22 DECEMBER 1866, Page 8


AFTER a delay which remains to be explained, but which is probably due in part to Count von Bismarck's deter- mination of blood to the head, the German Parliament is at last about to be set to work. The Princes north of the Main have signed the Treaty which is to be the basis of action, Deputies from the twenty-one States are settling details under the presi- dency of Herr von Savigny, gentleman of Prussia who does any thinking work required by Count von Bismarck, and the Govern- ment of Berlin has allowed the outline of the plan adopted to be published to the world. That plan as at present explained is theoretically not a very good one, bearing rather too close a resemblance to the programme of the Prince Consort as modified by the late King of Prussia. In the first place, the Constitution is a treaty, and not a law, and therefore in a measure beyond modification, should there ever arrive an unmistakable dead lock. In the second place, there is no Emperor or King of the Germans or other visible executive of the national unity, with powers which may be extended or lessened according to his accord with the national feeling. In the third place, we greatly fear, though this is not allowed to transpire, this Parliament will not be absolutely sovereign, will be checked, and restrained, and limited by a good many paper bonds, by restrictions about the power of the Princes, and the independence of States, and the right of the initiative, and other intentional ambiguities. Then it consists of two Cham- bers, which, though no objection in England, where nominal power always places itself in some sort of subordination to real power, is very objectionable on the Continent, where men are apt to be logical ; and the Upper Chamber is very heavily weighted. It is to consist, as in the Prince Consort's scheme, of Princes

only, or their representatives, who are to vote after the fashion of the ancient Diet, so many votes to each State, the .votes to be given either by the Prince in person or by his repre- sentatives. The German masses still reverence the Kings, and will feel resistance to them a much more formidable affair than resistance to great landed proprietors labelled as Peers of the Realm. Then the second Chamber, in which the voting is to be by head, is somewhat oddly constituted. The electors are all male adults not living upon alms, that is, in majority the peasantry and artizans of Germany north of the Main. The representatives are not to be paid, that is, they must be well-to-do men, with some inclination for leisure, with means to travel long distances, and reside away from their families in a very expensive capital, and exposed to very unusual and severe social pressure. Public officials are in- eligible, that is, the very pick and flower of the community—. we are writing of Germany, not England—the only class which the Government dare not seriously attack, the only class familiar with public business, is to be debarred from the only business a great man would consider worth the doing. And, finally, the powers of this Chamber are, it is believed, restricted at least as much as in England, the English re- strictions being such as anywhere, except in England, where men understand compromise, would paralyze the most popular assembly in the world.

This is the theory of the thing. In practice we are inclined to think the new scheme may work remarkably well, may tend directly and swiftly to the unity of all the Germanic States. In the first place, although the scheme does not pra- vide for a German Emperor, or Roman Kaiser, or King of the Germans, or other highly placed, highly decorated, mediaeval personage, it does provide that " the Executive of the Con- federacy shall remain with the King of Prussia " as. King of Prussia,—that is, an individual with power to order an irre- sistible number of soldiers to shoot any person or persons, princes, shoeblacks, or others, caught interfering openly with his authority under the scheme. That is a real point gained. Substantial power and nominal power are united in the same hand, and that hand a Hohenzollern, with a tendency to con- sider disobedience quite as bad as impiety. One has an idea that under those circumstances the executive will. really be one and indivisible, and the executive on the Continent means a great deal,—means, among other things, the ultimate power which, when other means fail, can actually order people who are sure to obey to put other recalcitrant but weaker people to death. King William I. has a great regard, too great a regard, say, for the House, of Reuss, but if the head of that House interferes with King William's organization of the army, or diplomacy, or finance, the head of the House of Reuss will be mediatized without over much discussion. The executive under this scheme is a reality, that much seems suffi- ciently clear, and that much secures effective unity. Then the Conference of Princes, bad as it looks, is not nearly so bad in reality. It is very much the King of Prussia over again. King William indeed, being afflicted with an out-of-place spirit of moderation, has not openly assigned to himself a clear majority of votes, but he has given himself so many votes that the Bundestag must be unanimous to outvote himself and the Mecklenburgs, and as the circumstances under which that could occur would justify revolution, His Majesty may be con- sidered as fairly absolute in the Upper House. He is very likely to use his absolutism, for though he believes in pedi- gree, and right divine, and various other fictions, he is all the while a great King, and great Kings do not like opposition from little Kings, with pretensions equal to their own, and no power to make them real. Nor can he very well use the Upper House as a screen for his own despotic ideas. It is true that when the Princes are present they will exercise, owing to the constitution of German society, a very excep- tional power, but except on the most extraordinary occasions they will not be present, but will be represented by the gentlemen they send to the Diet,—that is, by persons of mature age, with no eloquence, and with no individual influence whatever. It is, too, an excellent thing that the German democracy, whenever it is opposed by the Upper House, should see clearly that the opposition does not come from a great class, but from individual families, should learn to despise and to fight the petty Princes, should come to regard them—the true evils or hereditary diseases of Germany—as it now regards the Junkers. A very few sharp collisions between the Lower Chamber and the Upper, the people and the Princes, the eloquent and the silly, will prepare the popular mind for that total extinction of the caste, with its pretensions and its limited numbers, which is indispensable to the future of the Germanic people. The Princes will accumulate on themselves all the odium which falls to oligarchs, as well as all the dis- like with which silly sovereigns are sure to be regarded by an intellectual race, will, if they oppose the people, be hated as the Elector of Hesse was hated, and as despised as the Upper Chamber in Prussia is despised. The vote by States and by proxy will aid this process,, for it prohibits ability from obtaining its natural weight, prevents Duke Ernst of Saxe Gotha, for instance, persuading a majority of his colleagues by sheer eloquence and brain into obeying the natural wishes of the people. He will be simply Duke Ernst with the third or so of a vote, and not the leader of the popular Princes.

Then it is by no means clear that the Lower House will be quite so placable as the framers of this Constitution imagine. Ideas have enormous weight, and when every dodge has been dodged, and. every trick played, and every elector manipulated, the truth will still remain that a German House of Commons is a revolutionary body, bound by the logic of its position to have revolutionary ideas. Then the suffrage is universal, and we very much doubt whether in the majority of German districts universal suffrage will return a majority of landed proprietors. The cities, it is conceded, will send up either radicals or celebrities, and in the country the peasant pro- prietors must at least equal the labourers. The Prussian squires who get in are very likely to be Liberal, and the squires from the remaining States will be anti-Prussian in the exact ratio of their aristocratic tendencies. They will be as Liberal as the Jacobites were, not because they are Liberals, but because the King by divine right is only a King, in .whom they will see no divine right at all. The refusal of pay, no doubt, cuts out many very worthy men, but then it also eliminates all but the independent, while the exclusion of officials, though it strikes out the ablest candidates, strikes out als6 precisely the class which most fears a revolution. The non-official members will very possibly be less able than bureaucrats would have been, but they will be very apt to go much further, to be less under the control of any power save Germany itself. The King, too, it must be remembered, will not have the power over the German Parliament which he has over the Prussian Chambers. Count von Bismarck threatens the Prussian Chamber that if it will not yield on this or that point tip Constitution shall be suspended, and the members tremble ; but the same threat addressed to a Ger- man Chamber would produce only a stare of surprise. Suppose it suspended, nobody has lost anything except Prussia, which will have broken the instrument, through which she might have obtained the leadership of Germany. The country will be simply resolved into its component parts, the exact contingency which the Parliament has been summoned finally to prevent. Above all, the German Parliament will have the protection and be subject to the driving force of outside German opinion: Count von Bismarck desires to unite Germany under Prussia, and he sees clearly, as his speeches show, that his readiest road to that great end is to -tempt the Southern States into the Confederation. He might after another great war coerce both Kings and peoples of the South, but it would be far easier to coerce the Kings by their peoples' assistance, and this he can only gain through the German Parliament, that is, the German House of Commons. The interest of that House will be, we conceive, to gain the popular ends by using the Hohenzollerns alike against princes and aristocracy ; the in- terest of the Hohenzollerns will be to ally themselves with the House against all enemies whatsoever—to stretch its powers, if friendly to itself, over the whole region of German politics. It is therefore reasonably probable that the House, intended to be so nearly powerless, will prove an efficient instrument for German unification.