Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848
Written: 17 July 1848;
First Published: Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 48, 18 July 1848;
Source: Marx and Engels: Articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Moscow 1972, pp. 63 – 66;
Transcribed: Einde O'Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet archive (May 2014).
Cologne, July 17. Again a “great debate,” to use an expression of Herr Camphausen, has taken place, a debate which lasted two full days.
The substance of the debate is well known – the reservations the government advanced regarding the immediate validity of the decisions passed by the National Assembly and Jacoby’s motion asserting the Assembly’s right to pass legally binding decisions requiring no one’s consent, and at the same time objecting to the resolution on the central authority.
That a debate on this subject was possible at all may seem incomprehensible to other nations. But we live in a land of oaks and lime-trees where nothing should surprise us.
The people send their representatives to Frankfurt with the mandate that the Assembly assume sovereign power over the whole of Germany and all her governments, and, by virtue of the sovereignty the people have vested in the Assembly, adopt a constitution for Germany.
Instead of immediately proclaiming its sovereignty in respect to the separate states and the Federal Diet, the Assembly timidly avoids any question relating to this subject and maintains an irresolute and vacillating attitude.
Finally it is confronted with a decisive issue – the appointment of a provisional central authority. Seemingly independent, but in fact guided by the governments with the help of Gagern, the Assembly elects as Vice Regent of the Empire a man whom these governments had in advance designated for this post.
The Federal Diet recognizes the election, pretending, as it were, that only its confirmation makes the election valid.
Reservations are nevertheless made by Hannover and even by Prussia, and it is the Prussian reservation that has caused the debate of the 11th and 12th.
This time, therefore, it is not so much the fault of the Chamber in Berlin that the debates are vague and hazy. The irresolute, weak-kneed, ineffectual Frankfurt National Assembly itself is to blame for the fact that its decisions can only be described as so much twaddle.
Jacoby introduces his motion with a brief speech made with his usual precision. He makes things very difficult for the speakers of the Left, because he says everything that can be said about the motion if one is to avoid enlarging upon the origin of the central authority, whose history is rather discreditable to the National Assembly.
In fact, the deputies of the Left who follow him advance hardly any new arguments, while those of the Right fare much worse – they lapse either into sheer twaddle or juridical hair-splitting. Both sides endlessly repeat themselves.
The honor of first presenting the case for the Right devolves on Deputy Schneider.
He begins with the grand argument that the motion is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the motion recognizes the sovereignty of the National Assembly, on the other hand, it calls upon the Chamber of conciliation to censure the National Assembly, thus placing itself above it. Any individual could express his disapproval but not the Chamber.
This subtle argument, of which the Right seems to be very proud seeing that it recurs in all the speeches of its deputies, advances an entirely new theory. According to this theory, the Chamber has fewer rights with regard to the National Assembly than an individual.
This first grand argument is followed by a republican one. Germany consists for the most part of constitutional monarchies, and must therefore be headed by a constitutional, irresponsible authority and not by a republican, responsible one. This argument was rebutted on the second day by Herr Stein, who said that Germany, under her federal constitution, had always been a republic, indeed a very edifying republic.
“We have been given a mandate,” says Herr Schneider, “to agree on a constitutional monarchy, and those in Frankfurt have been given a similar mandate, i.e., to agree with the German governments on a constitution for Germany.”
The reaction indulges in wishful thinking. When, by order of the so-called Preparliament – an assembly having no valid mandate – the trembling Federal Diet convened the German National Assembly, there was no question at the time of any agreement; the National Assembly was then considered to be a sovereign power. But things now have changed. The June events in Paris have revived the hopes of both the big bourgeoisie and the supporters of the overthrown system. Every country bumpkin of a squire hopes to see the old rule of the knout re-established, and a clamour for “an agreed German constitution” is already arising from the imperial court at Innsbruck to the ancestral castle of Henry LXXII. The Frankfurt Assembly has no one but itself to blame for this.
“In electing a constitutional head the National Assembly has therefore acted according to its mandate. But it has also acted in accordance with the will of the people; the great majority want a constitutional monarchy. Indeed, had the National Assembly come to a different decision, I would have regarded it as a misfortune. Not because I am against the republic; in principle I admit that the republic – and I have quite definitely made up my mind about it – is the most perfect and lofty form of polity, but in reality we are still very far from it. We cannot have the form unless we have the spirit. We cannot have a republic while we lack republicans, that is to say, noble minds capable, at all times, with a clear conscience and noble selflessness, and not only in a fit of enthusiasm, of sinking their own interests in the common interest.”
Can anyone ask for better proof of the virtues represented in the Berlin Chamber than these noble and modest words of Deputy Schneider? Surely, if any doubt still existed about the fitness of the Germans to set up a republic, it must have completely vanished in face of these examples of true civic virtue, of the noble and most modest self-sacrifice of our Cincinnatus-Schneider. Let Cincinnatus pluck up courage and have faith in himself and the numerous noble citizens of Germany who likewise regard the republic as the most noble political form but consider themselves bad republicans – they are ripe for the republic, they would endure the republic with the same equanimity with which they have endured the absolute monarchy. The republic of worthies would be the happiest republic that ever existed – a republic without Brutus and Catiline, without Marat and upheavals like those of June, it would be a republic of well-fed virtue and solvent morality.
How mistaken is Cincinnatus-Schneider when he exclaims:
“A republican mentality cannot be formed under absolutism; it is not possible to create a republican spirit offhand, we must first educate our children and grandchildren in this way. At present I would regard a republic as the greatest calamity, for it would be anarchy under the desecrated name of republic, despotism under the cloak of liberty.”
On the contrary, as Herr Vogt (from Giessen) said in the National Assembly, the Germans are republicans by nature, and to educate his children in the republican spirit Cincinnatus-Schneider could do no better than bring them up in the old German discipline, tradition of modesty and God-fearing piety, the way he himself grew up. Not anarchy and despotism, but those cozy beer-swilling proceedings, in which Cincinnatus-Schneider excels, would be brought to the highest perfection in the republic of worthies. Far removed from all the atrocities and crimes which defiled the first French republic, unstained by blood, and detesting the red flag, the republic of worthies would make possible something hitherto unattainable: it would enable every respectable burgher to lead a quiet, peaceful life marked by godliness and propriety. The republic of worthies might even revive the guilds together with all the amusing trials of non-guild artisans. This republic of worthies is by no means a fanciful dream; it is a reality existing in Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck and Frankfurt, and even in some parts of Switzerland. But its existence is everywhere threatened by the contemporary storms, which bid fair to engulf it everywhere.
Therefore rise up, Cincinnatus-Schneider, leave your plough and turnip field, your beer and conciliation, mount your steed and save the threatened republic, your republic, the republic of worthies!
Cologne, July 18. Herr Waldeck takes the floor after Herr Schneider, in support of the Motion.
“The present position of the Prussian state is surely quite without precedent, and one really cannot conceal the fact that it is also somewhat precarious.”
This beginning is likewise somewhat precarious. We get the impression that we are still listening to Deputy Schneider:
“It must be said that Prussia was destined to exercise hegemony in Germany.”
This is the same old-Prussian illusion, the cherished dream of merging Germany in Prussia and of declaring Berlin the German Paris. Herr Waldeck, it is true, sees this cherished hope dwindling, but he hankers after it with painful feelings, and he blames both the ,previous and the present Government for the fact that Prussia is not at the head of Germany.
Unfortunately the fine days have passed when the Customs Union paved the way for Prussian hegemony in Germany, days when provincial patriots could believe that “the Brandenburg stock has determined the fate of Germany for 200 years” and will continue to do so in the future, the fine days when the disintegrating Germany of the Federal Diet could regard even the Prussian bureaucratic strait jacket as a last means of maintaining some sort of cohesion.
“The Federal Diet, on which public opinion has passed judgment long since, is disappearing and suddenly the Constituent National Assembly in Frankfurt emerges before the eyes of an astonished world!”
The “world” was naturally “astonished” when it saw this Constituent National Assembly. One need only read the French, English and Italian newspapers to understand this.
Herr Waldeck then explains at some length that he is against the idea of a German emperor and gives up his place on the rostrum to Herr Reichensperger II.
Herr Reichensperger II declares the supporters of Jacoby’s motion to be republicans and desires them to state their aims as candidly as did the republicans in Frankfurt. Then he too asserts that Germany is not yet in possession of the
“full measure of civic and political virtues which have been described by a great political scientist [Montesquieu] as the essential precondition for a republic”.
If Reichensperger, the patriot, says this, Germany must be in a bad way!
Herr Reichensperger continues, the Government has made no reservations (!) but merely expressed wishes. There was reason enough for this and I also hope that the National Assembly will not always ignore the opinions of governments when making decisions. it is outside our competence to lay down the sphere of competence of the Frankfurt National Assembly; the National Assembly itself has refused to advance theories concerning its own competence; it has acted in a practical manner when necessity has demanded action.
In other words, at the time when the Frankfurt Assembly was omnipotent, it failed during the revolutionary agitation to settle the inevitable conflict with the German governments with one decisive stroke. It has preferred to postpone the decision and to fight small skirmishes with one or another Government over each individual resolution, skirmishes which weaken the Assembly the further it recedes from the time of the revolution and the more it compromises itself in the eyes of the people by its feeble actions. And in this respect, Herr Reichensperger is quite right: it is not worth our while to come to the aid of an Assembly which has forsaken itself!
But it is touching when Herr Reichensperger says:
“It is therefore unstatesmanlike to discuss such questions of competence; what matters is simply to solve practical questions as they arise.”
It is indeed “unstatesmanlike” to dispose of these “practical questions” once and for all by means of a forceful decision; it is ..unstatesmanlike” if, in the face of reactionary attempts to halt the movement, the revolutionary mandate were asserted, a mandate which every Assembly that has come into being as a result of barricade fighting possesses. Cromwell, Mirabeau, Danton, Napoleon and the entire English and French revolutions were indeed exceedingly “unstatesmanlike”, but Bassermann, Biedermann, Eisenmann, Wiedenmann and Dahlmann behave in a very “statesmanlike” manner! “Statesmen” disappear altogether when a revolution takes place, and the revolution must be temporarily dormant for “statesmen” to re-emerge, and, moreover, statesmen of the calibre of Herr Reichensperger II, the deputy for the Kempen district.
“If you depart from this system, it will be difficult to avoid conflicts with the German National Assembly and with the governments of individual [German] states; at any rate you will unfortunately promote discord and, as a result of discord, anarchy will raise its head and nothing will then save us from civil war. Civil war, however, marks the beginning of still greater misfortune.... It is not out of the question that people may in that case say order has been restored in Germany, by our Eastern and Western friends!
Herr Reichensperger may be right. If the Assembly engages in a discussion of competence, it may give rise to clashes, possibly leading to a civil war and intervention by the French and the Russians. If the Assembly does not discuss this, however, and, in fact, it has not done so, a civil war is even more certain. The conflicts which, at the beginning of the revolution, were still fairly simple, every day become more involved, and the longer the decision is delayed, the more difficult and the more bloody will be the solution.
A country like Germany, which is forced to work its way up from indescribable fragmentation to unity, which, if it does not want to perish, needs the more stringent revolutionary centralisation, the more divided it has been up to now, a country which contains twenty Vendées, which is sandwiched between the two most powerful and most centralised states of the Continent and surrounded by numerous small neighbours, with whom it is on strained terms, if not at war — such a country cannot, in the present period of universal revolution, avoid either civil war or war with other countries. These wars, which we will certainly have to face, will be the more perilous and devastating, the more irresolute is the conduct of the people and its leaders and the longer the decision is postponed. If Herr Reichensperger’s “statesmen” remain at the helm, we might witness another Thirty Years’ War. But, fortunately, the force of events, the German people, the Emperor of Russia and the French people also have a say in the matter.
Cologne, July 22. Current events, Bills, armistice proposals etc. at last allow us once more to return to our beloved agreement debates. On the rostrum we see Deputy von Berg from Jülich, a man in whom we are interested for two reasons; first, because he is a Rhinelander, and second, because he is a ministerialist of very recent date.
Herr Berg has several reasons for opposing Jacoby’s motion. The first is this:
“The first part of the motion, which requires us to express our disapproval of a decision made by the German Parliament, this first part is nothing but a protest made in the name of a minority against a legal majority. It is nothing but an attempt by a party which has been defeated within a legislative body to obtain support from outside; it is an attempt whose consequences are bound to lead to civil war.”
Mr. Cobden, with his motion to abolish the Corn Laws, also belonged to the minority in the House of Commons from 1840 to 1845. He belonged to “a party which” had “been defeated within a legislative body”. What did he do? He sought “support from outside”. He did not simply state his disapproval of parliamentary decisions, he went much further; he set up and organised the Anti-Corn Law League and the Anti-Corn Law press, in short, the whole enormous agitation against the Corn Laws. According to Herr Berg, this was an attempt that was “bound to lead to civil war”.
The minority in the erstwhile United Diet likewise sought “support from outside”. Herr Camphausen, Herr Hansemann and Herr Milde had no scruples whatever over this. The facts that stand as proof of this are well known. It is obvious that the consequences of their conduct, according to Herr Berg, were “bound to lead to civil war”. They led not to civil war, however, but to the Ministry.
We could cite a hundred more such examples.
The minority in a legislative body, if it does not want to bring about civil war, must not, therefore, seek support from outside. But what then does “from outside” mean? It means the constituents, i.e. the people who create the legislative body. If one is no longer supposed to obtain “support” by influencing these constituents, where is one to gain support?
Are the speeches of Hansemann, Reichensperger, von Berg and so on, delivered merely for the benefit of the Assembly or also for the public, to whom they are presented in stenographic reports? Are not these speeches likewise means by which this “party within a legislative body” seeks, or hopes, to obtain “support from outside"?
In short, Herr Berg’s principle would lead to the abolition of all political propaganda. For propaganda is simply the practical application of the immunity of advocates of freedom of the press and of freedom of association, i.e. of freedoms which legally exist in Prussia. Whether these freedoms lead to civil war or not is not our concern. It is sufficient that they exist, and we shall see where it “leads”, if they continue to be infringed.
“Gentlemen, these efforts of the minority to find strength and recognition outside the legislative authority did not begin today or yesterday, they date from the first day of the German uprising. The minority expressed its objections and left the Pre-parliament, and the result was civil war.”
First, as regards Jacoby’s motion, there is no question of a “minority objecting and leaving”.
Secondly, “the efforts of the minority to find recognition outside the legislative authority” did, it is true, “not begin today or yesterday”, for they date from the moment when legislative authorities and minorities came into being.
Thirdly, it is not the fact that the minority expressed its objections and left the Pre-parliament which led to civil war, but Herr Mittermaier’s “moral conviction” that Hecker, Fickler and their associates were traitors to their country, and the measures which the Government of Baden consequently took and which were dictated by the most abject fear.
The civil war argument, which is, of course, apt to throw the German burgher into a dreadful state of alarm, is followed by the argument about the absence of a mandate.
“We have been elected by our constituents in order to establish a Constitution in Prussia; the same constituents have sent other citizens to Frankfurt, to set up a Central Authority there. It cannot be denied that the constituent who gives the mandate is certainly entitled to approve or disapprove the mandatary’s actions, but the constituents have not authorised us to speak on their behalf in this respect.”
This weighty argument has been greatly admired by the legal experts and legal dilettanti in the Assembly. We have no mandate! Nevertheless, two minutes later, the same Herr Berg asserts that the Frankfurt Assembly was “convoked in order to create the future Constitution of Germany, in concert with the German governments”, and it is to be hoped that the Prussian Government will not, in this case, ratify it without consulting the Agreement Assembly or the Chamber which is to be elected under the new Constitution. The Ministry has nevertheless immediately informed the Assembly of its recognition of the Imperial Regent, [Archduke John of Austria] as well as of its reservations, thereby inviting the Assembly to pronounce its decision.
It is therefore precisely the point of view expressed by Herr Berg, his own speech and Herr Auerswald’s information which lead to the conclusion that the Assembly certainly has a mandate to deal with the Frankfurt resolutions.
We have no mandate! Hence, if the Frankfurt Assembly reintroduces censorship, if it sends Bavarian and Austrian troops to Prussia to support the Crown in a conflict between the Chamber and the Crown, then Herr Berg has “no mandate"!
What mandate has Herr Berg? Literally only this: “to agree with the Crown upon the Constitution”. By no means has he, therefore, a mandate to put down parliamentary questions, and to agree to laws on immunity, on the civic militia, on redemption and to all other laws not mentioned in the Constitution. This is what reactionaries daily assert. Berg himself says:
“Every step beyond this mandate is a breach of faith, it is an abandonment of the mandate or even a betrayal!”
Nevertheless, under the force of necessity, Herr Berg and the entire Assembly constantly abandon their mandate. The Assembly must do so due to the revolutionary, or rather, at present, reactionary, provisional state of affairs. Because of this provisional state, everything serving to safeguard the achievements of the March revolution falls within the competence of the Assembly and if it can achieve this by exerting moral influence on the Frankfurt Assembly, then the Agreement Chamber is not only entitled, but even obliged, to do so.
Then follows the Rhenish-Prussian argument, which is of special importance for us Rhinelanders, because it shows how we are represented in Berlin.
“We Rhinelanders and Westphalians and the inhabitants of other provinces as well have absolutely no bond with Prussia other than the fact that we have come under the jurisdiction of the Prussian Crown. If we dissolve this bond, the state disintegrates. I do not understand at all, and I believe most deputies from my province do not understand either, what benefit a Berlin republic would be to us. We might prefer rather a republic in Cologne.”
We shall not discuss at all the idle speculations about what we might prefer” if Prussia is turned into a “Berlin republic”, nor the new theory about the conditions of existence of the Prussian state etc. As Rhinelanders, we simply protest against the statement that “we have come under the jurisdiction of the Prussian Crown”. On the contrary the “Prussian Crown” has come to us.
The next speaker against the motion is Herr Simons from Elberfeld. He repeats everything that Herr Berg has said.
He is followed by a speaker from the Left and then by Herr Zachariä. Zachariä repeats everything that Herr Simons has said.
Deputy Duncker repeats everything that Herr Zachariä has said, but he also adds a few other things, or he expresses what has been said before in such an extreme way, that we find it advisable to deal briefly with his speech.
“Do we, the Constituent Assembly of 16 million Germans, reinforce the authority of the German Central Government and the authority of the German Parliament in the minds of the people by thus censuring the Constituent Assembly of all Germans? Do we not thereby undermine the willing obedience which the individual nationalities must [accord] it, if it is to work for Germany’s unity?”
According to Herr Duncker, the authority of the Central Government and the National Assembly and this “willing obedience” exist; the obedience consists in the people submitting blindly to this authority, whereas the individual governments make reservations and, when it suits them, refuse ! to obey.
“What is the point of making theoretical statements in our time, when the force of fact is so immense?"'
Recognition of the sovereignty of the Frankfurt Assembly by the representatives “of 16 million Germans” is thus merely a “theoretical statement"!?
“If, in future, resolution passed in Frankfurt were to be regarded by the Government and Parliament of Prussia as impossible and impracticable, would there then be any possibility of carrying through such a resolution?”
Hence, the mere opinions, the views held by the Prussian Government and Parliament are supposed to be capable of making the resolutions of the National Assembly impossible.
“Today, we may say whatever we like, but the Frankfurt resolutions could not be carried through, if the entire Prussian people, if two-fifths of Germany, refused to submit to them.”
Here we have again all the old Prussian arrogance, the Berlin national patriotism in all its old glory, with the pigtail and crooked stick of old Fritz [King Frederick II of Prussia]. It is true, we are only a minority, only two-fifths (and not even that) but we will certainly show the majority that we are masters in Germany, that we are Prussians!
We do not advise the gentlemen of the Right to provoke a conflict of this kind between “two-fifths” and “three-fifths”. The numerical balance may prove to be quite different, and many a province may remember that it has been German from time immemorial, but that it has been Prussian for only thirty years.
Herr Duncker has a remedy, however. Those in Frankfurt must, along with us, “pass only those resolutions that express the reasonable collective will, the true opinion of the public, so that they can be approved by the moral consciousness of the nation”, i.e. resolutions after Deputy Duncker’s own heart.
“If we, and those in Frankfurt, pass such resolutions then we are, and they are, sovereign, otherwise we are not sovereign, even if we decree it ten times over.”
After this profound definition of sovereignty, which is in keeping with his moral consciousness, Herr Duncker heaves a sigh: “In any case, this belongs to the future”, and thus concludes his speech.
Lack of space and time prevents us from discussing the speeches of the Left made on the same day. Nevertheless, even from the speeches of the Right presented here, our readers will have realised that Herr Parrisius was not entirely mistaken when he moved the adjournment because “the temperature in the hall has risen so high that it is impossible to maintain absolute clarity of thought'!
Cologne, July 24. A few days ago, when the pressure of world events caused us to interrupt our account of the debate, a neighbouring journalist [Karl Brüggemann] was kind enough to carry on the report in our stead. He has already drawn the attention of the public to “the profusion of penetrating thoughts and bright ideas” and to “the fine and healthy feeling for true freedom” displayed by “the speakers of the majority”, and especially by our incomparable Baumstark, “during this great debate, which lasted two days”.'
We must bring our report of the debate to a hasty close, but cannot refrain from presenting a few examples from the “profusion” of “penetrating thoughts and bright ideas” expressed by the Right.
Deputy Abegg opened the second day of the debate with a threat to the Assembly: to get to the bottom of this motion, one would have to repeat all the Frankfurt debates in their entirety — and the High Assembly is obviously not entitled to do this! Their constituents “with their practical tact and practical sense” would never approve of this! Incidentally, what is to become of German unity, if (now follows a particularly “penetrating thought”) people “do not simply confine themselves to making reservations”, but express their “firm approval or disapproval of the Frankfurt resolutions”. In this case nothing remains but “purely formal submissiveness"!
Of course, “purely formal submissiveness” can be evaded by “reservations” and, if need be, even directly denied — that cannot harm German unity; but to approve or disapprove of these resolutions and to judge them with regard to their style, logic or usefulness — that’s the limit!
Herr Abegg concludes with the observation that it was for the Frankfurt Assembly, and not the Berlin Assembly, to comment upon the reservations presented to the Assembly in Berlin, not that in Frankfurt. One ought not to anticipate the Frankfurt deputies as this would surely be an insult to them!
The gentlemen in Berlin are not competent to express an opinion on statements made by their own Ministers.
Let us skip the idols of the small people, such as Baltzer, Kämpf and Gräff, and make haste to hear the hero of the day, the incomparable Baumstark.
Deputy Baumstark declares that he would never pronounce himself incompetent, unless he is forced to admit no knowledge of the matter in hand — and surely eight weeks of debate cannot leave one with no knowledge of the matter?
Consequently, Deputy Baumstark is competent. Namely, in the following manner:
“I ask whether, as a result of the wisdom we have shown so far, we are fully entitled” (i.e. competent) “to confront an Assembly, which has attracted
general interest in Germany,
and the admiration of the whole of Europe,
thanks to its noble-mindedness, its high intelligence
and its moral political standpoint,
that is thanks to everything that has made the name of Germany great and glorious throughout history? I submit to it” (i.e. I declare myself incompetent) “and wish that the Assembly, sensing the truth (!!), would likewise submit” (i.e. declare itself incompetent)!
"Gentlemen,” continues the “competent” Deputy Baumstark, “it was stated at yesterday’s session that there has been talk of a republic etc. which is unphilosophical. But it cannot possibly be unphilosophical to describe the responsibility of the person who heads the state, as a characteristic feature of the republic, in the democratic sense. Gentlemen, it is certain that all political philosophers, from Plato down to Dahlmann” (Deputy Baumstark could indeed not go further “down”), “have expressed this view, and we must not contradict this more than a thousand-year-old truth (!) and historical fact, without very special reasons, which have yet to be adduced.”
Herr Baumstark thinks, therefore, that sometimes there can be very special reasons” to contradict even “historical facts”. Indeed, the gentlemen of the Right usually have no scruples in this respect.
Herr Baumstark, moreover, declares himself once again incompetent, by pushing the competence on to the shoulders of “all political philosophers, from Plato down to Dahlmann”. Herr Baumstark, of course, does not belong to this category of political philosophers.
“Let us consider this political edifice! One Chamber and a responsible Imperial Regent, and this on the basis of the present electoral law! Further examination will show that it is against all common sense.”
Then Herr Baumstark makes the following penetrating pronouncement which, even on the closest examination, will not be against all “common sense”.
“Gentlemen, a republic requires two things, popular opinion and leading personalities. If we make a closer examination of our German popular opinion, we shall find that it contains very little about this republic (namely that of the Imperial Regent previously mentioned).
Thus, Herr Baumstark once more declares himself incompetent, and this time, in his place, it is popular opinion that is competent to judge the republic. Popular opinion, therefore, has more “knowledge” about the matter than Deputy Baumstark.
At last, however, the speaker proves that there are also matters about which he has some “knowledge”, and first and foremost among these is popular sovereignty.
“Gentlemen, history — I have to return to this — proves that we have had popular sovereignty since time immemorial, but it has assumed different forms under different conditions.”
Then follows a series of “extremely penetrating thoughts and bright ideas” about Brandenburg-Prussian history and popular sovereignty causing the neighbouring journalist to forget all worldly sufferings in a fit of constitutional ecstasy and doctrinaire bliss.
“When the Great Elector [Frederick William of Brandenburg] disregarded, and indeed (!) crushed” (to “crush” something is certainly the best way of disregarding it), “the decaying elements of the estates, which were infected with the poison of French demoralisation” (the right of the first night had in fact been gradually buried by the “French demoralised” civilisation), “he was generally acclaimed by the people, deeply imbued with the moral feeling that this gave strength to the German, and especially the Prussian, political edifice.”
One has to admire the “deep moral feeling” of the Brandenburg philistines of the seventeenth century who, profoundly moved by their profits, acclaimed the Elector when he attacked their enemies, the feudal lords, and sold privileges to the philistines — but one has to admire even more the “Common sense” and “bright ideas” of Herr Baumstark, who regards this acclamation as an expression of “popular sovereignty"!
“At that time, everybody, without exception, paid homage to the absolute monarchy” (since otherwise he would have been flogged) “and the Great Frederick would never have achieved such importance had he not been supported by genuine popular sovereignty.”
The popular sovereignty of flogging, serfdom and soccage services is, for Herr Baumstark, genuine popular sovereignty. An artless admission!
From genuine popular sovereignty, Herr Baumstark now goes on to consider false popular sovereignties.
“But there followed a different period, that of constitutional monarchy.”
This is then proved by a long “constitutional rigmarole” in which, to cut a long story short, he asserts that, from 1811 to 1847, the people of Prussia called continuously for a Constitution, and never for a Republic (!). This is naturally followed by the remark that “the people has turned away in indignation” from the recent republican insurrection in Southern Germany.
From this it follows quite naturally that the second kind of popular sovereignty (although it is no longer the “genuine” one) is the constitutional sovereignty proper”.
“This is the kind of popular sovereignty which divides political power between the King and the people, it is divided popular sovereignty” (let the “political Philosophers, from Plato down to Dahlmann”, tell us what this is supposed to mean), ..Which the people must receive unimpaired and unconditionally (!!), but without depriving the King of any of his constitutional power” (what laws define this power in Prussia since the 19th March?). “This point is quite clear” (especially in Deputy Baumstark’s mind); “the concept has been determined by the history of the constitutional system and no one can still entertain any doubts about it” (it is only when one reads Deputy Baumstark’s speech that, unfortunately, “doubts” arise again).
Finally “there is a third kind of popular sovereignty, the democratic-republican kind, which is supposed to rest on the so-called broadest basis. What an unfortunate expression is ‘broadest basis'!”
Then Herr Baumstark “raises a word” against this broadest basis. This basis leads to the decline of countries, to barbarism! We have no Cato, who could give the republic a moral foundation. Herr Baumstark then begins to blow Montesquieu’s old horn of republican virtue — a horn which has long been out of tune and full of dents — and to blow it so loudly that the neighbouring journalist, in transports of admiration, chimes in likewise and, to the astonishment of all Europe, demonstrates brilliantly that it is “precisely republican virtue ... which leads to constitutionalism"! Meanwhile, Herr Baumstark changes his tune and also comes to constitutionalism but through the absence of republican virtue. The reader can imagine the splendid effect of this duet when, after a series of the most heart-rendingly discordant notes, the two voices finally unite to produce the conciliatory chord of constitutionalism.
After a lengthy argument, Herr Baumstark comes to the conclusion that the Ministers have actually made “no real reservation” at all, but merely “a slight reservation concerning the future” and, in the end, he finds himself on the broadest basis, since he considers only a democratic and constitutional state to be Germany’s salvation. He is so “overwhelmed by the prospect of Germany’s future” that he gives vent to his feelings by crying:
“Cheers, three cheers for the popular-constitutional, hereditary German monarchy!”
He was indeed quite right when he said — this unfortunate broadest basis!
Several speakers from both sides then take the floor but, after Deputy Baumstark, we dare not present them to our readers. We shall just mention Deputy Wachsmuth’s declaration that his principal tenet is the point made by the noble Stein: The will of free men is the unshakeable support of every throne.
“That strikes right to the core of the matter!” exclaims our enraptured neighbouring journalist. “Nowhere does the will of free men prosper more than in the shelter of the unshakeable throne, and nowhere does the throne rest more securely than on the intelligent love of free men!” [Kölnische Zeitung, July 21, 1848]
Indeed, the “profusion of penetrating thoughts and bright ideas” and the “healthy feeling for true freedom” displayed by the speakers of the majority in this debate are far from matching the depth and penetration of the thoughts of the neighbouring journalist!
1. On June 28, 1848, the Frankfurt National Assembly decided to set up a provisional central authority consisting of the Vice Regent (the Austrian Archduke Johann) and an imperial ministry. Since the central authority had neither a budget nor an army of its own it possessed no real power; it supported the counter-revolutionary policy of the German princes.
2. The last four words are from Heine’s poem Anno 1829.