The “Provisional Decree“ [Provisorische Verordnung] marks a significant step for Jewish emancipation in 19th-century Hamburg. At the beginning of the century, Hamburg’s Jews had been able to experience what the abolition of discrimination meant: during the city’s occupation by Napoleonic troops, they had gained full civic and political equality for the first time, lasting from December 1810 until May 1814. After the withdrawal of the French, the city council immediately reinstated the Regulation on Jews [Judenreglement] of 1710. In Hamburg, the campaign for emancipation was fought with particular vigor since the 1830s, especially by representatives of the Jewish reform movement such as Gabriel Riesser Grabdenkmal von Dr. Gabriel Riesser (1806-1863) auf dem Friedhof Ohlsdorf, Hamburg (1863) and Anton Rée and by liberal political forces demanding the separation of state and church. At the same time, the city repeatedly became the scene of anti-Jewish pogroms in the Vormärz period. Following the fire of 1842, the lifting of restrictions on the acquisition of real property and the granting of the right to freely choose one’s place of residence represented first partial successes for the emancipation efforts.
The decisive stimulus for subsequent developments came from the revolutionary events of 1848/49. In Hamburg, too, riots broke out in March 1848. The conflict about a democratization of the political order still based on the Principal Recess [Hauptrezess] of 1712 led to the convocation of a constituent assembly, the so-called Konstituante, on December 14, 1848. With regard to the emancipation of the Jews, the course was set outside of Hamburg as well: on December 27, 1848, the National Assembly in Frankfurt passed a National Law on the Basic Rights of the German people [Reichsgesetz, betreffend die Grundrechte des deutschen Volkes]. Article 5, section 16 codifies the equality of all confessions: “Religious denomination is not a condition for nor does it limit civil rights and the right of citizenship. Nor must it hinder anyone from fulfilling their duties as a citizen.”
Hamburg’s “Provisional Decree” [Provisorische Verordnung] of February 21, 1849, was prompted by section 16 of the “Basic Rights” [Grundrechte] and makes explicit reference to it. The “Basic Rights” [Grundrechte] came into effect on January 17, 1849. Since an associated “implementation law” stipulated that section 16 was to apply everywhere along with some other regulations and without further legislation, the council and city assembly both confirmed the instructions from Frankfurt and laid down specific terms for its practical implementation when they passed the “Provisional Decree.” [Provisorische Verordnung] It includes not only the central provision that Hamburg’s Jewish residents were now able to acquire citizenship rights in the city Bürgerrecht [citizenship right in the city]: The right of self-government; the precondition for acquiring civil rights was inherited real property, the swearing of a citizen’s oath, and the one-time payment of “Bürgergeld” [citizenship fee]; members of the nobility were excluded from this; until 1814 citizenship was granted exclusively to members of the Lutheran church [see: Helmut Stubbe-da Luz, Bürgerrecht, in: Franklin Kopitzsch / Daniel Tilger (eds.), Hamburg Lexikon, Hamburg 1998, p. 92.] and the state Landbürgerrrecht [citizenship right in the state]: civil rights held by the residents of the territory of Hamburg; this excluded business activity in the city as well as political participation. [see: Sebastian Husen, Landgebiet, in: Franklin Kopitzsch / Daniel Tilgner (eds.), Hamburg Lexikon, Hamburg 1998, p. 296.] as well as the rights of a protected citizen Schutzbürger [protected citizen]: status permitting employment and marriage, but not granting political rights if citizenship could not be acquired for financial reasons. [see: Helmut Stubbe-da Luz, Schutzverwandte, in: Franklin Kopitzsch / Daniel Tilgner (eds.), Hamburg Lexikon, Hamburg 1998, p. 429.](article 1), but it also addresses the necessity to take permanent first and family names (article 2) and the form of the oath Jews had to swear (article 3). The next two articles orders the elimination of economic discrimination as part of legal emancipation: by repealing article 17 of the Revised Brokerage Regulation [Revidirte Maklerordnung] of 1824, the priority of Christian brokers at auctions was abolished; equally, the limit on the number of Jewish notaries set by the council and city assembly on May 25, 1840 was to expire (article 4); meanwhile, the General Regulation for Government Offices and Fraternities [General-Reglement der Aemter und Brüderschaften] was modified to allow for the admission of Jews as apprentices and journeymen by Hamburg’s trade authorities (article 5). The decree’s final article stipulates that the relationship between Hamburg’s Jews and their community was not affected by their acquisition of citizenship Bürgerrecht: The right of self-government; the precondition for acquiring civil rights was inherited real property, the swearing of a citizen’s oath, and the one-time payment of “Bürgergeld” [citizenship fee]; members of the nobility were excluded from this; until 1814 citizenship was granted exclusively to members of the Lutheran church [see: Helmut Stubbe-da Luz, “Bürgerrecht,” in Franklin Kopitzsch and Daniel Tilger, eds., Hamburg Lexikon (Hamburg, 1998), p. 92.], especially with regard to their obligation to pay community taxes (article 6). By the end of the year 1849, 397 Jews had become citizens of Hamburg. However, they still were denied participation in citizens’ council elections [bürgerliche Kollegien], which would have made them fully equal citizens. Moreover, once the decree was put into practice, it turned out that the authorities supervising the trade of tailors and shoemakers until 1855/56 continued to refuse admitting Jews to the trade because they feared competition. The decree of February 21, 1849 was “provisional” in the sense that a complete realization of emancipation would only become possible by limiting the ties between church and state as part of a constitutional amendment.
The “Basic Rights” [Grundrechte] passed by the National Assembly were included in the new constitution [Reichsverfassung] of March 28, 1849. In Hamburg the Konstituante confirmed Jewish emancipation in articles 29, 31, and 33 of the draft constitution passed on July 11, 1849, which was based on the principle of the sovereignty of the people. After the National Assembly was moved from Frankfurt to Stuttgart and eventually dissolved on June 18, 1849 and the revolution had failed, the Hamburg Konstituante, too, was dissolved on June 13, 1850. Although parliament repealed the “Basic Rights” [Grundrechte] in 1851, the progressive measures stipulated in the “Provisional Decree” [Provisorische Verordnung] of February 21, 1849 could not be undone because they had been passed by constitutional means. Continued conflict about a modernization of Hamburg’s political order eventually resulted in the new constitution of 1860, which permanently granted the Jews equality in its article 110.
The “Provisional Decree” [Provisorische Verordnung] of February 21, 1849 illustrates the great extent to which the emancipation process depended on greater factors: at the local level it depended on conflicts about the democratization of Hamburg’s constitution that temporarily peaked with the Konstituante’s draft constitution, and at the national level it depended on the initiative of the National Assembly in Frankfurt.
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Dirk Brietzke, Dr. phil., born 1964, is research assistant at the Department of Hamburg's local history at the University of Hamburg. His focus of research is: social and cultural history in the early modern period, history of the bourgeoisie in the 18th and 19th century, history of the poor, historical theory, regional history of Hamburg and Northern Germany.
Dirk Brietzke, The Resolution by the Council and City Assembly on the Emancipation of Hamburg’s Jews Passed on February 21, 1849 (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, March 24, 2017. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-11.en.v1> [May 27, 2017].