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Erfurter Union

Erfurter Union After the collapse of the Frankfurt national assembly and in face of the signs of the revolution's overthrow, the Prussian governmen t, under the influence of the General Joseph Maria von Radowitz, a confident of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, seized the initiative to establish a small German federal state under the Hohenzollern monarch's leadership. Radowitz, who drew on the most important elements in the national program of the hereditary imperial party of the St. Paul's Church led by Heinrich von Gagern, wanted to bring the great-power interests of Prussia into line with the national aim of the upper bourgeoisie in an attempt to pull the propertied classes into the camp of reaction and thus to reinforce against threats to Junkers' domination. His initiated policy, seeing its chance in the persist revolution in Hungary which complicated Austria's predicament and in the dependency of the German small- and medium-sized states on Prussia's support against revolutionary uprisings, assumed the character of a revolution from above. In contrast to Bismarck's later approach, Radowitz attempted use power politics to make changes no t by hostile techniques but rather by negotiations and by cooperation with Vienna.

The Prussian policy of fusion began with the Alliance of Three Kings concluded between Prussia, Saxony and Hanover on May 26, 1849. The governments of Saxony and Hanover had entered the alliance with the reservation that they would remain only if all other German states, with the exception of Austria, associated. The draft constitution adopted two days later actually included provisions taken from the St. Paul's Church assembly's Reich constitution. Leadership lay with the Prussian crown. There was an aggravating difference in terms of franchise. Instead of universal and equal franchise the constitution envisioned the three-class system of franchise which was imposed in Prussia on May 30, 1849. The articles of the constitution were to become reality only when revised by an elected Reichstag and then approved by both the parliamentary representation and the participating governments. At a meeting in Gotha on June 25, 1849, under the leadership of Heinrich von Gagern, one hundred fifty former liberal deputies to the German national assembly acceded to the draft of the union. To support it they formed the Gotha Party of small-German constitutionalists. Under Prussian pressure twenty-eight German states, almost all, had recognized the Reich constitution and joined the union by the end of August 1849.

When Austria with tsarist help successfully suppressed t he Hungarian revolution to regain its ability to negotiate, it began to actively resist Prussia's German policies. The Viennese government contemplated restoration of the German Confederation recalling the German Diet, encouraged Saxony and Hanover's endeavors to dissolve the alliance of three kings and, in addition, provided a powerful noble faction in Prussia, the feudal-corporate and anti-national group around the brothers Gerlach the possibility to oppose increasingly successfully union policy .

The elections to the Erfurt parliament of January 1850 found only a slight resonance among the people. Democrats universally boycotted the elections, and over all electoral participation lay below fifty percent. Saxony and Hanover prevented elected and used their reserve clause to secede from the alliance of three kings. The expectations of the Gotha Party, narrowly defeated in the elections, for the Erfurt parliament did not materialize. The constitution was accepted by them, though, and revised in a reactionary sense, but since no agreement was reached with the governments, it never took effect. A congress of the princes of the union held in Berlin in May 1850 expressly decided that the constitution should not be introduced at this juncture. At the Berlin court Radowitz's influence declined as both the Prussian king and his ministers increasingly wished to renounce the policy of a union. Austria's intrigue to restore the old German Diet for the beginning of September 1850 i n Frankfurt am Main further contributed to the union's demise. Electoral Hesse was the next state to leave the Alliance of Three Kings.

In autumn 1850 the conflict between Prussia, which formally held to the union, and Austria over the question of federal executions in Holstein and Electoral Hesse almost escalated into a military conflict. After the Berlin cabinet pulled back from the demands of the Viennese Government allied with the Russian tsar at the Warsaw conference of October 28, 1 850, the confrontation worsened once more when Prussia on November 5, in response to the advance of the German Confederation troops of into Electoral Hesse, mobilized its army and prepared it for war. The war for hegemony in Germany hoped for by liberals did not materialize however; leaders of the Prussian state associated with the objectives of the nobles grouped around Gerlach, the "Kreuzzeitungs-Party", who, like Austria, advocated the restoration of the German Confederation. To th e German people the sudden reversal of policies, rather than a shift of power within ruling circles in Berlin, then appeared to be a humbling capitulation to the Viennese Hofburg sealed by the public humiliation of the punctuation of Olmütz concluded under tsarist participation on November 29, 1850. All Germany saw Prussia change course to suddenly declare its willingness to demobilize its troops, to take part in the intervention of German Diet in Hesse and Holstein and to renounc e any resumption of her union policy. Explicitly abandoning the Erfurt Union, Prussia for the moment turned its back on German unity for a policy of reaction of the 1850's.
Rolf Weber


Rolf Weber "Von Frankfurt nach Olmütz. Zur Genesis und Politik des gothaischen Liberalismus 1849/50," in Bourgeoisie und bürgerliche Umwälzung in Deutschland 1789-1871,Helmut Bleiber (ed), Berlin 1977.

Konrad Canis, "Joseph Maria von Radowitz. Konterrevolution und preussische Unionspolitik," in Männer der Revolution von 1848 Helmut Bleiber (ed.), Berlin 1987, vol. II.

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