Why is there a democratic national convention

March 18 in the history of German democracy

Gernot Jochheim

Dr. Gernot Jochheim lives in Berlin, where he worked as a teacher. He has worked on the social history of nonviolence, published a variety of learning materials on political and socio-historical education and participated in projects on violence prevention in schools. For the bpb he has already written the infoaktuell "January 27th - Day of Remembrance for the Victims of National Socialism" (2012).

The dance around a freedom tree: where freedom trees were erected outside France, the area had been occupied by the French revolutionary army. As a rule, there were some followers of the Enlightenment and the ideas of equality, freedom and fraternity in each place. (& copy Federal Archives, memorial for the freedom movements in German history, Rastatt)

Since the minutes of this meeting of the Rhenish-German National Convention have only been preserved in fragments, the following presentation of the events in Mainz on March 18, 1793, as far as the course of the meeting is concerned, is based on the description of the event in the newspaper edited by Georg Forster " The Neue Mainzer Zeitung or the People's Friend "of Tuesday, March 19, 1793 (No. 34) with the heading" Mainz, March 18. National Convention of Free Germans this side of the Rhine ":

"On Monday, March 18, 1793, at 8 o'clock in the morning in the knight's hall of the Deutschhaus in Mainz, the Rhenish-German National Convention meets for its third session. The first two sessions had taken place the day before at the same place, in the morning and in the afternoon Deutschhaus was one of the residential buildings of the Elector and Archbishop of Mainz, who fled the city when the French Revolutionary Army approached the city in autumn 1792 and occupied it on October 21.

The Rhenish-German National Convention is an assembly the likes of which has never been seen in German history. The members were elected by their fellow citizens at their places of origin in the Palatinate and in the areas on the left bank of the Rhine in Rheinhessen and sent to Mainz as their representatives. The model was the elections to the national convention in France in autumn 1792. 59 deputies are present on this day. (On the following days more deputies arrived, so that the National Convention ultimately had 128 deputies who represented 126 locations - author's note).

After the opening of the meeting by the President, Professor of Philosophy Andreas Joseph Hofmann, the Convention forms four committees, namely the Committee on Education, Vigilance, Finance and Petitions. The citizen Dorsch from Neubamberg, professor of philosophy in Strasbourg, explains in a patriotic speech that the day is of unique historical importance. From Mainz the message of liberation from the centuries-long despotism of the princes would now go out to all Germans who were still oppressed. People would regain their natural rights to freedom and equality, which had been stolen from them in ancient times and which have since been denied them through violence and oppression. Now the end of the tyranny is near; a free republic of Germans must be founded. Then the elected representatives rise and solemnly declare that they only recognize the violence of the people as legitimate and that the previously existing rights of all secular princes and spiritual lords in the countries on this side of the Rhine from Landau to Bingen have immediately expired.

According to this, a decree is discussed in which the new legal relationships are to be set out. Ultimately, the text of Citizen Forster, the university's librarian, is accepted by the assembly. 30 cannon shots immediately announce this first important act of German popular sovereignty. So that the decision of the free Germans can be made known to the whole world, the decree is to be printed 30,000 times and solemnly proclaimed in all places of the Rhenish-German Free State.

Then, ambassadors from the National Convention from Paris and the French General (Adam Philippe de) Custine praise and acknowledge the assembled representatives of the free German people. The general declares that his soldiers, the sons of France, would defend the new free state like their own fatherland. Franconian citizen * Haussmann points out in a speech that "all the misfortunes of the peoples stem from the rulers and princes, but that all peoples who want to be free have always overcome their enemies". In the name of the Franconian Republic * he promises "never to tolerate a despot subjugating this eternally free land from now on". President Hofmann thanks for the generosity of the Franks and accepts - on behalf of the German people - the brothers' kisses from the ambassadors of the Franconian Republic. This sublime scene is accompanied by music that moves everyone to tears. The meeting ends at 12 noon with the oath of loyalty to the German people.

In front of the Deutschhaus, the members of the National Convention are eagerly awaited by a large number of citizens. Together they move to the market square at the cathedral, singing freedom songs. Since January there has been a freedom tree on the market square, next to it two pikes adorned with a Jacobin cap. Musicians play. Men and women dance round the tree. Among them were French soldiers. A citizen sings a new song, a "freedom song for the dear people of Mainz". You can hear: "See Germany's first free city ..."

The next day, the convention discussed the question "in what form the state, which is separate from Germany and based on the general principles of freedom and equality, should exist in future". The debates last three days. Finally, the view prevailed that the new Free State would be too weak to be able to offer resistance to the armies of the German princes. Therefore the free republic should unite with the Franconian republic. On March 21st, a decree will be passed to this effect. The next day, three emissaries are elected to present the matter to the convention in Paris. These are the citizens Georg Forster, Andrè Potocki (businessman from Colmar) and Adam Lux (Dr. philos. And farmer from Kostheim). "

* Under "Franconian Republic" is to be understood the First French Republic, which was proclaimed on September 21, 1792, with "Franconia" therefore the French citizens are meant.

The decrees of the Rhenish-German National Convention of March 18 and 21, 1793

The two decrees (below) generally speak of the establishment of a state and a "free state", which means nothing other than "republic". The newly established state remains nameless in these documents. However, there was already a name, namely "Republic of Mainz". This is what revolutionary supporters from Oberolm called him on January 3, 1793 in a submission to the Mainz civil administration (in the facsimile below right, Wed).

The enumeration of the territorial powers in Article 3 of the founding decree of the Mainz Republic gives an impression of the fragmentation of the Reich area on the left bank of the Rhine at that time. The number of "gentlemen" was actually much higher than shown here. There were even individual communities that were divided under several rulers (cf. Hellmut G. Haasis: Dawn of the Republic. The German Democrats on the left bank of the Rhine 1789-1849, Berlin 1984). In individual cases, this made it difficult for the Imperial Court in Wetzlar to clarify binding claims to power. The number of people who lived in the area of ​​the "German Free State" is estimated at 250,000.

Regarding the decree of March 21, 1793: The request of the "Rhenish-German National Convention" to join the French Republic was dealt with on March 30, 1793 in the Paris National Convention and met with enthusiastic approval. The three emissaries from Mainz could not return, however, because the armies of the German princes had already retaken the area around the city.

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of the Rhenish-Germans gathered at Mainz National Convention, of March 18, 1793, whereby in the stroke of the country, from Landau to Bingen, all previously presumed arbitrary (sic) powers are abolished.

The Rhenish-German National Convention decreed:

Article 1: The whole line of land from Landau to Bingen, which sends deputies to this convent, should from now on constitute a free, independent, inseparable state that obeys communal laws based on freedom and equality.

Article 2: The only legitimate sovereign of this state, namely the free people, declares through the vote of his deputy all connection with the German emperor and empire to be abolished.

Article 3: The Elector of Mainz, the Prince of Worms, the Prince of Speier, the Prince of Nassau-Weilburg and Usingen, the Margrave of Baden, the Prince of Salm, the Wild and Rhine Counts vom Stein and Grumbach, the Prince von Leiningen, Dürkheim, the Count of Falkenstein, the Counts of Leiningen-Westerburg, Dachsburg and Guntersblum, the Counts of Löwenhaupt and Manderscheid, the Counts of Wartenberg, Degenfeld, Sickingen, Hallberg, the Barons of Dalberg, the imperial city authorities of Worms and Speier, the imperial knighthood, all German imperial estates and their vassals as well as all secular and spiritual bodies incompatible with popular sovereignty are declared forfeit of all their claims to this state or its parts, and all of their usurpation-based sovereignty rights have been extinguished forever.

Article 4: Against all and every one of the unlawful violent perpetrators named in the previous article, if they allow themselves to be attacked on the assertion of their supposed rights and claims in these countries, where only the rights of free and equal citizens apply, as well as against their negotiator and accomplices, the death penalty is recognized.

Article 5: The present decree is to be printed immediately, sent to all municipalities *, pinned everywhere and solemnly announced.

A. J. Hofmann, President
Gerhardi, Frank, Secretary

* Municipalities



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of the Rhenish-German National Convention of March 21, 1793, which met at Mainz

After the Rhenish-German National Convention had considered that the independence of the new German Free State, which was decreed on March 18 between Landau and Bingen on the Rhine, could only be achieved under the protection of the Franconian Republic and with the help of its victorious arms, and that all ties of friendship, gratitude and true mutual benefit, call both nations to a fraternal and inseparable union, the same unanimously decreed:

That the Rhenish-German free people wanted to be incorporated into the Frankish republic and therefore stop there, and that at the end a deputation should be appointed from the center of this Rhenish-German national convention to present this wish to the Frankish national convention.



To the historical context

When the French Revolution shook the political and social conditions in Europe in 1789, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation still existed, a "patchwork quilt" with over 300 territories of various sizes. In this empire, Mainz was of great importance due to its function as the seat of an archbishop and elector, alongside Vienna, the seat of the emperor. The Archbishop of Mainz was the first among the electors, the Imperial Arch Chancellor for "Germania", as it was traditionally called. As a result, Mainz, as a residential city, was characterized by lively diplomatic intercourse and the permanent presence of numerous aristocrats. Many local citizens also benefited from the requirements associated with keeping their court in keeping with their rank.

For geographical reasons alone, the region was quickly confronted with the ideas and consequences of the upheaval in France from 1789. French nobles and other supporters of the monarchy sought refuge in Mainz. On the other hand, revolutionary publications were readily available in the city, such as the first German-language translation of the French declaration of human rights.

When the Austro-Prussian intervention army had to withdraw after the artillery duel in Valmy on September 20, 1792 and the French revolutionary troops advanced to the Rhine, the archbishop and his court and the aristocratic residents fled the city, including the French emigrants. On October 21, 1792, the French army entered the Mainz fortress without a fight, and five days later in Frankfurt. On July 14th of that year - that is, on the third anniversary of the beginning of the revolution in France - Franz II was crowned Emperor of the Empire there, followed by a festival in Mainz.

Unlike 100 years earlier in the Palatinate War of Succession, which with its murderous distilleries was still part of the collective memory of the people in the Palatinate, the French troops now acted as messengers of messages of freedom that they wanted to spread among the people. The soldiers presented themselves as "brothers" - at least initially. The symbols of the French Revolution, the very first democratic symbols ever, spread in villages and towns: trees of freedom, Jacobin hats and cockades in the revolutionary colors of blue, white and red. Revolutionary songs were translated into the German language. And the first political clubs were formed, some of which called themselves the "Jacobin Club".

At this point in time, the term "Jacobin" still had a positive connotation in the eyes of many contemporaries. The Jacobins in the German states and imperial cities understood the doctrine of natural law, according to which every human being by nature has inalienable rights, as it were as a philosophical basic law and advocated a republican form of government. They enthusiastically welcomed the ideas of freedom, equality and fraternity as formulated in the French declaration of human and civil rights of August 26, 1789. The reign of terror in France from autumn 1793, which was then commonly associated with the term "Jacobins", shook most of them, only a few considered it to be inevitable.

Just two days after the occupation of Mainz, a "Society of Friends of the Republic" was formed there, whose members were called "Clubists". Initially, about 20 professors and civil servants from the university belonged to the association, later also craftsmen and small businessmen. The number of members rose to several hundred, but then fell again rapidly when the military situation changed to the detriment of the revolutionary army. This was already the case on December 2, 1792, when Frankfurt was again taken by advancing Imperial troops.

In Mainz, as in the German states in general, there was no genuine revolutionary mood. The people should therefore be mobilized, including through a vote on the adoption of the French republican constitution. The right to vote was unique, because all "self-employed" men over the age of 21 were entitled to vote, regardless of their status or income. In the villages, where feudal relationships of dependency still prevailed and the liberation was therefore tangible, approval was greater than in the cities. In Mainz, 17 percent of the citizens voted. There was then another election for the "Rhenish-German National Convention", in which only 8 percent of those eligible to vote in Mainz took part.

One, if not the sole, reason for this reluctance was probably the fact that the armies of the German princes were gradually recapturing the French-occupied territories during those weeks. It did not seem wise to side with the revolutionaries. From April 14, 1793, Mainz was besieged by troops from Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria and Hesse, who received help from other German princes. From mid-June, the city was exposed to fire from over 200 cannons for several weeks. The events of the war generated almost tourist interest: members of court societies as well as citizens traveled to witness the "spectacle" of the bombardment from the right bank of the Rhine. A new term came up: battle strollers. On July 23, the French troops surrendered. Mainz was one third destroyed by the cannonade. The Jacobins who remained in the city had to defend themselves against attacks by the residents and were imprisoned.

But at the end of 1794 the French revolutionary armies again had most of them, and from December 1797 the entire area on the left bank of the Rhine under their control. Until May 1814, Mainz was called "Mayence" again. An attempt by the Rhenish Jacobins to found a "Cisrhenan Republic" west of the Rhine failed because in France the Rhine was understood as a "natural" eastern state border.After Prussia and Austria had already agreed in secret treaties to the annexation of the areas on the left bank of the Rhine by France (1796 and 1797, respectively), a regulation binding under international law was achieved in 1801 with the Treaty of Lunéville. In 1804 the "Code Civil", the French civil code, was introduced on the left bank of the Rhine. The principles of the French Revolution now applied there, namely the recognition of the freedom of the individual and property, legal equality of people and the separation of state and church, which was most clearly shown for the people in the introduction of civil marriage. As residents of France, however, the people also had to bear the burdens of the wars with which Napoleon tried to stabilize his supremacy in Europe. When Napoleonic France was militarily defeated, the annexed areas on the left bank of the Rhine were added to the states of Bavaria, Prussia and Hesse. After the end of the empire, these were now states of the German Confederation founded at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

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Immanuel Kant: Not ripe for freedom? (1798)

"I confess that I cannot find myself well in the expression, which is probably also used by clever men: a certain people (which is involved in the processing of a legal freedom) is not ripe for freedom; the serfs of a landowner are for Freedom is not yet ripe; and so too: people in general are not yet ripe for freedom of belief.
But according to such a presupposition, freedom will never occur; because one cannot mature to this if one has not been set free beforehand (one must be free in order to be able to use one's powers appropriately in freedom). The first attempts will, of course, be crude, and generally associated with a more arduous and dangerous situation than when one was still under the orders, but also under the precautions of others; but one never matures for reason other than through one's own attempts (to be allowed to make which one must be free). "

Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Mere Reason. Edited by Klaus Vorländer, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1956, p. 212 (In the original edition from 1798, p. 291/292)