Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Fish.
Berlin , April 27, 1874. (Received May 13.)
Sir: The Emperor in person prorogued the Imperial Diet yesterday. Four of its measures are of high importance. The army bill was passed finally by a majority of more than ninety. The number of the army was fixed for a period of seven years. The Emperor, in his speech on closing the Diet, could not withhold an expression of his regret that it had not been voted without limit. All agree that Germany must show that she is strong, if she will maintain herself in independence and peace.
Several of the separate states had issued a disproportionate amount [Page 445] of current notes. They are all now subjected to one rule. The circulating notes of them all, collectively, are not to exceed 40,000,000 of thalers, or 28,800,000 of our dollars. But time is allowed to those states whose issues are in excess of the average to reduce their emissions by persistent, gradual reductions. The German paper notes are therefore to be a little less than 72 cents per head of the population of the empire. The late proposal for American greenbacks was an average of about fourteen dollars per head, or nearly twenty times the amount which is thought safe in Germany; and even the amount allowed in Germany is a concession to what was found existing rather than an original and independent measure. A very considerable proportion of the house and of the country are opposed to this sort of measure altogether; and on behalf of the government an excuse has been put forward that, if it tolerates the circulation of forty millions of paper money, it has set apart in its vaults forty millions in gold not to be touched for the annual expenses in time of peace.
A third important measure was the law regulating the press, in which all the changes are for the better. Hitherto, in Prussia, the police had power to suppress an issue of a newspaper, and the proprietors had no redress but by an appeal to the tribunal, which could really furnish no reasonable and sufficient relief. This power is now limited to cases of high treason. A sort of stamp-tax has been remitted, which was so heavy that on the leading newspaper in Cologne it amounted to more than 50,000 thalers a year.
The fourth law relates to ecclesiastics who set themselves up above the laws. They may now be sent out of the country, but with a proviso giving power to the courts to protect them against capricious acts of the magistrates. The law was carried by almost absolute unanimity, except the ultramontanes and the Poles. The Department will at one glance see the importance of the measure. There are in Prussia twelve Catholic bishoprics. One of these bishops has already been deposed. Should he continue to exercise his functions in spite of his deposition by the temporal authority, he will be immediately sent out of the country. The other eleven must respect the laws, or they will be dealt with in the like manner. To leave the Catholic population of the country without bishops opens the way for many chances of change; and the Catholic hierarchy must die out, or, as has happened in Russia, exercise its functions in subordination to the power of the state.
There is no political question on which the great majority of Germany is so determined as on this. The new law was borrowed from the example of Switzerland. How widely the movement is extending in Europe is seen by what is passing in England, where choice has been “made of a ministry disinclined to further concessions to the demands of the Catholic hierarchy, and where the archbishops of the Anglican church are proposing measures to drive all Romanizing tendencies out of the forms of public worship in the establishment. Here in Germany, where the question takes the form of a conflict between the authority of the state at home, within its own precincts, and the influence of an alien ecclesiastical power, it is certain that the party of the state is consolidating its strength; and I see nothing either in the history of the country or in the present state of public opinion, or the development of public legislation, which can raise a doubt as to the persistency of the German government in the course upon which it has entered.
I remain, &c.,