May Uprising in Dresden
The May Uprising took place in Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 in 1849; it was one of the last of the series of events known as the Revolutions of 1848
Revolutions of 1848
The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It was the first Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority, but within a year reactionary...


Events leading to the May Uprising

In Germany, revolution had begun in March 1848, starting in Berlin and spreading across the other states which now make up Germany. The heart of the revolutions was in Frankfurt
Frankfurt am Main , commonly known simply as Frankfurt, is the largest city in the German state of Hesse and the fifth-largest city in Germany, with a 2010 population of 688,249. The urban area had an estimated population of 2,300,000 in 2010...

, where the newly-formed National Assembly
National Assembly
National Assembly is either a legislature, or the lower house of a bicameral legislature in some countries. The best known National Assembly, and the first legislature to be known by this title, was that established during the French Revolution in 1789, known as the Assemblée nationale...

, the Frankfurt Parliament
Frankfurt Parliament
The Frankfurt Assembly was the first freely elected parliament for all of Germany. Session was held from May 18, 1848 to May 31, 1849 in the Paulskirche at Frankfurt am Main...

, met in St Paul's Church from May 1848, calling for a constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

 to rule a new, united German nation. To form the Assembly, near-democratic elections had taken place across the German states; the majority of the members were Saxon
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

 democrats. On 28 March 1849 the Assembly passed the first Reichsverfassung (constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

) for Germany, and in April 1849, Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia was offered the crown.

Despite its apparent progress, the National Assembly really depended upon the co-operation of the old leaders and Emperor; this became all too clear when Friedrich Wilhelm IV refused to accept the crown in disgust. Movements sprang up across the German states to force through the new constitution but the National Assembly disintegrated. In Saxony, Frederick Augustus II
Frederick Augustus II of Saxony
Frederick Augustus II |Tyrol]], 9 August 1854) was King of Saxony and a member of the House of Wettin.He was the eldest son of Maximilian, Prince of Saxony --younger son of the Elector Frederick Christian of Saxony—by his...

 had never recognised the constitution, and now also disbanded the Saxon parliament.

In Baden
Baden is a historical state on the east bank of the Rhine in the southwest of Germany, now the western part of the Baden-Württemberg of Germany....

, the more radical elements of the National Assembly formed a rump parliament
Rump Parliament
The Rump Parliament is the name of the English Parliament after Colonel Pride purged the Long Parliament on 6 December 1648 of those members hostile to the Grandees' intention to try King Charles I for high treason....

 in Stuttgart
Stuttgart is the capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The sixth-largest city in Germany, Stuttgart has a population of 600,038 while the metropolitan area has a population of 5.3 million ....

, which was defeated by Prussian troops. At the same time, the people of Saxony began to react to the repression of the democratic movement — the May Uprising began.

The uprising

At first the Saxon town councillors attempted to persuade Frederick Augustus II
Frederick Augustus II of Saxony
Frederick Augustus II |Tyrol]], 9 August 1854) was King of Saxony and a member of the House of Wettin.He was the eldest son of Maximilian, Prince of Saxony --younger son of the Elector Frederick Christian of Saxony—by his...

 to accept the constitution in public speeches. The municipal guards who should have controlled them were on their side and made an address to the King, also calling for acceptance of the constitution. The King was unyielding, however, and called them to order. This led to further unrest, which in turn caused the king to bring in Prussian troops; the situation exploded.

On 3 May 1849, the municipal guards were told to go home, but the town councillors organised them into defensive units to stop expected Prussian intervention. As the people's anger grew, the government withdrew into the castle and the armoury (Zeughaus), protected by Saxon troops. The municipal guards were undecided whether or not to support the people, who threatened to use explosives to get the government out. In response the Saxon troops fired on the crowd. Within hours the town was in chaos, with 108 barricades erected. In the early hours of 4 May 1849, the king and his ministers managed to escape and fled to the fortress of Königstein
Königstein Fortress
Königstein Fortress , the "Saxon Bastille", is a hilltop fortress near Dresden, in Saxon Switzerland, Germany, above the town of Königstein on the left bank of the River Elbe...


Three members of the dissolved Democratic parliament now became the leaders of the revolution: Samuel Tzschirner, Karl Gotthelf Todt and Otto Heubner
Otto Heubner
Johann Otto Leonhard Heubner was a German internist and pediatrician who was a native of Mühltroff....

 formed a provisional government. Their aim was to force the acceptance of the constitution. Tzschirner called in another member, Alexander Heinze, to organise fighting and bring in more communal guards and volunteers from outside Dresden.

Reinforcements joined the revolutionaries from as far away as Chemnitz
Chemnitz is the third-largest city of the Free State of Saxony, Germany. Chemnitz is an independent city which is not part of any county and seat of the government region Direktionsbezirk Chemnitz. Located in the northern foothills of the Ore Mountains, it is a part of the Saxon triangle...

, Zwickau
Zwickau in Germany, former seat of the government of the south-western region of the Free State of Saxony, belongs to an industrial and economical core region. Nowadays it is the capital city of the district of Zwickau...

 and Marienberg, and the struggle grew extremely violent. The Saxon troops were also backed up by arriving Prussian soldiers. They planned to encircle the rebels and corner them on the Altmarkt (Old Market), but the number of barricades meant they had to fight for every street, even in the houses.

Recent studies place the number of revolutionaries at around 3,000, compared with 5,000 government troops from Saxony and Prussia. Apart from being outnumbered, the rebels were also untrained in battle, disorganised and lacked weapons, so they stood no chance of success. On 9 May the majority (1,800) were forced to flee. Most of the others gave up, and the rest were tracked down to the Frauenkirche
Dresden Frauenkirche
The Dresden Frauenkirche is a Lutheran church in Dresden, eastern Germany.Built in the 18th century, the church was destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. It has been reconstructed as a landmark symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies...

 and arrested.

Prominent figures amongst the revolutionaries

Before the events of May 1849, Dresden was already known as a cultural centre for liberals and democrats; the anarchist Dresdner Zeitung newspaper was partly edited by the music director Karl August Röckel and contained articles by Mikhail Bakunin
Mikhail Bakunin
Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was a well-known Russian revolutionary and theorist of collectivist anarchism. He has also often been called the father of anarchist theory in general. Bakunin grew up near Moscow, where he moved to study philosophy and began to read the French Encyclopedists,...

, who came to Dresden in March 1849. The Saxon government later accused Bakunin of being the revolutionaries' ringleader, although this is unlikely to have been the case. Röckel also published the popular democratic newspaper Volksblätter.

Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 the composer, at the time Royal Saxon Court Conductor, had been inspired by the revolutionary spirit since 1848 and was befriended with Röckel and Bakunin. He wrote passionate articles in the Volksblätter inciting people to revolt, and when fighting broke out he took a very active part in it, making hand grenades and standing as a look out at the top of the Frauenkirche. The architect Gottfried Semper
Gottfried Semper
Gottfried Semper was a German architect, art critic, and professor of architecture, who designed and built the Semper Opera House in Dresden between 1838 and 1841. In 1849 he took part in the May Uprising in Dresden and was put on the government's wanted list. Semper fled first to Zürich and later...

 was until 1849 less politically active, but had made known his democratic beliefs and felt compelled to stand up for them, also taking a lead role on the barricades. Others on the barricades included Pauline Wunderlich, Gustav Zeuner
Gustav Zeuner
Gustav Anton Zeuner was a German physicist, engineer and epistemologist, considered the founder of technical thermodynamics and of the Dresden School of Thermodynamics.-University and Revolution:...

, Ludwig Wittig (main editor of the Dresdner Zeitung); the actress and singer Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient
Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient
Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient, born Wilhelmine Schröder , was a German operatic soprano. As a singer she combined a rare quality of tone with dramatic intensity of expression, which was as remarkable on the concert platform as in opera.- Biography :Schröder was born in Hamburg, the daughter of the...

 supported the uprising.

Results of the uprising

The struggle left some Dresden buildings in ruins: the old Opera, two sides of the Zwinger
The Zwinger is a palace in Dresden, eastern Germany, built in Baroque style. It served as the orangery, exhibition gallery and festival arena of the Dresden Court....

 and six houses were burned down. The number of dead rebels is uncertain but in 1995 the figure was estimated at around 200; 8 Saxon and 23 Prussian soldiers died.

The Saxon government arrested Bakunin and Röckel in Chemnitz, but Tzschirner, Heubner and Todt escaped. Semper and Wagner were on the government's wanted list, but also escaped, to Zürich
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich...

, where Wagner remained. From 1849 the German states saw a sharp rise in emigration as thousands deserted their homeland for political reasons, many of them artists, writers and other well-educated, prominent members of society.

The revolution had a slight effect on the political system, in that the nobility lost some of its power in the lower house, but otherwise was a complete failure.
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