“Passans, cette terre est libre“ - The End of the Republic of Mainz

23 July 1793: the Republic of Mainz and 19.000 French soldiers under d’Oyré and de Beauharnais surrendered to the besieging Prussian troops ending the six months existence of the first democratic state on current German territory.

“Your and all kings’ enemy” (Friedrich Georg Pape, editor of the Mainzer Nationalzeitung in an open letter to Frederick William IV, King of Prussia)

A drawing by Goethe from 1793 of a German liberty tree based on the French model.
The inscription reads: “Passans, cette terre est libre“ (travellers, this land is free)

After the victory at Valmy on 20 September 1792 over Prussian and Austrian troops, the French revolutionary army marched toward the Rhine and occupied the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire along the river, usually received with open arms by the enlightened citizens while nobility and clergy fled to more reactionary climes.

Along with the Cisrhenian Republic (encompassing most of the Rhineland) and the Rauracian Republic (around the city of Basel), Mainz became one of the French client republics, with troops in residence and their own Jacobin Clubs, trying to establish the ideals of the French Revolution. Mainz’ club with almost 500 members was one of the largest and the Republic was proclaimed on 23 March 1793 with more than sufficient acclaim of the good people of Mainz.

"From this place, and from this day forth begins a new era in the history of the world, and you can all say that you were present at its birth." (Goethe) - The Battle of Valmy, seen through the eyes of the French history painter Horace Vernet (1826)

Even though General Custine, the French supreme commander, had orders from his chiefs in the National Convention in Paris to introduce democratic order in the occupied territories, by force, if necessary, men of the local Jacobin Clubs like Pape, the philosopher Hofmann and other professors from Mainz University as well as the natural scientist Georg Forster, who sailed with Cook on his Second Voyage, had laid the ground for the Republic, sovereignty of the people and Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité already.

With the reactionary troops on the march, the democratic spring in Mainz was rather transient. Prussian and Austrian troops invested the city already in April, the bombardment of Mainz begun in June, with a lot of Franco-German notables, fighting or as spectators, Goethe and Heinrich von Kleist among them. When martial law was declared in “Mayence” on 13 July, most of the city’s landmarks were already destroyed and when the relief army under Kléber did not arrive, d’Oyré threw the towel. The surviving French soldiers left the city singing La Marseillaise and were allowed to retreat to France.

Johann Jacob Hoch (1750 - 1829): "Assembly of the Jacobin Club of Mainz" (1792)

Mainz was finally recaptured by Napoleon’s troops in 1797 and the old electorate and residential city, Aurea Moguntia, would become the “display window” of the French Empire. There was no more talk of receiving the occupying troops with open arms, though and when the French finally left the city after the Battle of Leipzig and the Wars of Liberation 1813/14, Mainz became a fortress city on the German-French border for more than 100 years.

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