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German Democrats

The German democratic movement (democrats) The democrats of before the March 1848 Revolution (Vormärz) fundamentally supporte d popular sovereignty and equality and took as a starting point--especially in the League of Proscribed--that political rights for the people must simultaneous include introduction of an essential social-economic reorganization. This revolutionary thinking particularly emphasized the link between social liberation and political freedom. Georg Büchner believed that a revolutionary change of society could only be successful when the masses were politically enlightened and prepared. In his opinion the revolutionary movement initially had to sustain widespread propaganda and agitation to prepare the people for the democratic revolution. Harro Harring however proposed resolving the social problem of Vormärz in a violent overthrow of the privileged estates and ending conflicts of interests among the classes. The salient democratic solidarity of the people could only be achieved on the basis of social equality of the entire population in the spirit of humanity.

In the Vossische Zeitung of July 14, 1848, the revolution was defined as "an overthrow of the state against the will of the ruling power." The political left's program in 1848 developed the principles of a democratic-republican oriented model with a social-reform nuance, that stood in opposition to the existing social and political conditions. The still established state's powers should be rendered impotent by a revolutionary assembly (St. Paul's Church) and in this manner the revolution intensified. The evolution of revolutionary thought did not have the same meaning for the 1848-49 revolution as the French Revolution of 1789, yet the experiences of the mid-19th century contributed to a deepening and expressing of a scholarly revolutionary conceptualization, as, for example, the recognition that a revolution is no chance occurrence, rather its appearance occurs through the execution of social and political progress.

The Democratic Center's theory developed in the late 1830s among radical intellectuals, that is the Left or Young Hegelians of the journals Hallesche Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und Kunst (1838-41) and Deutsche Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und Kunst (1841-43), edited by Arnold Ruge and Theodor Echtermeyer. Ruge in 1843 therein formulated his classical "Self criticism of liberalism" as a profession of radical democracy. His own criticism of his own times accepted democracy as a necessary moment in the historical dialectic which ultimately would be put in motion by the revolution.

Also the young political poets should be counted among the democrats of Vormärz: Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Ferdinand Freiligrath and Georg Herwegh championed the democratic national state in their lyrics, justified party struggle and the revolution, and pilloried social imperfections. Outside of the territory of the German Confederation the political emigration formed centers of democratic political agitation in Young Germany in Switzerland and the League of the Proscribed in Paris. In Zurich Julius Fröbel's publishing house (Literarisches Comptoir) was available to the democratic opposition, and he himself published his System der sozialen Politik (1846/47), an important basic text of democracy in the Vormärz.

The more populist radical democrats reached a greater resonance in the districts of emerging industrialization, that is where economic and social change during the period, under the growing pressure of population, particularly threatened the existence of the middle class and petty bourgeoisie.

During the 1830 in southwestern Germany, especially in Baden, democratic organs of the press took up the struggle against censorship: J.G.A. Wirths' Deutsche Volkshalle (1839-41), Josef Fickler's Seeblätter (1838-49), the Mannheimer Abendzeitung, as well as the Mannheimer Journal. The influence of the lawyers, Friedrich Hecker and Gustav von Struve, reached far beyond Baden's borders. They also served as legislative representatives and after 1847 led the democratic faction against the liberal majority. The activity of the Badenser men of the people ultimately provoked the very influential first democratic party program, adopted in a radical popular assembly in Offenburg as "13 Demands of the People" on September 12, 1847. Here they set down precisely the democratic and social reforms of the state, without thereby expressly listing a republic as an objective. A direct line leads from here to Struve's formulation of the constitutional program of the democratic left in the Preparliament of the 1848-49 revolution.

The difference between liberalism and democratic radicalism arose above all over the question of sovereignty. Whereas liberalism recognized the sovereignty of the state, democracy consequently upheld popular sovereignty. All state prerogative, not only the legislative power, in their opinion ultimately originated in the people in substance as well as in execution. The democrats claimed not only legislative dominion, but also the executive and judicial authority as the immediate realm of popular control.

The democrats broke the chains of constitutional theory. Arising from the idea of popular sovereignty, a new constitutional construct developed, parliamentary democracy. By introducing universal suffrage and linking the government to parliament they opened the way to political responsibility and democratizing the institutions of the constitutional state,

The material, political and constitutional element of parliamentary government was the parties. The 1848-49 revolution until the calling of the national assembly was above all a struggle between constitutionalists and democrats over the place and the function of a German parliament. Early in the 1848 revolution the democrats placed their particular stamp on the makeup of political groupings.

Helmut Reinalter translated by James Chastain


O. Büsch and W. Grab (eds). Die Demokratische Bewegung in Mitteleuropa im ausgehenden 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert. Berlin 1980.

W. Boldt. Die Anfänge des deutschen Parteiwesens. Fraktionen: politische Vereine und Parteien in der Revolution von 1848 Paderborn 1971.

N. Deuchert. Vom Hambacher Fest zur badischen Revolution. Politische Presse und Anfänge deutscher Demokratie 1832-1848/49. Stuttgart 1983.

G. Mayer. "Die Anfänge des politischen Radikalismus im vormärzlichen Preussen" in Radikalismus, Sozialismus und bürgerliche Demokratie H.-U. Wehler (ed.) Frankfurt 1969.

H. Reinalter (ed). Demokratische und soziale Protestbewegungen in Mitteleuropa 1815-1848/49. Frankfurt/M. 1986.

H. Rosenberg. Politische Denkströmungen im deutschen Vormärz. Göttingen, 1972.

S. Schmidt. Robert Blum: Vom Leipziger Liberalen zum Märtyrer der deutschen Demokratie. Weimar 1971.

P. Wende. Radikalismus im Vormärz: Untersuchungen zur politischen Theorie der frühen deutschen Demokratie. Wiesbaden 1975.

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