The Democratic Movement in Germany, 1789-1914

By John L. Snell; Hans A. Schmitt | Go to book overview

V.
THE FRUSTRATION OF DEMOCRATIC UNITY, 1848-1849

As much as the democrats of Germany desired political equality in their separate states, a democratic government for a unified German nation was an even more compelling goal in 1848. Many liberals agreed that national unity was all-important. A full year was to pass after May 1848, however, before the final showdown occurred between the forces of democratic and liberal unification and their conservative and particularist foes. But in several skirmishes along the way within individual states, the inability of liberal and democratic nationalists to stand together became increasingly apparent, foreshadowing their ultimate failure to realize their far-reaching national ambitions. 1

In the summer of 1848 the National Assembly acted as if German unity were an accomplished fact. While beginning work on a constitution, the assembly functioned as a provisional all-German parliament. On June 29 it created a provisional executive for national affairs in the form of a regency. Bidding for Austrian participation in German unity, the assembly elected Archduke Johann, uncle of the Habsburg emperor, as regent of the Reich (Reichsverweser). Johann had won considerable popularity among rank and file Germans by opposing Napoleon, by marrying a commoner in 1827, and by supporting German unity in 1848. To aid the sixty-six-year-old chief executive, the assembly set up a provisional Ministry of State. Somewhat hesitantly; the old Diet of the German Confederation turned over its affairs to the Habsburg Reichsverweser.

If the new regime was to act as a genuine national government for a united Germany, it could not be content with the functions the Diet had performed. If, on the other hand, it tried to exert greater central power than the Diet, it was almost certain to

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