Germany History

Germany History: From The Napoleonic Period to 1848


In the Napoleonic period, not only was a large part of Germany directly or indirectly reduced under French domination, but the whole political and social order of Germany underwent a radical change. The ecclesiastical principalities were secularized, the imperial cities “mediatized” (ie reduced under the sovereignty of a prince), a group of states in the center linked up with the Rhine Confederation under the protectorate of Napoleon (1806). Bavaria and W├╝rttemberg had instead become kingdoms with territorial increases at the expense of Austria. Francis II, emperor of Austria from 1804, deposed the dignity of German emperor in 1806 and detached his territories from the Reich. Prussia, humiliated by defeat, in the Peace of Tilsit (1807) was reduced to a buffer state towards Russia, beyond the Elbe.

According to usprivateschoolsfinder, the French juridical and administrative systems imposed on the German states and primarily the juridical equality of citizens, which facilitated the annexation of their new territories to the states. The gradual introduction of the Napoleonic civil code into the states led them to overcome the many differences in law and administration. The liberation of the peasants, decided autonomously in Prussia in 1807, albeit restricted to a mutilated territory, marked a stage in the history of contemporary Germany. Despite the beneficial effects, however, in Germany, starting with Prussia, it was felt that the Napoleonic legal-political system was an instrument of Fichte, Herder, Arndt, Goethe). In the political uprising against Napoleon there was a meeting of directives from above (of the cabinets) with a popular movement, of which Prussia assumed the leadership. In the uprising, especially in the South and West, multiple forces and directives converged: the desire for liberation from the foreigner was combined with the aspiration for political and social freedom within. In this struggle against Napoleon, therefore, an alliance, albeit temporary, was emerging between dynastic traditions and progressive currents. Defeated Napoleon, both the return to the particularism of 1789 and the foundation of a unitary national state became impossible. In the same war of liberation the dualism between Austria and Metternich had persisted he had held the direction of the diplomatic initiative (among other things guaranteeing the conquered possessions to the principles of the Rhenish League), and Prussia, which had inspired the strategy on the military level.

The anti-Napoleonic reaction was also expressed in romanticism with a double face, one reactionary and one liberal. Even the conservative forces were strengthened by ideologies that found expression in the Treaty of the Holy Alliance: the same philosophy of Hegel offered justifications for the conservative directives of the Prussian state. In place of the old Reich, the Congress of Vienna (1815) recognized a Germanic Confederation with 35 princes and 4 free cities, under the presidency of Austria. The supreme confederal body was, in addition to the plenary assembly (Diet), based in Frankfurt am Main, the Permanent Congress of 17 delegates; the army was made up of contingents from individual states. The territorial scope of the Confederation was that of the historical Kingdom of Germany, which left out considerable territories both of the Hohenzollerns and of the house of Austria. On the confederal level, the liberal and national-unitary demands of the bourgeoisie had thus been eluded; however some principles, under the influence of cultural personalities and for certain innovative ambitions, had granted constitutions of the English type (Saxony-Weimar, Bavaria, Baden, W├╝rttemberg), also preserving many institutions introduced by the French, among other things the secularization of ecclesiastical assets.

The awakened liberal national forces did not even accept the Prussian return to an enlightened despotism; developed in secret societies (leStudent Burschenschaften, Young Germany, pro-Hellenic and pro-Polish movements), provoking from the Karlsbad Conference, inspiring Metternich, the institution of a confederal censorship on books and newspapers, the prohibition of gymnastic societies, the creation of a central investigative office in Mainz (1819). These anxieties were rekindled by the suggestions of the European revolutions of 1830, obtaining, in some states, more liberal constitutions on the Belgian model: thus between 1830 and 1848 the future parties were formed in Germany. The liberals split into two currents, one moderate which looked to England, the other more radical, “democratic”, influenced by French ideas and examples. In 1848 a Catholic party also appeared organized. The February Revolution in Paris rekindled the souls of national liberals and democrats with a view to both generalized liberal institutions and a common national government. Already at the end of March 1848 approx. 600 notables, mostly from the southern states, met in Frankfurt in a “preliminary parliament” of all Germany. In the meantime, the ruler of Prussia, impressed by the clashes between police and demonstrators, had granted the civic guard and called a Prussian “national” assembly. On May 18, 1848, a German national parliament with an elective base was opened in the church of St. Paul with the task of establishing a Constitution of the Germanic Reich. But soon the 550 deputies found themselves divided on its nature and on the modalities of its establishment: they only agreed on the constitution of a central executive power and on the appointment of a cadet archduke of Habsburg as “imperial vicar”.

Germany History