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The Prussian Regency

Karl Marx

Berlin, Oct. 13, 1858

After a severe struggle, the Prussian palace revolution has at last become a fait accompli. From a mere substitute and delegate of the King, the Prince of Prussia has been converted into the Regent of the State. The bad grace with which the Queen and the camarilla gave way, appeared even in the concluding scene of the dynastic drama. Herr von Westphalen, the Minister of the Interior, and their official representative, declined signing the decree[a], by which the King transfers the Royal power to his brother, resigned, and had to be replaced by Herr von Flottwell. On the other hand, the King has not abdicated unconditionally; but, as the decree runs, "for the time being, until I myself shall again be capable of executing the duties of my Royal office," and reserving "of the affairs of my Royal house, under my own authority, those concerning my own person." The one clause renders the power of Regent provisional, and the other continues the Queen's hold on the Royal purse-string. The conditional form of the surrender proves that, although forced to evacuate the stronghold of the position, the camarilla are resolved upon showing fight. It is in fact a public secret that, after the paralytic affliction that befell the King last week, his own physicians declared their despair of giving his life, under the most favorable circumstances, another year's respite. This declaration went far in determining Herr von Manteuffel to change sides and hoist the Prince of Prussia's flag. Being possessed of some cursory acquaintance with modern history, he is aware that Mazarin's influence outlived Louis XIII. He knows that Perceval, although as the blind tool of the camarilla known under the name of the "King's Friends," and led by the Queen and the Duke of York, he had given great offence to the Prince Royal, nevertheless, despite the intrigues and the ill-forebodings of the Whig place-hunters, succeeded in ingratiating himself with the Regent (afterward George IV), and in preserving his post. It was this defection on the part of Manteuffel which forced the camarilla and the Junker party standing behind it to beat a retreat. Otherwise the Prince of Prussia would have been driven to the alternative either of wearing the borrowed mask only of royalty, or of an appeal to popular interference, the latter step being incompatible with his own principles, as well as the traditions of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Manteuffel's pliancy extricated him from that distressing dilemma. Whether he will prove grateful to the turncoat remains to be seen. The very fact that Manteuffel's name is indelibly blended with the defeat of the revolution of March, that he was the responsible editor of the Prussian coup d'état, and that his ministry appears, therefore, a living and continuous protest against popular "usurpation", may prevent the Prince, notwithstanding his personal grudges, from parting abruptly and ostentatiously with this "Mann der rettenden That"[b].

The contrast between the Prince and the King bears the regular domestic stamp of the Hohenzollern family. A comedian, more or less luxurious, more or less impregnated with Byzantine notions of theology, more or less coquetting with medieval romanticism, is always followed by a morose compound of the drill-sergeant, the bureaucrat and the schoolmaster. Such is the contrast between Frederick I and his son Frederick William I, between Frederick William II and Frederick William III, between the weak eccentricities of Frederick William IV and the sober mediocrity of the present Regent. It is pretty generally expected, and the British press is busy in spreading the notion, that the advent of the Regent will give at once a contrary turn to the foreign policy of Prussia, emancipate it from Russian supremacy and draw it nearer to England. Now it is probable that, personally, the Prince Regent may amuse himself with similar ideas. The insulting manner in which Nicholas, at the Congress of Warsaw, treated the Count of Brandenburg, the Prussian Plenipotentiary and a near relative of the royal house—an insult which drove Brandenburg to suicide—has never been wiped out of the Prince's memory[60]. The sting of the personal affront was felt the more bitterly as, at the same time, Nicholas forced Prussia, and very unceremoniously too, to yield to the claims of Austria, to see an Austrian army marched to Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, and to eat dirt humbly before the eyes of all Europe. At a later epoch, at the time of the publication in England of the secret and confidential dispatches of the British Embassador at Petersburg[c], the Prince, a man by no means of a forgiving temper, was again shocked at the affected contempt with which the late Emperor, in surveying the attitudes the great European powers were likely to assume in the case of a partition of the Turkish Empire, did not condescend even to mention Prussia. It is known that, after the first warlike moves, at an interview in Prague, the Prince of Prussia met the dictatorial haughtiness of his Muscovite brother-in-law with a dogged sullenness of his own. During the progress of the Russian war, the camarilla suspected the Prince of leaning to the side of the Western alliance, and, accordingly, subjected him to a system of personal surveillance and spying, which, by accident, became disclosed in a scandalous lawsuit at Potsdam. The Prince, on his part, had made sure that the chiefs of the camarilla and pet courtiers of the King, General von Gerlach and Cabinetsrath Niebuhr (the son of the great historian), acted as the direct agents of the Petersburg Government, kept it exactly informed of everything that passed in the Cabinet, and received from it orders, entering upon such details even as the collocation of the different corps d'armée throughout the monarchy. With the death of the Emperor Nicholas the reasons of personal antagonism disappeared. Alexander II, on the other hand, cannot be supposed to overwhelm his uncle with that feeling of awe which Nicholas, after his marriage with Frederick William III's eldest daughter[d], knew how to strike into the heart of the Hohenzollern dynasty. It is, moreover, very likely that his new family relations with England may exercise some influence on the bias of the Regent's foreign policy. Yet, in fact, the latter depends not on the personal inclinations of the Prince, but on the vital conditions of the State. If Prussia was simply a German Power, the question could be very simply decided; but Prussia is not only the rival of Austria, who herself is the antagonist of Russia, but the vital principle of the Prussian monarchy is encroachment on Germany by the help of Russia. It was by the alliance of Frederick William I with Russia that Prussia succeeded in stripping Sweden of Pomerania. It was again by Frederick the Great's alliance with Catherine that he was able to keep Austrian Silesia and that he got part and parcel of Poland; the same maneuver being repeated with the same result by Frederick William II and Frederick William III. It was again by the patronage of Alexander I that Prussia got the Rhenish provinces and was allowed simultaneously to aggrandize herself at the cost of' Saxony. It is on Russia that Prussia must again fall back in case of a French invasion. It is, therefore, more than doubtful whether the vital conditions of the Prussian State will ever allow its rulers to emancipate themselves from Russian supremacy, and whether public expectation will, therefore, not be disappointed on this point as well as on questions of internal policy.

Written on October 13, 1858
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5465, October 27, 1858;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1401, October 29, 1858
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] Friedrich Wilhelm IV, "Allerhöchster Erlass vom 7. Oktober 1858, betreffend die Aufforderung an Seine Königliche Hoheit den Prinzen von Preussen zur Uebernahme der Regentschaft".—Ed.

[b] "Man of the saving deed." Marx is paraphrasing the expression ein Recht der rettenden That ("a right of the saving deed") from a speech by the Bonn delegate Dahlmann made in the Frankfurt National Assembly on December 14, 1848.—Ed.

[c] "England, Turkey and Russia", The Times, No. 21963, March 20, 1854.—Ed.

[d] Charlotte Louise (Alexandra Fyodorovna).—Ed.

[60] During the so-called Warsaw Conference in October 1850, the Russian Tsar Nicholas I spoke in a sharp and threatening tone to Prussia's Prime Minister, the Count of Brandenburg. Upon his return from Warsaw the Count suddenly died, which was attributed to Nicholas' insulting behaviour and to the Count's emotions caused by Prussia's national humiliation.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.70-73), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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