Vormärz (German pronunciation: [ˈfoːɐ̯ˌmɛʁt͡s]; English: pre-March) is a term that later arose to describe a period in German history. The term refers to the years leading to the March Revolution in the states of the German Confederation in 1848. The beginning of the period is less well defined. It may start after the fall of Napoleon and the establishment of the German Confederation in 1815. If the essence of the Vormärz is the political uprising then the French July Revolution of 1830 is a more suitable point to start.
Internationally known as the Age of Metternich, it was mainly a period of Austrian and Prussian police states and vast censorship in response to revolutionary calls for liberalism. In a cultural sense, the same period is known as Biedermeier as conclusion of the Romanticism era.
Upon Napoleon's final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the European powers led by the Austrian state chancellor Prince Klemens von Metternich and British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh implemented the Conservative Order, blanking out the achievements of the American Revolution and French revolutions in order to re-install the pre-revolutionary balance of power. Against the nationalist and liberal tendencies among the German bourgeoisie that had risen during the Napoleonic Wars, the German Confederation was established as a successor of the shattered Holy Roman Empire, likewise not a nation state but a loose association of the German princes, who agreed on suppressing such political activities of their subjects — a scheme that ultimatively failed. After the "French period" in large German territories, especially in the Rhineland, the implementation of the Napoleonic Code and the Prussian reforms, the movement towards a constitution and a parliamentary system could be retarded but not reversed.
A first national Urburschenschaft student fraternity was already founded in 1815 in Jena and two years later numerous students met at the Wartburg Festival. The assassination of August von Kotzebue by the Burschenschaft student Karl Ludwig Sand in 1819 gave the pretext for the Carlsbad Decrees, which censored the press, limited academic discussion of the new political and economic philosophies of liberalism, and restricted public meetings and the public discussion of such ideas as national unity and wider suffrage. The ideals of the Enlightenment were reversed. Though many activists like Ernst Moritz Arndt, Karl Marx, Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Hans Ferdinand Massmann, Georg Büchner, Fritz Reuter, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, Carl Theodor Welcker and Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker were arrested or retired into private life, the liberal ideals again gained stream with the French July Revolution in 1830, followed by insurrections in the Prussian capital Berlin as well as in the German states of Saxony, Hanover, Hesse and Brunswick.
The failed 1830 November Uprising in Congress Poland and the succeeding emigration of many Polish insurgents led to a widespread support throughout Germany. At the Hambach Festival of 1832, a culminating point of the national, liberal and democratic movement, beside the national colours of Germany, the Polish flag was risen. After the Greater Poland Uprising of 1846, the trial against the insurgents around Ludwik Mierosławski at the Berlin Kammergericht gained large interest, and the defendants had to be pardoned by King Frederick William IV of Prussia during the March revolution due to public pressure. However, the liberal and democratic movement included a strong nationalistic element from the beginning, predominantly against the French "hereditary enemy".
The states of the German Confederation reacted by increased suppression. The failed Frankfurter Wachensturm, an attempt to storm the Bundesversammlung assembly of the princes' delegates, the Free City of Frankfurt was occupied by Austrian and Prussian troops. Many participants were sentenced for high treason, others like Gustav Körner and Ferdinand Lindheimer fled from Germany, mostly to the United States. On the other hand, the establishment of the Prussian-dominated Zollverein customs union, though solely for economic reasons, was widely seen by national-liberal circles as a decisive step towards a (Lesser) German unification. In 1837 the Göttingen Seven professors were dismissed for their protest against the abolition of the Hanover constitution.
The succession of the mentally handicapped Ferdinand I to the throne in 1835 made it possible for Metternich to have responsibility of the internal and external affairs of the Austrian Empire. Nationalism and the social developments in the empire created more tensions that would eventually erupt in the form of the March 1848 revolution. The emerging working class was looked at as a political, rather than a social, problem. The rise of liberalism would eventually be the downfall for Metternich and Ferdinand. Liberal ideals were coming from the upper aristocracy and the middle classes. The dissent of the middle class was extremely evident. In Hungary the Diet was called during the time period. In the 1836-39 Diet there were few gains made, but significant to the peasant class. Along with the abolition of serfdom in Hungary, it no longer was a question of class but of the national position and the right of the authority of Vienna. The conflicting ideas would eventually come to a head in the March 1848 revolution.
Vormärz is also the name of a movement in German literature during the same time. It is predominated by an increasing interest of authors in political and social topics, including the growing economic unity of Germany through the Zollverein, the topic of German Unification itself, and expanded male suffrage.
Okey, Robin., The Habsburg Monarchy: From Enlightenment to Eclipse. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.