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The Emperor Napoleon III and Prussia[304]

Karl Marx

Berlin, June 12, 1860

The following are extracts from Mr. About's newest pamphlet[a], which will be published in Paris in the course of a few days:

"Let Germany know that the friendship of France has its value. [...] Did not our soldiers rush to the Black Sea to rescue the Ottoman Empire from destruction? [...] Has not the emancipation of the Moldo-Wallachians [...] been effected solely by our influence, without bloodshed? Italy [...] has entered the paths of independence and unity under our auspices—our armies paved the way along which it now marches onward, led by Piedmont; and if Heaven shall permit this great work to be accomplished, and that a nation of 26,000,000 of souls shall be organized at our gates, France will not take umbrage, [...] for she feels that order cannot be established in Europe so long as there are oppressed nationalities and kings who are insupportable to their subjects."

"Never was that noble nation" (Germany) "so great as from 1813 to 1815, for never was it so united. When a Frenchman speaks with admiration of the campaigns which were so terrible to France, his testimony is worthy of attention. The sentiment of German honor and independence, surging up against conquest, worked miracles. Germany has but one passion—one heart. It raised itself up as one man, and the defeat of our incomparable armies showed what united Germany could do."

"Well, let Germany be again united. France ardently desires it, for she loves the Germanic nation with disinterested affection. Were we devoured by that brutal ambition attributed to us by certain Princes, we should not impel Germany to unity. [...] Let Germany be united and form so compact a body as to render invasion impossible. France sees without fear an Italy of 26 millions of souls rising on her southern frontier; she would not fear to see one of 32 millions of Germans on her eastern confines."

"The Germans begin to see [...] the folly of keeping up 37 different Governments," and are resolved to become united.

Prussia will be their nucleus, because Prussia represents freedom of trade and thought, whereas Austria represents prohibition, despotism and all the horrors engendered by its Concordat[305], Therefore will they rally round Prussia. But Prussia must choose between the right divine and the rights of the people. "While some Princes are clinging to a false legitimacy, really legitimate empires are being founded on the basis of universal suffrage. The King of Naples[b] affirms that his subjects belong to him, and they oppose an armed repudiation of these pretensions. The Emperor of the French[c] and the King of Sardinia[d] declare with modern philosophy that peoples belong to themselves alone, and two great nations with all but unanimity select them for their chiefs. Will the Prince of Prussia[e] declare for the right divine [...] or the rights of the people? [...] It is the more necessary [...] that he should make this declaration, as in 1849, [...] a National Assembly, the issue of universal suffrage, brought a legitimate crown to the King[f] in his palace. What did he? He declared for the right divine against the popular right; he would not accept the crown unless offered to him by Princes, and the Prussian clodhoppers applauded saying: '[...] We would not have a throne on which Democracy has spat.' [...] Saxony and Baden had dismissed their Sovereigns. Two Prussian armies marched in the name of divine right and invaded Saxony and Baden. The Saxon King[g] was replaced on his throne, as was also the Duke of Baden[h]; and after all had thus been adjusted, and the Baden Democratic Army had sought shelter in Switzerland, the Prussians shot in cold blood 26 German patriots.

"A Prussian Democrat lately wrote to the people in Wurttemberg, 'Why don't you join us?' They replied, 'If we were Prussians we should all be exiled, with the poet Uhland at our head.'

"Nothing is more strange nor more true than this assertion. Since 1848 all the princes of Europe, including even the Pope, have granted amnesties. The Prussian amnesty has not yet appeared. If the Regent" wishes to deserve well of his country, "let him summon back the exiles [...] and become the testamentary executor of the Parliament of 1849, as the Napoleons are testamentary executors of the French Revolution!

"Let us here correct certain erroneous notions which exist in Germany. They suppose, on the strength of certain feudal journals, that the French Empire[i] is in a state of slavery—that the Imperial rule has gagged thought, suppressed the national representation, and tossed our liberties to the dogs.

"The Prussians believe themselves to be more free and happy than we are, under their liberal and parliamentary Government. It is true that the Emperor of the French works out the grandeur and prosperity of France" with a dictatorial power: but it is essentially democratic, "as it was confided to him by the people."[j]

But is not feudalism rampant in Prussia?

"The French army is devoted to the Emperor, but it does not belong to him but to the nation. Does the Prussian army belong to the King or to the nation? 'To the King,' said the other day the Prime Minister Hohenzollern, 'the Deputies of the nation have nothing to do with the affairs of the army.'

"It is true that with us the liberty of the press is subjected to severe restrictions, but the right to print and publish is not confiscated; it is only postponed. The nation consents to remain silent around a Prince who does great things, as the friends of a philosopher or a great writer keep silent in his cabinet. As for the right, it remains intact, and Frenchmen [...] will have the right to reclaim it, in good time and place, should the Emperor forget (!) to restore it to them. The writers of Berlin are more free, perhaps," despite their taxes, and caution-money, etc., "but who shall guarantee to them the duration of their privilege? [...] The hand which gave may take away. The difference between us and them is that we lend our liberties to the Emperor, whereas they borrow theirs from the Regent.

"The Germans fancy that we have allowed ourselves to be despoiled of our Parliamentary régime. True. Our Parliament has changed since 1848. It is no longer a coterie representing 400,000 or 500,000 persons; it is the whole nation which sends its Deputies to the Corps Législatif. This Assembly, chosen, like the Emperor himself, by universal suffrage, no longer enjoys the ridiculous privilege (!) of interrupting the march of public affairs, of replacing action by speeches, union by coalition, the public interest by private vanity, the serious progress of a great people by the flattering of some petty oratorical ambition—but it enjoys the inestimable right of voting all the taxes and all the laws of the Empire." "Have we any reason to be jealous of the Prussian Constitution? Is the principle of Ministerial responsibility applied in Prussia? Not yet. Have the Chambers the recognized right to refuse to vote the taxes? No. And what are the Prussian Chambers? That which corresponds with our Corps Législatif, or (!) the House of Commons, is united by a mechanism rather ingenious than democratic." [...] A District is given, which pays 300,000 francs direct taxation. The tax-payers are separated into three squads, the 15 or 20 large proprietors who pay 100,000 francs, are the first class of electors; the second class consists of 200 or 300 who pay another 100,000 francs, and the third, of the 2,000 or 3,000 who pay the remainder. Each of these classes elect [...] six Electors, and these eighteen Electors elect a Deputy. Therefore the middling classes can never be represented, and "this is why M. de Vincke, who sat on the Conservative side in the Frankfort Parliament, is now, without having changed his opinions, the most advanced democrat of the Prussian Chambers. Can liberal Germany do much with such a Chamber?" And even when it evinces some desire for progress, is it not cramped and pushed back by the Upper House?—"an Assembly consisting of nobles who have seats by right or by birth, and members selected by the King from candidates presented to him by the nobility, the Universities and large towns—on one side the right of birth, on the other the Sovereign's choice. It is recruited from no other sources, therefore is it opposed to all liberal measures." It lately "rejected the principle of civil marriages by a large majority. It nearly raised an insurrection against the Minister[k] who proposed that the nobles should be compelled to pay taxes like the other classes of the citizens.

"This Constitution is not perfect. They will do well to modify it if Germany should resolve to throw itself into the arms of Prussia.

"It is very desirable that Prussia should show a little more fairness toward the Governments which are based on universal suffrage. We do not reproach the Court of Berlin for the violence of the German press, nor do we expect the Prince Regent to gag his subjects even when they insult us; but we must be permitted to remark that if the Siècle and Opinion nationale express themselves in offensive terms against a Sovereign who is not the enemy of France, the Moniteur, or at least the semi-official journals hasten to repair the injury by administering a severe reprimand.

"It would also be extremely desirable that the political men of Prussia should abstain from fulminating in the Prussian Parliament attacks openly directed against France. When M. de Vincke talks in the Prussian Chamber of Deputies of reconquering from us Alsace and Lorraine, the French nation is not sufficiently excited by this frivolity to take up arms; but it takes pleasure in declaring that such imprudences are never committed in France."

"Since the accession of Napoleon III, and especially since the annexation of Nice and[l] Savoy, German writers and perhaps even German Princes have somewhat loudly manifested an unjust mistrust of French policy. They persist in attributing to us the project of annexing the Rhenish Provinces, and encroaching on the soil of Germany. This groundless alarm is so loudly expressed and so obstinately persevered in that it might inspire us with bad thoughts were we less equitable. It is certain that if you accost in the street the most gentle and inoffensive man, and you say to him: Sir, you mean to slap my face, you may swear that you have no such intention, but I know that you intend to slap my face. You need not swear to the contrary, for I won't believe you on your oath, for I know that you do mean to slap my face. But I am stronger than you. I am not afraid of you. I will crush you like a fly, and I defy you to slap my face. Would not the gentlest and most inoffensive man find good reason to do what was demanded of him, and would he not inflict the slap on the face of his provoker?[m]

"But, no provocations will cause France to depart from the line which she has traced for herself. [...] We have too much justice to think of conquering the territory of a foreign nationality. Would to Heaven that the German Confederation was animated by the same ideas! It would not have taken the Duchy of Posen, nor attacked the north of Schleswig, nor declared Trieste to be a German town. As for us, we do not fear to affirm that Lorraine and Alsace are French, because they themselves have proved it against Germans. We keep what belongs to us. We demand nothing more! We believe that all the natural frontiers, all the rivers of Europe, are not worth half so much for the defense of our territory as a regiment of Zouaves or Chasseurs-à-pied with fixed bayonets.

"May we be permitted to add one piece of advice to these friendly counsels? It will prove how deeply we are interested in German unity and the future of Prussia.

"Much as the name of Prussia, its Constitution, the person of its august Regent excite the sympathies of Germany, still more so, perhaps, does its bureaucracy inspire feelings of abhorrence, not only in Germany but among honest men of all countries. On the 12th of May, 1860, a ray of light fell on the maneuvers of the Prussian police, and revealed the most singular admixture of clumsiness and immorality, zeal, and imprudence, incendiary provocation and splashing Machiavellism.

"Here are the facts as they have been narrated to the Prussian Parliament by an honorable deputy of the Grand Duchy of Posen, Mr. Niegolewscki. Three Prussian bureaucrats, M. de Puttkammer, President of the Province of Posen, M. de Baerensprung, President of the Police, and Mr. Post, Secretary-Interpreter, were in search of some means whereby they might make manifest their zeal and entitle themselves to the gratitude of the Government. M. de Puttkammer is a great personage, something more than a Prefect, something less than a Minister, M. de Baerensprung is a man of note and importance. Post is a poor devil of no note.

"The first thinks, the second dictates, the third writes. These three worthies, by dint of digging into their bureaucratic brains, conceive the grand idea of getting up an insurrection in Posen, that they may have the honor and glory of putting it down. The part of a provocative agent, against which even Vidocq recoiled, inspired them with no disgust. They disguise themselves as Poles discontented with Prussian rule. They establish in their bureaus a false democratic committee, and put themselves in communication with the Central Committee residing in London. 'Send us,' they write, 'send us emissaries, proclamations, arms.' On the other hand, they send money to London, the money of the Budget, the thalers wrung from unfortunate tax-payers. Here are taxes well employed. The treasurer of the enterprise was M. Stolzenberg, the Secretary of Police. The letters were to be addressed to Madame Ruch, wife of a counselor in the Supreme Tribunal.

"The London Committee did not take the bait very readily. It hesitated, was mistrustful. It seemed to scent the treason. But the bureaucratic trio implored with such humility for some letters and circulars; it spoke with such admiration of General Mazzini; with so much emotion of the prose of Félix Pyat, the very bread of life, that some revolutionary men in London, including even Mazzini himself, entered into correspondence with them. This perfidious game was played for three years, and would have been played on till now, had it not been suddenly stopped by a thunderbolt from M. Niegolewscki.[n]

"The eloquent orator of Posen laid on the table the original text of 24 letters, written by Mr. Post, dictated by M. Baerensprung and inspired by Mr. Puttkammer. The first is dated August 19, 1858; the last April, 1860. No one, not even the Minister of the Interior, M. de Schwerin, ventured to contest the authenticity of these documents. We have had them translated by a sworn interpreter. They prove that the Prussian police excited the Committee in London to send incendiary proclamations to the Grand Duchy of Posen; that it paid the expenses for printing them in London, and .caused them to be distributed to suspected persons, that they might afterward be seized and the police might then manifest their zeal to the detriment of some of the King of Prussia's subjects; that Puttkammer, Baerensprung, and their accomplices, by means of entreaties and promises, induced the Committee in London to dispatch to them an emissary named Rewitt, who was furnished by them" (the Police) "with a passport; that they allowed him to circulate freely, that he might compromise as many people as possible; that they then arrested him, and had him condemned to two years' imprisonment". After this fine exploit, M. de Baerensprung, the savior of order, which he had disturbed, [...] set up as a candidate for Parliament, and was rejected. "But he still carried on his correspondence with Mazzini, and the Committee in London, swearing to them that Rewitt had been betrayed by the Polish nobility (letter of July 5, 1859), and that numbers of the nobility were in the police. (Letter of July 19, 1859.)

"These functionaries, in their letters, held up the nobility and clergy, including Prince Czartoryski, to the execration of the London Committee. They talk about seizing the estates of the nobles, and parceling them out among the people. [...] On the 27th March, 1859, they see that the Emperor of the French is about to make a generous effort in favor of Italian independence. They write to the London Committee to forestall it. They beg Mazzini to stir up the country before the arrival of the French army. [...] They beg him to hoist the red flag before Napoleon shall be able to mix himself up in Italian affairs. [...] On the 21st of May, they thank the Committee in London for sending them [...] the 'receipt for making Orsini's shells.' It needs no ghost to tell us for what purpose they obtained this receipt. We know that these gentlemen belonged to the police, therefore they could not be conspirators; their intentions must have been pure. They doubtless intended to warn the Emperor against danger, and this was their reason for putting a postscript to their letter: 'How long will the French democrats delay making another attempt against Napoleon?' [...] After Villafranca, you might have supposed that every German would have been pleased that Venice was preserved to Austria; but they wrote to Mazzini: 'The revolution will break out in Italy, Hungary, Germany, Prussia, and perhaps in France, and even in Poland. The eyes of the world are opened to the treachery of Napoleon, and all oppressed nations are glad to get rid of him.' And, further on, these Prussian police agents write: 'What is going on in France? Will no second Orsini come forth? Do the Republicans mean to do nothing to overthrow the tyrant?' (Aug. 20, 1859.)

"We do not wish to fix too high the responsibility for these imprudences. The police has been more clumsy than culpable, for it has not had the tact to conceal its most secret papers from the gaze of honest men. But the Prussian Government should lead its police out of these tortuous paths; it is always wrong to counsel crime, even as a means for trying of what stuff men are made.

"Every one knows that if Orsini had succeeded in his criminal attempt he would have assassinated the future liberator of Italy, and have done more harm than good to his country. We may also add that if these Prussian police, without any evil intent, and simply out of a stupid zeal, had got up another Orsini, they would have deprived Prussia of a useful ally, who is still ready to render her good service, provided that she will help herself."[o]

Compiled on June 12, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5986, June 30, 1860


[a] Edmond About, La Prusse en 1860, Paris, 1860.—Ed.

[b] Francis II.—Ed.

[c] Napoleon III.—Ed.

[d] Victor Emmanuel II.—Ed.

[e] William.—Ed.

[f] Frederick William IV.—Ed.

[g] Frederick Augustus II.—Ed.

[h] Leopold.—Ed.

[i] Edmond About has "la nation française".—Ed.

[j] This sentence reads as follows in the French original: "Il est vrai que l'empereur Napoléon travaille à la grandeur et a la prospérité de la France avec un pouvoir très-étendu. Mais ce pouvoir, c'est la nation qui le lui a confié."—Ed.

[k] Count von Roon.—Ed.

[l] The words "Nice and" were introduced by Marx.—Ed.

[m] Italicised by Marx.—Ed.

[n] Niegolewscki's speech in the Chamber of Deputies on May 12, 1860, Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 136, May 15, 1860.—Ed.

[o] The concluding words from Edmond About's pamphlet, beginning with "a useful ally", are cited by Marx at the end of Herr Vogt (see this volume, p. 329).—Ed.

[304] This item and the next one ("Interesting from Prussia") were directed against the Bonapartist agents among the European democrats and exposed the chauvinist nature of About's pamphlet (see this volume, pp. 400-01, as well as Marx's letters to Engels of June 16, 1860 and December 26, 1860, and Marx's letter to J. Ph. Becker of June 23, 1860, present edition, Vol. 41), the publication of which was connected with the forthcoming meeting between Napoleon III and William, Prince Regent of Prussia (see Note 255↓). Marx used quotations from About's pamphlet to unmask the activity of the Prussian police agents among European democrats. In Herr Vogt Marx revealed the connection between About's ideas and Vogt's activity as a secret agent in the pay of Napoleon III (see this volume, pp. 183, 328-29). At Marx's suggestion, Sigismund Borkheim, one of the German democrats, wrote a pamphlet entitled Napoleon III und Preussen. Antwort eines deutschen Flüchtlings auf "Preussen in 1860" von Edmond About, London, 1860.

Marx must have used the proofs of About's pamphlet supplied to him by Borkheim, since in both his articles and in the Notebook for 1860 containing passages from About's pamphlet he gives its original title Napoleon III et la Prusse.

The extracts given by Marx in this article were checked against About's pamphlet. Marx's text is set in large type. While quoting from the pamphlet, Marx often changed punctuation and paragraphs; sometimes, instead of direct quotations, he gave a précis of the text in which case the editors of this volume have omitted quotation marks; omissions in quotations are indicated by omission marks in square brackets.

[305] Kossuth's lectures of 1858 and a number of his articles were published in Brussels in 1859 under the title: Kossuth L., L'Europe, l'Autriche et la Hongrie.

The Concordats are agreements between the Pope and the governments of individual countries on the status and privileges of the Catholic Church in these countries. Under the Concordat of 1855 concluded by the Holy See and Vienna, the Catholic Church in Austria was to enjoy autonomy, the right of direct communication with Rome and the right to own property. It was to act as supreme spiritual censor and wield a vast influence on the schools.

[255] On June 16 and 17, 1860, at Baden-Baden, Napoleon III met the Prince Regent William of Prussia, and the princes of other German states. Hoping to realise his ambition of annexing the German lands on the left bank of the Rhine, he sought a deal with Prussia at the expense of the small German states. The meeting ended in failure for Napoleon and helped Prussia secure a key role in Germany's foreign policy.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.391-396), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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