Revolutions of 1848

Czech Republic Table of Contents

The Paris revolution of February 1848 precipitated a succession of liberal and national revolts against autocratic governments. Revolutionary disturbances pervaded the territories of the Austrian Empire, and Emperor Ferdinand I (1835-48) promised to reorganize the empire on a constitutional, parliamentary basis.

In the Bohemian Kingdom, a national committee was formed that included Germans and Czechs. But Bohemian Germans favored creating a Greater Germany out of various German-speaking territories. The Bohemian Germans soon withdrew from the committee, signaling the Czech-German conflict that would characterize subsequent history. Palacky proposed Austro-Slavism as the creed of the Czech national movement. He advocated the preservation of the Austrian Empire as a buffer against both German and Russian expansionism. He also proposed the federalization of the empire on an ethnographic basis to unite the Bohemian Germans with Austria in one province and Czechs and Slovaks in another. Palacky further suggested that the various Slavic peoples of the empire, together constituting a majority, should form a political unit to defend their common interests. In June 1848 the Czechs convened the first Slavic Congress to discuss the possibility of political consolidation of Austrian Slavs, including Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenians (Ukrainians), Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs.

In the Kingdom of Hungary, the 1848 revolution temporarily toppled Hapsburg absolutism, and there was an attempt at establishing a liberal constitutional government. Conflict soon ensued between the Hungarians and several other nationalities as to how Hungary was to be restructured. Hungarian liberals like Louis Kossuth, who favored the overthrow of the Hapsburgs and an independent Hungary, were at the same time opposed to the aspirations of the non-Hungarian nationalities. The liberals sought to create a national state solely for the Hungarians.

It was within this struggle that the Slovak National Council, under Stur's leadership, drafted the "Demands of the Slovak Nation." These included the establishment of separate national legislative assemblies and the right of each national group to employ its own language in the Hungarian Diet, in administration, and in the education system. The petition was presented to the Hungarian Diet in May 1848. When it was rejected, armed conflict broke out, and the Slovaks were crushed by Hungarian troops. Disappointed by the Hungarians and hoping to take advantage of the conflict between the imperial government and the Hungarians, Slovak patriots turned to the imperial government, requesting recognition of Slovakia as an independent crown land within the Austrian Empire. But after the Hungarian revolt was suppressed with the aid of Russian troops, Vienna lost interest in the demands of the Slovak and other nonHungarian nationalities.

National revival for both Czechs and Slovaks had been begun by small groups of intellectuals. At first, the national movements were confined to discussion of language, literature, and culture. But during the revolutions of 1848, the Czechs and Slovaks made bold political demands. The revolutions of 1848 also revealed that the German and Hungarian liberals, who were opposed to Hapsburg absolutism, were equally hostile to Czech and Slovak aspirations. It had become clear that the Czech and Slovak national movements had to contend not only with Hapsburg absolutism but also with increasingly virulent German and Hungarian nationalism.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress