"Frisch auf, mein Volk, mit Trommelschlag, Im Zorneswetterschein!

O wag´ es doch, nur Einen Tag, Nur Einen, frei zu sein"

-Georg Herwegh-

"Verteidigung der Barrikade am Cöllnischen Rathaus in Berlin"
"Verteidigung der Barrikade am Cöllnischen Rathaus in Berlin"

In 1848, news spread to the German Confederation that an insurrection had overthrown the French King Louis-Philippe. As a result, a series of sympathetic, loosely coordinated protests broke out in the German states and many other European countries. Since the War of Liberation, student unions, or Burschenschaften, passed on the idea of a unified, democratic Germany under the colors of  black, red, and gold. Their ideas were expressed when a large group of people peacefully gathered at Hambach Castle in 1832. Other groups, however, tried to achieve a German unification in a more  violent way. This was the case when the Frankfurt guardhouse was stormed in 1833, and police officers came under attack. They also wanted to storm the parliament the following day to trigger a coup d'état. The Hambach Festival of 1832 laid the groundwork for growing unrest in the face of political censorship. The rebellions in 1848 demonstrated widespread discontent with the traditional autocratic political structure of the Confederation. Furthermore, the hard times in the late 1840s, caused by economic depression, transformed these rebellions into a full-blown revolution.


Whereas artisans in big cities were fighting for a stable livelihood, the middle-class was committed to liberal principles. In March 1848, crowds of people gathered in Berlin to present their demands for liberal reforms in an address to the king. On March 18, fierce fights swept across Berlins streets, and more than 200 civilians lost their lives. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV yielded to all the requests, which included:

parliamentary elections

a unified Germany with a constitution

freedom of the press and

freedom of assembly


Fearing to share the same destiny as French King Louis-Philippe, he promised them that Prussia would be merged into Germany.


The first free elected parliament met on March 18, 1848, inside the St. Paul's church, in Frankfurt am Main. Black, red, and gold became the official colors for the German flag on July 31, 1848, and the first German constitution was proclaimed on March 28, 1849. Germany should become a country under the leadership of Prussia. However, Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia refused to take the imperial crown in a tirade of hate, stating that he would not accept a crown made out of the rebels' dirt with the revolution's odor on it. He declared that the only cure against democrats is a dominant military. When the delegates moved their parliament from Frankfurt to Stuttgart, the Württembergian army dispersed them, and the attempt to unify Germany as a democratic nation failed.

CCO: Franz Sigel "Nemo me impune lacessit"
CCO: Franz Sigel "Nemo me impune lacessit"

The aristocracy was also able to defeat the democratic process in 1849 because the middle-class and working-class split. As a result, many liberals were forced into exile to escape persecution. The ones who fled to the United States became known as the Forty-Eighters.

Immigration to the U.S. had already increased since 1845 and spiked after the failed revolution of 1848. Only the intellectuals and leading political heads of the unsuccessful revolution who immigrated to the United States are called 48ers (not to be confused with the 49ers who moved to the west because of the California Gold Rush).  Approximately 4000 immigrants fell into this category. Even though the refugees did not receive any governmental support, most Americans welcomed them with sympathy because of equal ideologies. Many of them were able to put their democratic ideas into action on American soil. Not a few 48ers became Americanized and launched a successful career, such as Carl Schurz, who became ambassador for Spain, a general in the American civil war and Interior Secretary. Another German-American who made his career in the United States was Franz Sigel, who led a militia in the Baden insurrection and fought as another German-American general for the Union during the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). Those 48ers who still engaged for the German cause once they reached American soil experienced rejection. They were expected to assimilate to American customs and practices. Some 48ers went back to Germany with broken dreams as things calmed down.