Hesse in the 19th Century

It took the French imperialist politics of Napoleon to rearrange the political map. In 1803, the Final Recess of the Reichsdeputation (Extraordinary Imperial Delegation) gave Hesse-Kassel the status of an Electorate. In 1806, Hesse-Darmstadt, which was granted the status of a Grand Duchy, and the principalities of Nassau, united under the Duchy of Nassau, joined the Confederation of the Rhine (Rheinbund). The Napoleonic era led to further territorial changes: for a short period, Frankfurt, Wetzlar, Aschaffenburg, Fulda and Hanau formed the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt, while the Electorate of Hesse, Brunswick, parts of Hanover and Prussia formed the Kingdom of Westphalia with Kassel as its capital. This is where Napoleon’s brother Jérôme ruled.

Napoleon’s defeat also caused the disintegration of the Kingdom of Westphalia and consequently the reestablishment of the Electorate of Hesse-Kassel, integrating large parts of the Prince-Bishopric of Fulda and Hanau. Hessen-Darmstadt was extended adding Mainz and Worms, which were given the name Rhenish Hesse, on the left bank of the Rhine. Nassau remained a Duchy. As small sovereign states, the Landgravedom of Hesse-Homburg and the Principality of Waldeck belonged to the German Confederation. After the dissolution of the Grand Duchy of Frankfurt, Frankfurt reassumed its status as a Free City, which it kept until 1866.

The French Revolution and its consequences

The Principality of Solms-Braunfels too, tried to reestablish its independence, which it had lost in 1806. However, these endeavors failed and Solms-Braunfelds, just like the formerly free imperial city of Wetzlar, became part of the Prussian-ruled Rhineland in 1815. The French Revolution, however, had left its traces amongst the bourgeoisie. The citizens objected to the traditional rule of the princes and demanded more freedom and rights.

In 1814, the Duchy of Nassau was the first state to obtain an estates-based constitution. The reformist Baron vom Stein played a consultative role in its creation. On December 17, 1820, a constitution introducing the constitutional monarchy came into power in Hesse-Darmstadt and remained essentially valid until 1918. In the Electorate of Hesse, the constitutional fights took the longest, and it was not until the government crisis on January 15, 1831 that a constitution was passed, even though restrictions were applied within a year of its becoming effective. The year of 1848, when St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt hosted the German National Assembly, brought about more liberal conditions, but by 1850 the liberal constitutions were already abolished. In 1848, the engagement for the Austrian side in the war between Prussia and the Danube Monarchy resulted in Prussia taking possession of the Electorate of Hesse-Kassel, the Duchy of Nassau and the City of Frankfurt, which were amalgamated in the Province of Hesse-Nassau in 1867.