Revolutions of 1848
Throughout 1848, a series of liberal revolutions swept across most of western and central Europe, offering the promise of greater political and religious freedoms. The revolts began in Paris, France, in February. As word spread to liberals elsewhere, uprisings followed in Austria-Hungary, Italy, and the German states, leading to the establishment of representative assemblies. The most promising of these, the Frankfurt parliament, wrote a liberal constitution but found no solution to the grossdeutsch (greater Germany) versus kleindeutsch (smaller Germany) problem and was eventually dispersed by June 1849. By the end of 1849, virtually all the old regimes had been restored, driving thousands of revolutionaries and their associates into exile.
The fact that there were still 39 separate German states after settlement of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 meant that there was almost continuous political debate over the fate of both individual states and the collective nation of the Germans. The handful of men and women who emigrated for purely political reasons after the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 or the repression of the early 1830s was only a tiny fraction of the approximately 160,000 Germans who came to the United States between 1820 and 1840. Following the failed revolutions of 1848, the numbers increased. Still, of some 750,000 German immigrants between 1848 and 1854, only a few thousand were actual political refugees. Most Germans were responding to significant economic and social changes that made the old way of life more difficult. The majority of the exiled leaders stayed in Europe, with London, England, a favored destination. The most notable effect of the revolutions in the United States was to provide an already skilled and hardworking people with a solid core of professional leadership that eased German transition into the professions and ultimately into the mainstream of American life.