Palace of Westminster / Wikimedia Commons
The Nature of Revolution: Politicization of the Common Man
Coronation of Francis Joseph I and Elisabeth Amalie at Matthias Church, Budapest, 8 June 1867, by Edmund Tull / Wikimedia Commons
Today, what I want to do is talk about the revolutions of 1848. Read the chapter. It’s not very long. I want to talk principally about why there was no revolution in Britain in 1848, since there were revolutions in France, in the Hapsburg domains of the Austrian empire, what would become in 1867 Austria-Hungary, in Prussia, in the Rhineland, and in Northern and Central Italy, but not in Britain. I want to talk about that. But before I do that, let’s just think about revolution in general and how revolutions work. I’ll mention this again when we get to the Russian revolution. If you think about what you know about the French Revolution in this context, hopefully it will make some sense.
In the 1960s many social scientists, not all, believed that revolutions came when pressure builds up and you’ve got intellectuals bailing out, leaving the regime. Then you’ve got all this tension building up and then boom, you’ve got your basic revolution. But revolutions don’t work like that. If you think about revolutions you know anything about, the Iranian revolution in 1979 would be a good example, or the revolutions we’re going to talk about today a little bit, that you’re reading about in 1848, or the French Revolution. What happens is that in the case of 1848, or in the case of the other ones that I’ve mentioned, is that there is a seizure of power by a group who have come together because they oppose the policies of the government in power. But it’s at that point that you’ve got an increase in social and political tension. It’s at that point that tension really increases and all sorts of interesting things begin to happen.
In the case of 1917 in St. Petersburg, in February the bread lines are very long. There are not a lot of troops around. They’re at the front. There are not a lot of police around. Suddenly, the czarist regime is just sort of swept away, like that. It’s at that point that things heat up. In 1917 things weren’t any tenser than they were in 1916, and there are a lot of things happening vis-à-vis the war that helped people mobilize. Try to imagine a post-czarist world or a reformed czarist autocracy. In the case of 1848 you’ve got demonstrations in Paris. In February — it rains all the time in Paris in February. It’s gray. People want electoral reform. Troops open up and shoot a bunch of people. The same thing happens in Berlin not long after that. At that point you’ve got the regime that’s swept away.
What’s interesting about the revolutionary process is that after you’ve got this kind of basic, provisional government. In the case of all — what the constitutional monarchy in 1789 and 1790 becomes, and in the case of Kerensky’s provisional government in 1917, and in the case of this kind of moderate republic in France, or in Germany, or in Austria, you’ve still got the monarchy, but you have all these contenders for power who are saying at that point, “We want to take advantage of the situation so that we will have a republic,” or, in the case of France, “that women will have more rights,” or “that workers will have more rights.” In the case of the German states, people who want a unified Germany put forth their claims at that point.
House of Bourbon in France, by Jean Nocret, 1670 / Palace of Versailles
In the case of France, people want the monarchy, the Bourbons, that is the legitimists who were chased out in 1830. They want them back. They put in their claims. You’ve got your basic moderate republicans that are saying, “We want a moderate republic.” In the case of Austria you’ve got all these Viennese students who want reforms. They want a progressive regime. It’s at that point that this sort of social tension and political tension increases. What the revolutionary process does, and what’s important about 1848, is that it brings, for the first time, lots more people into the political process. In the case of France, my friend Maurice Agulhon has called the “apprenticeship of the republic,” that is 1848 to December 2, 1851 and really 1852. Because now you’ve got universal manhood suffrage. All men can vote. Lots of women want to vote, too. It’s not a dominant course, but it’s still important in Paris.
So, you have a politicization of ordinary people. You have this in the German states. You have it in the Italian states as well, and you have it in Austria-Hungary. In the case of Austria-Hungary, you’ve got Hungarians putting forth special claims within the Hapsburg domains, and the national question surfaces in central Europe and in Italy, where people can imagine a unified Italy, which would mean you have to get rid of the Austrians, basically. You can read about what happens subsequently. You have these people putting forth their claims. You have this remarkable politicization.
In the case of Paris, the barricades go up, which happened in February. Then the June Days follow, which is basically a sort of class war in which lots of people get killed and put in prison — massive unrest for three days in June 1848. That’s a much more violent confrontation and telling confrontation than the initial revolutionary seizure of power by groups who don’t necessarily agree on what’s going to happen. In the case of France, which is the best documented, you’ve got all these newspapers that begin publishing because now suddenly you can publish things. You’ve got all these political clubs, just as in 1848. You’ve got neo-Jacobin clubs. You’ve got clubs of women. You’ve got the club of the two sexes, as it’s called. This becomes a way of politicizing ordinary people.
When men go to the polls in 1848 in April for the first time and they elect a relatively conservative, indeed monarchist leading national assembly, they do so with considerable knowledge about what they want. They want schoolteachers. They want credit available. They want the right to vote. This politicization, or the apprenticeship of a republic that would finally be permanent starting in the 1870s, is one of the most important aspects of the Revolution. The same thing is in the Russian Revolution, which I’ll come back and talk about. You’ve got Mensheviks. You’ve got Bolsheviks. You’ve got socialist revolutionaries. These are three big radical groups. You’ve got constitutional democrats. You’ve got monarchists. You’ve got people who want the czar to have all the power that he had before, and to lop off the heads of those people who are against him and that kind of thing.
In the case of the Russian Revolution, how you get from the February revolution to October, when the Bolsheviks seize power, is really very fascinating. That’s just a way of thinking about revolution. You can think about other revolutions that you know. The point is that the revolution as a process brings into play the aspirations of a lot more people. The French case, which is fascinating, is what begins as this kind of urban, middle-class revolution of people fought by artisans, as usual, who want the right to vote, ends up in December 1851, after Napoleon’s nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who had become the good old Napoleon III, not so good old — he destroys the republic, where he completes a process of repression that he’d already, as president of France, elected on the 10th of December 1848, initiated. But that very ordinary people, peasants for the most part, but also rural artisans, particularly in the south and not necessarily speaking French, at all rise up to try to defend the republic or what they call la Belle, the beautiful one, against the rape, as they called it, by the repressive apparatus centered in Paris.
This urban revolution ends up with over 100,000 people taking arms, and the largest national insurrection in France in the nineteenth century trying to defend the republic against its abolition by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who would not be able to stand for a second term as president of the republic. That’s really fascinating. A long time ago I used to read all these interrogations of people, including the great, great, great uncle of one of our neighbors in Ardèche. It’s being translated from Occitan, which is the language of that part of the south, into French by some translator as he’s being interrogated. “When did you join the secret society?” “Who did you initiate into the secret society?” to defend the republic, the democratic and social republic that’s going to provide more things to more people, etc. etc. Fascinating, the politicization of this.
A Different Kind of Revolution in Germany and Italy: Unification After the Failure of 1848
German Bundestag – The German unification and freedom movement (1800 – 1848) / Wikimedia Commons
Now, in the case of Germany and of Italy, it’s a different kind of revolution. It still had its kind of liberal and democratic component, but you had this scene, for example, in Frankfurt in the Frankfurt parliament, which was basically a lot of professors and lawyers debating long into the night in St. Paul’s church. They imagine the unification of Germany, what they called then the “springtime of the peoples,” that the German states, which Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, and Wurtemburg were the most important of these states. All these other little states, too, are going to be unified along liberal auspices. They were just dreaming. In the end they were kind of dismissed as a servant who was not wanting to be kept on at the big house anymore. They’re sort of dismissed. But they debate far into the night.
The significance of all of this is when you read the chapter — please do — on the Second Republic, and you see what happens in the case of the German states is that when Germany would be unified, and that unification is proclaimed in January 1871 in Versailles, in the Chateau of Versailles after the Franco-Prussian War, it would not be a liberal unification. It would not be a Germany united by lawyers and professors meeting in a Frankfurt church with what would become eventually the German flag, the colors of it hanging all around the rafters. It would be unified, as Bismarck accurately put it, “by blood and iron,” in the context of the Prussian aristocracy, the nobles, the Junkers, or Prussian nobles, and that basically unified Germany would be, as some wag once put it, “an army with a state trailing behind it.”
Germany would not be a republic; it would be an empire. Because one of the things that happens with empires is that emperors can do whatever they damn well please, just as czars can, and you might have had an assembly called the Reichstag, in which socialists became the leaders or the most dominant numerically by 1914, but power rests in the hands of a thoroughly irresponsible, intellectually lazy, sort of madcap ridiculous guy who happens to be the Kaiser, William II. Over the long run, the costs to Europe of that fact would be, in retrospect, given what happens in the twentieth century, which is the one that follows the nineteenth, would be one thing that historians would go back and say very obvious things, sort of clichés like, “Well, in 1848 history in Germany reached its turning point and failed to turn.” That German unification would not come because of professors, and liberals, and merchants in Hamburg, and this sort of thing, and that the German middle classes would, in a way, abdicate their political responsibility and not having much political power, and the state would be run by a bunch of Junkers, military officers with dueling scars and veterans of the fraternities of the Prussian universities.
Prussia wasn’t just Pomerania and Brandenburg and the marshes of northeastern Europe. Prussia also controlled the Rhineland. But the kind of magnates of industrializing Prussia were not going to be the ones who were running the show. In the case of Italy, you can read about that, too, is that there were a lot of people running around saying, “Long live united Italy,” and all of this business, but that was to be very hard, too. In order to unify Italy under any auspices, and most people wanted under liberal auspices, you have to get rid of whom? You have to get rid of the Austrians. The Austrians control almost all of northern Italy and much of central Italy, too. There are lots of impediments to Italian unification, not the least of which was the fact that the vast majority of people in Italy did not speak Italian. That itself was not a major impediment, but I guess it was, too.
The revolt breaks out in Palermo, Italy, January 12, 1848 / Wikimedia Commons
Only about four or five percent of the people in Italy spoke what now is considered to be Italian, which I guess is — I don’t speak Italian — essentially the language of Tuscany, the area around Florence. They spoke all sorts of other dialects. The Tuscan language was virtually unknown in the south of Italy or in Sicily, and was identified with money-grubbing tax collectors coming down from the north. After the tide of the springtime of the people or, as somebody once called it, “the great illusion” of 1848, after that tide had passed, what you had is still lots of fervent hopes and dreams that Italy was going to be unified along liberal auspices. That is what happens, even though it’s a monarchy, and unification comes because of basically the expansion of the state of Piedmont Sardinia, which was that most influenced by the French wave in the times of the French Revolution and of Napoleon, and also the wealthiest part of Italy.
In the case of Austria-Hungary — this is a long story, and you can read about it — but the springtime of the peoples meant the dreams first of number of nationalities, and I’ll talk about nationalism in a week or two, who suddenly think that now they, too, will have their time. A bunch of Czech nationalists were sitting in a room rather like this. Somebody looked up and said, “Geez, if this ceiling collapsed, that’s the end of the Czech national movement.” There was something to that. The springtime of the peoples would not bring an independent Czech state. It wouldn’t bring Czechoslovakia, which only lasts until 1993, despite what John McCain thinks. It doesn’t come until 1918, after World War I.
But in the Austrian-Hungarian empire everybody says, “What if we have an independent Galicia?” “What if Poland is independent and the parts of Russia and Austria and Poland will be independent?” But these are pipe dreams. National awareness and great power politics will mean that this isn’t going to happen until later. Poland becomes independent in 1918, for reasons that you already know. The chill of reaction, revolution, reaction, repression is what really happens. That’s the theme running through the whole thing, besides the big hopes of the spring of 1848.
The Austrian imperial system, and I’ll come back and talk about Austria-Hungary quite a bit, run in German in the polyglot Austrian-Hungarian empire, where there at least fifteen major languages, will be the story of Austria-Hungary in the 1850s. Of course, the Hungarians get separate status, equal status in principle, as of 1867. One of the interesting things about the Austrian-Hungarian period is that it’s in 1848 that Franz Joseph becomes emperor of Austria-Hungary. He is in power until 1916. He is around even longer than Queen Victoria.
The world changes in such dramatic ways between 1848 and 1916. When I was younger than you, I was in Vienna for the first time and I was sitting in a coffee shop, as one does there, in a café. This very old man started talking to me. He had actually seen, when he was young, had seen Franz Joseph. That was the most amazing thing for me to actually meet somebody who had seen, when he was a boy, Franz Joseph. That’s just extraordinary continuity. Anyway, Austria-Hungary is another story and it’s an interesting one. That we’re going to come back to, but I can’t do that now. We’ve got to go back to the question of England.
Another of the legacies of this is that after this tide of reaction what it does is it sends waves of political refugees to places like this. Not New Haven so much, but yeah, there were some Italians who ended up in New Haven who were Italian political refugees in that period. But lots of Germans who were thrown of the German states and had better not come back; they end up where? They end up in Philadelphia or in New York. Lots of Irish, who I’m going to talk about in a minute, end up in obvious places — Boston, New York, those two above all, but also Philadelphia. The glacial wave of repression sends these people, a lot of them, to the United States. That itself is an interesting story.
Although the revolutions of 1848 failed — and you should read about that, please do; I love this stuff, talking about this — the political legacies that they left are extremely important. These demands for political rights would be something that would last for a very long time. Again, to repeat and to end this little part of what we’re doing — oh my goodness — that German unification would come under very different auspices than that of the revolutionaries of 1848, what they wanted. The King of Prussia rejects this crown offered from the gutter, as he called it, to unify Germany under liberal monarchical auspices. That ain’t gonna happen and it doesn’t. Okay.
The Absence of an 1848 Revolution in Britain: Reform and Chartism
An engraving of Feargus O’Connor / National Portrait Gallery, London
There’s revolution in all these places in 1848. The big wave. Why not in Britain? Why not? You probably already know some of the answers. There are really two major contexts in all of this. First is that the Reform Act of 1832 puts down the drawbridge and opens it to more voters. More people can vote now. Again, voting was based on property qualification. Feargus O’Connor, who is an Irish Chartist whom I’ll talk about in a minute, he didn’t even have the right to — he is not disbarred, but he’s thrown out of parliament because he doesn’t make enough money in order to actually qualify to vote himself. You could vote if you paid X number of pounds and shillings in taxes.
What happens is 1832 opens up the drawbridge and more people can vote. The political arena expands a little bit and the same thing happens in France in 1830, as you know. In France the revolution of 1830 doubled the number of people that could vote. But it still leaves people on the outside looking in. In 1867 they would pass a second reform bill that lets more people in. In 1884 they pass another one that lets almost everybody in except for, I think, domestic servants and maybe rural proletarians. I can’t remember exactly. The political arena is expanding. The point of this is it’s expanding through reform. Britain reforms. The self-image, the self-identity of the freeborn Englishman, tracing more or less, at least in the imaginary, antecedents back to June 15, 1215 at Runnymede near London. The idea that the freeborn Englishman has rights and that we British citizens, our identity is we reform. We don’t rebel.
Clearly, as I will demonstrate in a minute drawing on the work of John Belcher and other people, too, what happens in 1848 is when there might have been a revolutionary moment in Britain, “France has sneezed and Europe is catching a cold,” as they like to say over and over again. It doesn’t come to Britain. British national identity, like all national identities, have to be systematically reinvented and reconstructed. This happens in 1848 and subsequent years as well, the sense that we are respectable. I’ve written “respectability” up on the board. Respectability means reform and not revolution. The aristocracy of labor, who were craftsmen and artisans who could be seen walking through Hyde Park with their ladies on their arms wearing suits, of all things, on Sundays, the bourgeois respectability had a political aspect of it, too.
Photograph of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848, photo by William Edward Kilburn / Royal Collection, London
In 1848 Britain does not rebel. More about this in a minute. The other context is Chartism, which you should read about. Chartist campaigns were campaigns to get ordinary people to sign an enormous charter with millions and millions of names. There’s two big waves in the 1830s and 1840s. What they do is they sign and they say, “We the humble poor, we ordinary people, we entreat you, big time lords, property owners of great distinction who are representing property and parliament, we entreat you to give us political rights.” They bring these huge petitions in on wagons signed by zillions of people, many of whom can only mark an X instead of writing their names. They bring them to parliament in the rain, as always. Parliament says, “Gee, thanks a lot. We don’t want to see that.” Then they say, “Oh, we’ll do it again. O great lords, give us political rights.” They sign. They don’t pick up their blunderbusses, they sign.
In 1830 the French middle class was more than happy to turn their artisans loose on the street to fight their battles for them for political reform. In Delacroix’s famous painting, Liberty Leads the People, the bourgeois with his top hat, in this romantic picture romanticized view of revolution, does not have any place there, because the bourgeoisie does not fight, unless you consider master artisans petty bourgeois. But in England that’s never going to happen. The Chartist campaign remains respectable. It is class-based to the extent that most people who signed the chartist petitions are ordinary people. But really they saw themselves as moral reformers. They see themselves as trying to do — and it cuts across class lines. They’re trying to get the government to do the right thing, to pass more reforms.
The Reform Act of 1832 was passed by a conservative government because they knew that inevitably it was going to have to be passed. Who knows? It would create more lords in order to — and you’d have these not real lords who are there so the bill gets passed. It’s passed by a conservative government. Then everybody says, “We British, we reform. We’ve opened up the drawbridge. More people can vote.” There was a component of Chartists who were called “physical force” Chartists. They’re not so sure that reform without revolution is possible. They are a minority within the Chartist movement. They are a very small minority, the physical force Chartists.
What you’ve got in 1848 is you’ve got two things that are going on. First of all, you don’t have a revolution. There’s this big date in April, I think it’s April 10th, where there’s going to be this huge march in London. What the government does is it deputizes 25,000 men of property. They become sheriffs. They become — I don’t know what you call them, sheriffs, I guess. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who had not yet returned to France, he was one of those who was actually deputized as a sheriff. The business people in the City, which is what the financial capital that overlooks the British Empire was increasingly called, they come with their hunting rifles to work. They get those file cabinets ready to barricade the door. And with their rifles they’re going to blow apart anybody who rises up and would try to bring revolution to Britain. There are 25,000 of these people. The number of marchers was far, far smaller to that. It’s a very peaceful march.
The Unwanted Other: The Irish as a Potential Source of Insurgency
The Gordon Riots by Charles Green, 19th century / Wikimedia Commons
There is no revolution in Britain in 1848. But if there had been a revolution, where would it come from? From where would the revolutionary ranks have come? That is the interesting question. That’s by far the most interesting question in all of this. Because of what I said before, 1848 helps the British re-invent or reconfigure, reconstruct their identity. There has to be an unwanted Other there who’s frightening them, who makes them convinced even more that they’re doing it the right way. I alluded before, when we talked about British identity in the eighteenth century, I said what the British weren’t in the seventeenth century helped determine who they thought they were. What they weren’t were absolutists. They reformed. What they weren’t was Catholic. The biggest riots in the eighteenth century were the Gordon riots, which were anti-Catholic riots. They are not the French, not at all. France has a centralized state and France is full of Catholics.
Many of the Protestants who had left France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 come, not just to the Netherlands, but come to Britain as well. So, this may have already tipped you off on who is the unwanted, dangerous Other in the British — particularly upper-class, but not just upper-class — imaginary. They are the Irish. What happens in 1848 and the subsequent years is that British nationalism is redefined again or re-infused with a sense of “what we are not,” and we are not Catholic and we are not Irish. If there was going to be a revolution in April or any other month in 1848, the components would be, from the point of view of the upper classes and from the police, the Irish and groups of physical force Chartists or revolutionaries who might join forces. Chartists looked to the Irish to get them to sign the big petitions. They see them as allies.
Remember, because of the Irish potato famine in the 1840s that tens of thousands of Irishmen, hundreds of thousands of Irishmen — I have it in the book somewhere, but the number of people who leave Ireland in the 1840s is in the millions, along with all those who just simply die in the fields. They go to where? They go to the United States and they go to England, particularly Liverpool. That’s why the Liverpool — this has nothing to do with anything, ça na rien à voir avec — soccer team is very much perceived as a Catholic team in the way that in Glasgow that the Celtics are the Catholic team, because so many Irish immigrants went to Glasgow and to Scotland. The Rangers are the Protestant team, very anti-Catholic. That’s why these people were brawling in 1900. They played before 100,000 people in 1900 — one hundred thousand people at a soccer game in about 1900. They hate each other’s guts and they still do.
All of these Irish are going to London, also. They live in the Irish neighborhoods. From the point of view of the ruling classes, and from the point of view of British nationalism, and from the point of view of the police, the possibility was there that the Irish confederation, who are extremely militant — one of the important Irish leaders, Daniel O’Connell, who is in the book, he dies in 1847. But you’ve got these people who are far more militant. Many of them believe that the only way Ireland is ever going to be independent is by rising up and rebelling. That’s what happens, isn’t it? That’s what eventually happens. They were right about that.
What if they start rebelling in 1848? What if you had, for example, your basic Peterloo massacre, as they called it, playing on the word “Waterloo,” where the British troops shoot down well-dressed demonstrators in Manchester. What is it, 1817? Either 1816 or 1817, I don’t remember. What if people who said, “We’re never going to get anywhere if we don’t do what our French colleagues have done, and that is take arms against these people.” So, there is a potential for an alliance between militants in the physical force Chartist movement, other radicals, and members of the Irish confederation. Because it never happens, there are a few marches and a few skirmishes, but basically the only news is no news, does not mean that this wouldn’t have a big effect on the reinvention of British nationalism, British self-identity. What do I mean by that?
A painting of the Peterloo Massacre published by Richard Carlile / Manchester Library Services
Here, one of the interesting things is that John Belcher told me a long time ago, on a train in Germany coming back from a conference in Wurzburg, that there were more boxes of documents in the public record office about the surveillance of ships coming into the port of Liverpool, than there were any other documents about any other aspect of 1848. Why? What are they doing? Where is the potential insurgency or infusion of militants for Irish coming from? It’s coming from the United States. One of the interesting things about this, and you can see also in the time of the troubles in the 1970s — I was in Ireland, ironically, when it all started up again in 1969. At the time they were really worried about the IRA, and there was a lot to worry about then. The IRA was getting all sorts of money from Irish pubs in New York and Boston, just tons of money, big bucks all the time to buy weapons.
In 1848, one of the interesting things that Belcher and other people have discovered is that the real Irish militants, the most committed, were Irish immigrants, immigrants to and immigrants from Ireland living in Boston and New York. What they had done is taken the notion of “American liberty” and said, “All right. Our role will be that of the French Revolution, to carry liberty in principle across the borders and free Europe from nobles, from priests, etc., etc. What we will do, as first generation Irish living in New York, and Philadelphia, and Boston, and maybe Connecticut, too, is we will raise money and we will make Irish independence. We will achieve this with violence, with guns.”
Every ship that came into any port that was coming from the United States was thoroughly searched for weapons and for money. These Irish immigrants to the United States were the most militant, arguably, within the Irish political movement for independence. For one thing, they had more means. Some of them had come from Ireland to the United States maybe going through England and maybe not. They had jobs, and the people in Ireland themselves were just starving. They were dying in the fields. They were ending up in London living with other Irishmen, which is not surprising, maintaining these kinds of patterns by county, Cork, and all this. The Catholic Church was terribly, terribly important in their lives. It was terribly important as a means of charity and all this. But what it meant for the upper classes is that the unwanted Other, Catholic — remember in 1798 they tried to ally with the French.
What happens in World War I? Roger Casement, who is an Irish militant who is absolutely against the exploitation of workers in Peru, and in Africa, and in everywhere else, Roger Casement ends up being sent off with a little boat off of a submarine off the coast of Carey. He tries to stop the Easter Insurrection. Of course, he’s arrested within about twenty-five minutes and hung later. What he tried to do was organize, in prisoner of war camps in Germany, Irish militants to fight the good fight and to free Ireland. This is looking later, but there was always this potential fear among the British upper classes that they — these Catholics who are no longer just across the channel. They’re not over in Ireland across a very choppy, gray, freezing sea. They are living in Liverpool in huge numbers. They are living in London in even bigger numbers. They are there. They are dangerous. If they ally with these dissatisfied workers from the Chartist movement, all hell is going to break out.
During the next time, and I don’t have much time at all — and I didn’t even use this, but you see the point. This potential alliance never occurs, but one of the interesting things about the re-invention or the reconstruction of British identity, self-identity — and it’s one shared not just by nobles and big time gentry but by ordinary workers, “Tory workers,” we tended to call them dismissively, those of us who couldn’t stand Margaret Thatcher and always were amazed to go through working-class parts of Britain and see these miserable council houses with these big pictures of Margaret Thatcher or the royal family. Anyway, it’s just amazing. But these Tory workers, and not just Tory workers, they see themselves as respectable. They see themselves as British and they increasingly see this unwanted enemy within, Catholic enemy within, as the Irish.
The newspapers are full of cartoons and caricatures of the Irish, who are portrayed invariably as drunken, as stupid, and as lazy. “Paddy” becomes, for the caricaturists in British newspapers in 1848 and subsequent years — Paddy is portrayed as the unwanted Other who is a threat to and has no place being in, except to do menial jobs or as a factory operative if they maintained respectability and don’t try trod out their Irishness too much. So, if anyone wants to know why these issues become so extraordinarily bitter at almost any time you can think of, Ulster in the 1970s and 1980s or even into the 1990s, or Ireland in 1916, 1848 plays a major role in that. Now, this is not to say that all people who saw themselves as British were necessarily nasty, aggressive people. But it does simply remind us, and here again I counsel Linda Colley’s book called Britain, as a very eloquent summary of all of this, that part of the construction of any kind of identity, and I’ll talk more about this when I talk about Eastern and Central Europe, is what you’re not, and what you’re not for the British in 1848 — afraid of catching this cold coming from the continent was, again, you are not French. You are not Catholic.
This, if anything, was going to further sour the relations between Irish and British authorities, particularly given the fact that the British Protestants owned the land in Ireland. I was in New York the other day, and I heard a talk and I saw some pictures of these marvelous things called “mass slabs,” or “mass rocks,” that were in rural Ireland, where priests in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries said mass in secret using these slab rocks, rocks that they happened to find, as altars. Practicing your religion was illegal, and the Protestants have the law on their side and they own the land anyway.
So, in 1848 there was no revolution in Britain. You know clearly why this is not the case. It’s almost surprising to think that they could have imagined the lines between the Irish confederation and other Irish groups and physical force Chartists. But 1848 has another role to play in British identity. I’ve tried to convey that to you today.