Foreign policy failures, economic crisis and social unrest intensified in the 1840s in France, the opposition to King Louis Philippe I. Demonstrations expanded into a revolution, as a result of which the king abdicated and on February 24, 1848, the Republic was proclaimed. In the German Confederation, the spark of revolution jumped first to the southwest. On February 27, at a popular meeting in Mannheim, the “March demands” were raised by the liberal and democratic sides. Within a few days, they were heard in almost all German states and received support from large parts of the population. The demands were about freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the press, independent justice system, political equality of all citizens, constitutional approval of the army and the convening of a national assembly.
In most regions of Germany, at the end of February and in March 1848, there were political demonstrations. Under the pressure of events, the heads of state made concessions in the liberal sense and made constitutional promises. But above all the liberal bourgeoisie also argued for national unity and a liberal constitution. Craftsmen, farmers, workers and agricultural workers, on the other hand, demanded a solution to their social and economic problems in a multitude of locally diverse protests. The peasantry struggled in particular for agrarian reforms – if their demands were fulfilled, they mostly lost their interest in further revolutionary protest.
Proletarian craftsmen in large cities fought for a safe livelihood through industrial protection. Frustrated and radicalized by their social situation, craftsmen and journeymen played a leading role in the bloody barricade battles that shook Berlin on 18 March 1848 and claimed more than 250 lives. Seized by the bloodshed, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV called a liberal “March Ministry”. His proclamation “To my people and to the German nation” with the words “Prussia will continue in Germany” seemed to promise the realization of German unity and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy in Prussia. In order to form a united state, the first freely elected German representative body met in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt on 18 May 1848.
The National Assembly comprised about 600 members from all states of the German Confederation. In the absence of parties that began to organize themselves in Germany only in the 1860’s, factions formed, each with different political ideas and goals. Cross-party agreement was reached in December 1848 by the Paulskirchenparlament adopted catalog of fundamental rights, which were to form the political foundation of the new nation state.
The fundamental rights guaranteeing individual and civic liberty became part of the “Constitution of the German Reich” passed by the National Assembly on March 27, 1849. It envisaged a small German national state with a constitutional system. The supporters of the “Greater German” direction had previously demanded the integration of German Austria into the kingdom to be founded, but the non-German lands of the Habsburg monarchy had to be excluded. However, the Austrian multi-ethnic state insisted on its constitutional unity. This is another reason why the supporters of a “small German solution” decided the conflict for themselves.
At the top of the state, there had to be a hereditary emperor. On March 28, 1849, the deputies elected Friedrich Wilhelm IV as the “Emperor of the Germans”. The King of Prussia, however, rejected the imperial crown because he did not wish to grant further legitimacy to the revolutionaries. At the same time Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Hanover, Saxony and other states did not recognize the “revolutionary” constitution.
Thus, the attempt failed to found a constitutionally constituted nation state on parliamentary way. Radical Democratic forces then attempted to enforce the Reich constitution by force. Especially in Saxony, in the Palatinate and in Baden rebellions flared up. But the monarchical governments, which had become firmly established again, succeeded quickly in militarily suppressing these rebellions. When Baden revolutionaries had to surrender to Prussian troops at the Rastatt fortress on July 23, 1849, the end of the revolution in Germany was sealed.