Potato Crisis (1845-1850)

Will lead to the real French revolution for the lower classes between 1850 and 1900

Subsequent failed harvests (F: mauvaises récoltes, Nl: misoogsten) (1844-1846) will lead to a food crisis and epidemies (1847-1949) . In 1848. It started in Ireland and West and East-Flanders. Prices will increase and the working class of the cities will wandering allover the country to find feed. The bourgeoisie with the French revolution in mind feared a renew of the years of terror of this revolution.




Failed harvests 1844-1846

1844: The winter 1844/1845 was very strong and the wintergrain and coleseed (F: colza, Nl: koolzaad) suffered  strongly under this weather.

1845: People changed therefore to potato culture,  the basic food at that time in Belgium, Holland and also Ireland, but July and August were very wet and a virulent variant of the  fungus "Phytophtora infestans" caused a failed harvest. Till 90 % was lost in East- and West-Flanders. And from this regions the epidemy spread less or more allover continental Europe.

1846: People planted in the beginning of that year early-potatoes , but in 2 or 3 weeks the fungi coloured the fields black The catastophe was complete when also the subsequent reye (NL: rogge, Fr: sigle) harvest  failed.


Epidemies 1847-1849

The population was so weakened that they were very vulnerable for epidemies in the following winters

1847/1848: typhus

1848/1849: cholera

So bad  was the situation that in 1848 35% of the population in West-Flanders did survive with public aid. Also as a result of the bad health of the population no recrutes for the army were called up.  In Ireland where a supply of food was hindered by the english landlords, died the people massively from hunger.


Political consequences in 1848


1848: The bourgeoisie who started in 1789 the French revolution mobilising the lower classes and discarting the nobles and the church from the power loosed control of the movement in the first years. Comitees of the lower classes took over the power. After a few years they could gain control and the bourgeoisie with their capital came on power. Symbols of the past with the nobles and the church were partly reinstalled to hold the lower classes under control after 1800. When Karl Marx in 1848 wrote his "Capitalistic Manifest" in Brussels they feared that the lower classes will take over again the power and that they will loose their status of the new leading class.  And it started with a revolution in Paris, but all over Europe quickly measures were take to control the situation. The answer was schooling and education of the lower classes. And it became a win-win situation for the two parties. The bourgeoisie needed schooled people for the development of the industry, who could give work at the people. The people was through all this events traumatised and for generations their first interests were in Food - Savety - Education.  But another important measure was that the leading classes understood that they were to small in number to stay in control.   They changed the electoral law so that more people could particiate in the elections, hoping that they could be integrated in their leading class. 


Long term effects


On Family structures

It took one generation for the children who growed up during the potatocrisis to sort from this disaster. As a consequence of this difficult situation families closed together and it will lead to strong figures like Hugo Spincemaille son of Bavo and Ivo Spincemaille son of Petrus Cornelius. We wil see that sisters of them took leading functions in cloisters. They will influence the following generation who will take opportunities and they will take part of the political live, university or emigrate. We can say that between 1850 and 1900 took place the real French revolution for the lower classes.

On politics

To broaden the basis of the basis of the establishment the cense hasbeen lowered. We find these new electors mostly in the cities and as a consequence the bourgeoisie was the leading party.

But as a result of more education analfabethism decreased. As a consequence electoral law changed and  from 1870 people who could read and write get the right to vote. This new electors came from the rural side and were deep-catholic. That will lead to 3 conflicts

1. The liberals fearing to loose their influence tried to control the schools instead of the catholics, but they lost the shool battle.The catholics, dominated by the catholic Franch speaking bourgeoisie  won and a long political domination of the catholics started

2. But in the flemish regions the lower clergy, coming out from this rural regions pushed for flemish education instead of French in the middle schools. The risk for the leading class of bourgeoisie was that this people will not be incorporated in this leading bourgeoisie with loss of influence. The higher clergy embedded in the French speaking bourgeosie, fearing a conflict with the French speaking higher bourgeoisie and loosing influence in favor of the liberals will suppress this action.

3. The socialists, having thier base in the cities, will grow slowly after the publication of the "Capitalistic Manifest" of Karl Marx in Brussels in 1848.