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Trouble in Germany

Karl Marx

Paris, Nov. 15, 1859

There is now on the tapis a querelle allemande[a], which, diminutive as it must appear to the general public, may, nevertheless, result in a German, and even a European, catastrophe. The little country which affords the pretext of quarrel to the ruling Teutonic Powers has acquired a bad renown in the history of the United States. It is generally known that of the thousands of drilled slaves whom England bought in Germany, to ship over the Atlantic and let loose on her revolted Colonies, the principal stock was supplied from Hesse-Cassel, where a paternal Arch-elector used to derive revenue from the exchange of British gold for his faithful yeomen. Ever since that memorable epoch, the relations between the Arch-electors and their subjects seem to have grown progressively inimical, until, in 1830, the French Revolution of July gave the signal to a revolution in Hesse-Cassel[409], That revolution was secretly fostered by the, present Arch-elector[b], who felt rather anxious to share with his beloved father[c] the responsibilities of supreme power. The little revolution paved the way to the Hessian Constitution of Jan. 5, 1831[d], which affords now the grand battle-cry between Austria and Prussia; had, in 1850, driven them to the bloodless battle of Bronzell; and, circumstances helping, may soon induce Louis Bonaparte to study the "German question" after he has contrived to make a bore of the "Italian question"[e]. To explain the present conflict, a short sketch of the Hessian Constitution of 1831, of the metamorphoses it underwent, and the - events which mixed up with its fate the rival claims of Austria and Prussia, may prove opportune.

With the exception of the method of election it ordains, that is, the election of representatives by the old estates (nobles, citizens, peasants), the Hessian Constitution of 1831 may be regarded as the most liberal fundamental law ever proclaimed in Europe. There is no other Constitution which restrains the powers of the executive within limits so narrow, makes the Administration more dependent on the Legislature, and confides such a supreme control to the judicial benches. To account for this strange fact, it may be said that the Hessian revolution of 1831 was, in point of fact, a revolution against the Prince on the part of the lawyers, the civil service and the military officers acting in harmony with the malcontents of all "estates." By the first paragraph, every Hessian prince is excluded from the succession to the throne, who should decline taking an oath to the Constitution. The law on Ministerial responsibility, so far from being an unmeaning phrase, enables the representatives to remove, through the State tribunal, every Minister declared guilty of having even misinterpreted any resolution of the Legislature. The Prince is divested of the right of grace. He enjoys neither the privilege of pensioning or removing the members of the Administration against their will, there being always open to them an appeal to the courts of law. The latter are invested with the right of final decision in all questions of bureaucratic discipline. The Representative Chamber selects out of its members a permanent committee, forming a sort of Areopagus, watching and controlling the Government, and impeaching the officials for violation of the Constitution, no exception being granted on behalf of orders received by subalterns from their superiors in rank. In this way, the members of the bureaucracy were emancipated from the Crown. On the other hand, the Courts of law, empowered to decide definitively upon all the acts of the Executive, were rendered omnipotent. Communal Councillors, nominated by popular election, had to administer not only the local, but also the general police. The military officers, before entering the service, are bound by oath to obedience to the Constitution, and, in all respects, enjoy the same privileges against the Crown as the civilians. The representation, consisting of one single Chamber, possesses the right of stopping all taxes, imposts and duties, on every conflict with the executive.

Such is the Constitution of 1831 for Hesse-Cassel, which the Arch-elector, William II, the father of the now reigning Prince, proclaimed,

"in perfect agreement with his estates," and which "he hoped would still, in distant centuries, flourish as a solid monument of the harmony between the sovereign and his subjects."[f]

A draft of the Constitution was then, on the part of the Government, communicated to the German Diet, which, if it gave no guaranty, seemed to accept it as a fait accompli. It could be foreseen that despite all pia desideria[g], the Constitutional machinery was not to run smoothly in Hesse-Cassel. From 1832 to 1848 there sat not less than ten legislatures, of which not two contrived to last their natural terms of life. The revolution of 1848 and 1849 impregnated the Constitution of 1831 with a more democratic spirit by abolishing the election by estates, by putting the nomination of the members of the Supreme Court into the hands of the Legislature, and, lastly, by taking out of the hands of the Prince the supreme control of the army, and making it over to the Minister of War, a personage responsible to the representatives of the people.

In 1849—on the meeting of the first Hessian Legislature, elected according to the new electoral law—a general reaction had already broken in upon Germany; but, nevertheless, things were still in a state of fermentation. The old German Diet had been washed away by the revolutionary waves, while the German National Assembly, and its mock Executive, had been laid low at the point of the bayonet. So there no longer existed a center of the whole German Federation. Under these circumstances, Austria demanded the restoration of the old Diet at Frankfort, where its influence had always been paramount, while Prussia wanted to form a Northern Union[410] for her own use and under her own control. Austria, backed by the four German Kingdoms and Baden, contrived, in fact, to gather around her in Frankfort-onthe-Main the relics of the old German Diet, while Prussia made a weak attempt at holding a Union-Diet at Erfurt[411], with some of the smaller States. Hesse-Cassel, under the direction of its liberal Legislature, was, of course, foremost among the opponents of Austria, and the partisans of Prussia. As soon, however, as the Arch-elector had ascertained that Austria was backed by Russia, and was likely to win the race, he threw off the mask, declared for the Austrian Diet against the Prussian Union, installed a reactionary Ministry with the ill-famed Hassenpflug at its head, dissolved the opposing Legislature, which had refused to grant taxes, and, having vainly tried to raise the taxes on his own authority, finding no support in the ranks of the army, the bureaucracy and the law courts, declared Hesse-Cassel in a state of siege. He had taken the good precaution of running away and resorting to Frankfort-onthe-Main, there to live under the immediate protection of Austria. Austria, in the name of the old Diet, restored by herself, dispatched a federal corps on the errand of putting down the Hessian Constitution, and raising up the throne of the Arch-elector. Prussia, on her part, was forced to declare for the Hessian Constitution against the Arch-elector, in order to maintain her own protest against the revival of the German Diet, and her attempt of establishing a Northern Union under her own auspices. Thus the Hessian Constitution was converted into a battle-cry between Austria and Prussia. Things drew meanwhile to a crisis. The vanguards of the Federal and the Prussian armies confronted each other at Bronzell, but only to sound the retreat on both sides. The President of the Prussian Ministry, Herr von Manteuffel, met the Prince of Schwarzenberg, the Austrian Minister, at Olmütz, on the 29th of November, 1850, to resign into his hands all Prussian claims to a policy of her own with regard to the Diet, Hesse-Cassel and Schleswig-Holstein. Prussia returned to the Diet a downcast and penitent sinner. Her humiliation was embittered by the triumphant march of an Austrian army to the coasts of the Northern Sea. The Hessian Constitution of 1831 was of course abolished without further ado, to be replaced at first by martial law, and subsequently, in 1852, by a most reactionary Constitution, hatched out by Hassenpflug, doctored by the Elector, and emendated and sanctioned by the German Diet[h]. This Constitution of 1852 formed, then, the standing topic of quarrel between the country and the Elector—all attempts at conciliation proving futile. The late events in Italy, and the consequent movements in Germany, were considered by the Prussian Government to afford the best opportunity of revenge for the defeat of Olmütz, and the renewal of its old feud with Austria. Prussia knows that Russia, who, in 1850, turned the balance on the side of Austria, will this time move in the opposite direction. Till now nothing has been exchanged between the two rivals except paper bullets. That the Hessian Constitutions of 1831 and 1852 form only the pretext of their fight, is shown by the simple circumstance that Austria declares for a modification of the Constitution of 1852, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of 1831, while Prussia insists on the restoration of the Constitution of 1831, after its having been remodeled in conformity to the general (monarchic) principles of the German Diet. The people and the Chambers in Hesse-Cassel, relying on Prussian support, ask for the restoration of the old Constitution. The whole business, properly managed by interested counselors from without, may end in a German civil war, if the German people turn not, at the opportune moment, against "both their houses."[i]

Written on November 15, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5807, December 2, 1859


[a] German quarrel.—Ed.

[b] Frederick William I.—Ed.

[c] William II.—Ed.

[d] Kurhessische Verfassungs-Urkunde vom 5ten Januar 1831.—Ed.

[e] Paraphrase of Napoleon III's statement: "To study questions does not mean to create them." ("Etudier les questions, ce n'est pas les créer"), Le Moniteur universel, No. 64, March 5, 1859.—Ed.

[f] Kurhessische Verfassungs-Urkunde vom 5ten Januar 1831, p. 1.—Ed.

[g] Pious wishes.—Ed.

[h] Kurhessische Verfassungs- Urkunde vom 13ten April 1852.—Ed.

[i] Cf. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1.—Ed.

[409] In the autumn of 1830 the people of Hesse-Cassel rose against the heavy taxes and the government's customs policy.

[410] The reference is to a union taking shape between Prussia, Saxony and Hanover.

[411] Representatives of Prussia, Saxony and Hanover met in Erfurt from March 20 to April 29, 1850 to draw up a constitution for this union of states under Prussian supremacy. But the union did not materialise. See also Note 311↓.

[311] This refers to the attempts made by Prussia, in alliance with the sovereigns of Hanover, Saxony and other German states, to unite Germany, excluding Austria, under Prussian hegemony and thus realise the plan for creating a "Little Germany". This plan was backed by the liberal bourgeoisie who formed the so-called Gotha party. The latter took an active part in the elections to the German parliament which met in Erfurt on March 20, 1850 to adopt the draft German Constitution revised to suit pro-Prussian circles. Under pressure from the Austrian Court and the Russian Emperor the Prussian Government had to abandon its unification plans temporarily and dissolve the Erfurt parliament on April 29, 1850.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.540-544), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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