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Austria 1815-1852

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From 1815 to 1852, Austria went from perhaps a dominant European power in 1815 to a nation badly weakened by the Revolution of 1848.  Vienna was chosen to be the location of the Congress convened to redraw the map of Europe and to create a lasting peace.  The architect of the Congress of Vienna was Prince Klemens von Metternich, the brilliant young Austrian.  The Hapsburg family which headed Austria had been a dominant royal family in Europe for centuries. All looked well in 1815 as the Congress closed.  However, the coming decades would result in great troubles for Austria as they competed with Prussia for dominance in the German states, tried to gain ground in Italy and continued to press for influence against their ancient enemy in the Balkans, the Turks.  However, two forces, Liberalism and Nationalism would cause the greatest trouble for Austria by 1848.

A major problem for the Hapsburg Empire in Austria was a changing world.  Not only was it threatened by liberalism and nationalism, but also by the industrial revolution and the creation of modern bureaucracies.  While Austria was committed to a Throne and Altar form of government, it tried to accommodate the new changes in industry and government.  Austria never fully made the change in time to reverse trends going toward its neighbors. 

In the Concert of Europe, Austria still wielded great power.  Along with Russia, Austria stood ready to combat internal revolutions, liberalism and the explosive force of nationalism.  Austria would need such help.  The Empire was only united in common loyalty toward the Hapsburg king. Without such loyalty, there was little to hold the empire together other than Roman Catholicism.  However, with liberalism eating away at the legitimacy of both God and King and nationalism placing the nation above the king, Austria was vulnerable to trends which often came from France.

In the 1830s, Prussia began its long bid for dominance of the German states. Austria had dominated the German states for centuries first through the Holy Roman Empire and later the German Confederation.  This loose federation was dominated by Austria.  Prussia however, began to try to wean those states away from Austrian influence with the Zollverein in the 1830s. The Zollverein was a trade union which closely tied Prussia with the German states.  Compounding this growing influence was the spread of the Industrial Revolution from Belgium into the German states and the Prussian region of the Rhineland.  Rapid industrialization greatly tied the German states to Berlin. So, while Austria still had the cultural dominance, Prussia was gaining commercial influence.  In an era of liberal influence, commercial influence would become more important.  On the other hand, the Hohenzollern dynasty in the Prussian capitol of Berlin was a minor family compared to the mighty Hapsburgs.

Even more troubling was Italy.  Italian patriots had dreamt of a modern united Italy for centuries.  In the middle 1800s, liberalism and nationalism combined as powerful forces in Italy to defy the Hapsburgs.  Austria was quite busy trying to hold onto Venice and other Italian provinces.  However, friendly relations with the Pope and his Papal States helped keep a lid on troubles in Italy.

The Revolutions of 1848 came with relative ease in Austria.  As news of the Revolution in France hit Vienna, revolutionaries followed the same pattern as the French in throwing off Conservative rule. Soon, Metternich was ousted and the Hapsburg king, Franz Joseph, was granting a new constitution.  The liberals had very easily taken control.  However, this power was mostly illusory.  While liberals and radicals had taken power in Vienna, the rest of the country was a different matter. Peasants in the surrounding countryside were cool to the idea of a bunch of intellectuals, businessmen and bloodthirsty radicals now making the laws for all the people. The Magyars in Hungary soon were granted a large degree of autonomy from the Germans in Vienna.  From there the various South Slavs demanded greater autonomy as Serb, Croat, and Slovenian were granted many of their demands.

As the nation splintered ethnically, the classic liberal/radical split developed in Vienna as radicals pushed for their long cherished Social Republic while Liberals were unwilling to tamper with property as it was one of the three Natural Rights. Soon internal squabbling among all the various groups diluted the power of the revolutionaries.  After several months of patient waiting the Hapsburgs struck back as General Kossuth gathered up the peasant armies that were still loyal to the king and retook control of the nation. Greatly aiding this effort was the presence of Russian troops who were called upon as part of the Holy Alliance.  After a few months of fighting, the Hapsburgs were finally back in full control of the nation. However it was not so much due to the strength of the monarchy as it was the divisions of its opponents.  In only a few years, the Hapsburgs had to agree to the Ausgleich--the granting of nearly co-equal status to the King of Hungary.  While the Hapsburg king still had control of foreign policy, the Hungarian part was virtually autonomous and were given the troublesome South Slav regions which the Magyars oppressed mightily.