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11 THE CONSERVATIVE FIFTIES TIME has been unkind to the reaction. After dwelling with painstaking detail on every obscure putschist of the Revolution , the scholar usually dismisses the Fifties with a few remarks about obscurantist tyranny and hurries on to grapple with the Bismarckian enigma. The liberal will neither forget nor forgive aristocratic oppression of parliamentarianism. Even the confirmed monarchist prefers to find his heroes in other reigns. For were not the years of legitimist counterrevolution years of national humiliation? Was not the Habsburg star in the ascendant, while Frederick William IV and his camarilla toyed with hopeless schemes and visions? The conservatism which descended on Germany after the fall of the new order has found no champion, because it would not march in step with history. Overshadowed by the aspirations of the Forties and the achievements of the Sixties, it has been consigned to abuse and oblivion. The charges against the reaction are not without foundation . Those who measure government by the yardstick of diplomatic success can point to the defeat of the movement for national unification and the restoration of the German Confederation in all its inadequacy. For weakness of purpose in Berlin made possible the revival of Austrian influence among the secondary states sighing for their freedom. When the Frankfurt Parliament collapsed after the historic refusal of "the crown from the gutter," it was still not too late to establish a German federal union under Prussian auspices. Public opinion was ready to support a bold program of internal reorganization, the Habsburg armies under the notorious Julius von Haynau were engaged in a bitter campaign against Hungarian independence, and the minor princes were powerless to resist demands for a restriction of their [ 199 ] PART THREE: REACTION prerogatives. If Frederick William IV had succeeded in making himself master of Germany in the spring of I 849, the Hofburg in Vienna would have faced an irrevocable fait accompli . But such a policy of opportunism required cool nerve and strong determination, and the king possessed neither. His only resources were good intentions and a vivid imagination. He opened his diplomatic campaign boldly enough. On May I 5, 1 849, a proclamation announced his intention to pursue the work of unification by summoning a national assembly ready to collaborate with the princes in the preparation of a federal constitution. Before the month was over Saxony and Hanover had given their reluctant consent to the Prussian plan, and four weeks later I 48 former members of the Frankfurt Parliament met in Gotha to express their approval of the projects emanating from Berlin. Radowitz, who had been entrusted with the mission of organizing the new federation, worked with unflagging zeal to coax and bully the secondary states into submission. By the end of the summer only Bavaria, Wiirttemberg, Holstein, and a handful of the minor governments had not succumbed to his threats, and their feeble resistance was kept alive only by promises of future support which the Austrian prime minister Prince Felix zu Schwarzenberg was whispering in their ears. But how much longer would they hold out? Frederick William IV could see his dearest ambitions fulfilled; he could see a united fatherland, a conservative parliament, a grateful people , and all without bloodshed and without expense. It was almost too good to be true. Then in the early days of autumn the fortunes of Prussia turned. The king had accepted the pledges of support of the secondary states at face value, confident that the details of unification could be settled at leisure in future conferences. The cunning of the weak deceived him so completely that the mass desertion of his allies which followed the revival of Habsburg influence came as an unexpected calamity. In [ 200 ] THE CONSERVATIVE FIFTIES August the Austrian government concluded peace with Sardinia , and then with the aid of Russian troops it completed the subjugation of Hungary. By October, with Magyar generals swinging from the gallows of Arad, Vienna could once again play a major role in the affairs of Germany. It immediately began to offer stout resistance to the designs of Frederick William IV, and on September 30 Prussia apprehensively agreed to share with Austria the authority formerly vested in Archduke Johann as imperial regent. This first sign of weakness in Berlin encouraged the princes to betray their promises to Radowitz. When the assembly chosen to consider a constitution for the national union met in Erfurt on March 20, 1850, important members like Hanover and Saxony had already withdrawn from the...


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