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5 THE HUNGRY FORTIES THE great depression of the Forties enabled the various groups in opposition to the Restoration, groups disparate in social composition and economic objective, to overcome their differences and form a single political force. For the masses it came as the climax of a long series of disasters extending over thirty years, intensifying the disruptive effects of capitalism in industry and agriculture, accelerating the decline of the master handicraftsman and the independent peasant, and driving the proletariat of Germany from Europe to America in a great wave of emigration. To the middle class it brought new courage and new resourcefulness, providing constitutionalism with a mass following ready to use violence for the overthrow of the old order. Some of the liberals even came to feel that a civilized revolution, a revolution of maximum enthusiasm and minimum bloodshed, might compel the government to share its power with the bourgeoisie without inviting the danger of mob rule. The economic crisis thus prepared the way for the spring uprising of I 848 by endowing the political opposition with popular support and forcing it to adopt more radical tactics.1 The crisis itself was one of a series of depressions which had shaken Europe at approximately ten-year intervals since the defeat of Napoleon. The growth of new forms of financial control over manufacture encouraged speculative investment in business enterprises and led to a succession of paper booms and crashes. In I 8I 5 the end of hostilities and the sudden demobilization of armies produced deflation, unemployment, and hunger. Industry recovered rapidly, however, entering a new period of expansion which continued until r 825, when the output of capital goods outstripped demand and a new depression set in. During the next decade production rose [ 75 ] PART ONE: RESTORATION once more, reached the saturation point, and then collapsed in I 835. The Revolution of I 848 came in the midst of the most serious of these periodic crises, bursting upon a Europe suffering from famine and disease, frightened by the red specter of socialism. In Germany the prosperity of the early Forties based on railway construction and factory expansion came to an abrupt end in the later years of the decade. Great Britain had been suddenly shaken by an economic crash which had important repercussions on the Continent, affecting the commerce of ports like Hamburg and Bremen and inflicting hardship on the industries of such inland cities as Karlsruhe, Mannheim, and Offenbach. The decline in foreign demand for German goods became more marked after I 846, when the Austrian annexation of Cracow deprived the eastern provinces of Prussia of one of their most valuable markets. For the tiny republic established by the Congress of Vienna had become an important center of the contraband trade by which wares from Germany penetrated the tariff walls surrounding Poland and the Habsburg crownlands; and its destruction put an end to the advantage which entrepreneurs like the textile manufacturers of Silesia had enjoyed by virtue of superior skill and cheap labor. Between I 844 and I 847 the export of unbleached linen yarn from the Zollverein fell by almost 40 per cent, while other branches of industry suffered losses less serious, but heavy enough to arouse consternation in financial circles. By I 848 Germany was experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the days of the Continental system.2 What made the depression even more calamitous was its coincidence with one of the last major famines in Europe. For more than a century crop failures had been becoming less frequent, as scientific farming, agricultural specialization, and improved means of transportation provided the Continent with a relatively stable food supply. But when a blight ruined the potato harvest of I 845, the lower classes from Ireland [ 76 ] THE HUNGRY FORTIES to Silesia were suddenly deprived of their staple food. In the following year, with the failure of both the grain and potato crops, starvation became a tragic reality in countless cities and villages between the Shannon and the Oder. The Zollverein, normally an exporter of grain, was forced to import about I6s,ooo,ooo liters of rye in I846, and in I 847 its purchases rose to more than 2 so,ooo,ooo liters. Hoping to reduce the inflated cost of living, Prussia decided to suspend the import duty on grain and to abandon the mill tax, yet the situation could no longer be controlled by the manipulation of tariffs or the juggling of taxes. All of Europe...


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