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Carl Schurz on Why He Became a Supporter of the Republican Form of Government (Retrospective Account, 1913)

Like many persecuted revolutionaries, the politician and journalist Carl Schurz (1829-1906) emigrated from Germany to America, where he established a career as a lawyer. An opponent of slavery, he joined the Republican Party and served as a general in the Civil War. From 1869-1875, he represented Missouri in the U.S. Senate. In the following excerpt from The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz (1913), Schurz explains how, during the revolution of 1848/49, he came to support the republican form of government.

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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 at first found 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 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 so much of politics as of science and literature. It soon showed a dangerous tendency of squandering in brilliant but more or less fruitless debate much of the time which was sorely needed for prompt and decisive action if the legitimate results of the revolution against hostile forces were to be secured.

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, Slav and Italian. The German element, to which the dynasty and the political capital belonged, had so far been the predominant one. It was the 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 now to play a leading part 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, despite 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, except 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.

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