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Franconia In 1803, the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss gave the ecclesiastical states of Würzburg and Bamberg, already occupied by Bavarian troops, to the Electorate of Bavaria. Raised to the status of a kingdom in 1806, the new state added the formerly imperial cites of Nürnberg, Schweinfurt and Rothenburg, as well as a host of imperial estates in Franconia to its territory in the course of that year. Following the brief interlude of the Grand-Duchies of Würzburg and Aschaffenburg from 1806 to 1815, Franconia became Bavarian for the second time at the end of the Napoleonic wars. With the proclamation of a constitution for Bavaria in 1818, Franconia, divided into three Regierungsbezirke, became an integral part of the new kingdom. But while the administrative integration of the territories was now complete, its population was Bavarian only in letter, not in spirit.

The unscrupulous, openly anti-clerical methods employed during the secularization, with its concurrent plunder of church property, had deeply offended the devout population in the former prince-bishoprics. In Protestant cities, Bavarian administrators encountered the open hostil ity of a people who as late as 1813 had dreamed of becoming a part of the Kingdom of Prussia rather than the subjects a Catholic king in Munich. Yet accepting the inevitable, Franconian liberals under the leadership of Franz Ludwig von Hornthal, Johann Gottfried Eisenmann and Wilhelm Joseph Behr, tried to use the constitution of 1818 as means to achieve the integration of the reluctant new territories (Neubayern) into the state as well as to further the liberalization of Bavaria as a whole.

In 1818, the vast majority of the Franconian intellectual elite and the propertied bourgeoisie, who formed the backbone of the liberal movement, welcomed the constitution. Their demands were those of liberals everywhere, e.g., separation of justice and administration, the right to introduce legislation in the Landtag, ministerial responsibility, openness of trials, end to censorship, and the army's taking an oath on the constitution. Franconia, and the even more radical Palatinate, provided the leadership for this drive, but neither Maximilian I nor his successor Ludwig I were prepared to meet the demands of leading liberals such as Behr, professor at the University of Würzburg and mayor of the city after 1821, or Hornthal, head of police in Nürnberg and later mayor of Bamberg.

Their hopes of instrumentalizing the constitution to change Bavaria into a constitutional monarchy were soon dashed. In the course of the 1820s and 1830s, relations between Franconia and Munich deter iorated as Mayor Behr and others were repeatedly refused permission to take their seats in the Landtag. At the so-called constitutional celebration (Verfassungsfest) of May 1832 in Gaibach, liberal demands and latent anti-Bavarian, secessionist sentiments merged in an explosive mixture of discontent. Behr, who reportedly had been proclaimed king of Franconia by some of the more than 5,000 participants, was arrested and languished in prison until 1847. Eisenmann, who came to his defense, suffered the same fate. The universities of Würzburg and Nürnberg were cleansed of all suspect faculty, the Burschenschaftenwere suppressed. Repression increased in 1833 after it was learned that ten students from Würzburg had taken part in the Frankfurter Wachensturm.

A few years later, fuel was added to the smoldering discontent by the order that all soldiers had to genuflect during the Corpus Christi procession, the Kniebeugeerlass of 1838, whi ch the mostly Protestant draftees of middle and upper Franconia refused to obey. Religious sentiments now joined secessionist ideas and liberal demands and transcended social classes: Carl Graf Giech, Regierungspräsident in Ansbach and a member of the highest nobility, resigned in protest in 1840 and became the leader of Franconian Protestant opposition. In 1845, the Kniebeugeerlass was finally revoked. Behr, Eisenmann and others were released in 1847. But when the revolution br oke out in March 1848, these injustices were still fresh in the minds of many Franconians, but events in 1848-49 showed that they had not made revolutionaries out of the liberal leadership.

On March 3, 1848, the city of Munich presented Ludwig I with a list of demands for change. The next day, March 4, the citizens of Bamberg sent a much more radical address to Munich, followed by another from Nürnberg, which helped to convince Ludwig to step down on March 6 in favor of Maximilian II. On March 7, Würzburg too addressed the new king in a petition signed by over 1,000 people. But unlike the democratic-sounding addresses with their republican undertones from Bamberg and Nürnberg, theirs was content with calling for a constitutional monarchy. Concurrently civil militias or Bürgerwehrenwere formed during the first weeks of March, within the command structure of the Landwehr, and confirmed by the crown on April 7, 1848. A reluctant government, which feared that it was armi ng the revolution, was forced to distribute thousands of weapons to some 23,000 militiamen comprising about 11% of all adult males or 27% of all married men in lower Franconia alone. In the city of Würzburg, where almost the whole student body of the university joined, estimates go as high as 400 out of an enrollment of 565 during the fall term of 1847-48, the Bürgerwehr reached a total of some 1,800 men out of a population of some 29,000. By late July 1848, some 299 units had been formed aga inst the perceived dangers of unrest from below, rather than as vanguards for the revolution.

But during the spring and summer of 1848 such fears were as yet unfounded. Cities such as Würzburg, Bayreuth and Ansbach, dominated by bureaucrats and intellectuals, remained calm during the campaign for the preparliament (Vorparlament) in March as well as during the elections to the national assembly in late April. The first, and until late November only, political organization in Würzburg, the Gesellschaft der Freunde der konstitutionellen Monarchie, founded on April 14, consciously rejected the idea of being a political party in the modern sense. In the minds of the upper bourgeoisie, which dominated the Gesellschaft, "party" and "partial" were invariably connected and thus contrary to the idea of working for the common good. Once the Märzforderungen had been fulfilled and elections had been held in late April, in which it had sponsored candidates such as Behr and Eisenmann, who were sent to Frankfurt on a program calling for a constitutional monarchy and a highly restricted suffrage, they saw no longer any reason for organized opposition. After the newly elected Bavarian Landtag had passed a series of reform laws in June, abolishing in the process the remains of feudal society, particularly odious in this area riddled with Patrimonialgerichtsbarkeiten, the Gesellschaft saw its demands met and recessed for the time being.

During the summer and fall of 1848, the national assembly in Frankfurt discussed the constitution and boundaries of the future German empire. Not surprisingly, the Protestant delegates from Franconia favored the small German (see "Grossdeutschland") with the king of Prussia as hereditary emperor. Much to the irritation of the government in Munich, city fathers in Nürnberg dreamed of becoming the capitol of the new Germany. In contrast to the Catholic delegates from south of the Da nube, who, with the exception of a few radical democrats remained loyal to the house of Wittelsbach, the Franconian delegates thought of themselves as Germans rather than as Bavarians. Following their particularist instincts, the inhabitants of the old states of Bavaria (Altbayern) preferred a constitutional Bavarian monarchy even to a greater Germany which included the Habsburg domains.

Things did not go quite as peacefully in more industrialized cities such as Aschaffenburg, Schweinfurt, Nürnberg, Bamberg and in the country side of middle and upper Franconia. Here peasants, for whom the June laws did not go far enough, attacked castles of the nobility in the fall and even burned a few of them down. In the cities, a nascent working-class movement raised social and economic demands, challenging the leadership of the liberal bourgeoisie and the cooperation of the liberal-constitutional with the democratic-republican movement. When the liberal bourgeoisie abandoned the field of organized politics after its victory in the summer of 1848, it left the field wide open for potentially more radical organizations, and actions, in 1849.

In late November 1848, the Konstitutionelle Gesellschaft of the city of Würzburg, hibernating since June, dissolved over the elections to the Bavarian Landtag. A more radical Märzverein, a Volksverein and a Politischer Klub filled the void on the left, joined by the Würzburger Arbeiterverein, which had been formed on August 1, 1848. At that same time, a Piusverein, also formed in November, heralded the beginnings of the political organization of Roman Catholicism. If the liberals had been unable to create a supra-organization in 1848, the left was more successful. In the spring of 1849, a Kreisausschuss demokratischer Vereine Frankens was formed, which later joined the Zentralmärzverein.

In the elections in November, democrats gained numerous seats in northern Bavaria. In January, the Frankfurt assembly passed the basic rights for the future constitution. Radical Franconian members of the Landtag now demanded acceptance of this legislation in Munich as well, threatening secession if the king refused. Maximilian II responded with the adjournment of the assembly in early March. When he refused to accept the Frankfurt constitution on April 23 as well, radicals called for armed resistance. In a proclamation "To th e Franconian People" of late April, they accused the Bavarian government of being in rebellion against the German constitution. Franconians had "to set an example for Bavarians in the battle for freedom in Germany. Forward you men of Franconia! Franconians must make Bavaria German and free!"

As agitation for the constitution increased, Märzvereine were formed everywhere. In early April there had been only 38 in Lower Franconia--by mid-June their number had increased to 283. Mindful of the pivotal role of the military in an insurrection, appeals for support were issued to the soldiery and especially to the Landwehr. Fears of unrest reached new heights when the Landwehr in Würzburg refused orders on May 14 and informed its commanding officer, Major General Friedrich Ludwig, Graf Rechteren-Limpurg, that it owed allegiance to the Frankfurt constitution. As the local militias had also been undermined by democrats, or at least so authorities in Munich thought, troops from south of the Danube were concentrated in northern Bavaria and Prussia was approached for a possible military intervention.

The former imperial city of Nürnberg was the center of agitation during the campaign for a Reich constitution (Reichverfassungscampagne)in May and June 1849. The Mittelfränkische Zeitung left no doubt where it stood: "Either unconditional acceptance of the constitution or the Franconian provinces will rise by themselves for the German c ause and rather face death with wife and child than accept servitude anew!" On May 2, 1849, some 15,000 Nürnberger assembled for a mass meeting, and eleven days later there were more than 30,000 at a similar event, who solemnly took the oath to the Frankfurt constitution and again threatened secession. To the great relief of the government in Munich, some 17,000 troops stationed on the outskirts of the city did not have to intervene as the assembly dispersed peacefully in late afternoon. On that same day , an armed rebellion broke out in the Palatinate, yet, despite all the rhetoric, Franconia remained calm. Franconians were in no mood for an armed uprising, and what little there was, lost its legitimacy as the Frankfurt assembly opposed all resistance.

Whatever unrest there was in the summer of 1849, turned out to be strictly local and was easily brought under control. By late June, the old ruling elites were firmly in the saddle again. On June 22 the government ordered the local militias to return those weapons no longer needed; when in January 1850 all arms were to be returned, no community refused to do so. During July and August 1849, the leaders of the opposition were arrested, often with the help of the local priests. By late August most of the Märzvereine had dissolved. Government orders suppressed the more resilient groups and the worker's associations in June 1850.

The potential for unrest had been present in Franconia in 1848. After thirty years under the house of Wittelsbach, the liberal bourgeoisie, secessionists and Protestants all had their axe to grind with the government in Munich. But even decades in jail, as in the case of Behr and Eisenmann, could not change propertied citizens into revolutionaries willing to support violent action. In the summer of 1849, they never left the basis of the law, concentrating instead on the elections to the Landtag in July. The slow economic development during the first half of the nineteenth century had not produced a sizeable and potentially revolutionary working class. For the larger part of the peasantry the standard of living was not desperate enough to cause a significant sentiment favoring social revolution. Franconians were not happy with their government in Munich and wanted to become Germans, but in 1848-49 the price seemed too high. Without a dedicated leadership or a devoted mass following, the revolution took a course rather similar to that in many parts of Germany, even if the rhetoric may have been a bit more shrill.

Robert Selig


Rudolf Endres. "Franken und Bayern im Vormärz und in der Revolution von 1848/49." in Johannes Erichsen and Uwe Puschner, eds., "Vorwärts, vorwärts sollst du schauen": Geschichte, Politik und Kunst unter Ludwig I. (Munich, 1986), II, 199-217.

James F. Harris. "Arms and the People. The Bürgerwehr of Lower Franconia in 1848 and 1849." in Konrad H. Jarausch and Larry

Eugene Jones, eds., In Search of a Liberal Germany: Studies in the History of German Liberalism from 1789 to the Present (Oxford New York, 1990), 133-160.

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

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

Ludwig Zimmermann. Die Einheits- und Freiheitsbewegung und die Revolution von 1848 in Franken. (Würzburg, 1951).

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