The revolution of 1848 is traditionally considered to have failed. It succeeded neither in creating a German nation state nor in establishing a liberal constitution. In the wider context of German and European history, the revolution’s failure is often seen as one of the causes of the supposed German Sonderweg. “The year 1848”, as the great British historian G. M. Trevelyan wrote, “was the turning point at which modern history failed to turn”. This lecture examines the 1848 revolution’s effects on the European states’ governmental and administrative orders in order to reevaluate its reputation as a failure. It will be argued that the 1850s were an era not so much of political reaction as of innovation. The decade saw the nineteenth century’s second great wave of state modernisation after that of the Napoleonic period. It was characterised by the emergence of new, technocratically oriented coalitions of the political centre, the inclusion of civil society bodies in the political process, and fundamental changes to governments’ public information management. All these developments had their roots in the 1848 revolution and took place not in a national, but rather a European context. They can therefore be fully understood only by taking into account the full range of governmental experiences across the European states and by understanding the 1848 revolution as a genuinely European event. Seen from this perspective, we can appreciate that the 1848 revolution did not fail, but instead – at least in certain areas – effected lasting change.
Afterwards: formal reception
Image: Jubilant revolutionaries after barricade fights on 18 March 1848 in the Breite Straße in Berlin, Source: Wikimedia