Hunger, Hardship, and Popular Revolt: Nationalism In Europe

The 1830s were years of great economic hardship in Europe. The first half of the nineteenth century saw an enormous increase in population all over Europe. In most countries, there were more seekers of jobs than employment. Population from rural areas migrated to the cities to live in overcrowded slums. Small producers in towns were often faced with stiff competition from imports of cheap machine-made goods from England, where industrialization was more advanced than on the continent.

This was especially so in textile production, which was carried out mainly in homes or small workshops and was only partly mechanized. In those regions of Europe where the aristocracy still enjoyed power, peasants struggled under the burden of feudal dues and obligations. The rise of food
prices or a year of bad harvest led to widespread pauperism in town and country.

The year 1848 was one such year. Food shortages and widespread unemployment brought the population of Paris out on the roads. Barricades were erected and Louis Philippe was forced to flee. National Assembly proclaimed a Republic, granted suffrage to all adult males above 21 and guaranteed the right to work. National workshops to provide employment were set up. Earlier, in 1845, weavers in Silesia had led a revolt against contractors who supplied the raw material and gave them orders for finished textiles but drastically reduced their payments.

The journalist Wilhelm Wolff described the events in a Silesian village as follows: In these villages (with 18,000 inhabitants) cotton weaving is the most widespread occupation … The misery of the workers is extreme. The desperate need for jobs has been taken advantage of by the contractors to reduce the prices of the goods they order.

On 4 June at 2 p.m. a large crowd of weavers emerged from their homes and marched in pairs up to the mansion of their contractor demanding higher wages. They were treated with scorn and threats alternately. Following this, a group of them forced their way into the house, smashed its elegant windowpanes, furniture, porcelain another group broke into the storehouse and plundered it with supplies of cloth which they tore to shreds.

The contractor fled with his family to a neighboring village which, however, refused to shelter such a person. He returned 24 hours later having requisitioned the army. In the exchange that followed, eleven weavers were shot.

Read More: The French Revolution and the Idea of the Nation: Nationalism In Europe

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