Table of Contributors    Table of Contents    ;Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Prussia, Coup d'Etat

Prussia, Coup d'état After the defeat of the Viennese October uprising, the camarilla and the kingof Prussia initiated a coup d'état which incited a "second revolution" and of a massive turn to the leftby the Prussian constituent assembly. The objective of the assembly's left was a constitution which would haveendangered the crown's power as well as the nobles' privileges and the claim to political leadership, which would have converted Prussia virtually into a bourgeois constitutional monarchy.

On November 2, 1848, the Prussian assembly was notified that the compromise-willing incumbent Premier Pfuel had resigned and that his place was taken by General Graf Brandenburg who was known as a militant counter-revolutionary. Meanwhile, until Brandenburg formed his government, the assembly was not allowed to be convened. The members of the assembly's answer amounted to nothing more than a protest resolution because the moderate liberals remained willing to negotiate and the extreme left had no majority for its motion to transform the assembly into a permanently meeting body. On November 9, Brandenburg read a royal message to the deputies, stating that the assembly was adjourned and transferred to Brandenburg on the pretext that public unrest prevented quiet consultation, which could no longer be guaranteed. The assembly staged a protest, continued its meeting, but there was no call for extraparliamentary resistance. On the other hand, the military commander General von Wrangel, who marched his troops into Berlin on November 10, was anxious not to provoke any clashes when he imposed a stage of siege and ordered relocation of the parliamentary sessions. Spontaneous resistance arose in the Prussian provinces rather than in the capital in support of assembly. When on November 15, at its last session, the assembly decided to refuse to pay taxes, i.e. to call for a tax strike, the movement became still more powerful. But, in the majority of cases, these were individual actions that were mainly borne and supported by democratic organizations and workers' unions. In some districts, the soldiers of the territorial reserve, the so-called "Landwehr," resisted conscription, for example, in the towns of the province of Saxony. In Erfurt this resistance developed into street fighting. With a view to supporting the tax refusal decision, meetings were held and appeals were made by democratic unions in Breslau, Halle, the Rhineland and the Niederlausitz. On November 18 and 19, in Münster the delegates of 70 unions and meetings from 40 towns and municipalities of western Germany had come out in support of tax refusal. But usually the initiatives of the democrats did not go beyond passive resistance.

The government did not respond to such acts exclusively with the imposition of a state of emergency, with bans, arrests and with the deployment of the military at those places where clashes occurred. When the reconvened parliament in Brandenburg had proved to be incapable of making decisions it was dissolved on December 5 with the king's imposition of a constitution. Although this constitution secured the monarchic prerogatives, it also included civil-rights principles and basic rights, such ministerial responsibility, general franchise, abolition of class privileges, personal freedom as well as the freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association. By passing an emergency decree the government, however, was able to temporarily cancel the rights and freedoms, and a reservation on revision was to facilitate later constitutional changes. With this constitution the great majority of the bourgeoisie liberals had been won over to the course of the government. Many democrats showed irritations. Thus the coup d'état proved to be the decisive preliminary decision on the defeat of the revolution.

Konrad Canis


Paschen, Joachim. Demokratische Vereine und preußischer Staat. Entwicklung und Unterdrückung der demokratiscen Bewegung während der Revolution von 1848/49. Munich/Vienna 1977.

Grünthal, Günther. Parlamentarismus in Preußen 1848/49-1857/58. Düsseldorf 1982.

Table of Contributors    Table of Contents    Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

jgc revised this file ( on October 25, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1998, 2004 James Chastain.