Of all the straightforward approaches toward considerate the revolutions of 1848, the simplest is that which sees them as a bid by the increasing middle classes to take political control, from which they were effectively barred (Charles Moraze, 1966, 191). The approach has much to extol it. There is no question that the middle class was raising. Early industrialization and the expansion of a market economy increased its numbers and wealth. All levels of the class were concerned in these changes.
The rich bourgeoisie of Paris underwent a dramatic change in personnel between 1820 and 1848, and its average wealth rose noticeably. The middle ranks of the class swelled with the development of professional groups such as the lawyers who gained from heightened commercial activities and aspirant industrialists and businessmen. At the lowest levels shopkeepers thrived as there were more goods to distribute and cities to serve (Adeline Daumard, 1963). This middle-class growth was as trait of Austria as of France; only Eastern Europe, where the commercialization of the economy had yet to infiltrate, was resistant.
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There is no question, either, that this intensifying middle class was excluded from political power. France and a few of the states in southwestern Germany had parliaments based on limited suffrage. Although most of the middle class lacked the vote. Property qualifications in France limited the suffrage to less than 250,000 people. Government rigging of elections during the 1840s meant that even numerous voters were not freely represented. But the number of people debarred outright attracted growing criticism.
At most, a quarter of adult middle-class males were enfranchised, for landed property was preferential in the system of voting qualifications so that numerous well-to-do urban residents could not vote; most of the new industrialists did not succeed. The same was true of most intellectuals and a variety of professional people. In most of the German states, including Prussia, and in the Habsburg Empire and Italy, there was even less outlet for middle-class political interests. Prussian city governments had substantial autonomy and the middle class could often contribute at this level.
Provincial diets included representation of the “third estate,” which clinched the middle class along with many other groups, but they had few powers, met rarely, and their representatives voted by estate, not by head, which further obscured their representativeness. Effectively, the middle class in Southern and Central Europe had no rights of political contribution. Nor did they have equal admittance to the bureaucracy. The Habsburg bureaucracy, disreputably inefficient, included many non-aristocrats at the lower levels, who served as chief paper-pushers, but the aristocracy subjugated the positions of power.
The same was true of the majority of the Italian states. In Prussia reforms earlier in the century had detached any aristocratic monopoly. But it required a large amount of money to enter the bureaucracy and even those new entrants who could give the necessary education and apprenticeship were dejected in many ways. The upper bureaucracy, whether titled or not, existed as a class apart, so the system could not serve the political interests of the middle class (John Gillis, 1971, 49 – 88). To a somewhat lesser degree the same was true of France.
Some aristocrats had withdrawn from state service after the revolution of 1830, but the aristocracy still played a substantial role, as did non-noble landowners (Nicholas Richardson, 1966). New middle-class elements could not yet easily afford the type of education that would qualify them for the bureaucracy. And in France the centralization of political power destitute the middle class of considerable political activities on the local level. They did win the mayoral elections in most of the growing cities, but the mayors’ powers were so restricted that the sense of participation was stunted.
So lack of political power there was. The distinction with Britain and Belgium, where practically the entire middle class could vote, is apparent, while in Eastern Europe the middle class had too little substance to comprise a threat. So in a very general way the formula: rising middle class/absence of corresponding political voice is a suitable means of approaching the revolutions. Yet to move from this to an understanding of how the middle classes were really involved is no easy matter.
In the first place we must not assume, too blithely, that the middle classes lamented their barring from politics. Numerically, a sizable percentage of the middle class–probably an obvious majority was still made up, not of new business and professional types, but of established merchants and teachers, local judges and clerks. They lived not in the rapidly rising industrial and commercial centers, but in the small towns that had scattered pre-industrial Western and Central Europe. These people had never sought political demonstration.
They believed in a social hierarchy in which they constituted local influential but deferred in larger matters to the nobility. They were concerned concerning their slipping position in society at large; at an extreme fearing that the whole middle class would be eroded. A German cleric expressed a general view in claiming that “machines divide people into two classes, rich and poor, the masters and the oppressed, and sentence the latter to undying poverty by removing them from the middle class. The blight of thousands rests upon them. (Patrick Higonnet and Trevor Higonnet, 1967). But these people would not easily look to new political systems to reconcile their grievances, and certainly they could not join the rising middle class in seeking power–for the rising middle class, the people that were establishing machines and other innovations were in fact their main enemies. If the old middle class looked to politics at all, it was to appeal to established authorities, above all to the established monarchs, to turn back the clock and reinstate the old order.
Even if we deliberate on the new middle class, political interest was often limited. Officials in Roubaix, a fast-rising industrial city in northern France, complained that manufacturers could not be persuaded to take an interest in civic affairs, devoting their entire energy to their own enterprises. Usually the political consciousness of businessmen remained on a low level. In France individual businessmen could be initiated at virtually every spot on the political spectrum.
There were keen republicans and partisans of the Bourbon monarchy that had fallen in 1830, as well as active supporters of the July Monarchy that had replaced it. But most businessmen exhibited what might be called a friendly apathy to political issues in the 1830s and 1840s. The establishment did little to harm their interests. Occasionally threats to lower tariffs on industrial products roused apprehension; and there was some feeling quite appropriately that the government was not supporting industrial development as dynamically as it might.
Lack of political representation was not, though, keenly felt. Successful businessmen could add up on winning the vote; several were in fact elected to parliament. But the issue does not seem to have been of dominant importance in a period when most of the dynamic businessmen were just getting started in industry or commerce. The economic crisis of 1846-47 certainly shook this complacent attitude. Several companies failed, while profits plunged everywhere. Businessmen cast about for villains, and it was easy to criticize government inaction.
Businessmen urged subsidies, relief programs, and encouragements to export. Nevertheless they did not call the regime into question, but their commitment to it, never very active, was lessened. Therefore, while they were not found in the ranks of the revolutionaries in contradiction of the direct encouragement that some had offered in the revolution of 1830–they did not instantly oppose the rising either. The situation was to some extent different in Central Europe, for here businessmen faced positive barriers to their activities that requisite some political attention.
The Prussian state forced guild restrictions on technical innovation. Though it offered several encouragements to individual industries, conception model factories and the like, its general investment policies favored agricultural over business interests (Richard Tilly, 1966, 30-45, 134-138). The Prussian tariff policy, spread to the entire of Germany through the Zollverein, which united the German states in a customs union, was intelligently considered and designed to encourage all sorts of economic activity, but it presented little protection to infant industry.
Support for transportation, mainly railroads, was more active than in France, but more for military than economic reasons. Governments in the Habsburg Empire and in Italy were more backward still. Inefficient financial systems consumed much of the restricted capital available for state expenses. Transportation improved only gradually. Businessmen in these areas thus developed some natural political distresses, quite except for any general desire to match middle-class wealth with political power.
Chambers of commerce urged governments to pay more consideration to the business interest, which meant several kind of political reform. These groups often discussed political and economic theories. Economic publications in Italy, which were one of the only outlets that could break out the censorship, played a major role in keeping liberal doctrines alive after the failure of the revolutions of 1830. It was not unexpected, then, that individual businessmen and business organizations were all set to try to use the revolutions of 1848 to their own advantage.
Italian and German businessmen had one other evident interest: a concern about the political divisions in their countries. A diversity of small states meant real or potential tariff barriers, need of transportation coordination, painfully evident in the diverse rail gauges adopted in the various German states-and impediments to the movement of capital and labor. These troubles were more severe in Italy than in Germany, where the Zollverein facilitated trade, but they concerned wide attention in both countries. The Italian journals dealing with economic affairs kept alive an interest in proposals for federation.
Few businessmen were rabidly nationalist, but nationalist arguments had prospective attraction for them (Kent R. Greenfield, 1965). Generally, though, the political interests of businessmen even in Central Europe were rather muted. The majority of them wanted reform, but not at the price of disorder which would inexorably damage the economic climate. Few found the policies of existing regimes intolerable. Hence businessmen, though fundamental to the rising importance of the middle class, were not profoundly wedded to the political goals of the 1848 revolutions, although most were probably initially sympathetic.
The most extremely politicized segment of the middle class consisted of professional people lawyers, doctors, journalists, and teachers. The professionals often seemed to be disagreeing for the interest of the middle class as a whole at least the dynamic, innovative division of the class. It can be contended that the attentiveness of professional people in political activity comprised an effective division of labor within the middle class. The businessmen made money, as the professional people translated this economic success into political demands.
This argument is possibly correct in broad outline and in the long run. But it needs careful handling if it is to be practical to the revolutions of 1848 (Lenore O’Boyle, 1966). The majority businessmen did not feel clearly represented by the professional people. Most were not simply much less politically aware but also naturally more reasonable than many of the professional people in politics. Numerous had long distrusted professional people as being too theoretical, lacking in the good reasonable that making money both required and demonstrated.
For their part, professional people often resented businessmen. And they were responding to their own set of urges in their participation in the revolutions of an 1848. Their political goals reflected some values that were extensively held in the new middle class but they were not overtly tailored to the business interest. The interest of professional people in politics is barely surprising. The professions required substantial education, at least through secondary school, often through the universities. Businessmen, on the contrary, rarely completed secondary school, preferring training in the firm itself.
Therefore professional people were unusually open to ideas. Lawyers of course had contact with agencies of the state. Several, perhaps most, law students planned to enter the state bureaucracy. The majority journalists hoped to write concerning political affairs, even if the censorship sometimes unfocused them to other areas. The majority teachers, outside the ranks of the clergy, were employed by the state on the continent. Many doctors dealt with government bureaus, and frequently had contacts with poor patients that gave them atypical insights into social problems.
Professional people thus could easily come to believe that they had a special political competence and could resent their exclusion from the centers of power. Their own experience leaned to enhance this political sense and turn them against the state. Their student days exposed them to a diversity of restrictions. This was particularly true in Central Europe. German and Austrian universities were permeated by secret police, who kept files on students which could be used later if they tried to enter the civil service. No student political involvement was permitted.
Professors were judged by their orthodoxy. Leading figures, like the historian George Gervinus, were expelled from the system for political publications. All of this system a vicious cycle. Student groups, often nonpolitical in their inception, could simply be driven underground, and radicalized, by police suppression, while the groups themselves frightened the authorities into further rigor. The leaders of the German Burschenschaften, a nationalist student group, at first contempt politics; in 1817 they proclaimed, “Yours is not to discuss what should or should not happen in the State. But their nationalism was supporting nonetheless; the authorities tried to suppress the movement, and so it turned increasingly hostile to the existing regimes. The atmosphere of oppression continued to affect the more articulate professionals. University teachers were clearly hemmed in, and logically became more interested in political change as their outlets for expression were eliminated. Journalists chafed under the censorship, and this dilemma affected France under the July Monarchy only to a somewhat lesser extent than in Central Europe.
The atmosphere in Germany throughout the 1830s and 1840s: “Every word an author wrote on any question of the day was focused with a feeling of humiliation. . . . The effort to give exposure to a judgment of his constituted a continuous feud between craftiness and irrational authority. ” (Lenore O’Boyle, 1970). Many books and newspapers were seized, numerous authors brought to trial. Small wonder that professors and journalists sought means to extend doctrines of reform by word of mouth or through anonymous publications.
The professions faced a still more general predicament by the 1840s: there were more people seeking jobs than there were jobs. This was the first incidence of what was to become a recurring problem in Europe. Eagerness to reach the prestige and security of professional status attracted numerous middle-class elements. The relevant schools expanded to handle the incursion. Enrollment in the French lycees, which prepared for the universities, doubled throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Fees were lowered in the German universities in 1807, prompting a stable increase in university attendance.
But the jobs did not keep pace. The overproduction of lawyers was particularly acute. In Prussia the majority people entered law school with the intention of entering the state bureaucracy. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s state posts stagnated, while despite official warnings the numbers of law students rose. The number of law students in Prussian universities increased by almost a third in the decade after 1841. To meet this pressure the state toughened the civil service examination, by testing for detailed knowledge in contrast to the theoretical training offered by the universities.
Twenty-five percent failed outright. Those who passed then had to endure a long apprenticeship in the bureaucracy. They received no pay throughout this period but were forbidden to take a second job. In 1848 there were 4000 apprentices in the system. Between 1836 and 1848 the judicial branch offered although twenty permanent positions a year, while ten apprentices died yearly while waiting (Alfred Cobban, 1967). And throughout the apprenticeship, candidates were compelled to retain a rather expensive front, purchasing expensive clothes, while their political behavior and morals continued to be monitored by the police.
Even in junior posts, men were cut off from senior bureaucrats, given no voice in policies, and encouraged to curry their supervisors’ favor by obsequious. And these, certainly, were the lucky ones. Large numbers could not enter the bureaucracy at all, and as opportunities for private law practices were increasing they remained insufficient. Numerous trained professionals, or people forced to drop out of school because of lack of funds, had to seek work they considered below their station.
A number became journalists, which meant that many journalists were disgruntled and that the number of journalists greatly exceeded the regular employment available. This pattern distinguished most of the continental countries and explains much of the political intensity with which specialized people set the stage for the revolutions of 1848 and then seized their way. The majority professional people were not unequivocally revolutionary. There were some, certainly, and it was true that most declared revolutionaries were drawn from the professional classes.
Auguste Blanqui was the son of a French university professor and the brother of a leading economist, but he dedicated his life to the cause of revolution. He helped systematized the Society of the Seasons at the end of the 1830s, a thoroughly secret organization divided into cells and run on a hierarchical basis. His radical preaching and his organizational ideas stimulated a number of contemporaries and influenced later, more thriving practitioners such as Lenin. Blanqui and other agitators attempted a number of risings prior to 1848 that might have shaken the political order somewhat.
They were active also in 1848. But the overt revolutionaries were not representative of most professional people and their effectiveness was often quite limited. The pre-1848 efforts of Blanqui, or of Giuseppe Mazzini in Italy-trained as a lawyer–were easily put down, demonstrating that intent alone could not start an insurgency. Even during 1848 several of the revolutionaries found scant room to maneuver. We must attend to their activities throughout the course of the uprisings, but we need not consider them as a main factor in causing the outbreaks (Samuel Bernstein, 1971).
The more general dissatisfaction of professional people, on the other hand, played a direct role. Professional people congregated to the banquets in France that demanded an expanded suffrage; these in turn provided the immediate urge to revolution. These professional people had not advocated revolution but they were not loath to using it. Similar groups surged to the fore in the Central European risings. The Frankfurt assembly, called by German nationalists, was dominated by lawyers, professors, and civil servants, the latter comprising 20 percent of the total.
So was the Prussian parliament elected in a system of near universal manhood suffrage in 1849; 42 percent of the deputies were bureaucrats. In a real sense, then, the political revolutions of 1848, riding on the back of lower-class agitation, were revolutions of proficient people, not of the whole middle class. Too much persistence on this distinction can seem otiose, but it is essential to distinguish that the middle class was deeply divided in its level of political interest and in its commitment to considerable change.