Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

The Question of the Address

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 62;
Written: on June 7, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 8, June 8, 1848.

Cologne, June 7. The Berlin Assembly thus has decided to send an address to the King to give the Government an opportunity to express its views and to vindicate its administration up to now. It is not to be a vote of thanks along the lines of the old Diet, not even an attestation of respect: His Majesty, according to the admission of His Majesty’s “responsible ones”, only offers the “most suitable” and “best” occasion to bring the principles of the majority “into line” with those of the Government.

If in essence the person of the King represents a mere medium of exchange — we refer once again to the very words of the Prime Minister [Ludolf Camphausen] — a voucher which merely expedites the business in hand, that person is by no means irrelevant to the form of the negotiations. In the first place the representatives of the popular will are thereby put into direct touch with the Crown a fact from which, as already evident in the debate on the address, it is easy to infer the recognition of the agreement theory, the renunciation of popular sovereignty. In the second place, however, one would hardly address a sovereign to whom one is required to pay one’s respect in the same manner as one would address the Ministers. Greater reserve of expression will prevail and hints will take the place of plain words, particularly since it is still up to the Government to decide whether a slight censure is compatible with its continued existence. It may well be, however, that the difficult questions which throw the contradictions into the boldest relief will be touched upon only superficially or not at all. It will be easy to arouse fears of a premature break with the Crown perhaps accompanied by serious consequences, and this could be covered up by the assertion that it was not desirable to prejudge matters awaiting more thorough discussion at a later date.

Thus, sincere respect either for the person of the monarch or the monarchical principle in general, apprehension about going too far, and fear of anarchical tendencies offer inestimable advantages to the Ministry during the debate on the address and Herr Camphausen had good reason to call the opportunity “most suitable” and “best” for winning a strong majority.

The question is now whether the people’s representatives are inclined to enter into this obedient, dependent relationship. The Constituent Assembly has already greatly weakened its position by failing on its own initiative to call the Ministers to account about their provisional government up to now; that should have been its first task, for it was ostensibly convoked at such an early date because the orders of the Government were to be based upon the indirect will of the people. Indeed, it seems now, after it has assembled, that it is supposed to be there merely “for the purpose of agreeing with the Crown upon a Constitution which, it is hoped, will endure in the future”.

But instead of proclaiming its true mission from the very start, by proceeding in this way, the Assembly has tolerated the humiliation of being compelled by the Ministers to accept a statement of accounts. It is remarkable that not a single one of its members countered the proposal for the formation of an address committee with a demand that the Ministry appear before the Chamber without a special ,,occasion”, solely for the purpose of rendering an account of its activities up to now. And yet this was the only compelling argument against an address, since on all other counts the Ministers were completely right to demand one.