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Friedrich Franz Karl Hecker

FRIEDRICH FRANZ KARL HECKER Born on September 28, 1811 Hecker became a supreme court lawyer in Mannheim in 1838. Elected in 1842 at the youngest possible age to the Baden lower house, he was a gifted, even charismatic personality, whose eloquence and boldness quickly elevated him into prominence. Unlike other representatives, he spoke to the public, not just to his colleagues.

Hecker knew how to utilize the burgeoning popular press to agitate for greater German national unity and against the conservatism of the German Confederation and its Austrian-Prussian leadership. Though his popularity grew by leaps and bounds--people called him "their' Hecker--he was not a party man. He understood little of the art of getting people to work together toward common goals and was subject to fits of discouragement and melancholy. In 1847 he emigrated to Algeria, but soon returned.

By this time he became, under the influence of Gustav Struve, committed to revolutionary change, though as late as March 1848 he condemned the use of violence. During a celebrated March 1 popular presentation of a petition to the diet, he made the crowd's demands his own, since by house rules only representatives could directly address the body. He joined other radicals in a call for the repeal of repressive decrees, taking of oaths to the constitution by all citizens (including the military), the repeal of all limits to political rights based on religion, ministerial responsibility, the abolition of all feudal rights, the introduction of a popular military system, popular local government and popular representation at the German Confederation among others.

When the Johann Bekk ministry responded favorably, he upped the demands. At a popular assembly called to meet at Offenburg on March 19, he insisted on a revision of the constitution, a merging of popular militias with the standing army, a complete revision of the tax system and full local self-government. When the Frankfurt Preparliament later that month failed to support this program, Hecker decided the time had come to strike, though he apparently thought the revolution would be a bloodless, even festive parade.

Hecker and his associates called on revolutionaries to assemble on April 14 in Constance, county seat of an area known for its discontent. From there they would carry the revolution throughout Baden and into Germany. The interim Frankfurt government, fearing the uprising would endanger national elections, tried negotiations, but also ordered out federal troops. When the few revolutionaries who showed up met regular soldiers, Hecker hoped to win the day with his time-tested rhetoric, but their commander ordered the drums to roll. Discipline held. The regulars quickly dispersed the insurgents and Hecker fled to Switzerland. From across the Rhine he brought out a revolutionary newspaper while ordinary folks took up wearing flamboyantly romantic "Hecker" caps and sang the popular "Hecker Song." Though elected by a south Baden district to the National Assembly, its liberals denied him his seat.

Turning his back on Germany, Hecker emigrated in disgust to the United States in September, just as a second revolt in Baden under Struve began. He returned in 1849 during the May revolution, but arrived too late. He participated in the American civil war and died in St. Louis on March 24, 1881.
Loyd E. Lee


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