THE KING OF HOLLAND AND THE PRUSSIAN CUSTOMS UNION.
A CONSIDERABLE sensation seems to have been excited among the diplomatic circles by the brusque manner in which the King of Holland has backed out of the treaty by which his portion of the Grand Dutchy of Luxemburg was to have been incorporated in the Prussian Customs Union. On the 8th of August, the treaty was signed at Berlin by the King of Holland's Plenipotentiaries ; on the 10th of August, M. VON SCHERFF arrived at Berlin, having left the Hague on the 7th, with a declaration that his Sovereign would not ratify the treaty, unless positive assurances were given that the existing commercial relations between Luxemburg and Belgium should not be interfered with. This refusal to ratify a treaty, on account of a condition not urged before the accredited plenipoten- tiaries had set their signatures to it, is calculated to raise a puzzling question in international law. The mere question, how- ever, whether the King of Holland can recede, or whether Prussia is entitled to bold him to his bargain under the existing circum- stances of the case, although of considerable interest, inasmuch as its decision will form a precedent in the great system of European international law, is of minor consequence compared with the poli- tical questions which have really occasioned the discussion. Luxemburg, although subject to the King of Holland, is not part of the kingdom of Holland, but of the Germanic Confederation. The Germanic Confederation is an attempt to perpetuate the na- tional character of the states (at least of a great part of them) formerly subject to the Emperor of Germany. The language, literature, domestic habits, laws, in short the general civilization of those states, is, apart from some minor shades of difference, iden- tical. Towards the close of the Empire, the great vassals had usurped privileges within their respective provinces which rendered them virtually sovereign princes and the Imperial authority little better than a name. When the last Emperor of Germany resigned, he only made apparent a state of things which had existed before— the subdivision into a number of independent states, many of them ludicrously small, of what had formerly been one great state. The fact of there being no German nation, but an assortment of Bava- rians, Saxons, citizens of Frankfort, subjects of Weimar, &c., was one of the principal causes of the weakness which at first laid Ger- many prostrate at the feet of France. The interest of the Ger- man people was to preserve a national independence ; but the in- terests of their petty princes pulled in a multiplicity of different directions ; and in many cases, their subjects, tired of "all their houses," came to regard one foreign yoke as preferable to a plurality of domestic tyrants. If the subjugation of Germany by NAPOLEON was clearly owing in a great measure to its division into a number of petty states, its liberation was no less clearly owing to the burst of national feeling which made all the worth and energy of the nation gather round the standard raised by Prussia. Had more experimental knowledge been required, the history of the hostile power would have furnished it. The tremendous increase of power derived by France through a revolution which had transformed it from a congeries of provinces into a nation, was a repetition of the lesson taught by Germany's own domestic experience.
The predominant wish throughout Germany, therefore, subse- quent to the War of Liberation in 1813, was to see a German nation established. The selfishness of the German princes was opposed to this consummation. A compromise was agreed to. The number of sovereigns was diminished ; a goodly number of the ludicrously small were struck off the roll; although this part of the task was certainly performed with no ruthless hand, seeing that some of those retained have territories four, five, three, or two square Ger- man miles in extent, and rule over subjects amounting in number to 24,000, 22,000, 20,000, or even as low as 5,500. The princes denuded of sovereignty—media/tied—were allowed certain privi- leges in the states into which they were incorporated; and the remainder were organized into a confederation of thirty-nine mem- bers, all of whom retained unrestricted sovereignty within their own territories, but became bound to act in concert for the pre- servation of the internal peace and independence of Germany.- This Confederation constitutes a national government, in so far that the subject of any one of its component states, on migrating to another, acquires immediately by the mere act of settlement the full rights of citizenship in his new home ; and that each state contributes its contingent to an army placed at the dis- posal of the Diet. Several general regulations of the Diet—for example, that regarding the control of the press—are acknow- ledged as binding in all the states of the Confederation. This nation, or quasi nation, however, labours under all the evils of a weak central government ; for the Diet does not and cannot inter- fere to correct misgovernment in the individual states. It is, moreover, an oligarchical government ; for the sovereigns only, not the subjects, are represented in the meetings of the Diet. The existing state of government in Germany is pretty nearly what would have existed in England had the noblemen who were Lords- Lieutenant at the time of the Revolution formed themselves into a senate for transacting the foreign diplomatic business of the coun- try, each reserving to himself the exclusive management of the domestic affairs of his own county. The votes in the Diet are - proportioned to the territory and subjects of the members ; and as three states—Austria, Prussia, and Bavaria—possess among thetn nearly two-thirds of the superficial extent of the territory of the Confederation, and nearly two-thirds of its population, a prepon- derating influence is of course conceded to them in the delibera- tions of the Diet. As a government, the Confederation is impo- tent for action and all-powerful for obstruction.
The impunity given to local exactions and misgovernment, and the obstacles opposed to the extension of industrial operations by such affairs, have naturally excited much disaffection throughout Germany. There may be much of the exaggeration of unpractical theorists in the declamation of the literary Liberals of Germany, but the fact that their writings find a sale shows that there is a taste for sentiments such as they express. This taste is created by the convictions of the majority of those who have enjoyed a lite- rary education in the Universities—that is, of the members of the learned professions, and of the majority of the merchants and manufacturers on a large scale. The peasantry are (as they are in every country where population does not press very hard on the means of subsistence) acquiescent ; the privileged nobility are fear
ful of any change, lest it should interfere with the slender remnant of their privileges. The desire for change, taking the form of the wish to see a fusion of the German population into one well- organized state, may be confined as yet to a minority, but that minority comprises the greater part of the intelligence and energy of the people—men familiar with the details of civil and military business and with the commercial relations of the country. Every event, too, that contributes to extend knowledge, or to pro- duce a desire for any organic change in any province, has a ten- dency to swell the ranks of this minority.
In this state of affairs, the progress of the Prussian Customs Union necessarily assumes a political character. That Union may be a deep-laid scheme on the part of the Prussian Government to extend its political influence over the whole of Germany, or it may be meant simply for what it professes to be, an arrangement -conducive to the development of the internal industry of Germany; still it must necessarily prove, in the existing condition and temper of the German people, the precursor of new political arrangements. The advantage of seeing themselves liberated from so many harassing and expensive lines of customs frontiers, has overcome the provincial jealousy of Saxons and Bavarians at seeing Prussian functionaries exercising authority in their provinces. The first step has been taken to weaken and obliterate those provincial prejudices, which obstructed, perhaps quite as much as the selfishness of princes, the union of Germany into one great state. The next step will be the people beginning to ask themselves why these customs are levied, and whether one central government for the whole of' Germany might not be more economical than a multiplicity of minor governments, with the addition of a 'host of Confederation officials, who, if they do no good, still cost something. The Government of Prussia is, by the necessity of its position, a portion of the Movement party of Germany. The foundations of the might of the Brandenburg Princes were laid when the head of the house threw himself into the ranks of the ec- clesiastical reformers ; their power was consolidated by insurrection against the Emperor. The religious toleration of Prussia afford- ing a refuge to French Protestant refugees, gave the first impulse to its industry ; the encouragement of schools and universities has made the nation what it is. The associations which attach to the name of Prussia are among the most glorious of which Germany has to boast—the genius of FREDERICK, and the War of Liberation in 1813. To the Austrian and Bavarian Governments Prussia is an object of suspicion on account of its enlightened principles ; to the minor sovereigns of Germany on account of its eagerness, known or suspected, to extend its dominions by gradually absorb- ing their territories. If at any time the discontented party in Germany should be stimulated to action, and an energetic and ambitious King or Minister stand at the same time at the head of affairs in Prussia, personal pique and political wisdom would alike dictate to that statesman the expediency of placing himself at the head of the movement. The advantage which would be derived by the inhabitants of Germany from being united into one nation under the sovereignty of the Prussian monarch, is unquestionable ; and it is the consciousness of this that prompts the opposition now offer- ing in Germany to the extension of the Prussian Customs Union.
Of that opposition the centre of activity is at this moment in the Hanoverian Cabinet. The policy of Austria is always a policy of quiet obstruction rather than of quiet effort. Since the dissolu- tion of the Empire, too, Austria seems to have ceased almost to regard itself as a German power. Bent upon retaining in subjection its motley population of Italians, Germans, and Sclavonians, it is as little inclined to encourage the inhabitants of Austria to re- member that they have a common nationality with the Germans as to allow the inhabitants of Venetian-Lombardy to remember that they are Italians. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that Austria might almost be brought to consent to the union of the rest of Germany into one state, provided its own patrimonial ter- ritory were assured to it. Not so the King of IIanover, the Duke of Oldenburg, and other princes whom such a consummation would deprive of sovereign power. They—some who have joined as well as some who have stood aloof from the Prussian Customs Union— are now beginning to think that "treaties of union of this nature are not easily distinguishable from treaties of subjugation," and to exert themselves to prevent the further extension of the Union.
To representations from Hanover of the danger which threatens his independence as a sovereign if he join the Prussian League, may perhaps be attributed the step lately taken by the King of Holland ; and also the new-born zeal against the Prussian Customs Union which has been displayed within a short time by English politicians supposed to be friendly to the King of Hanover. But there is another motive which has probably contributed to bring the King of Holland to the resolution he has adopted. Great stress is laid by the Dutch Government, in a defensive note relative to the King's refusal to ratify the treaty with Prussia, which has been communicated to the diplomatic corps at the Hague, on the disinclination of the inhabitants of Luxemburg to be incorporated into the Prussian Customs Union. "The above-mentioned memo- rial (a memorial presented by the Prussian Ambassador Extra- ordinary) starts out from an erroneous supposition, viz, that a party in the Grand Dutchy was against the Zollverein ; whereas, on the contrary, it was only a party that was for it, while the great majority of the country was opposed to it. This is the most sincere convic- tion which his Majesty has obtained on his tour, and during his sojourn in the country." And again—" The King declares there- fore afresh, that be cannot ratify the treaty of the 8th August : but an so doing, he does not consider that he in any way acts contrary to the right of nations ; which cannot demand, after a sovereign has arrived at the conviction that a treaty signed by his plenipoten- tiaries is inimical to the interests of those on whose account the negotiations are made, that his (the sovereign's) signature must be appended as a mere matter of form." In assigning this motive to his refusal to ratify, the King of Holland is probably in a great measure sincere. There is a strong party in Luxemburg which would rather have had the dutchy incorporated into Belgium than annexed as a dependency to the kingdom of Holland ; and that party would be strengthened by any act of their sovereign which should throw obstacles in the way of their profitable commerce with Belgium. The apprehension of the King of Holland may have been quickened by representations from Hanover ; but it is quite true that if be wishes to retain Luxemburg quietly, he must make himself popular; and there is therefore no reason to question his sincerity when be assigns a desire to gratify the Luxemburgers as his main reason for breaking off the treaty with Prussia. On the whole, the circumstances out of which the misun- derstanding between the Courts of the Hague and Berlin have arisen, afford cheering proofs of the increasing power of po- pular opinion and its working for good. - The Government of Prussia seeks to extend, and the Government of Holland seeks to establish its power, by creating a popular conviction that they have the advantage of their subjects in view. The Go- vernment of Prussia presents itself to the people of Germany with a plan in its hand for developing their domestic industry ; and the King of Holland vindicates his diplomatic conduct by main- taining that he is not entitled to ratify what has been promised by his plenipotentiaries, after discovering that it must be "inimical to the interests of those on whose account the negotiations are made." Both Governments are acting under the conviction that the affec- tion of subjects, gained by benefits, is the only strength of mo- narchs; and this conviction will ultimately bring them, however they may blunder for a time, to act in a manner really conducive to the interests of their subjects. The Prussian Government has done good by facilitating the internal commerce of Germany, and by diminishing the fictitious restraints of guilds and corporations upon industry ; and it feels that by this policy it has gained an acces- sion of strength. The Prussian Government, on the other hand, has done harm by attempting to regulate and restrict the foreign com- merce of Germany, and by so doing must now feel that it has failed to bring Luxemburg within the sphere of its influence. It will thus be taught to calculate its actions upon a broader basis—to take into view a wider range of interests. The King of Holland, again, although he contrived by the assistance of the Germanic Diet to frustrate the wish of his Luxemburg subjects to be an- nexed to Belgium, has been taught that the alliance of monarchs may be too dearly purchased ; and has thus been driven to strengthen himself against his kingly allies by winning his people's affections.