habsburgs and their advisors worked to pacify the mobs. Two constitutional proposals were offered; the second, accepted by the revolutionaries, called for a unicameral legislature. This body began its deliberations by July 1848 and produced some important and lasting measures. Among them was the abolition of serfdom, though the process by which this was realized took several years.
   But even as such major changes were being adopted, the Habsburg government had begun to recover its nerve. Vigorous military intervention in Italy and Prague quelled nationalist dissidence there, though not permanently. Hungarian resistance was far more stubborn, enduring until 1849, when combined Austrian and Russian forces suppressed it—though not before an outright declaration of independence, inspired by the radical revolutionary Louis Kossuth. Fleeing abroad, Kossuth continued to serve as an eloquent spokesman for the Hungarian anti-Habsburg cause. The revolution in the Austrian lands also ebbed, as middle-class supporters grew increasingly wary of student and proletarian radicalism. Peasant commitment weakened too, once it became clear that serfdom would end. In December 1848, after considerable discussion among members of the Habsburg dynasty, Ferdinand I abdicated. Replacing him was the very youthful Franz Joseph, who would rule the Habsburg lands until his death in 1916.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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