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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 but 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
The German Revolution is also called the March Revolution.
The German Revolution was also of historic relevance in the U.S. which welcomed thousands of German refugees who sought political freedom. The German aristocracy was able to defeat the democratic process in 1849 because they were ablo to split the middle- and working-class. 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.
It is important to note that only the intellectuals and leading political heads 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 these refugees did not receive any governmental support, most Americans
welcomed them with sympathy because of equal ideologies. They stood for a very American idea - democracy! Many of them were able to put their democratic ideas into action on American soil. Some
Forty-Eighters founded German-American organizations such as Turnvereine and became known as the Turners who stood for liberty and supported the new Republican party. Not a few 48ers
became Americanized and launched a successful career, such as Carl Schurz, who became ambassador for Spain as well as a general in the American civil war and later Interior Secretary. Another
German-American who made his career in the United States was Franz Sigel, who had led a militia in the Baden insurrection before he fought as general for the Union cause during the American Civil
War (1861 - 1865). However, there were some 48ers who still engaged for the German cause once they reached American soil. Those guys experienced rejection because they were expected to assimilate
to American customs and practices. Some of them went back to Germany with broken dreams as things calmed down.