{3-219.} In spring 1848, Transylvania rejoined the mainstream of European history. No sooner had the Parisians risen up to overthrow their king and proclaim a republic than a revolutionary wave swept across much of Europe. Faith in the redeeming power of French revolutionary ideas became generally dominant. The majority of radicals looked upon the French revolution — or at least some of its aspects — as worthy of emulation; even the more moderate liberals were inspired to take an active hand in changing the course of history.

If the great changes that occurred in western Europe in the eighteenth century — the Industrial Revolution in England, and the socio-political revolution in France — can be characterized as 'dual revolutions,' the liberal revolutions of 1848 had a strong 'national' dimension. In the more peripheral regions, in Germany, Italy, and the Habsburg empire, the revolutionary movements addressed not only social and political issues raised by the transition from feudalism to capitalism but also the goal of national sovereignty. The forces unleashed by social change coalesced into movements that aimed at national unity and liberal constitutionalism in the context of a nation-state; where conditions were less favourable, the objectives were local autonomy and minority rights.

Optimism reigned regarding the feasibility of these political objectives. The security system of the Holy Alliance had grown weak, and only czarist Russia seemed prepared to sustain the traditional policy of intervention. Although England's passivity was not auspicious, the French republican leaders lent their support — at least in principle — to the emancipation of oppressed nations and peoples, a cause that had been championed for a long time by sundry poets and writers.

The fledgling nationalist movements showed some solidarity in their initial celebration of the 'Spring of Nations.' This momentarily {3-220.} overshadowed the possibility that, given the social and ethnic complexity of the regions in turmoil, nationalist efforts would fall prey to political manipulation and turn against each other. In this respect, Transylvania proved to be the most vulnerable region in central Europe. The domestic bourgeoisie was too feeble and divided to serve as a solid base for radical change. The risk was great that, if the spirit of revolution spread to the Habsburg empire and provoked counter-revolutionary measures, the social and national tensions in Transylvania would be aggravated and might even erupt in civil war.