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Frankfurt Parliament Election

Frankfurt Parliament Election to the German constituent assembly at Frankfurt am Main took place throughout Germany in l ate April and early May 1848. State governments used guidelines proposed by the Preparliament and formally in the diet on March 30 and April 7 which called for general adult male suffrage, with the qualification that the voters must be "independent," a vague term that aroused much controversy; and the election might be either direct or indirect. Thus the franchise arrangements could vary from state to state. Only Wurtemberg, Hesse-Kassel, Schleswig, Holstein, and three city-states held direct ele ctions; elsewhere, voters chose electors, who selected the deputies in conventions, with the exception of the three tiny Anhalt principalities where legislatures named the deputies. Voter "independence" was variously defined: some barred only those individuals on public relief, other states, like Austria and Bavaria, also excluded servants, wage-earners and journeymen. Baden simply left the matter to the local authorities, who acted as they saw fit. Perhaps as many as twenty percent of the adult males were denied suffrage, mostly from the humbler classes. Although the franchise was not radically democratic, generally a broad section of the population polled. Local considerations strongly influenced the short election campaign. There were as yet no national or even regional political parties. Local groups did the nominating and campaigning, and well-known local personalities had an advantage especially in the contests for elector at the primary stage: mayors, officials, clergymen and local businessmen predominated. In the elections for deputy there was a propensity to choose more prominent men with wider reputations. Leaders of the former liberal opposition or even notorious victims of political prosecution were favored in democratic districts; in conservative areas preferred men identified with the government, such as former ministers or upper-level bureaucrats; still other regions endorsed famous scholars. The eventual winners thus included a large share of "notables," though ninety five percent of the deputies were elected in their home states, ninety percent even in their provinces. The candidates usually had to take a stand on issues. The most general issue concerned the form of the proposed German state. Should it be fundamentally democratic, based on the idea of popular sovereignty, perhaps even a republic? Or would it reflect the widespread German liberal ideal of shared sovereignty, of a strong monarch balanced by an elected legislature. But in man y places this main dispute between democrats and moderate liberals was overshadowed by other concerns. The Austrian deputies were acutely conscious of national identity and the potential for conflict between the idea of a German nation-state and the continued existence of their multi-national Empire. Non-German Austrians were especially apprehensive: Forty-eight of the Austria's seats were unfilled because the Slavic populations of Bohemia, Moravia and the Slovenian districts refused to particip ate. There were protests in Italian-speaking areas as well. Another concern was religion. The Catholic clergy played a prominent role in many of the elections in Bavaria and in Prussia's western provinces. Political Pietism had a conservative impact in parts of Westphalia and Wurtemberg, while dissident factions from both major confessions were a democratic force in parts of Saxony and Silesia. The actual campaign varied with the terrain. Some cities, like Berlin and Munich, were intense, i nvolving public rallies and even door-to-door canvassing. The far more numerous rural areas were usually quieter. There was violence only in the southern districts of Baden, where Friedrich Hecker launched a raid in mid-April in a vain attempt to rekindle the revolutionary atmosphere. Voter participation was uneven, ranging from less than forty percent in Schleswig to over seventy five percent in Wurtemberg. The elections selected a majority of moderate liberals and a strong minority of dem ocrats. Geographically, the left did well in Saxony, in the southwest region, and in parts of Bohemia, Moravia, and the Prussian provinces of Silesia and Saxony. The right found its greatest strength in the Prussian eastern provinces and in old Bavaria.
Donald Mattheisen


Botzenhart, Manfred. Deutscher Parlamentarismus in der Revolutionszeit 1848-1850. Düsseldorf: Droste, 1977.

Eyck, Frank. The Frankfurt Parliament 1848 -1849. New York: St. Martin's, 1968.

Hamerow, Theodore. "The Elections to the Frankfurt Parliament," Journal of Modern History . 33 (March 1961): 15-32.

Huber, Ernst Rudolf. Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte seit 1789. II. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1960.

Repgen, Konrad. Märzbewegung und Maiwahlen des Revolutionsjahres 1848 im Rheinland. Bonn: Roehrscheid, 1955.

Schilfert, Gerhard. Seig und Niederlage des demokrat ischen Wahlrechts in der deutschen Revolution 1848-49. Berlin: Rütten und Loening, 1952.

Schulte, Wilhelm. Volk und Staat: Westfalen in Vormärz und in der Revolution 1848/49. Münster: Regensberg, 1954.

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