to Mr. Evarts.
Berlin, May 25, 1878. (Received June 12.)
Sir: The recent attempt to assassinate the Emperor of Germany has already led to results of wider range and of greater political importance than could have been anticipated. I have only waited for the solution of the principal question arising therefrom, in order to furnish you with a statement, which I shall endeavor to make as brief and clear as possible, without going into details which are not strictly necessary to the presentation of the subject.
For some time past there has been a want of accord between the imperial government and the party upon which it must chiefly rely for support in the Reichstag (Parliament). The ministerial changes in the departments of commerce and finance, which took place before my arrival at my post, were followed on the 9th instant (two days before the attempt upon the Emperor’s life) by the resignation of Dr. Falk, minister of worship and education—a man who is justly regarded as one of the chief supports of the government, through his vigorous assertion of the supremacy of the state, in the conflict of the German Empire with the Church of Rome. It is openly understood that the grounds upon which his resignation is based represent the culmination of an opposition to his policy on the part of the imperial government, which has impeded his action heretofore; and the final step has therefore given rise to a general feeling of disquietude, if not precisely of distrust, in the party—the national liberals and their more or less closely affiliated branches which constitute the majority of the German Parliament.
Immediately after the criminal occurrence on the 11th instant, it was noticed that the “social-democratic” press throughout Germany, while disowning all sympathy with the act, maintained an attitude of coldness and reserve, and failed to unite frankly in the general expression of congratulation. The government, although indirectly receiving, through the addresses sent to the Emperor from every part of Germany, the heartiest assurances of loyalty, seems to have considered the moment favorable for the introduction of a repressive measure, aimed directly at the social-democratic party, yet so constructed as to be capable of a much more extended application.
I add (inclosure A) a translation of the project of a law, drawn up by the imperial ministry and laid before the Parliament on the 22d instant. Whatever view may be taken of the expediency of such a measure in Germany, the almost universal feeling is that both the occasion chosen [Page 213] for presenting it and the particular form in winch it is embodied are unfortunate. Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the projected law, for example, allow the local authorities a dangerous latitude of interpretation, especially since section 1 makes no specific declaration of the doctrines to be suppressed.
The direct effect of such a law, it is generally believed, would be to limit freedom of speech and of the press, while probably increasing the power of the social-democratic party by forcing upon it secret instead of open action.
These views were brought out strongly in the debate which was opened in the imperial parliament on Thursday morning, the 23d instant, and came to a close yesterday afternoon, the 24th. The few social-democratic members manifested great shrewdness in abstaining from all participation in the discussion, and even certain members who favored the law, in principle, avowed their dissatisfaction with its form. The most important speeches were made by the members Count Bethusy-Hue, Benningsen, Richter, Gneist, Lasker, and Count Moltke, the last of whom warned the social-democrats that “all revolutions first devour their own leaders.” The subject was discussed in a dignified and temperate manner, probably because the fate of the project had been determined in advance. The vote upon the first section, which rendered any vote upon the succeeding sections unnecessary, was 57 ayes to 251 nays. The members of both branches of the conservative party, with two exceptions, voted aye. The large majority against the measure is accounted for by the union of the national, liberal, and the progressive parties.
The same evening the Parliament adjourned. It will not meet again before next January, and there will be, in the mean time, only a few elections to fill vacancies, unless the imperial government should order a dissolution, in which case the whole body must be newly elected.
In the present condition and temper of parties in Germany, the results of such a step would be very uncertain. It is too soon to speculate thereupon, but the probability that Dr. Falk’s resignation will not be accepted does not indicate an intention on the part of the government to force a political crisis. A feeling of disappoinment—I might even say, of depression—is apparent on both sides; if it conceals any increase of antagonism, the fact has yet to be developed.
I have, &c.,