The Year Was 1848

The Cove of Cork (Currier and Ives, 1856)The year was 1848 and for much of Europe it was a period of unrest as the Revolutions of 1848 swept the continent. During a period of economic depression, the revolutions are sparked in France with a revolt against the king, Louis Philippe, which led to the short-lived Second Republic of France. 

The revolution in France moved to Vienna and put the Austrian Habsburg Empire on the defensive as democratic reformers took over.

Germany and Italy at the time were made up of loosely connected states. With unrest in the air, a strong nationalist state was seen as security and there were movements toward unification in both cases. These movements failed for the time being, and unification would not transpire until 1861 in Italy and 1871 in Germany.

The revolutionary trend spread to the Kingdom of Hungary, then part of the Austrian Empire, where the spirit of nationalism continued under leaders like Istvan (Stephen) Szechenyi and Lajos (Louis) Kossuth. They saw the troubles in Vienna as an opportunity to create a new relationship between Austria and the Diet of Hungary through the “April Laws.” However, the new legislation left out the rights of non-Magyar ethnic minorities that were encompassed by the Kingdom of Hungary. In 1849, Austria, with help from the Russians, put an end to the Revolution of 1848.

Although some of the reforms remained in place, the majority of the 1848 revolutions failed.

Following three years of potato blight, Ireland was in the midst of a horrific famine. Starvation and disease killed more than a million people, and another million left for North America, England, or Europe. The horrors of the famine revived anger at the British and in 1848 a group that called itself the “Young Irelanders” planned their own revolt. The failed uprising in a cabbage patch in Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary led to the capture of the leaders. One of the leaders, William Smith O’Brien  was sentenced to death. A petition was circulated that eventually garnered 70,000 names, addresses, and occupations from Ireland and another 10,000 from England. The petitions are available on CD from Eneclann.

In the Americas, the U.S.-Mexican War ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico ceded much of what is now the American southwest.

In California, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in January triggered a migration of more than 300,000 people to the gold fields by 1854. While a few made their fortunes through side ventures, most worked very hard for very little. Those who went faced dangers from disease, accidents, and violence. A Sacramento Bee article cites an estimate that “one in every five miners who came to California in 1849 was dead within six months.”

America was on the move westward and with the completion of the Illinois and Michigan (I and M) Canal, the final link from the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico was put in place. The establishment of this all-water route promoted the flow of people and supplies further inland and propelled Chicago on to become the commerce center of the Midwest.

Further north, Wisconsin joined the union as the thirtieth state. Although statehood had been proposed several times, the territory had grown to 155,000 residents by 1845 and in 1846 a constitution was drafted that granted suffrage to immigrants who had filed for citizenship, and allowed for the possibility of blacks to vote. It also gave married women the right to own property. That constitution was defeated and a new one drafted in 1848 that granted suffrage to “white native-born men, immigrant men who had declared their intention to become citizens, and Indians who had been declared U.S. citizens.” Black suffrage and women’s right to property were omitted.

Women did make strides that year as a two-day Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. More than 300 men and women attended this event where “bloomers” were first introduced. In attendance were Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frederick Douglass, among others.

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2 thoughts on “The Year Was 1848

  1. A minor correction — in 1848 the United States and Mexico signed the “Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo,” NOT the “Treaty of Hidalgo.” Otherwise your historical summary looks pretty good. Nice job.

    practicing historian
    Ann Arbor, MI

  2. Thanks for the correction Michael! Duly corrected in the above article.

    (aspiring historian with a lot of work ahead of her) 😉

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