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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

The people of Schleswig and Holstein protested


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the King issued a rescript

on March 18, in which he not only convoked the Prussian Assembly for the earlier date of April 2, but himself proposed such reforms as constitutional government, liberty of speech, liberty of the press, and the reconstitution of the Germanic Federation as a national union of states--a realization in brief of all the most ardent ideals of the German Liberals. Now the popular agitators proposed a monster demonstration to thank the King for his concessions. Shortly after noon, on March 18, the processions converged upon the palace. Immense crowds filled the streets. The appearance of the King upon the balcony was greeted with cheers. King Frederick William tried to speak but could not make himself heard. The troops set out to clear the palace grounds. Angry shouts arose for the withdrawal of the soldiery. In the confusion two shots were fired. A panic ensued: "We are betrayed," cried the leaders, and called the people to arms. The troops of the garrison charged into the rioters. Barricades were thrown up, and here and there church bells rang the tocsin. From three in the afternoon until early the next morning, fighting continued in the streets. The entire garrison of Berlin was called out and with the help of the bright moonlight succeeded in clearing one street after another. Prince William, the future German Emperor, gained unenviable notoriety by his zeal. At two in the morning the King gave orders to stop firing. He issued a proclamation: "To my dear people of Berlin," the mild
tone of which only betrayed his weakness. On the following day all the troops were withdrawn and ordered out of the city. Prince William likewise left Berlin in deep chagrin and departed for England. His palace had to be protected from the fury of the people by placards pronouncing it the property of the nation. Once more the rioters appeared before the royal palace with the bodies of some of their slain. The King convoked a new Ministry and consented to substitute armed citizens and students for his royal guards. A general amnesty was proclaimed. On March 21, the King agreed to adopt "the sacred colors of the German Empire" for those of Prussia. After the manner of the weak Emperor of Austria, he rode through the streets of Berlin wearing a tricolor sash. Not satisfied with this, the revolutionists, on March 22, paraded before the palace with the open biers of 187 men that had been killed during the riots. Standing on his balcony with bared head, King Frederick William reviewed the ghastly procession. In a manifesto published at the close of the day he declared: "Germany is in ferment within and exposed from without to danger from more than one side. Deliverance from this danger can come only from the most intimate union of the German princes and people under a single leadership. I take this leadership upon me for the hour of peril. I have to-day assumed the old German colors, and placed myself and my people under the venerable banner of the German Empire. Prussia is henceforth merged into Germany." Thus Frederick William, by word and acts, which he afterward described as a comedy, directly encouraged the imperial aspirations of liberal Germany. The passage of his address in which he spoke of external dangers threatening Germany came true sooner than was expected. King Christian VIII. of Denmark had died early in the year. The fear of revolution at Copenhagen drove his son Frederick VII., the last of the Oldenburg line, to prick the war bubble blown by his father. On March 22, he called the leaders of the Eider-Dane party--the party which regarded the Eider as the boundary of the Danish dominions, thus converting Schleswig into a Danish province--to take the reins of government. The people of Schleswig and Holstein protested. The King was checkmated at Kiel by the appointment of a provisional government. The troops joined the people, and the insurrection spread over the whole province. The struggle then began. Volunteers from all parts of Germany rushed to the northern frontier. The German Bundestag admitted a representative of the threatened Duchies, and intrusted Prussia with their defence. An attempt was made to organize a German fleet. General Wrangel was placed in command of the Prussian forces despatched toward Denmark. Before he could arrive, the untrained volunteer army of Schleswig-Holsteiners suffered defeat at Bau. A corps of students from the University of Kiel was all but annihilated.


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