Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 33.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatches, Nos. 37, 38, 39 and 40.

I transmit, herewith, an authentic copy of the proposition for the reform of the German Bund, as accepted by the sovereigns assembled recently at Frankfort.

You are aware, of course, that the King of Prussia took no part in that diet; of the sovereigns present there were three, the Grand Dukes of Baden and Weimar, and the Prince of Waldeck, who voted against the project.

I append to this despatch a translation of such portions of the document as may be likely to engage your immediate attention, and as have excited most interest outside of Germany.

The population of the states adhering to the proposition is twenty-six (26) out of the forty-four (44) millions inhabitants of Germany. It is not supposed, however, that the eighteen (18) millions of the non-concurring states [Page 1009] including Prussia, are likely to recede very soon from their position, so that the project, for the present, may remain unfulfilled. Indeed the Prussian government has appealed to its people in the new elections, which it has just ordered, on the ground that the Frankfort project would, if carried out, be detrimental to the position of that kingdom in Germany and in Europe. The expected counter proposition on the part of Prussia has not yet appeared; nor has any answer from King William to the collective note addressed to him by the sovereigns assembled at Frankfort, after the termination of their labors, been yet made public.

The movement made by the Emperor of Austria to strengthen the bonds between this empire and the rest of Germany, and the effort to infuse new vigor into the feeble league known as the German Bund, have been highly appreciated by his subjects and by the inhabitants of many other portions of Germany, and the return of his Majesty to his capital was celebrated with great demonstrations of popular rejoicing.

It has been felt for a long time, both by sovereigns and peoples, that the moribund confederation was not competent to place Germany, as such, in the position to which she is entitled in Europe, by her numbers, material resources, and intellectual power.

The yearning towards national unity is strong among the populations, but the dualism, the chronic rivalry, which exists between the two great governments of Austria and Prussia, renders such unity very difficult to attain.

It is of course impossible to give to any confederation the consistency and political power of a state. We Americans certainly have no cause to love the word confederacy. If, as is so fondly hoped by our enemies in Europe, our republic should be destined to destruction under the assaults of the present insurrection of the slaveholders, our national history would be of three-fourths of a century’s duration, beginning with our struggles out of the chaos of the old confederacy into the constituted commonwealth of 1787, and terminating with our descent into that still more dreary chaos which the so-called confederacy of 1861 is attempting so vigorously to bring back upon us.

It is a curious phenomenon for the indifferent observer, but a mournful subject for our own consideration, that at this very moment exactly thirty-four (34) states on this side of the Atlantic, inhabited by a people speaking the same language and having essentially the same history, are endeavoring to bring themselves into closer union, in order to enjoy the tranquillity within and security abroad to which their homogeneity entitles them; while beyond the ocean, our thirty-four (34) States are engaged in a sanguinary war of defence for the sake of preserving that inestimable privilege of constitutional Union which has so long been enjoyed in America, and which it is the present purpose of a gigantic treason to destroy.

It will be observed, too, that in the same quarters, where so much delight has been manifested at the anticipated downfall of the American republic, there is a growing anxiety in regard to the possibility of a reinvigorated and united Germany. I shall, however, not pursue this very obvious train of reflection.

It is superfluous to remark that the Bund, which word it is as well to preserve for the present in the original, can never be reformed into anything stronger than a league or confederation of sovereign states.

Imperial, royal, grand ducal families, which for centuries have exercised, not nominal and imaginary, but real and absolute functions of sovereignty, which have coined money, emitted bills of credit, held armies and navies, made war and concluded peace, entered into treaties of all kinds with all nations, which have so long been supreme, recognizing no superior—sovereign, in short—are not likely to tolerate any authority created over [Page 1010] themselves, competent to make laws to be enforced over all Germany, anything to the contrary in the laws of the separate states notwithstanding.

The Bund, as such, can never be itself a united commonwealth, whether empire or republic, any more than the American consolidated Union, should it really fall into separate sovereignties, or detached groups of sovereignties, can ever again find centripetal force enough to constitute itself into a single body politic. There would have been another past for Europe, there would be another future, had there been, or was there likely to be, a single German state.

It is impossible not to warmly sympathize with the aspirations of those who contemplate so splendid a vision as that of a political union of forty-six (46) millions of people of one race and language, and occupying so proud a position as Germans have ever occupied in all that we understand by civilization; for Germany is assuredly the mother of our modern civilization.

Any approximation to such a result is therefore an attractive theme of speculation. Even if the absolute is unattainable, there is something noble and useful in these renewed stirrings towards a more close and practical unity than has hitherto existed. It can hardly be doubted that the strength and union of Germany is an advantage for Europe and a bond of peace and progress for the world.

It would hardly be just to criticise the present reform project from a democratic point of view, as it was certainly not intended to be judged by any such standard. Certainly there is but a pennyworth of the popular element in the proposed system.

Four bodies or boards are to be established for the purposes of the Bund, and their nature is described in the portions of the act herewith translated and sent.

The Directory will consist of the Emperor and three kings and two other sovereign princes.* The Bund council is a diplomatic body of envoys plenipotentiary from sovereign houses, bound by instructions.

The House of Delegates is an assembly upon the federal principle, like our Senate, made up of delegates chosen by the various representative bodies in the separate states. It will be observed, too, that in the states in which those bodies consist of two chambers, the Bund deputies are not to be chosen by joint ballot, but that one-third of them are to be appointed by the upper, and two-thirds by the lower house.

The Assembly of Princes is, as its name imports, a chamber of crowned heads, meeting in person to pass finally upon such measures as have already been acted upon by the other boards.

Thus it will be perceived that, strictly speaking, the popular principle is not admitted at all into the new project. Not only are there to be no elections by the people, but the representative bodies, by whom the Bund deputies are chosen, are themselves the results in most of the separate states, certainly in this empire, of an election by elected chambers, and are not chosen by the people in their primary meetings.

The House of Deputies thus constituted is to hold a regular session but once in every three years.

Upon this point, therefore, it is superfluous to dilate; but there is little doubt that the project, if thoroughly developed, would vastly increase not only the defensive power of Germany, as against the world, but elevate to a still higher point the position and influence of this empire. It is, in truth, on account of the supposed advantages thus to be conferred upon Austria, that the opposition to the proposed changes is owing. Prussia, which claims [Page 1011] a much superior number of German subjects to those under the Austrian sceptre, is not likely to be satisfied with an equal number of deputies to those sent from the imperial states in the assembly. Nor is she pleased to perpetuate the hereditary claim of the imperial family, as descendants of a long line of German emperors, to preside both in the Directory and the Bund council. It has been even suggested by the very strictly conservative administration now governing Prussia, that an assembly of representatives elected by the people should have formed part of any new system of confederation. It might be hoped, therefore, that in the peculiar rivalry thus developed, the people would gain, while it would be difficult for them in any event to lose. The reproach upon Prussia, on the other hand, is that the lesser states in her neighborhood are in danger of being absorbed or mediatized, as materials to her own aggrandizement; and that a great Prussia necessarily implies a small Germany, of which the prevailing characteristic is to be a perpetual dualism, with possibility of civil war between the great empire and the great kingdom.

It is hardly necessary to call your attention to Article VIII of the project.

It is this considerable change in the powers of the Bund which causes anxiety abroad, as to the increased weight to be thus acquired by the empire in the European pentarchy. At present, should Austria be involved with a foreign power on account of her non-German possessions, which constitute in population some two-thirds of her realms, the Bund can only be held to take part in such war by a unanimous vote of its members, as represented in the restricted council. In future a two-thirds vote of the new Bund council would suffice to bring the whole power of the Bund into the field, or, for example, a Hungarian or an Italian issue. Thus the power of the empire as against those ever-threatening neighbors, Russia, France and Italy, would be much increased.

The original proposition, as laid before the Congress of Princes by the Emperor, required merely a simple majority vote to implicate the Bund in such hostilities—an arrangement obviously still more advantageous to the empire; but the two-thirds rule was adopted as an amendment by the Princes assembled in Frankfort.

There are many reasons, therefore, why the new project should be hailed with considerable enthusiasm in Austria, and why the possible failure of the plan should be regarded as a disappointment.

Although but little has been done or pretended by way of strengthening the German people, much is proposed to strengthen the German and Austrian power; and it is not unreasonably regarded as an advantage, that the Princes, acting in their sovereign capacity, should be as well disposed, as the majority of them have shown themselves to be, to a closer union with each other.

There is no doubt, however, that the opposition to the scheme is very considerable in Prussia and North Germany generally, while fears are expressed in many other quarters that the Diet of the Princes at Frankfort, instead of marking the commencement of an era of closer confederation, may be the date of definite disunion.

It is impossible for the disinterested spectator not to wish, on the contrary, that from the earnest and vigorous efforts already manifested, some decided advantages for European peace and human progress may result.

The world at large has much to gain and little to dread in the increased strength and prosperity of Germany.

I have the honor to remain your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.

[Page 1012]

[Translation of the important passages of a project of a reform act for the German Bund.]

Article I. Enlargement of the purposes of the Bund.

The objects of the German Bund are: Protection [wahrung] of the safety and political position [machtstelling] of Germany towards the external world; protection of public order internally; advancement of the prosperity of the German nation, and representation of their common concerns [auliegen;] protection of the inviolability and constitutional independence of the several German states; protection of the public law in the same; community of legislation in the sphere of affairs attributed constitutionally to the Bund; facilitation of the introduction of universal German laws and regulations in the sphere of the legislative power of the separate states.

Article II. New organs of the Bund.

The direction of the Bund is confided by the sovereign princes and free cities of Germany to a Directory proceeding out of themselves.

A Bund council is formed out of the plenipotentiaries of the governments.

An assembly of Bund deputies will be periodically convoked.

An assembly of princes will come together periodically.

A Bund court of justice is created.

Article III. Directory and Bund council.

The directory of the German Bund consists of six votes, viz:

One vote for the Emperor of Austria.

One vote for the King of Prussia.

One vote for the King of Bavaria.

One for the Kings of Saxony, Hanover, and Wirtemburg, in yearly rotation.

One to be chosen by the grand duke of Baden, the elector of Hesse, the grand duke of Hesse, the King of Denmark, (as duke of Holstein and Lunenburg,) the King of Netherlands, (as grand duke of Luxembourg,) duke of Brunswick, and the dukes of Mecklenburg Schwerin and Mecklenburg Strelitz, and the duke of Nassau; and, finally—

One to be chosen by the grand duke of Saxe Weimer, the grand duke of Oldenburg, the dukes of Saxe Meiningen, S. Altenburg, S. Coburg Gotha and Anhalt, and princes of Schwartzburg Sondershausen, Schwartzburg Rudolstadt, Liechstenstein, Waldeck, Reusz elder line, Reusz younger line, Schaumburg Lippe, and Lippe, the landgraves of Hesse Homburg and the free cities of Lubeck, Frankford, Bremen, and Hamburg.

The members of the Directory will, according to rule, be represented at the seat of the Bund by plenipotentiaries. It is reserved to them, however, to assemble on important occasions, in order to perform the functions of the Directory in person.

Article IV. Formation of the Bund council.

The Bund council consists of the plenipotentiaries of the seventeen votes of the restricted council of the Bund assembly. Austria and Prussia have each three votes in the Bund council, so that the number of votes reaches twenty-one in all. The plenipotentiaries appointed for the Directory will, as a rule, represent the governments also in the Bund council.

Article V. Presidency of the Directory and council.

The presidency in the Directory and Bund council is exercised by Austria. In case of hindrance of the Austrian plenipotentiary the presidency devolves on Prussia. No powers are connected with the presidency, except those requisite to the formal conducting of business.

All resolves of the Directory are passed by simple majority. In case of a tie, an arithmetical calculation of the population of the votes on each side is to be made. The resolves of the Bund council are by majority, except as may be hereafter excepted.

[Page 1013]

The directorial plenipotentiaries, as well as the members of the Bund council, are bound by the instructions of the governments.

Article VI. The executive power of the Bund is exercised by the Directory.

Article VII. The international representation of the Bund, in its quality as collective power, belongs to the Directory.

The presiding directorial plenipotentiary receives the credentials and letters of recall of foreign diplomatic agents. He conducts the oral and written intercourse with them, on the basis of the resolves of the Directory, and in its name.

The Directory has the right to appoint diplomatic agents of every rank for affairs of the Bund as a collective power. Their credentials and instructions are made out by the directing plenipotentiary, in the name and by the authority of the Directory.

Article VIII. War and peace.

The Directory has care of the external safety of Germany. Should the safety of the Bund be endangered, especially if the Bund or a single part of the Bund territory should be threatened with a foreign invasion, the Directory has to take all provisionary and preparatory military measures.

To this purpose it exercises all the collective functions assigned by the Bund military constitution to the Bund, It is especially incumbent upon the Directory to arrange for the placing upon a war footing and the mobilization of the Bund army, or of single contingents of the same, to provide for the putting in proper condition of the Bund fortresses, to appoint the Bund general-in-chief, to see to the formation of the headquarters and the army divisions, and to establish a special military exchequer for the Bund.

A vote of two-thirds of the Bund council is required for a regular declaration of war by the Bund.

If there be danger of war between a Bund state, which, at the same time, has possessions outside the Bund territory, and a foreign power, the Directory is to procure a decision of the Bund council on the question, whether the Bund will take part in the war. The decision thereupon is by a vote of two-thirds.

If the Bund territory be attacked by foreign forces, the condition of war exists at once.

The Directory has the right to introduce peace negotiations, and to this end to appoint its own plenipotentiaries, and to furnish them with instructions. It is, however, to take the views of the Bund council in regard to the conditions of peace. The acceptance and confirmation of a treaty of peace can only be by a two-thirds vote of the Bund council.

Article X. The Directory is to provide for the maintenance of peace and concord among the members of the Bund. Self-help between Bund members is forbidden, and the Directory is to prevent every attempt at such. In case of disputes of all kinds between Bund states, it is to introduce its mediation; and in case the attempt at compromise is without result, to resolve upon the reference to the Bund court of justice.

Article XII. Bund executive.

The Directory is to have care that the Bund laws, the Bund resolves, the sentences of the Bund courts, the compromises arranged by the Bund, the guarantees assumed by the Bund be carried into effect by the governments interested. If there are obstacles of any kind, it is for the Directory to take the business of execution on part of the Bund, immediately into its own hands. It can appoint commissioners for this purpose and place at their disposition, if need be, an adequate number of troops.

Article XIII. Military affairs.

The maintenance of the military constitution of the German Band be longs to the Directory.

[Page 1014]

It manages the affairs devolving, through this constitution, upon the Band, in regard to the Bund fortresses, coast defences, &c.

Article XIV. Bund finances.

The Directory administers the Bund exchequer, formed by the quotas of the separate states. From three years to three years, with the consent of the Bund council, it lays before the assembly of deputies for its approbation the estimates for ordinary and extraordinary Bund expenses. In case of disagreement, estimates voted at any previous period is the rule, unless the expenses so voted had been expressly for a purpose already attained.

Article XV. To the Directory belongs the summoning, opening, adjourning, dissolving, closing of the assembly of Bund deputies.

Article XVI. Composition of the assembly,

The assembly of Bund deputies proceeds out of delegations from the representative bodies of the separate German states. It consists of three hundred and two (302) members, chosen by their bodies.

Austria sends to the Bund seventy-five (75) deputies, chosen by her (Reichsrath) Parliament out of the number of her members belonging to the German provinces, or out of the members of the diets of the Bund territory.

Prussia sends seventy-five (75) deputies out of the number of representatives of German Bund provinces in the Prussian diet.

The remaining one hundred and fifty-two (152) are apportioned among the other states, according to their importance, as twenty-seven (27) to Bavaria, fifteen (15) each to Saxony, Hanover, and so on. In these states in which the two-chamber system prevails, the upper chamber chooses one-third and the second chamber two-thirds of the Bund deputies.

Article XVII. The personal capacity to membership of the electing body decides at once upon the personal capacity for membership of the assembly of Bund deputies. The provincial representative bodies of the separate states cannot bind their deputies to the Bund by instructions.

Article XVIII. The assembly of the Bund deputies is regularly called together in the month of May, every third year at Frankfort-on-the-Main.

Article XIX. The assembly of Bund deputies chooses its president, its vice-president, and secretaries.

Article XX. Propositions regarding amendments to the constitution of the Bund require a vote of three-quarters.

Article XXIII. Establishment of the Princes’ assembly. According to rule, after the conclusion of the ordinary or extraordinary sessions of the assembly of Bund deputies an assembly of the sovereign princes and of the chief magistrate of the free cities of Germany is to come together. The Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia, in common, issue the instructions to the Princes’ assembly. The sovereigns not personally appearing, can cause themselves to be represented by a Prince of their own or of another German house as alter ego.

Article XXV. The Princes’ assembly takes into consideration the results of the transactions of the assembly of deputies, laid before it by the Directory. It takes the final resolves upon the propositions of the Bund deputies which do not require the assent of the representative bodies of the several states.

Article XXXIII. The Bund tribunal consists of a president, two vice-presidents, and twelve regular associate judges. There are also extraordinary members of the tribunal appointed under authority of the government of the separate states.

The Directory, with the consent of the Bund council, appoints from the fifteen regular members of the tribunal the president and the two vice-presidents.

  1. Unless the sovereigns of the sixth category should choose as their representative a burgomaster of one of the four free cities, a result which seems improbable.—See Art. III.