to Mr. Evarts.
Berlin, August 15, 1879. (Received September 4.)
Sir: The session of the Reichstag, which has been one of more than usual activity, was closed on the 12th ultimo by a formal decree from the Emperor.
During the first few days of its sittings, which began on. February 12, the socialist law of October, 1878, was the main topic of discussion. The question arose whether two social democratic members could be ordered out of Berlin while fulfilling their parliamentary duties for an alleged breach of paragraph 28 of that law. Finally the Reichstag decided by a large majority, and against the opinion of the government and the conservative parties, that no member in his place in the Reichstag could be held responsible to the police authorities for any breach of the paragraph referred to.
On May 2 a bill framing a new tariff was introduced, and the consideration of this measure was the principal work of the remainder of the session. Prince Bismarck opened the discussion by stating that the Imperial Government was in need of further revenues, and that, as the direct taxes of the empire were already very heavy, and their incidence in some respects unjust, there was no way but the indirect one of tariffs whereby the financial condition of the empire could be improved. The chancellor declared the object of the bill to be primarily financial, its protective influence upon the industries of the country being so adjusted that the general interest of the community should not suffer. Much party spirit was developed in the course of the debates on this bill.
It was soon apparent that the chancellor, to succeed in his legislative [Page 395] effort, must obtain the support either of the national liberal party or of the ultramontane central and particularist party. From which side he would obtain this support became known on June 25, when, in the tariff committee of the Reichstag, the central party joined with the imperial and conservative parties in adopting a resolution, moved by Freikerr von Franckenstein, by which the proceeds of the tariffs and the tobacco tax, over and above 130,000,000 marks per annum, were to be divided among the federal states. The liberal party strongly opposed this motion. Its organs reminded the chancellor of his suggestion that the imperial treasury should receive the entire proceeds of the new sources of revenue, thus enabling the empire to dispense with the contributions at present received from the federal states, and thereby further consolidating the fabric of German unity.
The agitation increased when it became known during the same week that three ministers—Herr Hobrecht, of finance; Dr. Falk, of public worship and education; and Dr. Friedenthal, of agriculture—had resigned.
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The air was not cleared of these rumors until July 9, when the Franckenstein motion came before the Reichstag as a paragraph of the tariff bill, and gave rise to a debate. The chancellor, following after speakers on the liberal and ultramontane sides, declared that there never had been any agreement between the ministerial parties and the central party for the adoption of the Franckenstein policy. He entered into details to show that its acceptance would not tend to disunite the German Empire, and vigorously defended his policy in this matter and the tariff question, which had been directed, he asserted, as all his past policy had been directed, to the attainment and strengthening of German unity. Herr Lasker, as spokesman for the national liberal party, pointed out the undesirableness of continuing the contributions from the states if, at the same time, the empire was to furnish them with a surplus of the tariff revenue.
On a division being taken, a large majority, in which were the ultramontanes, voted with the government for the adoption of the paragraph. It was seen that the crucial point in the discussions of the bill was passed, and from this date to the 12th, when it became law, and the session was closed, little of interest occurred. The new tariff, which is expected to yield an additional sum of 74,000,000 mark per annum, is being translated by Mr. Kreismann, the consul general at Berlin, and will shortly be forwarded to you.
It is impossible definitely to predict the results of a measure so complicated in its relations to native and, foreign industry and commerce. * * * Although the power of the United States in competing with the German agriculturists for the supply of food products will be somewhat diminished, it may be expected that certain foreign markets, which have hitherto taken German manufactures, will be opened to the enterprise of our own people. That other nations, especially those of Europe, will retaliate with new tariffs does not, at present, seem likely. Some ill-feeling has been shown by Russian traders; but, so far, this has resulted only in a diversion of the line of traffic.
The resignation of Dr. Falk, the minister of public worship, which has attracted the most attention, was not wholly unexpected. About a year ago ray predecessor informed you that Dr. Falk had requested the Emperor to relieve him of his duties, a request which was at that time refused.
Since then the difficulties of Dr. Falk’s position have increased. The important measure of March, 1872, whereby the state took entire control [Page 396] of the elementary schools, making only temporary engagements with the clergy to impart religions knowledge, has been a continual thorn in the flesh to many Lutherans, to the Evangelicals, and especially to the Roman Catholics. They have not failed to use their influence in the highest quarters to obtain a repeal, or at least a modification, of this law; and they are also strongly opposed to a plan proposed by Dr. Falk, whereby children of parents of different denominations shall be taught together in one school. This is a question which threatens to reawaken the old struggle between church and state; and, taken together with the withdrawal of Dr. Falk and the support given by the center to the tariff bill, gave rise to the report that the German Government intend to give back to the Roman Catholic Church what the “Kulturkampf” of the last seven years wrested from it.
This report, however, is probably without foundation. The German Government can hardly have any real intention of re-establishing the supremacy of the Roman Church in matters of education; and the German people, if one may judge from opinions expressed by individuals and by the press, consider such a step impossible. Dr. Falk’s resignation, nevertheless, has been generally lamented. He has initiated into Germany the principle in the relations between church and state, which prevails in the United States. He has done this at the cost of incessant toil; he has borne the bitterest abuse of ultramontane journals, and he has struggled with the various sections of religious parties in his own country. But his work is a reality. The standard of efficiency for teachers has been raised; the number of their training colleges increased; and last winter there were 4,000 more schoolmasters and 400,000 more children in the schools of Germany than there were six years ago, when he took office. The schools, moreover, are more efficiently conducted and more systematically inspected. In other questions between church and state Dr. Falk was also active, particularly in the matter of a civil marriage law, for the repeal of which the clergy are now asking.
The acceptance of his resignation was officially announced on July 14, and on the same day Herr Von Puttkamer, chief president of Silesia, was appointed in his place. Dr. Falk had voted, it may be remarked, in favor of the Franckenstein motion; so had also his colleague, Dr, Friedenthal. The resignation of the latter is ascribed to increasing physical infirmity, after fulfilling with much success the position of minister of agriculture for nearly twenty years. He voted for the various items of the new tariff with the exception of the increased duties on corn. Dr. Lucius, a large landed proprietor, has been appointed to his office; and Herr Bitter, the under secretary of state in the home office, has taken the position relinquished by Herr Hobrecht, whose opposition to the financial policy of the chancellor had increased of late very considerably. These selections appear to have been made with a view to secure safe men rather than ministers who will launch out into any new lines of policy; and there is no reason to suppose that any of the principles adopted by their predecessors will be changed.
Among other noteworthy enactments of the session was a measure dealing with the constitution of Alsace and Lorraine, which grants them a representative parliament, of course with limited powers, and raises them to the dignity of a state under the presidency of a statthalter, a position which General Field Marshal Von Manteuffel has been entrusted with.
The report of a committee on the laws of usury was also received, and among its recommendations was one to the effect that the adoption of a fixed maximum rate of interest should not be returned to; but it was [Page 397] suggested that an addition be made to the criminal law, by which moneylenders who live on the ruin of minors, and systematically practice extortion, should be liable to imprisonment. The interesting question of a resuscitation in a new form of the ancient trade guilds has also been before the German Parliament, and is one the future development of which cannot be too attentively watched.
As has already been stated in my previous dispatches, a debate occurred on the silver sales of the German Government, in which the chancellor stated that the government had determined for the present to retain whatever silver it is still possessed of. The treaty of friendship with the Samoan Islands was adopted, after some discussion. A translation of this document has also been forwarded to you.
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The national liberal party has considerably diminished as a result of the differences of opinion regarding the new tariffs, and a declaration of the chancellor in his recent speech, that if milder treatment towards the Roman Catholic Church, while keeping intact the principles acted upon during the “Kulturkampf,” would serve a useful purpose, he would be ready to adopt it, has increased the antagonism between the progressive and the central and conservative parties. The late election at Sreslau, at which a social democrat was returned by a large majority over a national liberal, showing that the ultramontane sections had voted with the social democrats, and the proposal made by the chancellor to increase the budget periods and the duration of the parliaments, have brought further elements of discord into German politics.
The government continues to purchase the railroads of the country, and one of its latest acts has been the establishment of a separate department for the control of those already belonging to it. The anti-socialist law has now been in operation about nine months. It has undoubtedly checked the flow of revolutionary publications and treasonable talk; but, as was only to be expected, the law has not satisfied the discontented. * * * Their complaint that they are not allowed to agitate seems to have been their most powerful means of agitation, and unless the industrial prosperity of the empire is soon regained, there is Mill cause to regard the discontent of the working population, whether it shows itself in the form of socialism, social democracy, or nihilism, with much anxiety.
In the leading enactments, as in several of the principal organs of public opinion, a tendency towards isolation, a desire for greater national independence, as it is called, has found expression. There are some who see in the new protective tariffs nothing but a necessary step to a reorganization of German industry. The idea appears to be that this industry shall exist for Germany alone; that the government shall protect it from foreign competitors, while it clothes itself in some new forms of guilds, with the object, of course, of improving the condition of both operatives and employers. This policy of isolation as regards Prussia has increased since the military successes of 1870, and it is further strengthened by the necessity the German Government considers itself under of maintaining a huge standing army. * * *
In spite of this apparent reactionary tendency of the chancellor and his separation from his former supporters, it is not unlikely that the breach may be healed at no distant day. Although the debates in the Reichstag were very warm, the tone of some who took a leading part in them against the chancellor is, outside of the hall, not at all bitter. In conversing with some of them, I found that, so far from showing bitterness, they acknowledge that the motives of the chancellor are patriotic, [Page 398] and declare that his past services, as well as his present evident desire to strengthen German unity, should protect him from too bitter an oppositition. They still claim to respect and admire him, and evidently hope that they may be able to support his measures hereafter.
I have the honor, &c.,