Table of Contributors   Tableof Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Artisans in Franconia (Germany)

When the revolution broke out in 1848, artisans and workers, both of whom, as wage earners, belonged to the same social class, formed a small minority of the work force. As late as 1847, only 12.5% of the population in lower Franconia were employed in commerce and crafts as workers, artisans, and masters. For middle Franconia the percentage was 16.7%, for upper Franconia 15%, for Bavaria as a whole 13.5%. Only a few cities, such as Fürth, Erlangen, and neighboring Schwabach in middle Franconia, boasted a higher average with 42.2%, 28.4% and 32% respectively. The city of Nürnberg, with some 50,000 inhabitants by far the largest community in the area, came to 25.5%, while Würzburg, with some 29,000 inhabitants the next largest city, averaged only 12.7%, by far the lowest among the ten cities with more than 7,000 inhabitants in the Franconian provinces.

In the early nineteenth century, the Franconian economy was dominated by agriculture and even saw a decline in manufacture in the decades after its annexation by the Kingdom of Bavaria. Between 1814 and 1847, the number of textile producers in lower Franconia declined from 69 establishments with 716 employees to five with a paltry 38 employees, even though the Regierungsbezirk Unterfranken comprised a larger area than the old Grand Duchy. Similar developments occurred in all branches, so that in 1832/33 only 80 factories of all kinds with some 2,300 employees existed. The first, and until 1847 only, steam engine in Lower Franconia began to work in Aschaffenburg in 1843; in Nürnberg there were only ten in the same year, in Munich fifteen.

The prime culprits for this economic stagnation were the highly restrictive laws of 1825 regulating Ansässigmachung, i.e. citizenship in a community and marriage, and the Gewerbegesetz regulating the trades. These laws, which were not repealed until 1868, gave communities the right to grant, or deny, marriage permits and citizenship. As many a town father feared that workers or artisans, once unemployed, would become wards of the local charities, denials were frequent, which severely limited the recruitment of wage laborers. Through the Gewerbegesetz local communities could regulate the establishment of independent businesses by artisans, based on their judgement whether the applicant would be able to provide for a family or not. Once permission to establish a new business had been granted, the applicant still had to join one of the guilds, whose existence had been expressly upheld at the insistence of the masters in 1825. As the established masters were reluctant to foster comp etition, permits for new businesses were granted sparingly with the result that, e.g., in the city of Würzburg, the number of Handwerker in 1814, some 1,200 employing about 1,300 journeymen, was virtually identical with that in 1840.

These laws, even more restrictively in their 1834 version, had far reaching effects on the economic development of Bavaria. Agricultural interests and guild masters sentenced artisan journeymen to the existence of wage laborers as these laws effectively barred the majority of journeymen from establishing themselves while preserving outdated modes of production and severely retarding modernization in the process. Given the often obsolete modes of production in underdeveloped Bavaria, viz. in Wilhelmsdorf near Erlangen weavers used such out-dated equipment that the British Museum bought one of their looms as an antique, the policy of free trade practiced with the member states of the German Confederation, especially Prussia once Bavaria had joined the Zollverein, led to the ruin of the crafts in the Franconian provinces: when the Revolution hit in 1848, the majority of needle makers in Schwabach were unemployed.

The third strand in Bavarian economic policy in the first half of the nineteenth century was the severe repression of the journeymen's associations. For centuries they had regulated the lives of journeymen outside and parallel to the master-dominated guilds particularly in Imperial cities such as Nürnberg. Here masters received supervisory rights after 1806. After 1830, when the fear of travelling journeymen as messengers of the revolution had been established in the minds of Bavarian authorities, wandering was severely restricted. In the decades before 1848, police measures, aided by the cooperation of the masters, all but crushed the associations as expressions of the interests of artisan journeymen. This is evidenced by the almost complete absence of strikes, the single most effective weapon of the journeymen/workers. B etween 1791 and 1805, there had been 56 separate strikes by journeymen in Nürnberg, between 1806 and 1848, there were two (1821 and 1835).

Unemployment, out-dated modes of production, repression of journeymen organizations and a restrictive economic policy thus characterized the economic situation in Bavaria in 1848. The March days of 1848 found artisans and workers on the side of the liberal bourgeoisie. Resentment of the economic laws of 1825 in cities as well as in the countryside, where the majority of artisans lived, united the liberal bourgeoisie with their ideas of free trade and the artisans, who quite rightly considered the laws as obstacles that only benefitted the established order. Yet it soon became clear that the goals of the bourgeoisie and those of the artisans were not identical, and very early on, viz. in Würzburg in mid-April, as yet unsuccessful attempts were made to create separate worker's associations or Arbeiterbildungsvereine.

Following the meeting of the first German Handwerkerkongress in Frankfurt, which had once again excluded journeymen, the movement for separate organizations gained momentum, and the Würzburg Bildungs Verein für Arbeiter was formed on August 1, 1848. Despite its name, however, it was dominated by journeymen, rather than unskilled labor: the name expressed the change in consciousness that had taken place in the minds of the journeymen as they realized their status as wage earners. Klein-deutschin their political orientation, these organizers were not social-revolutionary, at least not yet in the summer of 1848. Their goal was to educate their members, provide financial aid, and to work for the general political emancipation of the lower classes.

As the united front of liberal bourgeoisie and artisans fell apart in the fall of 1848, not least over the issue of voting rights for artisans, a radicalization took place in the winter of 1848/49, viz. the close cooperation with the Märzvereine and other democratic organizations in the spring of 1849. Nürnberg with its 12,000 to 13,000 artisans became the center of agitation in Franconia. On April 2-4, 1849, delegates of working men's organizations from some 40 towns in Bavaria met here to discuss joining the Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiter-Verbrüderung, founded in Berlin in late August 1848. They decided to form a state-wide organization for the twenty-four clubs with their about 5,000 members which ex isted in Bavaria in May 1849, and to make Würzburg the center for the clubs in Lower Franconia.

At the meeting in Nürnberg a list of social and political demands was compiled. which included the suffrage for all men over 21 years of age and the acceptance of the basic law of the Frankfurt assembly. But "the worker, the journeyman, the so-called proletarian" too had to organize to make known his demands, so a proclamation of the Verein published in Würzburg in May 1849. As political and socio-economic sentiments merged and an armed confrontation seemed possible, the extreme left of the artisanal/working class movement was quite prepared to use force to push through their demands. In Nürnberg weapons were collected in May 1849 for the eventuality of an armed uprising, in Erlangen students, soldiers on leave, and workers carried a red flag through the streets and sang the Hecker song. Clashes, even bloody ones, between government troops and radical journeymen occurred in Nürnberg until November 1849. But these were isolated incidents, there was no concerted strike action by a working class devoid of experience in such matters. Unlike in the Palatinate, armed rebellion never gained a strong enough foothold to sustain itself even temporarily vis-a-vis the tens of thousands of Bavarian troops stationed around Nürnberg. It is symptomatic for the fear with which the authorities viewed the potential strength of the Arbeitervereine that they were allowed to exist into 1850. In November 1849, Würzburg became the center of all Vereine in Bavaria. Its proclamation to the workers of Bavaria issued on that occasion was completely devoid of social-revolutionary demands, after all, the counterrevolution had won by then. But when the new law concerning clubs was published in February 1850, there was no place for working men's organizations it. After April 1850, police harangues of still existing clubs increased, preparing the ground for their eventual dissolution in June. Only after the reform laws of 1868 did separate, but now clearly Marxist-socialist, working men's associations in the form of trade unions became legal again.

Writing in July 1849, the Regierungspräsident of upper Franconia characterized the just-ended revolution as communistic and socialistic in nature as far as the demands of the lower classes were concerned. His colleague in middle Franconia, which included Nürnberg, Fürth, Erlangen, and Schwabach, was more precise when he wrote that "the way of thinking of the masses of working men and that of the property owning classes merged in the political tendencies of the March movement, no matter how much their ideas concerning social reform contradicted each other." It was this contradiction which prevented the creation of a united front of the bourgeoisie with the lower classes, be they workers, artisans, or peasants. Due to the retarded economic development of Bavaria, her working class w as still too small and without a sufficiently developed class consciousness to embark on a social-revolutionary path in 1848/49.

Robert Selig


Werner Koeppen, Die Anfänge der Arbeiter- und Gesellenbewegung in Franken (1830-1852) . (Erlangen, 1935)

Dieter Langewiesche, "Die politische Vereinsbewegung in Würzburg und in Unterfranken in den Revolutionsjahren 1848/49." Jahrbuch für fränkische Landesforschung 37 (1977), 195-233.

Leonhard Lenk, "Revolutionär-Kommunistische Umtriebe im Königreich Bayern. Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklung von Staat und Gesellschaft, 1848-1864." Zeitschrift für Bayerische Landesgeschichte 28 (1965), 535-622.

Michael J. Neufeld, "German Artisans and Political Repression:The Fall of the Journeymen's Associations in Nuremberg, 1806-1868." Journal of Social History 19 (1986), 491-502.

Klaus Schönhoven, "Zwischen Revolution und Sozialisten gesetz.Die Anfänge der Würzburger Arbeiterbewegung." Mainfränkische Hefte 63 (Würzburg, 1976).

Table of Contributors   Table ofContents   Return to EncyclopediaHome Page

jgc revised this file ( on September 9, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 2000, 2004 James Chastain.