Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Fish.
Berlin , December 1, 1873. (Received December 19.)
Sir: The tendency of Europe is toward the American system of separating church and state. Here a twofold development is going [Page 435] forward. On the one side there is an inflexible determination to enforce the supremacy of the state over all its citizens. In the pursuit of this object the government has gone so far as to demand of the archbishop of Posen his resignation. No doubt he will refuse, and a legal process for his deposition will ensue. He will then undoubtedly deny the validity of the act of deposition by civil authority; but the government will persevere in its purpose, though it does not conceal from itself the difficulty of the undertaking.
On the other hand, a step in the other direction is proposed, and is received with a very general approval. The clergy of the several denominations now keep the record of marriages, baptisms, and deaths, and so in fact perform most important civil offices, on which the transmission of all the property of the country, from one generation to another, depends. They also have some power to restrain freedom of marriage. At present a Jew and a Christian cannot intermarry, and obstructive forms precede the marriage of a Catholic and a Protestant, the marriage of Protestants of different denominations, and the marriage of one not avowing himself a Christian with another who is a Christian. A law is in preparation, soon to be brought before the Prussian Diet, making civil marriage obligatory, and intrusting to civil officers the registry of marriages, births, &c. The measure is required by the necessities of the times, since in many Catholic parishes there is no priest or curate whom the law recognizes; and since often the priests who are recognized forbid marriages between a Catholic who accepts the new dogma of papal infallibility and the old Catholic who rejects it. The measure is a long stride toward making the separation of church and state possible.
The Prussian finances are in a splendid condition. In the last year forty millions of their very inconsiderable debt has been discharged, and forty millions more of a contingent debt liquidated. The money-market here has been disturbed, but the sound principles on which the finances are administered has saved the business of the kingdom from disaster. The secretary of the treasury was asked to intervene in behalf of those who were in trouble, and wisely refused to do so. In this way the suffering has been confined as nearly as possible to those who were speculating on borrowed capital, or on no capital at all.