Revolution of 1848

Rising Nationalism

At first, many Germans, burghers as well as intellectuals, welcomed the French Revolution as well as the advance of their armies, hoping it would bring them the new world order, the end of the ANCIEN REGIME, liberty, a constitution based on equality. However, Napoleon's self-coronation and nepotism turned admiration into disgust, French occupation, it's dissolution of the HOLY GERMAN EMPIRE OF GERMAN NATION (1806), it's arbitrary makeover of Germany's political borders, again and again, turned sympathy into hatred. It was Germany's writers, such as HEINRICH VON KLEIST and HÖLDERLIN who appealed to the Germans to resist the French, declaring the French the archenemy.
When Napoleon's GRANDE ARMEE was almost annihilated at the BERESINA in 1812, thousands of German burghers and students volunteered to fight in the WARS OF LIBERATION (1813). They expected their effort to be rewarded, demanded a written constitution and German unification. However, at the VIENNA CONGRESS (1813-15), where the new world order was shaped, royalty was represented, not the burghers. Post-Napoleonic Germany consisted of ca. 40 states, among them great powers such as Austria and Prussia, and statelets such as Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. 4 were republics, the others monarchies. The monarchies regarded liberals and nationalists as subversive elements; written constitutions did not materialize, but secret police did, their first charge being to prevent another revolution.
BURSCHENSCHAFTEN (fraternities) were established at universities, which were supportive of nationalism in character. In 1832 the Burschenschaften organized a festival at the castle ruin of Hambach, the HAMBACHER FEST. Students came there from all over Germany. Speaker Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer expresed his support of nationalists in France, Poland and elsewhere - they had a common enemy, governments trying to reestablish the Ancien Regime (the old way of government, as prior to the French Revolution). German nationalists had supported the Polish rebellion (against Russia) of 1830-1831.
However, political organizations and political discussions in public were prohibited. VEREINE (clubs, societies) such as choral societies or sports clubs were founded, nationalistic in character. At sessions, the local policeman had to be present to take notes. In such an atmosphere, many burghers, disappointed from politics, withdrew into private life. Such men were called BIEDERMANN, honest (dull, lethargic, unpolitical) man. Political activists often went into exile, writer HEINRICH HEINE to France, philosopher KARL MARX to London.
Then, in 1840, France's parliament openly discussed to extend the French border to the Rhine, which meant the annexation of most of Prussia's RHEINPROVINZ. The newspaper reports about the debate stirred up national sentiment in an instant. Germans were aware of their military weakness - Austria had not won a war on it's own since 1718, Prussia not since Frederick the Great (1740-1786). Again, writers appealed to the Germans to prepare themselves for armed resistance. Songs like the GUARD ON THE RHINE (1840) and the SONG OF THE GERMANS (Deutschlandlied, 1841) became popular instantly. The French did not extend their border to the Rhine. However, the spirit they had kindled was to haunt them for the next century.
German nationalism from the start was associated with militarism. The writers regarded military strength as a precondition for the unification yearned for. However, this very unification was regarded as a threat by Prussia (with two Polish provinces, West Prussia and Posen), and even more by Austria (a state dominated by a German administration, ruling over Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Walachians, Italians, Croats etc.).

Early German nationalism was subversive (toward the number of German states and statelets), whom most nationalists or patriots attempted to defeat by ignoring them, by banning the princes into the sphere of the fairy tales (this may have been a purpose behind the publication of Grimm's Fairytales); some, such as student Karl von Sand (1819), by violent action (he killed Russian diplomat August von Kotzebue). Most patriots of the early 19th century envisioned a German nation state as a desirable alternative to a police state denying its inhabitants most civic rights. Liberals and nationalists (or pariots) largely pursued the same goals, mainly differing in their priorities.

The German Confederation, 1815-1866, from Library of Congress, Country Studies : Germany
Die Gründung der Urburschenschaft am 12. Juli 1815 in Jena, from Geschichte Mitteldeutschlands (The foundation of the first Burschenschaft in Jena, July 12th 1815), in German
An Abbreviated World History of Exercise and Sport Science, from Department of Exercise & Sport Science at East Carolina University, on Turnvater Jahn : scroll down
Biography of Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, from Handbook of Texas Online, from Encyclopaedia Britannica
Biography of Heinrich Heine, from Biographies of Artists
Chronology of Heinrich Heine's Life, from Univ. Duesseldorf
DOCUMENTS Die Wacht am Rhein (Guard on the Rhine), folk song, lyrics by Max Schneckenberger 1840, with Engl. transl., from ingeb.org; Das Lied der Deutschen (Deutschlandlied, the Song of the Germans) lyrics by Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben 1841, with Engl. transl., from ingeb.org
Heinrich Heine : Songs : Belsatzar, from Lied and Songs Text Page (writings on the wall, Belsatzar metaphor for Germany's princes); text in German and in Engl. translation
Friedrich Ludwig Jahn/ Ernst Eiselen: Die Deutsche Turnkunst zur Einrichtung der Turnplätze. Berlin 1816. (German Gymnastics, on the establishment of facilities for gymnastics), posted on Thomas Gloning Homepage Univ. Marburg, in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on February 26th 2005

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics