1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hecker, Friedrich Franz Karl

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HECKER, FRIEDRICH FRANZ KARL (1811-1881), German revolutionist, was born at Eichtersheim in the Palatinate on the 28th of September 1811, his father being a revenue official. He studied law with the intention of becoming an advocate, but soon became absorbed in politics. On entering the Second Chamber of Baden in 1842, he at once began to take part in the opposition against the government, which assumed a more and more openly Radical character, and in the course of which his talents as an agitator and his personal charm won him wide popularity and influence. A speech, denouncing the projected incorporation of Schleswig and Holstein with Denmark, delivered in the Chamber of Baden on the 6th of February 1845, spread his fame beyond the limits of his own state, and his popularity was increased by his expulsion from Prussia on the occasion of a journey to Stettin. After the death of his more moderate-minded friend Adolf Sander (March 9th, 1845), Hecker's tone towards the government became more and more bitter. In spite of the shallowness and his culture and his extremely weak character, he enjoyed an ever-increasing popularity. Even before the outbreak of the revolution he included Socialistic claims in his programme. In 1847 he was temporarily occupied with ideas of emigration, and with this object made a journey to Algiers, but returned to Baden and resumed his former position as the Radical champion of popular rights, later becoming president of the Volksverein, where he was destined to fall still further under the influence of the agitator Gustav von Struve. In conjunction with Struve he drew up the Radical programme carried at the great Liberal meeting held at Offenburg on the 12th of September 1847 (entitled “Thirteen Claims put forward by the People of Baden”). In addition to the Offenburg programme, the Sturmpetition of the 1st of March 1848 attempted to extort from the government the most far-reaching concessions. But it was in vain that on becoming a deputy Hecker endeavoured to carry out its impracticable provisions. He had to yield to the more moderate majority, but on this account was driven still further towards the Left. The proof lies in the new Offenburg demands of the 19th of March, and in the resolution moved by Hecker in the preliminary parliament of Frankfort that Germany should be declared a republic. But neither in Baden nor Frankfort did he at any time gain his point.

This double failure, combined with various energetic measures of the government, which were indirectly aimed at him (e.g. the arrest of the editor of the Constanzer Seeblatt, a friend of Hecker's, in Karlsruhe station on the 8th of April), inspired Hecker with the idea of an armed rising under pretext of the foundation of the German republic. The 9th to the 11th of April was secretly spent in preliminaries. On the 12th of April Hecker and Struve sent a proclamation to the inhabitants of the Seekreis and of the Black Forest “to summon the people who can bear arms to Donaueschingen at mid-day on the 14th, with arms, ammunition and provisions for six days.” They expected 70,000 men, but only a few thousand appeared. The grand-ducal government of the Seekreis was dissolved, and Hecker gradually gained reinforcements. But friendly advisers also joined him, pointing out the risks of his undertaking. Hecker, however, was not at all ready to listen to them; on the contrary, he added to violence an absurd defiance, and offered an amnesty to the German princes on condition of their retiring within fourteen days into private life. The troops of Baden and Hesse marched against him, under the command of General Friedrich von Gagern, and on the 20th of April they met near Kandern, where Gagern was killed, it is true, but Hecker was completely defeated.

Like many of the revolutionaries of that period, Hecker retired to Switzerland. He was, it is true, again elected to the Chamber of Baden by the circle of Thiengen, but the government, no longer willing to respect his immunity as a deputy, refused its ratification. On this account Hecker resolved in September 1848 to emigrate to North America, and obtained possession of a farm near Belleville in the state of Illinois.

During the second rising in Baden in the spring of 1849 he again made efforts to obtain a footing in his own state, but without success. He only came as far as Strassburg, but had to retreat before the victories of the Prussian troops over the Baden insurgents.

On his return to America he won some distinction during the Civil War as colonel of a regiment which he had himself got together on the Federal side in 1861 and 1864. It was with great joy that he heard of the union of Germany brought about by the victory over France in 1870-71. It was then that he made his famous festival speech at St Louis, in which he gave an animated expression to the enthusiasm of the German Americans for their newly-united fatherland. He received a less favourable impression during a journey he made in Germany in 1873. He died at St Louis on the 24th of March 1881.

Hecker was always very much beloved of all the German democrats. The song and the hat named after him (the latter a broad slouch hat with a feather) became famous as the symbols of the middle-classes in revolt. In America, too, he had won great esteem, not only on political grounds but also for his personal qualities.

See F. Hecker, Die Erhebung des Volkes in Baden für die deutsche Republik (Baden, 1848); F. Hecker, Reden und Vorlesungen (Neerstadt a. d. H., 1872); F. v. Weech, Badische Biographien, iv. (1891); L. Mathy, Aus dem Nachlasse von K. Matty, Briefe aus den Jahren 1846-1848 (Leipzig, 1898).

(J. Hn.)