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The “False French Alarm”: Revolutionary Panic in Baden, 1848

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Extract

Periods of great unrest are often characterized by the spread of wild rumors. In the excitement real dangers are magnified and completely new ones conjured up out of thin air. People, in their unbearable thirst for information, seem willing—or better, compelled—to believe almost anything they hear. Most often these conditions lead to amorphous feelings of dread and unease. But occasionally sensibilities become strained to the breaking point, and apprehension gives way to outright panic. Fear, no longer a disembodied and shapeless cloud, now finds a receptacle. The panic begins with an avalanche of terrible rumors, all testifying to the immediacy of a specific danger. Fear travels in well-defined currents, engulfing whole communities and regions in its path.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 1985

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References

1. See Rosnow, Ralph L. and Fine, Gary Alan, Rumor and Gossip: The Social Psychology of Hearsay (New York-Oxford-Amsterdam, 1976).Google Scholar

2. Stadelmann, Rudolph, Social and Political History of the German 1848 Revolution, trans. Chastain, James G. (Athens, Ohio, 1975), 79.Google Scholar

3. Only two studies deal specifically with the “False French Alarm” (blinde Franzosenlärm) of 22–25 March 1848: Lang's, Wilhelm, “Der Franzosenfeiertag in Schwaben” in Neuen Reich 9, no. 2 (1879): 893905Google Scholar; and Bunz's, MaxDer Franzosenfeiertag 1848: Samstag den 25. März (Reutlingen, 1880).Google Scholar

4. Psychology of Revolution, trans. Miall, Bernard (New York, 1913), 329.Google Scholar

5. Some two-thirds of Baden's population at the time fit into these categories. See Sedatis, Helmut, Liberalismus und Handwerk im Südwestdeutschland: Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftskonzeptionen des Liberalismus und die Krise des Handwerks im 19. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart, 1979), 119–21.Google Scholar

6. Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe (hereafter GLA), Innenministerium, Abt. 236/8203 “Die französischen Unruhen und ihren Rückwirkung auf Deutschland durch Störung der öffentlichen Ordnung und Sicherheit” (29 Feb.–15 Mar. 1848).

7. GLA 236/8203.

8. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 8 Mar. 1848.

9. See Schaaf, Paul, ed., Gengenbach: Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Constance, 1960), 159–60.Google Scholar For a history of banditry in Germany see Küther, Carsten, Räuber und Gauner in Deutschland: Das organisierte Bandewesen im 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 1976).Google Scholar

10. Heunisch, A. J. B. and Bader, J., Das Grossherzogthum Baden (Heidelberg, 1857), 530.Google Scholar

11. Oberländer Bote (Lörrach), 17 Mar. 1848.

12. GLA, Bezirksamt Kehl, Abt. 358/256 “Die in Frankreich ausgehende Revolution und deren Rückwirkung auf Deutschland btr.” (1848).

13. GLA 236/8203.

14. GLA, Bezirksamt Breisach, Abt. 342/36 “Politische Vereine; aufrührische Umtriebe; Fahndungen auf politische Flüchtlinge u. schwere Verbrecher” (1848).

15. Buggingen: Eine Markgräfler Gemeinde im Wandel der Zeit: Aus der Geschichte von Buggingen, Seelfelden und Betborg (Buggingen, 1978), 134.

16. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 6 Mar. 1848.

17. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 8 Mar. 1848.

18. Sievert, A. J., Geschichte der Stadt Müllheim im Markgräflerland (Müllheim, 1886), 132Google Scholar; Oberrheinische Zeitung 8 Mar. 1848.

19. Mannheimer Abendzeitung 5, Mar. 1848.

20. Lefebvre observed that those parts of France where peasants were in open revolt remained largely unaffected by the Grande Peur of 1789.

21. GLA 236/8203.

22. Aus dem Nachlass Karl Mathy: Briefe aus den Jahren 1846–48, ed. Mathy, Ludwig (Leipzig, 1898), 141Google Scholar; Lahrer Wochenblatt, 16 Mar. 1848.

23. GLA, Innenministerium, Abt. 236/2244 “Die von dem Corps Commando des Gendarmerie erstatteten Meldungen über polizeiliche Gegenstände, Unglücksfälle, verübte Verbrechen pp.” (29 Feb.–16 Apr. 1848); Bekk, Johann Baptist, Die Bewegung in Baden von Ende des Februar bis zur Mitte des Mai 1849 (Mannheim, 1850), 121Google Scholar; GLA, Innenministerium, Abt. 236/8195 “Die zu politische Zwecken abgehaltene Volksversammlungen” (1847–49, 1851).

24. GLA 358/256.

25. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 18 Mar. 1848.

26. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 24 Mar. 1848.

27. GLA, Kreisregierungen, Abt. 313/3860 “Die Unruhen in Frankreich u. die Rückwirkung auf Deutschland sodann die aufrührerische Bewegung im Oberrheinkreis betreff.” (1848).

28. GLA 342/36; 313/3860; 236/2244.

29. Lang, 897.

30. Tagesherold, 27 Mar. 1848.

31. GLA 313/3860.

32. Lefebvre, Georges, The Great Fear of 1789: Rural Panic in Revolutionary France, trans White, Joan (New York, 1973), 143–47.Google Scholar

33. GLA 342/36; 313/3860.

34. For centuries bells were believed to have an almost magical effect in warding off storms, evil spirits, and invaders. Bischoff-Luithlen, Angelika, Von Amtsstuben, Backhäusern und Jahrmärkten: Eine Lese- und Nachschlagebuch zum Dorfalltag im alten Württemberg und Baden (Stuttgart-Berlin-Cologne-Mainz, 1979), 100.Google Scholar

35. GLA 313/3860.

36. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 21 Mar. and 22 Mar. 1848 2d Beilage.

37. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 24 Mar. 1848.

38. GLA 236/2244.

39. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 24 Mar. 1848.

40. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 24 Mar. 1848.

41. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 24 Mar. 1848.

42. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 25 Mar. 1848.

43. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 26 Mar. 1848.

44. Lahrer Wochenblatt, 30 Mar. 1848.

45. GLA 236/2244; Karlsruher Zeitung, 25 Mar. 1848; Oberrheinische Zeitung, 26 Mar. 1848. The panic had traveled some twenty-five miles in the past four hours. This corresponds to the speed assumed by the Great Fear when transmitted by courier at full gallop during the night. Lefebvre, 68.

46. Another passed northeastward through the mountains to Gernsbach, Pforzheim, and into Württemberg territory on the 24th. Bunz, 66, 81; Stolz, Aloys, Geschichte der Stadt Pforzheim (Pforzheim, 1901), 285–86.Google Scholar

47. GLA 236/2244; 358/256.

48. GLA 358/256.

49. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 28 Mar. 1848; GLA 358/256.

50. Lefebvre coined the term “relay panic” to indicate any fresh outbreak of fear which might take place along the route of the original panic, but which had its own distinct cause.

51. GLA 358/256.

52. GLA, Bezirksamt Oberkirch, Abt. 367/19 “Die von verschiedenen Orten des Landes ausgebrochenen Unruhen insbesondern die Unruhen im Seekreis betr.” (1848); Mannheimer Abendzeitung, 27 Mar. 1848.

53. Pillin, Hans-Martin, “Die Parteinahme der Bürgerschaft Oberkirchs zugunsten re-publikanischer Ideen während der badischen Revolution der Jahre 1848/49,” Ortenau 56 (1976): 47.Google Scholar

54. von Andlaw, Heinrich, Der Aufruhr und Umsturz in Baden, vol. 1 (Freiburg, 1850): 125.Google Scholar

55. Schaaf, 164.

56. It reached the communities on the border with Württemberg only at seven o'clock on the morning of the 24th, having covered barely twenty miles in ten hours.

57. Karlsruher Zeitung, 27 Mar. 1848; Bunz, 71, 101, 112–13.

58. GLA 236/2244; Revellio, Paul, “Die Revolution der Jahre 1848 und 1849, vornehmlich in den Amtstädten Villingen, Donaueschingen und Hüfingen,” Schriften des Vereins für Geschichte der Baar 22 (1950): 153Google Scholar; GLA, Bezirksamt Engen, Abt. 351/12 “Der Einbruch der Franzosen in das Grossherzogthum Baden betr.” (1848–1849); Karlsruher Zeitung, 28 Mar. 1848.

59. GLA 313/3862; GLA, Bezirksamt Neustadt, Abt. 366/38 “Die hochverrätherischen Untersuchungen sowie das Treiben der revolutionären Propaganda betr.” (1848–1851).

60. GLA, Bezirksamt Engen, Abt. 351/9 “Die französische Revolution und ihre Rückwirkung auf Deutschland betr.” (1848–1849).

61. The above-mentioned works of Bunz and Lang provide detailed information on the course the panic took once it left Baden.

62. For the most recent works on this subject see Vollmer, Franz X., Vormärz und Revolution in Baden: Strukturen, Dokumente, Fragestellungen: Modelle zur Landesgeschichte (Frankfurt-Berlin-Munich, 1979)Google Scholar; and Real, Willy, Die Revolution in Baden, 1848–49 (Stuttgart, 1983).Google Scholar

63. GLA 313/3862; Donaueschinger Wochenblatt, 28 Mar. 1848.

64. Seeblätter, 25 Mar. 1848.

65. Exceptions to the rule include the temporary detention of a nobleman by peasants near Donaueschingen, and a disturbance in Constance sparked by the arrest of a wandering journeyman. See Revellio, 164–65; GLA 236/2244.

66. GLA 236/2244.

67. Mannheimer Abendzeitung, 26 Mar. 1849.

68. GLA 358/256; Oberrheinische Zeitung, 24 Mar. 1848; Seeblätter, 25 Mar. 1848.

69. Bekk, 127.

70. Karlsruher Zeitung, 27 Mar. 1848.

71. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 24 Mar. and 1 Apr. Beilage 1848; Oberländer Bote, 24 Mar. 1848.

72. Worker groups in Switzerland were also laying plans at the same time for an invasion of Baden. See Bekk, 129–31.

73. Even radical members of Baden's Diet like Hecker had supported it at first. See Verhandlungen der Ständeversammlung des Grossherzogthums Baden, Zweite Kammer 1847–1849, 3. Ph., 43. Sess. (24.3.1848), 296–98.

74. GLA 351/12.

75. Oberrheinische Zeitung, 7 Apr. 1848.

76. Herwegh, Emma, Zur Geschichte der deutschen demokratischen Legion aus Paris: Von einer Hochverräterin: Briefe von und an Georg Herwegh (Leipzig, 1896), 154–55.Google Scholar

77. Herwegh, 185–86.

78. Another armed uprising in September 1848 and the invasion of Baden by Prussian forces in May 1849 led to further localized outbreaks of panic. Karlsruher Zeitung, 28 Sept. 1848; Volksführer (Heidelberg), 19 May 1849.

79. Le Bon, 81.

80. Penrose, L. S., On the Objective Study of Crowd Behavior (London, 1952), 127.Google Scholar

81. Baden's railroad line, extending from Mannheim to Freiburg, was only a few years old at the time. Neither train nor telegraph seems to have had an appreciable effect on the transmission of the panic.

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