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

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

-Georg Herwegh-

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 fraternities 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, were violent. For example, when the Frankfurt guardhouse was stormed in 1833, and police officers came under attack. Frankfurt wasn't everything cross-border student leagues organized. They also wanted to storm the parliament the following day to trigger a revolution in the form of a coup d'état.

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. The Hambach Festival of 1832 laid the groundwork for growing unrest in the face of political censorship.


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. 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 a church (the famous Paulskirche), in Frankfurt am Main.

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

However, because the middle-class and working-class split, the aristocracy was able to defeat the democratic process in 1849. 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 Interior Secretary, or Franz Sigel, who led a militia in the Baden insurrection and fought as a 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.