Vormaerz (Biedermeier age): After Napoleon appointed himself Emperor of France in 1804, Emperor Franz II founded the Austrian Empire on August 8, 1804, and abdicated the crown of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The Habsburg lands suffered considerably from the Napoleonic Wars, which cost a great deal of money, led to national bankruptcy in 1811 and set back the slowly developing industry. It took 10 years for the economy to get over this crisis. On the other hand the Continental System, the blockade enforced by Napoleon against Britain, also led to the development of new products (e.g. beet sugar).
In terms of foreign policy matters Austria reached the peak of its power by 1815, partly because of its position as a decisive power during the Wars of Liberation, partly because of the person of Metternich: Vienna was chosen as the place for the congress during which the new European order was established. The Austrian Empire recovered parts of its former provinces but waived the Austrian Netherlands and the Vorlande in south-western Germany for the benefit of dominating the newly created German Confederation and in exchange for Lombardy and Venetia in Italy. The "Holy Alliance" of Russia, Austria and Prussia guaranteed stability, it opposed all liberal movements in Europe and confirmed this attitude at the congresses of Aix-la-Chapelle 1818, Karlsbad 1819, Troppau 1820, and Laibach and Venice 1822, and it was only towards the end of the century that Great Britain and France changed their course.
After the Napoleonic Wars domestic policy was characterised by a harsh police regime which suppressed any sign of liberalism, kept foreign literature away from the country and thus promoted the retreat of the bourgeoisie into the private sphere. This Biedermeier culture and especially its music became very popular in urban areas: it had already started its advance during the 18th century owing to the works of W. A. Mozart and J. Haydn, and now it became even more popular with the music of L. van Beethoven, F. Schubert and the waltz composers J. Strauss the Elder and J. Lanner. The dramatic works of playwright F. Grillparzer strengthened people´s loyalty to the Habsburg monarchy, J. Nestroy and F. Raimund led the Old Viennese Volkstheater to new heights. The most important painters of the time were L. Kupelwieser and F. G. Waldmueller, who also made social criticism a recurring theme in his paintings.
Although there was considerable economic growth from the 1820s onwards, which was partly made possible by laws granting privileges to industrial promoters, many people led a very wretched life. Most of them were industrial workers who lived in the suburban areas of Vienna, others had come from the overpopulated parts of Bohemia and the Austrian Alpine Regions. Inventors and new entrepreneurs from various regions of Germany settled down in Austria because they could sell their products more easily here, and they also developed new products. Many of them were travelling craftsmen and thus introduced new ideas from England to continental Europe, for instance, the technology of railway construction, which started in the 1830s. The horse-drawn railway from Linz to Budweis was outdated by the time it was finished in 1832, but the steam railway from Vienna to Moravia (opened in 1837 from Vienna to Deutsch-Wagram and completed shortly afterwards) marked the beginning of a new era of transport policy. At the same time a steamship company was founded and steam navigation began on the River Danube, in 1831 the first ship went from Vienna to Budapest, in 1932 from Vienna to Linz.
In 1831/1832 a cholera epidemic reduced the economic activities in the area around Vienna to a minimum and a series of poor harvests also affected economic development. The manorial system and feudal institutions were considered outdated and people became more and more dissatisfied. Emperor Franz I was always very sceptical of any new developments and a Staatskonferenz ("state conference") had to be established to rule the monarchy for his feeble-minded son Ferdinand (1835-1848). In addition, a new generation of young intellectuals insistently demanded a constitution and the liberalisation of the state. Finally, on March 13, 1848, the revolution of 1848 broke out in Vienna which resulted in the overthrow of Metternich, who had been the most important political figure of the Vormaerz period, and which brought about freedom of the press, a constitution, and an election of the Reichstag in summer. On September 7, 1848, the law on the final abolition of serfdom was passed and thus the feudal system, which had lasted for more than 1,000 years, was made obsolete.
Literature#J. Marx, Die wirtschaftlichen Ursachen der Revolution von 1848 in Oesterreich, 1965; W. Haeusler, Von der Massenarmut zur Arbeiterbewegung, 1979; P. Csendes (ed.), Oesterreich 1790-1848, Das Tagebuch einer Epoche, 1987; Buergersinn und Aufbegehren, exhibition catalogue, Vienna 1987/1988.