home | history

Europe to 1831: Conservatives Challenged

RISING, 1830

On the European continent, opposition to the established order remained. There were Italians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Poles, Romanians and other nationalities who wanted a better life and freedom from rule by distant emperors.

Greek Independence

The Greeks wanted to free themselves from rule by the Turks. They had been under Ottoman rule since the mid-1400s. The French Revolution had inspired at least a few of them. Also of inspiration for the Greeks was Serbia winning political autonomy following their revolt against Ottoman rule in 1813. Conservative leaders of the Congress of Vienna, Prince Metternich of Austria and others, remained opposed to the anti-imperialist implications of Greek nationalism. One of them, Tsar Alexander, dismayed his fellow Russians with his opposition to rebellion by Greeks — their fellow Eastern Orthodox Christians — against the Islamic Ottoman Empire.

Greek exiles in Russian-ruled Odessa worked for rebellion in Greece that broke out on the Peloponnese Peninsula in 1821. Like many risings it was murderous. Christians smote without mercy Muslims they perceived as their enemies. Greek leaders emerged who advocated restraint, but their pleadings had little effect. Greek peasants armed with scythes, clubs and slings, grabbed what valuables they could and killed wherever possible. Of the estimated 50,000 Muslims living on the Peloponnese Peninsula in March 1821, an estimated 20,000 were killed within a few weeks — men, women and children. By May, north of the peninsula, in Athens, Muslims were defending themselves from the Acropolis. By 1822 the Greeks won control of Athens, Thebes and the Aegean islands. They declared their independence. But the Ottoman authorities in what today is Turkey organized and struck back. The poet Lord Byron fought on the side of the Greeks at the town of Missolonghi, the fighting there a symbol of Greek defiance against Ottoman power. Missolonghi's fall to the Turks created new support for the Greeks across Europe, with the idea that Greece had to be saved for European civilization. Britain, France and Russia moved to naval action, and they destroyed the Turkish fleet at the Battle of Navarino Bay — last naval battle of sailing ships.

In 1832 a conference of Brits, French and Russians at London, decided to create a kingdom in Greece and put a Bavarian Prince on its throne: King Otto. It wasn't exactly self-determination for the Greeks. Under King Otto, the Greeks would be taxed more than they had been under the Ottoman Turks. The Greeks were displeased also by Otto's Roman Catholicism. Orthodox Greeks considered him a heretic.

Other Risings in Europe

In 1820, five years after the Old Order had their Congress of Vienna, Europe's conservatism was challenged also by new uprisings. In the kingdom that included Sicily and Naples were uprisings against Ferdinand I, who responded with a promise of a constitutional monarchy. In the Kingdom of Spain, an army colonel led a mutiny and demanded a liberal constitution. In Portugal, a military insurrection with liberal intentions swept that country.

Russian military men who had served in France were exposed to the Enlightenment, and they hated what they found when returning to Russia. In St. Petersburg's main square, around three thousand of them tried to overthrow the tsarist government. They took no control of anything strategic and there was no public rising that supported them. Their failure became known as the Decembrist Rising, and they were crushed by forces loyal to the Romanov monarchy.

Reaction triumphed as an Austrian army entered Naples and allowed King Ferdinand to regain his full powers. And an alliance of Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria gave France's conservative monarch, Louis XVIII, a mandate to intervene and restore absolutism for Spain's monarchy.

Latin America

But the reactionaries could not restore Spain's conservative rule in Latin America. More than a few people there had been influenced by the Enlightenment and by the American and French revolutions. Traders born in Spanish America disliked Spain's restrictions on trading with people outside the Spanish realm or restrictions against growing crops that would compete with crops grown in Spain, and restrictions on making goods that would compete with goods made in Spain. Taxes imposed by Spanish authorities were also annoying. In Latin America the families of Spain's officials enjoyed the status and tended to be haughty toward those Spaniards born in Latin America – the Criólles. The dissatisfaction culminated in local rebel armies defeating soldiers sent from Spain. This included rebel armies in Mexico. In September 1821 three rebel armies entered Mexico City. Mexico's first constitution was created in October 1924.

The Portuguese were caught up in the change. A member of Portugal's royal family, Prince Pedro, chose to stand with the Portuguese in Brazil. He declared Brazil's independence from Portugal in September 1822. A month later, Pedro was declared the first Emperor of Brazil. A people's war for independence spread through Brazil's northern and northeastern regions and in Cisplatina province. The last of Portugal's soldiers surrendered in March 1824, and Portugal officially recognized Brazil as independent on 29 August 1825.

More Change in Europe

Rebellion appeared again in France. Louis XVIII had preserved some of what had come during the French Revolution, namely a constitution that provided for a parliament. (Under Louis XVIII, voting for members of parliament was restricted to the wealthiest of men.) Then in 1824, Louis XVIII died. He was succeeded by his brother, Charles X. There were bad harvests in 1826 and hard winters in 1828-29 and 1829-30. People in France were burdened by high food prices. King Charles was displeased with parliament and he suspended the constitution as allowed during an emergency. He imposed censorship on the press and called for new elections. He was disheartened by the return of people to the barricades. The following day, July 28, 1830, clashes occurred between people in the streets of Paris and agents of Charles X's authority (a clash to be depicted in Delacroix's painting "Liberty Leading the People.") Business in Paris came to a complete standstill. Troops were deserting. Crowds were rushing through the streets and shouts could be heard: "Down with the king!" and "to the guillotine!"

Charles X was almost 73 and left his palace in Paris for what he thought would be the safety of his palace at Versailles. There his Swiss guards at the Louvre had run away rather than face the crowds swarming toward them. They didn't want to be torn apart like their predecessors had been back in 1792. Learning that there was no safety, Charles X abdicated in favor of his grandson Henry, Duke of Bordeaux, who was not yet ten years old.

Instead, parliament elected Louis-Philippe, age 57, as the new king. He was, let us say, a liberal. His father had supported the Revolution but had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror. He was one of the more progressive members of France's Bourbon family, and people proclaimed him the "Citizen King."

Austria's Prince Metternich looked upon events in France with disgust and expected France to continue downhill with giddy politics. A member of the Habsburg family that Metternich served, Princess Sophia, in Vienna, viewed France's new monarch as illegitimate, and she prayed for the divine destruction of revolutionary Paris.

There was an uprising of a different sort in Belgium. People there resented rule by the Dutch. The Dutch were mostly Protestant, the Belgians mostly Roman Catholic. The Belgians created a provisional government and declared independence, and Catholic France was willing to go to war on their behalf. Prince Metternich wanted to avoid war. The British and French summoned a conference that began in November 1830, and lasted through much of 1831. At the conference it was decided that Belgium would be independent and ruled by Prince Leopold, who was from a duchy around Saxony and Thuringia. (He was the uncle of the twelve-year-old future Queen of England, Victoria.) In August 1831, the Dutch responded by invading Belgium, and in a ten-day campaign that had the approval of the British, the French drove the Dutch back to their own Netherlands.

By 1831, just fifteen years since the new conservative order had been declared at the Congress of Vienna, what then was considered conservatism appeared to be losing a war with historical change.

CONTINUE READING: Bad Tactics and Failed Revolutions, 1848-49

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.