In September 1862 there was a crisis in Prussia where the Prussian Landtag, or lower
parliamentary house, was refusing to approve increased military spending in defiance of the King's wishes. King Wilhelm I
was advised by his Minister of War, Roon, to send for Bismarck as a
formidable personality who might secure the passing of the military budget in the Landtag. On the 17 September
the crisis had reached such a pitch that Wilhelm I seriously considered abdicating his throne. That evening Roon
sent by telegraph to Bismarck suggesting that he, Bismarck,
should hurry to Berlin and that there was danger in delay. The message in French and Latin read :- Depechez-vous;
Periculum in mora.
On 22 September Bismarck met Wilhelm I and assured him that he could form a ministry and carry through the army
reforms as he desired, if necessary against the will of the deputies in the Landtag. Given this assurance the
Wilhelm I decided not to abdicate. Bismarck was appointed acting chief minister of Prussia.
made an appearance before the Landtag on 29 September where he spoke expressing his regret at the hostility of
the deputies to passing of the military budget and stressed the need for progress to be made on the military proposals
favoured by the king. The next day at a meeting of a Budget Committee Bismarck went perhaps further than he his better
judgement might have intended in asserting that:-
The position of Prussia in Germany will not be determined
by its liberalism but by its power ... Prussia must concentrate its strength and hold it for
the favourable moment, which has already come and gone several times. Since the treaties of Vienna,
our frontiers have been ill-designed for a healthy body politic. Not through speeches and majority
decisions will the great questions of the day be decided - that was
the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 - but by iron and blood.
This Speech by Bismarck has entered into popular understanding of history as
ending blood and iron rather than as iron and
There is extensive coverage of German history to be found on this site including:-
In relation to the European Revolutions of 1848 the historian Eric Hobsbawm has written:
"There have been plenty of greater revolutions in the history of the modern world, and certainly plenty of more successful ones.
Yet there has been none which spread more rapidly and widely, running like a bushfire across frontiers, countries and even oceans."
In 1806 the Habsburg Emperor, who held the "Holy Roman" Imperial title and exercised direct dynastic authority over many lands stretching from Poland to the Mediterranean,
was hard-pressed by the activities of Napoleon Bonaparte, and accepted the termination of the Holy Roman Empire (due to sweeping reforms instituted by Napoleon in western
parts of Germanic Europe), and adopted the title of Emperor of Austria.
By late spring 1848, the Habsburg Empire looked like a hopeless case: the monarchy's northern Italian possessions in revolt, invaded by a Piedmontese army
and largely cleared of Austrian troops; three different "national" governments in Vienna, Budapest and Zagreb each claiming sovereign authority; Polish, Romanian,
Slovenian, Serb, Czech, and Slovak national movements aspiring to a similar sovereign status; a mentally incompetent monarch and his court in flight from the
capital to the provinces; a state treasury completely bare.
Jonathan Sperber, The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, p. 203
In February 1948, the British historian Lewis Namier delivered a lecture commemorating the centennial of the
European Revolutions of 1848.
In this lecture Namier presented facts about the historical developments, themes, and events evident in 1848 and reached the
"1848 remains a seed-plot of history. It crystallized ideas and projected the pattern of things to come; it determined the course of the following century."
We are pleased to make available a series of informative pages about the highly significant and, we would venture to suggest,
the prodigiously historically instructive European Revolutions of 1848:
Some instances of social and political extremism allow
previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in
supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within
the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Roumanians,
find it more credible to look to the Emperor,
rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in
Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist aspiration, for the future
protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers.
Louis Napoleon, (who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), was elected as
President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately followed
policies which resulted in dramatic changes to the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.
The events of 1848-1849 arose from the strong emergence into the Socio-Politico-Economic History of nineteenth-century Europe of populist forces such as Liberalism,
Constitutionalism, Nationalism and Socialism.
These populist forces were promoted by various interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic Empires and Kingdoms of Europe, often challenging the
continuance of dynastic authority and governance and proving to be competitive, in that popular aspirations expressed by some interest groups often proved unpalatable
to other interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic states of Europe.
Radical socialist reformers sought justice for the "disinherited" classes, the peasants and the factory workers, while more moderate political reformers were concerned
with protecting and increasing the influence of the middle classes, the bourgeoisie and the professional groups. The radicals in general favoured a republican
form of government while many moderates were prepared to accept constitutional monarchy as a satisfactory substitute …
… Many of the revolutionaries, especially in the German Confederation and Italy, wanted to transform their homeland into a strong and united country, but
their aims contradicted the nationalist aspirations of minority groups.
From the opening chapter to "Revolution and Reaction 1848-1852" by Geoffrey Brunn
Middle class liberals, who had favoured constitutional rather than dynastic governance, were amongst the first of the previously pro-reform aspirational groups to
return to supporting dynastic authority when it became plain that other populist interest groups favoured wider extensions of democracy than they themselves wished
to see adopted.
Rural dwellers were often largely satisfied with reforms to systems of land tenure and the reduction of obligations to provide assistance, through labour-services, to their
landlords. Once such reforms were put in place in the Austrian Empire, country dwellers, although often relatively materially poor, tended accept the suppression of
urban radicalism and the re-establishment of dynastic authorities.
All in all a "united front" failed to become established amongst those seeking reform and gradually proved possible for dynastic authorities to re-assert themselves
often with the aid of their pre-revolutionary military forces.
The historian A. J. P. Taylor later referred to the events of 1848 as being "a turning-point when history failed to turn" nevertheless "The Future" was put on notice that
such populist-aspirational forces were capable of making pressing claims in relation to Socio-Politico-Economic developments.