THE LAITENBURG " PROTOCOL."
Tr HE very curious document called the "Protocol of the
twenty-second sitting of. the Estates of the Duchy of Lauenburg," just published in the Gazette of Ratzeburg, tells the world a good deal. 'rho "protocol" is really a formal report of the results of certain interviews between the representa- tives of Lauenburg, Herr von Bismark, and the King of Prussia, to decide finally upon the disposal of the Duchy, and is o idly frank in tone. The Duchy, it appears, is willing enough to accept the King of Prussia as Duke, but it had rather not be absorbed in the general Prussian system, wishes a guarantee for some of its privileges, and is exceedingly averse to paying any taxes whatever for its own " liberation" from the sway of the Danish House. Of course the rulers of Prussia being beyond all things dynastic, and anxious for the aggrandizement of the House of Hohenzollern, do not object to the first of these requests. The King, said the Prussian Premier, was not at all averse to reign in Lauenburg, as he once reigned in Neufchatel, by a separate title, the arrange- ment having the obvious convenience that it places Lauen- burg out of the reach of people like Herr von Sybel. True, the Chamber, which would have to find the money for the war, might object to this disposal of the spoil, this stultification of the dream of Prussian aggrandizement, or, as the drafts- man mildly puts it, the " subject might be brought for- ward in the Prussian Parliament," but Herr von Bismark sees " no reason to fear opposition in that quarter," which must be satisfactory to Prussian Liberals. This statement was made on the 7th of November, and three days after was confirmed by the Royal mouth itself. The King told the Estates that, though he was greatly surprised at their confidence in himself, he was willing to accept their al - le g ia nc e, and thought that any slight "difficulties, such as hereditary claims, or protests from German or European States, would be easily overcome." There was in fact only one real obstacle, and that was the necessity " for coming to an understanding with the Emperor of Austria." Everything else, including the opinion of Parliament, of the Diet, and of Louis Napoleon, was unimportant, but annexation must wait till " Austria's consent has been obtained." As to the ex- penses, the King said nothing about a matter so insignificant, but Herr von Bismark had previously informed the Estates that they were at liberty to " protest " on that head without being punished, which they accordingly have done, with great relief, let us hope, to their minds, but we fear with no more substantial result. For, gracious as King and Premier were, they showed pretty clearly that they intended to govern Lauenburg, and not simply to administer the con- stitution of the Duchy. The Estates, somewhat timidly, as we guess from the way they have worded the report, ventured to hint to Herr von Bismark that they should like some kind of a guarantee for their constitution and privileges, not apparently attaching implicit faith to promises which when made to Prussia itself had been so shamelessly broken. Suppose, they hinted, the "new relations of the Duchy" were placed under the guarantee of the Ger- man Diet. One can almost see Herr von Bismark's face suddenly clouding over as he listened to the unacceptable pro- position. Money is one thing, though Berlin is thrifty and the Treasury by no means too full, but the Royal power is quite another,—something which Estates must not even "protest" against. The suggestion must be "definitively rejected, as His Majesty the King would never submit to any such control." It might, who knows ? be necessary for the King-Duke to en- force in Lauenburg, as in Prussia, his pet dogma that the "throne is the legal pivot of power," and to give the Diet the power of interfering with absolutism, of interpreting popular rights, of sitting in judgment on coups d' itat effected by Kings and Junkers, was clearly impossible, and we only
wonder it was not pronounced sacrilegious. The deputies re- tired, satisfied that the King of Prussia would graciously accept their country, but doubtful about the constitution, and so uneasy about the taxes that they protested formally against any future demand.
This conversation establishes two or three points very clearly. First, that the House of Hohenzollern, or at all events its present head, is a great deal more anxious for its own power, and dignity, and extent of dominion, than for the contentment of Prussia or the unity even of Northern Germany under one sceptre. There never was an arrange- ment made more grossly unfair to a great people than this transfer of Lauenburg to the King of Prussia. His people fought the battle, surrendering their liberties to do it, in order first of all to liberate a German race from what they believed to be thraldom, secondly, to increase the power and territory of Prussia, and thirdly, to help forward as far as they might the ultimate unity they desire. Those may be bad objects or good objects, wise or foolish, but they are those for which the people shed their blood and spent their money. Yet the moment they are apparently attained the King refuses to carry out the popular will, and takes Lauenburg, not for Prussia, not for that empire in which Prussia is one day to
merge, but for a personal appanage, giving his people in return for their sacrifices nothing but the reflection that their King is a little more independent of them than he was before. It may be said that the Lauenburgers desired the " personal union," but since when has Frederick William acknowledged the popular will as his supreme law ? Or there might be difficulties with Austria ? Austria does not care a straw whether its ally be King or King-Duke, in either case he will be equally strengthened by the soldiery and the taxation obtainable from his new territories, and the sovereignty once recognized, the Duchy may be induced at any moment with very little pressure to vote its own fusion in the kingdom which offers such comparatively wide careers. The slightest extra exertion would have fused the two States together, and their separation will, we conceive, be bitterly resented by Prussians who, though ready like most races to barter freedom for political status, can scarcely be willing to sell without receiving the price. The seventeen hundred and odd citizens of Konigsberg who have recently petitioned their King to be bold, annex all the Duchies, and so lay the foundation of a great maritime power, plead in the interest of Prussia and of the Fatherland, not of the reigning House alone. They want to see Germany great, or if not Germany then Prussia, and not the Hohenzollerns. In consenting to the proposal of a personal union, the great idea which alone justifies Prus- sian aggression is openly laid aside. The unity of North Germany into one strong State would be so great a gain to Germany and the world, that the Hohenzollerns might be justified in disre- garding all rights but those of the majority of the people, in setting aside treaties and breaking through Federal bonds and terminating arrangements which have kept Europe quiet for nearly half a century. Statesmen would scarcely murmur if the Hohenzollerns, declaring the public good the supreme law, fused Prussia, and Hanover, and Schleswig-Holstein, and Saxony, and Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and all the smaller Ger- man States north of the Bohemian frontier into one powerful empire. But to take them one by one as appanages, to destroy all existing arrangements while increasing the existing con- fusion, to diminish variety without substituting uniformity, to reduce States into provinces without making them members of an imperial whole, this is not policy, but mere aggression, a tremendous blow at every conservative principle, levelled in order to aggrandize a single House and an utterly effete caste.
Secondly, it is clear that the King regards the Confederation as de facto if not de jure at an end. There are in his mind but two German Powers in existence, Prussia and Austria, and it is for them, and them only, to dispose of Germany. Legally speaking, Lauenburg, which has always been a State of the Confederation, lies at the disposal of the Diet, can be trans- ferred from one dynasty to another only by its vote. The King, however, refuses blankly to admit the Diet to any voice in the matter,—refuses, that is, to allow to Germany as a whole any voice in the disposal of one of its integral parts, announces emphatically that the question rests between him and Austria alone. The smaller States have no right even of protest. If he and Austria can agree to divide the spoil, well and good, if not, they must wait till they can, but united or divided, Germany has nothing to do with the affair. That explicit announcement is the death-warrant of the Confede- ration, which, always believed to be a sham, has now ceased to be respectable even in the eyes of those who have employed it. The little Princes are deprived of their sole guarantee against rapid or gradual absorption, and must therefore either yield, or rely upon some external power, or form themselves into a separate and a fighting Confederation. In either case the peace of central Europe, unbroken for fifty years, must ere long come to an end.
Lastly, the King's declaration that he waited only the con- sent of Austria was made on the 10th November, just two months ago. Since then no further step has been taken, and the conclusion is obvious. Austria and Prussia are not yet either in open or in secret accord. They have not arrived at the " understanding " of which the King spoke, and until they do, the fate of all the kinglings in Germany trembles in the balance, and the Diet, which commenced the imbroglio, awaits in uneasy impatience the order for its extinction. The negotiations are still going on, the Prussian King having at last sent his own brother to move the Kaiser's mind, and the future of Germany may be hanging on the intrigues of the next few days. If the two potentates can agree the three Duchies will become Prussian, the Diet will be set aside, the minor powers will be overriden, and Germany will be divided either in fact or openly into two great States. If they can- not, Herr von Bismark will be driven either to conciliate a Parliament which can be tempted only by national aggrandize- ment, or to show that he has the courage to defy a Power which, unlike Denmark, can move armies more numerous than his own.