Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page


Wurtemberg 1848-49: In the 1840s Wurtemberg was still a predominantly agrarian state with many small and medium-sized towns, above all in its core area, and without legal and only minor social distinctions between town and country. Repeated division of inheritances made the small family farm the typical form of agriculture; the land was too thickly populated in relation to its productivity. Its membership in the German Customs Union and thereby consequent involvement in the more developed world economy threatened with the competition of foreign industry (small) artisans, producing for the local market. Thus everything was only superficially in order as the realm celebrated the 25th anniversary of the coronation of King Wilhelm I (1816-64) and the Constitution of 1819 in 1841 and 1844. The state debt of the Napoleonic period no longer burdened the country, the opposition in the legislature (Landtag) was weak, the new territories annexed forcefully to the new kingdom between 1803 and 1810 appeared integrated with the old domain. However, the general consciousness of a crisis and the discussion of "pauperism" also engulfed Wurtemberg and reached a crisis in the hunger riots of 1847. In church life the tensions between rationalism and pietism deepened among Protestants, and between the ultramontanism and rationalism among Catholics. The beginning of rail road construction by the state in 1845 changed the relationship between the government and parliament and between voters and deputies; the opposition increasingly looked across the state's borders and demanded that the country's problems be seen the wider context of all German y. To this extent, the 1840s anticipated the revolutionary events of 1848. In particular it was the experiences of 1847 which influenced 1848: the limited cooperation between government and opposition to combat anarchical undercurrents in the lower orders, the opposition hoping to exploit this violence for their own less radical objectives; they thought they could divert through political reforms the "specter of Communism," which they also clearly recognized. They framed attainable modernizing impetus for Wurtemberg in new and better laws, reorganization of administration, reform of the constitution and not the least in creation of German unity.

Something must be done, but without allowing anything to go wrong--this conclusion from the events of 1847 all the more applied to March 1848. In late February the news of events in France mobilized all of Wurtemberg within a few days. To be sure, the authors of various petitions to the king, government and parliament avoided anything that might allow the movement to escape their control; their demands therefore were more moderate than many calls already made in January or February occasioned by the upcoming opening of the legislative session. Possibly the king therefore underestimated the strength of the movement. His attempt to master the crisis by appointing not liberals but conservatives to the new government was immediately thwarted by the negative reaction of the public and the refusal of some of the upper minister ial administrators to cooperate with their new minister. Thus the King of Wurtemberg had to appoint oppositional leaders to a "March ministry", whose actual chief was Friedrich Römer. The new ministry resolutely set out on a double mission to carry out reforms and simultaneously to resist "anarchy." It called in the military against peasants who in some areas had swept away remnants of the feudal system with their own means, and it promised to enact the most important liberal and democratic reforms, above all by creating German unity assisting in calling together a German national constituent assembly. Römer was actively engaged in this from the beginning: he belonged to the small group who first proposed and prepared its organization; in addition he supported the diplomatic initiatives of a leader of the Hessian opposition, Heinrich von Gagern (he also was now chief of a "March ministry") directed at the King of Prussia to take over the command of the future united German executive. Both initiatives ended differently than expected: the Viennese revolution in mid-March 1848 returned Austria to Germany; the Berlin revolution of March 18 made King Frederick William IV of Prussia "impossible" for the envisioned role. The original plan to create German unity based on a reform of the German Confederation of 1815 by creation of a "German Parliament" and a true executive foundered even before the opening of the German national assembly on May 18, 1848. The national assembly should and would create "the Empire" from the ground up. Römer and his ministry, as well as a majority of Wurtembergers for a long time, cooperated with enthusiasm in this effort until the bitter end on June 18, 1849 in the Wurtemberg's capital of Stuttgart when Römer ordered Wurtemberg's soldiers to use force to prevent further meetings of the "rump parliament" which had fled from Frankfurt to Stuttgart--opposing Römer was his father in law Schott and his friend Ludwig Uhland. But for the moment in April 1848, twenty-eight delegates from Wurtemberg were elected according to a new electoral edict  which most closely of all contemporary laws approximated the democratic ideal. Since real parties had not yet developed in the short time, individuals more than programs were chosen; a monarchical form of government was out of the question in Wurtemberg; a republican organization of new Germany (one could think of some federal republic of monarchical states) remained an open question . Religious differences (pietists or ultramontanes as opposed to rationalists) often were more important that political. However, a strong interest in politics developed quickly; already in June 1848 one could see that the majority of politically active men (women had no suffrage yet) stood further left than the deputies elected at the end of April, who in turn more often took their seats on the left than the right in the St. Paul's Church. The Wurtembergers placed their hopes above all on the national assembly's proposed "Bill of Rights of the German People," which included a thoroughgoing program of modernization of political and social conditions. Independent of this, was the pursuit of demands for industrialization by foundation of a "Center of Industry and Trade" (which in the following seventy years generated a multitude of extremely successful measures to place Wurtemberg's industry on the world market).

Meanwhile, political leagues polarized the country. The handful of " fatherland leagues" supported constitutional monarchy and conservative reform; the multiplicity of "Popular Unions" were for more thoroughgoing reforms and for a democratization of the constitution. The leaders in their monthly newly elected central committee (Landesausschuss) were increasingly critical of the "March Ministry."

As a result of the controversy in the national assembly over the continuation or end of the war with Denmark over Schleswig- Holstein, violence erupted in September 1848 in Frankfurt, in Baden, and in other parts of Germany, including Wurtemberg--but an attempted "march on Stuttgart" failed. The ringleaders were arrested far from their objective, held long in prison, and finally "pardoned" to emigrate to America. The name of the soon deceased "forty eighter" remained forgotten and never eulogized to a myth like Hecker, Struve or Carl Schurz.

At the apogee of the September crisis the legislature (Landtag) elected in May finally convened and began to consider a major program of laws. As 1848 ended--even before the imperial constitution was enacted--in Wurtemberg the "Bill of Rights of the German People" was to be the basis of an extensive constitutional reform. The Chamber of Peers in the parliament should be dissolved and the remaining Lower House should be made up only of democratically elected deputies. These constitutional changes were to be enacted by a democratically elected "Constitutional Convention"; but before this conventions could convene, the efforts in Wurtemberg to promulgate the Imperial Constitution approved in Frankfurt on March 28, 1849 plunged Swabia once more into a severe constitutional struggle. On one side stood King Wilhelm with a few followers, on the other side the March Ministry, almost the entire parliament, and the overwhelming majority of the politically active masses who articulated an opinion. And this despite the fact that with the imperial constitution the Frankfurt assembly also  elected King Frederick William IV as hereditary German emperor, which only a few members of the protestant educated middle class (Bildungsbügertum) welcomed, whereas the mass of the protestant petty bourgeoisie and nearly all catholics disapproved, even the conservatives among them. The Wurtembergers did not battle for a emperor, rather for the bill of rights and the constitution's intimately associated democratic electoral law. King Wilhelm finally had to give in to the unite d resistance of his people, his parliament and his government when the military also refused to supported a planned coup d'etat. Wilhelm was the only German king conceding to support the Frankfurt imperial constitution, which hitherto only the minor states had ratified.

This certainly did not mean that Wurtemberg now also took the further step of the "imperial constitutional fighters", who would resort to violence if necessary to fight a second revolution to force adoption of the constitution. Unlike Saxony, the Bavarian Palatinate, or Baden, the government in Stuttgart did not need to give in and could protect its land from a more or less great catastrophe: here there was no further revolution which the Prussian troops suppressed. Römer's policy apparently was supported by the overwhelming majority of the population, even if, and perhaps all the more, when the right and the right-liberals favoring a "hereditary emperor" left the Frankfurt parliament under the threat of Prussia and the "Rump parliament" of the national assembly went to Stuttgart, in order from there to win influence there for an "imperial constitutional campaign." The five "imperial regents" chosen from the national assembly (whose member Römer still was, was not recognized) and their orders denied a following by the government and a majority of the Wurtemberg legislature; the consciously staged last test of strength--"the dissolution of the rump parliament" on June 18, 1849--ended with a momentary victory (and a moral defeat) for Römer and his government.

Even now in Wurtemberg no insurrection broke out--the "legal revolution" persisted. To be sure, the land was divided, the left had now become the mortal enemy of their old leader, Römer. Both sides still agreed though on the endeavor to continue along the beatened path of basic rights and imperial electoral law toward major constitutional reform in Wurtemberg. But the election of the "constituent state assembly" was a mortal blow for Römer, who a few weeks later resigned and was replaced by his "pre-revolutionary" predecessor. However the new ministry got on even less than Römer with the legislature, who were twice re-elected after dissolutions of the body and with ever increasingly leftist majorities. Finally the person took over the ministry whom the king had wanted already in March 1848; he returned to the constitution of 1819 and to the illiberal practices of the prerevolutionary era and held off ice for fourteen years. However, the modernization of Wurtemberg continued, and the reactionary government had no alternative than to promote it. So, in the long run, the "legal revolution" of 1848-49 was not futile in Wurtemberg.
Bernhard Mann translated by James G. Chastain


"Das Königreich Württemberg bis zum März 1848" in Die Gegenwart: Eine encyclopädische Darstellung der neuesten Zeitgeschichte für alle Stände (Leipzig, 1850) IV, 30 5-39.

"Das Märzministerium in Württemberg" Ibid. VI (1851) 87-165. (the anonymous author was a very well informed left liberal opponent of Römer)

Dieter Langewiesche Liberalismus und Demokratie in Württemberg zwischen Revolution und Reichsgründung (Düsseldorf, 1975)

Bernhard Mann Die Württemberger und die deutsche Nationalversammlung 1848/49 (Düsseldorf, 1975).

Bernhard Mann "Württemberg 1800-1866" in Hansmartin Schwarzmaier (ed.) Handbuch der baden- württembergischen Geschichte (Stuttgart, 1992) IV.

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file ( on October 22, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1998, 2004 James Chastain.