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© 2001 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

Frankfurt Parliament for a German Constitution

1848

 

In 1848, Germany was not a unified country, but was made of up individual principalities and German-speaking lands including Austria and Prussia.  A national assembly was formed to write a constitution and to end the uprisings in several principalities.  While a constitution was written, it never went into effect and the unification of Germany had to be put on hold.

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In February 1848, an uprising took place in Paris that forced King Louis Philippe to flee.  The success of that revolt led to revolts throughout Europe.  Many German cities were shaken by revolts of crowds consisting of the poor, students and members of the liberal middle class.  They stormed their prince's palaces and demanded reform.  The two cities hit the hardest were Berlin and Vienna.  Like the leaders of other cities, the two leaders of Berlin and Vienna quickly gave into the rebellious subjects and their demands.  By meeting the demands, the conservative governments fell and liberals called for the National Assembly. The Frankfurt Parliament was born to draft a constitution for all of Germany.

On May 18, 1848, 800 delegates from all over Germany met in a church in Frankfurt.  Their mission was to draft a constitution for all of Germany.  Heinrich von Gagern, a liberal, was elected president.  While the Parliament spent much time debating plans for a unified Germany, they had to decide on more important matters taking place while they met.  They needed to discuss what to do with the executive power and Germany's territorial extent.  While the Parliament met, several German states were fighting a war with Denmark over two provinces: Schleswig and Holstein.  Ignoring the Parliament's concern for the two provinces, Prussia ended the war with Denmark in August 1848.  With the victory for Prussia, their leader Frederick William IV lost patience with the liberals and turned towards conservative advisers.  The Austrian emperor Ferdinand abdicated to his nephew, Franz Joseph, who in turn relied on conservative advisors.  Turning to conservative advisors did not stop the liberals from making a German constitution.

On March 28, 1849, the Frankfurt Parliament adopted a constitution for Germany.  The proposed constitution called for a parliamentary government with a hereditary emperor.  All of the principalities of Germany would have to use the same currency and customs system.  While the constitution was adopted, Germany was still divided into principalities.  With the new German constitution came a new Austrian constitution just a couple of weeks earlier on March 4, 1849.  The new Austrian constitution stated that either all or none of Austria would get added to Germany.  There were sections of northern Austria, near the German border that spoke German, and the people proclaimed themselves to be German.  The liberals of Germany had hoped for Germany to include Austria or at least the German-speaking sections.  Without the addition of territory from Austria, the Parliament still voted for an emperor.

            On March 28, Frederick William of Prussia received 290 votes to be emperor of Germany.  When the liberals came to offer him his crown, he refused.  Frederick William was conservative and did not wish to receive the crown from liberal opponents.  With the rejection of the German imperial crown by the chosen emperor, Prussia also rejected the constitution.  With those two rejections and the rejection from Austria, the Frankfurt Parliament did not survive.  By May 1849, Heinrich von Gagern's ministry was broken and the majority of the delegates were ordered home by their governments of their respective states.  Finally on June 18, 1849, the remaining delegates were dispersed by Wurttemberg troops and police.  With the dispersions, the Frankfurt Parliament was over and Germany was not unified.


Bibliography:

"Frankfurt National Assembly," Encyclopedia Britannica (Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition 2004)

"Frankfurt Parliament," Columbia Encyclopedia (Columbia University Press 1995)

"Revolution of 1848," World Book Online (World Book, Inc. 2004)


Researched and Written By:
Sarah M. Primozic
HIST 2260: Modern World History
March 3, 2004

Copyright 1996-2004 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.

 

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