Eighteen-thirty, the ‘revolution stopped half-way’, and eighteen-forty-eight, the ‘turning point at which modem history failed to turn’, are the principal landmarks of this period during which the forms of government of states changed perhaps more sharply and in more interesting and varied ways than at any other time between the revolutionary decade of the 1790’s and the ten years that shook the world between 1910 and 1920.
In a brief period of some forty years between 1830 and 1871 France experimented with a semi-liberal ‘bourgeois monarchy’, a radical Second Republic, a semi-authoritarian prince-presidency, an authoritarian Second Empire (see ch. XVII), a so-called ‘liberal empire’, an ultra-radical Paris Commune and an (at first) ill-defined Third Republic. Great Britain passed two parliamentary reform acts (cf. ch. XIII, pp. 335 and 336), abandoning the 400-year-old forty-shilling franchise in the counties and sweeping away the rotten and pocket boroughs, and in 1870 was on the eve of adopting that secret ballot which the dreaded Chartists had demanded as one of their ‘Six Points’ in 1839. Prussia, after a false dawn of liberalism when Frederick William IV became king in 1840 (like that in Italy when Pius IX was elected pope in 1846), saw a united Diet called for the first time in 1847, initiated a constitutional regime in 1848 and, after briefly adopting universal manhood suffrage, settled down at last as a mildly limited monarchy (though with a distinctly undemocratic class franchise) under the constitution of 1850—which was to last until the year 1918 (see ch. XIX passim). Austria, on the other hand, recoiled in 1851 from her first experience as a constitutional state (Hungary’s 1848 constitution had been eradicated even earlier), and, after the experiments of the Diploma of 1860 and the Patent of 1861 had failed, achieved compromise if not stability in the Ausgleich of 1867 (see ch. xx). The rest of Germany, under the leadership of a more forward-looking Prussia, was unified as a quasi-federation of states, several of which had reserved to them powers enjoyed by no state of the American Union, while Prussia herself managed to retain a dominating position in the German Second Reich such as neither Virginia nor Massachusetts had carved out, despite the part these states had played in the struggle for independence. Italy, too, was unified, and, in becoming so, rejected federalism in favour of the general adoption of the unitary and (for its day) liberal Piedmontese Statuto of 1848 (see ch. xxi). Switzerland in 1848 (as later in 1874) refashioned her form of government in the direction of a truer federalism and a real democracy, and became (like the United States once again after 1865 and Great Britain, too, after 1867 and 1872) an inspiration to other countries and peoples seeking to marry effective government to free institutions.
On the other side of the account Spain suffered from continuous disorders, and neither her authoritarian nor her liberal forces could bring to her the blessings of stable or wise government. Mexico, equally troubled, abandoned the unitarism of Santa Anna for the federalism of Juarez in 1856, but her hard-won republican institutions suffered a temporary setback in the 1860’s under the blows of foreign intervention, while the United States, her potential protector against European adventurers, was preoccupied with internecine warfare (see ch. xxv). The United States experienced, in this civil war of South versus North, her own greatest crisis of federalism, and the Confederate constitution of 1861 challenged for a time many of the hallowed principles of the federal constitution of 1787, until, by the defeat of the South in 1865, the Union was restored on an even stronger basis than before (see ch. xxiv). The Poles, despite two heroic rebellions against their oppressors in 1831 and in 1863 (and an abortive rising in 1846), failed to recover any part of their lost independence or liberties. Russia, unregenerate under Nicholas I (1825-55), turned at last toward tentative reforms in the 1860’s (cf. ch. XIV, pp. 369-80), but did not go on to achieve a truly constitutional regime or a national legislature until the twentieth century. The decay of the Ottoman empire was as yet unchecked by even the smallest effort at reform, while China, supine under the decadent Manchu emperors, seemed fully to justify Alfred Tennyson’s gibe of the year 1842: ‘Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.’
The two decades stretching from the first British Reform Act of 1832 to the proclamation of the Second French Empire in 1852 constitute the period of most rapid advance in the direction of democracy, as defined by Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and John Stuart Mill’s Representative Government, of the whole nineteenth century; during the six months ending in June 1848 its progress seemed irresistible, and its complete achievement everywhere only a matter of time.
But events from the middle of 1848 onwards reversed that seemingly inevitable trend in country after country. The Chartist fiasco in April set Great Britain in the mould of ‘finality’ for the greater part of a generation; the bloodshed of the ‘June Days’ in Paris finally frightened the French middle classes out of their radicalism and threw them into the arms of a lesser Napoleon (cf. ch. XV); Custoza and Novara stopped the onward march of Charles Albert of Sardinia toward that throne of a liberal and united Italy which had so recently seemed within his grasp. In Prague, Windischgratz dispersed the Pan-Slav Congress and shut down the Bohemian revolution; in Frankfurt the newly assembled National Parliament was sidetracked from the pursuit of democracy to participate in a German chauvinistic ‘crusade’ against Denmark—which even the archradical Karl Marx applauded with the rest from his sniper’s nest at Cologne. The picture was the same everywhere—in Vienna, in Hungary, in Croatia, in Poland—while the tide of revolution had turned back even before it had reached the boundaries of an unregenerate Russia and a moribund Spain.
The forces of revolutionary radicalism fought on sporadically through 1849—in Baden and Saxony, in Hungary and in Rome—and even in 1850 and 1851 in a few places, but Louis Napoleon’s coup d'etat of 1851 in France (which spared the universal franchise only because he and his like were no longer afraid of it as a disruptive force, and even found a use for it as an instrument of reaction) was a sign to all the world that a great liberal age was over. When he restored the French empire as Napoleon III in 1852 the door seemed doubly barred and bolted to those forces which had grown from such small beginnings in 1776 and 1789 to shock the western world on two occasions (in January 1793 and in February 1848) in a way in which it had not been shocked since the executioner had held up the severed head of Charles I of England in Whitehall on 30 January 1649.
A sincere radical who had campaigned against the Sonderbund in Switzerland in 1847, or subscribed to a reform banquet in Paris in 1848, or stood defiantly on the ramparts of beleaguered Rome in 1849, or chased ‘butcher’ Haynau through the streets of London in 1850, or cheered the exiled Kossuth in New York in 1851, might well have been in the depths of despair by 1852, for the prospects for his ideals, recently so bright, now appeared in sombre colours everywhere.
The forty years stretching from the revision of the French Constitutional Charter to the establishment of the unified German Reich of 1871 thus constitute an epoch in the development of constitutional forms in Europe and the world which is by no means one of continuous advance toward more liberal and more democratic institutions. It is true that in 1831 there was still no really democratic form of government existing anywhere on a nation-wide scale, whereas by 1871 there were several, while many more had democratic features and implications; nevertheless, the progress of the two preceding decades was by no means maintained during the 1850’s and 1860’s. Indeed, from about 1849 to about 1859 a phase of reaction set in during which a good deal of ground was lost. The advance began again in the latter year, but it was more tentative and cautious than immediately before the reaction. Their former optimism and enthusiasm had, in large measure, gone out of liberals and democrats after their chastening experiences of the ’fifties, and they now had to watch their countries receive constitutions from the hands of those whom they regarded as anything but democrats, or acquire a long-sought and much-prayed-for political unification on bases they considered unsound and illiberal. Often they swallowed their disappointment—like the Prussian liberals who gave Bismarck his bill of indemnity in 1866 (cf. ch. XIV, p. 520), and the Italian liberals who fell in with the schemes of the Machiavellian Cavour—and made the best of this rather less brave new world than that of which they had dreamed; but to many of them the process was permanently embittering.
Meanwhile new forces and new doctrines had arisen to challenge classical nineteenth-century liberalism. The utopian and other socialists had already fired some small salvoes, and it was the turn of the big guns. Co-author of The Communist Manifesto in 1847 and an incisive contemporary critic of the liberals of 1848, Karl Marx had mercilessly pilloried their mistakes in his newspaper at Cologne and in his articles printed by Horace Greeley in the New York Herald. Moreover, he had before 1870 produced the first volume of his magnum opus. Although Das Kapital was as yet little known and even less read, it presented, embedded in its pages for those who could ferret it out, a complete alternative to the philosophy of liberalism that had hitherto held the progressive field. The old struggle between autocratic princes and peoples imbued with liberal principles struggling to secure a fuller share in the government of their countries, was, in the system of Marx, replaced by the even more bitter economic struggle between the exploiting and the exploited classes of society, which would end, in his view, in the seizure of power by the latter and the creation of a truly classless and completely egalitarian community, owning the instruments of production and all the products of its toil in common. This was not the Utopia of John Stuart Mill, for all the mild socialism of his latter years!
Yet this new doctrine of the class struggle, this post-liberal dogmatism, had nowhere affected practical politics or constitution-making even by the end of these forty years. It is true that some of the men of the Paris Commune of 1871 were unconscious or semi-conscious Marxists, in that they had seen the ‘June Days’ of the revolution of 1848 in France as the revolt and the suppression of an urban proletariat demanding the right to work as well as simply the right to vote, and like Marx had drawn their conclusions (albeit more muddled and less systematised than his) therefrom. But the Paris Commune was at the most an ultra-radical episode on a purely local scale. It led to no nation-wide movement and created no national instrument of government. It did not even discover a new technique of revolution as the Russians were to do in their ‘rehearsal’ revolution of 1905 with their councils of soldiers and workers. The Commune was created and run mainly by disillusioned radicals and socialists many of whom had been forced into exile or into underground conspiracy during the Second Empire. They were, in spirit and outlook, much more akin to the Jacobins of 1793 than to the Bolshevists of 1917.
Those countries which in earlier centuries had given a lead in establishing and safeguarding the liberty of the individual in the state, began to concentrate in the nineteenth century upon giving to the individual citizen the liberty to express himself and to make his own views felt in local and central government. The sum of the individual citizens in the state, known collectively as ‘the people’, came to express themselves through what are known as democratic institutions only about the middle of the nineteenth century. These at first existed only in France between 1848 and 1851, under the Second Republic before the coup d'etat, and in Prussia between 1848 and 1850. In Switzerland they have existed continuously since 1848. They were not very evident elsewhere, except in a few of the newer states of the American Union (such as Iowa and Wisconsin), until very much later.
The so-called ‘legitimist’ constitutions of which the French Charter of 1814 had been the prototype—for the Spanish constitution of 1812 and the Norwegian of 1814 were suspect as being revolutionary in origin and as owing too much to French constitutional experiments of the 1790’s— were a step forward from unadulterated absolutism, but they were anything but liberal and were deliberately anti-democratic in intention. Nobody was satisfied with them other than the small groups of moderate conservatives who had devised them. The reactionaries (represented in France by the ‘Ultras’ of the White Terror) did not find them reactionary enough and the various shades of radicals thought them too reactionary. Under fire from all sides as they were, it is remarkable that they survived until the 1830’s. It only needed the example of France to show the way for a whole series of states in western and central Europe to revise their legitimist constitutions in a more liberal direction, while a number of states which had not as yet been given constitutions at all now received instruments of government of a legitimist or post-legitimist type.
The forces of liberalism in Europe were heartened within the short span of three years by genuine and fundamental reforms in the governments of France (in 1830), of Belgium (in 1831) and of Great Britain (in 1832), while the lesser states of Saxony and Kurhessen (in 1831), Brunswick (in 1832) and Hanover (in 1833) in Germany were given new constitutions before Metternich, in the Schluss-Protokolle of 1834, put a stop through the machinery of the Bund to any further constitution-granting until he and his system were to disappear from the scene in 1848 (cf. ch. XV, p. 396). Several of these constitutions (like that of Saxony) were to last for nearly a century, but, by way of exception, that of Hanover (issued by King William IV in 1833), though it was a very mild piece of legitimist constitutionalism, was withdrawn after only four years by King Ernest Augustus —the wickedest of Queen Victoria’s ‘wicked uncles’—on his accession in 1837. The ‘constitution’ he issued in 1840 was a mere affirmation and reiteration of the king’s unique authority in the state and of the subordinate position of the estates, and is even more conservative than had been the French Charter of 1814, preamble and all. Ernest Augustus was able to put the clock back in Hanover in a way Charles X had failed to do in France, an index of the extent to which the liberal and democratic ideal had taken hold of France and of the small headway it had as yet made in Germany. The German states were, in fact, still a generation behind France in their constitutional evolution before 1848, which made it necessary for them to attempt to make up so much ground so rapidly during the years of revolution. In some cases (as in Prussia) they were to make very substantial progress—though by no means all of it was maintained—between 1847 and 1850, but in others (as was the case with Austria and the Habsburg realm generally) their inoculation during those years still did not successfully ‘take’, and a fresh start had to be made a decade later.
The revised French Charter of 1830—in which sovereignty was taken away from the monarch though not yet clearly given to the people, but in which the autocratic preamble was suppressed—was far less directly copied in other countries than had been the Charter in its original version of 1814. This was because it had in 1814 represented the limit of the concessions which a monarch of the period was prepared to make, whereas by 1830 the people in many countries were demanding a much wider actual share in government and a much more complete recognition of their importance in the state than even Louis Philippe was willing to admit them to. That is why Victor Hugo called 1830 ‘a revolution stopped halfway’ and the romantics and radicals criticised the July Monarchy no less bitterly than they had attacked the regime of the Restoration. Nowhere was the Charter of 1830 nailed to the mast as a banner of progress as had been the Spanish constitution of 1812. Other countries and peoples which copied it all sought to improve upon it, to do what Louis Philippe had left undone, and what his French critics continued to tell him he ought to do. Adolphe Thiers went into opposition on the refrain of ‘the King should reign but he should not govern’, a position that had been accepted by King William IV in England and by the new King Leopold I in Belgium, but which Louis Philippe—and Guizot—found it very difficult indeed to accept. Under a constitution which gave him great scope for parliamentary manipulation and for packing the chambers with his henchmen, the Citizen King could not resist the temptation of trying to play the part of George III. Less lucky than that monarch, he was to lose his throne as a result.
From a liberal point of view France after 1831 compared unfavourably with Belgium after the southern Netherlands broke away from the Kingdom of Holland, to which they had been arbitrarily and somewhat crudely joined in 1815 under the terms of the Vienna settlement. Suddenly, as a result of the Belgian revolution, there came into existence in 1831 a ‘model’ state, presided over by a truly model king, who accepted all the implications of limited monarchy and who recognised without quibble or reservation the sovereignty of the people. The Belgian constitution of 1831 (which still remains in force, virtually unchanged) completely out-bid the revised French Charter and practically every other European constitution of its day. Only across the Atlantic did there exist—in the shape of that United States constitution so warmly described in Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (first published in 1835)—a form of government possessing competing attractions for the liberal-minded citizen of the older continent; but many more conservative Europeans—especially if they were devotees of Mrs Elizabeth Trollope and Mr Charles Dickens— had very serious doubts indeed about the applicability of the institutions of the country of Andrew Jackson and the Spoils System, of ‘Cannibal Phil’ and the Know-Nothings, of the ‘Workies’ and the ‘Locofocos’, to their more genteel civilisation.
The Belgian constitution of 1831 rapidly replaced the Spanish constitution of 1812—except in the remoter backwoods of Latin Europe and Latin America—as the beacon-light for liberals and radicals who did not stand so far to the left (and there were very few in the 1830’s who did) that they wanted to overthrow all monarchies and replace them by republics. Wherever a strictly limited constitutional monarchy was the ideal— there stood the Belgium of King Leopold as a shining example. Hers was the constitution that ‘had everything’—the sovereignty of the people clearly recognised, a monarch and a dynasty owing their position to having taken an oath to honour the constitution, a bicameral legislature, both houses of which were completely elected by the people, an independent judiciary, a clergy paid by the state but independent of it, and a declaration of the rights of the citizen firmly based on the principles of 1776 and 1789, yet in a number of respects containing improvements upon these. It is true that this paragon of a constitution was not democratic (though it contained nothing that would prevent democratic features from being added later) and was hard (though not as hard as the American) to amend, but it contained so many features that were either unique or very much better than anything to be found elsewhere—including Great Britain, from which the Belgian constitution-makers had borrowed so many ideas and practices—that it is only to be wondered at that it was not more extensively copied than it was. In the revolutionary constitution-making period of 1848, however, it was very influential: in Germany, in Italy, in Scandinavia, and elsewhere.
The British Parliamentary Reform of 1832 aroused as much interest in the world as the Belgian constitution of 1831 and was equally seminal, though in a different way and for different reasons. It had long been realised on the continent of Europe that Great Britain possessed a limited monarchy and had managed to protect the liberty of the citizen from arbitrary governmental action to a remarkably successful extent. Voltaire, Montesquieu and many other continental commentators had discussed these features nearly a century earlier and the repressive measures occasionally adopted in the days of William Pitt and Lord Liverpool had not shaken the Continent’s faith in the essential reality of British liberty. But nobody had quite succeeded in explaining how Great Britain managed to do it. With an extremely inactive central government (except in foreign affairs) and with local affairs run by part-time amateurs, with a negligible army, no bureaucracy worthy of the name, and—most remarkable of all— ‘governed without police’ (not to mention the ubiquitous secret police without which continental rulers imagined they could not survive), Great Britain was the wonder and also the despair of foreign constitution-makers. They were forced to the conclusion that her institutions (except to a limited and piecemeal extent) were ‘not for export’ and were incapable of logical definition.
Not only were Great Britain’s political institutions hard to explain and harder to copy, but they were, to the liberals of the continent of Europe of the 1830’s, in a way irrelevant to their needs. The hard-won (but very tentative) first Reform Act of 1832 increased the number of voters in British elections by some 50 per cent, but Great Britain’s electoral franchise had, even before 1832, been the widest in the world outside some of the new republics of the American continent. The Swedish constitution of 1809, the Spanish of 1812, the Norwegian of 1814, the Dutch of 1815, the revised French Charter of 1830, and the Belgian constitution of 1831 itself (or the electoral laws passed under their provisions) all prescribed narrower franchises than even the old unreformed British system of the forty-shilling freehold and of all but the rottenest of the rotten boroughs. France of the Charter of 1814 had under 100,000 voters out of a population of 29 millions; Belgium in 1831 enfranchised only 46,000 people out of over 4 millions, and even by 1848 there were only 79,000 voters in that country. The Reform Act of 1832, therefore, widening a 400-year-old county franchise that was already wider than anything as yet dreamed of in the philosophy of most foreign reformers, and sweeping away potwalloper, scot and lot, burgage, corporation and freeman borough franchises, the significance of which was but vaguely understood by them, was not much of a direct inspiration to the outside world. What attracted more notice was the legislative activity of the first reformed Parliament (despite the fact that it was, by and large, in the hands of the same governing classes as before) and the turning by Great Britain to an intensive programme of law reform and codification (to which Jeremy Bentham and his school had pointed the way in voluminous writings, read more assiduously on the Continent than at home). In the space of a generation this was to transform many of her institutions and permit her to catch up administratively with the multitudinous changes wrought by an Industrial Revolution which had, before 1830, all but engulfed Great Britain’s governmental machine. Foreigners were also interested in Parliament and its procedure, and how it maintained its legislative supremacy; they were interested in the cabinet system and how it synthesised the different functions of government; they were interested in the party system and how it avoided permanent fragmentation even when Tories changed into Protectionists and then into Conservatives, when the Radicals split off from Whigs and Peelites evolved into Liberals, and when Gladstone, ‘the rising hope of the stem unbending Tories’ of 1832, metamorphosed himself into the greatest Liberal prime minister of the second half of the nineteenth century.
The ‘reception’ of the reformed British constitutional system on the Continent was also hindered during the 1830’s and 1840’s by the lack of any up-to-date commentary upon it comparable in authority and readability to that of Montesquieu a century earlier, or to Tocqueville’s new work on the American constitution. Rotteck and Welcker’s Staatslexikon (1834-49) was merely descriptive, and it was not until 1857 that Rudolf von Gneist was to publish his influential Das englische Verfassungs-und Verwaltungsrecht or until 1867 that Walter Bagehot was to write so lucidly on The English Constitution.
What the Continent did notice was the continuing discontent in Great Britain herself at the meagre extent of the constitutional changes of the 1830’s and the repeated statements on the part of some leading politicians that these reforms were ‘final’. The rebellions in Canada of 1837 also did nothing to endear the British system to the rest of the world, and the full implications of the very liberal Durham Report of 1839 were neither understood nor worked out until some years later. The growing Chartist agitation was a clear indication that something was still rotten in the state of Great Britain. Her new young Queen and her equally young and inexperienced consort (a minor German prince from the same family as Leopold of Belgium) were as yet virtually unknown quantities in the situation. Great Britain could, in 1847, have been heading for another constitutional crisis which might disrupt her political life for a generation, for all that the outside world could tell. For such reasons Great Britain was less of an inspiration to the liberals and radicals who made and led the revolutions of 1848 than she might perhaps have been, and certainly less than was Belgium.
By contrast, the United States of America, from 1835 onwards, was rapidly becoming almost a cult among some continental liberals, who had escaped the poisoned arrows of Mrs Trollope and Charles Dickens and whose countrymen were not waging a ‘literary war’ with the Americans. In France Lafayette, that great champion of everything American and traditional symbol of friendship for the United States, lived long enough to see the torch taken up by Tocqueville. In Germany Rotteck and Welcker—who were also active politicians—reserved their highest praises for the American constitution, and returned emigrants like Professor Tellkampf expressed their unbounded enthusiasm for it in speeches and pamphlets. On a more popular level the lively and exciting novels of the Austrian writer Carl Postl (‘Charles Sealsfield’) romanticised for readers throughout German-speaking Europe the course of western settlement and life on the American frontier, with its freedom and lack of conventions or social caste. In this generation, men who wanted to found a utopia thought of going first to the United States or the western wilderness beyond her borders. Robert Owen and his sons went from New Lanark to New Harmony in Indiana; Karl Follen and his brother, leaders of the Men in Black of Giessen (Giessener Schwarzen), went to Missouri. Nobody thought of setting up a utopia in the land of Disraeli’s ‘two nations ’, any more than in that of Ernest Augustus and the seven martyrs of Gottingen.
During the decades of ‘finality’ in the Germany of Metternich, in Guizot’s France and in Lord John Russell’s Great Britain, the American example made much headway in Europe, so that when the pent-up forces of radical reform were released by the revolutionary outbreaks of January, February and March 1848, it was to the United States and to Belgium that some constitution-makers eventually looked. If they wanted a purely unitary government or to limit a monarchy without overturning it, they tended to turn toward Belgium. This was the case in Denmark, for example, and even in Holland. If they wanted a republic, or to create a federal government, whether monarchical or republican, they were powerfully attracted toward the United States. President Polk in his annual messages of December 1847 and 1848 took the opportunity of lecturing Europe on the advantages of the American system, and his representatives abroad, such as Andrew Jackson Donelson (nephew as well as namesake of the former President) who was Minister to Prussia and was also accredited to the Frankfurt provisional central government in 1848, underlined this theme at every opportunity. Donelson wrote to Anton von Schmerling (then head of the Frankfurt provisional government) on 25 July 1848:
The idea of Unity from which this German movement springs is that on which the American states have ever acted. They began their independence by the organisation of a federal power strong enough to repel foreign aggression. Under this system they have passed through three wars and after the experience of three-fourths of a century, it may confidently be asserted that they possess not a citizen who would not regard the dissolution of the Union as the greatest calamity that could befall his country.
Aiding and abetting this good work, the representative of the Frankfurt government in the United States, Friedrich von Roenne (who had previously been Prussian Minister there, and whose pro-American views were well known), peppered the ministries of the provisional government and the committees of the National Assembly with advice concerning how things were done in the United States and how profitably Germany could copy the political and economic institutions of that country. On 10 January 1849, for example, he quoted at considerable length a speech by Daniel Webster on the theme that power was with the people, but they could not exercise it in masses or per capita but only by their representatives. Even before returning to the United States he had, in a speech in Berlin (later printed as a pamphlet) on 28 April 1848, when seeking election to the Frankfurt National Assembly, strongly urged the example of America’s federal union as a model for a monarchical German Bundesstaat. Thanks to these and other efforts, the example of the United States was, indeed, on almost everybody’s lips at Frankfurt during the constitution-making days of 1848 and 1849. A Swedish observer, Maximilian Scheie de Vere (who had been in the service of Prussia), wrote from that city on 23 July 1848 to Robert T. Hunter, then a member of the United States House of Representatives, that The American name, I am glad to find, has never stood higher; everywhere are works and pamphlets in Book-stores and on centre tables in our institutions, and almost every orator points to them as a glorious example’.
Small wonder was it that the federal constitution that finally emerged in 1849 from the deliberations of the German National Assembly owed a great deal, both in structure and in spirit to the United States’ constitution of 1787. It created a true Bundesstaat, and the main difference between the two constitutions was the substitution of an hereditary monarchical head of the state for an elected president. In a number of ways it improved upon the American constitution and nowhere was it markedly inferior to it. After the Frankfurt constitution was wrecked by the refusal of Frederick William IV of Prussia to accept the headship of the new federal Kleindeutschland, the constitution remained an ideal. Bismarck borrowed freely (though without acknowledgment) from it in devising a federal constitution for the North German Confederation in 1867 and in extending this to serve the needs of the second German Reich of 1871, and again in 1919 the makers of the Weimar constitution of the first German republic made use of the Frankfurt constitution. Even the West German Federal Republic is in its debt to some extent.
Other experimenters in federal constitution-making went to the well of American experience in 1848 and 1849. The Swiss, after the defeat of the forces of disruption and of a narrow particularism in the Sonderbund war of 1847, turned their loose and inadequate confederation of 1815 into a true Bundesstaat in the new constitution of 1848. Borrowing to a lesser extent from France (they adopted the universal manhood suffrage of the Second Republic) and from Belgium (though they kept their weak ‘directorial’ executive, and of course retained their hallowed republican institutions) they helped themselves to whatever appealed to them in the American constitution. In particular they followed Section iv of that instrument in giving teeth to the federal government for interfering wherever necessary in the affairs of the separate cantons. Nevertheless, the reserved powers of the cantons were most meticulously defined and protected, rather more carefully indeed than those of the American states. That vagueness which had resulted in the rise of claims to state sovereignty and of nullification in John C. Calhoun’s South Carolina and elsewhere, and which had caused the ‘internal improvements’ and ‘United States Bank’ controversies (cf. ch. XXIII, pp. 604-10), was studiously avoided. This bargain between twenty-two cantons made use of, but also improved upon, the earlier bargain between the thirteen states. Had the United States possessed in 1848 as tightly drawn a federal constitution as did Switzerland, it is possible that the constitutional crisis of the ’fifties and the temporary break-up of the Union in 1861 might not have occurred.
Yet the Swiss did not go all the way that they might have done in safeguarding their new federal institutions. They did not, for instance, set up a supreme court to act as a constitutional watch-dog (this omission was repaired when the Federal Tribunal was created in 1874). Nevertheless, at one bound (even without the significant improvements that were to be added in 1874) the Swiss form of government leaped in 1848 to the forefront of those which were to provide encouragement to liberals and democrats throughout the world, and provided a valuable example to all countries feeling the need for a federal system. Like the Belgian constitution of 1831 it has remained in force ever since. Switzerland has never since 1848 turned her back on the universal manhood suffrage she then adopted—in a year that saw the Chartists and their ‘Six Points’ (of which universal manhood suffrage was one) discredited and set aside by a highly disapproving Great Britain.
Another experiment with federal institutions during the years of revolution was to meet with a less happy fate. On the face of it the Austrian empire—indeed the whole Habsburg monarchy—would seem to have been perhaps riper than any other country for the blessings of federalism. A multi-national state, composed of provinces and crown lands of strikingly different traditions and needs, Austria had much to learn from the American and the Swiss examples—even if the Magyars of the Kingdom of Hungary, over-anxious to keep down their ‘subject races’, had proceeded with precipitate haste from their ‘ten points’ of reform to devise a purely unitary constitution early in 1848, and to present this to their monarch as a fait accompli. In the Austrian half of the monarchy a genuine attempt at a federal solution to all the difficulties of governing such a state was made. Although the Slav elements in the empire were early to break away and to refuse further collaboration in the work of the Austrian Reichstag which first met on 9 May 1848 (just as they had refused to collaborate from the beginning in the work of the Frankfurt Constituent Assembly, which had originally intended to comprehend the Austrian crown lands in a Grossdeutsch federal state), this great assembly, assuming constituent functions, went on to produce at the beginning of 1849 the remarkable Kremsier draft constitution (cf. ch. xx, p. 524). This constitution, again borrowing freely but by no means slavishly from the United States and Switzerland, might, had it been adopted, have altered the destinies of the Habsburg monarchy, for, if it had succeeded in Austria, the Hungarian crown lands might well have eventually been drawn in on a basis of reasonable equality (one with another and with the Austrian lands), and whether or not the Habsburg dynasty could have continued to rule over it, a great and viable federation might have arisen to bind together the lands of the Danube valley in a political system that did justice to their geographical and economic interdependence. Josef Redlich said of the Kremsier draft constitution of 1849 that, measured both by moral and intellectual standards, this document was the only great political monument of the common will for the state which in Imperial Austria the people had created through their own representatives, and R. W. Seton-Watson saw in it ‘the living proof that the nations of Austria were in that age capable of working out their political salvation’; but, unlike the Frankfurt constitution, it was to be still-born. Banished to the remote Moravian town of Kremsier by the emperor and his reactionary advisers, the Austrian constituent Diet was dissolved and its constitution rejected by them in favour of a unitary, illiberal and entirely inadequate one of their own devising issued on 9 March 1849. Even this was a piece of window-dressing on the part of the ingenious Prince Felix von Schwarzenberg, for its ‘representative’ legislature was never to meet. It was abandoned on 31 December 1851 in favour of a return to naked absolutism for nearly a decade.
The Kremsier constitution would have recognised religious freedom within the Austrian empire; it would have protected minorities and safeguarded the rights of the individual; it proclaimed absolute national equality and provided a federal legislature in which all the nationalities would have been adequately represented. The emperor would have been required to accept the position of a limited monarch under this constitution, but under it, also, the Habsburg dynasty might have been able to prolong its rule beyond the debacle of 1918. Perhaps the Kremsier constitution was too idealistic even for that age of idealists, but it provided the polyglot Austrian monarchy with its last real chance of modernising itself and maintaining its place in a changing world.
In the Italy of 1848 and 1849 it is difficult to discern definite trends amidst the welter of constitutional experiment. But one aim was clear: the removal of the Austrians to beyond the Alps. As with Machiavelli when he wrote The Prince, the thought uppermost in the patriotic Italian mind was ‘To all of us this barbarian dominion stinks ’. National independence was as important as free institutions to the Italians and it was, indeed, in Italy that national and liberal feeling achieved their closest co-ordination at this time. In France, with national independence and national (if not ‘natural’) frontiers long since achieved, the nation as ‘the popular will organised by the state’ stood against and overthrew an insufficiently liberal king; in Germany and in the Habsburg monarchy nationalism and liberalism often stood in each other’s way and cancelled each other out, as when the National Assembly that was making a liberal constitution at Frankfurt stepped aside from its task to collaborate with Prussia in the bullying of Denmark, or when the Magyars secured free institutions for themselves in Hungary while denying them to the ‘subject nationalities’ of the kingdom (cf. ch. IX, pp. 239-40). Gradually in Germany and much more rapidly in Austria and Hungary, the liberal impetus was to be blotted out by an insatiable nationalism, which made use of the Hegelian concept of the ‘state as god’ to prepare the way for a solution of the German problem by blood and iron. In parts of Italy alone a fervent nationalist could remain a good liberal in and after 1848. He was not required (as was his French counterpart) either to accept the dictatorship of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte or to pursue his liberalism in exile or underground; he was not, as were so many good German, Austrian and Hungarian liberals, driven to emigrate to America in the 1850’s. In Italy Giuseppe Mazzini typified both the national and the liberal ideal, and after he had been driven from the Roman republic by French arms in 1849 he was able temporarily to collaborate with the monarchical government of Piedmont-Sardinia to drive both the French and the Austrians out of Italy, but he remained a republican to the last. Charles Albert’s constitution of 1848 was just sufficiently liberal to be acceptable to the men who had founded the Young Italy movement in the 1830’s. They were not asked to accept a return to a purely arbitrary monarchical government (such as was reinstated in Austria after 1851) or to one presenting only a sham facade of liberalism (as in France after the coup d'etat or in Prussia under the constitution of 1850). This was what gave such strength to the Italy of Victor Emmanuel and Cavour, and it was a lesson not entirely lost sight of by Bismarck when—after brutally crushing the liberal opposition of the Progressive Party in Prussia in 1862—he asked for a bill of indemnity, produced universal manhood suffrage out of his helmet for the North German Confederation in 1867 and borrowed so much from the Frankfurt constitution of 1849 in devising a federated German empire in 1871.
The history of Italian unification (ch. XXI) is a noteworthy example of the use and the discarding of a variety of constitutional forms and concepts in the process of pursuing the one overriding objective of political unity and independence. Before 1848 several competing constitutional solutions to the Italian problem held the field. In 1815 Italy had still been ‘a geographical expression’ and had no constitutions in the modem sense in any of the states, principalities and provinces within her traditional boundaries. A virtual tabula rasa had existed for her thinkers and men of action of the succeeding two generations. Even as late as the abortive outburst of unrest against her more arbitrary rulers in 1820 and 1821 all that had been demanded by the revolutionaries in Piedmont at one end of the peninsula and in Naples at the other was the adoption of the Spanish constitution of 1812. This somewhat faded copy of the first French revolutionary constitution of 1791 was by then entirely inadequate for Italy’s (as indeed it was also for Spain’s) needs, and few of the Italians who demanded its proclamation had read it. It was as the current symbol of the aspirations of a people struggling to free itself from monarchical tyranny and foreign occupation that it had its long popularity in Latin Europe, though Latin America had already before 1821 begun to aspire to higher things. Even as late as 1848 the benighted Neapolitans, cut off from the main stream of European political thought during the obscurantist dictatorship which had persisted since the restoration of the ancieti regime in the kingdom in 1815, once more demanded the Spanish constitution of 1812, and it was proclaimed there yet again —though never properly put into force. At the same time the Sicilians went back to their ‘British-type’ constitution of the same year (1812), an interesting if somewhat rustic exercise in putting Britain’s institutions of the day on paper.
Apart from these somewhat antiquarian touches, Italians were remarkably realistic about their constitutional dilemma in 1848. Mazzini and Young Italy had, ever since 1831, favoured a unitary republic for Italy; the neo-Guelphs wanted a monarchical federation under the presidency of the pope, and Gioberti’s influential Del Primato morale e civile degli ltaliani, published in 1843, gave direction and crystallisation to this idea; then came Balbo’s Delle Speranze d’Italia in 1844 to advocate a crusade led by Piedmont-Sardinia against Italy’s oppressors. For a short time between 1846 and 1848 when many Italians believed (with Metternich) that Pius IX really was a liberal pope, the federal and monarchical solution of the Primato appeared to hold the field. Even Mazzini announced that he would support papal leadership of a united and independent Italy. The craven attitude of Pius IX in the early months of 1848, and his subsequent ‘surrender’ to the Austrians, entirely wrecked the neo-Guelph cause (even Gioberti himself was to desert it in 1851), while the courageous action of that hitherto not very liberal or idealistic monarch, Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia, in attacking the Austrians in Lombardy and pinning them down within their quadrilateral of fortresses, immediately switched the loyalties of large numbers of Italian liberals and nationalists everywhere to the views of Balbo—which had, of course, also powerfully influenced Charles Albert himself.
The Statuto which Charles Albert so providentially proclaimed on 4 March 1848, in the midst of his liberation of Lombardy and more than a week before Metternich was to be dismissed from office in Vienna, allowed national and liberal feelings to focus on to one objective and one solution of the Italian problem. It was not much of a constitution (as constitutions went in 1848), being far less liberal than that of the Second French Republic and in some ways even than the revised French Charter of 1830. It was indeed a sort of compromise between 1830 and 1814 with some British influence (such as a responsible ‘parliamentary’ ministry) and some Belgian (particularly in the sphere of protecting the rights of the citizen). American federalism was irrelevant to Piedmont’s needs in 1848, but the system of permanent legislative committees for the examination of proposed laws that had grown up in the United States was adopted and written into the Statuto—though of course these had been given no formal sanction by the American constitution. The electoral law of 1848 (provided for in the Statuto) was anything but democratic, for it enfranchised barely 2\ per cent of the population of Piedmont-Sardinia in a year which saw universal manhood suffrage adopted in both France and Switzerland. On the subject of the sovereignty of the people the framers of the Statuto sat squarely on the fence. It was not made by a popularly elected assembly or even submitted to the representatives of the people for their approval; it was simply given by a hitherto autocratic monarch to his subjects, although he did consent to swear to maintain the constitution once it was in force. In somewhat (perhaps deliberately) equivocal language the king was declared to hold his throne ‘by the grace of God and by the will of the Nation’. By great good fortune (for the House of Savoy at least) no special machinery for amending the Statuto was devised; it could therefore be amended at any time by ordinary legislation duly passed by the two chambers and assented to by the king. Because of this it was possible, when the time came, to stretch and stretch it again to extend by stages over the whole of Italy. It was also possible in the course of time to introduce a more democratic franchise and to liberalise the Italian state (as it was to be called after 1859) in a number of other ways after unification was achieved. A weakness of the Statuto, not to be discerned until much later, was that it could equally easily be twisted into the instrument of a fascist dictatorship (and Benito Mussolini, after 1922, never troubled formally to repeal it, though he ignored whatever parts of it he could not adapt to his needs).
This Piedmontese Statuto thus became the new symbol of Italian national self-expression in the constitutional field and Italian patriots flocked to the standard of the House of Savoy. Federalism and republicanism were alike forgotten for the time being during the 1850’s. Manin (in 1855) and eventually Mazzini himself joined Gioberti in their support of Victor Emmanuel and Cavour. The National Society, supported by patriots of all types, was formed in 1856 to unite ‘Italy without adjectives’, and—it may be added—without too many doctrinaire liberal scruples.
Lacking that somewhat mystical approach to the problems of state-making which complicated political life for most Germans before Bismarck—and for more than a few of them since his day—the Italians, true compatriots of Machiavelli, used whatever political instruments and constitutional devices were, in their eyes, best fitted to secure for them the speediest possible national independence and unity. That Italy was to emerge in 1870 as a unified country with a somewhat archaic and inadequate monarchical constitution, a potpourri of early nineteenth-century ideas mostly borrowed from abroad and sometimes mistranslated, did not seem to worry Italians very much after their initial enthusiams for secular republics and papal federations had faded in the clear light of disillusionment during the years of revolution. Even Napoleon Ill’s somewhat belated and half-hearted attempts to bribe them into accepting a weak federation of all Italy, including Nice and Savoy, was to be rejected by Italians in favour of a strong unitary monarchy without Nice and Savoy (if such had to be the price) and even—for the time being—without Rome. Italy’s liberals and patriots were perhaps the most hard-headed to be found anywhere in Europe during those difficult years of revolution and counter-revolution which started with the smokers’ riots in Milan on 1 January 1848 and ended (for the time being) with Garibaldi’s march on Rome in 1860. Even Garibaldi had been forced to see his birthplace, Nice, pass under French sovereignty in the sacred cause of Italian unification, beside which nothing else could really matter.
The cause of the Italian revolutionaries thus weathered the storms and stresses of 1848 far better than did that of the revolutionaries in France, in Germany or in the Habsburg monarchy. This was in part because the crowing of the Gallic cock on 24 February 1848 had not been needed to awaken the unsleeping liberal patriots of Italy, whose revolutionary movement was already nearly two months old by then.
The Swiss, too, retained stability in a tumultuous year by getting their crisis over early, and the Belgians (like the British) were able to hold back revolution from their borders by having anticipated many of the reforms that Frenchmen and Germans still had to obtain (cf. pp. 191 and 196). The ‘cabbage-garden revolution’ in Ireland fizzled out as damply as did the Chartist demonstration in London, and the throne of Queen Victoria was not even faintly rocked. King Leopold I continued his discreet rule, working as easily with the Liberals who came (very conveniently) into power in 1847 as he had with the Liberal-Catholic coalitions between 1831 and 1846. Because revolution did not come to these fortunate countries in 1848, reaction did not set in there afterwards, as it did in Germany, France, Austria, Hungary and parts of Italy. Britons, Belgians and Swiss could afford to feel superior about the Years of Revolution and the Years of Reaction and to welcome their exiles with humiliating impartiality. Prince Mettemich and Karl Marx were both received (though in slightly different circles) in London, and allowed to remain in Britain as long as they wished, whereas the ‘liberal’ Second French Republic had expelled Marx. The Citizen King, hardly a more popular figure in England than had been the Austrian Chancellor, was permitted to reside and to die there undisturbed. Britain had not yet been roused to a state of moral indignation by such campaigns as those of Gladstone against the Neapolitan prisons and the Bulgarian atrocities, and it needed the appearance of a ‘hyena’ in man’s clothing to disturb the hearty phlegm of the employees of Messrs Barclay and Perkins’ Brewery in the direction of a physical force demonstration (in 1850) against recent Habsburg tyranny and sadism in Hungary (see ch. xx). But this had been so savage that it had even faintly shocked the tsar of all the Russias, Nicholas I, himself.
The Years of Revolution form a major watershed in nineteenth-century history. Even at the time men were everywhere conscious that they marked the end of an epoch. People living in central Europe from 1848 onwards began to speak of ‘The Period before March’ (or in German, more succintly, Vormarz) rather in the way that after 1914 (and more particularly after 1918) they spoke of ‘pre-war’. ‘In the 1850’s as in the 1920’s men looked back across a great divide.’
In the field of politics and government this was more evident than perhaps in any other sphere of human endeavour. Most of the men and some of the ideals that had dominated the Vormarz scene had disappeared or were in retirement. In England Lord Melbourne died in 1848, Sir Robert Peel in 1850 and the duke of Wellington in 1852; in the United States John Quincey Adams, Albert Gallatin, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay all breathed their last between 1848 and 1852; in France the Second Republic died, and with it much of the liberalism of such men as Lamartine and Tocqueville; Mettemich had fallen in 1848 never to return to office, and even his successor as champion of Austria’s autocratic hegemony in Germany, Schwarzenberg, was to die in April 1852; in distant Mexico General Santa Anna, that stormy petrel who had disturbed her politics and her foreign relations for thirty years, went finally into eclipse after 1850 and into his last period of exile in 1855. Although only one dynasty (that of Orleans in France) lost its throne in the Years of Revolution, there were a number of enforced or voluntary abdications and a host of new royal faces appeared on coins (and on postage stamps, which were just coming into general use) in consequence—in Bavaria, in Hanover, and in Piedmont-Sardinia, for instance—while the king of Holland died in 1848 and the king of Denmark in 1849.
Among ministers, at embassies and in parliaments the 1850’s also had to welcome new faces. Men such as Gladstone and Disraeli in Britain, Lincoln in the United States, Bismarck in Germany, were now well on the way to the leadership of affairs that they were to achieve in the 1860’s, whereas before 1850 they had all still been minor if promising figures. There were of course a few notable survivors from Vormarz, such as Pope Pius IX, King Frederick William IV, and in Naples King ‘Bomba’, while the inextinguishable Lord Palmerston was to rise again to political eminence after his fall from grace at the end of 1851 and to live until 1865, and the course of Nicholas I had still a few years to run.
The 1850’s was a period of marking time, even in those countries which had seen substantial reforms during the Years of Revolution and where the clock had not been turned back again. Despite the enthusiastic atmosphere surrounding the Great Exhibition of 1851 it was a decade remarkable neither for social nor for political reform in Great Britain. The two crises of the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny absorbed much political energy there. The United States, working out the uneasy compromise of 1850, ran into greater and greater difficulties and the deadlock on the slavery issue produced such ugly incidents as the Civil War in Kansas and John Brown’s raid (cf. ch. XXIII, pp. 624-5); a series of undistinguished incumbents of the White House—the ‘dough-face’ Presidents Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan—provided inadequate and uninspiring leadership in this time of stress; only to the westward of the embattled North and South was the land relatively bright, with new communities and new political institutions being bom in young states or territories such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Utah, California, Minnesota and Oregon. Denmark had received a constitution, of a modem type at last, in 1849, but her political life was bedevilled by the apparently insoluble Schleswig-Holstein problem and by the hostility of Germans and Danes both within and outside the Duchies (cf. ch. IX, p. 219); Sweden and Norway retained their joint king and their respective, but by now somewhat illiberal, constitutions of 1809 and 1814, and were not to see any significant reforms until the ’sixties. Prussia, humiliated at Olmtitz, was still licking her wounds; the dawn of her ‘New Era’ (and even then it was a false one) did not come until 1858. In the Netherlands that ministerial responsibility implicit in the new and relatively liberal constitution of 1848 was not to be achieved in practice until the ’sixties. Things were not going too well in the new Balkan countries of Greece and Serbia, while the Danubian principalities, placed in 1856 under a collective guarantee of the powers, saw their first, ‘falsified’, elections annulled in 1859 and not a glimmer as yet of free or democratic institutions. Anarchy and chaos continued in Spain (as it did in many parts of liberated Latin America) throughout the decade. In Russia Nicholas I held back the deluge until his death in 1855 and his successor released only a trickle of reforms or promises until the first floodgate was opened by the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 (see ch. XIV, p. 369 ff.).
While not in any way therefore a decade remarkable for political progress—and indeed, as has been seen, there was a return to autocracy and dictatorship in France, in the Habsburg lands and in parts of Italy and Germany, the 1850’s were at least a period which saw the consolidation of certain important gains of previous decades and of the Years of Revolution. Outside Russia and Spain the remnants of serfdom and of feudalism had been swept aside wherever they had persisted until 1848 (see ch. XV). Even in the Habsburg lands no attempt was made during the reaction presided over by Schwarzenberg to rescind the economic emancipation of the peasants. Indeed, all classes recognised that this emancipation had been much overdue, and although political emancipation and the vote was not yet given (except in France and Switzerland) to the peasant and the farm labourer, economic freedom—even when it temporarily brought misery and maladjustment, as it often did—was a necessary pre-requisite to political enfranchisement; otherwise the latter would have proved less than useless to its recipients. Nevertheless, a time-lag of several generations between economic and political emancipation seemed still to be the order of the day. Servile status had long since disappeared in Great Britain, but the farm labourer was not to get the vote (and then not in every case) until 1885; Prussia abolished serfdom early in the nineteenth century, but the constitution of 1850 accorded only a most limited three-class franchise, heavily weighted in favour of the class of land and property owners; even France waited for universal male suffrage until 1848 and Switzerland, that cradle of peasant freedom and selfexpression, had a very restricted franchise in most of its cantons and in its confederate legislature until 1848; a number of the American states (though none of the newly created ones) retained very restricted franchises—on which voting in federal elections was also based—up to the Civil War, quite apart from the exclusion of negro slaves and ‘Indians not taxed’ as being without political existence.
As had been the case between 1834 and 1848, the years stretching from 1850 to 1865 (and even more distinctly the decade of the 1850’s) appear as an interlude between two eras of concentrated reform and political advance. But there was to be a big difference between the reform era of the late 1860’s and that of the late 1840’s in that few if any of the progressive changes wrought by governments or peoples in the later period were to be undone. The last quarter of the nineteenth century was also to be a period of remarkable if not always steady progress in the direction of liberal and democratic government. No era of reaction comparable to the 1850’s was to recur until the 1930’s were to see the rise or the consolidation of dictatorships in Italy, in Germany, in Russia, in Spain and elsewhere, although all these countries had previously enjoyed—if in some cases only briefly or intermittently—the blessings of free and more or less democratic government.
It is much more difficult to disentangle or describe in general terms the many threads of political reform of the 1860’s than the simpler patterns of reaction, frustration and ‘finality’ of the 1850’s. Perhaps the most notable theme is a last attempt to realise in full the principles of classical liberalism. John Stuart Mill gave Liberty and Representative Government their classic interpretations at the beginning of the decade and wrote his authoritative description of Utilitarianism in 1863. Because he chose to write an historical description rather than a vindication of utilitarianism it was not evident immediately that he had himself departed from the traditional utilitarian position and had taken more than a step in the direction of that ‘collectivism’ which A. V. Dicey later discerned as having been in the ascendant from the 1860’s onward in influencing ‘lawmaking opinion’. Ferdinand Lassalle’s Workers’ Programme (Arbeiter-Program) had already appeared in Germany in 1862, and five years later Karl Marx’s Das Kapital first saw the light of day. The battle was thus joined between the new ideology and the old even before the 1870’s began. The liberal impulse was still to achieve great things before it was finally spent, but liberalism no longer held the field as the creed of all progressive and forward-looking men and women. It was, indeed, menaced from two directions. Not only were the new socialism and the International Working Men’s movement (founded in 1864) challenging it from the left, but a renovated, up-to-date type of conservatism, already practised by such men as Disraeli in England, was seeking to outbid it from the right. In addition, the surrender of liberalism to the force of nationality (and more particularly to its more chauvinistic manifestations) in the various new National-Liberal parties which sprang up during the late ’sixties and the ’seventies seriously weakened its appeal. Directly it became a middle-of-the-road creed, willing to ‘do business’ with such men as Bismarck and Cavour, it was felt, by a growing number of people who had hitherto given it unswerving loyalty, to have prostituted itself. No longer could it offer more to the people than could the new conservatism— Disraeli’s reform act of 1867 was a case in point—but it had lost its starry-eyed innocence in the rough and tumble of the years of revolution and reaction. Intellectuals had been forced to become men of affairs, and in the course of their new experiences they often had to make the same compromises and strike the same corrupt bargains as did the professional politicians and diplomats they had despised for doing exactly that.
A second trend of the ’sixties, reflecting the growing complexity of managing and running the modern state, was an improvement in administrative organisation and in the quality of administrators. France and Prussia already had efficient civil services, bequeathed to them by the reforms of Napoleon I and of Stein, and recruited from persons trained in their admirable if rigid educational systems. Great Britain lagged behind in the sphere of state-sponsored education, and her civil service was recruited on a most haphazard basis before the 1870’s, but in Great Britain too the ‘merit system’ (first introduced into the Civil Service of the East India Company, and passed on to the British government in India by it in 1858) was gaining ground, and the reform of the curriculum of the older universities, coupled with the foundation of new ones, in London—to which John Stuart Mill and Walter Bagehot were sent—in Manchester and elsewhere, was beginning to bear fruit (cf. ch. V, p. 116, and ch. XIII, pp. 337-8). In the United States the spoils system was still too recent a phenomenon, and too useful a political tool, to have been seriously menaced by reformers, and indeed the most corrupt period in the whole history of American politics and in the federal administration was that immediately after the end of the Civil War. But even there the Liberal Republicans under Carl Schurz and Horace Greeley, crying ‘turn the rascals out!’, attacked the graft of the Grant administration at Washington and of the Democratic ‘Tweed Ring’ in New York, while the territory of Wyoming gave the vote to women in 1869 and a woman, Victoria Claflin Woodhull, ran for President against Grant and Greeley in 1872 on an ‘equal rights’ ticket.
In the United States there was relatively little danger before 1865 that liberty might be destroyed and liberal institutions assailed by the destruction of free local government; the chief danger lay rather in the exploitation of the autonomy left to the separate states under the federal constitution and in so extensive a vindication of states’ rights that the Union might fall apart and the nation disintegrate (cf. ch. XXIII). The same danger had existed in Switzerland before 1848. It existed to a critical degree when South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860. It is true that in the period of reconstruction after 1865 the pendulum was made to swing too far in the opposite direction in some of the defeated southern states during the years of ‘carpet-bag’ and ‘scalawag’ rule, but this was a temporary aberration (cf. p. 629). In some of the leading states of Europe, on the other hand, the period of reaction of the 1850’s (which happened to coincide with the coming of the Industrial Revolution) produced a tightening up of the machinery of the centralised state that threatened even the most tenuous forms of local self-expression with extinction. In the Habsburg realm the old provincial system had already been destroyed in 1848, and now the ‘system’ of Bach pulverised the Kreis into a number of Bezirke, so that ‘county’ followed ‘province’ into the discard, and nothing above the status of ‘district’ remained. Schmerling’s attempt to reverse this trend and to restore a measure of the lost local autonomy in 1860 was to be abandoned (cf. ch. xx, pp. 544-8). In Prussia, too, local government (which at least was efficient and honestly administered) was made more autocratic when any element of popular choice for the office of Landrat was removed and when appointment to that office became purely a unilateral act of the central government. In France the Second Empire like the First exalted the powers of the prefects and made them petty tyrants in their respective departments. Even in Great Britain the long-overdue reform and liberalisation of the institutions of local government in rural areas had not yet fulfilled the promise of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835; the Local Government Board was not created until 1871 and big reforms did not come until the 1880’s and 1890’s.
Yet liberals were clear-sighted enough to realise, even when they were living under the shadows of dictatorships, that, if local government did not provide channels for the expression of popular opinion and choice, there was little hope of its restoration or extension at the centre. With great courage the French political scientist E. Laboulaye published arguments along these lines in his work Le parti liberal, son programme et son avenir (1863), and also in another book of the same year, L'Etat et ses limites..., both of which appeared in what (for a liberal) was still a discouragingly authoritarian period of the Second Empire. Meanwhile Rudolf von Gneist’s important book on British constitutional law which had appeared in 1857 had also stressed the importance of free local institutions in building up liberty of the subject and training the citizen in public affairs.
France was to return under the Third Republic to a more liberal interpretation of local government (though she did not sacrifice her strictly centralised administration in favour of a ‘federation of local bodies’, as the Paris Commune of 1870 had demanded), but Austria and Prussia were not even then moved to accord to their citizens adequate means of securing political experience and education at a local level. The failure of the democratic way of life to ‘take’ in Imperial Germany and in the Habsburg empire, even after universal manhood suffrage and parliamentary government of a more or less responsible type had been introduced, can in part be ascribed to this failure to liberalise local government. Even the ultraliberal Weimar Republic of 1919 in Germany and the democratic Austrian Republic set up at the same time were both to suffer from the heritage of political inexperience of their citizens, bequeathed to them by the two empires they succeeded. That dictatorships were so easily established in these two countries in 1933 and 1934 respectively is evidence of the same lack of any real traditions of self-government in either. The dictatorship set up in Italy in 1922, on the other hand, gained its opportunity rather from the decay of parliamentary government and the corruption of politics at the centre, although it was also able to play upon the ignorance and credulity of a population with an inadequate standard of literacy, but with an intense interest in politics.
A third and most interesting trend of the period of the 1860’s was the eclipse and then the partial recovery (after 1865) of the federal idea. Already well-established in its modem form for over half a century on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, by the time of the Years of Revolution in Europe it had, as has been seen, exercised a powerful influence on the thinking and constitution-making of the Swiss, the Germans and the Austrians in 1848 and 1849, though only in Switzerland were effective federal institutions to be maintained during the decade of reaction. In Latin America (cf. ch. XXV), where several hopeful attempts at wide regional federations had been made in the early days of independence an era of acute fragmentation and of centralism had set in; yet Mexico, which had started out as a federal state under the first republican constitution of 1824, but reverted to centralism in the new constitution of 1836, at last got rid of that inveterate centralist Santa Anna in 1855 and produced a fresh and truly federal constitution in 1857, which was to last (more honoured, it must be admitted, in the breach than in the observance) until 1917—excluding the interlude of the empire of Maximilian between 1864 and 1867. But the re-federalisation of Mexico was the one notable exception to a distinct trend away from federalism until the Northern victory and the re-establishment of the American Union on its former broad basis in 1865 had restored faith in the federal solution to the problem of states less homogeneous than were France, Belgium and—Ireland always excepted—the British Isles.
It is, in a way, one of the great mysteries of political science that federal institutions, with all their obvious advantages, were not more widely received in Europe and in the Americas during the middle years of the nineteenth century during which struggles for national existence, independence and integration were the order of the day. It has already been seen how the selfishness of the Magyars banned federalism from the kingdom of Hungary in 1848 and how the obtuseness of King Frederick William IV and the Emperor Francis Joseph in 1849 rendered abortive two very promising federal experiments which might have helped to save their respective dynasties from eventual extinction. The peculiar situation in Italy made federalism less attractive than a unitary solution because federalism meant weak government and lack of sufficient resolution to expel the Austrians and the more reactionary native rulers, whereas the expansion of unitary Piedmont gave promise—which was to be spectacularly fulfilled—of speedy and nation-wide independence and unification. In addition, by identifying himself with schemes for an Italian federation, Napoleon III aroused quite understandable suspicions in the Italian mind, which never really trusted this alien sympathiser. The ‘Confederation of Plombieres’, which modelled a government for Italy on that of the despised German Bund, was completely transparent, and Napoleon Ill’s next ingenious plan, the fourfold Italian state proposed at Villafranca, drove Cavour from office and appalled all good Italians by envisaging the perpetuation of Austrian rule in north Italy (cf. ch. XVII, p. 463). When revolutionary constituent assemblies in Parma, Modena, Tuscany and the Romagna had all four elected Victor Emmanuel of Savoy as their king, Cavour was able to return to office in time to defeat Napoleon’s last despairing effort (in 1860) to use federalism as a weapon to keep Italy weak and supine. All the indefatigable emperor was able to salvage from the wreck was the postponement by ten years of the incorporation of the city of Rome in the new Italian kingdom which Italians had ‘made by themselves’. No wonder federalism remained an unpopular political concept in the minds of all good Italians—even of such good Italian liberals and political thinkers as Benedetto Croce and Guido de Ruggiero! When Ruggiero wrote ‘Federalism has never brought success to its votaries in France, from the Girondins to the Communards, and has only served to emphasise by their utter discomfiture the fundamentally centralised political and administrative structure of the French state,’ it is clear from the context that he thought very much the same about federalism and its votaries in Italy.
Federalism having been repudiated in Austria in 1849, it was briefly and half-heartedly revived during the ‘reform’ period of the October Diploma of 1860 and 1861, but the February Patent of 1861 restored centralism and the Ausgleich of 1867 (following the surrender to Deak and the Magyar chauvinists in 1865) substituted the notorious dual monarchy for a truly federal Habsburg state (see ch. xx). A last effort, in the shape of Schaeffle’s ‘fundamental article’ of 1871, to reintroduce the federal idea to the extent at least of giving autonomy to Bohemia, was quickly abandoned under pressure both from Vienna and from Budapest. From that point onward the Habsburg empire was doomed. The partial revival of federalism planned by the Archduke Francis Ferdinand was to come far too late—and far too near to Sarajevo.
Prussia had learned a bitter lesson in 1850, when she was forced by Schwarzenberg at Olmutz to consent to the restoration of the old ineffective German Confederation of 1815, and to play second fiddle to Austria once again in a disunited Germany. It was the humiliation of Olmutz and his bitter experiences as Prussian representative in the restored Bundestag at Frankfurt between 1851 and 1859 that converted Otto von Bismarck from the reactionary, blinkered, Prussian Junker politician of 1848 and the Kreuz-Zeitung to the far-seeing German statesman of 1867, who turned to a modified federalistic solution for Germany’s problem of unification, and devised (partially on the basis of the still-born Frankfurt Constitution of 1849) a constitutional plan that unified North Germany under Prussia’s domination, and extended this unification to the southern states (with Austria excluded) in 1871 (cf. ch. XXII). Yet the Bund of 1867 and the Reich of 1871 were both incompletely federal (on account of the dominating position of Prussia in both, and of the minor privileges thrown in as a sop to the three states south of the River Main in 1871) just as they were—despite universal manhood suffrage—incompletely democratic. The new empire inherited Prussia’s difficulty in admitting full parliamentary control over the army, and was to solve (or rather to shelve) this problem by the unsatisfactory Septennat of 1874, while Bismarck could not resist retaining the irresponsible executive which his conservative background made him believe essential. The rulers of the Second Reich left until too late the decision to turn it into a liberal empire, and six weeks after William II’s declaration of 30 September 1918 a republic had been proclaimed in Germany. The timing was no better than had been Napoleon Ill’s Senatus-Consulte fixing the Constitution of the Empire of 21 May 1870 in France. The Republic was established de facto in France on 4 September 1870!
Bismarck’s federal scheme was less complete than that of the Frankfurt constitution of 1849, or even that of the ‘Plan of the Princes’ of 1863. It has been called an attempt to weld together the Bundesakte (of 1815) and the Frankfurt constitution, but it also contained many of his own ideas. Where he obtained his notions of federal government from has long interested investigators. Treitschke opined that ‘Bismarck was in his youth a friend of Motley, the talented American historian. Motley wrote a book on the United Netherlands, and from this Bismarck acquired a theoretical knowledge of Federalism’, but in fact Bismarck is likely to have profited in 1867 and 1871 more from his correspondence with Motley on the subject of federal government in the United States than from reading The Rise of the Dutch Republic. Motley wrote to Bismarck in 1866: ‘I believe you were one of the very few Europeans who ever cared to know my opinion (which was that of every loyal American) and who thought that an American might possibly know something about his country... I shall refrain from giving you advice as to how to deal with Schleswig-Holstein.’ Bismarck also had read Robert von Mohl, Constantin Frantz and other mid-nineteenth-century writers on federalism, and the debt of his final draft of the North German constitution of 1867 to the ‘preliminary draft’ of Max Duncker, who had been one of the architects of the Frankfurt constitution of 1849, is believed to have been considerable. The German constitutions of 1867 and 1871 were, indeed, de-liberalised versions of that of 1849 in many respects. Bismarck was incapable of an honest and equitable appreciation of the principles of federalism—as also, of course, of liberalism.
Apart from the Swiss constitutional reform of 1867, the greatest triumphs of federalism (after its restoration throughout the United States in 1865) were outside Europe. The Mexican federal republic was restored in 1867 and in that same year the federated Dominion of Canada was established by the British North America Act. Owing a great deal to the American constitution, the Canadian nevertheless profited from some of its mistakes, and (like the Swiss) gave the central government relatively stronger powers than had been accorded to it at Philadelphia in 1787. The separate territorial members of the dominion were called ‘provinces’ instead of states, and residual powers were left to the dominion government. Bismarck, had he wished, or had he been well enough informed, might have learned much from the British North America Act of 1867 about preserving a strong central government, with adequate powers, in a federation. But then Australia (in 1900) and South Africa (in 1909) were not to learn all that could have been learned from the Canadian example and Canadian experience.
In 1867—a sort of annus mirabilis of constitutional change and reform (not all of it in a definitely liberal or democratic direction)—came also the Second British Reform Act, the introduction of ministerial responsibility in the Netherlands (the Swedish constitution had been liberally and the Danish illiberally revised in 1866), the first modem Austrian constitution effectively to be put into force (but it was hardly a democratic one) and the ‘Meiji Restoration’ in Japan (cf. ch. XXVI, p. 713), whereby the young emperor Mutsohito freed himself from the control of the Tokugawa Shogunate and initiated a remarkable renaissance, which was to produce in time (and with the aid of the famous German jurist Rudolf von Gneist) the western-type ‘theocratic-patriarchal’ Japanese constitution of 1889; but only after priority had been given to the creation of a Prussian-type army and a British-type navy—for the Age of Blood and Iron had now begun, and that of Speechifying and Majorities was over.
Whether in fact speechifying and majorities were ‘the mistake of 1848’ as Bismarck averred, or blood and iron the mistake of 1862, 1867 and 1871, is a matter still open to debate.