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Dresden During Saxony's March Revolution its metropolis of Dresden did not play a major role because of the weakness of its anti-governmental opposition. Public life in the city was not highly politicized until the appointment of the liberal March cabinet on March 16 and preparations began for elections of the Frankfurt National Assembly.

Among the strongest local political organizations were the `Patriotic Association' (Vaterlandsverein), founded in early April, which had four thousand members by the end of 1848, half of them journeymen and workers. In May its candidates were successfully elected to the German parliament. While the leadership of the `Patriotic Association' was in the hands of intellectuals, who supported a democratic monarchy, the majority of its members were republicans. The Association dominated the union of all Saxon `Patriotic Associations.' The closely connected Dresdner Zeitung published since its foundation in autumn 1848 with Ludwig Wittig as editor, became the leading newspaper of Saxon democracy, together with the VolksblĄtter published by August Röckel, a friend of Richard Wagner, a paper with a radical-democratic and utopian-socialist profile. In opposition to the 'Patriotic Association',the moderately liberal German Union (Deutsche Verein), consisted mainly of craftsmen, merchants, intellectuals as well as civil servants and officers; in December 1848, it could gain only one seat in the elections to the Saxon parliament, whereas the remaining five went to the 'Patriotic Association.' The workers' union (Arbeiterverein), which was founded at the beginning of May 1848 at the initiative of Leipzigers and politically closely linked to the 'Patriotic Association', saw itself as representing the social interests of all under-privileged strata; at the beginning of September 1848 it joined with Arbeiterverbrüderung (workers' fraternization) and made great efforts to spread its organization in the east-Saxon area.

In January 1849 parliamentary controversies in the newly elected Landtag gave a strong impulse to political life in Dresden. Left-wing forces dominated both houses, the twenty-one-deputy club of the extreme left exerting an especially prominent leverage. Its leader, the Bautzen lawyer Samuel Erdmann Tzschirner, together with August Röckel and Ludwig Wittig, formed the nucleus of a conspiratorial junction which expected the outbreak of a second revolution and prepared for it by establishing manifold contacts. They worked closely with the central committee of the German democratic alliance around Karl D'Ester as well as with Mikhail Bakunin and Polish and Czech revolutionaries. As a result, in spring 1849 Dresden had become the center of a widespread cooperation between revolutionary activists of central and east european countries.

The Elbe city was scene of an acute revolutionary crisis when on April 28, 1849, the Saxon King Friedrich August II dissolved the lower house of the Landtag which favored approval of the Reich constitution passed by the Frankfurt parliament. The collapsing the administrative cabinet, which since March 1849 had remained around Ferdinand Freiherr von Beust, on May 3, prior to the onset of revolutionary unrest, petitioned the Berlin government for military assistance. The Prussian government several days before had offered all German states its assistance in defeating popular uprisings. The outrage at the refusal of the monarch to accept the Reich constitution as well as the fear of an intervention by Prussian troops were the decisive causes of the uprising that broke out in the afternoon of May 3, 1849. The uprising began when a crowd of people assembled around the armory demanding weapons and ammunition for the defence of the city and the military opened fire on the surging crowd. Within a few hours the old town was barricaded and, although the municipal guard remained neutral, the government was initially hesitant in suppressing the uprising by military means. A committee of public safety made up of democratic deputies under Tzschirner's influence made first preparations for the town's defence, but it hoped above all that the king would soon end his resistance to adoption of the constitution.

On May 4 the king and his remaining ministers fled to the fortress Königstein. An 24-hour armistice negotiated by the security sub-committee with the military governor of Dresden allowed the army's leaders to bring troops from other parts of the country and to await the arrival of a Prussian relief corps, whereas the insurgents indulged in illusions of a possible compromise with the government and lost valuable time required to gather their forces.

On the initiative of Tzschirner. on May 4, the Landtag deputies remaining in Dresden elected a three-head provisional government, with Tzschirner representing the extreme left, the Freiberg district counselor Otto Heubner the left and the privy counselor Karl Gotthelf Todt the left-liberal deputies of the Saxon Landtag. However, the provisional government never attained its objective of actively mobilizing the population of the entire country to support for the Reich constitution, especially unable to encourage to political firmness the liberal bourgeoisie, who had been involved in the earlier, peaceful phase of the constitutional movement. Almost everywhere in the country the bourgeoisie refused to participate or to support the provisional government and its followers, out of fear of possible radical-democratic and socio-republican tendencies of the uprising. Symptomatic was the attitude of the municipal authorities of Leipzig, who declared their town neutral and placed it under the protection of the Frankfurt national assembly. Also unsuccessful were the repeated attempts to draw the Saxon troops to the side of the insurgents, by pleading the defensive posture of the rebel leaders.

Intensive clashes began around noon on May 5. Five thousand Saxon-Prussian government troops confronted by three thousand wholly insufficiently armed insurgents supported by irregulars and volunteers coming from other places of Saxony; so the lack of any military organization was a decisive disadvantage. In two attacks against the flanks the counter-revolutionary troops cut off the old town which was courageously defended by barricade fighters, with heavy casualties on the side of the insurgents, especially due to the brutal assaults of the military. There were altogether two-hundred-fifty dead and several hundred wounded. Well-known artists, such as the architect Gottfried Semper, the composer and music-director Richard Wagner, and the actress and singer Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient supported the uprising, in which Bakunin and the working-class leader Stephan Born played leading roles. The provisional government resorted to more decisive revolutionary measures only after it was too late and the troops meanwhile had the upper hand. In the morning of May 9, the revolutionaries gave up the struggle and withdrew by way of Freiberg to the area along the foot of the Erzgebirge.
Rolf Weber translated by James Chastain


Rolf Weber. Die Revolution in Sachsen 1848/49: Entwicklung und Analyse ihrer Triebkräfte. Berlin, 1970.

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