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The German Revolution of 1848/49

In the middle of the 19th century, Germany (and many other parts of  Europe) had reached a stage where the shears between the social, cultural, and economical situation on the one hand and the political reality on the other were widely open. Whether the beginning industrial revolution had brought about or only accelerated the liberal movement in Germany is an interesting and controversial historical question that must be left aside here. Regardless of the answer, in the years proceeding the revolution Germany was in a situation where the suppression of democratic principles such as freedom of the press, democratic representation in the legislature, and the independence of the judicature could only hardly be maintained by the ruling alliance of nobles and military.

 

A revolt in Paris between the 22nd and 24th of February 1848 not only led to the overturn of King Louis Phillip and his regime but soon turned out to be the final trigger leading the situation in Germany to explode. Only a few days later the first uprising began as a spontaneously organized peasant revolts in the South-West (Baden) of Germany and in Bavaria. Wave-like, the revolution spread over the metropolitan areas in the Rhine-land to the political and military head of Prussia in Berlin. Surprised and overthrown by the strength of the movement many monarchs declared their willingness to install most of the basic democratic principles demanded.

 

On March 5th, soon after these first uprisings, the liberal leaders and intellectual fathers of the revolution met in Heidelberg to discuss further steps to institutionalize the revolutionary changes obtained so far. It was decided upon that a provisional government should meet in Frankfurt to prepare a general election and to begin the work on a new, liberal constitution. This provisional government had its constituting session on March 31st and was eventually replaced by an elected legislative body on May 18th.

 

Most historians agree that the conquest of the "Red (democratic) Vienna" by General Windischgrätz in October 1848 has been the crucial and final turning point in the revolution. If not from a military point of view than from a symbolic one. Like in Austria, in many Germany states the old alliance between nobles and military had recovered from its initial shock and gained back its original strength. On the long road of decline that ended in the final burial of the revolutionary claims, at least two stages need to be mentioned: The dissolution of the assembly in Frankfurt and the final refusal of the King of Prussia to accept the crown that the assembly offered him as representative of the German people in  March 1849.

 

A year only after the beginning of the revolution the King had recovered enough of its military and political strength to state in public that only God and not the people or any legislative body could decide upon his crown. The failed revolution was followed by a period of political repression. Many of the former leaders of the movement were suspended from their duties and had to suffer under the repression organized by the monarch's secret police.


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Next: The Petition Movement and Up: Exposure, Networks, and Mobilization: Town Previous: Data and the Analytical
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1999-05-04