The International Status of the Romanian Lands in 1848 The Romanian revolutionary activities paralleled similar dramatic events in much of Europe. For the European great powers these revolts overshadowed those in the Danubian principalities. The Habsburg Empire and the German states, notably Prussia, were fully absorbed in dealing with their own problems. France, in a similar situation, and Britain were aware of conditions in Moldavia and Wallachia, but their leaders were primarily preoccupied with their possible effects on the situation in the Habsburg Empire and with the ability of the Ottoman Empire to resist Russian pressure. As such, the two powers most actively involved in the Romanian lands were the Ottoman Empire, the suzerain power, and Russia, which had special rights of intervention and protection resting on previous treaties, notably the Treaty of Adrianople (1829). The Russian government, concerned about the possible victory of the Hungarian revolution and the support it received from the Polish emigration, followed with care the situation in Transylvania.
Of the great powers, the Russian government took the initiative for action in the Principalities. The major decisions were made by Nicholas I, assisted by his foreign minister, Karl Robert Nesselrode, and his military advisers. The tsar throughout his reign had consistently denounced liberal and revolutionary movements on the ideological grounds, but in 1848 he was faced by a threat to Russian security because of the success of the revolution throughout Central Habsburg Empire and Prussia, to act effectively. The tsar was particularly disappointed by the capitulation of the Prussian king, Frederick William IV to the revolutionary demands, and he feared the consequences of the possible dissolution of the Habsburg Empire, which faced major problems in Italy and Hungary.
Nicholas I dealt with this situation by mobilizing the Russian army, but by refraining from active intervention in European affairs. He did not, however, intend to follow this policy in regard to the Ottoman Empire, and he made his intentions clear. In April demonstrations were held in Iasi, but Prince Michael Sturdza had no difficulty in handling the situation. Although no Russian action was needed, Nicholas I sent General Alexander Osipovich Duhamel to report on the situation in both Principalities. At the same time, the Russian government discussed the situation with the Ottoman diplomats and urged the suzerain power to adopt a strong policy in regard to any revolutionary activities.
Meanwhile, the revolutionary leadership in Wallachia prepared for action. On July 23 the revolt commenced; on July 26 Prince George Bibescu left the country, leaving the control of the government in revolutionary hands. Unlike the events in Moldavia, where the leaders had demanded only moderate reforms, the Wallachian revolution had a decided anti-Russian edge with its clear challenge to the Russian protectorate and the regime of the Organic Statutes. With Europe in turmoil this attitude involved more than just the Russian position in the Principalities. The major Russian fears concerned the revolutionary dangers in Central Europe; the Principalities occupied and important strategic position in regard to the Habsburg lands, in particular to Transylvania where the forces of the Hungarian revolution were in control. Nicholas II and his advisors also followed carefully the activities of the Polish emigration. Its members were extremely active in the Hungarian revolt and also in Moldavia. It is important to emphasize that the widespread Polish participation in revolutionary movements was one of the major reasons why the Russian government intervened first in the Principalities and later against the Hungarian revolution.
Despite the dangers for Russian interests in the situation, Nicholas I was initially reluctant to intervene in the Principalities. Although he had a large army, he had to worry that it would be needed for more important tasks in Central Europe. For this reason his policy initially was to put pressure on the Ottoman Empire to provide the military force for the suppression of the revolt. Nevertheless, at the beginning of July, on Duhamel's orders, a Russian army did cross into Moldavia. The tsar, however, opposed a further intervention into Wallachia, and he wished to act in concert with the Ottoman Empire.
The Russian attitude placed the Ottoman authorities in a difficult position. The revolutionary regime in Bucharest had declared its loyalty to the suzerain power and the movement was clearly anti-Russian and not anti-Ottoman. Certainly, the situation provided the opportunity for the Porte to lessen or destroy the Russian influence. This policy was also urged by the French and British representatives in Constantinople. To deal with the Wallachian revolt, the Ottoman government sent an emissary, Suleiman Pasha. Once in Bucharest he entered into negotiations with the members of the revolutionary government. An agreement was reached, and some changes were made in the composition of the Wallachian regime.
The Ottoman moderating action met with strong Russian objections. Nicholas I did not want to negotiate with the revolutionary leadership, but to crush the entire movement. Under strong Russian pressure the Ottoman government yielded to some of the Russian demands. Another commissioner, Fuad Pasha, was sent with a military force with met with resistance when it entered Bucharest. Despite this show of force, the Russian leaders were not satisfied. They simply did not trust the Ottoman representatives to act with sufficient strength to stamp out all signs of revolt.
Although Fuad declared that a Russian intervention was not needed, Nicholas I sent his army from Moldavia into Wallachia, arriving in Bucharest on September 28. The army met no opposition, since, as the Ottoman authorities had indicated, the situation was under control. Once in Bucharest, however, it was clear that it was the Russian, not the Ottoman, officials who were in charge. The now pressed for the arrest and punishment of the revolutionaries and a suppression of all signs of revolt.
The Russian intervention not only underlined the powerlessness of the suzerain power as against it strong neighbor, but the action enabled the Russian government to strengthen its control of the Principalities. The Convention of Balta Liman of April, 1849 gave the Russian government additional means of controlling the election of the princes and of influencing the domestic affairs of the Principalities. The Russian occupation did not end until 1851.
As previously noted, the major Russian preoccupation involved the neighboring European lands, not the Ottoman Empire. The occupation of Moldavia placed the Russian army in a good position to intervene in Transylvania, where the tsar was concerned about the inability of the vienna government to suppress the Hungarian revolt. He was also at this time the recipient of appeals from the Romanian, Saxon and Serbian populations to save them from the Hungarian movement. The successes and influential military positions given to General Joseph Ben, a hero of the 1830 Polish uprising against Russia, also affected the Russian decisions. The tsar had previously made clear that he was willing to aid the Habsburg government, but that an official request was necessary, an action which the Habsburg authorities were reluctant to take. In February, 1849, however, the local commanders in Transylvania did appeal for aid in the defense of Sibiu and Brasov. At that time, a Russian force crossed the border, but the action was unsuccessful. It was made clear to the Russian military that any further intervention would need to be on a massive scale.
Faced with continued Hungarian successes, the Habsburg government officially requested a Russian intervention. On June 17 a Russian army of 190,000 men went into action with Transylvania, a major center of action. Despite the Russian role in the suppression of the Wallachian revolt, the Romanian leaders, as well as the Saxon and South Slavic, welcomed the Russian action. The Habsburg and Russian victory resulted in the subsequent return of Transylvania to direct rule from Vienna.
In contrast to Russia, the British and French activities were extremely limited. In London, Lord Palmerston correctly judged that the motivation for the Russian intervention in the Principalities had been primarily concerned about the Hungarian revolution. Although the British government was at this time for the maintenance of strong Habsburg and Ottoman empires as checks on Russia, it did not regard the occupation as a threat to either state, not did it fear that the Principalities would be annexed. The British representatives on the scene, however, had different opinion.
In Constantinople, Stratford Canning continued his strongly anti-Russian and pro-Ottoman stand. He disliked the Wallachian revolution at first because he believed that it would give the Russian government the excuse to intervene and eventually annex the provinces. He next hoped that the revolt would allow Ottoman authority to be strengthened and the regime of the Organic Statutes ended. He thus attempted to influence the Ottoman officials, who feared the military threat from the north.
In Bucharest the British consul, Robert G. Colquhoun, similarly approved of the revolution, and he gave his support to the conservative revolutionary groups. Although he acted as an adviser and as a mediator between the Ottoman and Wallachian representatives, he too did not have the support of his government for an active and aggressive stand.
Despite the fact that French examples were the inspiration for the Wallachian revolutionary leaders and the February revolt in Paris was the original impetus for action, the French stand was in fact ambiguous. Of course, the French leadership had its own sever internal problems: it also had a prior interest in the revolutionary events in Italy and Hungary as well as a tradition of support for Polish national activities. Although some gestures of encouragement were offered, French advice was conservative: it urged that a moderate policy be adopted and that Russian not be provoked. In Bucharest the consul, Dor de Nion, and in Constantinople, General Aupick, acted in concert with their British colleagues, but in a secondary role.
With its primary attention on Central Europe, the French government
at this time showed its willingness to use the Principalities as
bargaining chips. In April and August, 1848 Alphonse de Lamartine
offered Austria Moldavia and Wallachia in return for a Habsburg
surrender of its Italian possessions. French policy was the
maintenance of a reorganized, but strong, Austria as a check on
Russia; this compensation was to assure that the state was not
weakened by a loss of Italy.
JGC revised this file
September 29, 2004.
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© 1999, 2004 James Chastain.
JGC revised this file (http://www.ohiou.edu/~chastain/rz/romanian.htm) on September 29, 2004.
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© 1999, 2004 James Chastain.