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Europe (1815-1848)

Change in the 1830s (1827-1832)


Bourgeoisie and Chartism (1830s and 1840s)


Metternich's reactionary Congress System began to fail in the late 1820s and the early 1830s. In Greece, nationalists were pushing for independence from Turkey. Metternich would have liked to suppress this movement, but Czar Nicholas I supported the Greek movement with the hope of increasing Russian influence in the region. Great Britain and France, hoping to stop Russian expansion in the Balkans, decided to join in. The result was an Anglo-French- Russian navy that smashed the Turkish fleet in 1827. By 1829, an independent Greece was internationally recognized. In addition to the Greeks, several Balkan states gained independence and Egypt broke out of Ottoman rule. The stability in Europe that Metternich had worked so had to preserve was starting to crumble.

It would soon get worse. In France, the reactionary Charles X had reigned since assuming the throne in 1824. Charles X's reactionary policies antagonized much of the French population, who were used to liberal and republican reforms. Charles thought of himself as divinely appointed to restore the "old ways", and he accordingly gave more power to the aristocrats and Catholic clergy. When the French Chamber of Deputies moved against these changes, Charles dissolved them, passing the four "July Ordinances" in 1830. First, he dissolved the Chamber of Deputies. Second, he censored the press. Third, he disenfranchised (took voting rights away from) the bourgeoisie. Fourth, he called for a new election, with the bourgeoisie no longer voting. Charles actions sparked the advocates of Republicanism into anger. The bourgeoisie and radical republicans from the lower classes quickly took to the streets of Paris in the July Revolution, rioting and setting up barricades to stop the military and end traffic and commerce. Charles X quickly abdicated, and the bourgeois leaders of the rebellion moved quickly to install a constitutional monarchy. The revolutionary leaders brought in the Duke of Orleans, known as Louis Philippe. He accepted constitutional monarchy and the principle of the July Revolution, and even changed the official flag of France to the Republican tricolor.

The July Revolution rippled through Europe, starting revolutions in Belgium and Poland. Belgium's revolution was essentially successful. The country ended up with self-government as long as it remained a neutral state, and the other powers agreed not to invade it. Polish nationalists, looking to the successful revolutions in Belgium in France, also decided to revolt in 1830. Czar Nicholas quickly crushed the Polish rebellion.

In Britain, the Tory Party demonstrated an increasing sensitivity to the middle class. Foreign Minister George Canning and Robert Peel became more "liberal" Tories, trying to satisfy the middle class, passing Laissez Faire laws, creating a more secular state, and even creating a police force. Problems remained, however. Most critical were the Corn Laws, which remained too high for manufacturers' tastes, and the Rotten Boroughs, which furnished Southern England with far more political representation than it deserved while neglecting populous manufacturing cities like Manchester. In the 1830s, a reform bill came up which would remedy these problems, but it was quashed by Prime Minister Wellington. Wellington's action led to rioting. Parliament realized it had to pass the bill, which it reluctantly did in 1832. The Reform Bill of 1832 simplified voting, although maintaining a property requirement, and abolished the smaller boroughs, giving their seats to the large industrial cities like Manchester.

As a result of the redistribution of British political power created by the Reform Bill of 1832, several reforms took place, beginning in 1833 with a Factory Act that limited child labor. In 1847, a Ten Hours Act passed into law, limiting the number of hours women and children could work per day.


Spurred by the July Revolution in France, 1830 became a year of revolt. For the most part, however, those revolts resulted in little direct change. Though the revolution in France deposed a king, it also installed a new king: the revolution simply prevented the rights of the bourgeoisie from being trampled by Charles X.

To the reactionary rulers of Europe the July Revolution of Louis Philippe (1830) seemed like a dire thing. To the French bourgeois, it was merely a necessary action to maintain the rights they considered naturally theirs, and which they had won nearly fifty years earlier. Working-class Republicans wanted more, and they began to prepare for another revolt. The July Revolution, if sort of a disappointment to radical republicans, heartened revolutionaries throughout the rest of Europe. It sent a message: the preemptive suppression of revolution by the Continental System was no longer working very well.

Once the revolutions were in motion, however, the powers that be did often have the strength to put them down. Russia had no problem crushing the Polish rebellion. Yet Russia's success stemmed in large part from the domestic factors limiting Britain and France from using the Polish rebellion as a lever to hurt the power of the Russians. Britain was facing its own reform movement, and Louis Philippe did not want to appear to have Napoleonic ambitions. In other words, of the conservative powers, only Metternich and Austria refused to intercede against the Russians on ideological grounds. Britain and France, had they been able, might very well have placed the contingencies of politics above the demands of conservative dogma.

Surprisingly, it was in Britain, where no revolt happened, that the most change occurred. In large part this change resulted from the societal transformation created by the Industrial Revolution. Even so, the July Revolution certainly spurred the political process. The French July Revolution showed the British bourgeoisie that if there was a revolution by the lower classes, the bourgeoisie could quickly assume control and use a working-class revolution to middle-class advantage. The realization that the bourgeoisie was acquiring more and more power and could use that power to create a revolt led the Tory party to grant some concessions.

The British Reform Bill of 1832 was really a compromise, since the reformers did not get everything they wanted. However, the bill was very important in that it made way for future reforms. Especially since the manufacturing cities of the North finally had substantial representation, the balance of power in British politics changed. Wealthy businessmen became part of the political elite. Parties reorganized, and the Whigs, a few radical Tories, and the radical industrialists formed the Liberal Party, while most of the Tories formed the Conservative Party. Under this new political configuration, and with the certain progression of the industrial revolution, further reforms were destined to take place. Interestingly, one aristocratic tactic to maintain power involved allying with the workers to strike back at the wealthy liberal businessmen. Landed aristocrats now allied with the poor so they could overcome the Liberal industrialists who were coming to dominate Parliament. Soon, the liberal industrialists caught on to this ploy, and allied with workers on certain issues. In 1838, manufacturers encouraged workers to form an Anti Corn Law League, and in 1846, under Prime Minister Robert Peel, the Corn Laws were abolished. Of course, the abolition of the Corn Laws were not only out of interest for Laissez Faire, but also because of a horrible famine in Ireland. The emergence of a political system with two parties of generally equal power allowed the less powerful workers to play both sides against each other and thereby gain concessions such as the Ten Hours Act. Ultimately, these progressive concessions allowed the British to avoid revolution, since those least represented in British society still felt as if they had some means to bettering their situation.

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