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Europe (1848-1871)

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The Leap into Modernity: Europe, 1848-1871

When revolutions erupted throughout Europe in 1848, radicals from Prague to Paris, Naples to Berlin were interested in overthrowing the conservative establishment that had ruled Europe since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. Revolution was in the name of change, but every revolt failed. By the end of the year, a strong president was in charge of France, taking dictatorial powers within three years. In Austria, the Austrian army suppressed each and every urban revolt, reasserting the power and rule of the conservative monarchy.

However, where radical revolution failed, nationalism took hold and succeeded. Italian unification, after centuries of disunity, was finally realized in 1861, with the proclamation of Italy under the Sardinian king. By 1870, with the annexation of Rome and its surrounding provinces from France and the Pope, the entire boot of Italy became one united nation-state. Just to the north, the wily political animal that was Otto von Bismarck used everything from war to harsh diplomacy to finally unite the German provinces under the Prussian crown in 1871. Central Europe, previously divided by more powerful interests to the west and east, was finally consolidated into viable and strong states (Germany).

Meanwhile, Great Britain continued its pattern of gradual reform and experienced firsthand an active debate over government intervention in the economy and society. Russia, the most backward of all the European powers, frightened by her defeat in the Crimean War, finally moved to some reforms in society and government; however, these reforms were halfhearted and did not effect lasting change. The period between 1848 and 1871, therefore, can be considered a transition period when most nations focused on domestic matter and where those leaders who understood the interconnection between domestic and foreign affairs succeeded beyond their expectations.

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