Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Petitions (Germany)

Petitions (Germany) The right to petition the government was centuries-old in Germany in 1848 and quickly became the most common form of expression of popular opinion as well as a strong influence on government policy during the revolution. In the course of 1848-49 thousands of petitions were sent to the national parliament in Frankfurt am Main and to every individual state in Germany. In keeping with tradition almost all of these petitions emanated from communities rather than from individuals. As such they represented the opinions and desires of groups of people, mostly adult male citizens, operating from a local political structur e such as a village, town or city. In rural communities the prime movers in organizing petitions were the mayors, the priests or the ministers, and the school teachers, the latter frequently given the task of putting the petition into acceptable prose and handwriting.

Petitions were the normal result of a public assembly of citizens which drew up a list of resolutions as the conclusion to the day's debates and sent them on to government or parliament in the form of a petition or address. Pe titions were not always actually signed by the members of the community, although that happened increasingly in the course of the revolution; often the political officers of the community signed in the name of the community at large. Petitions were the most common part of the political landscape of Germany in 1848 and they arrived at palace or parliament in waves. The first such flurry of assembly and petition took place in the earliest days of the revolution in the form of petitions to the state go vernment listing the reforms they either expected or demanded. Other outbursts of petition-writing stemmed from crises such as the protest against the end of the Danish war in September 1848 through the armistice of Malmö. The most important crises occurred in 1849 over the question of acceptance or rejection of the basic rights and, a bit later, the constitution written and agreed upon by the Frankfurt parliament.

Communities, organizations and individuals also submitted petitions on particular issues such as the question of free trade. Business groups throughout Germany, especially chambers of commerce, organized and submitted petitions to the Frankfurt parliament. Most favored free trade as a form of progress in the economic area. In Bavaria hundreds of communities submitted a mass of petitions in mid-winter 1849-50, almost all of which opposed a bill for Jewish emancipation that had just passed the lower house of parliament. In Prussia in 1849 and 1850 communities sent hundr eds of petitions to the parliament asking for the dissolution of citizen militias. The Frankfurt parliament apparently received more than 20,000 petitions in 1848 and 1849 on a wide range of issues.

In terms of power and influence the petitions varied greatly. Early in the revolution they were often the product of enthusiastic and large popular assemblies which then delivered them to the government supported by crowds of people serving notice of the popular power behind the written word. By late 1848 and throughout 1849 the unity of the crowds dissipated and political groupings and parties emerged. In cities the individual elements, here democratic, there liberal, including even the conservative, met separately in their own assemblies, drew up their own lists of requests and submitted them as them as the program of a political rather than a communal group. While this was a vital part of the growth of political parties, it meant fragmentation of opinion and less power. In the countrysi de the communities retained their homogeneity much longer, giving rural areas more influence in the latter stage of the revolution.
James F. Harris


Best, Heinrich Interessenpolitik und nationale Integration 1848/49. Handelspolitische Konflikte im frühindustriellen Deutschland Göttingen, 1980.

Kumpf, Johann Heinrich Petitionsrecht und öffentliche Meinung im Entstehungsprozess der Paulskirchenverfassung 1848/49 Frankfurt a.M., Bern, N.Y..

Reinalter, Helmut, ed. Demokratische und soziale Protestbewegungen in Mitteleuropa 1815-1848/49 Frankfurt a.M., 1986.

Volkmann, Heinrich and Jürgen Bergmann, eds., Socialer Protest: Studien zu traditioneller Resistenz und kollektiver Gewalt in Deutschland vom Vormärz bis zur Reichsgründung Opladen, 1984.

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file ( on October 27, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1999, 2004 James Chastain.