The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz/Volume One/06 Darkening Prospects — Resisting the Reaction
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Volume One: Chapter VI: Darkening Prospects — Resisting the Reaction
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|Translated from the original German by Eleonora Kinnicutt and Carl Schurz.|
THE political horizon which after the revolution in March looked so glorious soon began to darken. In South Germany, where the opinion had gained ground that the revolution should not have "stood still before the thrones," a republican uprising took place under the leadership of the brilliant and impetuous Hecker, which, however, was speedily suppressed by force of arms. In the country at large such attempts found at first little sympathy. The bulk of the liberal element did not desire anything beyond the establishment of national unity and a constitutional monarchy "on a broad democratic basis." But the republican sentiment gradually spread and was intensified as the "reaction" assumed a more and more threatening shape.
The national parliament at Frankfurt elected in the spring, which represented the sovereignty of the German people in the large sense and was to give to the united German nation a national government, counted among its members a great many men illustrious in the fields, not of politics, but of science and literature. It soon showed a dangerous tendency of squandering in brilliant, but more or less fruitless, debates much of the time which was sorely needed for prompt and decisive action to secure the legitimate results of the revolution against hostile forces.
But our eyes were turned still more anxiously upon Berlin. Prussia was by far the strongest of the purely German states. The Austrian empire was a conglomeration of different nationalities — German, Magyar, Slavic and Italian. The German element, to which the dynasty and the political capital belonged, had so far been the predominant one. It was most advanced in civilization and wealth, although inferior in numbers. But the Slavs, the Magyars and the Italians, stimulated by the revolutionary movements of 1848, were striving for national autonomy, and although Austria had held the foremost place in the later periods of the ancient German empire and then after the Napoleonic wars in the German Confederacy, it seemed problematic whether her large non-German interests would permit her to play a leading part now in the political unification of Germany under a constitutional government. In fact, it turned out subsequently that the mutual jealousies of the different races enabled the Austrian central government to subjugate to despotic rule one by the other, in spite of the hopeful beginnings of the revolution, and that the non-German interests of Austria and those of the dynasty were predominant in her policy. But Prussia, excepting a comparatively small Polish district, was a purely German country, and by far the strongest among the German states in point of numbers, of general education, of economic activity and especially of military power. It was, therefore, generally felt that the attitude of Prussia would be decisive in determining the fate of the revolution.
For a while the Prussian king, Frederick William IV., seemed to be pleased with the rôle of a leader in the national movement which the revolution had made him assume. His volatile nature seemed to be warmed by a new enthusiasm. He took walks on the streets and talked freely with the people. He spoke of constitutional principles of government to be introduced as a matter of course. He loudly praised the noble generosity which the people of Berlin had manifested toward him in the hours of stress. He ordered the army to wear the black-red-gold cockade together with the Prussian. On the parade ground at Potsdam he declared to the sulking officers of the guards "that he felt himself perfectly safe, free and happy among the citizens of Berlin; that all the concessions made by him had been made of his own free will and according to his own convictions, and that nobody should dare to question this." But when the Prussian constituent assembly had met in Berlin and began to pass laws, and to design constitutional provisions, and to interfere with the conduct of the government in the spirit of the revolution, the king's mind gradually opened itself to other influences, and those influences gained access to him and surrounded him all the more readily since he removed his residence from Berlin to his palace at Potsdam, a little town preponderantly inhabited by courtiers and soldiers and other dependents of the government. Thus the king's immediate contact with the people ceased, his conferences with the newly appointed liberal ministers were confined to short formal "audiences," and voices appealing to old sympathies, prepossessions and partialities were constantly nearest to his ear.
There was the army, traditionally the pet of the Hohenzollerns, smarting under the "disgrace" of its withdrawal from Berlin after the street battle, and pining for revenge and restoration of its prestige. There was the court nobility, whose business it always had been to exalt and flatter the royal person. There was the landed aristocracy, the "Junker" element, whose feudal privileges were theoretically denied by the revolutionary spirit and practically invaded by the legislative action of the representatives of the people, and who artfully goaded the king's pride. There was the old bureaucracy, the power of which had been broken by the revolution, although its personnel had but little been changed, and which sought to recover its former sway. There was the "old Prussian" spirit which resented any national aspirations that might encroach upon the importance and self-appreciation of specific Prussiandom, and which still had strength in the country immediately surrounding Berlin and in some of the eastern provinces. All these forces, which in a general term were popularly called "the reaction," worked together to divert the king from the course he had ostensibly taken immediately after the revolution of March, with the hope of using him for the largest possible restoration of the old order of things — well knowing that if they controlled him, they would, through him, control the army, and then with it a tremendous, perhaps decisive, force in the conflicts to come. And this "reaction" was greatly strengthened by the cunning exploitation of some street excesses that happened in Berlin — excesses which in a free country like England might, indeed, have brought forth some vigorous measures of repression by the police, but would certainly not have induced anybody to call the practicability of civil freedom or of the constitutional principles of government in question. But these occurrences were used in Prussia with considerable effect to frighten the timid men of the bourgeoisie with the specter of general anarchy, and to persuade the king that after all the restoration of unrestrained royal power was necessary for the maintenance of law and order.
On the other hand, the visible development of the reaction had the effect of producing among many of those who stood earnestly for national unity and constitutional government, a state of mind more open to radical tendencies. The rapid progress of these developments was clearly perceptible in my own surroundings. Our democratic club was composed in almost equal parts of students and citizens, among whom there were many of excellent character, of some fortune and good standing, and of moderate views, while a few others had worked themselves into a state of mind resembling that of the terrorists in the French Revolution. Kinkel was the recognized leader of the club, and I soon became a member of the executive committee. At first the establishment of a constitutional monarchy with universal suffrage and well-secured civil rights would have been quite satisfactory to us. But the reaction, the threatened rise of which we were observing, gradually made many of us believe that there was no safety for popular liberty except in a republic. From this belief there was only one step to the further conclusion, that in a republic, and only in a republic, all evils of the social body could be cured, and the solution of all the political problems would be possible. The idealism which saw in the republican citizen the highest embodiment of human dignity we had imbibed from the study of classic antiquity; and the history of the French Revolution satisfied us that a republic could be created in Germany and could maintain its existence in the European system of states. In that history we found striking examples of the possibility of accomplishing the seemingly impossible, if only the whole energy resting in a great nation were awakened and directed with unflinching boldness. Most of us indeed recoiled from the wild excesses which had stained with streams of innocent blood the national uprising in France during the Reign of Terror. But we hoped to stir up the national energies without such terrorism. At any rate the history of the French Revolution furnished to us models in plenty that mightily excited our imagination. How dangerously seductive such a play of the imagination is, we were of course then unaware.
As usually happens, we tried first to imitate our models in certain external things. To emphasize the principle of equality among the members of our club, we introduced the rule that there should be for all, however different might be their rank in life, only one form of address, namely, "citizen." There was to be no longer a "Herr Professor Kinkel," but only a "Citizen Kinkel," and so on through the list. We did not permit ourselves to be disturbed by the ridicule which this oddity attracted, for we were profoundly in earnest, sincerely believing that by the introduction of this style we could give tone to the developments which would inevitably come. Of the debates in our club my recollection is not distinct enough to say how much reason or how much unreason there was in them. At all events they were carried on sometimes with remarkably eloquent earnestness, because most of the participants spoke from genuine honesty of conviction.
In the course of the summer Kinkel and I were invited to represent the club at a congress of democratic associations in Cologne. This assembly, in which I remained a shy and silent observer, became remarkable to me in bringing me into personal contact with some of the prominent men of that period, among others, the leader of the communists, Karl Marx. He could not have been much more than thirty years old at that time, but he already was the recognized head of the advanced socialistic school. The somewhat thick-set man, with his broad forehead, his very black hair and beard and his dark sparkling eyes, at once attracted general attention. He enjoyed the reputation of having acquired great learning, and as I knew very little of his discoveries and theories, I was all the more eager to gather words of wisdom from the lips of that famous man. This expectation was disappointed in a peculiar way. Marx's utterances were indeed full of meaning, logical and clear, but I have never seen a man whose bearing was so provoking and intolerable. To no opinion, which differed from his, he accorded the honor of even a condescending consideration. Everyone who contradicted him he treated with abject contempt; every argument that he did not like he answered either with biting scorn at the unfathomable ignorance that had prompted it, or with opprobrious aspersions upon the motives of him who had advanced it. I remember most distinctly the cutting disdain with which he pronounced the word "bourgeois"; and as a "bourgeois," that is as a detestable example of the deepest mental and moral degeneracy he denounced everyone that dared to oppose his opinion. Of course the propositions advanced or advocated by Marx in that meeting were voted down, because everyone whose feelings had been hurt by his conduct was inclined to support everything that Marx did not favor. It was very evident that not only he had not won any adherents, but had repelled many who otherwise might have become his followers.
From this meeting I took home with me a very important lesson: that he who would be a leader and teacher of men must treat the opinions of his hearers with respect; that even the most superior mind will lose influence upon others if he seeks to humiliate those others by constant demonstrations of his superiority. That public man will be most successful in enlightening and winning the ignorant who puts himself upon their standpoint, not with condescension, but with sympathy.
On the whole the summer of 1848 was to me a time of work and worry. The newspaper for which I had to write articles, the agitation in clubs and popular meetings, and besides my studies, imposed upon me a very heavy burden of labor, in which — I must confess — my studies fell into a somewhat subordinate place. What troubled me most was the visibly and constantly growing power of the reactionary forces and the frittering away of the opportunities to create something real and durable, by the national parliament in Frankfurt and by the assembly in Berlin. I remember well to have carried with me an oppressive consciousness of my own ignorance in political things, which was the more painful the more urgent appeared the necessity for the people to be prepared for prudent and energetic action in the decisive struggles which impended.
Our activity, however, had also a cheerful side of which my youthful spirits were keenly susceptible. We students enjoyed with the country-people a very great popularity, and even persons who did not sympathize with us politically received us with a kindness which sometimes was so exuberant as to make our presence the occasion of gay festivities.
The most interesting event of those days which I have cherished in my memory was the student-congress in Eisenach, which occurred in September, 1848, and which I attended as one of the chosen representatives of the university men of Bonn. This was the first long journey of my life. I had never before been far enough away from my paternal roof that I might not have returned in a few hours. On a bright September morning I sailed up the Rhine from Bonn to Mainz. I should have enjoyed it with the fullness of youthful spirits had I been able to drive away the disquieting thoughts which were stirred up by confused rumors of a riot and street-battle in Frankfurt. In fact, upon my arrival in that city I found those rumors distressingly verified.
The revolt in Frankfurt was the outcome of the following events. I have already mentioned that the popular uprising in the duchies of Holstein and Schleswig against the Danish rule had been sanctioned as a national cause by the old Diet of the German Confederation, and then by the national parliament and by all the several German governments. Prussian and other German troops had marched into the duchies and won considerable advantages over the Danish army on the field of battle. Everything promised a speedy and happy termination of the war. It was therefore a painful surprise when the Prussian government, whose head, Frederick William IV., had as usual permitted himself to be intimidated by the other European powers, concluded in the name of the German Confederation a truce with Denmark — the so-called "truce of Malmö" — in which it was agreed that the victorious German troops were to retire from the duchies, that the duchies were to lose their own provisional government, and that a commission composed of two Prussians, two Danes and a fifth member to be elected by them was to govern the disputed country. At the same time all the laws and ordinances that had been issued by the Schleswig-Holstein authorities since the days of March, 1848, were declared invalid. This truce called forth the greatest indignation all over Germany. The representative assembly of Schleswig-Holstein protested. The national parliament in Frankfurt, which saw not only the honor of Germany greviously compromised, but its own authority overruled by these proceedings of the Prussian government, resolved on September 5 to refuse the recognition of the truce of Malmö and to demand the suspension of all the measures stipulated therein. But after several failures to form a new ministry on the basis of this resolution, and not daring to bring the question of authority between itself and the Prussian government to a direct issue, the parliament revoked the resolution of September 5, ten days later, and declared at the same time that the execution of the truce of Malmö could apparently no longer be hindered. This declaration, which seemed to strike the sympathies of the German people full in the face, caused immense excitement, of which the revolutionary leaders in Frankfurt and the surrounding country at once took advantage. On the next day a large mass meeting was held on a meadow near Frankfurt. Inflammatory speeches goaded the passions of the multitude to fury, and the meeting adopted resolutions by which the members of the majority of the national parliament in Frankfurt were branded as traitors to the German nation. Troops of armed democrats poured in from all sides, and an attempt was made to force the parliament to revoke the hateful declaration, or to drive out the traitorous majority. Two prominent conservative members of the parliament, Count Auerswald and Prince Lichnowsky, fell into the hands of the revolutionists and were killed; and then followed a bloody struggle in the streets of Frankfurt, in which the insurgents soon succumbed to the quickly concentrated troops.
When on my way to Eisenach I arrived in Frankfurt, the victorious soldiery still bivouacked on the streets around their burning campfires; the barricades had not yet been removed; the pavement was still stained with blood, and everywhere the heavy tramp of military patrols was heard. With difficulty I made my way to the hotel "Zum Schwan," where I was to meet, according to agreement, some Heidelberg students, in order to continue in their company the journey to Eisenach. With hearts full of gloom we sat together deep into the night, for we all felt that the cause of liberty and of popular sovereignty had received a terrible blow. The royal Prussian government had successfully defied the national parliament, which represented the sovereignty of the German nation. Those who called themselves "the people" had made a hostile attempt upon the embodiment of popular sovereignty which had issued from the revolution, and this embodiment of popular sovereignty had been obliged to call upon the armed forces of the princes for protection against the hatred of "the people." Thus the backbone of the revolution begun in March, 1848, was substantially broken. We young students indeed did not see so far. But we felt that terrible mischief had been done. Our youthful spirits, however, consoled themselves with the hope that what was lost might still be recovered by well-directed and energetic action under more favorable circumstances.
The next day I visited with some of my friends the gallery of St. Paul's Church, in which the national parliament held its sessions. With that profound reverence, the organ of which (to express myself in the language of phrenology) has always been with me very strongly developed, I looked at that historic spot, in which the fate of the revolution of 1848 was already foretold. On "the right" there sat, with a smile of triumph on their lips, men whose principal aim it was to restore the old order of things; in "the center" the advocates of a liberal constitutional monarchy, tormented by anxious doubt as to whether they could control the revolutionary tendencies without making the absolutist reaction all-powerful; on "the left" the democrats and republicans with the oppressive consciousness that the masses of the people, in whom they were to find the source of their power, had grievously compromised them by this wild eruption of passion at Frankfurt and had thus put the most dangerous weapon into the hands of the reactionists.
I remember well the men whom my eyes most eagerly sought. On "the right" Radowitz, whose finely chiseled face, somewhat oriental in its character, looked like a sealed book containing the secret of reactionary politics; in "the center" Heinrich von Gagern, with his imposing stature and heavy eyebrows; on "the left" the Silenus-head of Robert Blum, whom many regarded as the ideal man of the people; and the little shriveled figure of the old poet, Ludwig Uhland, whose songs we had so often sung, and who with such touching fidelity stood by that which he believed to be the good right of his people!
In the evening we traveled on to Eisenach, and soon I found myself in the midst of a company that could not have been more congenial.
The pleasant little town of Eisenach, at the foot of the Wartburg, where Luther translated the Bible into good German and threw his inkstand at the head of the devil, had repeatedly been selected by the old Burschenschaft as the theater of its great demonstrations. The object of the present student-congress consisted mainly in the national organization of German university men with an executive committee to facilitate united action. There were also to be discussed various reforms needed at the universities, of which however, so far as I can remember, nobody could give an entirely clear account. We organized ourselves according to parliamentary rules so that our oratorical performances might begin at once. All the German universities, including those of Austria, having sent delegations to this congress, the meeting was large in numbers and contained many young men of uncommon gifts. Those who attracted the most attention both within and without our assembly were the Viennese, of whom nine or ten had reported themselves. They wore the handsome uniform of the famous "academic legion" — black felt hats with ostrich plumes, blue coats with black shining buttons, tricolored, black-red-gold sashes, bright steel-handled swords, light gray trousers, and silver-gray cloaks lined with scarlet. They looked like a troop of knights of old. When the citizens of Eisenach, who had received us with most cordial kindness, gave a ball in our honor, all competition with the Viennese for the favors of the fair sex was in vain. But it was not their outward appearance alone that distinguished them. They were men of marked ability and already had a history behind them which made them an object of general interest and appealed in a high degree to the imagination.
Nowhere had the university students played so important and prominent a part in the revolutionary movement as in Vienna. To them was largely owing the uprising that drove Prince Metternich from power. The "academic legion," which they organized and which, if I am not mistaken, counted about 6000 men, formed the nucleus of the armed power of the revolution. In the "central committee," which consisted of an equal number of students and members of the citizens' guard, and which stood for the will of the people as against the government, they exercised a preponderant influence. Deputations of citizens and peasants came from all parts of Austria to present their grievances and petitions to the "Aula," the headquarters of the students, which had suddenly risen as an authority omnipotent in the opinion of the multitude. When the imperial ministry was about to promulgate a new press-law, which indeed abolished the censorship but still contained many restrictions, its chief requested the students to express their judgment about that law. And on May 15 the students at the head of the armed people forced the government by their determined attitude to revoke the constitution which the government had framed on its own authority, and to promise the convocation of the constituent assembly. The students successfully maintained their organization against various attempts of the government to dissolve it. They compelled the ministry to agree to the removal of the soldiery from the city of Vienna and to the formation of a committee of public safety, which was to consist principally of the members of the students' organization. So independent and so comprehensive a power was confided to it that in several important respects it stood by the side of the ministry as co-ordinate. Without its consent, for instance, no military force should be employed in the city. Thus it might have been said without much exaggeration that for a certain time the students of Vienna governed Austria.
It was, therefore, not astonishing that the Viennese legionaries, who had already made so much history, were among us regarded as the heroes of the day, and that with eager attention we listened to their reports about the condition of things in their country. Those reports, however, opened a prospect of further serious troubles if not of a tragical end, and of this our Viennese friends were sadly conscious. They knew that the victories of the Austrian Field Marshal Radetzki in Italy over Carlo Alberto, the king of Piedmont, would give Austria's army new prestige and the reactionary court-party new power; that this court-party systematically inflamed and used the Czechs against the Germans in Austria; that the presence in the capital of the constituent assembly, the convocation of which the students themselves had asked for, would greatly impair the power of the revolutionary authorities; that in the civic guards and in the committee of public safety mischievous dissensions had broken out; that the court-party derived from all these things great advantage and would avail itself of the first favorable opportunity to sweep away the fruits of the revolution in general, and to suppress the students' organization in particular, and that the decisive struggle would come soon.
These presentiments sometimes fell like dark shadows upon our otherwise so jovial conviviality, and it required all the elasticity of youthful spirits to console us with the hope that finally all would be well.
While we were still planning various excursions from Eisenach into the surrounding country, our Viennese friends informed us that they had received letters from the "Aula" about the threatening situation of things, which obliged them to return to Vienna without delay. They parted from us with a real "morituri salutamus." "In a few days," they said, "we shall have to fight a battle in Vienna, and then you may look for our names on the list of the dead." I still see one of them before me — he was a young man of rare beauty, by the name of Valentin — who spoke those words. Thus our admired Viennese legionaries took leave of us, and we trembled in appreciating how terribly and how quickly their prediction might come true.
The rest of us also were now obliged to think of journeying home. The only practical object of the student-congress was accomplished. The general organization of the German university men had been resolved upon and the executive authority designated. Subjects for further discussions there were none. The funds of many of us too were beginning to run low. But with every hour our parting appeared harder to bear. We had come to love one another so much and our companionship was so enjoyable that we strained our inventive genius to the utmost to save at least a few days. At last we took an inventory of the money that was still in our pockets in order to form a common purse, out of which, after the means necessary for our respective homeward journey had been reserved, the cost of further convivial pleasures was to be defrayed. In this way we really gained a few days which we enjoyed to our heart's content and at once some festivities were planned, one of which came very near having a bad end.
One evening we marched up to the Wartburg. There a plenteous spread with beer awaited us, having consumed which, we were in the dusk of evening to march down the mountain to the town by the light of torches. As the merry students had become great favorites with the population of Eisenach, a multitude of citizens, and among them a considerable number of soldiers, who were in garrison in Eisenach, accompanied us to take part in our jollification. As was the custom of the time, political speeches were made during the entertainment, and the indignation against the princes, especially the king of Prussia, on account of the truce of Malmö being still very bitter, some of those speeches assumed a decidedly republican tone. Presently the excitement grew hot, and some of the soldiers threw up their caps, cheered for the Republic, and declared that they would put themselves under the order of the students. Meanwhile evening had come and the whole company, preceded and surrounded by burning torches, and singing patriotic songs, marched down the forest road to Eisenach. This spectacle was charming, but the effect produced upon the soldiers by the revolutionary speeches made some of us a little uncomfortable as to results. So far as any of us knew, there was no understanding with other parts of the country which would have insured to a popular uprising in Thuringia any outside support, and to incite harmless people, especially soldiers, to a revolutionary attempt, without plan or purpose, which could have for them only very mischievous consequences, appeared to me for one in a high degree objectionable. If, however, which was probable, nothing came of it beyond what had already happened, there would be no serious harm; and with this comforting hope I went to bed, not knowing what was happening in the meantime. The following morning I heard that a large part of the multitude that had participated in our festival on the Wartburg had gone on to a public resort. There the speechmaking was continued; the number of soldiers among the audience had largely increased, and these had with remarkable unanimity and in a tumultuous way again cheered the Republic, and finally refused obedience to some officers present who had ordered them to go away. During the night the excitement had spread among the soldiers until well-nigh the whole military garrison of Eisenach was in a condition of actual mutiny. The officers had lost all control. Troops of soldiers now came to us with the request that we students should put ourselves at their head. This indeed had not been the purpose of the speechmakers of yesterday, who now had to use every possible effort to prevent further mischief. From Weimar, the capital of the duchy, telegraphic orders arrived forthwith to remove to that city the soldiers garrisoned in Eisenach. But the soldiers stubbornly refused to go; they insisted upon remaining with the students. Now the civic guard of Eisenach was summoned to force the soldiers to depart. But when that civic guard was in line on the market-place, it did not show the least willingness to undertake the task. The guardsmen, rather, amused themselves with cheering the students. The embarrassment grew more and more serious. At last we succeeded in persuading the officers of the troops that all this was only a merry and light-hearted student frolic, and that the soldiers ought not to be held to account for having, amid the general hilarity, and perhaps under the influence of excessive potations, fraternized with the students. The officers at last were induced to take the jocular view of the matter, and we engaged ourselves to bring the soldiers back to their duty, if the authorities promised that nothing would happen to them in consequence of this escapade. The promise came at once and now we succeeded in persuading the soldiers quietly to rally around their colors. Fortunately it was at that time still possible in the small states of Germany to arrange such things in so good-natured a manner. In Prussia an occurrence of this kind would have produced very serious consequences.
After this performance we felt that now it was indeed time for us to depart from Eisenach and to go home. Our financial resources too were very nearly exhausted. On the evening before our departure we had a last great carousal in the Rathskeller. One of us, if I remember rightly a student from Königsberg, who had distinguished himself by wearing a Polish cap and by indulging in extremely revolutionary phraseology, made the motion that before parting we should issue an address to the German people and let them know our opinion about the existing condition of things, and then admonish them closely to watch and with all possible energy to resist the advancing reaction. That such a proclamation, at such a moment, coming from such a lot of young persons, could have an aspect intensely comical, did not occur to us. The motion was discussed with the greatest seriousness and unanimously adopted. The address was drawn up at once. Then, with the signatures of the committee, to which I too had the honor of belonging, it was printed the same night, posted on the walls of the city hall and of various other public buildings, and sent to several newspapers for further publication. This having been done, we sang several patriotic songs and then we parted after tender embraces and vows of eternal friendship. Early the next morning we scattered in all directions.
On the way home an extremely sober feeling came over me. In Frankfurt I still found a "state of siege" and a gloomy atmosphere of anxiety. The day was cloudy, damp and cold when I went down the Rhine on the steamboat. Among the passengers I did not see a single familiar face. As I sat hour after hour alone and shivering on the deck, disquieting thoughts began to trouble me, not only about the general course of things, but also for the first time about my own personal safety. I remembered the wording of the address which we had published in Eisenach, and which contained several sharp attacks upon the majority of the national parliament and upon the Prussian government. I remembered also to have read in the papers that the parliament in consequence of the September revolt had passed a law which imposed a heavy penalty upon utterances insulting to its members. Had we not actually committed that crime in our published address? Undoubtedly; and thus I began to picture to myself how after my arrival in Bonn I would soon be arrested, and on account of the press-offense against the national parliament and the Prussian government put on trial. Of course I resolved to suffer courageously for my convictions. What troubled me more was the thought that our address probably would have no other effect than this. But my apprehension that I would be arrested and punished proved to be entirely superfluous. If our proclamation had really come to the knowledge of the government, the authorities probably did not think it worth while to take any notice of it; and I drew from this the lesson — a not at all flattering one — that we young people might possibly appear to others much less important than to ourselves. Before long, however, conflicts really serious arrived.
Momentous news from Vienna confirmed the predictions of our Viennese friends in Eisenach. Hungary had in the days of March asserted a high degree of political autonomy under a "personal union" with Austria. It had its own ministry residing in Pesth, without whose counter-signature no order of the Austrian emperor concerning Hungary should be valid. Without the assent of the Hungarian legislature no Hungarian troops should be employed outside of the boundaries of Hungary, nor should non-Hungarian troops enter within those boundaries. The "Archduke Palatin," an Austrian prince, should as Viceroy of Hungary, have his residence in Pesth. In addition to this, the German and Slavic districts, which so far had been considered as belonging to Hungary, should remain as integral parts of the country subject to the Hungarian government. The to a large extent independent Hungarian government was an object of detestation to the Austrian court-party. That party resorted to various intrigues, which resulted in a direct breach between the Austrian and Hungarian governments, in the killing of an imperial emissary by an excited multitude in Pesth, and in the creation by the Hungarians of a national government-commission in Hungary, followed by a proclamation from the Austrian emperor which virtually amounted to a declaration of war. The Hungarians prepared for the struggle, and when in October Austrian troops were dispatched from Vienna for the subjugation of Hungary, the people of Vienna, the students at their head, rose in revolt against their own government, with the feeling that the attempt to destroy the constitutional rights of the Hungarians was at the same time directed against the rights of the German Austrians, and against all the fruits of the revolution. The minister of war, Count Latour, was hanged to a lamp-post by an infuriated crowd. After a bloody fight the insurrectionists controlled the city. The commander of the garrison, Count Auersperg, found himself obliged to evacuate the town, but he entrenched himself in a strong position outside, and was soon reinforced by large bodies of troops under Prince Windischgrätz. Windischgrätz took command of the army, attacked the city of Vienna on October 23, and after long and bloody struggles he put down the last resistance on the 31st. Vienna was then subjected to the unlimited arbitrariness of military rule, and the revolutionary movement in German Austria had an end. Several of the chivalrous legionaries, with whom we students had enjoyed such sunny days in Eisenach, had fallen in the battle, and the rest were fugitives.
With this catastrophe coincided a marked turn of affairs in Prussia. Since March the Prussian government had moved in constitutional forms, and the ministry, at the head of which stood the liberal General von Pfuel, showed itself willing to fulfill the promises that had been given. But the king and his immediate surroundings had on various occasions manifested a disposition which hardly harmonized with those pledges and called forth grave apprehensions. On October 31 the Prussian Constituent Assembly gave voice to the general sympathy with the struggling people of Vienna and resolved to request his Majesty's government "to take speedy and energetic steps to induce the German central power in Frankfurt to effectually protect the imperiled liberties of the people in the German districts of Austria, and to restore peace." The president of the ministry, General von Pfuel, supported this resolution. The next day he found himself compelled to resign, and the king then appointed a ministry of decidedly reactionary character, at the head of which he put Count Brandenburg, and the leading spirit of which was Herr von Manteuffel. The Constituent Assembly solemnly protested, but in vain. On November 9 the Brandenburg ministry presented itself to the Assembly with a royal message which transferred the meetings of that body to another place and prorogued its sessions until November 27. By a large majority the Assembly denied the right of the royal government to do these things, but the next day the house was surrounded by large bodies of troops under General Wrangel, who gave the order that nobody should be permitted to enter, but anybody might leave the building. On November 11 the civil guard of Berlin was dissolved and in a few days disarmed. The Assembly moved from one place to another, constantly followed by the soldiery, until finally on November 15, at its last meeting, it refused to vote the supplies, and declared "that this ministry had no right to dispose of the moneys of the state or to levy taxes, so long as the Constituent Assembly could not undisturbed continue its deliberations in Berlin." These events called forth immense excitement all over the country. They seemed to prove that the reactionary court-parties were determined to sweep away by force all the fruits of the revolution.
That the Constituent Assembly in opposing the "coup d'état" was altogether within its right, admitted of no doubt in the minds of the democrats. They blamed it only for not having made the fullest use of its right by calling the people directly to arms, and for having at this moment of great decision limited itself to the weak-kneed policy of "passive resistance." But they thought that this passive resistance by means of a general refusal to pay taxes might finally force the government to yield, assuming that the refusal to pay taxes would become general and be maintained with inflexible steadiness.
The democrats in Bonn, among whom we students played a prominent part, were zealous in demonstrating their determination to support the Constituent Assembly. The declaration that we would refuse the payment of taxes coming from the students looked somewhat like a huge joke, because we had none to pay. The problem we had to solve, therefore, consisted in persuading other people to refuse to pay their taxes. We believed we could strike a demonstrative blow by stopping the levying of octroi duties which were levied at the gates of the city on the food-stuffs brought to the town. We did this in driving the revenue officers from their posts, which pleased the peasants, who were at once ready to bring their products free of duty into the city. This led to conflicts with the police in which, however, we easily had the upper hand.
Now it appeared to us unnecessary to seize upon the general machinery of the tax-department. The next day a committee, of which I was a member, appeared at the city hall to take possession of it. The Burgomaster received us with great politeness and listened quietly to what we had to say to him about the authority of the Constituent Assembly and its power to stop the payment of taxes; but he tried to amuse us with all sorts of evasive talk. At last we became impatient and demanded an immediate and definite answer according to which we would resolve upon further measures. Suddenly we noticed a change in the expression of the Burgomaster's face. He seemed to hearken to something going on outside and then, still politely but with a sort of triumphant smile on his lips, he said: "Gentlemen, your answer you will have to receive from somebody else. Do you hear that?" Now we hearkened too, and heard a still distant, but approaching, sound of a military band playing the Prussian national air. The music sounded nearer and nearer in the street leading up from the Rhine. In a few minutes it reached the market-place and behind it came the heavy tramp of an infantry column which presently filled a large part of the square in front of the city hall. Our conversation with the Burgomaster of course came to a sudden end and we thought it very decent on his part that he permitted us to leave the building undisturbed.
The appearance of the military was easily explained. As soon as we began to refuse the payment of taxes, the authorities in Bonn, which at that time had no garrison, had telegraphed to the nearest fortress for aid, and the call was promptly responded to. This of course put a stop to our doings in the matter of stopping the payment of taxes. The soldiers at once occupied the gates of the city and the octroi duties were levied as before. In the evening we had a meeting of our democratic committee to consider what was next to be done. The first impulse was to attack the soldiers and if possible to drive them out of the town. This would have been a desperate enterprise, but it was taken seriously in view. After mature consideration, however, we all recognized that a fight in Bonn, even a successful one, could have real importance only as a part of a more general uprising. Cologne was naturally regarded as the capital of the Rhineland and as the central focus for all political movements. It was there we had to seek our support, and from there to get our orders. We had already received from Cologne a report that feverish excitement prevailed in that city, and that the signal for a general uprising was to be expected from the democratic leaders. For this we were to prepare quietly and quickly, but we were to avoid everything like an isolated attempt. We sent a messenger to Cologne to inform our friends of what had occurred in Bonn and to get further instructions. In the meantime we made arrangements to collect as many as possible of the muskets of our civic-guard and to make cartridges, which was done with great zeal.
But now disquieting news came about what happened in the vicinity of the gates of the city. Large crowds of peasants from the neighboring villages had assembled outside. They had received information about the coming of the soldiers to Bonn and thought that the democrats and the students must be in great danger. They had now come to help us. Many of them probably imagined the expulsion of the troops from the city to be as easy as had been the driving away of the tax officers from the gates. Some of them were spoiling for a fight. We had indeed reason for apprehending that they would press into the city and involve us in a street-battle with the soldiers under very unfavorable circumstances. It was not an easy task to persuade those impatient people to go home and to keep themselves ready to aid us as soon as the signal for action should come from Cologne. The whole night our committee waited for the return of the messenger we had sent there. About daybreak we separated, but only to meet again after a short rest. The preparations for war continued in the meantime. Not one of us slept in his own quarters, so as not to be easily found in case the authorities should try to arrest us. I took refuge in a friend's room that was filled with muskets and cases of cartridges which were stored there ready for distribution.
Our messenger did not return from Cologne before evening of the next day. He reported that our friends did not feel themselves able to attempt a blow with any prospect of success against the large masses of troops gathered there; that they would confine themselves to the continuation of the "passive resistance," and that they urgently recommended to us to abstain from all violent steps until further orders. Nothing remained to us therefore but to swallow our wrath and to keep our friends in the open country quiet. What happened with us, happened all over the kingdom of Prussia. The Constituent Assembly had yielded to the government a bloodless victory and the resolution to refuse the payment of taxes soon became a dead letter.
But it looked as if the whole affair would come home to the democratic leaders among the students in a disagreeable way. There was a rumor that against three or four of us, against me among others, warrants had been issued, and that we had to expect our arrest any moment. Whether it was really so, I did not know, but it was so believed; and our friends went at once to work to protect us from harm. They spread the impression among the citizens of Bonn that if we were touched by the police, all the students would quit the city. Now, as the prosperity of Bonn depended in a great measure upon the presence of the students, this caused no little alarm among the good burghers. Many of them urgently asked the Burgomaster to use his whole influence to obtain from the higher authorities the promise that nothing should happen to us, and thus to avert the threatening calamity. In fact we were informed by our friends in the course of a few days that such a promise had indeed been given, and that for once we should escape unharmed. We therefore left our hiding places, and I continued to write for our newspaper, to address meetings and to attend lectures, so far as I could find time to do so.
Frederick William IV., after having won his victory over the Constituent Assembly, felt himself strong enough to give to Prussia a constitution of his own exclusive making, without submitting it for assent to the representatives of the people. This constitution of his provided for a Diet consisting of two Chambers. The Chambers were convoked at once and Kinkel stepped forward in Bonn as a candidate for the lower House. He was elected by a large majority, and had to take his seat soon after. Frau Kinkel accompanied him to Berlin. Although they sent me regular contributions for the columns of the Bonner Zeitung, the daily duties of the editorship fell upon my shoulders during their absence as a very heavy burden of unaccustomed work.
The Bonner Zeitung having only a very small editorial staff, I had not only to furnish political articles, but also many other things which a daily paper must offer to its readers among others the reports about the stage. A theater had been established in Bonn which gave respectable performances, and even light opera. To the Bonner Zeitung the director of the theater assigned a box for its reporters, the principal reporter having so far been Mme. Kinkel. This box was now at my disposal, and I occupied it, not only when journalistic duties called me to witness the performance of a new play, but sometimes also when I felt the want of a little relaxation from my many labors and cares. Here I must confess that to these labors and cares an affair of the heart had been added.
Until this time no woman outside of my family-circle had played any part in my life, perhaps largely because of my excessive bashfulness. At length inevitable fate laid its hand upon me too. I really fell in love, head over heels, at first sight, with a beautiful young lady. She was the daughter of a little merchant. Her name was Betty. I had never been introduced to her and we had never exchanged a word. I had only seen her sitting at her window, occupied with embroidery; still oftener with a book in her hand, I had frequently passed by this window, and almost always she sat there. Sometimes our eyes met, and I then was conscious of blushing all over. From a friend of hers I heard that she was reading Shakespeare in the English original, which gave me a high idea of her mental gifts and acquirements. The sly manner in which I sometimes turned the conversation with that friend in the direction of Betty, was, of course, self-betraying; and from what he told me in return, I was happy to suspect that Betty too was aware of my existence. I ardently longed to know her and soon found a to me surprisingly favorable opportunity.
One evening while sitting in the theater-box, — Flotow's opera "Martha" was on the stage, — two ladies took seats in the one adjoining mine. A few minutes later I turned and could hardly believe my eyes when, with a violent heart jump, I suddenly became aware that only the low partition between the boxes separated me from Betty. Soon the ladies began to look around for something and I heard them say that they had left their opera-glasses at home. Here was an evident opportunity for me. I held my own opera-glass in my hand. What more natural than to offer it to Betty with a polite word? Indeed, was it not positively impolite not to do so? But — but — the necessary words would not come. I sat completely paralyzed and tongue-tied throughout the whole play. Finally the ladies left the box and with them my long hoped-for opportunity. I rushed from the theater, tormenting myself with self-reproach, and instead of going, as I had intended, to the Franconia, I took a long, lonely walk in the night. But soon this love-dream became more shadowy than ever, for events occurred which tore me altogether out of my surroundings.
Of the larger parliamentary bodies that had issued from the revolution of March, only the national parliament in Frankfurt was still in existence. That existence it had owed to the longing of the German people, or rather the German peoples, for national unity, and it was its natural and universally understood mission to weld the German peoples under a common constitution of national government into one great nation. Immediately after the revolution of March, 1848, the different German governments, and with them also Austria, because of her German possessions, had recognized this object as a legitimate one, and it was with their co-operation that in May the elections for the national parliament had taken place. The large majority of that body, in fact, the German people in general, regarded the Frankfurt parliament as the specific representative of the sovereignty of the German nation. It was to be expected that the princes and those of their adherents, who may be designated as court-parties, would submit to this conception of the powers of the parliament only so long, and only so far, as they found themselves forced to do so. But few of the princes, if any, were sufficiently liberal to accept a limitation of their princely prerogatives with equanimity. Every gain of the people in the matter of political power they felt to be their own loss. Of course they were also opposed to the institution of a strong national government for the reason that this would be conditioned upon the surrender to the national authority of many of the sovereignty-rights of the different states. It was not only a national republic that the individual German sovereigns feared, but they also dreaded a national Kaiser who would be apt to reduce them to the condition of mere vassals. The German princes, with the exception of the one who could hope himself to occupy the imperial throne, were therefore the natural adversaries of German unity, embodied in a strong national government. There may have been some men of national sentiment among them capable of overcoming this reluctance, but certainly there were very few. Austria desired a united Germany in some form, only if it could hope to occupy in it the position of the leading power.
Face to face with the princes and their parties stood the national parliament in Frankfurt, that child of the revolution, which might then have almost been called the orphan of the revolution. It had at its immediate disposal no administrative machinery, no army, no treasury, only its moral authority; all the other things were in the hands of the different German state governments. The only power of the national parliament consisted in the will of the people. And this power was sufficient for the fulfillment of its mission so long as the will of the people proved itself strong enough, even through revolutionary action in case of necessity, to counteract the adverse interests of the princes. The parliament would have been sure of success in creating a constitutional German empire, if it had performed that task quickly and elected and put into office its Kaiser while the revolutionary prestige of the people was still unbroken — that is to say, in the first two or three months after the revolution of March. No German prince would then have declined the imperial crown with a constitution ever so democratic, and not one of them would have dared to refuse the sacrifice of any of his sovereignty-rights to the national power.
But that parliament was laboring under an overabundance of learning and virtue and under a want of that political experience and sagacity which recognizes that the better is often the enemy of the good, and that the true statesman will be careful not to imperil that which is essential by excessive insistence upon things which are of comparatively little consequence. The world has probably never seen a political assembly that contained a larger number of noble, learned, conscientious and patriotic men, and it will be difficult to find a book of the same character richer in profound knowledge and in models of lofty eloquence than its stenographic reports. But it did not possess the genius that promptly discerns opportunity and with quick resolution takes fortune by the forelock; it was not mindful of the fact that in times of great commotion the history of the world does not wait for the theoretical thinker. And thus it failed.
The parliament indeed recognized soon after its opening, that, if it was not to remain a mere constituent assembly, but also, until the constitution should be completed, a temporary government, an executive organ was required; and thus it resolved upon the institution of a "provisional central power," with a sort of lieutenant-emperor at its head. To this office it elected the Archduke Johann of Austria, who enjoyed the reputation of being a liberal. He was authorized by the parliament to appoint an imperial ministry. But, as mentioned before, his minister of foreign affairs had no diplomatic machinery under him; his minister of war had no soldiers except such as were lent to him by some of the several state governments; and his minister of finance no fiscal machinery, no tax-levies, and no money except what the several state governments contributed. All the things which together constitute the substantial force of a government remained after all in the control of the several German states. The real source of its power was therefore after all nothing but the revolutionary strength of the people. At the end of the year 1848 this revolutionary strength did not confront the princes and the court-parties any longer in so imposing a shape as it had done in the spring. A large portion of the people who had been so enthusiastic in March had become more or less tired of the constant excitements, while the princes and their adherents had to a large extent recovered from the terrors of March, had assured themselves of the administrative machinery and of the fidelity of their armies, and had been keeping their aims steadily in view — in point of fact had, at the great political centers, Vienna and Berlin, inflicted very grievous defeats upon the revolutionary spirit. The possibility of new revolutionary action on a large scale had therefore grown very much less. Under these circumstances the national parliament could indeed issue its ordinances and have them proclaimed through the national executive, but the governments of the several German states felt that they need not pay much more attention to them than they pleased. And yet, the parliament had still its principal task before it: to complete the constitution of the German empire, to introduce it practically, and thereby to satisfy the great national want of the German people.
It was still engaged in learned and arduous debates about the fundamental right, and liberties the German citizens should possess; it still had to solve doubts as to whether Germany should have a Reichstag to be elected by all the people and whether the head of the national government should be a hereditary or only an elective Kaiser, or a President, or instead of a single head, an executive committee. It had still to determine of what countries and parts of countries the German empire should consist; whether the German-Austrian districts should form a part of it, and which of the two German great powers, Austria or Prussia, should in this event have the hegemony. The parliamentary struggle on these questions lasted long, and only, when the reactionary Austrian minister, Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, demanded that the whole of Austria, organized as a united state with its nearly thirty millions of non-German inhabitants, should form part of the German empire — a demand with which the creation of a really German national union seemed entirely incompatible — only then did the parliament come to a decision. The majority declared itself for a hereditary Kaiser, and on March 28, 1849, elected to that office the King of Prussia.
However unpopular Prussia and the Prussian king were outside the boundaries of that kingdom, especially in South Germany, and however little the democratic party desired the creation of an executive head to the German empire in the shape of a hereditary Kaiser, yet when the work of German unity appeared at last completed, the national enthusiasm was once more kindled into a joyous flame. A committee consisting of thirty-three members of the national parliament, headed by its president, betook itself to Berlin, receiving on the way the most spirited manifestations of popular joy, to offer to the King of Prussia the constitutional headship of the empire.
And now came the bitterest disappointment of all. It was indeed well known that Frederick William IV., full of his absolutist mysticism, had never at heart recognized the sovereign character of the national parliament as a constituent assembly, and that he had claimed for the king of Prussia as well as for the other German princes the right to revise the constitution itself. It was also generally understood that that constitution, as it came from the hands of the national parliament, was too democratic to suit his taste. But when all the German governments, with the exception of those of Bavaria, Saxony and Hanover (Austria was no longer to be considered), had yielded to the pressure of popular sentiment and declared themselves ready to accept the imperial constitution and the Kaiser, and it was certain that even the three opposing kings would offer no serious resistance, the people, still hopeful and confiding, believed that Frederick William IV. could not refuse the great offer. Had he not in March on the streets of Berlin solemnly declared that he would put himself at the head of the national movement, and that Prussia would be merged in a united Germany? How could he possibly reject and desire to destroy the work of national union at the very moment when it required for its completion only his assent and acceptance? But what happened? Frederick William IV. refused the crown. He had indulged himself in all sorts of fantastic dreams about the manner in which Germany might be united, but found that the constitution now presented to him in all essential points diverged seriously from his own conceits. The national parliament he thought had no right to offer to him or anybody else a crown; such an offer could, in his opinion, legitimately be made only by a free resolution of the German princes. Neither would the acceptance of the German imperial crown be compatible with his feelings of friendly obligations to Austria. These and similar reasons for the non-acceptance of the imperial constitution and the Kaisership were uttered by the king, partly in public, partly in private.
It is quite possible that the most serious reason which frightened him lay in the probability that if he accepted the imperial crown, he might have to defend it by force of arms against Austria and Russia; and this apprehension appeared in an almost naïve way in an answer which the king gave to the eloquent words of a member of the Frankfurt parliament, Herr von Beckerath, urging him to accept: "If you could have addressed your appeal to Frederick the Great, he would have been your man; but I am not a great ruler." Indeed, Frederick William IV. from the first day of his government to the pitiable end thereof sufficiently proved that he was not made to be the first Kaiser of the new German empire. His refusal to accept the imperial crown and the constitution of the empire turned the general enthusiasm of the people throughout the country into general dismay and indignation. On April 11 the national parliament declared that it would stand by the constitution it had made. By the 14th the legislative bodies of the governments of twenty-three German states had signified their acceptance of that constitution and of the election of the king of Prussia as Kaiser. But Frederick William IV. persisted in his declination, and the kings of Bavaria, Hanover and Saxony also continued to signify their unwillingness to assent.
On May 4 the national parliament appealed to the "governments, the legislative bodies, the communities in the several states and to the whole German people to stand up for the recognition and the introduction of the national constitution." This appeal sounded very much like a summons to arms, and in various parts of Germany it had already been anticipated. In the Bavarian Palatinate, on the left bank of the Rhine, a detached province of the kingdom of Bavaria, the people had already on April 30 risen up with rare unanimity, and declared in immense mass-meetings that whatever the Bavarian government might do, they would stand and fall with the national constitution. They went even farther. They instituted a provisional government to replace the authorities acting under the king of Bavaria. The revolt rapidly spread to the neighboring grand duchy of Baden, where the whole army of that state, with the exception of a small body of cavalry, joined the revolt and surrendered to it the important fortress of Rastatt. The Grand Duke of Baden took to flight, and a provisional government composed of popular leaders assumed the place of his ministry. In the kingdom of Saxony the people of Dresden, the capital city, attempted to force the king to recognize the national constitution. There too the king found himself obliged to flee after a short struggle between the people and the military, and a provisional government was organized. The king of Saxony applied to the Prussian government for aid. This was willingly granted, and after a bloody fight in the streets of Dresden the revolt was suppressed and the authority of the Saxon king restored by Prussian bayonets.
What were the adherents of the national cause in Prussia to do while their king sent Prussian soldiers to overcome the national movement outside? Uprisings were attempted in Berlin and Breslau, but speedily overcome by force of arms. In the Rhenish provinces the excitement was tremendous. In Cologne a meeting was held of the representatives of the country communes, which almost unanimously demanded the recognition of the national constitution and threatened the defection of the Rhineland from the Prussian monarchy in case of non-compliance. But the Prussian government had long ceased to be frightened by mere mass-meetings or by high-sounding phrases, when there was not a strong revolutionary force behind them.
Clearly, to save the national constitution, quick action was absolutely needed. Again the Rhenish people turned their eyes upon their capital, Cologne; but such masses of troops had been concentrated there that a rising would not have had the slightest prospect of success. In the manufacturing districts on the right bank of the Rhine the revolt really broke out. The immediate occasion was an order issued by the Prussian government to mobilize the army-corps of the Rhine province for the purpose of sending it against the defenders of the national constitution in the Bavarian Palatinate and in Baden, where provisional governments had been set up by the revolutionists. To this end the "Landwehr" (military reserve) in the Rhineland and in Westphalia was called into active service. The members of the Landwehr were at that time, as they are now, men between twenty-five and thirty-five, peasants, tradesmen, artisans, merchants or professional men, many of them fathers of young families. To interrupt their daily work and to leave their wives and children involved to most of them a heavy sacrifice. This sacrifice was all the heavier when they were called upon to help beat down those who in Baden and in the Palatinate had risen for the unity of the fatherland and the liberty of the people, and with whom many, if not a large majority, of the members of the Landwehr warmly sympathized. So it happened that numerous meetings of the Landwehr men were held for the purpose of declaring that they would not obey the summons to arms. There was actual resistance at some of the depots where the Landwehr men were to receive their arms and equipments. In Düsseldorf, Iserlohn and Elberfeld, apparently formidable uprisings took place.
Such uprisings could clearly have had a possibility of success only had they become general throughout the country; and indeed it looked for a moment as if the disaffection of the members of the Landwehr in the Rhineland and Westphalia would spread and become the starting-point of a powerful general movement. But what was to be done had to be done quickly.
In this aspect the question of the moment confronted us in Bonn. Kinkel had returned from Berlin and was on the spot. The Chamber, a member of which he was, had once more urged the king to recognize the national constitution and to accept the imperial crown, and the king thereupon had dissolved it. Kinkel was then in Bonn the recognized democratic leader. Now he had to show his ability to act promptly or to relinquish the leadership to others in the decisive hour. He did not hesitate a moment. But what was to be done? That the Landwehr, at least the largest part thereof, did not wish to take up arms against the defenders of the national constitution, was certain. But in order to maintain this refusal, the Landwehr had to take up arms against the Prussian government. To make this resistance effective, immediate organization on a large scale was necessary. If the members of the Landwehr were ready for that, they could do nothing simpler and better than to take possession of the arms which were stored in the different Landwehr armories, and then under their own leaders make front against the Prussian government. Such an armory was situated at Siegburg, a little town a short distance from Bonn on the right bank of the Rhine. It contained muskets and other equipments enough to arm a considerable body of fighters, who then, joined to the insurrectionists in the manufacturing districts, might have formed a respectable power and spread the rising in all directions. This was the thought which occurred with more or less clearness to the democrats in Bonn, and they found also a military head for the execution of the plan in the person of a late artillery lieutenant, Fritz Anneke, who came from Cologne. The Landwehr of the district had been summoned to Siegburg on May 11, to be mustered into service. Thus time was pressing.
On May 10 we had in Bonn a meeting of Landwehr men from the town and the immediate neighborhood. During the morning hours a large multitude assembled in a public hall. The citizen elected to preside admonished the men to refuse obedience to the call of the Prussian government; if arms were to be taken up at all, it must be against those who sought to rob the German people of their liberty and unity. The men received this admonition with many signs of warm assent. The meeting continued during the whole day. The number of Landwehr men coming in increased from hour to hour. Different speakers addressed them, all in the same sense, and, as it appeared, with the same effect. It was agreed that the blow against the armory at Siegburg should be struck the following night. To this end it was essential to hold the men together during the day, so that as large a number as possible might take part in the expedition.
To keep the men together during the whole day was not easy. Some money had been raised to provide for their meals. But that alone was not sufficient. Kinkel, after having delivered his last lecture at the university, spoke to the meeting at four o'clock of the afternoon. With glowing words he inflamed the patriotic sentiments of the audience, admonishing them urgently to stay together, as now the hour of decisive action had come, and promised them at the conclusion of his speech that he would soon be with them again, to share their fate at the moment of danger.
I spent part of the day at the meeting, and part with the executive committee of the democratic club. There we received the current reports from Elberfeld and from the democratic clubs of the neighborhood as to their readiness for action; and the arrangements were made for the march to Siegburg after dark. Specific instructions were given to every member.
There was so much running to and fro during the whole day that many details of what happened are no longer in my memory. But I remember that as often as I appeared on the street, I was stopped by student-friends with the question what was in the wind, and whether they should march along with us; whereupon I told them what I had resolved myself to do in this crisis, and that each one of them would have to shape his conduct upon his own responsibility. Under the feverish excitement of the last days I had come to that desperate state of mind which will do and dare anything. It was evident to me that if the fruits of the revolution were to be saved, we must not shrink from any risk.
I also vividly remember how at dusk of evening I went home to tell my parents what had happened and what I considered it my duty to do, and to bid farewell to my family. Since the breaking out of the revolution my parents had taken the warmest interest in the course of events. They had always been enthusiastic in the cause of a united Germany and of free government. Our political sentiments were therefore in hearty accord. My father was a member of the democratic club, and rejoiced to see me among its most active members and to hear me speak. The noble nature of my mother had always clung with enthusiastic zeal to what she considered to be right and just. Both had watched developments sufficiently to anticipate the approach of a catastrophe. The announcement I made to them did therefore not surprise them. It was not unexpected to them that I had to take part in an enterprise that was so dangerous and for me so full of consequences. At once they recognized my honorable obligation. To be sure, their hopes for the future rested upon me. I was to be the support of the family in the struggle for existence. But without a moment's hesitation and without a word of complaint they gave up all for what they considered a duty of patriotism. Like the Spartan woman or the Roman matron of whom we read, my mother went to the room where my sword hung and gave it to me with the one admonition that I should use it with honor. And nothing could have been further from her mind than the thought that in this act there was something heroic.
ROLANDSECK AND THE SEVEN MOUNTAINS
Rolandseck is on the Rhine — about fifteen miles below Bonn, and not far from Cologne and Siegburg.
Before I left the house I went for a moment to my study. From the window I had a free outlook on the Rhine and the lovely Seven Mountains. How often, gazing upon this charming picture, had I dreamed of a quiet and beautiful life! Now I could in the darkness distinguish only the outline of my beloved hills against the horizon. Here was my room quiet as ever. How often had I peopled it with my imaginings! Here were my books and manuscripts, all testifying of hopes, plans, and endeavors, which now perhaps had to be left behind forever. An instinctive feeling told me that all this was now over.
At the same hour Kinkel took leave of his wife and children, and then returned to the meeting, where he appeared on the platform armed with a musket. With impressive words he announced to his hearers what was to be done to-night and what he himself was resolved to do. He urged nobody to follow him blindly. He concealed from nobody the danger of the enterprise. Only those who in the extreme need of the fatherland felt it to be their duty, he summoned to march with him in the ranks.
I had been instructed to see to it that the ferry across the Rhine should be at our disposal. It was dark when I went to my appointed place on the bank of the river. There I found a fellow-student, Ludwig Meyer, with whom I crossed the river in a rowboat. On the other side we met according to agreement a troop of companions. At once we took possession of the ferry, the so-called flying bridge, ordered the ferryman to swing it over to Bonn, and then to take it back to the right bank of the Rhine, loaded with a crowd of armed men. This was the force that was to march to Siegburg and seize the armory. Kinkel appeared well armed. Two of our friends were on horseback, the rest on foot, most of them provided with weapons of some kind, but not a great many with guns. To me was given a rifle, but without fitting ammunition. Our commander, Anneke, mustered the crowd and divided it into sections. One of these was put under the command of Josef Gerhardt, who at a later period went to America and did good service as colonel of a Union regiment in the Civil War. Anneke found that his troop did not count over one hundred and twenty men, and could not refrain from giving bitter expression to his disappointment. Many of those who attended the meeting during the day had in the darkness slunk away when the signal was given to march. Patriotic impulses that in the morning were fresh and warm had cooled off in the many hours that elapsed between the first resolution and the moment for action.
Our column being formed in order, Anneke made a short speech, in which he set forth the need of discipline and obedience, and then the march began. About half an hour after our start one of our horsemen, who had remained behind, came up at a gallop with the report that the dragoons, then garrisoned in Bonn, were at our heels, to attack us. This report should have surprised nobody, for during the day and the evening the preparations for our enterprise had been carried on so openly that it would have been astonishing had the authorities received no knowledge of it, and had they not taken measures to frustrate the expedition. Moreover, we had forgotten to make the ferry behind us unserviceable. Nevertheless the announcement of the approach of the dragoons produced in our ranks considerable consternation. Anneke ordered our horsemen to hasten back and to reconnoiter as to the nearness and strength of our pursuers. Meanwhile our march was accelerated so that we might possibly reach the River Sieg and cross it before the arrival of the dragoons; but in this we failed. Long before we approached the river, we heard not far behind us the trumpet-signal ordering the dragoons to trot their horses. Anneke, who evidently was not very confident of the ability of his men to face regular soldiers in a fight, halted our column and told us that we were evidently not in a condition to offer successful resistance to regular troops; we should therefore disperse, and if we wanted to make ourselves further useful to the cause of the fatherland, we might find our way to Elberfeld or to the Palatinate, where he was ready to go. This signal to disperse was at once obeyed. Most of the men scattered over the surrounding cornfields, while some of us, perhaps twenty, stood still by the side of the road. The dragoons quietly passed us at a trot on their way to Siegburg. There were only some thirty of them, not enough therefore to overcome us or even to force their way through on the road, if those of us who had firearms had offered an orderly resistance.
When the dragoons had passed by and only a handful of our people had again found themselves together, a feeling of profound shame overcame us. Our enterprise had not only come to an unfortunate, but a ridiculous and disgraceful end. Our column had taken to the fields before only a handful of soldiers, scarcely one-third of our number. And this after the big words with which many had pledged themselves to the cause of German liberty and unity. I looked for Kinkel, but I could not find him in the darkness. At last I discerned Ludwig Meyer and others of my nearer friends, who all felt as I did, and we resolved at once to go on to see what might still be done. So we marched after the dragoons and reached the town of Siegburg shortly before daybreak. The democratic club, with which we had been in communication and the leaders of which had been expecting us during the night, had its headquarters in a tavern, and there we went. With them we discussed the question whether, in spite of the miserable failure of the preceding night and the occupation of the armory by the dragoons, we might not after all take that building by assault, and organize a respectable movement in aid of our friends in Düsseldorf and Elberfeld. The democrats of Siegburg could see little to encourage us. I was in a state of feverish excitement, and although extremely tired, could not sleep. In the course of the morning a considerable multitude got together, members of the Landwehr, and their friends from the vicinity. Soon we began to make speeches before large crowds, and the storming of the armory was repeatedly urged. A rumor came that during the day a fight had broken out between citizens and soldiers in Bonn, and I communicated that rumor to the assembled multitude; but further information having arrived, I had to my shame to confess that the tale was not true. I was nervously eager to wash out the disgrace of the night before, and to try the utmost for our cause, even under the most unfavorable circumstances. But it was all in vain. The evening came, the crowds dispersed, and I had at last to make up my mind that the people we had before us could not be moved to do anything desperate. Meyer and I resolved to go where there was fighting in prospect, and set out for Elberfeld. We reached that town the next day.
There we found barricades on the streets, much noise in the taverns, only a small number of armed men, and no discipline nor united leadership. Evidently here was no chance of success. Nothing could come of this, except perhaps a hopeless fight or a speedy capitulation. Meyer and I resolved therefore to go to the Palatinate. Soon we were on board a steamboat running up the Rhine. I wrote home asking my parents to send me some necessary things to our friend Nathan at Sanct Goarshausen, and on the evening of the same day we arrived under his hospitable roof in the shadow of the Loreley-rock.
There I had my first quiet hours after the terrible excitement of the last four days. When I awoke from profound sleep all that had happened appeared to me like a dismal dream, and then again as a clear, more dismal reality. The thought struck me for the first time that now, although safe enough for the time being in Nathan's house, I was a fugitive, running away from the authorities; it was certain that they would not permit an attempt upon one of their armories to pass unpunished. This was a singularly uncomfortable feeling; but a much more hideous thought followed — that I could not be proud of the act to which I owed my outlawry, although its purpose had been patriotic. The outcome had been miserable enough to make impossible my return to my friends, until the shame of it had been wiped out. But my profoundest grief was not with regard to myself. It was the knowledge that all the insurrectionary attempts in Prussia had failed, and that the Prussian government had its hands entirely free to turn against the insurgents in Baden and the Palatinate. I tried indeed to lift myself up to the belief that so great, so just, so sacred a cause as that of German unity and free government could not possibly fail, and that undoubtedly I would still have some opportunity to contribute to its victory, be it ever so little. I have never forgotten the hours which I spent with Meyer and Wessel, one of our friends of the Franconia; who, while not compromised politically, had followed us from friendship, walking up and down discussing these matters under the Loreley-rock, that most dreamy nook of the Rhine valley. My friend Meyer looked at the situation in a somewhat soberer spirit than I could command. After mature consideration, in which probably the thought of his family played an important part, he concluded to return to Bonn and to take the chances of a trial for his participation in the Siegburg affair. I did not try to urge my view of the case upon my dear, brave comrade, and thus we had to part.
The leave-taking from Meyer and Wessel was very hard to me. When I pressed their hands for the last time, I felt as if I had not only to say good-by to them, but also again to my parents and sisters, to my home, to all my dear friends, to my whole past. And now farewell to the beautiful student life and its precious friendships, its ideal endeavors and hopes, its glorious youthful dreams!
The years of apprenticeship were over, the years of wandering began. My friends journeyed down the Rhine to Bonn and I alone up the Rhine to Mainz.