The Carlsbad Decrees
(August 31, 1819)

“The confederated governments mutually pledge themselves to remove from the universities or other public educational institutions all teachers who, by obvious deviation from their duty, or by exceeding the limits of their functions, or by the abuse of their legitimate influence over the youthful minds, or by propagating harmful doctrines hostile to public order or subversive of existing governmental institutions, shall have unmistakably proved their unfitness for the important office entrusted to them. . . .” – Carlsbad Decrees

The Carlsbad Decrees were a series of resolutions adopted by the German Confederation in 1819 to suppress liberal ideas and oppositions in the German States.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna met to determine the geopolitical future of Europe in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. For the German states, the congress decided on a moderate course of action. The delegates at the congress realized, as much as they hated to, that they could never return to the old forms of government that had existed before the French Revolution. Instead, a loose coalition of the thirty-nine Germanic states, the two largest being Austria and Prussia, was created. It was named the German Confederation.

To many Germans - all of whom had been living under the liberal Code Napoleon for several years - the Confederation was too conservative. Immediately after the Congress of Vienna disbanded there were calls for liberal reform within Germany. In the first four years of the Confederation, numerous liberal local governments were established. However, the main liberal movement existed in the German youth. At the German Universities, liberal societies called Burschenschafts were formed. These organizations promoted liberal politics and German Nationalism – the two entities that Prince Metternich and the Holy Alliance despised the most. Such liberal movements grew, and they came to a head in 1819 when a radical student assassinated the conservative playwright August von Kotzebue.

In the wake of the assassination, there existed major concern among the German, conservative elite, about the growing radicalism amongst their youths. Prince Metternich, seeing an opportunity to take advantage of these feelings, held an emergency symposium for the leaders of the major German states in Carlsbad (current day Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic). Metternich convinced the German states to band together in a system to suppress all liberal agitation in Germany, especially among the German youth. The actions they took, the resolutions and laws they declared, are referred to as the Carlsbad Decrees.

The Carlsbad Decrees did a number of things. A uniform system of press censorship was adopted, and such revolutionary authors as Locke and Rousseau were banned. All universities were closely supervised by the confederation, and all of the Burschenschafts were disbanded. Finally, a complex network / commission of spies and informants was created to investigate and punish any liberal and/or radical organizations.

The Carlsbad Decrees were largely successful – within the perspective of their ability to fulfill their intentions. Except for a brief period in 1830, conservative control of the 39 states in the German Confederation remained until the revolutions of 1848. The Carlsbad Decrees were the original promoters and facilitators of such conservatism.


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