Neptune in Pisces and the Revolutions of 1848
With a prediction by Urbain Le Verrier, telescopic observations confirming the existence of a major planet were made on the night of September 23, 1846, and into the early morning of the 24th, at the Berlin Observatory, by astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle (assisted by Heinrich Louis d’Arrest), working from Le Verrier’s calculations. It was a sensational moment of 19th century science and dramatic confirmation of Newtonian gravitational theory. In François Arago‘s apt phrase, Le Verrier had discovered a planet “with the point of his pen.”
At the same time, numerous changes had been taking place in European society throughout the first half of the 19th century by the strokes of “pens” and also by the strokes of “swords”. There were surges in technology that made ideas more accessible to the disenfranchised as well as middle classes. These included improvements in printing presses, invention of the telegraph as well as typewriter, Braille, longer hours for reading due to many new types of lighting, and countless other precursors of modern efficiency.
However there was also widespread hardships among the many due to famines, pestilence, and war. Large groups of the nobility were discontented with royal absolutism or near-absolutism. In 1846 there had been an uprising of Polish nobility in Austrian Galicia, which was only countered when peasants, in turn, rose up against the nobles. Additionally, an uprising by democratic forces against Prussia occurred in Greater Poland. Advances in the publishing industry similar to development of the Internet in our times, began to inform the masses of injustices and economic disparities existing
On February 21, 1948, Marx and Engels published their Communist Manifesto . once they began agitating in Germany following the March insurrection in Berlin, their demands were considerably reduced. Life was very hard. In Europe, the aristocrats had serfs and in their many colonies elsewhere in the world, they had slaves.They issued their “Demands of the Communist Party in Germany”from Paris in March; the pamphlet only urged unification of Germany, universal suffrage, abolition of feudal duties, and similar middle class goals.
The middle and working classes thus shared a desire for reform, and agreed on many of the specific aims. Their participations in the revolutions, however, differed. While much of the impetus came from the middle classes, much of the cannon fodder came from the lower. Therevolts first erupted in the cities.
There were four buzz words in 1848: democracy, liberalism, nationalism, and socialism. Wikipedia has done our homework for us by defining what those words meant in the mid 1800s. Democracy, alas, pertained mainly to male suffrage. Liberalism, however, has real punch: consent of the governed and restrictions on the influence of church and state. Nationalism probably requires some sort of modern interpretation. In a world that was emerging from feudalism, there were countless states of varying degrees of stature. For instance, in what we now know as Italy, there were once — such as during the Renaissance — the hugely influential city-states, with names like Florence and Venice, as well as many kingdoms, Papal States, duchies, etc., some of which were ruled by Austrians.
There were multiple memories of the Revolution. Democrats looked to 1848, as a democratic revolution, which in the long run insured liberty, equality, and fraternity. Marxists denounced 1848 as a betrayal of working-class ideals by a bourgeoisie that was indifferent to the legitimate demands of the proletariat. For nationalists, 1848, was the springtime of hope when newly emerging nationalities rejected the old multinational empires. They were all bitterly disappointed in the short run. 1848, at best, was a glimmer of future hope, and at worst, it was a deadweight that strengthened the reactionaries and delayed further progress.
In the post-revolutionary decade after 1848, little had visibly changed, and most historians considered the revolutions a failure, given the seeming lack of permanent structural changes.
Nevertheless, there were a few immediate successes for some revolutionary movements, notably in the Habsburg lands. Austria and Prussia eliminated feudalism by 1850, improving the lot of the peasants. European middle classes made political and economic gains over the next twenty years; France retained universal male suffrage. Russia would later free the serfs on February 19, 1861. The Habsburgs finally had to give the Hungarians more self-determination in the Ausgleich of 1867. The revolutions inspired lasting reform in Denmark as well as the Netherlands.