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Torchlight procession for the pre-parliament, 1848

The pre-parliament was an assembly of 574 men. You should prepare the election of the Frankfurt National Assembly. The pre-parliament met from March 31 to April 4, 1848 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt , where the National Assembly also met from May 18. The members of the preliminary parliament had been convened by an ultimately private, at least revolutionary, initiative.

In the pre-parliament, the opposition between liberals and democrats emerged as to how it was to influence the emerging party system in Germany . The Democrats, in turn, split into a moderate and a radical left. Neither side was able to establish substantive principles for the later National Assembly. The radical democratic motion to regard the pre-parliament as the provisional parliament of Germany, to set up a government and to abolish the monarchy was rejected. But even the liberals could not implement their constitutional program without risking the departure of all democrats and thus the importance of the pre-parliament.

Such questions of content were ultimately left to the National Assembly. However, the pre-parliament had an influence on the federal electoral law with which the still existing Bundestag allowed the national assembly to be elected. It also elected a committee of fifties to oversee the Bundestag until the National Assembly met.


The Hotel Badischer Hof in Heidelberg

On March 5, 1848, before the revolutionary events in Vienna and Berlin, there was a private meeting of liberal and democratic politicians, the Heidelberg Assembly . The 51 participants included radical democrats like Gustav von Struve and Friedrich Hecker , who called for a German republic, and liberal constitutionalists like Heinrich von Gagern . They wanted a monarchical empire power next to an elected parliament in the sense of the separation of powers ; From Gagern's point of view, not even a national assembly, but cooperation between the states should change the constitution of the German Confederation and introduce new organs. This dividing line between the revolution was already evident at this early stage.

However, the 51 men agreed that a German parliament should be elected, a national assembly. The Heidelberg assembly therefore elected seven men, a committee of seven , including von Gagern, Römer, Welcker, Itzstein, Stedmann, Willich and Binding. He should convene a second assembly (the pre-parliament) to vote for the election of the national assembly.

The Committee of Seven invited selected personalities to the pre-parliament on March 12: both current and former members of legislative bodies in German states, but also others such as Robert Blum . Thus the pre-parliament was not legitimized by the existing legal order, but solely by direct action, by revolutionary action. This "event of public standing" was not recognized by the state, as Ernst Rudolf Huber writes, but it was more than a purely private meeting.

Liberals as well as Gagern were aware of the public importance and support of the gathering. At first, however, they viewed the pre-parliament with concern, fearing that the left would have a majority. According to rumors, Itzstein in particular invited numerous leftists. But on the afternoon of March 30th, the Liberals found that they were much stronger than expected. Gagern in particular had tried to get many liberals to appear.


Members move into the Paulskirche (left) on March 30th, 1848. This and similar pictures give too generous an impression of the streets of Frankfurt. In reality, the many people squeezed through narrow streets.

The pre-parliament met for the first time on March 31 in Frankfurt. It is true that men from all German states were gathered in the pre-parliament. Nevertheless, the distribution among German states was very unbalanced:

  • 141 members were Prussia ,
  • 84 came from Hessen-Darmstadt,
  • 72 from Baden
  • 52 from Württemberg
  • 44 from Bavaria
  • 26 from Saxony
  • 26 from Kurhessen (Hessen-Kassel)
  • 26 from Nassau
  • 26 from the four free cities (Frankfurt, Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck)
  • 21 from the small states of Thuringia
  • 18 from both Mecklenburg
  • 8 from Hanover
  • 7 from Holstein
  • 2 from Austria (which had as many inhabitants as Prussia, based on the federal territory)

Carl Joseph Anton Mittermaier was the chairman . Johann Adam von Itzstein , Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann , Robert Blum and Sylvester Jordan were elected as vice-presidents . They met in Frankfurt am Main , the city in which the German Confederation was also based. The imperial hall of the town hall was originally selected. Since this was too small, they turned to the Paulskirche opposite. There was a festive opening in the Kaisersaal on March 31st, and immediately afterwards they moved to the Paulskirche.

Position of the Bundestag and positions in the pre-parliament

Session of the pre-parliament

The pre-parliament appeared alongside the Bundestag , the organ of the German Confederation . At the beginning of March, the Bundestag had already implemented some liberal reforms, such as the abolition of censorship. In the course of March, the Bundestag delegates were largely replaced by liberal successors. The Bundestag put together a committee of seventeen from men of public trust. So in March and April there was a juxtaposition of:

  • Bundestag , the legal but revolutionary pressure body of the German states, which on March 30th decided to elect a national assembly
  • the Committee of Seventeen appointed by him (from March 10th), in which representatives of the individual states sat. He was working on a draft constitution (April 26th).
  • the Committee of Seven of the Heidelberg Assembly (March 5), which appointed the members of the pre-parliament and prepared a constitutional program for the pre-parliament
  • the pre-parliament (from March 31st), which set up a committee of 50 (from April 4th) for the period up to the National Assembly

Some politicians belonged to more than one of these bodies.

The moderate liberals and the radical democrats clashed in the pre-parliament. The constitutional program of the liberally dominated Committee of Seven under von Gagern advocated the appointment of a federal head and a federal government, the conversion of the Bundestag into a Senate of the individual states and the election of a representative body. The new federal central authority should then be assigned foreign policy, the army, law, customs and other tasks. The Liberals wanted to commit the National Assembly to this program.

Lithograph for the pre-parliament. In the middle you can already see the painting of Germania . It hung there in St. Paul's Church during the National Assembly.

The radicals responded with "Struve's motion". He envisaged a far-reaching reform of states and society, such as the abolition of the professional civil service , the separation of church and state and the participation of the workers in the profit of labor. The monarchy in the German states should be abolished and Germany transformed into a federal state with elected presidents following the example of the USA . The individual states of Germany should give way to newly formed imperial circles. In addition: The pre-parliament should, like the Estates General in France in 1789, declare itself permanent and set up an executive committee (a kind of government).

However, the radicals understood that they were in the minority with their motion (around 30 percent in the pre-parliament). In order to avoid losing the vote, they referred to the lack of representativeness of the pre-parliament. They hoped to be better represented in the later National Assembly. The Liberals responded to this postponement of the fundamental decisions because they wanted to preserve the unity of the pre-parliament and thus its authority. But even the liberals could not make their program the basis for the National Assembly. Both camps agreed that the National Assembly should be elected as soon as possible.

Activities of the pre-parliament

Entry ticket for a member of the pre-parliament in the Paulskirche

The radicals again requested the permanence of the preliminary parliament, which was to serve as a provisional parliament until the National Assembly met. This was rejected, with which the liberals took the path of evolution and recognized the Bundestag. The Liberals also changed another proposal by the radicals (April 2) that would have paralyzed the Bundestag. Hecker then moved out of the pre-parliament with 40 supporters. The moderate left around Robert Blum remained, however, and thus saved the pre-parliament.

The pre-parliament gave the Bundestag conditions with regard to the right to vote, which the Bundestag later adopted with a resolution of 7 April. Both resolutions of the Bundestag are also called the Election Act for the National Assembly . For the time when the National Assembly convened, the pre-parliament set up a committee of fifties , made up of equal numbers of liberals and moderate leftists. The radicals around Hecker, who had rejoined the pre-parliament, did not get enough votes. Instead, they chose the violent overthrow ( Hecker uprising ), with which, however, they failed. The Frankfurt National Assembly was able to meet for the first time on May 18, 1848.

In the last session on April 3, the pre-parliament decided that only the national assembly could decide on an imperial constitution for Germany. A number of fundamental and social rights were also recommended to the National Assembly, including freedom from school tuition from school fees. The pre-parliament became historically significant not least because it made the southwest German Heinrich von Gagern known throughout Germany. His biographer Möller: "The effect among the liberals was enormous, here someone had openly opposed the radicals Hecker and Struve without hiding behind rules of procedure tricks." The later Reich Minister President Gagern was now considered a leading figure of the liberals and thus a savior from the ( radical) revolution based on the French model.


Manfred Botzenhart criticizes the fact that minority opinions in the pre-parliament and also later in committees of the National Assembly were not granted any rights. However, he admits to the pre-parliament that there have not yet been any rules of procedure with political groups. The liberals had savored their majority too much and thus contributed to the exodus of the radicals. They supported the Bundestag along with the idea of ​​legality and legal continuity. “It was the tragedy of the majority group around Gagern that they had complete success with their anti-revolutionary policy in March 1848, but that they did not succeed, as planned, in laying down the foundations of the future imperial constitution in a form that would also bind the governments . "

Ernst Rudolf Huber refers to the constitutional ideas of the liberals, which is why they had to reject Struve's motion. The motion would have meant the transition from negotiations to direct action: the pre-parliament would have anticipated the appearance of the later constitution and established a dictatorship by then. Given the impotence of the governments in Vienna and Berlin at the time, the pre-parliament could have "opened the way for a complete revolution and the establishment of a national-democratic, unitarian republic."

According to Günter Wollstein , the pre-parliament was poorly thought out and poorly organized. The maximum demands of Struve's motion could be seen as an act of desperation by a minority, or (more) as a serious attempt by the radicals to start a second revolution. Because of the memories of the French Revolution, the liberals would have reacted with unnecessary fear. Wollstein believes that the pre-parliament made it difficult for “the national movement to widen to the left”. In any case, Hecker and Struve decided on April 3rd to launch an armed uprising.

See also


  • Holdings DB 50 and 51, pre-parliament, committee of fifties and German national assembly 1848.49. Pre-Parliament, Committee of the Fifties d. German National Assembly 1848/49 arr. by Rüdiger Moldenhauer u. Hans Schenk. Federal Archives, Koblenz 1980 (Finding aids on the holdings of the Federal Archives 18)


  • Bernd Haeussler: Revolution or Reform? Politics in the pre-parliament and in the fifties committee. In: Archive for Frankfurt's History and Art . 54: 13-28 (1974)
  • Karl Obermann : The disputes between democrats and liberals in the German pre-parliament in 1848 . In: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswwissenschaft , Berlin 1979, issue 12, pp. 1156–1172 ISSN  0044-2828
  • Günter Wollstein : The pre-parliament. The counter-revolution gets its chance . In: Michael Salewski (Ed.): The Germans and the Revolution. 17 lectures. Muster-Schmidt Verlag, Göttingen / Zurich 1984, pp. 179–205

Web links


  1. Manfred Botzenhart: German Parliamentarism in the Revolutionary Period 1848–1850. Droste, Düsseldorf 1977, pp. 117-119.
  2. ^ Ernst Rudolf Huber: German Constitutional History since 1789. Volume II: The struggle for unity and freedom 1830 to 1850. 3rd edition, W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1988, p. 594.
  3. Ernst Rudolf Huber: German constitutional history since 1789. Volume II: The struggle for unity and freedom 1830 to 1850. 3rd edition, W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart a. a. 1988, pp. 598/599.
  4. ^ Frank Möller: Heinrich von Gagern. A biography. Habilitation thesis. University of Jena, 2004, p. 212/213.
  5. ^ Ernst Rudolf Huber: German Constitutional History since 1789. Volume II: The struggle for unity and freedom 1830 to 1850. 3rd edition, W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1988, pp. 600-602.
  6. Manfred Botzenhart: German Parliamentarism in the Revolutionary Period 1848–1850. Droste, Düsseldorf 1977, p. 129.
  7. ^ Frank Möller: Heinrich von Gagern. A biography. Habilitation thesis. University of Jena, 2004, pp. 214–216.
  8. Manfred Botzenhart: German Parliamentarism in the Revolutionary Period 1848–1850. Droste, Düsseldorf 1977, pp. 128/129.
  9. ^ Ernst Rudolf Huber: German Constitutional History since 1789. Volume II: The struggle for unity and freedom 1830 to 1850. 3rd edition, W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1988, p. 600.
  10. ^ Günter Wollstein: German History 1848–1849. Failed revolution in Central Europe . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [a. a.] 1986, pp. 60-63.
  11. Also contains the documents: [Frankfurt address to the pre-parliament] and Arnold Duckwitz letter of April 5, 1848.