The Rise Of Nationalism In Europe

Nationalism refers to the sense of having a common national identity and history amongst the citizens of a nation. Nationalism began in Europe with the French Revolution in 1789 and resulted in the emergence of a nation-state; in which a centralized body elected by the citizens as the sovereign control over a defined territory. Prior to the revolution, France was a monarchy; however, during the revolution, many nationalist ideas such as La Patrie (The Fatherland) and Le Citoyen (The Citizen) were introduced to create a sense of collective identity and equal rights amongst the citizens.

The Rise of Nationalism In Europe

The Spread of Nationalism

Spread of Nationalism in Europe

As the ideas of French Revolution spread across Europe, many students and educated members of the middle class who were inspired by these events began setting up “Jacobin Clubs” all over Europe. The activities of these clubs paved the way to the French Armies to move into other European states and spread “Nationalist” ideas in the invaded states. The French Armies also carried many administrative reforms in the states that came under their control; for example, the Civil Code of 1804, also called Napoleonic Code, which banned all privileges based on birth and established Equality Before Law.

The French Revolution (1789-1799)

The French Revolution

The French Revolution started on July 14, 1789. During this time, French people united to overthrow the monarchy and take control of their government. The French Revolution ended in 1799 when Napolean firmly established the French Consulate.


  • France had fought many battles and its resources had been depleted. The people were suffering and this was not acknowledged by the king.
  • Wages were low and the prices were high. Many poor people died of hunger. This made the poor hate the rich people who could eat well and survive.

Invasion of Russia and Napolean’s Exile

Napolean’s defeat in Russia led to his downfall. The Russians burned everything, leaving the French hungry and poor. After the defeat, Napolean exiled to Elba, and after the battle of Waterloo (1815), he was exiled to St. Helena where he died.

Abolition Of Aristocracy

In Europe, the society was mainly divided into two classes- Aristocracy and Peasantry. The Aristocracy, though less in number, prominently dominated Europe in both the social and political spheres. The peasantry consisted of tenants and small landowners. They worked for the aristocratic lords.

The Congress Of Vienna (1815)

The Congress of Vienna

After the demise of Napolean, a meeting was convened at Vienna (Congress of Vienna) where the representatives of European monarchs met and re-established the old system that prevailed before Napolean overthrew the government.

The Treaty of Vienna

  • The Treaty of Vienna was drawn up in 1815 by representatives of Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria. They wanted to create a conservative order in Europe and undo the changes brought about by Napolean.
  • The Bourbon Dynasty was restored to its original position.
  • States were set up on the boundaries of France.
  • Napolean’s German confederation of 39 states did not see change.
  • The Netherlands was established to the north of France and Genoa in the south.
  • Prussia controlled territories on the western frontier.
  • Austria was in charge of northern Italy.
  • Inspired by the movement in the United States, people started wanting more power over the government. They also did not want to be ruled by royalty and nobility anymore.
  • After the Roman Catholic Church imposed a tax on crops in France, the poor suffered even more.
  • People felt that all the privileges and rights were enjoyed by the Clergy and the Nobility and the rest had to pay taxes to the authorities.

Major Events That Led To The Rise Of Nationalism

Bastille Day: This started the French Revolution. People stormed into the Bastille Prison, seeking to gain gunpowder and ammunition. They fought with the Governor until their demands were met. The 14th of July is now called “Bastille Day” and is the Independence Day of France.

Women’s March: October 5, 1789, witnessed Parisian women demanding Louis XVI to put an end to the nationwide shortage of food.

National Assembly: During a meeting in 1789, the meeting of the Estate General, financial problems, taxes, and political reforms were discussed. In the end, the 3rd Estate declared itself to be the only true government in France.

Tennis Court Oath: The members of the National Assembly met in 1789 and took an oath to keep meeting until a new constitution was drawn up.

Reign of Terror: 1793-1794 saw thousands of peasant and persons being executed for being disloyal.

Napolean’s Contribution To Nationalism

Napolean Bonaparte

Napolean came to Power: Napolean Bonaparte carried out a sudden overthrow of the government and came to power in 1804.

Civil Code of 1804: Also known as the Napoleonic Code, this code established the concept of Equality Before Law. It also gave people the Right To Property. Napolean simplified administrative measures and abolished the feudal system. An improvement was witnessed in the transport and communication systems.

The Fag End Of Nationalism

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, “Nationalism” lost its liberal-democratic sentiment. Nationalist tension during that time was most serious in the Balkans region, which was under the Ottoman Empire.

A Precursor of The First World War

The Balkans wars led to the First World War in 1914, which destroyed most of Europe.

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