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Historical Observations: The 1843 Revolution: Actions, Reactions, and Aftermath

The politicians and military staged a revolution in Athens on September 3, 1843, demanding a constitution from King Othon (Otto) who ruled as an absolute monarch.

The early period of the Hellenic kingdom under Othon’s rule was one of confusing party conflict in which the British, French, and Russian diplomats directly involved themselves in Greek domestic affairs. Around these envoys, the Greeks aligned themselves by establishing British, French, and Russian parties. These groupings were unstable with shifting allegiances between the Greek politicians and the foreign diplomats, with the result that Greece’s status as an independent state was often compromised.

The French were disappointed with Othon and his minister Christidi, who did nothing to enhance French privilege nor proceeded with a reform program. Othon declined additional foreign financial assistance, placed “a levy on office-holders; reduced the number of offices, and curtailed spending generally.” Civil servants were dismissed along with “massive demobilization of officers (but not Bavarians).” These measures angered his subjects and the three protecting powers (Britain, France, and Russia).

Greece defaulted on its foreign loan obligations forcing her creditors to take action. The powers met in London on July 5, 1843, where they “fixed the annual interest and repayment of the Greek debt of 3.6 million francs, assigned revenues to meet this charge, and installed an agency to control Greek expenditures.” To the Greeks, the future of Othon’s throne seemed doubtful, if he couldn’t raise a loan from the powers.

There was growing dissatisfaction with Othon and the government and so, Andreas Londos (English Party), Andreas Metaxas (Russian Party), General Ioannis Makrigiannis (French Party), and Constantinos Zographos formed a conspiratorial group to bring about constitutional change in Greece.

They also enlisted and won the support of large sectors of the military and had planned to stage the revolt on March 25, 1844, but believed that their plans had been exposed so they moved it to August 1843. On September 14, 1843, military officers Dimitrios Kallergis and Nikolaos Skarvelis ordered their troops to surround the palace where a large crowd led by Makrigiannis was chanting “Long live the Constitution,” Othon’s guard refused to carry out his order to disperse the troops and the crowd.

With great reluctance, Othon accepted the demands of the revolutionaries, and Kallergis presented the King with a proposal. Kallergis explained to him that the people and the army demanded the immediate convocation of a National Assembly for the drafting of a Constitution. Furthermore, Kallergis demanded the resignation of the government, the formation of a government that would enjoy the trust and support of the people, and the dismissal of the Bavarians from government administration. The Council of State met in the palace and presented Othon with draft decrees. The British Minister, Sir Edmund Lyons, played a leading role in getting these decrees accepted. In the end, Othon had no choice but to sign the necessary decrees for the convocation of the National Assembly.

On September 15, a new ministry was appointed with Metaxas as premier, while elite members of the movement like Andreas Londos, Admiral Canaris, Rigas Palamidis, Drossos Mansolo, Leon Melas, and Michael Schinas held the war, navy, interior, finance, Justice and Religion, and Public Instruction ministries. It was a bloodless revolution that ended formally around 3 PM when the gathered crowd dispersed and the soldiers returned to their base in Monastiraki.

In late October, elections were held for the National Assembly with the return of 243 deputies. The resulting parliament opened on November 20 with the elderly Panoutsos Notaras as president. The largest majority was dominated by the Mavrokordatos-Kolettis-Metaxas grouping with the Makrigiannis group comprising the opposition. A twenty-one-man committee was appointed to frame a constitution with Mavrokordatos-Kolettis-Metaxas confining themselves to this task and avoiding other issues that might have impacted their deliberations.

Some of the draft articles included items such as: Article 1, which declared Orthodoxy as the official religion and Article 2 which stated that the Church of Greece would be autocephalous. These, along with other articles, were debated in the Assembly. Two other issues which caused problems were the creation of a senate and succession to the Greek throne. In the former case, those elected to the senate would have life tenure but such a measure was opposed by Lyons and the French minister, Theobald Piscatory. A compromise was reached that if a senator stayed in office for ten years, then he could have life tenure. The latter issue was an issue because Othon had no successor to the Greek throne. It was decided that all future successors of the Greek throne or regents had to belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The constitution was presented to Othon on March 7, 1844, who wanted some changes to it. The opposition gathered around 40% of the votes in the Chamber threatening to withdraw its support and establish a separate assembly. Othon’s failure to accept the constitution might have led to civil war, but on March 16, Othon signed the Constitution establishing Greece as a constitutional monarchy.

On March 30, in Lyons ’ despatch to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Aberdeen, he remarked that the September 1843 revolution was bloodless except for the killing of one gendarme, and that commercial activity on land and sea had been unaffected. “This affords reasonable grounds for hope for the future and was followed by a popular election and meeting of a National Assembly”, Lyons said.

In conclusion, the September 3rd revolution by the military changed the direction of Greek politics, forcing the King to adopt a constitution, hold elections, and avoid ruling as an autocrat. What remained as ongoing issues was foreign interference in the Greek kingdom’s internal affairs and the struggle between central authority and local elites.


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