German Progressive Party

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The leaders of the Progressive Party
( wood engraving , around 1881).
Above: Ludwig Loewe , Albert Haenel
Middle: Rudolf Virchow
Below: Albert Traeger , Eugen Richter

The German Progressive Party (DFP, "Progress") was founded on June 6, 1861 by liberal members of the Prussian House of Representatives as the first German program party .

During the Prussian constitutional conflict it stood in strict opposition to Otto von Bismarck's policies . In the course of the founding of the empire , it came closer to Bismarck, for example during the Kulturkampf , and later moved back to a clear distance. The Progress Party merged in 1884 with the Liberal Association to form the German Liberal Party .


The founding of the party was preceded by a split of eleven members of the Vincke faction in the Prussian House of Representatives. To the apostates who z. Some of them were called "Young Lithuania " mockingly because a large number of them came from the eastern provinces of Prussia , including Max von Forckenbeck and Leopold von Hoverbeck . They called for a more consistent liberal policy and presented a corresponding party program in a parliamentary group meeting in January 1861 , which was rejected by the parliamentary majority. This group then entered into negotiations with liberals and democrats in Berlin in order to force the establishment of a national party. There were also some members of the German National Association who at the time did not belong to any parliament , such as the later Nobel Prize winner Theodor Mommsen , Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch , Rudolf Virchow and Hans Victor von Unruh . Even Paul Langerhans and Franz Duncker were among the founders. The end of this constitutional phase was the adoption of the founding program of the German Progressive Party on June 6, 1861.

Following the Prussian model, liberals and democrats soon joined forces in a number of states of the German Confederation to form individual progressive parties. Wuerttemberg started as early as December 1861 , followed by Hesse in August 1862, Nassau in February 1863, Bavaria in March 1863, and Hanover and Saxony in April 1863. Later, individual members of these sister parties joined the North German or all-German Reichstag of the Prussian sympathizers dominated progress group.

Program from 1861

In its founding program from 1861, the DFP advocated constitutional reforms. She called for independent judges and equal access to justice for all citizens . In order to implement the rule of law, the dependency of the public prosecutor on the government - as it still exists in Germany today - should be abolished. In addition, political crimes should no longer be judged by judges in the civil service, but again by ordinary citizens in the context of jury courts .

The Progress Party called for the government to be accountable to parliament and advocated the strengthening of local self-government in the municipalities, counties and provinces as well as civic equality under the "abolition of the corporate principle and the lordly police force ".

The DFP advocated equal rights for all religious communities and at the same time called for the separation of church and state , particularly with regard to school lessons and marriages.

Trade legislation should be liberalized so that “the country's economic forces are unleashed at the same time”.

Savings in the state budget were called for, particularly in relation to military spending. National defense should be based primarily on a militia army ( Landwehr ) and less on professional soldiers .

Organizational development

Principles of the Progressive Party in Franconia 1878

The Progressive Party was the first modern political party in Germany. It followed a formulated program and then made a name for itself. Outwardly towards the electorate one now made the same demands, while it was often common up to now for each applicant to formulate his own political program. So far there had only been parliamentary groups that were named either after the leaders or the seating arrangements in parliament. What was also new was that the party claimed to be an all-German party.

Despite the claim to be a modern party, the organization was hindered not least by the restrictive association legislation. Regular party membership was not possible. A central election committee was established, which Wilhelm Loewe headed until 1871. For legal reasons, the members of the committee were initially the only official members of the party. In 1867 a central electoral association was formed. However, this played no role outside of Berlin. In 1873, under the leadership of Eugen Richter, it was transformed so that the members of the Prussian House of Representatives and the Reichstag who lived or were present in Berlin belonged to it. This central electoral association decided, for example, on electoral calls, decided on electoral alliances , recommended candidates to the organizations at the level of the constituencies and promoted the establishment of local or regional organizations.

Initially, the national association and local civic associations supported the list of candidates. Later, several types of organization emerged: committee, popular assembly, and electoral association. Initially, the committee was dominated by regional or local dignitaries . Major election propaganda was seldom organized. After these committees had initially disbanded after the election, institutionalization began over time. Since around the beginning of the 1880s, there were fixed committees in almost all constituencies, especially in the big cities . In the small towns and in the country there were shop stewards from the local dignitaries. In some cities, especially in Berlin and large cities in North and East Germany, there were peoples' assemblies for the election of parliamentary candidates following the revolution of 1848 . The political influence was different. Sometimes they were purely acclamation organs for decisions made long ago by dignitaries. In Berlin, however, some of the meetings exerted considerable influence. The principle of people's assemblies was functional as long as the Progress Party could call itself the sole representative of the people. After the formation of further parties, this could no longer work.

In the course of time, local and regional electoral associations emerged. However, party membership was initially limited to a few leading figures. In the face of growing political competition, Eugen Richter in particular pushed for an expansion of the electoral associations. These had about 100 to 200 members. There were now association boards that decided on the course on site. Most of the time activities outside of the election campaigns were relatively low. That changed in the 1870s.

Constitutional conflict

The party had its center of gravity in the middle class . From 1861 to 1866 it was the strongest parliamentary group in the Prussian House of Representatives. It had 104 members in 1862, 133 in 1862/63, 141 in 1863/64.

The party refused to raise Prussian military spending. This gave rise to the Prussian constitutional conflict. They were in opposition to the new Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck . The party viewed his gap theory and his governance without a budget approved by parliament as a breach of the constitution.

Perseverance in this position led to a change of mood in the course of the war that was victorious for Prussia in 1866 . The party lost numerous voters and the number of MPs fell to 83 members in 1866. In the party, the number of those MPs grew, for whom political unity was more important, mostly for economic reasons, than insisting on the previous legal standpoint. The majority of the parliamentary group approved the indemnity bill in 1866 . In doing so, the party effectively gave up its previous opposition course. A majority of those who advocated collaboration with Bismarck split off in 1867 and founded the National Liberal Party . At first this only meant a separation of the factions, not the liberal party. This changed in the following years.

In the following years the Progressive Party had between 48 and 68 parliamentary group members in the Prussian House of Representatives until 1879.

Empire founding phase

Despite criticism of Bismarck, the party welcomed the founding of the North German Confederation and called for the unification of all of Germany under Prussian leadership. After the unification of the empire in 1871, the Progress Party lost momentum. In the Reichstag election of 1871 she won 8.2% of the votes in the first ballot and 45 seats. In the election in 1874 this rose slightly to 8.6% of the vote and 49 seats, and in the next election in 1877 it fell again to 7.7% of the vote and 35 seats. In the Reichstag election of 1878 , which took place under the impression of the assassination attempt on Kaiser Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck's attacks on the German Progressive Party as "enemies of the Reich", the party achieved its weakest result with 6.7% of the votes and 26 seats . Although the party represented an all-German claim, it had its focus in Prussia , especially in Berlin , Brandenburg , Hesse-Nassau and Schleswig-Holstein and at times in East Prussia , Silesia and the Ruhr area . Outside of Prussia, it was more strongly represented in Saxony and Franconia . The German Progressive Party was able to win over a large proportion of the voters in urban constituencies.

The party had rejected the imperial constitution because it was not very democratic. The Progress Party set important accents in economic policy . In the Kulturkampf she supported Bismarck's politics. The introduction of universal suffrage in Prussia was rejected by it. The majority of the parliamentary group rejected the septnate of 1874 when it came to financing the army . Thereupon eleven members of the Reichstag parliamentary group around Loewe and Berger resigned from the parliamentary group.

Organizational expansion

In the 1870s, Richter strengthened the organizational expansion of the electoral associations. It still had its focus in Prussia, followed by Saxony and Hamburg. The Hamburg electoral association was divided into 100 district associations with a total of 5,200 members. The total number of party members was 20,000. The associations followed the principle of intra-party democracy . Board members and constituency candidates were elected. The party's activities were significantly greater than those of other bourgeois parties. Meetings were not only held during election campaigns. Signatures were collected for petitions.

Important party organs were Der Volksfreund from 1868 to 1872 and from 1882 Der Reichsfreund .

The Eugen Richter era

A first all-German party congress took place in Berlin in 1878. There were 91 constituencies out of 397 represented. The members of the central election committee in Berlin were confirmed as leaders of the party. An executive committee of five members was elected. This under the leadership of Eugen Richter had the decisive influence. He gradually expanded this to include the regional divisions. Eventually he assumed a dominant position.

The party congress of 1878 decided on a new program. They called for a stronger parliamentarization of the imperial constitution and a government accountable to parliament. Of course, they insisted on full budget rights. The party also called for recognition of the self-help organizations of both employers' associations and trade unions . However, the party did not, as the left wing called for, the extension of the democratic Reichstag suffrage to the state parliaments. The party still adhered to the liberal principle of free trade . The program did not provide for any further state intervention in social policy .

Despite the ideological opposition to the Social Democrats , the Progressive Party rejected the Socialist Law . When Richter demanded in 1879: "Go with Bismarck", the party experienced a strong upswing and reached the height of its importance in the Reichstag election of 1881 with 12.7% of the votes in the first ballot and 59 seats.

The End

On March 5, 1884, under the leadership of Eugen Richter and Franz August Schenk von Stauffenberg , the party merged with the Liberal Association , a split on the left fringes of the National Liberal Party, to form the German Radical Party . In the meantime, the progressive parliamentary group in the Kingdom of Saxony refused to support the merger, the majority of its members remained independent until the turn of the century and did not join the regional association of the German free-thinking party in the Kingdom of Saxony, which was formed in 1887 .


Important politicians of the party were initially Johann Jacoby , Leopold Freiherr von Hoverbeck , Benedikt Waldeck , Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch , Franz Duncker , Hans Victor von Unruh , Albert Hänel , Adolph Diesterweg or Wilhelm Loewe and others. In the 1870s, this older generation was replaced by a younger one, which included the publicist Eugen Richter , Ludolf Parisius , Ludwig Löwe , Albert Hänel, Albert Träger , Hugo Hermes , Johann Classen-Kappelmann and Otto Hermes .


  • Andreas Biefang : National-Prussian or German-national? The German Progressive Party in Prussia 1861–1867 . In: History and Society . Vol. 27, H. 3, 1997, pp. 360-383.
  • Gerhard Eisfeld: The emergence of the liberal parties in Germany 1858-1870. Study on the organizations and programs of the Liberals and Democrats. Verlag für Literatur und Zeitgeschehen, Hannover 1969, DNB 456526994 , pp. 61-122, 161-188.
  • Christian Jansen : The Progressive Party - A Liberal Place of Remembrance? Size and limits of the oldest liberal party in Germany. In: Yearbook on Liberalism Research . Vol. 24, 2012, pp. 43-56.
  • Wolther von Kieseritzky : Liberalism and the welfare state. Liberal politics in Germany between the power state and the labor movement (1878-1893) , Böhlau Verlag, Cologne / Vienna 2002 (= Industrial World , Vol. 62), ISBN 3-412-07601-5 .
  • Rainer Koch : German Progressive Party (DFP). In: Frank Wende (Ed.): Lexicon for the history of parties in Europe. Kröner, Stuttgart 1981, ISBN 3-520-81001-8 , p. 88 f.
  • Dieter Langewiesche : Liberalism in Germany , Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1988, ISBN 3-518-11286-4 .
  • Gustav Seeber : German Progressive Party (DFP) 1861–1884. In: Dieter Fricke et al. (Ed.): Lexicon for the history of parties. Vol. 1. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1983, DNB 850223156 , pp. 623-648.
  • Wolfgang Schmierer : German Progressive Party. In: Gerhard Taddey (Hrsg.): Lexicon of German history . People, events, institutions. From the turn of the times to the end of the 2nd World War. 2nd, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-520-81302-5 , p. 364 f.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johannes Leicht, Arnulf Scriba: German Progressive Party 1861-1884. In: German Historical Museum , Berlin. Retrieved November 13, 2016 .
  2. ^ Wolfgang Treue : German party programs since 1861 , 4th edition. Muster-Schmidt Verlag, Göttingen 1968, p. 62 f .; Dieter Langewiesche : Liberalism in Germany , Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, ​​1988, ISBN 3-518-11286-4 , p. 94.
  3. ^ Dieter Langewiesche: Liberalism in Germany , Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1988, p. 104.
  4. James Sheehan gives higher results for the proportion of votes in the first ballot: 1871: 12%, 1874: 12.3%, 1877: 7.6%, 1878: 6.7%, cf. James J. Sheehan : German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1978 (German edition, Beck, Munich 1983).
  5. James Sheehan: German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1978.
  6. Cf. Gustav Wilhelm Carl Schmidt: Fifty Years of the German Progressive Party (Left Liberalism) in the Reich and in Saxony (1861-1911). In: Messages from the Progressive People's Party in the Kingdom of Saxony. 1st year, 1911, No. 17 f.