Revolutions of 1848 in the German states
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The 1848 Revolutions were a series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions in the German Confederation which sought to challenge the status quo. The revolutions, which stressed pan-Germanism, emphasised popular discontent with the traditional, largely autocratic political structure of the thirty-nine independent states of the Confederation that inherited the German territory of the Holy Roman Empire. Furthermore, they demonstrated the popular desire for increased political and social freedom, democracy, and national unity within liberal principals of socioeconomic structure.
The ground work of the 1848 uprising in Germany was laid long beforehand. Hambacher Fest of 1832, for instance, reflected growing unrest in the face of heavy taxation and political censorship. The Hambacher Fest is particularly noteworthy for the fact that it resulted in the origination of the black-red-gold colours (which form today's flag of Germany) as a symbol of the republican movement and of a unity among the German-speaking people.
Liberal pressure spread throughout the German states, each of which experienced the revolutions in their own way. The street demonstrations of workers and artisans in Paris, France, from February 22 through 24, 1848, which resulted in the forced abdication of King Louis Philippe of France and his departure from France to live in England, was the immediate spur to revolt in Germany. In France the revolution of 1848 became known as the February Revolution.
The revolution soon spread across Europe and started in Germany with the large demonstrations on March 13, 1848, in Vienna, Austria, which resulted in the resignation of Prince von Metternich as chief advisor to Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and his departure from Austria to live in England. Because of the date of these demonstrations, the revolutions in Germany are usually called the March Revolution.
Fearing the fate of Louis-Philippe of France, some monarchs in Germany accepted some of the demands of the revolutionaries, at least temporarily. In the south and west, large popular assemblies and mass demonstrations took place. They primarily demanded freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, arming of the people and a national German parliament.
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The demands for political reform included freedom of the press, self-organization of the universities and a parliament representing German citizens, instead of the federal council representing only the monarchs of the German states.
Nationalist sentiment was stimulated by the Rhine crisis of 1840, when it seemed France would invade the Rhineland. This event spawned a wave of anti-French sentiment and the composition of patriotic Rheinlied songs. In addition, Denmark's declaration that it would invade Schleswig-Holstein provoked widespread opposition. Nationalistic poems and songs were written, such as the Deutschlandlied ("Deutschland ber alles", 1841) which eventually became the national anthem. New journals, magazines, and papers arose, such as Die Deutsche Zeitung (The German Newspaper)", widening awareness of events in France and Denmark.
Poor living conditions also played their part. A cholera epidemic led to widespread death and suffering in Prussia. Significant population growth and the failures of harvests in 1846 and 1847 caused famine and misery. Many people moved to the cities for work, but working conditions were generally terrible, with long working days and low wages.
In 1828 the Prussian-Hessian Customs Union was formed, which attempted to set standards for taxes for goods and travellers among German States. Initially, the union area outside of Prussia was rather small, yet by 1834 it had grown into the Zollverein which encompassed most of what was to become Germany. Amongst other achievements it established standards for weights and currency in Germany.
Events across Europe in 1848 had an impact also on the Germans. In February 1848, King Louis-Phillipe of France abdicated the throne, triggering revolutions across the entire European continent, especially in the German provinces.
The Revolution of 1848 failed in its attempt to unify the German speaking states into a single nation because the Frankfurt Assembly (officially the All-German National Assembly) was unable to take any definitive action toward unification and degenerated into a mere debating society. When the Frankfurt Assembly first opened on May 18, 1848, the deputies elected Heinrich von Gagern as the first President of the Assembly. Gagern had strong support from the Center-Right Unionist party and had some influence with some of the moderates of the left, such that he could control perhaps 250 of the deputies of the Frankfurt Assembly. Gagern was a strong supporter of unification of all the German states into a single nation. However, in actual practice only the expanding Kingdom of Prussia had the military force to effect this unification. Many in the Frankfurt National Assembly, including Gagern, were distrustful of the motives of the Prussian state and their absolutist government. They did have theoretical backing from the Prussian army under Von Peucker, whom they appointed as minister of war, but he announced that he would only use the army in the interest of Prussia.
The Frankfurt Assembly had no money and bureaucracy to raise the funds necessary for raising an army or even enforcing any laws that were passed. They were stuck in a lose-lose situation, for without a bureaucracy they could not raise any money and without any money they could not raise a bureaucracy. The assembly started strongly with a great deal of motivation to get things done. This impetus was soon dissipated, however, as the various major divides between the various factions of the Frankfurt Assembly came to the fore–advocates of Grossdeutschland versus advocates of Kleindeutschland, Catholics versus Protestants, supporters of Austria versus supporters of Prussia. As various issues arose before the Frankfurt Assembly, the splits between the various factions became evident. Additionally, there were no organized political parties to hold the deputies together for voting as a block.
Meanwhile, outside the Frankfurt Assembly, the lack of support from the princes of the various states made any attempt at German unification a dead letter. The princes were unwilling to give up any power in the pursuit of unification of the whole country. Some princes were so firmly opposed to the Frankfurt Assembly that they had only tolerated its existence while they quelled rebellions in their respective territories. As soon as they had crushed the rebels, they followed the example of Prussia, recalling their deputies from the Assembly. Only Prussia, with its overwhelming military might, was potentially able to overcome the objections of local princes to the unification of Germany and protect the Frankfurt Assembly from military attack by the princes. But Prussia's motives with regard to the very existence of the Frankfurt National Assembly were always questionable at best.
There were few things on which the deputies of the Frankfurt National Assembly could agree to act. One measure of the Assembly that was significant for the future of Germany was the founding of the Reichsflotte, the German Navy, on June 14, 1848.
The powerlessness of the Frankfurt Assembly, however, was reflected in the debate over the Danish Conflict of 1848. Like many other events of 1848, the Danish conflict was sparked by a street demonstration. On March 21, 1848, the people of Copenhagen poured out into the streets to demand a liberal Constitution. The majority in the Danish province of Holstein and in the southern part of the province of Schleswig was German-speaking. The citizens of the city of Kiel located in the Danish province of Holstein, where a majority of the population spoke German, were unsure of what was occurring in Copenhagen and revolted themselves to establish a separate and autonomous province with closer relations with the German states. On March 24, 1848, they set up a new provisional, autonomous government in Holstein and raised a Schleswig-Holstein army of 7,000 soldiers. The broad range of national/unification opinion in the German states supported joining both provinces of Schleswig and Holstein to a new unified state of Germany. Prussia sent an army in support of the independence movement in Schleswig and Holstein. Prussia ignored the Frankfurt National assembly altogether when Great Britain and Russia applied international pressure to end the war. The Prussians signed a peace reached at Malmo which required the removal of all Prussian troops from the two duchies and agreed to all other Danish demands. The Treaty of Malmo was greeted with extreme public consternation in Germany, as reflected in the debate over the treaty in Frankfurt National Assembly. Because the Frankfurt National Assembly had no army of its own, it could do nothing about the unilateral actions on the part of Prussia. On September 16, 1848, the Frankfurt National Assembly approved of the Malmo Treaty by a majority vote. Public support for the National Assembly declined sharply following the vote on the Malmo Treaty. Indeed, the Radial Republicans came out in opposition to the Assembly itself as a result of the vote on the Malmo Treaty.
After many diversions, the Frankfurt National Assembly was finally able to take up the issue of a German constitution. In October 1848, King Frederick William IV of Prussia unilaterally issued a monarchist constitution. Under this new monarchist Constitution a Berlin Assembly was established. The Assembly was a bicameral legislature, consisting of a Herrenhaus (House of Lords) or upper house, whose members were selected by the provincial governments, and a Landtag (Country Diet) whose members were elected by universal male suffrage but were seated only through a complicated system of electoral committees. Otto von Bismarck was elected to this first Landtag. The Landtag was an attempt to directly undercut the authority of the Frankfurt National Assembly. In an attempt to regain some authority, the Frankfurt Assembly dispatched a delegation to offer King Frederick William IV the crown of German emperor in April 1849. King Frederick William, however, turned down the offer, because he would accept a crown only by the grace of God, not "from the gutter".
The Frankfurt National Assembly came into existence only because of events that had begun in Vienna, Austria, which resulted in the fall of Prince Metternich from power. After Austria had crushed the Italian revolts of 1848/1849, the Habsburgs were ready to turn their attention back to Germany. Unable to muster an army and lacking support from the German states, the Assembly could not resist Austrian power. The Frankfurt National Assembly was dissolved on May 31, 1849.
Baden had had a liberal constitution from 1811 until reaction revoked the constitution in 1825. In 1830, Leopold of Baden became Grand Duke of the duchy. His reign brought liberal reforms in constitutional, civil and criminal law and in education. In 1832 Baden joined the (Prussian) Customs Union. After news broke of revolutionary victories in February 1848 in Paris, uprisings occurred throughout Europe, including the German states. The liberal reforms that Baden had instituted did not allow Baden to escape the uprisings of 1848.
Events began rolling on February 27, 1848, in Mannheim, where an assembly of the people from Baden adopted a resolution demanding a bill of rights. Similar resolutions were adopted in Wrttemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Nassau, and other German states. The surprisingly strong popular support for these movements forced rulers to give in to many of the Mrzforderungen (demands of March) almost without resistance.
The March Revolution in Vienna caused uprising throughout all of Germany. Popular demands were made for an elected representative government and for the unification of all Germany. Fear on the part of the princes and rulers of the various German states caused them to concede in the demand for reform. Consequently, a preparliament was convened from March 31, 1848 until April 4, 1848 in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt am Main, charged with the task of drafting a new constitution called the "Fundamental Rights and Demands of the German People." The majority of the delegates to the preparliament were constitutional monarchists.
Baden, however, sent two democrats, Friedrich Karl Franz Hecker and Gustav von Struve, to the preparliament. In the minority and frustrated with the lack of progress at the preparliament, Hecker and Struve walked out of the preparliament in protest on April 2, 1848. The walkout and the continuing revolutionary upsurge in Germany spurred the preparliament to action and they passed a resolution calling for an All-German National Assembly to be formed. On April 8, 1848, a law allowing universal suffrage and an indirect (two stage) voting system was agreed by the assembly. Pursuant to this law, a new National Assembly was selected and on May 18, 1848, 809 delegates (585 of which were elected) were seated at St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt to convene the Frankfurt National Assembly. Karl Mathy, a right-center journalist was one of the persons elected as deputy to the Frankfurt National Assembly.
Disorder fomented by republican agitators, nonetheless, continued in Baden. The continuing revolutionary upsurge in Baden cause fear within Baden government, which then began to increase the size of its own army and to seek assistance from neighboring states. The Baden government sought to suppress the revolts by arresting Joseph Fickler, a journalist, and the leader of the Baden democrats. The arrests brought the democratic protests in favor of reform to a peak. A full-scale uprising broke out on April 12, 1848. The Baden government suppressed the revolutionary forces led by Friedrich Hecker with the aid of federal troops at Kandern on April 20, 1848, ending what became known as the Hecker Uprising.
The revolutionary upsurge renewed itself in the spring of 1849 and in May 1849, the Grand duke was forced to leave Karlsruhle, Baden and seek help from Prussia. Prussian troops crushed the uprising in August 1849. The quick and effortless way in which the Prussian troops succeeded in crushing this uprising convinced many South German states that Prussia, not Austria, was the nation to watch.
Austria was the leading German state of that time. Austrian chancellor Metternich had dominated the German Confederation from 1815 until 1848.
As noted above, on March 13, 1848 a large street demonstration broke out in Vienna. The demonstrators demanded a constitution and a democratically elected government. Ferdinand I and his chief advisor called out the troops to crush the demonstration. The street demonstrations turned into a full blown armed insurrection. The Diet of Lower Austria demanded Metternich's resignation. With no forces rallying to Metternich's defense, Emperor Ferdinand reluctantly complied and dismissed him. Metternich fled to London and Ferdinand appointed new, nominally liberal, ministers. A constitution was drafted by the Austrian government. However, this constitution proved to be unacceptable to the people because the majority of the people were denied the right to vote under that constitution. As a result, the citizens of Vienna once again came out on the streets on May 26 through 27, 1848 and threw up barricades preparing for another fight with the army. Ferdinand issued two manifestos on May 16, 1848 and June 3, 1848 which gave concessions to the people. Among these concessions was the conversion of the Imperial Diet into a Constituent Assembly elected by the people.
In the fall of 1848, Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, who was also King Ferdinand V of Hungary, decided to send Austrian troops to Hungary to crush a democratic rebellion there. On September 29, 1848 the Austrian troops sustained a defeat at the hands of the Hungarian revolutionary forces. On October 6 through 7, 1848, the citzens of Vienna poured into the streets to protest this decision on the part of Ferdinand I. As a result of this popular uprising, Emperor Ferdinand I fled Vienna and took up residence in Olmutz in Moravia. On December 2, 1848, Ferdinand was forced to abdicate in favour of his nephew Franz Joseph.
In Berlin crowds of people gathered their demands culminating in an "address to the king". King Frederick William IV, overwhelmed by this pressure, yielded verbally to all the demonstrators' demands, including parliamentary elections, a constitution, and freedom of the press. He promised that "Prussia was to be merged forthwith into Germany."
However, on March 18, a large demonstration occurred and two shots fired led to an escalation of tensions. Barricades were erected, fighting started, and blood flowed until troops were ordered to retreat a day later, leaving hundreds dead. Afterwards, Frederick William attempted to reassure the public that the reorganization of his government would proceed. The king also approved arming the citizens. On March 21, he paraded through the streets of Berlin to the cemetery where the civil victims were buried, accompanied by some ministers and generals, all wearing the revolutionary tricolor of black, red, and gold.
A Constituent National Assembly was elected and gathered in the St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt am Main on May 18, 1848. Officially called the all-German National Assembly the assembly was composed of deputies democratically elected from various German states in late April and early May 1848. The assembly was composed of 122 deputies who were government officials, 95 were judges, 81 were lawyers, 103 were teachers, 17 were manufacturers and wholesale dealers, 15 were physicians and 40 were landowners. A majority of the Assembly were liberals.
Starting on May 18, 1848, the Frankfurt Assembly set about trying to find ways to unite the various German states into a single nation and to write a constitution. However, the Assembly proved to be unable to make any resolute decisions and degenerated into a mere debating club.
On May 22, 1848, another elected assembly sat for the first time in Berlin. Elected under the law of electoral law of April 8, 1848, which allowed for universal suffrage and a two-stage voting system. Most of the deputies elected to the Berlin Assembly, called the Prussian National Assembly, were members of the bourgeoisie or liberal buraucracy. The set about the task of writing a constitution "by agreement with the Crown." King Frederick William IV of Prussia unilaterally imposed a monarchist Constitution on Prussia as a way to undercut the democratic forces. This Constitution took effect on December 5, 1848. Also on December 5, 1848, the Berlin Assembly was dissolved and replaced with the bi-cameral legislature allowed under the monarchist Constitution. This legislature was composed of a Herrenhaus and a Landtag which are described above. Otto von Bismark was elected to the very first Landtag elected under the new monarchical constitution.
Richard Wagner passionately engaged himself in the revolution, supporting the democratic-republican movement. Later in the May Uprising in Dresden from May 3–9, 1849, he supported the provisional government. Together with the leaders of the uprising, Wagner left Dresden for Switzerland on May 9 to avoid arrest. He spent a number of years abroad, in Switzerland, Italy, and Paris, before the ban was lifted, and he returned to Germany.
Ever since the revolutionary events of 1830, Saxony had been ruled as a constitutional monarchy with a two-chamber legislature and a responsible ministry. This constitution continued to serve as the basis of the Saxon government until 1918. However the Revolution of 1848 brought more popular reforms in the government of Saxony.
In 1849, other residents left for destinations across the Atlantic. Many natives of Saxony, such as Michael Machemehl, left for Texas where they joined other Germans in creating a German Texan community.
In Bavaria, a new liberal government (the "March ministry") was installed; King Ludwig I was forced to abdicate on March 20, 1848 in an attempt to pacify the public, contain the spreading of revolutionary ideas and save the monarchy by offering concessions.
Next to some political reasons, there was a moral issue: The elderly king, still a womanizer at heart, had openly kept up a hot love affair with Lola Montez, a dancer and actor of Irish origin, elevating her to the aristocracy by making her a countess. The love affair seemed morally unacceptable, if not "sinful", in particular for the monarch of such a staunchly Catholic country, and the lady's rumoured political influence on Ludwig was widely regarded as unacceptable.
The cabinet, in an attempt to appease the masses and with his own family's support, tried to make the king accept constitutional monarchy and, among other concessions, sign an official announcement about Montez. However Ludwig I, who had had surprisingly liberal ideas for a monarch in the first years of his reign, but had become increasingly reactionary in his middle and later years, instead handed the crown over to his (quite unloved) eldest son Maximilian II, and declared:
Regieren konnte ich nicht mehr, und einen Unterschreiber abgeben wollte ich nicht. Nicht Sklave zu werden, wurde ich Freiherr.
"Govern I could no longer, and to give up an underwriter I did not wish. To not become a slave, I became a lord."
Another popular version goes like this:
Man wollte mich zu einem Schreiber machen. Aber nicht zu einem Oberschreiber, sondern zum Unterschreiber.
"They wanted to make me a scribe. But not even a senior scribe, but an underwriter!"
In reaction to such a major offence, Ludwig became permanently embittered, but still did a lot for his beloved country and capital. After having been forced to look down onto his son's and successor's grave in March 1864, as well as those of a couple of other children, he died in Nice as a kind of "royal pensioner" on 29 February 1868.
In fact he turned out to be the only German prince forced to abdicate in the 1848 revolutions, for ludicrously less political reason than in the rest of Germany. Although some popular reforms were introduced in the Bavarian government, the reforms were very mild compared to the reforms in other states of Germany. The major issue of 1848 was the Lola Montez affair. With the abdication of Ludwig I the revolutionary furor of 1848 in Bavaria dissolved.
While technically Greater Poland was not a German state, it was under German (Prussian) control since the partitions of Poland in the late 18th century. The Greater Poland Uprising of 1848, also known as the PoznaÅ (Posen) Uprising was an unsuccessful military insurrection of Poles in the Grand Duchy of Posen (roughly corresponding with the Greater Poland region) against Prussian forces that begun on 20 March 1848.
In Heidelberg, in the state of Baden (southwest Germany), on March 5, 1848, a group of German liberals began to make plans for an election to a German national assembly. This prototype Parliament met on March 31, in Frankfurt's St. Paul's Church. Its members called for free elections to an assembly for all of Germany - and the German states agreed.
Finally, on May 18, 1848 the National Assembly opened its session in St. Paul's Church. Of the 586 delegates of the first freely elected German parliament, so many were professors (94), teachers (30) or had a university education (233) that it was called a "professors' parliament" ("Professorenparlament").
There were few practical politicians. Some 400 delegates can be identified in terms of political factions - usually named after their venues:
Under the chairmanship of the liberal politician Heinrich von Gagern, the assembly started on its ambitious plan to create a modern constitution as the foundation for a unified Germany.
From the beginning the main problems were regionalism, support of local issues over pan-German issues, and Austro-Prussian conflicts. Archduke Johann of Austria was chosen as a temporary head of state ("Reichsverweser" i.e. imperial vicar). This was an attempt to create a provisional executive power, but it did not get very far since most states failed to fully recognize the new government. The National Assembly lost reputation in the eyes of the German public when Prussia carried through its own political intentions in the Schleswig-Holstein question without the prior consent of Parliament. A similar discredition occurred when Austria suppressed a popular uprising in Vienna by military force.
Nonetheless, discussions on the future constitution had started. The main questions to be decided were:
Soon events began to overtake discussions. Delegate Robert Blum had been sent to Vienna by his left-wing political colleagues on a fact-finding mission to see how Austria's government was rolling back liberal achievements by military force. Blum participated in the street fighting, was arrested and executed on November 9, despite his claim to immunity from prosecution as a member of the National Assembly.
Although the achievements of the March Revolution were rolled back in many German states, the discussions in Frankfurt continued, increasingly losing touch with society.
In December 1848 the "Basic Rights for the German People" proclaimed equal rights for all citizens before the law. On March 28, 1849, the draft of the Paulskirchenverfassung constitution was finally passed. The new Germany was to be a constitutional monarchy, and the office of head of state ("Emperor of the Germans") was to be hereditary and held by the respective King of Prussia. The latter proposal was carried by a mere 290 votes in favour, with 248 abstentions. The constitution was recognized by 29 smaller states but not by Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Hanover and Saxony.
By late 1848, the Prussian aristocrats including Otto von Bismarck and generals had regained power in Berlin. They had not been defeated permanently during the incidents of March, but had only retreated temporarily. General von Wrangel led the troops who recaptured Berlin for the old powers, and King Frederick William IV of Prussia immediately rejoined the old forces. In November, the king dissolved the new Prussian parliament and put forth a constitution of his own which was based upon the work of the assembly, yet maintaining the ultimate authority of the king. Elaborated in the following years, the constitution came to provide for an upper house (Herrenhaus), and a lower house (Landtag), chosen by universal suffrage but under a three-class system of voting ("Dreiklassenwahlrecht"): representation was proportional to taxes paid, so that more than 80% of the electorate controlled only one-third of the seats.
On April 2, 1849, a delegation of the National Assembly met with King Frederick William IV in Berlin and offered him the crown of the Emperor under this new constitution.
Frederick William told the delegation that he felt honoured but could only accept the crown with the consent of his peers, the other sovereign monarchs and free cities. But later, in a letter to a relative in England, he wrote that he felt deeply insulted by being offered "from the gutter" a crown, "disgraced by the stink of revolution, baked of dirt and mud."
Austria and Prussia withdrew their delegates from the Assembly, and the Assembly itself slowly disintegrated afterwards. Its most radical members retired to Stuttgart, where they sat from June 6–18 as a rump parliament until it too was dispersed by Wrttemberg troops. Armed uprisings in support of the constitution, especially in Saxony, the Palatinate and Baden were short-lived, as the local military, aided by Prussian troops, crushed them quickly. Leaders and participants, if caught, were executed or sentenced to long prison terms.
The achievements of the revolutionaries of March 1848 were reversed in all of the German states and by 1851, the Basic Rights had also been abolished nearly everywhere. In the end, the revolution fizzled because of the overwhelming number of tasks it faced and because of lack of mass support and actual power.
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