Short Notes and Video Lectures : Nationalism in Europe

 What is nationalism ?

It is a belief system which instills a sense of common identity among the members of a nation. National flag, national symbol, national anthem, etc. play an important role in developing and strengthening the idea of nationalism.

French Revolution

First Expression of Nationalism: French Revolution led to a change in politics and constitution of France. In 1789 the power was transferred from monarchy to a body of citizens. It was proclaimed that henceforth the French people would shape the destiny of their country.

  • The idea of the fatherland and citizen was created to emphasize a community which enjoyed equal rights under the constitution.
  • The royal standard was replaced with a new French flag; the tricolor.
  • The Estates General was elected by the body of active citizens and it was renamed as the National Assembly.
  • In the name of nation; new hymns were composed and oaths were taken.
  • Martyrs were commemorated.
  • A centralized administrative system was created which formulated uniform laws for all citizens.
  • Internal custom duties were abolished.
  • A uniform system of weights and measures was adopted.
  • Regional dialects were discouraged and French language was promoted as the common language of the nation.

Effect on other parts of Europe:

  • In different cities of Europe, people became motivated from the events in France.
  •  Students and other people from the educated middle classes started setting up Jacobin clubs. Their activities made a ground for further encroachment by the French armies.
  • The French army moved into Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and a large part of Italy in the 1790s. Thus, the French armies started carrying the idea of nationalism to foreign lands.


  • Napoleon was the Emperor of France from 1804 to 1815.
  •  He destroyed democracy in France by reintroducing monarchy in France; but he made revolutionary changes in the field of administration. The idea was to make the system more rational and efficient.
  • The Civil Code of 1804  known as the Napoleonic Code abolished all privileges based on birth.
  • It also established equality before the law and secured the right to property.
  • He simplified the administrative divisions in the Dutch Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Germany.

He abolished the feudal system and peasants could be freed from serfdom and manorial dues. Guild restrictions were removed in towns. Transport and communication systems were improved.

A New Conservatism After 1815

  • Napoleon was defeated in 1815 by the combined power of Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria.
  •  European governments wanted to follow conservatism. The conservatives believed that established, traditional institutions of state and society should be preserved.
  • But they  wanted to retain the modernization which Napoleon carried out in the spheres of administration as modernization would strengthen traditional institutions.
  • They believed that a modern army, an efficient bureaucracy, a dynamic economy, the abolition of feudalism and serfdom could strengthen the monarchies of Europe.

The Treaty of Vienna:

 The Treaty of Vienna of 1815 was drawn up at this meeting. Its objective was to undo most of the changes which had come in Europe during the Napoleonic wars. Some of the steps taken according the Treaty of Vienna are follows:

  • The Bourbon dynasty, which had been deposed during the French Revolution, was restored to power.
  • A series of states were set up on the boundaries of France to prevent French expansion in future. For example; the kingdom of the Netherlands was set up in the north. Similarly, Genoa was added to Piedmont in the south. Prussia got some important territories on its western frontiers and Austria got control of northern Italy.
  • German confederation of 39 states which had been set up by Napoleon was left untouched.
  • In the east, Russia was given part of Poland, while Prussia was given a portion of Saxony.

The conservative regimes which were set up in 1815 were autocratic. They were intolerant of criticism and dissent. Most of them imposed censorship laws to control the contents in newspaper, books, plays and songs to stop the spread of feelings of nationalism .

Greek War of Independence

  • The Greek war of independence mobilized the  feelings of nationalism among the educated elite across Europe. The struggle for independence among the Greeks began in 1821.
  • The nationalists in Greece got support from many Greeks who were living in exile. Moreover, they also got support from many West Europeans who sympathized with the ancient Greek culture.
  • Poets and artists mobilized public opinion to support this struggle against the Muslim empire. It is important to note that Greece had been a part of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Finally, the Treaty of Constantinople of 1832 recognized Greece as an independent nation.

The Revolution of the Liberals

  • Men and women of the liberal middle classes from these parts raised demands for national unification and a constitution.
  • They demanded the creation of a nation-state on parliamentary principles. They wanted a constitution, freedom of press and freedom of association.

Frankfurt Parliament

  • German educated middle class  came together in the city of Frankfurt and decided to vote for an all-German National Assembly.
  • On 18 May 1848, 831 elected representatives took out a festive procession to take part in the Frankfurt parliament which was convened in the Church of St. Paul.
  • They drafted a constitution for a German nation. This German nation was to be headed by a monarchy subject to a parliament. Friedrick William IV, King of Prussia was offered the crown on these terms. But he rejected the offer and joined other monarchs to oppose the elected assembly.

German Unification

  • Otto Von Bismarck:  Otto Von Bismarck; the chief minister of Prussia, was the architect of this process. He took the help of the Prussian army and bureaucracy in his endeavour.
  • Three wars were fought over seven years; with Austria, Denmark and France. The wars ended in Prussian victory and completed the process of unification.
  • The Prussian king, William I was proclaimed the German Emperor in a ceremony held at Versailles in January 1871.

The new state placed a strong emphasis on modernizing the currency, banking, legal and judicial systems in Germany. Prussian measures and practices often became a model for the rest of Germany.

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