Revolution of 1848, a liberal, nationalist movement that swept through much of Europe and included the first notable labor protest against capitalism. It was immediately followed by repressive action in most of the countries involved. The “Spirit of '48," however, inspired the unification of Germany and of Italy and the establishment of constitutional government throughout most of Europe later in the 19th century.
During January, 1848, people on the island of Sicily, off the coast of Italy, rebelled against their king, Ferdinand II. At the same time, in the areas of Italy ruled by Austria, anti-Austrian riots broke out. In February, France overthrew King Louis Philippe and established a republic. News of the French uprising touched off revolts in Vienna, Budapest, and some of the German states. In Austria, Emperor Ferdinand I was forced to accede to demands for the election of a national assembly. In December he abdicated in favor of his nephew, who became Francis Joseph I. Hungary proclaimed its independence from Austria.
In Germany, a national assembly met at Frankfurt to write a constitution for a unified Germany. In Italy, King Charles Albert of Sardinia gave his people a liberal constitution and sent troops to help free Lombardy and Venice from Austrian rule. Demonstrators in England demanded changes in English voting laws.
A swing in the opposite direction soon followed, however. The new French republic quickly collapsed because its leaders were divided on social and economic issues. It was temporarily replaced by a military dictatorship. After a new constitution was drafted, Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I, was elected president. In 1850 he declared himself emperor of France. The Frankfurt assembly offered the crown of Germany to Frederick William IV, king of Prussia, but he refused to accept a kingship offered by a popularly elected assembly.
Austria restored its rule over Hungary and swept the Sardinians out of Lombardy and Venice. Some changes were made in Austria's constitution, but the country continued to be ruled by a centralized government. Liberals, republicans, and socialists throughout Europe went into hiding or emigrated to democratic countries. Large numbers came to the United States.
There were some immediate gains. Sardinia kept its new constitution, and nationalists throughout Italy looked to Sardinia for leadership. In Prussia, a new constitution, which established a popularly elected parliament, was issued in 1850.