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1.B. Authoritarian or Parliamentary/Constitutional Rule?
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David Hansemann (1790-1864) was a wool wholesaler and financier in the city of Aachen and a leader of the liberal opposition to the authoritarian rule of the king of Prussia. In this letter to the Prussian Minister of the Interior, Ernst von Bodelschwingh, written on March 1, 1848, just after a revolution had chased the king of France from his throne and a republic had been proclaimed in Paris, and a few weeks before the revolutionary events of 1848 reached the German states, Hansemann painted a drastic picture of the results of over three decades of absolutist rule.

Most supporters in Germany of a constitutional government assumed that such a government would be a constitutional monarchy. A king or other prince would be the head of state, deriving his powers from a constitution, powers that would still be substantial, if certainly less than those of an absolute monarch. Advocacy of a republican form of government was most common during the revolution of 1848. Carl Schurz (1829-1906) was, in 1848-49, a student at the University of Bonn and a democratic and republican political activist. (Following the defeat of the revolution, he fled to the United States, where he was active in the anti-slavery cause and the new Republican Party, served as a Union general in the Civil War and was appointed Secretary of the Interior under President Hayes.) In his memoirs, written at the beginning of the twentieth century, he explained the course of events that turned him from a constitutional monarchist into a republican.

Constitutional government became increasingly the norm in Central Europe following the 1848 revolution, and even very conservative figures found such a form of government acceptable. In this 1853 speech in the parliament of the Kingdom of Prussia, Friedrich Julius Stahl (1802-61), conservative political theorist and Professor of Law at the University of Berlin, explained why he opposed a motion to abolish the Prussian constitution, instituted during the revolution of 1848. Stahl, whose ideas had a considerable influence on Bismarck, argued in his speech that a constitution would, if anything, increase the power and authority of the Prussian king, rather than weaken it, as defenders of authoritarian government in the first half of the nineteenth century had feared.

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