“We've practiced loving long enough, / Let's come at last to hate.“ - The September Uprisings in Frankfurt in 1848

18 September 1848, during the German Revolution of 1848, the September Uprising began in the Free City of Frankfurt.
“We've practiced loving long enough, / Let's come at last to hate.“ (Georg Herwegh)

A contemporary drawing, showing horse artillery brought into position to gun down the barricades at Konstablerwache.

Parliamentarians from the 39 states of the former Holy Roman Empire had assembled in Frankfurt, the federal capital of the confederation, when most of the German speaking countries began to draw level with the unrest that shook the rest of continental Europe during the March Revolution of 1848. They voted one of the region’s first free parliaments in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche (St Paul’s church) on May 18 and began a hot debate about how to proceed with Germany now that they were there. A Pan-Germanic unification with the Austro-Hungarian Empire came up as well as a hereditary emperorship under the King of Prussia and various forms of liberal, democratic and other manifestations of government were discussed that implied a unified Germany. The provisional regimen under Archduke Johann of Austria in situ obviously had no more pressing concerns than making the Duchy of Holstein part of the deal, though - the place belonged to Denmark then - threatened with war but had to rely on Prussian and Austrian troops. The major European powers were not amused at all and the confusion of the First Schleswig War was ended with the Treaty of Malmö that left Holstein with Denmark and Prussian troops withdrew from the place. And still no one would answer the Schleswig-Holstein Question, let alone what was to become of the Germanies.

The Frankfurt Parliament in Frankfurt's Paulskirche in 1848/49. Coloured, contemporary engraving.

Most of the factions at Paulskirche were rather disappointed, found the Prussian withdrawal from the north to be quite dishonourable and traitorous and parliament in Frankfurt did not ratify the treaty. Nonetheless, without the Prussian army there would be no war with Denmark and after three days of arguing, the conservative elements carried the ratification through by a narrow majority against the will of the local populace of Frankfurt who finally realised how impotent their representatives were without Prussian backing – on the morning of September 18th barricades were built in Frankfurt and parliament had to invoke the local Prussian garrison to do something about it. When two conservative parliamentarians, Prince Felix von Lichnowsky and the hero of the Wars of Liberation, General Hans von Auerswald, had been killed during a somewhat quixotic reconnaissance hack by an angry mob, the Prussians fixed their bayonets.

Gunning down the barricades along the Zeil, contemporary illustration

The centres of resistance concentrated along Zeil, today Frankfurt’s shopping mile, between the police stations of Konstablerwache and Hauptwache in walking distance of Paulskirche. Some important approaches had not been blocked, though, and the troops had carried the barricades by midnight, 30 insurgents and 12 soldiers died. Most of Frankfurt’s bourgeois elements welcomed the Prussian intervention, Schopenhauer bequeathed a sum of money to the surviving dependents of the dead soldiers, but the event showed everyone that parliament and the provisional government were, in fact, powerless. The frustration over the events in Frankfurt forged ahead the events that finally led to the suppression of the Revolution of 1848/49 by the established powers, chiefly the Prussians. Three days after the September Uprising, another Democratic Republic was proclaimed in Baden and the armies marched to suppress it – successfully. The Revolution was over by July 1849.

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