Frankfurt Parliament (Germany)

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The Frankfurt Parliament, the German constitutional assembly which met at Frankfurt a. M., Germany, on 18 May 1848, to 30 May 1849, is of interest to Mennonites because two Mennonites, Isaak Brons of Emden and Hermann von Beckerath of Krefeld, were elected members of the parliament. Brons took no part in the public debates, although he served on two committees (Navy and Economics), but von Beckerath, an able and experienced statesman, took a leading part in the debates and on 4 August 1848 accepted the cabinet post of Minister of Finance. Von Beckerath was a firm monarchist and a strongly patriotic Prussian.

Of particular interest is von Beckerath's strange opposition to the proposal for exemption of conscientious objectors from military service, which he as a Mennonite might well have made himself, but which was actually introduced by a non-Mennonite though intended specifically to serve the Mennonites as the only religious conscientious objector group in Germany. The following extract from this address on this subject not only indicates clearly that von Beckerath had surrendered the historic Mennonite nonresistant position, but that he was fully committed to the typical Prussian military point of view.

I do not deny that the proposals issue from a well-intentioned human point of view; but, Gentlemen, they are based on political concepts which no longer exist. It must be remembered that since no universal military duty existed in Prussia at the time when the Mennonites received the right to withdraw from military service and as compensation had to accept certain restrictions on their citizenship rights, the Mennonite privilege did not constitute an infraction of the right of other citizens. But when in 1808 in Prussia every able-bodied man was obligated to military service the Mennonite exemption constituted an abnormality, and now that a free state is to be established whose strength rests upon the equality of its citizens in rights and duties, such a special privilege becomes utterly untenable. As the previous speaker, Mr. Martens, has stated, the Mennonites in Rhenish Prussia with few exceptions render military service without question, and refusal of military service is in no sense considered as an integral part of Mennonite doctrine. It is certain that in other parts of Germany the heightened appreciation of the state will result in the performance there [by Mennonites] of this first duty of the citizen. But even if here and there this should not be the case, and individual conscientious objectors might arise, this would be a condition which it would be impossible to take into account in the establishment of the basic constitutional provisions. ... I declare that it is contrary to the welfare of the Fatherland to provide for any exception in the fulfillment of citizenship duties, no matter on what ground.

This did not settle the question of Mennonite exemption from military service. On 14 September 1848, the West Prussian Mennonite congregations submitted a petition to the Parliament on which they protested against the views expressed by von Beckerath, without, however, achieving any positive results for their position in the final formulation of the constitutional provisions. However, the Mennonite privileges were maintained in Prussia even after the adoption of the new constitution. It was not until the federal law of 9 November 1867 was passed that the exemption was lost. Even then the Order-in-Cabinet (Kabinettsordre) of 3 March 1868 granted the Mennonites the privilege of noncombatant service.

It is interesting to note that the historian C. A. Cornelius, who was also a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, decided during the sessions to write his Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs.


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 678-684.

Laube, Heinrich. Das erste deutsche Parlament. Rev.edition. Leipzig, 1910.

Mannhardt, Wilhelm. Die Wehrfreiheit der altpreussischen Mennoniten: eine geschichtliche Erörterung. Marienburg: im Selbstverlage der Altpreussischen Mennonitengemeinden, 1863.

Schwemer, Richard. Geschichte der freien Stadt Frankfurt a. M. (1814-1866). Frankfurt, 1910- : III, 1.

Wigard, Franz. Stenographischer bericht über die verhandlungen der Deutschen constituirenden nationalversammlung zu Frankfurt am Main. Frankfurt a.M., 1848, 1849.

Author(s) Richard Schwemer
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1956

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Schwemer, Richard and Harold S. Bender. "Frankfurt Parliament (Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 12 May 2021.

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Schwemer, Richard and Harold S. Bender. (1956). Frankfurt Parliament (Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 12 May 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 376-377. All rights reserved.

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