Brief History of the World Wiki
Year of Revolutions and Unifications
1848 berlin.jpg
Period Late Modern Ages
Dates 1847-1866 AD
Preceded by
Era of Revolutions and the British Empire
Followed by
American Civil War
There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.

–Vladimir Lenin

The Year of Revolutions and Unifications lasted from about 1847 AD until 1866 AD. The revolutionary wave began in France in February, and immediately sparks off Europe’s most dramatic year of political upheavals. It then ended with the Austro-Prussian War (1866) ending the first phase of German unification that would be completed in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

In the year 1848, over fifty states were affected by revolutions from France to Germany, Austria to Italy, but with no coordination or cooperation between their respective revolutionaries. The main contributing factor was the widespread disaffection of the increasingly prosperous middle-class who were denied access to political power, and yearned for liberal ideals: constitutional government, participatory government, individual civil rights, private property, and the rule of law. Yet there were a wide variety of other revolutionary groups: skilled craftsmen were desperate to hold onto a way of life that was slipping away due to the rise of cheap industrial goods; and working-class radicals advocated for universal suffrage and social reform. And then there was the other great force unleashed by the French Revolution, nationalism. It meant taking a fresh look at the way people with a shared language, history, heritage, art and music could and should join together politically, and that each nation deserved a measure of collective determination: in Germany and Italy this meant unification; and within the diverse Austria it meant regional independence or at least some level of autonomy. This coalition of diverse movements did not hold together for long, and in almost all cases the revolutions failed to achieve any long-term reforms; it’s been described as the turning point in European history that did not turn.

The year 1848 also saw the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, calling an uprising of the working-class revolutionary proletariat to overthrown the bourgeois. Though this would be one of the most influential declarations in the history of the world, their revolutions were for the future.


Revolution in France[]

Provisional president Lamartine in front of the Town Hall on 25 February 1848, by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux

Like his cousin Louis XVIII, Louis Philippe (1830-48) attempted to steer a moderate course between the royalist conservatives and liberals in France. Yet, despite his obsessive attempts to claim the legacy of the July Revolution and the memory of the martyred dead, the true face of the July Monarchy was a fairly conservative brand of liberalism. Even though Louis Philippe expanded suffrage, only about 250,000 men had the vote compared to about 100,000 under Louis XVIII, and only the very wealthiest of the bourgeoisie could stand for parliament. The politics of the July Monarchy was less about left and right factions, but no less fractious because of petty personal rivalries. Their shared conservative liberal world view led them to discount the social side of the great questions of the age, and almost uniformly support policies that favoured the employers against the rising working class; unions and strikes were made illegal. As so often in the past, trouble for the July Monarchy escalated as Europe entered a period of economic hardship caused by wheat and potato crops failures throughout the continent; felt most harshly in the Irish Potato Famine. A political reform movement developed in France based around dinner-parties called Republican Banquets which urged the government to expand the electoral franchise to the middle classes, just as the British had done in 1832. Louis Philippe was unpopular, not legitimate enough for the conservatives and too prone to clampdown on political freedoms for the liberals, so inevitably felt threatened by the campaign. On 22 February 1848, he banned all political banquets. Barricades yet again appeared on the streets of Paris and the following day Louis Philippe abdicated; the February Revolution.

Portrait of Louis-Napoléon by Alexandre Cabanel, c. 1865

In the days that followed, a provisional republican government passed several radical measures influenced by the socialist ideals of Louis Blanc: state-run national workshops and military conscription to ensure full employment; and universal-male-suffrage over the age of twenty-one. In the elections later that year, thanks to the resonance of his name Louis Napoleon, nephew of the great emperor, was elected the first president of the Second French Republic (1548-52). After his four year term in office, when parliament refused to change the law to allow him to continue in office, he resolved the issue with a brilliantly organised coup d’état. After arresting his political opponents following his uncles example, he first asked the electorate for dictatorial powers for ten years, and a year later to be the Emperor of France; the Second French Empire (1852-70). After years of weak rule and public disorder, France at first welcomed firm government. Napoleon III reduced tariffs leading to a marked increase in trade, and industrialization and railway building were proceeding apace. Nevertheless by the end of the decade there was mounting dissatisfaction at a return to absolutist rule. However, at this first sign of unrest, in 1859 Napoleon III responded with sound political sense, and defused the situation by becoming more liberal: an amnesty was announced allowing the return of many political exiles; parliament was given greater powers; and restrictions on the press were somewhat eased. The process continued until by 1870, an imperial dictatorship had been transformed almost seamlessly into a genuine constitutional monarchy. Yet, the monarchy would not last the year, with France suffering humiliation and defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), in the aftermath of which a "temporary" republican government was established that lasted almost seventy years; the Third French Republic (1871-1940).

Towards an Unified Germany[]

Germania, painted in 1848, meant as a symbol of a united democratic Germany. The figure is represented with the imperial Eagle, oak leaves (symbols of German strength), an olive branch (as a sign of peace), and the black-red-gold flag (the official colours of the German Confederation).

Within weeks of the upheaval in France, a series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions swept the various German states, including both Austria and Prussia. There were a lot of different grievances: middle-class liberals protesting the largely autocratic political structures; working-class radicals; and independence movements especially in ethnically diverse Austria. Meanwhile, there was also an undercurrent of pan-German nationalism and calls for unification in the wake of the joint war effort against Napoleon. The immediate effect of these revolutions was concessions on the part of terrified rulers: the king of Bavaria abdicated in favour of his son; Chancellor Metternich of Austria resigned and went into exile; and the king of Prussia considered a democratic constitution, though it quickly proved not to his liking. Meanwhile in May 1848, a group of nationalists from all the German states formed the Frankfurt Assembly with the goals of creating a unified Germany with a liberal constitutional government. Though there were widely differing views as to how this might be realised, the assembly eventually offered the crown of a unified Germany to Prussian king, Frederick William IV. Though he coveted the territory, Frederick William knew that acceptance would lead to war with Austria and make him into a constitutional monarch, neither of which he desired; Frederick William was a staunch conservative. The harsher truth was that the tide of reaction had already turned. Divisions within the revolutionaries had been exposed, the authoritarian governments gradually suppressed all the uprisings; for instance, the Hungarian fight for independence from Austria was finally crushed thanks to the intervention of the Russians after eighteen months, and even Chancellor Metternich was able to return from exile. Yet the underlying contest between Prussia and Austria for leadership of the German states remained unresolved.


The year 1848 also saw the beginning of what would be a protracted struggle over the region of Schleswig-Holstein. The duchies between German and Danish-speaking regions were a natural place for conflict in an era of growing nationalism. Both duchies had historically been within imperial Germany, though had been part of Denmark since 1460. In the excitement of 1848, a revolutionary group seized Kiel, and declared the region’s independence while appealing to the German Confederation for help. The result was a Prussian invasion on behalf of the Confederation. On this occasion international pressure forced the Prussians to withdraw, but the crisis flared again in 1863 when the Danish king died without a male heir. In the confusion of the succession, the German Confederation decided to act, and a joint Austrian and Prussian army quickly overran Schleswig-Holstein.

Bismarck in his 75th year.

The Treaty of Vienna (1864) ceded Schleswig-Holstein jointly to Prussia and Austria, a difficult agreement to uphold at the best of times, made more so by the fact that Prussia had an aggressive and skilful new prime minister, Otto von Bismarck (1862-73). Bismarck was determined to establish a German state unified under Prussian dominance, through war if necessary; or according to his famous speech through “blood and iron”. The Treaty of Vienna agreed that Prussia would administer for Schleswig, and Austria for Holstein, but in 1866 Bismarck contrived to find fault with Austria’s part of the bargain. Prussian troops march into Holstein and annexed the territory. When Austria inevitably objected, Bismarck declared war.

Austro-Prussian War.jpg

The Austro-Prussian War (June –July 1866) would decide the future shape of Germany. The speed of Prussia’s victory, just seven weeks, was largely thanks to reforms carried out by Helmut von Moltke, chief of the general staff from 1857. Using recent technology developments like railways and telegraphy, troops could move fast to seize sudden opportunities, and separate armies could coordinate in an overall plan over an extended battlefront. Also, the Prussian army were now fully equipped with breech-loading rifles, rather than the slower firing muskets. With these advantaged, Prussia achieved what could be described as the first blitzkrieg or lightning war. When neighbouring Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, and Saxony refused to give assurances that they would remain neutral, Prussia invaded all three states. Hanover was defeated after just two weeks, and the troops there were free to join the other Prussian forces entering Austrian territory through Saxony from several different directions. The two sides met at the Battle of Königgrätz (3 July), where three Prussian armies reformed into a single force. The result was a decisive Prussian victory, and the war was all but over. With the route to Vienna open, an armistice was agreed on 22 July. Hostilities with Austria’s allies were brought to an end by the end of the month. In the Treaty of Prague (1866), Bismarck demonstrated conclusively that the four century long Habsburg-Austrian dominance of the Germany had passed: Austria ceded all rights in Schleswig-Holstein, and accepted a new Prussia dominated North German Federation that excluded Austria. With a free hand in northern Germany, Bismarck immediately annexed two of the states that had opposed him in the recent war, Hanover and Hesse-Kassel, conveniently bridging the previous gap between Prussia’s territories on the Rhine. Only the three Catholic states of southern Germany - Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria – now remained outside Prussian influence, though they retained strong economic links with the north from the old Prussian customs-free zone, the Zollverein. With Austria reduced to impotence, the only other neighbour inclined to challenge Prussia's inexorable rise was France. When the clash inevitably came in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), it too would be a short affair.

Unification of Italy[]


Although little noticed at the time, the first major outbreak of Europe's most dramatic year of political upheavals came in Sicily in January 1848. The uprising in Sicily against Bourbon rule, established a liberal democratic state that lasted sixteen months. Meanwhile patriots in the Austrian-Italian territories were quick to take their cue with rebellions in Venice and Milan. When the uprising in Milan succeeded in expelling the Austrian garrison of twelve-thousand troops from the city, the king of Piedmont-Sardinia was tempted into declaring war on Austria; the First Italian War of Independence (1848-49). However, his adventure proved disastrous; outfought by the Austrians, he was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel. Meanwhile other rulers were losing control throughout Italy, including even Pope Pius IX in Rome. The proclamation of a Roman republic in Holy City in 1849, prompted the return of the prominent veteran revolutionaries Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. Mazzini played a major part in running the republic during its four month existence and Garibaldi fought magnificently in its defence against an army sent by the Second French Republic on behalf of the Pope. When Pius IX was safely back on his papal throne in early July 1849, authoritarian rule was restored and liberalism repressed, a pattern that became common almost everywhere during 1849.


The exception was Piedmont-Sardinia where king Victor Emmanuel resisted the general trend and instead over the next few years his kingdom was gradually transformed into a liberal constitutional monarchy that Italian nationalists could respect under prime minister Camillo Benso di Cavour. He welcomed political refugees from all over Italy including Mazzini and Garibaldi. As the movement towards a united Italy gathered pace, Cavour recognised that the Italians required foreign allies to confront the might of Austria. In 1859, he persuaded France under Napoleon III to help drive Austria from Italy; the French emperor had romantic notions of emulating his great uncle in 1796-7. The Second Italian War of Independence (April-July 1859) was a rather muddled success. The French armies assisted by the Piedmont forces under Garibaldi rapidly defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Magenta, and again two weeks later at an extremely savage encounter in the Battle of Solferino. The very heavy casualties on both sides appalled Napoleon III, who lacked his uncle's familiarity with battlefields, and he agreed peace without telling his allies. Even though Piedmont’s had not achieved all they had wanted, Lombardy was ceded to them. Moreover, uprisings against Austrians rule in the central Italian states were followed by plebiscites, and all these regions voted suspiciously overwhelmingly to be merged with Piedmont-Sardinia.


For the next steps to the unification of Italy, Garibaldi preferred to revert to his earlier buccaneering style, taking one-thousand volunteers to aid an uprising in Bourbon Sicily in May 1860. Within two months the island had been liberated in the name of Victor Emmanuel, king of Italy. With a much increased army, Garibaldi then crossed to the mainland in August, and marched on Bourbon Naples, where the king fled before his arrival. These striking successes by the radical revolutionary alarmed the conservative Cavour, who responded with a bold move of his own. Ostensibly to prevent Garibaldi from attacking Rome and triggering an international incident, Cavour sent a Piedmont army to occupy the papal-state apart from Rome itself. There was now nothing to delay the establishment of the kingdom of Italy, with Victor Emmanuel proclaimed the monarch on 17 March 1861. Only Rome and Austrian Venice remained outside his realm. A brief alliance with Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War (1866) won Venice. With a French garrison stationed in Rome to protect the Pope, on this issue too Prussia would help the Italian cause thanks to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

Untroubled Britain and Russia[]

Almost all of Europe was rocked by revolutions in 1848, including France, German states, Italian states, as well as Denmark, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, and Holland. However, neither Britain nor Russia were effected though for completely opposite reasons.

Photograph of Queen Victoria by Alexander Bassano, 1882

In Britain, the Great Reform Act of 1832 had pretty much granted the middle-class everything they had wanted politically. It also demonstrated an openness to reform within the existing political system, that simply did not exist elsewhere. The only trouble in Britain in 1848 was the great Chartist meeting of April 1848 where some 150,000 protesters delivered a petition to parliament calling for universal suffrage, pay for members of parliament to weaken the dominance of the landed gentry, and equal sized electoral districts. Although the appeal was largely ignored for now, the meeting was generally peaceful. The other obvious reason why Britain was untroubled was because she was at the height of her prestige and power; the Victorian Golden Age. The nation's sense of self-satisfaction derives largely from her increasing prosperity thanks to industrialisation and the existence of the British Empire. Queen Victoria (1837-1901) ascended to the throne at eighteen years of age, and was a quite popular monarch throughout her long reign. Visibly in love with her earnestly moral German husband Albert, the Victorian ethos was confident, prosperous, forward-looking, family-minded and profoundly worthy. The best of the Victorian era was seen in the extraordinary Great Exhibition of 1851, a celebration of the new industrial era and Britain’s leading role in it, held in the massive new-age hall of glass and iron designed by Joseph Paxton; the Crystal Palace. When Albert died of typhoid in 1861, his adoring wife became the archetypal widow, forty years in mourning, and another kind of symbol of her era, strait-laced yet sentimental.


Russia too was untroubled but for very different reasons. Since the brutal suppression of the Decembrist Revolution (1825), the government of Tsar Nicholas I (1825-55) was so intensely repressive that revolution seemed futile. Meanwhile, during the 17th century, Russia had expanded rapidly eastwards through Siberia to the Pacific coast. Now in the 19th century, important consolidations were made to the south and east of this vast region. In the east, Russia exacted valuable concessions from the weak Qing dynasty in China, gaining the entire Pacific coast from Siberia to Korea and began developing the naval base of Vladivostok. In the south, it exerted control over the fierce Turkish tribes to the east of the Caspian Sea and the territory of the Uzbeks. By 1885, the Russia frontiers reached Persia and Afghanistan, creating tension with Western Europe that erupted in the Crimean War and simmered in the Great Game.

Crimean War with Russia[]


Throughout the first half of the 19th century, tension grew in Europe over the danger posed by the slow decline of the vast and diverse Ottoman Empire; Greece and Serbia had already claimed independence, Egypt had long enjoy autonomy and Algeria had been occupied by the French. The greatest fear in the West was that her powerful neighbour Russia would continue the process of expanding in the Black Sea region, possibly even seizing Istanbul. Russian imperial ambitions in the region were quite clear, cloaked in religious idealism; the majority of Christians living under Ottoman rule were Orthodox rather than Catholic. Yet the strategic advantage to Russia’s Black Sea fleet of access through the Dardanelles strait to the Mediterranean was evident to all. The immediate chain of events leading to France and Britain declaring war on Russia came from the ambition of the French emperor Napoleon III. Since 1774 the Ottomans had recognised Russia’s claim to protect Christians living under Ottoman rule, and in recent decades Orthodox priests had been granted full custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In 1852, Napoleon III saw in this issue an opportunity to cut a dash on the international stage in the manner of his famous uncle, and demanded that Roman Catholics be granted equal rights in Jerusalem. The French demand provoked a strong diplomatic response from Russia, and in a familiar pattern, small precautionary steps soon escalated into an increasingly dangerous mood of confrontation. Intense diplomacy was undertaken to try and avert war, until the Ottomans themselves forced the issue. In October 1853, sensing the opportunity of British and French support against her traditional enemy, the Ottomans demanded that Russia withdraw from Moldavia and Wallachia (part of modern day Romania); former Ottoman territories under Russian “protection” since 1829. Somewhat belatedly, the Tsar then called everyone’s bluff by agreeing to do so, but the British and French were already committed to war. The Crimean War (1853-56) had begun.


In September 1854, the allies landed troops in Russian Crimea, on the north shore of the Black Sea, and began a siege of the Russian port of Sevastopol, the home of the Black Sea Fleet. During the first eight weeks there were three battles all of which were inconclusive with very heavy casualties. Of the three, Balaklava remains the most famous in British history for the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade; due to a miscommunication, instead to seizing some retreating Russian artillery, 670 light cavalrymen charged directly at the Russian batteries, with very high British casualties and no decisive gains. These failures to gain a significant advantage meant the British and French troops were forced to dig-in for a bitterly cold winter. The recent heavy casualties and the harsh conditions began a tale of horror which had often been matched in the past, but this time there was a difference. The Crimean War was the first modern war, in the sense of unprecedented news coverage from the front. With news reporters being sent to the front and improvements in transport, photography, and printing, graphic details of the horror of war were available within days in British and French homes. It also brought to prominence the one devoted nurse, Florence Nightingale, who became a pioneer of modern nursing. After eleven months of siege, the Russians withdrew from Sevastopol, and with another winter approaching and little achieved, everyone was inclined to peace. The resulting treaty officially removed Russia’s special position in relation to Christians within Ottoman territory including the Holy Lands. Russia’s naval forces were also to be limited, though this agreement was largely ignored and eventually rescinded.

In the aftermath of the Crimean War the reform and modernisation of Russia was clearly required, and new Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881) devoted himself to a radical change of policy. Serfdom had long been recognized as an injustice and an obstacle to economic progress, but even Catherine the Great’s attempted reforms had been thwarted in the early 18th century. Alexander II moved quickly and effectively to pass laws which frees all serfs and obliges landlords to provide each family with a plot of land for a fixed rent; the Emancipation of the Russian Serfs (1861). He followed this with other important reforms including reorganizing the judicial system, abolishing corporal punishment, and promoting university education. However, these reforms only fed an appetite in Russia for more and faster. The second half of Alexander’s reign was characterised by revolutionary ferment from two main radical groups; the Slavophils and Narodniki at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The conservative Slavophils believed that the Russian identity derived from her Slav roots, and was intrinsically different from Western Europe: comforted by the Orthodox Church and protected by a necessarily autocratic Tsar. Meanwhile, the left-wing Narodniki were inspired by the broader European movement of Communism, and Karl Marx, the German philosopher, economist, and revolutionary socialist. During the 1860s, many of the Narodniki were arrested while taking their message to the peasants, and this led the more extreme members to turn to acts of terrorism; their most distinguished victim was the Tsar himself, killed in 1881 by a bomb in St Petersburg. The assassination led to the more reactionary and conservative policies, and the reversal of some of the liberal reforms, that would eventually lead to the Russian Revolution.

Indian Mutiny[]

Indian revolt of 1857.png

By the middle of the 19th century, the East India Company was the practical government of the entire Indian subcontinent, either directly or through allied princely states. To establish and maintain control they had created armies of mainly Indian troops for each of their three presidencies, Bombay, Madras and Bengal; there were over 300,000 Indian sepoys in the army, compared to about 50,000 British. This arrangement originally worked well, but the Company’s policies in India soon fed a diverse range of resentments that would erupt into a major uprising against British rule; the traumatic Indian Mutiny (1857-58). Some sepoy were loyal to feudal princes who’d lost titles and domains, often through the unscrupulous British refusal to recognise adopted sons. Some were rural landlords who’d been dispossessed by the British agrarian reforms. Some resented the condescending British attitude to Indian culture, and the increasing pace of Westernisation. Some were devout Hindus and Muslims who resented the intrusion of Christian missionary efforts. The rebellion erupted in the long-serving Bengal army, where veterans could recognise the changed attitude of the British officers who were increasingly estranged from their soldiers and in many cases treated them as racially inferiors. The direct spark was provided by the mismanaged introduction of greased cartridges for the new Enfield rifle, which was widely rumoured to deliberately include tallow from beef and pork, offensive to Hindus and Muslims. Although certainly not deliberate, the rumours were almost certainly true, especially for the cartridges shipped from Britain. When sepoys were punished for refusing the cartridge, one of their comrades called Mangal Pandey shot his British officers, and the brigade rose-up and began a march on Delhi where there were no European troops.

Contemporary image of the Cawnpore Massacre

The mutiny quickly spread to other regiments and to general civil unrest across northern and central India. The uprising became extremely chaotic and violent with mobs attacking British civilians. A particularly horrific incident known as the Cawnpore Massacre occurred when British officers and civilians leaving the city of Cawnpore under a flag of surrender were attacked; some 210 British women and children were taken prisoner and killed with their bodies thrown into a well. Nevertheless, with the exception of the Mughal emperor of Delhi, Nana Sahib the deposed Maratha prince, Lakshmi Bai the soon to be deposed princess of Jhansi, and Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh, none of the important Indian princes joined the mutineers, and the Bombay and Madras Presidencies remained largely calm. By June, the British were laying siege to Delhi, which was assaulted and captured by September, with the Mughal emperor exiled. Although the rebels seized Lucknow in November, this did little to gain the rebellion momentum. When the British recaptured Cawnpore in December 1857 and defeated the rebels at Gwalior in June 1858, all that remained was the mopping-up operations. Peace was officially declared in July 1858. A grim feature of the mutiny was the ferocity that accompanied it. While the rebels were responsible for massacres, in the end the British reprisals far outweighed the original excesses; hundreds of sepoys were fired from cannons in a frenzy of vengeance. The immediate result of the mutiny was the abolishment of the East India Company in favour of the direct rule of India by the British government. The British Raj (1858-1947) consulted more with the local Indians and allowed them to participate more fully in the Westernisation of the sub-continent, the territory-grabbing of allied princely states was ended, and insensitive British-interference in Indian society came to an abrupt end. Yet, the effect of the mutiny on the people of India themselves was greater. The traditional society and the princes had proved for the most part incompetent or held themselves aloof from the mutiny. When the Indian independence movement gained momentum again in the 20th century, it would not be driven by a desire to revive the past, but by a new sense of Indian nationalism to fulfil the aspirations of all the Indian people, personified in Mahatma Gandhi.

Political cartoon depicting the Afghan Emir Sher Ali with his "friends" the Russian Bear and British Lion (1878)

Meanwhile, an intense rivalry developed between the British and Russian Empires over the undeveloped Central Asia region around Afghanistan where both empires attempted to expand its territory and sphere of influence, or at least maintain it as a neutral buffer zone; The Great Game. The result was a series of largely unsuccessful British wars for control of the region: the First Anglo-Saxon War (1838), the First Anglo-Sikh War (1843), the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848) and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878). Yet Afghanistan did become an independent British protectorate, guaranteeing the area's freedom from Russian domination and allowing both access to its crucial trade routes. Tension remained high throughout the 19th and early 20th century, until the Anglo-Russian Convention (1907) delineated spheres of influence in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.

United States[]

Texas Revolution.png

Since the 16th century, Texas and California, though much neglected, had been the northern region of Mexico, now independent from Spain since 1821. Yet by the early 1830s westward expansion had brought some 30,000 Americans into Texas compared to only about 7000 Mexicans. Friction would be inevitable, but it is aggravated by the Americans bringing in slaves to work their cotton plantations; slavery had been outlawed in Mexico in 1829. When Mexico attempted to enforce the law, the colonists rose-up in rebellion in 1835 capturing the town of San Antonio; the Texas Revolution (1835-1836). The town was recovered by the Mexicans, but only after a twelve day siege of an old Franciscan chapel called the Alamo, with Davy Crockett among the two-hundred Americans eventually overwhelmed and killed. However, the rebellion continued, with the settlers self-declaring their independence, a claim soon sealed by a convincing victory at the Battle of San Jacinto (1836).

Mexican-American War.png

Although, Mexico made no further effort to suppress the Texas, it refused to acknowledge her independence. The United States on the other hand immediately recognized it, and in 1845 formally admitted Texas as the 28th state of the union, regardless of Mexico's undeniable claim to the region. Meanwhile, her yearning for yet more of Mexico was plainly evident; rich California. In 1846, President Polk sent an American army into the disputed region of the Texas border, beginning the Mexican–American War (1846–48). The Americans captured the northern Mexican city of Monterrey but could make little progress beyond it. Thus instead another American army was landed by sea near the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico in March 1847. The city was taken after a three-week siege, and they then began marching inland towards Mexico City. After defeating the Mexicans in a series of battles, the Americans entered the capital in September. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) formalised the border of Texas and ceded the territory now forming the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California to the USA in return for a payment of $15 million; during the course of the war, US forces had already occupied New Mexico and California. The Mexican–American War is also notable for the presence of many of the leading figures on both sides of the American Civil War: Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.

Image of the Oregon Trail called Breaking up Camp at Sunrise, by Alfred Jacob Miller

The 1840s had seen a new wave of western migration along the famed Oregon Trail. Then from 1849, unprecedented hordes of wagons were on the move, drawn by the California Gold Rush. The population of California grew from 14,000 in 1848 to 250,000 in 1852. The sudden growth in population and money, transformed California into a new kind of state, one of violence and greed. Yet this new California was a place of extraordinary vigour and great potential once some sort of normality was restored. And after the gold rush, those that remained in California got on with the process of establishing a stable community. By 1850, California was admitted as the thirty-first state of the union, as a free state without slavery; now more than ever a controversial topic as the United States edged towards the American Civil War (1861-65).

Emergence of Communism[]

Karl Marx in 1875

Karl Marx was born in the German Rhineland to middle-class parents of Jewish descent who had abandoned their faith in an attempt to assimilate into an anti-Semitic society. The young Marx studied philosophy at the University of Berlin but after receiving his doctorate was unable to secure a teaching position because of his Jewish ancestry and his liberal political views. His views soon brought him to the attention of the secret police, and he fled for Paris in 1844 where he renewed an acquaintance with his countryman Friedrich Engels; the two became friends and collaborators for nearly forty years. Marx was the theorist, who had come to his political views through philosophy that class struggle was the central theme of politics, economics, and history. However he knew virtually nothing of the industrial working class except what he’d read. Engels, by contrast, was the son of a German industrialist who had spent two years managing his family’s cotton-spinning factory in Manchester. He published a highly influential sociological survey based on his acute observations and detailed research in 1845. Together they came up with the all-encompassing theory that society was more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, the bourgeoisie and proletariat, middle-class and working-class. The goal for the Communists was for the proletariat to rise-up and overthrow bourgeois supremacy and the system of historical materialism and private property built on the exploitation of the many by the few. Once industrialisation had reached a critical mass of exploited workers crowded together in slum conditions, the stage would be set for the next revolution. Out of a series of violent upheavals between the bourgeoisie and the oppressed proletariat would come a new political order in the form of the triumphant working-class; just as the French Revolution had seen the triumph of the bourgeoisie over feudalism. The class war would end once everybody was a member of the proletariat, and in the classless society of Socialism mankind would live in harmony.

The first edition of The Manifesto of the Communist Party, published in German in 1848

The basic tenets of Marxism were presented to the world in late February 1848 in what was probably the most stark and brilliantly written political pamphlet in history; the Communist Manifesto. The manifesto began with a now famous sentence, “A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism”, and offered the stark statement “The theory of the communists may be summed up in the single phrase: abolition of private property.” Their work provided an intellectual and philosophical basis for socialist communities from many periods of history. In England during the Cromwell’s Commonwealth (1649-60), dreamers such as Gerrard Winstanley and his sect of Diggers insisted that the land belongs to the people. During the French Revolution (1789-99), extreme radicals such as François-Noël Babeuf envisaged the end of private ownership. In the United States, Robert Owen created a utopian industrial community based on socialist ideals in Indiana in 1825; though it collapsed after only two years, it was followed by many other similar experiments. The timing of the Communist Manifesto could not be more fortuitous, as Europe's most active year of revolutions was just beginning. Among the ruling classes everywhere their worst fears could only have been confirmed, and if Marxism had any effect on the year 1848, it was to harden the determination of the conservatives to crush the revolutions. After the revolutions, Marx settled in tolerant London, where he spent the rest of his life researching and writing. He also helped to found the First International in 1864, an international organization uniting various communist and socialist political groups from Britain, France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and the United States.

Economic theorists since Adam Smith (d. 1790) had seen capitalism as offering great possibilities for economic growth. For Smith, people had a natural tendency to trade with one another. This inclination led to the specialization of labour, as first individuals, then groups, and ultimately nations, concentrated on commodities that they could produce better than their neighbours. The highest level of development, production, and innovation - termed “wealth of nations” - would best be achieved by allowing free trade and open competition in both products and labour. Marx agreed with Smith that capitalism promoted economic growth, though he saw the origins of that growth not in free exchange, but in an unequal relationship between workers (“proletariat”) and the entrepreneurs (" bourgeoisie") who employed them and who owned the raw materials and equipment (“means of production”). In Marx’s view, the wages paid to the workers are always less than the value of the goods they produce, and the difference between the two is the profit, which flows to the entrepreneurs, not to the workers themselves.