The German Empire, 1867-1914, and the Unity Movement - Vol. 1

By William Harbutt Dawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
(1848-1851) THE FRANKFORT NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

W HILE the King of Prussia had been making one new Germany in Berlin, another was being made at Frankfort. As at the beginning of the century and again in 1830, so now the cause of national unity was intimately bound up with the endeavour of the constitutional party to place the government of the country upon a broader basis. It is an altogether inadequate view that the only motive behind the democratic movements which turned Germany upside-down in 1848 was to increase the power of the people at the expense of the prerogatives of the Sovereigns and their Governments. A genuine and strong desire for closer union existed at that time, and if it was allied with demands for constitutional reform, and on the part of the extreme democrats for a radical change in the form of government itself, these demands derived much of their force and justification from the fact that it was the Sovereigns who, for their own purposes, were keeping Germany disunited.

To the ardent reformers of those days, Liberalism and national unity were merely two aspects of the same question. Without a representative parliament emanating from the free choice of free peoples, and frankly expressing the principle of popular sovereignty, unity had for them neither attraction nor meaning. Herein lay a fundamental difference of principle which hopelessly divided the Sovereigns from the great body of the nation. Many of them were still openly hostile to all constitutional innovations, and chafed sorely under the new restrictions upon their power; such rulers were in no mind to see themselves bound by the fresh restraints which might be expected from the creation of a central parliament.

From the belief, common to the popular parties, that unity could be brought about only by the resolute will of the nation itself, proceeded a movement which, though unsuccessful at the time, exerted a powerful influence upon the later course of political events and determined some of the main lines upon

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