At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Era, Europe's leaders worked to reorganize Europe and create a stable balance of power. After that Congress, The Austrian diplomat Metternich would call several more congresses to try and preserve European stability: the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), the Congress of Troppau (1820), and the Congress of Verona (1822). The Congress System that Metternich established was Reactionary, that is, its goal was to preserve the power of the old, monarchical regimes in Europe.

Revolution was brewing, however. In Britain, the Industrial Revolution continued to accelerate, causing economic transformations that had serious political and social implications. All across Europe, and especially in France and Britain, the rising Bourgeoisie class challenged the old monarchical Reactionaries with their Liberal ideology. "Isms" abounded. Ideologies such as Radicalism, Republicanism, and Socialism rounded into coherent form. In response to events like the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, worker consciousness of a class struggle between Proletariat and Bourgeoisie began to emerge. The Bourgeoisie was clearly the ascendant class between 1815 and 1848; the Proletariat began to gain a sense of similar unification.

Another "Ism" coming into its own at this time was Romanticism, the intellectual response to the French Enlightenment rationalism and emphasis on Reason. At the same time, Romantic thinkers, artists, and writers posed powerful challenge to the Enlightenment emphasis on rationalism and reason. Such artists and philosophers as Herder, Hegel, Schiller, Schinckel, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, John Keats, William Wordsworth, and Delacroix, to name a few, achieved remarkable intellectual and artistic heights and gained a wide following throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, Prussia, England, and to a lesser extent France.

Of all the "Isms" competing in this period, perhaps the greatest was Nationalism, an ideology, like Romanticism, which reacted against the universalist claims of French enlightenment thought. Whereas Romanticism often focused on intellectual and artistic matters, Nationalism, which proclaimed the unique character of ethnic and linguistic groups, was more overtly political. The Nationalist movements in Germany and Italy, which involved an effort at national unification, and those in the Austrian Empire, which involved efforts to carve the Austrian Empire into ethnically or linguistically defined states, created a great amount of instability in Europe.

In 1830, the various ideological beliefs resulted in a round of revolutions. These revolutions began when the Paris Mob, manipulated by the interests of the Bourgeoisie, deposed the Bourbon monarchy of Charles X and replaced him with Louis Philippe. In the rest of Europe, the French example touched off various nationalist revolts; all were successfully quelled by conservative forces.

Britain notably escaped any outbreak of violence, but it by no means escaped change: the battle between the formerly dominant landed aristocracy and the newly ascendant manufacturers led to the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832, which partially remedied the Rotten Boroughs and gave the manufactures an increased amount of Parliamentary representation. The working class benefited from the growing class rivalry between aristocracy and middle-class. Often the aristocrats would ally with the working class to act against the manufacturers, forcing the manufacturers, in turn, to ally with the workers against the aristocrats. Although the working class did not yet have the vote in England, they were pushing for universal adult male suffrage in the late 1830s and early 1840s via the Chartist Movement. While this movement failed in the short- term, its demands were eventually adopted.

In the rest of Europe, political change would not happen so peacefully. In 1848, the February Revolution broke out in Paris, toppling Louis Philippe and granting universal suffrage to adult French men, who elected Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) solely on name-recognition. Europe once again took its cue from Paris, and revolutions broke out nearly everywhere in Europe during 1848. Rebellion in Germany led to the establishment of the Frankfurt Assembly, which was plagued by internal squabbling and was unable to unify Germany. In the Austrian Empire, the various ethnicities revolted, and the Magyar nationalists led by Louis Kossuth pushed for an independent Hungary. Rioting in Vienna frightened Metternich so much he fled the city. All of the Eastern European rebellions were ultimately put down, a triumph for the reactionaries. However, the events of 1848 frightened the rulers of Europe out of their complacency and forced them to realize that gradually, they would have to change the nature of their governments or face future revolutions.

Popular pages: Europe (1815-1848)