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Baden Renown for its progressive government and high level parliamentary debates, Baden achieved recognition throughout Germany as a model of liberalism. Stretchin g in a narrow band along more than four hundred kilometers of the upper Rhine River, this creation of the Napoleonic period struggled to unify politically and socio-economically diverse populations. Three fourths of its 1.4 million citizens lived on the land, 300,000 in semi-feudal subjection to mediatized lords whose interests the German Confederation guaranteed. Baden's many small towns (the largest, Mannheim had only 24,000) benefitted from close contact with French, Swiss and other German cent ers in fostering an animated public life.

Overpopulation, agrarian unrest and economic depression, not industrialization, combined with a burgeoning press to spark unprecedented political mobilization in the late 1840s. A split among opposition leaders after 1846 led to a division between radical democrats led by men like Friedrich Hecker, Gustav Struve and Lorenz Brentano, and moderate liberals around Friedrich Bassermann and Karl Mathy, all from Mannheim. Signs of growing discontent w ere evident in the Offenburg program of southwest German radicals in September 1847 and the Heppenheim meeting of liberals the next month. On February 12, 1848 Bassermann's motion in the diet urged elected popular representation at the confederation. When news of the Paris revolution reached Mannheim on February 27, a mass assembly approved a petition favoring arming the population, a free press, jury trials and a national parliament. When presented to the diet three days later the government und er Johann Bekk, a liberal bureaucrat in power since 1846, readily complied. When the government approved legislation to sweep away the remnants of feudalism passed in April, rural violence against the estates of the mediatized lords soon calmed.

By the end of March political focus turned from Karlsruhe to Frankfurt where the preparliament and later the national assembly absorbed the attention of Baden's leading liberals. The Bekk ministry, willing to accept Frankfurt's lead, and the Diet faded in importance. When the preparliament, meeting in Heidelberg, failed to support the radical program of reform, however, Hecker decided on resistance. Convoking a massive, popular assembly in Constance, in Baden's most rebellious region, for April 12 he gathered a disappointingly small number of volunteers, who were routed by federal troops near Kandern. Hecker fled to Switzerland and published a newspaper before emigrating to the United States in September.

Revolutionary violence flared again on September 21 after the Frankfurt assembly showed its weakness in agreeing to the Malmö armistice. The Jacobin-inspired Gustav Struve attracted even less support (perhaps as few as five hundred men) than had Hecker in spite of widespread pro-Hecker sentiment. Loyal grand ducal armed forces easily squashed the uprising. Though of little military consequence, this episode fed liberal, bourgeois fears of the lower classes. The Bekk government's legitimacy declined, among centr ists because it had not prevented the uprising, among radicals because it put it down.

With Hecker abroad and Struve arrested, Brentano emerged as the left's leader. His colleague Amand Goegg brought together nearly five hundred local political clubs with their thirty thousand members in a state-wide network guided by a state committee of democratic clubs (Landesausschuss der badischen Volksvereine), an incipient modern party organization. Early in 1849 Bekk confessed that i t wielded more authority than his government.

Meanwhile, Brentano turned the conspiracy trials against Struve and other revolutionaries into an indictment of the government. In the Diet the democrats demanded the chamber's dissolution and the election of a constituent assembly by universal male suffrage. The Diet's majority said "no," knowing that such elections would return a republican majority. Though seventeen radicals abandoned their mandates, the Diet managed to limp along, with Be kk placing his hope in a favorable outcome in Frankfurt . He even endorsed the national assembly's constitution after the Prussia king rejected the German crown.

At this juncture the democrats called for a popular assembly in Offenburg on May 13, 1849. Representing lower middle class tradesmen and professionals, they wanted to push beyond the liberal Frankfurt constitution, while moderates from the educated middle classes wanted to a revolution in support of that constitution. Meanwhil e, soldiers in the Rastatt federal fortress mutinied. Bekk's government had implemented a Frankfurt law to double the size of the army and to abolish substitution, whereby middle class men could hire others to serve in their place. This reform, though widely supported, crippled the military. Officers had insufficient time to train the new, democratically-inspired recruits; non-commissioned officers, the mainstay of substitutes, had their careers threatened; and middle class men resented having to serve. Soon other garrisons joined in the revolt, whereupon the grand duke fled the state and appealed for intervention from both the Frankfurt government and Prussia.

The democratic revolutionaries were ready, having learned from the two previously abortive putsches. Joined by liberals, democrats and republicans from all over Germany and abroad, they created a significant military force of about 25,000 men composed of Baden regulars, free corps, civic guards and volunteers. Commanded b y the Polish General Ludwig von Mieroslawski the rebels had some initial success, but they faced over 70,000 troops.

While battles raged in north Baden Brentano struggled to steer a middle course against Struve. Even in the grand duke's absence he dared not declare a republic; he vainly hoped to avoid external intervention by not exporting the revolution; he collaborated with the discredited bureaucracy. Elections for a new constituent assembly on June 3, 1849 resulted in victory for the moderates, but its inexperienced members had insufficient time for debate. Prussian troops crossed the Rhine on June 20 and Brentano fled five days later. The seizure of Rastatt on July 23 ended the resistance.

Prussia enforced a bloody retaliation through the Baden government under the returning Grand Duke Leopold. It held fourteen thousand mutineers hostage against further disturbances as military trials proceeded and resulted in fifty one death sentences and eight hundred forty six sentences of ten to fifteen years imprisonment. Prussia dissolved the Baden army, reformed and retrained it before evacuating the state. In spite of this terror many Badeners continued to sport Hecker hats and other signs of revolution. Eighty thousand emigrated.

The Baden revolution of May 1849 was tragic. Previous revolutionary events revealed a split between bourgeois liberalism and lower class democratic republicanism. Though the democrats had numbers of their side, time and organi zational structures worked against them. Furthermore, a democratic revolution had no chance to succeed in a single German state. Rather than focus on the revolution's failure, however, we should measure what it attempted. The months between February 1848 and June 1849 witnessed an opening to democracy built on popular suffrage, organized political power for the masses, freedom of expression, universal education, employment for all, pensions for workers and other social welfare measures. All were signs of a future worth fighting for.
Loyd E. Lee


Norbert Deuchert Vom Hambacher Fest zur badischen Revolution: politische Presse und Anfänge deutscher Demokratie 1832-1848/49 (Stuttgart, 1983).

Lothar Gall Der Liberalismus als Regierende Partei: Das Grossherzogtum Baden zwischen Restauration und Reichsgründung (Wiesbaden, 1968).

Willy Real Die Revolution in Baden 1848/49 (Stuttgart, 1983).

Günter Richter "Revolution und Gegenrevolution in Baden 1849" Zeitschift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins 119 (1971): 387-425.

Jörg Schadt Alles für das Volk, alles durch das Volk: Dokumente zur demokratischen Bewegung in Mannheim 1848-1948 (Stuttgart, 1977).

Hanno Tauschwitz. Presse und Revolution 1848/49 in Baden: ein Beitrag zur Sozialgeschichte der periodischen Literatur und zu ihrem Einfluss auf die Geschichte de r badischen Revolution 1848/49 (Heidelberg, 1981).

Franz X. Vollmer. Der Traum von der Freiheit: Vormärz und 48er Revolution in Suddeutschland in zeitgenössischen Bildern (Stuttgart, 1983).

Franz X. Vollmer. "Die 48er Revolution in Baden," in Badische Geschichte. Vom Grossherzogtum bis zur Gegenwart (Stuttgart, 1978).

Otto Wermuth. Wir haben's gewagt! die badisch-pfalzische Revolution 1849 (Freiburg, 1981).

R. Wirtz. `Widersetzlichkeit, Excesse, Crawalle, Tumulte und Skandale': Soziale Bewegung und gewalthafter sozialer Protest in Baden 1815-1848 (Frankfurt, 1981).

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