Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

Liberal Reform Movement

The movement for liberal reform (including constitutional, parliamentary government, economic freedom, and civil liberties) initiated during the Napoleonic era survived during the so-called Vormärz (1815-48), a period of struggle between absolutism and rising liberalism. The July 1830 French revolution incited the German liberal intelligentsia--lower government officials, men of letters, professors, and lawyers--to organize local clubs and assume leadership of the reform effort. The liberal intelligentsia, however, did not succeed in overthrowing absolutism in the "revolution of the intellectuals," which took place in March 1848 following the February revolution in France of the same year. Averse to revolutionary violence, the people did not oppose the Prussian troops that marched into Berlin to establish order.

In May 1848, shortly after the revolutionary outbreak in Berlin, delegates from all of the German states convened at the Frankfurt Assembly to prepare for the formation of a united and constitutional German nation-state. Controversial issues that had divided Germany for centuries caused disputes among the delegates. To the religious and cultural antagonisms between north and south, Prussia and Austria, Catholics and Protestants, the question concerning the establishment of a "greater Germany," which would include Austria, or a "smaller Germany," which would be under Prussian leadership and exclude Austria, had recently been added. The compromise proposal adopted during the assembly, which provided that only the German provinces of the Habsburg monarchy be included in the new nation-state, caused Austria to recall its delegates. The Frankfurt constitution established Germany as a federal union, which was to be headed by a monarch having an imperial title. The imperial crown was offered to Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, who refused it, stating that he could be elected only by the German princes. After the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly, a disagreement between moderate and radical liberals facilitated the restoration of monarchical conservatism, and the German Confederation was renewed in 1851. In the Treaty of Olmütz (1851), Prussia agreed to relinquish plans for a German union founded on liberalism under its leadership.

Data as of July 1987