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Interesting from Prussia

Karl Marx

Berlin, June 13, 1860

This evening the Prince Regent[a] will leave for Baden-Baden, where a sort of conference between Louis Napoleon and a council of crowned German heads is to take place on the 16th and 17th inst[306]. The Prince Regent's suite will be formed by Gen. von Manteuffel, the chief of the Military Cabinet; Gen. von Alvensleben, Lieut.-Col. von Schimmelmann, von Loë, chef d'escadron, Count von Pückler, the Court Marshal, Privy Councilor von Illaire, Mr. Borkmann, the Regent's Secretary, and Prince von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the chief of the Cabinet and a member of the Royal family. You will remember that on the occasion of the private letter addressed by the Prince Regent to the Prince Consort of England, intercepted at London and thence communicated to Louis Bonaparte[b], the latter insisted upon a personal interview with the Prince Regent as the best means of clearing away the misunderstanding that seemed to have sprung up between France and Prussia. Shortly afterward, on the Prince Regent's visit to Saarbrücken and Trier, towns situated on the confines of France, Louis Napoleon again intimated his wish to improve this opportunity for meeting the Prince. This proposal was, however, declined. Meanwhile, the rumor having got abroad of the Prince Regent's intention to stay for a month at Baden-Baden, Max, the King of Bavaria[c], took it into his head to propose to the Regent a sort of conference at the watering-place with the Princes of Southern Germany, who wanted to come to a friendly understand ing with Prussia, and by this very meeting to show a united front against France. The Prince Regent, jumping at once into this scheme, which was also embraced by the Grand Duke of Baden, the King of Württemberg, and the Grand Duke of Hessen-Darmstadt[d], one fine morning the French Embassador at Berlin[e] officially notified Herr von Schleinitz, the Prussian Foreign Minister, that his august master, in order to dispel the distrust, whose innocent object France appeared to be, thought a friendly interview at Baden-Baden, with the actual chief of the Prussian State, a great benefit to both Germany and France. On the Prussian Minister's reply that unjust suspicions, not likely to be dispelled by such an interview, hovered also over Prussia, and that besides a confidential conference of German Princes at Baden-Baden had already been convened, the French Embassador, on further information from Paris, rejoined that Louis Napoleon would delight in finding together the greatest possible number of German Princes, and that, moreover, he had some important communication to personally impart, which would allow of no further delay. At this point the Hohenzollern power of resistance gave way[f]. A Vienna dispatch conveyed at once to Berlin the expression of Austria's displeasure at the intended rendezvous, but the other German Courts were more or less soothed by a circular note of the Prussian Foreign Minister[g]. Consequent upon this circular note, the King of Hanover[h] unexpectedly arrived at Berlin this morning, and declared spontaneously his willingness of accompanying to Baden-Baden the Prince Regent, who then, by a telegraphic dispatch, summoned also the King of Saxony[i] to the conference. It need hardly be said, that the Dukes of Coburg-Gotha and Nassau[j] will follow in the track.

Thus, a meeting of German Princes, originally purporting to mean a demonstration against France, has turned into a sort of levee, held by Louis Bonaparte, on German soil, and crowded by the Kings, Grand Dukes, and other little potentates of the German Confederation. On the part of the Prince Regent it looks like contrition for the sin of having uttered his suspicions as to the French usurper's aggressive schemes, and on the part of the smaller princely fry as a precaution taken for not being sold by their huger confrère[k] to their common enemy. The lead in the humiliation of the crowned heads before the Quasimodo of the French Revolution was notoriously taken by Queen Victoria and the King of Sardinia[307]. The Czar's personal interview at Stuttgart with the Man of December, in 1857[308], could surprise nobody beyond the coffee-house politicians, duped by the ostentatious coquetry of the Petersburg Court with the tenets of legitimacy. After the battle of Solferino, the Hapsburg's Villafranca meeting with his victor was a matter of business, not of courtesy. The Prince Regent, together with the minor stars clustering around him, has neither to plead an alliance, like Victoria and Victor Emmanuel, nor a conspiracy, like Alexander II, nor a defeat, like Francis Joseph; but, leaving the motives aside, he may plead the general precedent put by his betters. At all events, he has seriously impaired his factitious popularity by the acceptance of Louis Bonaparte's overture, and the more so since the latter, only a few weeks ago, had the impudence of intimating, through a dispatch of his Foreign Minister, M. de Thouvenel, to the Grand Dukes of Hessen-Darmstadt and Baden, that, for the future, they ought to sign their letters to the French Emperor with the words: "Votre frère et serviteur."[l] Such was, indeed, the formula Napoleon I had invented for the German Princes, forming part of the Rhenish Confederation, of which he was the protector, and to which belonged Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt, together with Württemberg, Bavaria, and other German principalities[309]. In order to prevent Louis Bonaparte from introducing M. de Thouvenel into the presence of the highly-offended monarchs of Baden and Hessen-Darmstadt, the Prince Regent and his crowned associates have unanimously forborne to be accompanied by their respective Foreign Ministers; but, then, do these gentlemen really fancy that the affront was offered to them by the servant, instead of the servant's master?

As to the "important communication" which the Dutch savior of society is about to impart to the crowned heads of Germany, there is every reason to believe that, imitating Metternich's operations on the successive Congresses of Vienna, Aix-la-Chapelle[m], Troppau, Laibach and Verona[310], Louis Napoleon will try his utmost to convince the Prince Regent of the existence of a vast conspiracy among the revolutionists, straining every nerve to bring about a collision between France and Prussia, in order to enthrone the Red Republic in Paris and a Central Republic in Germany. All the Bonapartist organs in Switzerland, Belgium, and Germany, swarm, since a fortnight, with paragraphs full of similar dark insinuations; and a confidential Bonapartist agent at Geneva—a well-known German naturalist[n]—has already triumphantly announced that the anti-Bonapartists' eruptions of the German press would very soon be stopped by the competent authorities.

While the Prince Regent and his German dii minorum gentium[o] are thus to be convinced of the necessity to gather round the general savior of society, the Prussian people is to be belabored in the opposite sense by M. About's new pamphlet, "The Emperor Napoleon III and Prussia."[p] Although this pamphlet has as yet been retained, some stray copies of it have already found their way to Berlin, and by another letter I have sent you the most remarkable passages from this newest Tuileries manifesto[q]. The Prussian people must choose, says the oracle from the Seine, between the feudalism of Austria and the democratic principle of the French Empire. It is only by the latter that, resolving of course to give its mighty neighbor some material guaranties, the German people can hope to realize the unity so much coveted by it. Having traced the shortcomings of the present Prussian Government in a very superficial manner, the author of the pamphlet sets out on informing the Prussians of the true nature of the "democratic principle" so characteristic of the second French Empire, and which consists, to say it shortly, in the election of its chief by what is called in modern Gaul, "general suffrage." It is true, and M. About does hardly dare deny it, that every sort of liberty has been sequestrated in France to the profit of the Dutch adventurer, but then, this sequestration was based on general suffrage. It is in this way, with the aid of France, and on the same democratic basis, that a Teutonic Empire under the auspices of a Hohenzollern ought to be reared in Germany. The operation is a very simple one. Prussia has only to cede part of her "legitimate" possessions to France and to simultaneously encroach, under the form of an appeal to general suffrage, on the possessions of the minor princes, and she will at once be transformed from a feudal into a democratic state. It must be owned that this new "democratic principle" discovered by Louis Bonaparte and his sycophants is no innovation, but, on the contrary, has for about two centuries been flourishing in holy Russia. The Romanoff family was seated on the throne by general suffrage. Hence democracy reigns from the Niemen to the Amoor. Perhaps it might be retorted by the prophets of the new "democratic principle" that the Romanoffs were freely elected; that no coup d'état preceded the appeal to the people; and that, on their accession to the throne, a general state of siege failed to keep the electoral urns within the proper limits of the democratic principle. At all events, since Louis Bonaparte cannot afford to become a "legitimate" prince, the next best thing he can do is to convert his brother sovereigns of Italy and Germany into "democratic" princes, after the pattern of the Lesser Empire. The Roman Emperors, of course, were no truly "democratic" sovereigns, because modern progress requires the principle of hereditary monarchy to be engrafted upon the principle of "general suffrage," so that, when a fellow by hook or crook has once succeeded in usurping a throne, and coloring his usurpation by the farce of general election, his dynasty must forever be supposed to remain the living incarnation of the people's general will. (Rousseau's volonté générale.)[r]

In another letter I propose surveying the state of the Schleswig-Holstein complications, which impart to the Baden-Baden Conference its actual importance. For the present, I shall only mention that on the 10th of June an interview took place at the castle of Kronburg between the King of Sweden and the King of Denmark[s]. A fortnight before this rendezvous the Swedish Foreign Minister[t] had sent to the Danish Foreign Minister[u] a note to the purport that it was very desirable that the King of Denmark's suite should contain no persons the encounter with whom might prove embarrassing for his Swedish Majesty. In other words, the King of Denmark was called upon to clear his company from the presence of his wife, the Countess Daner, ci-devant[v] Mademoiselle Ramussen. Accordingly, the King of Denmark thought fit to leave his girl behind him.

Written on June 13, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5986, June 30, 1860


[a] William, Prince of Prussia.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, pp. 382.—Ed.

[c] Maximilian II.—Ed.

[d] Friedrich I Wilhelm Ludwig, William I and Ludwig III.—Ed.

[e] La Tour d'Auvergne-Lauraguais.—Ed.

[f] For the preparation for a friendly interview at Baden-Baden see "Prusse", Le Nord, June 15, 1860.—Ed.

[g] Alexander Schleinitz, "Preussische Circulardepesche, 6. Juni, 1860", Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 261, September 17, 1860.—Ed.

[h] Ernest Augustus.—Ed.

[i] Johann Nepomuk Maria Joseph.—Ed.

[j] Ernst II and Adolf.—Ed.

[k] Colleague.—Ed.

[l] "Your brother and servant."—Ed.

[m] Aachen.—Ed.

[n] Karl Vogt.—Ed.

[o] Literally, "lesser gods"; here, minor princes.—Ed.

[p] The reference is to Edmond About's La Prusse en 1860, Paris, 1860.—Ed.

[q] See this volume, pp. 391-96.—Ed.

[r] Marx refers to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Contrat social ou principes du droit politique, London, 1782, v. 5, p. 254.—Ed.

[s] Charles XV and Frederick VII.—Ed.

[t] Kristoffer Rutger Ludvig Mandeström.—Ed.

[u] Carl Christian Hall.—Ed.

[v] Formerly.—Ed.

[306] 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.

[307] The governments of Britain and the Kingdom of Sardinia flirted with Napoleon III in an effort to secure an exclusive alliance with France.

[308] Alexander II and Napoleon III met in Stuttgart on September 25, 1857. Their meeting testified to the emerging rapprochement between France and Russia after the Crimean War.

[309] The Rhenish Confederation (Rheinbund) of the states of Western and Southern Germany was founded in 1806 under the protectorate of Napoleon. These states officially broke with the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, which ceased to exist shortly afterwards. When Napoleon lost the military campaign of 1813 the confederation fell apart.

[310] Speaking of the Dutch savior of society Marx has in mind Napoleon III, who was a son of Louis Bonaparte (brother of Napoleon I), King of Holland in 1806-10. On the Congress of Vienna, see Note 296↓. The Congresses of the Holy Alliance (an association of European monarchs founded in September 1815, on the initiative of the Russian Tsar Alexander I and the Austrian Chancellor Metternich to suppress revolutionary movements and preserve feudal monarchies in European countries) took place in Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), in Troppau (Opava) and Laibach (Ljubljana) (1820-21), and in Verona (1822). The Laibach Congress proclaimed the principle of interference by the Holy Alliance members in the internal affairs of other countries with the aim of maintaining monarchies -there; and adopted a decision on sending the Austrian army to Italy to suppress the revolutionary and national liberation movement in that country. The Verona Congress sanctioned French armed intervention against Spain.

[296] The Congress of Vienna was held by European monarchs and their ministers in 1814-15. They established the borders and status of the European states after the victory over Napoleonic France and sanctioned, contrary to the national interests and will of the peoples, the reshaping of Europe's political map and the restoration of the "legitimate" dynasties. By decision of the Congress of Vienna, territories along the right and left banks of the Rhine, as well as Northern Saxony, were incorporated into Prussia, notwithstanding the opposition of Britain, Austria and France.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.397-402), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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