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Prussian Assembly

Prussian Assembly The Prussian constituent assembly was created by a government traumatized by the bloody Berlin uprising of March 18 and was anxious to restore confidence in the monarchy. King Frederick William IV and his new liberal ministers hoped that the "assembly to agree with the crown on a constitution" would quickly approve the government's draft constitution, but, to their dismay, the assembly proved to be independent-minded. It rejected their constitution and drew up on its own, and it also assumed the role of a provisional parliament, initiating legislation, conducting investigations, and interrogating ministers. It was finally dismissed after 6 stormy months (May 22 to December 5, 1848).

The assembly was elected at almost the same time as the Prussian deputies to the Frankfurt parliament (May 1 and May 8) on a very similar and quite democratic franchise. The results, too, were similar, both sociologically and politically. Most of the 402 deputies sent to Berlin were civil servants (31%) or professional men (30%), though there was also a large contingent from the humbler classes: peasants (11%) and artisans and workers (5%). They sorted themselves into several party groups that were comparable to those at Frankfurt. The right, like Frankfurt's Casino, combined a few conservatives with a large number of old-fashioned liberals (Hansemann, Camphausen). It was steadfastly pro-ministerial, as was another small group called the Harkort center (after Fritz Harkort) that split from it. The right center (also called Hirsch-Duncker of Unruh center) and the left center (or Rodbertus center) included various shades of moderates, while the left was a combination of democratic liberals (Waldeck) and a few authentic revolutionaries (D'Ester). Complete member lists for these parties have not survived, but their proportionate strength has been established from their highly consistent one-dimensional voting patterns: Right (with Harkort Center) 37%; Right Center 19%; Left Center 20%; Left 24%

The assembly has an undeserved reputation for radicalism. In fact, the king signed most of its bills, which were unexceptionable, into law, and its draft constitution (the "Charte Waldeck") was the basis for the one he imposed on his own authority on December 5. The sensational showdown came about because the assembly, sensitive to signs of a impending counter-revolution, tried to forestall it. The crucial event took place in the Silesian town of Schweidnitz, when army troops recklessly fired on the civic guard, killing fourteen and no action was taken against the offending troops. That suggested official approval. The assembly thereupon resolved that army officers "abstain from reactionary agitation" or resign (Stein's motion). It was chiefly this insubordinate behavior that led the king to close down the assembly, first proroguing it (November 9) and trying to reconvene it in the provincial city of Brandenburg (November 27), then dissolving it and publishing his own constitution (December 5). There was little public enthusiasm for the assembly's outraged appeal for a "taxpayers' strike' in protest. This first chapter of parliamentary politics in Prussia ended inauspiciously.
Donald Mattheisen


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

Botzenhart, Manfred. "Das preussische Parlament und die deutsche Nationalversammlung im Jahre 1848," in Gerhard Ritter, ed. Regierung, Bürokratie und Parlament in Preussen und Deutschland von 1848 bis zur Gegenwart. (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1983), 14-40.

Mattheisen, Donald. "Voters and Parliaments in the German Revolution of 1848: An Analysis of the Prussian Constituent Assembly." Central European History V (March 1972): 3-22.

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