Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Fish.
Berlin, December 15, 1873. (Received January 5, 1874.)
Sir: The Prussian government have brought in their new law transferring from the clergy to civil officers the registry of births, marriages, and deaths. The law avoids all possibility of conflict with any church. Every child, within a week of its birth, must be reported to the proper civil officer of the place, for registry, with the family name and the names given him; or if the parents have not decided on the latter, they may at any time within two months be added to the record. At the baptism of the child names may be given at will. The state takes cognizance only of those entered in its own registry. Marriage is to be preceded by a two-week publication at the town-house of the place of residence of one of the betrothed. The parties then appear before the proper magistrate, and in the presence of two witnesses make an affirmative answer to the question whether they wish to take each other in marriage. On the affirmative answer the magistrate declares them to be married. Whatever religious ceremonies may attend the nuptials, the state takes cognizance only of the act of its official. Every death is to be registered at latest on the day following the death.
Simple as are the main features of the law, they will effect a very great change in the social and religious life of Germany.
Marriages between members of different religious confessions, and of Jews with Christians, will henceforward be attended with no legal obstacles, nor made to depend on the caprices of the clergy.
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Thus there is a sort of stamp-tax on newspapers, which the liberal party has long desired to repeal; this repeal may perhaps now be effected.
The house does not divide itself into two parties. The members separate themselves into eight fractions, as they are called, with a ninth fraction to include those that attach themselves to no one of them all. There are the national liberals, with 170 members; the ultramontanes and their adherents, with 865 the party of progress, or more radical-liberal [Page 437] party, with 72; the free conservatives, who are essentially a liberal party, with 33; the new conservatives, with 24; the Poles, with 17; the liberal center, with 5; the old’ conservative fraction is reduced to 4. There are fifteen who attach themselves to no fraction, and to this class belong among others the ministers and the president of the diet. Besides all these there are six vacancies. Thus there are but 86 who can be relied upon for opposition to the national liberals, and where these 86 vote for a liberal measure the vote of the house approaches unanimity. The party of the old nobility, sometimes called the feudal party, and sometimes the party of the country squires, has, as you see, almost entirely disappeared. Our Congress does not more completely represent the people as it is than the Prussian Diet represents the people of Prussia. Only here there is an artificially constituted upper house, which is not so much in harmony with the country.
In Prussia the system of schools is national. The school includes the children of all parents. In Bavaria, where the majority of the population is Catholic, under a Catholic royal family, the Roman bishops made a representation against the establishment of schools composed of children of all confessions; but the government has decided against their demand, a new advantage gained for the principle of the Prussian system.
Switzerland shows no sign of receding from its comprehensive measures against the ultramontane usurpations; and the spirit and courage of these republicans have something of the same effect on the population of Germany that was exercised by their forefathers in the time of the Reformation.
I remain, &c.,