What is a major event from the 1840s

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  • Barricade fight in Berlin, 1848

Starting in France, a wave of revolution broke through Europe in 1848 and covered most of the European continent. Unrest and fighting shook the political and social order in France, the German and Italian states, the entire Austrian multi-ethnic state and the border zones of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. Reform movements intensified in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Scandinavia. The central concern of the politically active population in most of the core areas of the revolution was the creation of nation states. In addition, there was the democratization of the political systems of rule and the reorganization of the social constitutions. The national, liberal and social endeavors failed with the violent suppression of the revolution in 1849. The victory of the restorative powers ushered in reactionary years in many places, in which modern ideas only slowly broke through.

Foreign policy failures, the economic crisis and social unrest intensified the opposition to King Louis Philippe I (1773-1850) in France in the 1840s. Demonstrations expanded into a revolution, as a result of which the king abdicated and the republic was proclaimed on February 24, 1848. In the German Confederation, the spark of the revolution first spread to the southwest. On February 27, at a people's assembly in Mannheim, the “March demands” were raised by the liberal and democratic side, which could be heard in almost all German states within a few days and received support from large parts of the population: freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, general armament of the people, independent judiciary, political equality of all citizens, constitutional oath of the army and last but not least the convening of a national assembly.

In most regions of Germany, at the end of February and in March 1848, there were political rallies, often by heterogeneous ethnic groups who pursued very different interests. Under the pressure of events, the heads of state made concessions in the liberal sense and made constitutional promises. The establishment of reform-minded ministries in the individual German states was intended to curb revolutionary efforts. But above all the liberal bourgeoisie also fought for national unity and a liberal overall constitution. In contrast, artisans, farmers, laborers and agricultural workers demanded a solution to their social and economic problems in a large number of locally different protest actions. The peasant classes fought in particular for agrarian reforms - if their demands were met, their interest in further revolutionary protest mostly died out.

Proletarian craftsmen in big cities fought for a secure livelihood through commercial protection. Frustrated and radicalized by their social situation, master craftsmen and journeymen played a leading role in the bloody barricade fighting that shook Berlin on March 18, 1848 and claimed more than 250 lives. Seized by the bloodshed, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV responded to demands and appointed a liberal “March Ministry”. His proclamation "To my people and to the German nation" with the words "Prussia will henceforth be absorbed in Germany" seemed to promise the realization of German unity and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy in Prussia. In order to form a united state, the first freely elected German parliament met in Frankfurt's Paulskirche on May 18, 1848.

The National Assembly comprised around 600 members from all states of the German Confederation. In the absence of parties that only began to organize in Germany in the 1860s, parliamentary groups with different political ideas and goals were formed. The catalog of fundamental rights passed by the Paulskirche parliament in December 1848, which was to form the political foundation of the new nation-state: equality before the law, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly and freedom of belief, inviolability of person and property as well as protection from the state, met with cross-party approval Arbitrariness should be guaranteed. Basic rights guaranteeing individual and civil liberty became part of the "Constitution of the German Empire" passed by the National Assembly on March 27, 1849. It envisaged a small German nation-state with a constitutional system. The advocates of the “Greater German” direction had previously called for the integration of German Austria into the empire that was to be founded, but the non-German states of the Habsburg monarchy were to be excluded. The Austrian multi-ethnic state insisted on its constitutional unity. This is one of the reasons why the supporters of a “small German solution” decided the conflict for themselves.

A hereditary emperor should be at the head of the state. On March 28, 1849, the MPs elected Friedrich Wilhelm IV as "Emperor of the Germans" with a narrow majority. The King of Prussia rejected the imperial crown, however, because the dignity offered to him adhered to his words, according to the "filthy smell of the revolution". At the same time Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Hanover, Saxony and other states did not recognize the “revolutionary” imperial constitution. The attempt to found a constitutionally constituted nation state by parliamentary means had thus failed. Radical democratic forces then tried to enforce the imperial constitution by force. Rebellions flared up in Saxony, the Palatinate and Baden in particular. But the monarchical governments, which had meanwhile been firmly installed again, quickly succeeded in militarily suppressing the “Reich constitution campaign”. When the Baden revolutionaries had to surrender to Prussian troops in the Rastatt fortress on July 23, 1849, the end of the revolution in Germany was sealed.