Flag of Free City of Frankfurt 1372 AD/CE to 1866 AD/CE

Capital: Frankfurt am Main

Continent: Europe

Official Languages: Hessian


Established: 1372 AD/CE

Disestablished: 1866 AD/CE


Next to the main street Zeil, at the Roßmarkt, along the city ring and at the banks of the river Main, the wealthy population of the city had spacious houses erected by architects such as Salins de Montfort and Friedrich Rumpf. They also endowed several scientific societies, for example the Polytechnische Gesellschaft and the Physikalischen Verein. In 1819 Freiherr vom Stein founded the Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde (Monumenta Germaniae Historica). In 1825, municipal architect Johann Friedrich Christian Hess built the representative city library. At the same time, the new construction of the Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft was developed at the Eschenheimer Turm. This is where Eduard Rüppell started his extended research expeditions to Africa. The Städelschule, which was opened in 1829, attracted renowned artists from all over Europe, among others Bertel Thorvaldsen, Philipp Veit, Eduard von Steinle and Moritz von Schwind. Civic foundations and clubs also fostered the city's culture life, e.g. the Frankfurter Kunstverein, the Museumsgesellschaft, the Cäcilienverein and the Städtische Theater.

In 1828 city gardener Sebastian Rinz set aside land for a new main cemetery and a new Jewish cemetery, about 15 minutes from the old city walls. The old cemeteries, which dated back to the Middle Ages, the Peterskirchhof and the old Jewish cemetery were closed. Also in 1828 the company Knoblauch & Schiele, the first gasworks, started to provide private households with gas.

In 1830 the city arranged the maintenance of the churches owned by the city, the priest's salaries and the clerical school system in two endowment contracts. A lot of the older and smaller churches, especially the former monasteries, which had been secularized in 1803 decayed or were used for profane purposes. But on the other hand, the new construction of the Paulskirche, which had been in ruins since 1789, was finally completed.

The city's urban area only slowly grew beyond the area of the ramparts, which were built on the area of the old city fortifications, firstly along the old country roads. Up until 1837, the wrought-iron gates to the city were closed at nightfall. Whoever was late had to pay a fee – like in the Middle Ages – called "Sperrbatzen", which led to bloody fights ("Sperrbatzenkrawall") in 1830 and 1831.

During the years in which Frankfurt was a "Free City", the traditional Frankfurt Trade Fair was of little importance. Nevertheless, Frankfurt rose to be one of the major centres for trade and finances in Europe. The most important banking house in Frankfurt belonged to the Rothschild family, who established banking and finance houses all over Europe. The only other banking house that was comparable to the Rothschild bank was the Christian-owned Bethmann bank. Both of these banks dominated the trading of bonds for different European countries.

There were several significant uprisings against plans to develop a Prussian Tariff Union because they threatened to undermine Frankfurt's role as a centre of transport and trade. In 1828 the city joined Middle Germany's trade association which was against Prussian activities. However, they were not able to prevent their neighbouring city, Hessen-Darmstadt, from joining the region under which the Prussian Tax was implemented. After the founding of Germany's Customs Union in 1834 of which Nassau also became a member, Frankfurt was the only city that was not part of Prussian Customs Union, in contrast to the surrounding area. Within a short period of time, trade in Frankfurt had been dramatically reduced. Meanwhile, the trade of neighbouring cities, like Offenbach, Höchst and Bockenheim, flourished. In 1836 the free city of Frankfurt was the last one to join the German Customs Union.

The fortunate location of the city led to the development of Frankfurt becoming a transportation hub. In 1832 England and Frankfurt signed a contract allowing free trade and shipping. For this purpose the city flag was designed using the traditional colours of Frankfurt: two red and two white stripes with the Frankfurt Eagle in the upper left corner.

From the beginning, the city had a leading role in the expansion of the German railway system. All the bankers from Frankfurt supported the initiative and the first railway shares were in great interest. Nevertheless, negotiations went slowly and the initial construction of the railway did not start until 1839.

The Bundestag was headquartered in Palais Thurn and Taxis in the Großen Eschenheimer Straße starting from 5 November 1816. The member states established delegations in the city. The Central Federal Bureau for Investigations (German: Bundes-Central-Behörde für Untersuchungen), a central coordinating institution of the political police for the federal member states, had been based in Frankfurt since the 1830s.

Frankfurt was one of the major centres of the revolutionary movement “Vormärz” (lit: “pre-March”). The journalist Ludwig Börne was born in 1786 in a street named “Judengasse” (“Jew Lane”) in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt. Ludwig Börne was the author of satirical writings and later became one of the prominent figures of the literary movement “Young Germany”. Because the Federal Assembly and Frankfurt's city authorities feared for their reputation, they tried to ban political unions and to suppress the circulation of liberal publications. They were, however, not successful in their attempts to do this. Spurred on by the July Revolution of 1830, oppositional groups in the city of Frankfurt were ablaze with a revolutionary spirit. But the step from idealistic fervour to decisive action failed completely. Made up mostly of students and Polish officers in exile, a group attempting to start a revolution in Germany, called Frankfurter Wachensturm because of attacks made on police stations (German Wachen), was betrayed on 3 April 1833 to the police and was brutally put down by the city's small army. The incident, while largely ineffective, did, however, have a chilling effect on the bourgeois elite of the city because as a result 2,500 Austrian and Prussian soldiers were stationed in the city, representing a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the city which, in turn, led to royal government diplomats denigrating the Free City as a "liberal cesspit".

German national consciousness grew throughout the 1840s: The sculptor Ludwig Schwanthaler created a Goethe monument in 1844 and the unveiling ceremony, for example, became a rallying point for nationalists as did a meeting of German Studies scholars in Frankfurt's city hall, which, just before this meeting, had been decorated with images of all 52 emperors of the Holy Roman Empire created by artists such as Philipp Veit, Alfred Rethel and Eduard von Steinle. An umbrella organization of Frankfurt's democratic clubs, the Montagskränzchen (lit: "Monday clubs"), had been meeting since the winter of 1845/46.

In the early days of March 1848 the revolutionary spirit from France spilled over to Germany. Like everywhere else, the people of Frankfurt called for the rights of freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, constitutional equality for all citizens, amnesty for all those who had been imprisoned because of political activities and the right for every citizen to bear arms. On 3 March 1848, the senate of the city granted all rights except full emancipation of the Jews. The reformists who had met in the Montagskränzchen called for a reform of the city's constitution. All citizens were to elect the members of a constituent assembly for the city. This assembly was then to work out a new constitution to replace the laws which had been made as a mere addition to the old constitution.

On 9 March 1848 a flag in the colours of black, red and gold was first flown from the roof of the Palais Thurn und Taxis in Frankfurt. On 31 March the so-called “pre-parliament” held a meeting in the Paulskirche, which had been converted from a church to a parliament building in a rush. The walls and windows of the church were decorated with flags in the colours of black, red and gold, the pulpit was covered in a cloth, and the organ was hidden by a big curtain, which featured a painting by Philipp Veit depicting Germania, holding a flag and a sword. The figure was framed on either side with laurel wreaths and patriotic verses. A table for the President was set up where the altar normally stood.

On 18 May 1848 the parliamentarians of the Frankfurt national assembly, among the first free voted German parliaments, congregated in the Paulskirche in a celebratory fashion. Friedrich Siegmund Jucho, a legal practitioner, was elected as the representative of the free city on 28 April. He was once a reporter for the National Assembly and affiliated with the left-centre parliamentary group, Westendhall, and later belonged to the so-called Erbkaiserliche, a political group led by Heinrich von Gagern.

With the increasing resistance and tenacity of the parliamentary debates, the enthusiasm of the people of Frankfurt disappeared

After the break-up of the national assembly and the re-establishment of the Bundestag diplomacy in 1850, the democratic opposition continued to advocate their demands, despite the senate's restorative politics that were considerate of the German chieftains. Nevertheless, the city's antiquated constitution was gradually reformed. In 1853, an electoral reform entitled the residents of the rural district to vote. By withdrawing the senators from courts and legislative meetings, the 1856 judicial and administrative reform established the separation of powers. Trials were henceforth held in public and verbal hearings and the elsewhere already common jury court was established.

The Prussian ambassador, Otto von Bismarck represented the interests of Prussia at the German Bundestag in Frankfurt from 1851 to 1859. The liberality of the Frankfurt middle class and the freedom of the press were much to his dislike. On 14 April 1853 he wrote to the minister of Manteuffel: "Regarding the democratic spirit and turmoils within the population of the city and its neighbouring regions... I am sure that we will only be able to successfully face these threats by subjecting this particular part of Germany to a military dictatorship, without any consideration of judicial norms or the preservation of these."

After years of conflict the remains of the medieval guild system finally disappeared in 1864. Economic freedom prevailed and even the last restrictions on the rights of Jewish citizens were abolished. In June 1866, right before losing its status as a free city, a direct majority voting system for all citizens was introduced to the legislative branch, instead of the previous electoral procedure which had been arranged according to profession. This new system still presumed citizenship, which meant having at least 5000 guilder. This new election law, however, was never used before Prussian annexation.

Because of the economic structure determined by trade and craft and because of the lack of economic freedom, there was no industrial proletariat in Frankfurt up until 1866. The first workers‘ association, founded in 1863, had only 67 members, of which 33 were tailors.

The Prussian-Austrian conflict was, by then, pushing Germany more and more towards war. Even the congress called by Austria, the Frankfurter Fürstentag, in August 1863 could not come up with a solution because of the Prussian boycott. As a result of the summit's failure, the Frankfurt public, which had long been sympathizing with Austria, was set completely against Prussia. The liberal Frankfurt Press was also predominantly anti-Prussian, especially the Frankfurt Ober-Postamts-Zeitung, founded in 1617, the Journal de Francfort, published in French, and the Handelszeitung, established in 1856. In the satirical magazine Frankfurt Lantern, first published in 1860, editor Friedrich Stoltze criticized Bismarck's policy in increasingly harsh commentaries and caricatures. This led to Prussia having a warrant out for Stoltze's arrest so that he was not able to leave his home town.

However, in the sphere of the German National Assembly, founded in Frankfurt in 1859, there were also influential Frankfurters who believed in the “Prussian mission” to establish German unity. The movement's voice was the national-liberal Frankfurter Journal, which was subsidized by the Prussians. The Prussian consul general of Frankfurt was the highly respected banker Moritz von Bethmann, who had been one of the hosts of the Fürstentag. He later resigned his post in protest against Bismarck's policy.

When the German war inevitably loomed in the early summer of 1866, the town remained loyal to the German Confederation, according to its motto "faith in federal law". On 14 June 1866, they voted for the confederate execution against Prussia, though at the same time declaring that it would not participate in the civil war. Still, the town was not able to refrain from the entanglements of war, as Prussia regarded the Frankfurt Confederate loyalty as hostile. Bismarck was determined to violently establish the German unity under Prussian rule and to oust Austria from German politics.

On 16 July 1866 the undefended city was occupied by Prussian troops under their General Edward Vogel of Falckenstein, who immediately imposed strict reprisals on the town. Only one day later, on 17 July, a first payment of 5.8 million guilder was imposed on the town.

Edwin of Manteuffel, who was appointed as successor of Falckenstein on 20 July raised a second demand of contribution of 25 million guilder. This contribution had to be paid by the 35000 citizens of the free town, among whom approximately 8000 had to pay taxes. Numerous citizens, among them all members of the senate, were imposed with accommodations. The citizens had to provide their own saddle-horses for the army and the traders and landlords were forced to hand over large provisions, vine and cigars to the Prussian army command. Publishing was forbidden for all the newspapers of Frankfurt except for the journal. The editor of the newspaper of the main post office and privy councillor Fischer-Goullet was arrested and suffered a deadly stroke. The senators Bernus, Müller and Speltz were held hostage in the fortress of Cologne but were allowed to return to Frankfurt as a consequence of pledging their word of honour. Numerous citizens of Frankfurt escaped to foreign countries, like Friedrich Stoltze who escaped to Stuttgart and the natural scientist Eduard Rüppell who escaped to Switzerland. In the end of 1866, the emigrants were allowed to return according to a general amnesty.