Frankfurt Parliament

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Germania, by Philipp Veit. The painting hung inside the Paulskirche above where the Frankfurt Parliament assembled, covering the organ.

The Frankfurt Parliament (German: Frankfurter Nationalversammlung, literally Frankfurt National Assembly) was the first freely elected parliament for all of Germany,[1] elected on 1 May 1848 (see German federal election, 1848).[2]

The session was held from 18 May 1848 to 31 May 1849, in the Paulskirche at Frankfurt am Main. Its existence was both part of and the result of the "March Revolution" in the states of the German Confederation.

After long and controversial debates, the assembly produced the so-called Frankfurt Constitution (Paulskirchenverfassung or Paulskirche Constitution, actually Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches) which proclaimed a German Empire based on the principles of parliamentary democracy. This constitution fulfilled the main demands of the liberal and nationalist movements of the Vormärz and provided a foundation of basic rights, both of which stood in opposition to Metternich's system of Restoration. The parliament also proposed a constitutional monarchy headed by a hereditary emperor (Kaiser).

The Prussian king Frederick William IV refused to accept the office of emperor when it was offered to him on the grounds that such a constitution and such an offer were an abridgment of the rights of the princes of the individual German states. In the 20th century, however, major elements of the Frankfurt constitution became models for the Weimar Constitution of 1919 and the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany of 1949.


Napoleonic upheavals and German Confederation

Political map of the German Confederation (1815–1866) with its 39 member states

In 1806, the Emperor, Francis II had relinquished the crown of the Holy Roman Empire and dissolved the Empire. This was the result of the Napoleonic Wars and of direct military pressure from Napoléon Bonaparte.

After the victory of Prussia, the United Kingdom, Russia and other states over Napoléon in 1816, the Vienna Congress created the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund). Austria dominated this system of loosely connected, independent states, but the system failed to account for the rising influence of Prussia. After the so-called "Wars of Liberation" (Befreiungskriege, the German term for the German part of the War of the Sixth Coalition), many contemporaries had expected a nation-state solution and thus considered the subdivision of Germany as unsatisfactory.

Apart from this nationalist component, calls for civic rights influenced political discourse. The Napoleonic Code Civil had led to the introduction of civic rights in some German states in the early 19th century. Furthermore, some German states had adopted constitutions after the foundation of the German Confederacy. Between 1819 and 1830, the Carlsbad Decrees and other instances of Restoration politics limited such developments. The unrest that resulted from the 1830 French July Revolution led to a temporary reversal of that trend, but after the demonstration for civic rights and national unity at the 1832 Hambach Festival, and the abortive attempt at an armed rising in the 1833 Frankfurter Wachensturm, the pressure on representatives of constitutional or democratic ideas was raised through measures such as censorship and bans on public assemblies.

The 1840s

The mid-1840s saw an increase of the frequency of internal crises. This was partially the result of large-scale political developments, such as the escalation of the future of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein and the erection of Bundesfestungen (large scale fortifications controlled by the German Confederation) at Rastatt and Ulm. Additionally, a series of bad harvests in parts of Germany, notably the southwest, led to widely spread famine-related unrest. The changes caused by the beginnings of industrialisation exacerbated social and economic tensions considerably.

Meanwhile, in the reform-oriented states, such as Baden, the development of a lively scene of Vereine (clubs or voluntary associations) provided an organisational framework for democratic, or popular, opposition. Especially in south west Germany, censorship could not effectively suppress the press. At such rallies by as the Offenburg Popular Assembly of September 1847, radical democrats called to overthrow the status quo. At the same time, the bourgeois (here used to describe the Middle Class) opposition had increased its networking activities and began coordinating its activities in the individual chamber parliaments more and more confidently. Thus, at the Heppenheim Conference on 10 October 1847, eighteen liberal members from a variety of German states met to discuss common motions for a German nation-state.

In 1847 and 1848, broader European developments aggravated this tension. In France, revolutionary workers and students deposed the Citizen King Louis-Philippe in the February Revolution; their action resulted in the declaration of the Second Republic. In many European states, the resistance against Restoration policies increased and led to revolutionary unrest. In several parts of the Austrian Empire, namely in Hungary, Bohemia, Romania, and throughout Italy, in particular in Sicily, Rome, and Northern Italy, there were bloody revolts, replete with calls for local or regional autonomy and even for national independence.

Friedrich Daniel Bassermann, a liberal deputy in the second chamber of the parliament of Baden, helped to trigger the final impulse for the election of a pan-German assembly (or parliament). On 12 February 1848, referring to his own motion (Motion Bassermann) in 1844 and a comparable one by Carl Theodor Welcker in 1831, he called for a representation, elected by the people, at the Bundestag in Frankfurt am Main. The Bundestag (or Bundesversammlung), made up of representatives of the individual princes, was the only institution representing the whole confederation. Two weeks later, news of the successful coup in France fanned the flames of the revolutionary mood. The revolution on German soil began in Baden, with the occupation of the Ständehaus at Karlsruhe. This was followed in April by the Heckerzug (named after its leader, Friedrich Hecker), the first of three revolutionary risings in the Grand Duchy. Within a few days and weeks, the revolts spread to the other German principalities.

The March Revolution

The central demands of the German opposition(s) were the granting of basic and civic rights regardless of property requirements, the appointment of liberal governments in the individual states and most importantly the creation of a German nation-state, with a pan-German constitution and a popular assembly. On 5 March 1848, opposition politicians and state deputies met at the Heidelberg Assembly to discuss these issues. They resolved to form a Vorparlament (a pre-parliament), which was to prepare the elections for a national constitutional assembly. They also elected a "Committee of Seven" (Siebenerausschuss), which proceeded to invite 500 individuals to Frankfurt.

This development was accompanied and supported since early March by protest rallies and risings in many German states, including Baden, the Kingdom of Bavaria, the Kingdom of Saxony, the Kingdom of Württemberg, Austria and Prussia. Under such pressure, the individual princes recalled the existing conservative governments and replaced them with more liberal committees, the so-called "March Governments" (Märzregierungen). On 10 March 1848, the Bundestag of the German Confederation appointed a "Committee of Seventeen" (Siebzehnerausschuss) to prepare a draft constitution; on 20 March, the Bundestag urged the states of the confederation to call elections for a constitutional assembly. After bloody street fights (Barrikadenaufstand) in Prussia, a Prussian National Assembly was also convened, with the task of preparing a constitution for that kingdom.

Memorial plaque on the Paulskirche, Frankfurt

The Vorparlament was in-session at the Paulskirche (St Paul's Church) in Frankfurt from 31 March to 3 April, chaired by Carl Joseph Anton Mittermaier. With the support of the moderate liberals, and against the opposition of the radical democrats, it decided to cooperate with the Bundestag, to form a national constitutional assembly which would write a new constitution. For the transitional period until the actual formation of that assembly, the Vorparlament formed the Committee of Fifty (Fünfzigerausschuss), as a representation to face the German Confederation.

The electoral law for the new national assembly was up to the individual states of the confederation, who chose different solutions. Württemberg, Holstein, the Electorate of Hesse-Kassel (Hesse-Cassel) and the four remaining free cities (Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen and Frankfurt) held direct elections. Most states chose an indirect procedure, usually involving a first round, voting to constitute an Electoral college which chose the actual deputies in a second round. There also were different arrangements regarding the right to vote, as the Frankfurt guidelines only stipulated that voters should be independent (selbständig) adult males. The definition of independence was handled differently from state to state and was frequently the subject of vociferous protests. Usually, it was interpreted to exclude the recipients of any poverty-related support, but in some areas it also barred any person who did not have a household of their own, including apprentices living at their masters' homes. Even with restrictions, however, it is estimated that about 85% of the male population could vote. In Prussia, the definition used would have pushed this up to 90%, whereas the laws were much more restrictive in Saxony, Baden and Hanover. Originally, 649 electoral districts had been agreed upon, but eventually only approximately 585 members were elected. Boycotts in several Austrian constituencies with non-German populations, and complications in Tiengen (Baden), (where the leader of the Heckerzug rebellion, Freidrich Hecker, in exile in Switzerland, was elected in two rounds) caused the discrepancy.

Organisation of the Nationalversammlung

Social background of the deputies

Contemporary depiction of the parliamentarians entering the Paulskirche

The social make-up of the total of 809 or 812 (replacements included) members of the Frankfurt National Assembly (see list on German Wikipedia) was very homogeneous throughout the session. The parliament mostly represented the educated bourgeoisie (Middle Class). 95% of deputies had the abitur, more than three quarters had been to university, half of which had studied jurisprudence.[3] A considerable number of deputies were members of a Corps or a Burschenschaft. In terms of profession, upper-level civil servants formed the majority: this group included a total of 436 deputies, including 49 university lecturers or professors, 110 judges or prosecutors, and 115 high administrative clerks and district administrators (Landräte).[4] Due to their oppositional views, many of them had already been in conflict with their princes for several years, including professors such as Jacob Grimm, Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann, Georg Gottfried Gervinus and Wilhelm Eduard Albrecht (all counted among the Göttingen Seven), and politicians such as Welcker and Itzstein who had been champions of constitutional rights for two decades. Among the professors, besides lawyers, experts in German Studies and historians were especially common, due to the fact that under the sway of restoration politics, academic meetings in such disciplines, e.g. the Germanisten-Tage of 1846 and 1847, were often the only occasions where national themes could be discussed freely. Apart from those mentioned above, the academic Ernst Moritz Arndt, Johann Gustav Droysen, Carl Jaup, Friedrich Theodor Vischer and Georg Waitz are especially notable.

Because of this composition, the National Assembly was later often dismissively dubbed the Professorenparlament ("Professors' parliament") and ridiculed with verses such as „Dreimal 100 Advokaten – Vaterland, du bist verraten; dreimal 100 Professoren – Vaterland, du bist verloren!“[5] ("Three times 100 lawyers – Fatherland, you are betrayed; three times 100 professors – Fatherland, you are doomed".

149 deputies were self-employed bourgeois professionals, such as lawyers, doctors, journalists or clergymen, including well-known politicians such as Alexander von Soiron, Johann Jacoby, Karl Mathy, Johann Gustav Heckscher, Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler and Wilhelm Murschel.

The economically active Middle Class was represented by only about 60 deputies, including many publishers, including Bassermann and Georg Friedrich Kolb, but also businessmen, industrialists and bankers, such as Hermann Henrich Meier, Ernst Merck, Hermann von Beckerath, Gustav Mevissen and Carl Mez.

Tradesmen and representatives of agriculture were very poorly represented – the latter were mostly represented by big landowners from east of the Elbe, accompanied by only three farmers. Craftsmen like Robert Blum or Wilhelm Wolff were associated almost exclusively with the radical democratic Left, as they knew the social problems of the underprivileged classes from personal observations. A few of them, e.g.. Wolff, already saw themselves as explicit socialists.

A further striking aspect is the large number of well-known writers among the deputies, including Anastasius Grün, Johann Ludwig Uhland, Heinrich Laube and Victor Scheffel.

On 18 May 1848, circa 330 deputies assembled in the Kaisersaal and walked solemnly to the Paulskirche to hold the first session of the German national assembly, under its chairman (by seniority) Friedrich Lang. Heinrich von Gagern, one of the best-known liberals throughout Germany, was elected president of the parliament.

Factions and committees

Lithograph "Club des Casino" by Friedrich Pecht, 1849.
File:Frankfurt Nationalversammlung 1848.jpg
Session of the national assembly in June 1848, contemporary painting by Ludwig von Elliott

In his opening speech on 19 May 1848, Gagern defined the main tasks of the national assembly as the creation of a "constitution for Germany" and the achievement of German unification. This was followed by a total of 230 sessions, supported by 26 committees and five commissions, in the course of which the deputies developed the Frankfurt Constitution.

While the opening session had generally been quite chaotic, with the deputies seated haphazardly, independent of their political affiliations, ordered parliamentary procedures developed quickly. Soon, deputies started assembling in Klubs (clubs), which served as discussion groups for kindred spirits and led to the development of Fraktionen (Parliamentary groups or factions), a necessary prerequisite for the development of political majorities. These Fraktionen were perceived as clubs and thus usually named after the location of their meetings; generally, they were quite unstable. According to their stances, especially on the constitution, on the powers of parliament and on central government as opposed to individual states, they are broadly divided into three basic camps:

  1. The democratic left (demokratische Linke)—also called the "Ganzen" ("the whole ones") in contemporary jargon—consisting of the extreme and the moderate left (the Deutscher Hof group and its later split-offs Donnersberg, Nürnberger Hof and Westendhall).
  2. The liberal centre—the so-called "Halben" ("Halves")—consisting of the left and right centre (the right-wing liberal Casino and the left-wing liberal Württemberger Hof, and the later split-offs Augsburger Hof, Landsberg and Pariser Hof).
  3. The conservative right, composed of Protestants and conservatives (first Steinernes Haus, later Café Milani).

The largest groupings in numerical terms were the Casino, the Württemberger Hof and beginning in 1849 the combined left, appearing as the Centralmärzverein ("Central March Club").

In his memoirs, the deputy Robert Mohl wrote about the formation and functioning of the Clubs:

"that originally there were four different clubs, based on the basic political orientations [...] That in regard to the most important major questions, for example about Austria's participation and about the election of emperors, the usual club-based divisions could be abandoned temporarily to create larger overall groups, as the United Left, the Greater Germans in Hotel Schröder, the Imperials in Hotel Weidenbusch.
"These party meetings were indeed an important part of political life in Frankfurt, significant for positive, but clearly also for negative, results. A club offered a get-together with politically kindred spirits, some of whom became true friends, comparably rapid decisions and, as a result, perhaps success in the overall assembly.".[6]

Presidents of the National Assembly

Provisional central power

Proclamation of Johannes as Reichverweser; 15 July 1848

Since the national assembly had not been initiated by the German Confederation, it was lacking not only major constitutional bodies, such as a head of state and a government, but also legal legitimation. A modification of the Bundesakte, the constitution of the German Confederation could have brought about such legitimation, but was practically impossible to achieve, as it would have required the unanimous support of all 38 signatory states. Partially for this reason, influential European powers, including France and Russia, declined to recognize the Parliament.

While the left demanded to solve this situation by creating a revolutionary parliamentary government, on 24 June 1848, the Paulskirche parliament voted, with a 450 votes against 100, for a so-called Provisional Central Power (Provisorische Zentralgewalt). This newly created provisional government was headed by Archduke Johann of Austria as regent (Reichsverweser), i.e., as a temporary head of state.[7] Johann named as August von Jochmus as Foreign Minister and Navy minister. The practical task of government was performed by a cabinet, consisting of a college of ministers under the leadership of a prime minister (Ministerpräsident). At the same time, the Provisional Central Power built a government apparatus, made up of specialised ministries and special envoys, employing, for financial reasons, mainly deputies of the assembly. After the Bundesversammlung of the German Confederation had declared the end of its work and delegated its responsibilities to the provisional government on 12 July 1848, Archduke Johann appointed his first government, under Ministerpräsident Prince Karl zu Leiningen, on 15 July.

Ministerpräsidenten of the Imperial Government

Main political issues

Schleswig-Holstein Question and development of political camps

Storming of the barricade at Konstablerwache, 18 September 1848; lithograph by E.G. after a drawing by Jean Nicolas Ventadour.

Influenced by the general nationalist atmosphere, the political situation in Schleswig and Holstein became especially explosive. According to the 1460 Treaty of Ribe, the two duchies were to remain eternally undivided and stood in personal union with Denmark. Nonetheless, only Holstein was part of the German Confederation, whereas Schleswig, with a mixed population of German-speakers and Danish speakers, formed a Danish fiefdom. German national liberals and the left demanded that Schleswig be admitted to the German Confederation and be represented at the national assembly, while Danish national liberals wanted to incorporate Schleswig into a new Danish national state.

The Danish Navy started a blockade of German harbours, which the parliament tried to counter by founding a German Reichsflotte Navy on 14 June 1848. Then, under orders from the German Confederation, Prussian troops occupied Schleswig-Holstein. On 26 August Prussia and Denmark, under pressure from Britain, Russia and France, signed a ceasefire in Malmö (Sweden). Its terms included the withdrawal of all soldiers from Schleswig-Holstein and a shared administration of the land.

On 5 September 1848, at Dahlmann's instigation, the Frankfurt Assembly initially rejected the Malmö Treaty, which had been signed without consulting the assembly. It was defeated with 238 against 221 votes. After that, Leiningen resigned as Ministerpräsident. As Dahlmann was unable to form a new government, Anton von Schmerling succeeded Leiningen.

In a second vote, on 16 September 1848, the Assembly accepted the de facto position and accepted the Treaty with a narrow majority. In Frankfurt this led to the Septemberunruhen ("September unrest"), a popular rising that entailed the murder of parliamentarians from the Casino faction, Lichnowsky and Auerswald. The National Assembly was forced to call for the support of Prussian and Austrian troops serving the Confederation at the confederate fortification of Mainz.

Henceforth, the radical democrats, whose views were both leftist and nationalist, ceased to accept their representation through the National Assembly. In several states of the German Confederation, they resorted to individual revolutionary activities. For example, on 21 September, Gustav Struve declared a German republic at Lörrach, thus starting the second democratic rising in Baden. The nationalist unrest in Hungary spread to Vienna in early October, leading to a third revolutionary wave, the Wiener Oktoberaufstand ("Vienna October rising"), which further impeded the work of the Assembly.

Thus, the acceptance of the Treaty of Malmö marks the latest possible date of the final breach of cooperation between the liberal and the radical democratic camps. Radical democratic politicians saw it as final confirmation that the bourgeois politicians, as Hecker had said in spring 1848, "negotiate with the princes" instead of "acting in the name of the sovereign people",[8] thus becoming traitors to the cause of the people. In contrast, the bourgeois liberals saw the unrests as further proof for what they saw as the short-sighted and irresponsible stance of the left, and of the dangers of a "left-wing mob" spreading anarchy and murder. This early divide of its main components was of major importance for the later failure of the National Assembly, as it caused lasting damage not only to the esteem and acceptance of the parliament, but also to the cooperation among its factions.

Oktoberaufstand and execution of Blum

Discussion in the Paulskirche. Lithograph after a painting by Paul Bürde

After the October Rising at Vienna had escalated, forcing the Austrian government to flee the city, the National Assembly, instigated by left-wing deputies, attempted to mediate between the Austrian government and the revolting revolutionaries. In the meantime, the Austrian government violently suppressed the rising. In the course of events, the deputy Robert Blum, one of the figureheads of the democratic left was arrested, court-martialled and executed by shooting on 9 November, ignoring his parliamentary immunity. This highlighted the powerlessness of the National Assembly and its dependence on the goodwill of the governments of the individual states of the German Confederation. In Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (1852), Friedrich Engels wrote:

"The fact that fate of the revolution was decided in Vienna and Berlin, that the key issues of life were dealt with in both those capitals without taking the slightest notice of the Frankfurt assembly—that fact alone is sufficient to prove that the institution was a mere debating club, consisting of an accumulation of gullible wretches who allowed themselves to be abused as puppets by the governments, so as to provide a show to amuse the shopkeepers and tradesmen of small states and towns, as long as it was considered necessary to distract their attention."[9]

The execution also indicated that the force of the March Revolution was beginning to flag by the autumn of 1848. This did not apply only to Austria. The power of the governments appointed in March was eroding. In Prussia, the Prussian National Assembly was disbanded and its draft constitution rejected.

Greater German or Smaller German solution

The definition of the national unity of German was a major difficulty for the Frankfurt National Assembly. Schleswig's natural affiliation was a smaller problem. The biggest problem was that large portions of the two most powerful states in the German Confederacy, Prussia and especially Austria, had large possessions outside the confederation with non-German populations. Incorporating such areas into a German nation-state did not only raise questions regarding the national identity of their inhabitants, but also regarding power politics between the German states. On the other hand, Bohemia and Moravia were to remain within the confederation, in spite of large non-German populations and Czech efforts to the opposite. Similarly, the delegates decided to incorporate the Prussian Province of Posen, against the wishes of the Polish population.

Caricature of the creation of the nation-state. From left to right: Heinrich von Gagern, Alexander von Soiron, Carl Theodor Welcker and Friedrich Daniel Bassermann.

The borders of the future German nation-state had only two possibilities: The Kleindeutsche Lösung ("Smaller German Solution") aimed for a Germany under the leadership of Prussia and excluding imperial Austria, so as to avoid becoming embroiled in the problems of that multi-cultural state. The supporters of the Großdeutsche Lösung ("Greater German Solution"), however, supported Austria's incorporation. Some of those deputies expected the integration of all the Habsburg monarchy's territories, while other Greater German supporters called for a variant only including areas settled by Germans within a German state.

While the majority of the radical left voted for the Greater German variant, accepting the possibility, as formulated by Carl Vogt of a "holy war for western culture against the barbarism of the East",[10] i.e., against Poland and Hungary, whereas the liberal centre supported a more pragmatic stance. On 27 October 1848, the National Assembly voted for a Greater German Solution, but incorporating only "Austria's German lands".

The Austrian emperor Ferdinand I was, however, not willing to break up his state. On 27 November 1848, only a few days before the coronation of his successor, Franz Joseph I, he had his Prime Minister Schwarzenberg declare the indivisibility of Austria. Thus, it became clear that, at most, the National Assembly could achieve national unity within the smaller German solution, with Prussia as the sole major power. Although Schwarzenberg demanded the incorporation of the whole of Austria into the new state once more in March 1849, the dice had fallen in favour of a Smaller German Empire by December 1848, when the irreconcilable differences between the position of Austria and that of the National Assembly had forced the Austrian, Schmerling, to resign from his role as Ministerpräsident of the provisional government. He was succeeded by Heinrich von Gagern.

Nonetheless, the Paulskirche Constitution was designed to allow a later accession of Austria, by referring to the territories of the German Confederation and formulating special arrangements for states with German and non-German areas. The allocation of votes in the Staatenhaus (§ 87 ) also allowed for a later Austrian entry.[11]

Imperial constitution and basic rights

File:Paulskirchenverfassung 1849 english.svg
Schematic set-up of the Imperial Constitution

The National Assembly appointed a three-person constitutional committee on 24 May 1848, chaired by Bassermann and charged with preparing and coordinating the drafting of a Reichsverfassung ("Imperial Constitution"). It could make use of the preparatory work done by the Committee of Seventeen appointed earlier by the Bundesversammlung.

On 28 December, the Assembly's press organ, the Reichsgesetzblatt published the Reichsgesetz betreffend die Grundrechte des deutschen Volkes ("Imperial law regarding the basic rights of the German people") of 27 December 1848, declaring the basic rights as immediately applicable.[12]

The catalogue of basic rights included Freedom of Movement, Equal Treatment for all Germans in all of Germany, the abolishment of class-based privileges and medieval burdens, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience, the abolishment of capital punishment, Freedom of Research and Education, Freedom of Assembly, basic rights in regard to police activity and judicial proceedings, the inviolability of the home, Freedom of the Press, independence of judges, Freedom of Trade and Freedom of establishment.

After long and controversial negotiations, the parliament passed the complete Imperial Constitution on 28 March 1849. It was carried narrowly, by 267 against 263 votes. The version passed included the creation of a hereditary emperor (Erbkaisertum), which had been favoured mainly by the erbkaiserliche group around Gagern, with the reluctant support of the Westendhall group around Heinrich Simon. On the first reading, such a solution had been dismissed. The change of mind came about because all alternative suggestions, such as an elective monarchy, or a Directory government under an alternating chair were even less practicable and unable to find broad support, as was the radical left's demand for a republic, modelled on the United States.

The people were to be represented by a bicameral parliament, with a directly elected Volkshaus and a Staatenhaus of representatives sent by the individual confederated states. Half of each Staatenhaus delegation was to be appointed by the respective state government, the other by the state parliament.

Head of state and Kaiserdeputation

As the near-inevitable result of having chosen the Smaller German Solution and the constitutional monarchy as form of government, the Prussian king was elected as hereditary head of state on 28 March 1849. The vote was carried by 290 votes against 248 abstentions, embodying resistance primarily by all left-wing, southern German and Austrian deputies. The deputies knew that Frederick William IV held strong prejudices against the work of the Frankfurt Parliament, but on 23 January, the Prussian government had informed the states of the German Confederation that Prussia would accept the idea of a hereditary emperor.

Contemporary wood engraving depicting the Kaiserdeputation

Further, Prussia, unlike Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony and Hanover, had indicated its support of the draft constitution in a statement made after the first reading. Additionally, the representatives of the provisional government had attempted through innumerable meetings and talks to build an alliance with the Prussian government, especially by creating a common front against the radical left and by arguing that the monarchy could only survive if it accepted a constitutional-parliamentary system. The November 1848 discussion of Bassermann and Hergenhahn with Friedrich Wilhelm IV were also aiming in the same direction.

On 3 April 1849, the Kaiserdeputation ("Emperor Deputation"), a group of deputies chosen by the National Assembly, offered Friedrich Wilhelm the office of emperor. He declined, arguing that he could not accept the crown without the agreement of the princes and Free Cities. In reality, Friedrich Wilhelm insisted in the principle of the Divine Right of Kings and thus did not want to accept a crown touched by "the hussy smell of revolution".[13] This spelled the final failure of the Frankfurt Parliament's constitution and thus of the German March revolution. The rejection of the crown was understood by the other princes as a signal that the political scales had tipped against the liberals. Mainly smaller states accepted the constitution reluctantly, Württemberg was the only kingdom to do so after much hesitation.

Rump parliament and dissolution

The Halbmondsaal at Stuttgart Ständekammer, venue of the first rump parliament meeting. Lithograph by Gustav Renz.
Contemporary depiction of the dissolution of the rump parliament on 18 June 1849: Württemberg dragoons dispersing the locked-out deputies

On 5 April 1849, all Austrian deputies left Frankfurt. On 14 May, the Prussian parliamentarians also resigned their mandates. The new elections called for by von Gagern did not take place, further weakening the assembly. In the following week, nearly all conservative and bourgeois-liberal deputies left the parliament. The remaining left-wing forces insisted that 28 states had accepted the Frankfurt Constitution and began the Reichsverfassungskampagne, an all-out call for resistance against the existing governments, escalating the political situation. The supporters of the campaign did not consider themselves revolutionaries. From their perspective, they represented a legitimate national executive power acting against states that had breached the constitution. Nonetheless, only the radical democratic left was willing to use force to support the constitution, notwithstanding their original reservations against it. In view of their failure, the bourgeoisie and the leading liberal politicians of the faction of the Halbe ("half ones") rejected a renewed revolution and withdrew—most of them disappointed—from their hard work in the Frankfurt Parliament.

In the meantime, the Reichsverfassungskampagne had not achieved any success regarding acceptance of the constitution, but had managed to mobilize those elements of the population that were willing to support a revolution. In Saxony, this led to the May Uprising in Dresden, in the Bavarian part of the Rhenish Palatinate to the Pfälzer Aufstand, a rising during which revolutionaries gained the de facto governmental power. On 14 May, the Grandduke of Baden, Leopold had to flee the country after a mutiny of the Rastatt garrison. The insurrectionists declared a Baden Republic and formed a revolutionary government headed by the Paulskirche deputy Lorenz Brentano. Together with Baden soldiers that had joined their side, they formed an army under the leadership of the Polish general Mieroslawski. While the Prussian military, under orders from the German Confederation, began to crush the revolutionary troops, the Prussian government prepared the expulsion of the remaining deputies from the Free City of Frankfurt in late May. Further deputies that were not willing to align with radical democratic left resigned their mandates or gave them up when asked to by their home governments. On 26 May, the Frankfurt National Assembly had to lower its quorum to a mere hundred due to the enduring low presence of deputies. The remaining deputies decided to escape the Prussian sphere of influence by moving the parliament to Stuttgart in Württemberg on 31 May. This had been suggested by the deputy Friedrich Römer, who was also prime minister and minister of justice of the Württemberg government. Essentially, the Frankfurt National Assembly was dissolved at this point. From 6 June 1849 onwards, the remaining 154 deputies met at Stuttgart. This convention was dismissively called the Rumpfparlament ("rump parliament").

Since the provisional government and the regent did not recognise the rump parliament, it declared both as dismissed and proclaimed a new provisional regency led by the deputies Franz Raveaux, Carl Vogt, Heinrich Simon, Friedrich Schüler and August Becher. Following its view of itself as the legitimate German parliament, the rump parliemant called for tax resistance and military resistance against those states that did not accept the Paulskirche Constitution. Since this view also diminished the autonomy of Württemberg, and the Prussian army was successfully crushing the rebellions in the nearby Baden and the Palatinate, Römer and the Württemberg government rapidly distanced themselves from the rump parliament.

On 17 June, Römer informed the president of the parliament that "the Württemberg government was no longer in a position to tolerate the meetings of the National Assembly that had moved to its territory, nor the activities of the regency elected on the 6th, anywhere in Stuttgart or Württemberg".[14] At this point, the rump parliament had only 99 deputies and did not reach a quorum according to its own rules. On 18 June, the Württemberg army occupied the parliamentary chamber before the session started. The deputies reacted by organizing an impromptu protest march which was promptly squashed by the soldiers without bloodshed. Those deputies that were not from Württemberg were expelled.

Subsequent plans to move the parliament (or what was left of it) to Karlsruhe in Baden could not be implemented due to the looming defeat of the Baden revolutionaries, which was completed five weeks later.

Long-term political effects

Caricature of Frederick Wiliiam IV's rejection of the imperial crown; lithograph after a drawing by Isidor Popper.

After the National Assembly's dissolution, Prussia chose to support the Unionspolitik ("union policy") designed by the conservative Paulskirche deputy Joseph von Radowitz for a Smaller German Solution under Prussian leadership. This entailed modifying the Frankfurt Parliament's conclusions, with a stronger role for the Prussian hereditary monarch and imposed "from above". The Erbkaiserliche around Gagern supported this policy in the Gotha Post-Parliament and the Erfurt Union Parliament. The 1850 Punctuation of Olmütz forced Prussia to abandon the policy. Nevertheless, the March Revolution led to a major increase of Prussia's political importance. Prussia, by its leading role in suppressing the revolution, had demonstrated its indispensability as main player in German politics and its superiority over small and medium states. On the other hand, the Prussian kingdom was now in a far better strategic position. It had won the gratitude of the family of the Grand Duchy of Baden as a first important ally in southern Germany, and the Smaller German Solution had become popular throughout the nation. This political pass contributed to the adoption of the Smaller German Solution after the Prussian victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, which led to the foundation of the North German Confederation. The Smaller German Solution was implemented after the 1870/71 Franco-Prussian War in the form of Prussian-dominated unification "from above", namely the 1871 proclamation of the German Empire.

Historians have suggested several possible explanations for the German Sonderweg of the 20th century: discreditation of democrats and liberals, their estrangement, and the unfulfilled desire for a nation-state, which had led to separation of the national question from the assertion of civic rights.

The work of the National Assembly and more generally of the March revolution was judged harshly in the immediate aftermath. Authors such as Ludwig Häuser classed the ideas of the radical democratic left as irresponsible and naive foolishness. The bourgeois liberals were also discredited; many of them left politics disappointed and under great hostility from their fellow citizens in the individual states. It is probably partially due to this that Bassrmann committed suicide in 1855. A positive reception of the National Assembly's work only came about in the Weimar Republic and more so after World War II, when both the East German Democratic Republic and the Western Federal Republic of Germany competed for the use of the democratic Paulskirche heritage as specific traditions of the separate states.

See also

The Paulskirche in its modern setting


  • Hanna Ballin Lewis (ed.) A Year of Revolutions: Fanny Lewald's Recollections of 1848, 1997. ISBN 1-57181-099-4
  • Heinrich Best, Wilhelm Weege: Biographisches Handbuch der Abgeordneten der Frankfurter Nationalversammlung 1848/49. Droste-Verlag, Düsseldorf 1998, ISBN 3-7700-0919-3
  • Wilhelm Blos: Die Deutsche Revolution. Geschichte der Deutschen Bewegung von 1848 und 1849. Illustriert von Otto E. Lau. Hg. und eingeleitet von Hans J. Schütz. Reprint of the 1893 edition, Berlin, Bonn: Dietz, 1978. ISBN 3-8012-0030-2. With contemporary images and documents
  • William Carr: A History of Germany, 1815–1945. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969.
  • Dieter Dowe, Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, Dieter Langewiesche (Hrsg.): Europa 1848. Revolution und Reform. J.H.W. Dietz Nachfolger, Bonn 1998. ISBN 3-8012-4086-X
  • Johann Gustav Droysen: Aktenstücke und Aufzeichnungen zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Nationalversammlung. Edited by Rudolf Hübner. (Deutsche Geschichtsquellen des 19. Jahrhunderts, herausgegen von der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vol 14). Reprint of 1924 edition. Biblio-Verlag, Osnabrück 1967. ISBN 3-7648-0251-0
  • Frank Eyck: Frankfurt Parliament, 1969 ISBN 0-312-30345-9
  • Sabine Freitag (ed.): Die 48-er. Lebensbilder aus der deutschen Revolution 1848/49. C. H. Beck, München 1998, ISBN 3-406-42770-7
  • Lothar Gall (ed.): 1848. Aufbruch zur Freiheit. Eine Ausstellung des Deutschen Historischen Museums und der Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt zum 150jährigen Jubiläum der Revolution von 1848/49. Nicolai, Frankfurt am Main 1998. ISBN 3-87584-680-X
  • Hans Jessen (Hrsg.): Die Deutsche Revolution 1848/49 in Augenzeugenberichten. Karl Rauch, Düsseldorf 1968.
  • Günter Mick: Die Paulskirche. Streiten für Recht und Gerechtigkeit. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1997, ISBN 3-7829-0470-2
  • Wolfgang J. Mommsen: 1848 – Die ungewollte Revolution. Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2000, ISBN 3-596-13899-X
  • Rosemary O’Kane: Paths to Democracy: Revolution and Totalitarianism. New York: Routeledge. 2004. pgs 96-98.
  • Steven Ozment: A Mighty Fortress. 2004. NY: Harper
  • Wilhelm Ribhegge: Das Parlament als Nation, die Frankfurter Nationalversammlung 1848/49. Droste, Düsseldorf 1998, ISBN 3-7700-0920-7
  • Wolfram Siemann: Die deutsche Revolution von 1848/49. Neue Historische Bibliothek. Bd. 266. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-518-11266-X
  • Ulrich Speck: 1848. Chronik einer deutschen Revolution. Insel, Frankfurt am Main-Leipzig 1998, ISBN 3-458-33914-0
  • Jonathan Sperber: Rhineland Radicals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
  • Veit Valentin: Geschichte der deutschen Revolution 1848–1849. 2 Vols. Beltz Quadriga, Weinheim-Berlin 1998 (Reprint), ISBN 3-88679-301-X
  • Brian E. Vick: Defining Germany: The 1848 Frankfurt Parliamentarians and National Identity (Harvard University Press, 2002). ISBN 978-0-674-00911-0ISBN 0-674-00911-8


  1. Karl Obermann: Die Wahlen zur Frankfurter Nationalversammlung im Frühjahr 1848. Die Wahlvorgänge in den Staaten des Deutschen Bundes im Spiegel zeitgenössischer Quellen. Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1985, ISBN 3-326-00142-8
  2. Carr, William (1979) [1969]. A History of Germany 1815-1945. London: Edward Arnold. pp. 46–48. ISBN 07131-5433-0-.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Zweiter Band: Von der Reformära bis zur industriellen und politischen "Deutschen Doppelrevolution 1815–1845/49. C. H. Beck, München 1985. ISBN 3-406-32262-X, p. 739
  4. after Siemann, Die deutsche Revolution, p. 126. These numbers vary slightly within the academic literature.
  5. Werner Frotscher, Bodo Pieroth: Verfassungsgeschichte. Rn 293. Munich 2005 (5th ed.). ISBN 3-406-53411-2
  6. Robert von Mohl: Lebenserinnerungen. Bd 2. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart-Leipzig 1902, S. 66f., cit. from Manfred Görtenmaker: Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert. 4. Auflage. Leske+Budrich, Opladen 1994, p.116 ISBN 3-8100-1336-6
  7. Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works: Vol 8 (International Publishers: New York, 1977) Note 23, page 538
  8. Friedrich Hecker: Flugblatt vom Juni 1848., quoted after Manfred Görtenmaker: Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert. 4th ed. Leske&Budrich, Opladen 1994, p. 123f. ISBN 3-8100-1336-6
  9. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Werke. Bd 8. „Revolution und Konterrevolution in Deutschland". Dietz, Berlin 1960, p. 79, quoted from: [1]
  10. Stenographischer Bericht über die Verhandlungen der deutschen constituierenden Nationalversammlung zu Frankfurt am Main., quoted from Heinrich August Winkler: Der lange Weg nach Westen. Vol I. Deutsche Geschichte vom Ende des Alten Reiches bis zum Untergang der Weimarer Republik. 5th ed. C.H. Beck, München 2002, p.122. ISBN 3-406-49527-3
  11. Verfassung des Deutschen Reiches., quoted after
  12. Werner Frotscher, Bodo Pieroth: Verfassungsgeschichte. Rn 306 and 317. Munich 2005 (5th ed.). ISBN 3-406-53411-2
  13. Zitiert nach Heinrich August Winkler: Der lange Weg nach Westen. Bd I. Deutsche Geschichte vom Ende des Alten Reiches bis zum Untergang der Weimarer Republik. C.H. Beck, Munich 2002 (5th ed.), p.122. ISBN 3-406-49527-3
  14. Schreiben des württembergischen Justizministers Römer an den Präsidenten des Parlaments, Löwe., quoted after Manfred Görtenmaker: Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert. Leske+Budrich Opladen 1994 (4th ed.), p.140. ISBN 3-8100-1336-6