The 1848 “Hecker Uprising” in Konstanz (Travels in revolutionary Mitteleuropa, from the Rhine to the Danube/5)

In my visit to the Rosgarten Museum in Konstanz I was inspired to meet lawyer, politician, and agitator Friedrich Hecker (1811-81), one of the most passionate, adventurous, colorful, and paradigmatic revolutionary figures of his century.

Hecker was a protagonist in the Baden Revolution (March 1848 – July 1849), a regional insurrection in the Grand Duchy of Baden that was part of the European revolutionary movement of the era.  Driven by radical democratic and early socialist activists gathered in the region, and based on local popular associations, the Revolution opposed the ruling princes, seeking to create a Baden democratic republic under popular sovereignty.  The town of Konstanz witnessed both its beginning, when in April 1848 the republic was proclaimed there and people took arms in the name of a provisional government, and its end, when in July 1849 the last revolutionary troops crossed the border and asked for asylum in Switzerland.  For most of this time, from the end of April 1848 till March 1849, Konstanz remained under siege.

The first large part of the Revolution was what became known as the “Hecker Uprising” of April 1848, which sought to overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic, drawing strong inspiration from the very recent French “February Revolution” that ended the monarchy and led to the creation of the Second Republic.  The Uprising was proclaimed in Kostanz where several republican groups had already emerged in the 1830s.  Though it was crushed within a week, it became part of the German national myth as did its final battle in Kandern and the legendary “Leader of the Insurrection,” the fiery Hecker.  His uniform and hat, which made him look like a Romantic robber chief, became closely associated with the Uprising, depicted in both pamphlets and caricatures.

Soon after the failure of the Baden Revolution the irrepressible Hecker moved to the U.S., became involved in domestic politics, worked in the Illinois Republican Party to abolish slavery, fought in the Civil War (commanding an infantry of Central European immigrants, mostly ’48ers), supported the German-language press, and got to celebrate the unification of his native country in 1871.  A life-long leftist, he remained faithful to his “extraordinarily popular slogans coined … on the eve of the 1848 revolution.  Hecker asserted that the government should act so as to secure ‘liberty, affluence, and education for all.’  Exactly what the state should do to secure these ends is in part explained by Hecker’s second slogan, which demanded a rectification of the disproportion between capital and labor'” (Jonathan Sperber:  The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, 2nd ed., 2005, p. 82).

I left the Konstanz museum with the traditional “Hecker’s Song” ringing in my ears!

November 17, 2018

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