The German revolution of 1848

The dream of a unified Germany existed long before the First World War. Prior to 1848, Germany was not only fragmented but retained much of the feudal system. According to Herbert Germany was a land of many principalities, both large and small, governed by absolute monarchs; it seethed with territorial clashes and conflicting interests. However, the German revolution of 1848/49 paved the way for Germany’s unification and remains a pivotal moment in the country’s history.

A strong, albeit not unified, movement of liberal opposition started forming in the early 19th century. Though of diverse political philosophies, all pursued such basic rights as a trial by jury, freedom of expression, as well as the amalgamation of Germany into a singular nation-state. Political and social tensions exacerbated in 1847 as economic disasters, including a disastrous harvest that sparkled food riots, extended throughout Europe; the number of demonstrators and peasants' uprisings increased. Finally, an insurrection in Paris in March 1848 sparked analogous armed uprisings in Berlin and Frankfurt; these two cities were to become the centers of the revolution.

The revolutionary movement in Germany set up base in Frankfurt where on May 19th, 1987 they convened and officially opened the National Assembly at St. Paul's Cathedral. The Assembly had two main tasks: to create a centralized form of government and to come up with a national constitution. It was also tasked with crafting a provisional Imperial government. However, this newly created government faced a myriad of problems. Not only did its composition reflect the complications of relations between Germany as a unified nation and the individual states, principally Austria and Prussia, but it also lacked a standing army and a fully-fledged civil service.

Friedrich posits that it is due to these problems that a group of influential German monarchs declined to swear their troops allegiance to the Imperial Administrator. Consequently, chaos continued into 1849. A big number of liberal delegates abandoned the Assembly, and a few months later it was forcibly disbanded by Württemberg’s military forces. For all purposes and intents, the German revolution of 1848/49 ended.

The German revolution was imperfect and short-lived; nonetheless it was not unproductive. On the contrary: the principles that inspired the revolutionaries and the assembly they established directly led to the unification of Germany in1988, the constitution of the Weimar Nation in1919, and to the Common Law of the post-Second World War Republic of Germany. The political alliances and groupings that materialized during this period, however unsuccessful, may be regarded as precursors to the political organization and parties of modern-day Germany. All in all, the revolution remains a pivotal moment in German history.

 

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