1. The French Revolution and the Idea of the Nation

The first expression of nationalism came with the French Revolution in 1789. France is a full fledged territorial state in 1789 under the rule of an absolute monarch. The political and constitutional changes that came in the wake of the French Revolution led to the transfer of sovereignty from the monarchy to a body of French citizen. The revolution proclaimed that it was the people who would henceforth constitute the nation and shape its destiny.

The French revolutionaries introduced various measures and practices that could create a sense of collective identity amongst the French people. The ideas of the fatherland and the citizen emphasized the notion of a united community enjoying equal rights under a constitution. A new French flag, the tricolour, was chosen to replace the former royal standard. The Estates General was elected by the body of active citizens and renamed the National Assembly. New hymns were composed, oaths taken and martyrs commemorated, all in the name of the nation. A centralized administrative system was put in place and it formulated uniform laws for all citizens within its territory. Internal customer’s duties and dues were abolished and a uniform system of weights and measures was adopted. Regional dialects were discouraged and French, as it was spoken and written in Paris, became the common language of the nation.

The revolutionaries further declared that it was the mission and the destiny of the French nation to liberate the peoples of Europe from despotism, in other words to help other peoples of Europe to become nations.

The activities and campaigns prepared the way for the French armies which moved into Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and much of Italy in the 1790s. With the outbreak of the revolutionary wars, the French armies began to carry the idea of nationalism abroad.
Through a return to monarchy Nepoleon had, no doubt, destroyed democracy in France, but in the administrative field he had incorporated revolutionary principles in order to make the whole system more rational and efficient. The Civil Code of 1804 – usually known as the Napoleonic Code – did away with all privileges based on birth, established equality before the law and secured the right to property. This code was exported to the regions under French control. In the Dutch Republic, in Switzerland, in Italy and Germany, Napoleon simplified administrative divisions, abolished the feudal system and freed peasants from serfdom and manorial dues. In the towns too, guild restrictions were removed. Transport and communication systems were improved. Peasants, artisans, workers and new businessmen enjoyed a new found freedom. The areas conquered, the reactions of the local populations to French rule were mixed. Initially, in many laces such as Holland and Switserland, as well as in certain cities like Brussels, Mainz, Milan and Warsaw, the French armies were welcomed as harbingers of liberty. But the initial enthusiasm soon turned to hostility, as it became clear that the new administrative arrangements did not go hand in hand with political freedom. Increased taxation, censorship, forced conscription into the French armies required to conquer the rest of Europe, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of the administrative changes.

1. The Making of Nationalism in Europe, there were no nation-states.

Rather Germany, Italy and Switzerland were divided into kingdoms, duchies and cantons whose rulers had their autonomous territories of which lived diverse peoples. They did not see themselves as sharing a collective identity or a common culture. Often they even spoke different languages and belonged to different ethnic groups. The Habsburg Empire ruled over Austria-Hungary and also included Alpine Regions – The Tyrol, Austria and the Sudetenland – as well as Bohemia, where the aristocracy was predominantly German speaking. It also included the Italian speaking provinces of Lombardy and Venetia. In Hungary, half of the population spoke Magyar while the other half spoke a variety of dialects. In Galicia, the aristocracy spoke Polish. Besides these three dominant groups, there also lived within the boundaries of the empire, a mass of subject peasant peoples – Bohemians and Slovaks to the north, Slovenes in Carniola, Croats to the South, and Roumans to the cast in Transylvania. Such differences did not easily promote a sense of political unity. The only tie binding these diverse groups together was a common allegiance to the emperor.

1.1 The Aristocracy and the New Middle Class

Socially and politically, the most dominant class was a landed aristocracy, on the continent. The members of this class were united by a common war of life that cut across regional divisions. They owned estates in the countryside and also town-houses. They spoke French for purposes of diplomacy and in high society. Their families were often connected by ties of marriage. This powerful aristocracy was however, numerically a small group. The majority of the population was made up of the peasantry. To the west, the bulk of the land was farmed by tenants and small owners, while in Eastern and Central Europe the pattern of landholding was characterized by vast estates which were cultivated by serfs. It was among the educated, liberal middle classes that ideas of national unity following the abolition of aristocratic privileges gained popularity.

2.2. What did Liberal Nationalism Stand for?

Ideas of national unity in early nineteenth century Europe were closely allied to the ideology of liberalism. The term liberalism derives from the Latin root liber, meaning free. For the new middle classes liberalism stood for freedom for the individual and equality of all before the law. Politically, it emphasized the concept of Government by consent. Since the French Revolution, liberalism had stood for the end of autocracy and clerical privileges, a constitution and representative government through parliament. The equality before the law did not necessarily stand for universal suffrage. In France, the first political experiment in liberal democracy, the right to vote and to get elected was granted exclusively to property owning men. Men without property and all women were excluded from political rights. During the nineteenth century this was a strong demand of the emerging middle classes. Napoleon’s administrative measures had created out of small principalities a confederation of 39 states. Each of these possessed its own currency, and weights and measures. The conditions were viewed as obstacles to economic exchange and growth by the new commercial classes, who argued for the creation of a unified economic territory allowing the unhindered movement of goods, people and capital. The creation of a network of railways further stimulated mobility, harnessing economic interests to national unification. A wave of economic nationalism strengthened the wider nationalist sentiments growing at the time.

2.3 A New Conservatism after 1815

After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, European governments were driven by a spirit of conservatism. Conservatives believed that established, traditional institutions of state and society – like the monarchy, the Church, social hierarchies, property and the family – should be preserved. Most conservatives, however, did not propose a return to the society of pre-revolutionary days. The changes initiated by Napoleon regarding the modernization had strengthened the traditional institutions like the monarchy. It could make state power more effective and strong. A modern army, an efficient bureaucracy, a dynamic economy, the abolition of feudalism and serfdom could strengthen the autocratic monarchies of Europe. The Congress was hosted by the Austrian Chancellor duke Metternich. The delegates built up a Treaty of Vienna of 1815 with the object of undoing most of the changes that came in Europe during the Napoleonic wars. The main intention was to restore the monarchies that had been overthrown by Napoleon and create a new conservative order in Europe.

Conservative regimes were so autocratic that they did not tolerate criticism and dissent, and sought to curb activities that questioned the legitimacy of autocratic governments. Most of them imposed censorship laws to control what was said in newspapers, books, plays and songs and reflected the ideas of liberty and freedom. French Revolution has inspired many liberals and one of the major issues taken up by the liberal nationalists, who criticized the new conservative, was freedom of the press.

2.4 The Revolutionaries

After 1815, there was a fear of repression which drove many liberal nationalists underground. There started the mushrooming of secret societies in many European States in order to train revolutionaries and spread their ideas. Most of the revolutionaries saw the creation of nation states as a necessary part of the struggle for freedom. A Great Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini became a member of the secret society of the Carbonari. At the age of 24, he was sent to exile in 1831 for attempting a revolution in Liguria. He subsequently founded two more underground societies, first, Young Italy in Marseilles, and then, Young Europe in Berne, whose members were like minded young men from Poland, France, Italy and the German states. Mazzini believed that God had intended nations to be the natural units of mankind. So Italy could not continue to be patchwork of small states and kingdoms. It had to be forged into a single unified republic within a wider alliance of nations.

3. The Age of Revolutions : 1830 – 1848

When conservative regimes tried to consolidate the power, liberalism and nationalism came to be increasingly associated with revolution in many regions of Europe such as the Italian and German states, the provinces of the Orroman Empire, Ireland and Poland. The revolution took place in France in July 1830. The Bourbon kings who had been restored to power during the conservative reaction after 1815, were now overthrown by liberal revolutionaries who installed a constitutional monarchy with Louis Phillippe at its head. The July Revolution led to Belgium breaking away from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The growth of revolutionary nationalism in Europe sparked off a struggle for independence amongst the Greeks which began in 1821. Nationalists in Greece got support from other Greeks living in exile and also from many West Europeans who had sympathies for ancient Greek culture. Poets and artists landed Greece as the cradle of European civilization and mobilized public opinion to support its struggle against a Muslim empire. Finally, the Treaty of Constantinople of 1832 recognized Greece as an Independent nation.

3.1 The Romantic Imagination and National Feeling

The development of nationalism did not come about only through wars and territorial expansion. Culture played an important role in creating the idea of the nation: art and poetry, stories and music helped express and shape nationalist feelings. The romantic artists and poets generally criticized the glorification of reason and science and focused instead on emotions, intuition and mystical feelings.

Their effort was to create a sense of a shared collective heritage, a common cultural past, as the basis of a nation. The collection and recording the forms of folk culture was essential to the project of nation-building. The emphasis on vernacular language and the collection of local folklore was not just to recover an ancient national spirit, but also to carry the modern nationalist message to large audiences who were mostly illiterate. Language too played an important role in developing nationalist sentiments. After Russian occupation, the Polish language was forced out of schools and the Russian language was imposed everywhere. In 1831, an armed rebellion against Russian rule took place which was ultimately crushed. Following this, many members of the clergy in Poland began to use language as a weapon of national resistance Polish was used for Church gatherings and all religious resistance Polish was used for Church gatherings and all religions instruction. As a result, a large number of priests and bishops were put in jail or sent to Siberia by the Russian. The use of Polish came to be seen as a symbol of the struggle against Russian dominance.

3.2 Hunger, Hardship and Popular Revolt

Europe had great economic hardships during the year 1830. 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 form rural areas migrated to the cities to live in overcrowded slums. Small producers in towns were facing competition from imports of cheap machine made goods from England, where industrialization was more advanced than on the continent. The rise of good prices or a year of bad harvest led to widespread pauperism in town and country. In the year 1848, food shortages and widespread unemployment brought the population of Paris out on the roads. Barricades were erected and Louis Philippe was forced to flee. A 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. In 1845, weavers in Silesia had led a revolt against contractors who supplied them raw material and gave them orders for finished textiles but drastically reduced their payments. The workers were in a miserable condition and were desperate for jobs.

3.3 1848 : The Revolution of the Liberals

During 1848, there emerged a revolution by educated middle classes. The events of February 1848 in France had brought about the abdication of the monarch and a republic based on universal male suffrage had been proclaimed. In other parts of Europe where independent nation-states did not yet exist – such as Germany, Italy, Poland, the Austro – Hungarian Empire – men and women of the liberal middle classes combined their demands for a constitutionalism with national unification. They took advantage of the growing popular unrest to push their demands for the creation of a nation-state on parliamentary principles – a constitution, freedom or the press and freedom of association.

In the German regions a large number of political associations whose members were middle class professionals, businessmen and prosperous artisan came together in the city of Frankfurt and decided to vote for an all German National Assembly. On 18th May 1848, 831, elected representatives marched in a festive procession to take their places in the Frankfurt parliament convened in the Church of St. Paul. They drafted a constitution for a German nation to be headed by a monarchy subject to a parliament convened in the
Church of St. Paul. They drafted a constitution for a German nation to be headed by a monarchy subject to a parliament. When the deputies offered the crown on these terms to Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia, he rejected it and joined other monarchs to oppose the elected assembly.

The issue of extending political rights to women was a controversial one within the liberal movement, in which large numbers of women had participated actively over the years. Women had formed their own political associations, founded newspapers and taken part in political associations, founded newspapers and taken part in political meetings and demonstrations. Despite this they were denied suffrage rights during the election of the Assembly.

Though conservative forces were able to suppress liberal movements in 1848, they could not restore the old order. Monarchs were beginning to realize that the cycles of revolution and repression could only be ended by granting concessions to the liberal nationalist revolutionaries. Hence, in the years after 1848, the autocratic monarchies of Central and Eastern Europe before 1815. Thus serfdom and bonded labour wee abolished both in the Habsburg dominions and in Russia. The Habsburg rulers granted more autonomy to the Hungarians in 1867.

4. The Making of Germany and Italy

4.1 Germany – Can the Army be the Architect of a Nation?

Since 1848, Nationalism has considerably moved away from its association with democracy and revolution. The sentiments of the nationalist were reasonably mobilized by conservatives for promoting state power and achieving political domination over Europe. The nationalists feelings were widespread among middle-class German, who in 1848 tried to unite the different regions of the German, who in 1848 tried to unite the different regions of the German confederation into a nation – state governed by an elected parliament. This liberal initiative to nation building was, however, repressed by the combined forces of the monarchy and the military, supported by the large landowners ofPrussia. From then on, Prussia took on the leadership of the movement for national unification. Three wars over seven years – with Austria, Denmark and France – ended in Prussian victory and completed the process of unification. In January 1871, the Prussian King, William I, was proclaimed German Emperor in a ceremony held at Versailles. On January 18th, 1871, an assembly comprising the princes of the German states, representatives of the army, important Prussian ministers including the chief minister Otto von Bismarck gathered in the unheated Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles to proclaim the new German Empire headed by Kaiser William I of Prussia. The nation building process in Germany had demonstrated the dominance of Prussian state power. 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 of the rest of Germany.

4.2 Italy Unified

Italy also had the history similar to Germany regarding political fragmentation. Italians were scattered over several dynastic states as well as the multi-national Habsburg Empire. In the middle of nineteenth century, Italy was divided into seven states, of which only one, Sardinia – Piedmont, was ruled by an Italian princely house. Even the Italian language had not acquired one common form and still had many regional and local variations. In the year 1830, Giuseppe Mazzini had sought to put together a coherent programme for a unitary Italian Republic. He had also formed a secret society called Young Italy for the dissemination of his goals. The failure of revolutionary uprisings both in 1831 and 1848 meant that the mantle now fell on Sardinia – Piedmont under its ruler King Victor Emmanuel II to unify the Italian states through war. In the eyes of the ruling elites of this region, a unified Italy offered them the possibility of economic development and political dominance. Chief Minister, who was neither a revolutionary nor a democrat, spoke French much better than he did Italian. Though a tactful diplomatic alliance with France engineered by Cavour, Sardinia – Piedmont succeeded in defeating the Austrian forces in 1859. Apart from regular troops, a large number of armed volunteers under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi joined the fray. In 1860, they marched into South Italy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilians and succeeded in winning the support of the local peasants in order to drive out the Spanish rulers. In 1861 Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed king of united Italy. However, much of the Italian population, among whom rates of illiteracy were high, remained blissfully unaware of liberal –nationalist ideology.

4.3 The strange case of Britain

The model of nation or the nation-state, some scholars have argued, is Great Britain. In Britain the formation of the nation – state was not the result of a sudden upheaval or revolution. It was the result of a long-drawn –out process. There was no British nation prior to the eighteenth century. The primary identities of the people who inhabited the British Isles were ethnic ones – such as English, Welsh, Scot or Irish. All of these ethnic groups had their own cultural and political traditions. But as the English nation-steadily grew in wealth, importance and power, it was able to extend its influence over the other nations of the islands. The act of union 1701 between England and Scotland that resulted in the formation of the United Kingdom and Scotland that resulted in the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain’ meant, in effort, that England was able to impose its influence on Scotland. The Catholic clans that inhabited the Scottish Highlands suffered terrible repression whenever they attempted to assert their independence. The Scottish Highlanders were forbidden to speak their Gaelic language or wear their national dress, and large number were forcibly driven out of their homeland. Ireland suffered a similar fate. It was a country deeply divided between Catholic and Protestants. After a failed revolts against British dominance over a largely Catholic country. The symbols of the new Britain – the British flag, the national anthem, the English language – were activity promoted and the older nations survived only as subordinate partners in this union.

5. Visualizing the Nation

It is easy enough to represent a ruler through a portrait or a statue, how does one go about giving a face to a nation? Artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries found a way out by personifying a nation. In other words they represented a country as if it were a person. Nations were then portrayed as female figures. The female form that was chosen to personify the nation did not stand for any particular woman in real life, rather it sought to give the abstract idea of the nation a concrete form. That is, the female figure became an allegory of the nation. During French Revolution artists used the female allegory to portray ideas such as Liberty, Justice and the Republic. The attributes of liberty are the red cap or the broken chain, while justice is generally is blindfolded woman carrying a pair of weighing scales. In 19th century, female allegories were invented by artists to represent the nation. In France, she was christened Marianne, a popular Christian name, which underlined the idea of a people’s nation. She was more or like Liberty and the Republic – the red cap, the tricolor, the cockade. Statues of Marianne were erected in public squares to remind the public of the national symbol of unity and to persuade them to identify with it. Similarly, Germania became the allegory of the German nation. In visual representations, Germans wears a crown of oak leaves as the Germania wears a crown of oak leaves, as the German oak stands for heroism.

6. Nationalism and Imperialism

During the nineteenth century nationalism no longer retained its idealistic liberal – democratic sentiment of the first half of the century, but became a narrow creed with limited ends. In this period nationalist groups became increasingly intolerant of each other and ever ready to go to war. The major European powers, in turn, manipulated the nationalist aspirations of the subject peoples in Europe to further their own imperialist aims. In 1871, the most serious source of nationalist tension in Europe was Balkans. It was a region of geographical and ethnic variation comprising modern day Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia – Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro whose inhabitants were broadly known as the Slavs. A large part of the Balkans was a region of geographical and ethnic variation comprising modern day Romania.


  • Do not include your name, "with regards" etc in the comment. Write detailed comment, relevant to the topic.
  • No HTML formatting and links to other web sites are allowed.
  • This is a strictly moderated site. Absolutely no spam allowed.
  • Name: