Liberal revolutions: antecedents, causes and consequences - science - 2023



The rliberal evolutions they were a series of revolutionary movements that took place in the first half of the 19th century. They occurred in three different waves: in 1820, 1830 and 1848. Their main motive was to recover the ideals of the French Revolution.

Faced with the attempts of the old regime to return to the previous absolutist monarchies, the emergence of ideologies such as nationalism and liberalism sought to change the system for one that respected individual freedom, the values ​​of the Enlightenment and the establishment of borders not subject to the agreements between the royal houses.

In the economic sphere, its closest antecedent was the Industrial Revolution, which gave rise to the appearance of a bourgeois class with the possibility of studying and training, and which acquired economic power. In addition, it also led to the emergence of the labor movement, with which their demands began to be heard.

Although it was a European phenomenon, its consequences soon reached other territories, especially America. Part of the independence movements drank from this liberal influence.


Independence of the United States and French Revolution

Half a century before the liberal revolutions began, there were great political and social movements that are the clearest antecedents of what then happened.

In 1700, the ideas of the Enlightenment had made an important gap among the intellectuals and thinkers of the time. Its ultimate purpose was to end the old regime, eliminating the structures of the absolute monarchy.

The first great historical event related to these ideas was the War of Independence in the United States. Although the spark that sparked it was the taxes that the British Crown wanted them to pay, nationalist and liberal ideas played the biggest role.

The Declaration of Independence (1776) and the elaborated Constitution (1787) are full of liberal references, pointing to the idea of ​​freedom and equality among men. Similarly, its establishment as a Federal Republic is significant.

Shortly afterwards, discontent and the bad situation in which the majority of the population in France lived provoked the French Revolution. The motto "Equality, liberty and fraternity", the fight against nobles, religious and monarchy and the preponderance of reason, made this Revolution a historical turning point.

Napoleon, as heir to the Revolution, clashed with the absolutist countries during several years of war. Apart from the territorial confrontation, there was also a clear ideological conflict.

Industrial Revolution

Another revolution, in this case non-political, also exerted a great influence on the changes that would follow. Thus, the Industrial Revolution - which began in England - produced a great transformation in society and in the economy.

In addition to the consolidation of capitalism and liberalism as an economic system, on the political-social level the relevant role that the bourgeoisie began to play was important.

Along with this a labor movement was organized with its own requests. Although the two classes were opposed on many issues, they had in common being against the absolutist states.

Courts of Cádiz in Spain

Opposed to both the absolutism of Ferdinand VII and Napoleon's imperialism, the Cortes of Cádiz drafted the Constitution of 1812. This was totally liberal, with much influence from the United States and the French Revolution.

Congress of Vienna

Against all these antecedents, the absolute monarchies tried to stop liberalism. At the Congress of Vienna, between 1814 and 1815, they designed a European map based on the ancient structures.

Once Napoleon was defeated, the victors tried to return to their former privileges and erase the republican and liberal heritage. The result of the negotiations in Vienna was a redistribution of the territory based on the interests of the royal houses.

Liberalism and nationalism

The emergence of these two ideologies were central to the liberal revolutions of the 19th century. Both agreed to oppose the return to the absolutist systems sought by the Congress of Vienna.

Thus, they asked for liberal systems to appear, as well as for the occupied or oppressed nations to get their rights.

Liberalism was an ideology that was based on the defense of individual freedoms and equality between human beings before the law. For this reason, they did not admit that the nobles and the king were above the Constitution or other laws.

Nationalism based the idea of ​​nation on community and history, fighting against the borders that the royal houses had created over the centuries.

For example, they emphasized German and Italian unifications and supported that the peoples that belonged to the Austrian Empire could become independent.

Objectives of the liberal revolutions

The liberal revolutions had as their goal the pursuit of the following political objectives:

- Legal equality of all citizens before regulatory entities.

- Freedom to the right of thought and expression.

- Defeat of the monarchy through the exercise of national sovereignty.

- Division of powers to avoid the concentration of power in a single political body.

- Rule of law guaranteed by a Magna Carta, constitution or fundamental law.

Causes of liberal revolutions

Political factors

By then there was strong political instability, given the heyday of the bourgeoisie as the counterpart of the privileged class that held power. Consequently, new political doctrines emerged, such as liberalism and nationalism.

In the case of liberal thought, it defends the preponderance of reason and knowledge, so all ideas should be respected and taken into account, regardless of their origin.

In parallel, nationalism originated. This doctrine defends the right of nations to exercise power over territory, within the framework of sovereignty and political independence.

Socio-economic factors

The Industrial Revolution led society towards a process of change in which the labor movement took the initiative from the social point of view.

Food crises were evident due to poor harvests that induced an increase in the supply of food, and consequently, a major economic crisis that led to a social outbreak.

What were the liberal revolutions?

Starting in the second decade of the 19th century, three different revolutionary waves took place, each one affecting several countries. The first took place between 1820 and 1824, the second in 1830 and the last in the years 1847 and 1848.

Revolutions of 1820

This first wave of liberal revolutions was not led by the people; in reality they were military coups against the absolutist rulers. Many historians point to the importance of secret societies (such as the Carbonari) in these movements.

The beginning of this wave took place in Spain, when Colonel Rafael de Riego rose up against Fernando VII and forced him to swear the Constitution of 1812.

The result was the Liberal Triennium, which ended with the king's request for help from the allied powers, who sent the so-called One Hundred Thousand Sons of San Luis to restore absolutism.

Other places where similar attempts were made were in Portugal and Naples. In the latter, the Carbonari managed to get the king to accept a Constitution. The Austrians took it upon themselves to end this experience.

Also in Russia - with a rebellion by the army against the Tsar in 1825 - and in Greece there were uprisings. While in the first it failed, in the second it led to a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire and with the recovery of its sovereignty.

Revolutions also took place in America during that decade. With different results, the criollos of Argentina (who succeeded) and those of Mexico (who failed) rose up against the Spanish Crown.

Following the momentum, in a few years Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Bolivia achieved independence.

Revolutions of 1830

The origin of the movements in 1830 was located in France. The economic crisis, plus opposition to Carlos X's attempts to establish an absolutist monarchy, sparked a widely supported revolution.The monarch was forced to leave the throne and, in his place, Louis Philippe of Orleans established a constitutional monarchy.

Meanwhile in Belgium there was a pro-independence uprising against the Netherlands, to which it belonged. With British support, they achieved sovereignty with a king who swore in the Constitution.

Other places where revolutionaries achieved their goals were in Switzerland, Spain and Portugal, countries that eliminated absolutism.

However, in Poland (which tried to become independent from Russia), in Italy (due to the intervention of Austria) and in Germany (which did not achieve unity) the uprisings were not successful.

Revolutions of 1848

Those of 1848 were much more popular revolutions, with much more marked democratic purposes. In fact, universal suffrage began to be requested in the election system.

One of the novelties is the participation of the proletariat, which brought a social character to the requests. It was a time when workers suffered miserable conditions, without any labor rights. The incipient labor movements began to mobilize.

As in the previous wave, this one started in France. The work of Luis Felipe was contested by the petty bourgeoisie, the peasants and the workers.

The elections were governed by a census system in which only 200,000 people out of 35 million could vote. A great coalition of different sectors requested greater freedom from the king, but he refused.

To make matters worse, two years of poor harvests caused a major economic crisis. In February 1848 a series of revolts forced Luis Felipe to abdicate. After his government, the Second Republic began.

Unity among the revolutionaries did not last long and power was held by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who once again put an end to the freedoms achieved and declared the Second Empire.

In the rest of Europe the uprisings followed one another, with more or less success. Thus, in the Austrian Empire, despite initial advances, absolutism survived thanks to Russian help. In Italy, only Piedmont achieved a liberal Constitution.

Finally, in Germany the fear of the growing labor movement made the bourgeoisie not continue with the reforms, despite the fact that 39 states were endowed with a Constitution.

Consequences of the liberal revolutions

Political aftermath

The liberal revolutions fostered the emergence of democratic ideals that would encourage the participation of the masses, without discrimination of any kind.

The working class gained strength as a political party, and principles such as social equality, popular sovereignty, and the practice of universal voting to elect rulers by popular mandate were defined.

The foregoing within the framework of the independence and political autonomy of the territories. Therefore, many Latin American countries used these revolts to inspire and fight for their own emancipation.

Socio-economic consequences

The bourgeoisie consolidated itself as the sector with the greatest economic power. However, class differences between the petty and the big bourgeoisie were evident throughout the 19th century.

For their part, the proletariat and the peasantry were actively considered in the political consultations.


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