Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Second Session of the Fortieth Congress
Mr. John C. Wright to Mr. Seward.
Sir :* * * * *
Count Bismarck, in presenting the draft of the constitution to the federal Parliament, made a few remarks. I herewith enclose you the same in English. Several hostile speeches have been delivered against the present draft, and Count Bismarck has replied to such attacks in most vigorous language. (See enclosed speeches.) The opposition comes mostly from the Catholic party, and the delegates from Saxony and Hanover.
* * * * * * *
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D, C.
Count Bismarck’s speech on presenting the draught of the constitution to the federal Parliament.
Gentlemen : In the name of the allied governments, I have the honor of laying before the federal Parliament the draught of a federal constitution agreed upon by the governments mentioned. To this draught I add authentic copies of the treaties having reference to the establishment of the confederacy, and also of the minutes of the sittings in which the draught has been discussed by the delegates of the allied governments.
In submitting these to the decision of the high house, I abstain from amplifying upon the speech of the King my gracious master, delivered when opening the session. One point only I should like to call your attention to. In the provisional treaty of alliance, concluded August 18, 1866, there occurs a clause which is to the following effect: “ This alliance is to last until the establishment of new and more permanent federal relations. Unless a new alliance be concluded before that term the present one is to last for a year.” This means that the existing federal relations will expire not many months hence. I have no wish to dilate upon what would become of Germany were our work incomplete by August 18 of this year. I hope we shall be spared this predicament. I feel it, however, incumbent upon me to allude to the fact that the representative assemblies of the various states—at any rate, many of them—having reserved to themselves the right to ratify or reject the result of our deliberations, it will be necessary to convene the Parliaments of the twenty-two allied states, directly the sittings of the federal Parliament are over. I need scarcely tell you how very desirable it is that this ulterior stage of the matter should likewise be completed by the 18th of August. All these are circumstances which ought to lead us expedite our labors.
Furthermore, it ought to be taken into consideration that the establishment of treaty relations with southern Germany, such as all of us wish for, more or less urgently, will be materially promoted by a rapid consolidation of the north. The wish of the southern states to join their northern countrymen will be the more ardent, the more promptly we advance toward the attainment of our object.
This, gentlemen, should be another incentive for us to come to an early agreement upon such points as might be viewed in a different light by the various political denominations represented in this house. No doubt there is something unfavorable to unity in our national character ; otherwise, we should not have lost it, or, at all events, should have recovered it long before this. Looking back to the days of German greatness, the early days of the German empire, we find that no country in Europe was so likely to become strong and united as Germany. From Russia, which was portioned out among the descendants of Rurick to the Visigoths and Arabians of Spain, no European nation, amid the vicissitudes of ages, had so fair a chance of retaining its unity as Germany. Why, then, did we lose it ? Why have we, till now, failed in recovering it? To express myself briefly, it seems to me there is? an excess of manly and independent feeling in the German character, prompting the individual, as well as the corporation, the province, and the tribe, to rely upon themselves rather than look to the nation to which they belong.
We lack the accommodating spirit which, in other nations, induces individuals as well as tribes to conform themselves to the requirements of the whole, and we have accordingly [Page 577]been prevented from securing the benefits of a strong national commonwealth, so long and so fully possessed by our neighbors. In the present instance, however, the governments have given you a good example. There was not one among them but had to sacrifice some legitimate objections in order that our common purpose might be realized. Let us then follow the precedent given, and prove on our part that Germany, in her history of 600 years’ division, has been taught prudence, and that we have taken to heart those teachings inculcated by the abortive attempts to secure unity made at Frankfort and Erfurt. The failure of those attempts plunged Germany into a state of uncertainty and dissatisfaction which lasted no less than 16 years, and, as was manifest from the very outset had to be terminated by some such catastrophe as was experienced last year. God decided in our favor.
The German nation now has a right to expect that we shall obviate the recurrence of such a catastrophe, and I am persuaded that you; as well as the allied governments, will do all in your power to fulfil the anticipation of the people. * * * * *
You ask for responsible ministers to conduct the affairs of the executive ; I beg to inquire who is to appoint them? Are the 22 governments of the confederacy to agree upon the choice of ministers, or is their nomination to be left to the King of Prussia? The former alternative would be impossible ; the latter, the minor potentates will not assent to, while they object to be reduced to the level of English peers. There remains, then, nothing but to let the governments determine the action of the confederacy by majorities, and intrust the Crown of Prussia with the execution of their votes. This government has no wish to use the power it claims against public freedom. Having engaged in a task so great and difficult as the one in hand, it cannot but rely upon the co-operation of the people, and it is determined to extend liberty to the utmost limits compatible with a powerful state geographically and politically situate as is the northern confederacy. Why does the opposition wish for the right to vote the military supplies annually ? What is the practical use of owning a right which, while the general condition of Europe remains what it is, could be exercised only for the purpose of perpetuating our existing military institutions ? To close a simile from a branch of the public administration to which I devoted my time before taking up politics, were the maintenance of the army to be made dependent upon annual votes, this would be as sensible as though majorities were to be allowed to decide every year whether the dikes of the Vistula are to be kept in repair or recklessly pierced. Again, if it has been said that the southern states will not join us unless a responsible ministry be instituted at once, I should like to ask the gentlemen taking this view of the matter what they think those southern states are ? Why, they are simply their Majesties the Kings of Bavaria and Wurtemberg. Do you really believe their Majesties have responsible ministers ? I know the reverse to be the case. What we have to settle immediately with the south is the renewal of the Zollverein on a permanent basis, and the establishment of a common authority to legislate in Zollverein matters. Negotiations for this purpose will be taken in hand upon the conclusion of our labors here. As to a political alliance between the two halves of Germany, I trust that, with or without it, the south will always stand by the north as the north will always stand by the south.
Gentlemen, let us not differ on trifles when greater things are at stake.
We cannot now have everything we want, but something may be gained. Assist Germany to vault into the saddle, and trust her to ride alone.
This speech, which earned much applause, was followed by another in answer to Herr Von Munchausen, a Hanoverian deputy and adherent of King George. The latter having blamed the annexation, and complained of sundry illegal practices imputed to the Prussian authorities in Hanover, Count Bismarck replied to this effect :
“Though I cannot but respect the feeling of loyalty, devoted to a fallen dynasty, I might have wished the expression of this honorable sentiment had not been coupled with an attack upon the Prussian government. We all esteem the people of Hanover, a race so intimately related to our own, and whose gallant sons have fought on so many fields side by side with ourselves. We also respected the Hanoverian dynasty, and had no better wish than to remain on amicable terms with it for all time to come. Our views were distinctly communicated to the Hanover government. When the war was about to break out, I informed Count Platen that were he to ally himself to us, the integrity of Hanover would be safe, whatever the issue of the war; but I also thought it my duty to direct his attention to the peril he incurred if pursuing an opposite course. I should consider that Prussian minister a traitor who, if an enemy had arisen in our rear, waiting for an opportunity to stab us in the back, had not crushed that enemy, and rendered a repetition of the deed impossible, if the fortune of war placed him in our power. It is perfectly absurd to expect us to act differently. What would have become of Berlin if the Croats had taken it ? And now that we have prevented their doing so, are we to reinstate their allies, admitting the plea that no harm was intended ? That would be a little too sentimental after a war in which crowns and countries were the stakes. Then as to our treatment of the Hanover army, the convention of Langensalza was clearly meant to be valid only as long as the war lasted ; and if Herr Von Munchausen affirm that Queen Mary is exposed to improper molestation on the part of the Prussian authorities, the fact of her Majesty’s remaining in Hanover is, I believe, the best refutation of the charge. Her Majesty’s remaining there when her husband has not made[Page 578]his peace with, us is certainly strange ; but although this government has never alluded to the subject of her leaving, it yet cannot allow her presence to become an occasion of hostile and venomous agitation. It is perfectly true that the Hanover Major Von Trenck was arrested in the presence of the Queen. The major knew that he was suspected of propagating secret proclamations, and that he had been watched for weeks. Either he ought not to have waited on her Majesty while subject to suspicion, or, if her Majesty objects to» arrests being made in her presence, she ought not to have staid where she is. It is furthermore true that a letter from King George was opened by the Prussian authorities. But this was a mistake, contrary to the orders of my royal master, and we have apologized for it.
“ The Hanover constitution has been abrogated after the conquest, and the Prussian constitution will not come into force before the 1st of October. I heartily wish that date were close at hand ; but while waiting for it Hanover is, and must be, governed unconstitutionally. Until then, let the gentlemen beware how they provoke us. They would find us much more than a match for them.”