Liberal Revolutions in 19th Century Europe: Summary

"Liberty Leading the People", a painting by Eugène Delacroix that depicts the July Revolution in France, 1830.
“Liberty Leading the People”, a painting by Eugène Delacroix that depicts the July Revolution in France, 1830. Public domain image.

The 19th century in Europe was an era of significant transformation, marked by a series of revolutions that reshaped the continent’s political and social landscape. Even though the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era had been ultimately defeated, the liberalism espoused by them endured and represented a formidable challenge to the autocratic order of the Concert of Europe.

In the 1820s and in the 1830s, several populations rose in revolt, one after the other, fighting for constitutionalism, for republicanism, or for independence. Finally, in 1848, Europeans from different countries rebelled simultaneously, in what came to be known as the Springtime of the Peoples. Each of these revolutions had varying degrees of success, but they played an undeniable role in weakening the foundations of restored Europe and in promoting liberal thought.

Revolutions of the 1820s

  • Trienio Liberal in Spain (1820-1823): It was an attempt to force King Ferdinand VII to reinstate the Constitution of Cádiz (also called La Pepa), which had been drafted in 1812 under liberal terms. However, French troops intervened and reinstated the monarch with absolutist powers.
  • Liberal Revolution of 1820 in Portugal: It was a rebellion of Portuguese nationals against the absence of the royal family (who had relocated to Brazil in 1807, fleeing Napoleonic troops) and the British influence on the country’s affairs. They demanded the immediate return of King John VI, the adoption of a constitution, and the recolonization of Brazil. The monarch returned, but a civil war ensued over the adoption of the constitution, and Brazil asserted its independence as a new sovereign country.
  • Greek War of Independence (1821-1829): It was the separation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to Philhellenism, a generalized admiration for Greek culture, this movement garnered significant international support. Russia intervened in favor of the Greeks, wishing to secure access to warm-water ports in the Mediterranean. However, in 1832, Britain also intervened to ensure the independence of Greece, while thwarting Russian ambitions.

Learn more about the Revolutions of the 1820s.

Revolutions of the 1830s

  • July Revolution in France: It was a revolt against the absolutism of King Charles X. He was forcibly removed from power by the bourgeoisie in the Three Glorious Days — a quick intervention in order to keep the masses away from seizing power. His replacement was King Louis Philippe (“the bourgeois king”), who ruled under a constitution that limited his powers.
  • Belgian Revolution (1830-1831): It was the movement for the independence of Belgium from the Netherlands. The Belgians had a Germanic heritage that contrasted with the culture and ideology of the Dutch, and they wanted to have a country of their own. They declared independence in 1830, but the Netherlands would recognize it only in 1839.
  • Failed revolts in the 1830s: In the Italian Peninsula, in present-day Germany, and in Poland, the revolutions of the 1830s failed, either because of domestic repression or because of foreign intervention.

Learn more about the Revolutions of the 1830s.

Revolutions of 1848: The Springtime of the Peoples

In 1848, European populations rose in revolt simultaneously, in various places, in a decentralized manner. Because of this, the rebellions that took place that year came to be known as the Springtime of the Peoples.

  • February Revolution in France: The French were dissatisfied with the rule of King Louis Philippe, marked by an economic crisis and by reduced political participation of the masses. Hence they decided to depose the monarch and install the French Second Republic. Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, Louis-Napoleon, ran for president and later on staged a self-coup so that he could remain in power. In 1852, he proclaimed himself Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, and thus ended the republican experiment.
  • Frankfurt Parliament in the German Confederation: German liberals convened a parliament for the entirety of the country, with the aim to unify the various polities that comprised the German Confederation. They decided to offer the German crown (without Austria) to the King of Prussia, but he turned down this proposal. After that, the Frankfurt Parliament collapsed.
  • The uprisings in the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Austria and Hungary were part of the same empire, ruled over by the Habsburg dynasty. In Austria, revolutionary forces at first succeeding in toppling the conservatives, but were defeated later. In Hungary, Lajos Kossuth attempted to break the country free from Austrian interference, but he and his independentist followers were defeated, too.
  • Sonderbund War in Switzerland: The Catholic cantons (states) of the Swiss Confederation attempted to ensure their autonomy amidst an anti-religious scenario. However, the majority of Protestant cantons launched a civil war an ultimately prevailed. Switzerland became a federative state, with less autonomy for its states, and the Jesuits were expelled from the country.
  • Constitutional Reform in the Netherlands: Seeing the upheavals that other countries were going through, Dutch king William II decided to reform the country lest he be forced to do so. Peacefully, the Netherlands approved a constitutional reform that reduced the powers of the monarch and increased those of the common people and other authorities.

Learn more about the Springtime of the Peoples.


The revolutions of the 1820s, 1830s and 1848 challenged the core of the international order established at the Congress of Vienna. In several countries, the revolutionaries rose to power and promoted considerable changes — notably, political reforms and the expansion of civil rights. In other cases, conservative forces were able to forestall the success of certain upheavals, but it was rare to see the total triumph of absolutism. Thereafter, European countries would increasingly transition in the direction of republican or democratic regimes, proving the relevance of the ideals espoused by the French Revolution.




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