Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung July 1848

The Agreement Debates of July 7

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 216;
Written: by Engels on July 12, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 44, July 14, 1848.

Cologne, July 12. It was not until late last night that we received the report about the agreement session of July 7. The stenographic reports, which usually arrived here not more than 24 hours after the epistolary reports, are constantly arriving later instead of earlier.

How easily this delay could be remedied is demonstrated by the speed with which the French and English newspapers carry the reports of their legislative assemblies. The sessions of the English Parliament often last until four o'clock in the morning and yet four hours later the stenographic report of the session is printed in The Times and distributed to all parts of London. The French Chamber, which seldom began its sessions before one o'clock, terminated them between five and six and yet already around seven o'clock the Moniteur had to deliver a copy of the deliberations taken down in shorthand to all Paris newspaper offices. Why cannot the praiseworthy Staats-Anzeiger get ready just as quickly?

Let us now turn to the session of the 7th, the session during which the Hansemann Ministry was teased. We shall pass over the protests which were submitted immediately at the start, d'Ester’s motion concerning the repeal of the decision adopted towards the end of the session of the 4th (this motion remained on the agenda) and several other motions which were on the agenda. We shall begin right away with the questions and the disagreeable motions which today were raining down upon the Ministry.

Herr Philipps was the first to speak. He asked the Ministry what measures had been taken to protect our borders against Russia.

Herr Auerswald: I do not consider this question suitable for an answer in this Assembly.

We very readily believe Herr Auerswald. The only reply that he could possibly give would be “None”, or, if you want to be precise: the transfer of several regiments from the Russian frontier to the Rhine. The only thing that surprises us is that the Assembly allowed this amusing reply of Herr Auerswald, this appeal to the car tel est notre bon plaisir, [because this is our will — the closing phrase of royal edicts introduced by Louis XI] to pass, without much ado, with merely some hissing and cheering.

Herr Borries proposes that the graduated income tax of the lowest tax level should be remitted for the last six months of 1848 and that all coercive measures to collect the arrears for the first six months at the same level should be discontinued immediately.

The motion goes to the relevant committee.

Herr Hansemann rises and declares that such financial matters ought to be very thoroughly examined. One could, incidentally, wait the more readily as next week he proposes to table several financial Bills among which will be one referring to the graduated income tax.

Herr Krause asks the Minister of Finance whether it would be possible to replace the milling and slaughter taxes as well as the graduated income tax with an income tax by the beginning of 1849.

Herr Hansemann has to get up again and declare irritably that he had already stated that he will table the financial Bills next week.

But his ordeal is not yet over. Only now Herr Grebel rises and submits a lengthy motion every word of which must be a stab through Herr Hansemann’s heart:

Considering that it was by no means sufficient to motivate the prospective compulsory loan by merely asserting that the treasury and finances were exhausted;

Considering that for the debate on the compulsory loan itself (against which Herr Grebel protests as long as a Constitution is not in force which fulfils all promises) an examination of all books and records of the state budget was necessary, Herr Grebel submits:

that a committee be appointed which will inspect all books and records concerning the administration of the finances and the treasury since 1840 and report on the matter.

But even worse than Herr Grebel’s motion are his arguments in support of it. He mentions the many rumours about the squandering and unlawful spending of the state treasury that alarm public opinion. In the interest of the people, he demands to know where all the money has gone that it has paid during 30 years of peace. He declares that the Assembly could not vote a single penny as long as such an explanation is not given. The compulsory loan has created an enormous sensation. The compulsory loan condemns the entire hitherto existing financial administration. The compulsory loan is the penultimate step towards the bankruptcy of the state. The compulsory loan surprised us all the more since we were accustomed to hear constantly that the financial situation was excellent and that the state treasury would make unnecessary any loan even in the case of an important war. Herr Hansemann himself had estimated at the United Diet that the state funds must amount to at least 30 million. This, of course, was only to be expected since not only were the same high taxes paid as during the war years, but the amount of the taxes was constantly increasing.

Then, suddenly, there came the news of the intended compulsory loan and with that, with this painful disappointment, confidence sank at once to zero.

The only means of restoring confidence was the immediate, unreserved explanation of the financial situation of the state.

Herr Hansemann, to be sure, had attempted to sweeten the bitter pill of his communication on the compulsory loan by a humorous address; but he had nevertheless to admit that a compulsory loan would produce an unpleasant impression.

Herr Hansemann answers: It goes without saying that if the Ministry requests money, it will also give all the necessary information as to how the money that has so far been raised was spent. You should wait until I submit the financial Bills which I have already mentioned twice. As to the rumours, it is incorrect that the state treasury contained enormous sums and that they have been reduced during recent years. It is natural that an excellent financial position should have been transformed into a critical one, considering the recent years of distress and the current political crisis which goes hand in hand with unprecedented economic stagnation.

“It has been stated that the compulsory loan will be a precursor of the state’s bankruptcy. No, gentlemen, it must not be that. On the contrary, it must serve the invigoration of credit

(It must, it must, as if the effect of the compulsory loan upon credit depends upon the pious wishes of Herr Hansemann!) How unfounded these apprehensions are is shown by the rise of the government securities. Gentlemen, wait for the financial Bills which I am herewith promising you for the fourth time.

(Hence the credit of the Prussian state is in such bad shape that no capitalist will advance money even at usurious rates of interest and Herr Hansemann sees no other alternative than the compulsory loan, the last resort of bankrupt states. And all the while Herr Hansemann speaks of rising state credit because the government stocks have laboriously crept upward by two to three per cent to the same extent that March 18 has receded! And how the stocks will tumble when the compulsory loan is put into effect!)

Herr Behnsch urges the appointment of the proposed financial investigation committee.

Herr Schramm: The relief of want from state funds was not worth mentioning and if freedom has cost us money, it has up to now certainly not cost the Government anything. On the contrary, the Government has rather spent money in order that freedom may not advance to its present state.

Herr Mätze: In addition to our knowledge that there was nothing left in the state treasury, we are now being informed that it has been empty for a long time. This piece of news is new proof of the need to appoint a committee.

Herr Hansemann has to get up once more:

“I have never said that there is nothing and that there has not been anything in the state treasury. On the contrary, I declare that the state treasury has significantly increased during the past six to seven years.”

(Compare Herr Hansemann’s memorandum to the United Diet with the speech from the throne and now we shall all the less know

where we stand.)

Cieszkowski: I am in favour of Grebel’s motion because Herr Hansemann keeps making us promises and yet every time when financial matters come up for debate, he refers us to elucidations that he will make in the near future but that are never given. This dilatoriness is the more incomprehensible as Herr Hansemann has now been a Minister for over three months.

Herr Milde, the Minister of Trade, at last comes to the aid of his hard pressed colleague. He implores the Assembly not to appoint the committee. He promises the greatest frankness on the part of the Ministry. He protests that it will be given a detailed account of the state of affairs. But now the Government should be left alone, for at the moment it is busy steering the ship of state out of the difficulties in which it finds itself at present. The Assembly will surely lend a helping hand. (Cheers.)

Herr Baumstark, too, attempts to some extent to come to Herr Hansemann’s aid. The Minister of Finance, however, could not have found a worse and more tactless defender:

“It would be a bad Minister of Finance who attempted to conceal the financial situation, and if a Minister of Finance says that he will make the necessary submissions we must either consider him an honest man or the contrary (!!!). (Commotion.) Gentlemen, I have not insulted anybody. I have said if a Minister of Finance, not if the Minister of Finance (! 1!). “

Reichenbach: What has happened to the wonderful days of the great debates, of questions of principle and of confidence? In those days Herr Hansemann longed for nothing more than to be able to enter the fray and now, when he has the opportunity to do so, and in his own field at that, he is evasive! Indeed, the Ministers keep making promises and establishing principles for the sole purpose of violating them a few hours later. (Commotion.)

Herr Hansemann waits to see whether anyone will rise to defend him, but there is no one to speak for him. At last he sees with horror that Deputy Baumstark is rising and in order to prevent him from labelling him once again as an “honest man”, he quickly takes the floor himself.

We expect the tormented Lion Duchâtel, pricked by needles and tugged by the whole opposition, to rise to his full stature, to crush his opponents, in short, to ask for a vote of confidence in the Government. Alas, there is nothing left of his original firmness and daring, and the old greatness has all melted away just like the state treasury during the hard times! The great financier stands bent, broken and misunderstood; things have come to such a pass that he has to give reasons! And what reasons, to boot!

“Anybody who concerns himself with financial affairs and the many figures (!!) which occur in them, knows that a thorough discussion of financial matters is not possible on the occasion of a question, that the problems of taxation are so comprehensive that legislative assemblies have spent days and even weeks debating them” (Herr Hansemann thinks of his brilliant speeches in the erstwhile United Diet).

But who is demanding a thorough discussion? What has been requested of Herr Hansemann first of all has been an answer, a simple yes or no, concerning the question of taxes. Furthermore, he has been asked for his approval of a committee to investigate the administration of the state treasury etc. up to now. When he refused both, reference was made to the contrast between his former promises and his present reticence.

The committee should start its work immediately precisely because it takes time “to discuss financial affairs and the many figures which occur in them”.

“I had good reasons, by the way, for not raising financial matters at an earlier date since I believed that it would be better for the country’s position if I waited a little longer. I had hoped that the peace of the country and with it the state credit would somewhat increase. I do not want to see these hopes disappointed and it is my conviction that I did well not to table these Bills at an earlier date.”

What disclosures! Herr Hansemann’s financial Bills which were supposed to shore up the state credit are of such a nature that they are a threat to the state credit!

Herr Hansemann deemed it better to keep the financial situation of the country a secret for the time being!

if the state finds itself in such a situation, it is irresponsible of Herr Hansemann to make such a vague statement instead of immediately presenting the state of the finances frankly and, by letting the facts speak for themselves, vanquish all doubts and rumours. In the English Parliament, such a tactless utterance would immediately be followed by a vote of no confidence.

Herr Siebert:

“Up to now we have done nothing. All important questions, as soon as they matured for solution, were broken off and pushed aside. We have not yet made a single decision which contained anything in its entirety, we have not completed anything. Shall we once more proceed in this fashion today and postpone answering the question merely on the basis of promises? Who can guarantee that the Ministry will remain at the helm for another week?

Herr Parrisius moves an amendment according to which Herr Hansemann is called upon to present within a fortnight the necessary documents on the administration of the finances and the treasury from the year 1840 to an auditing committee of 16 members to be elected immediately. Herr Parrisius explains that this is a special mandate from his electorate: they want to know what has happened to the state funds which had amounted to over 40 million in 1840.

Surely this amendment, which is stronger than the original motion, will sting the weary, Duchâtel into action! Surely he will now put the question of confidence in the Government!

On the contrary! Herr Hansemann who opposed the motion has no objections whatsoever to this amendment with its insulting time limit! He merely observes that the matter will require an astonishing amount of time and expresses his sympathy for the unfortunate members of the committee who will have to take on this laborious task.

There follows a debate about the voting during which a few more unpleasant comments are made concerning Herr Hansemann. Then the vote is taken, the various motivated and unmotivated demands to proceed to the order of the day are rejected and the Parrisius amendment, which is supported by Herr Grebel, is almost unanimously adopted.

Herr Hansemann escaped a decisive defeat only by his lack of resistance and the self-abnegation with which he accepted Parrisius’ insult. Bent, broken and destroyed he sat on his bench like a defoliated tree that arouses the compassion of even the most cruel mockery. Let us remember the words of the poet:

It ill beseems the sons
Of Germany to mock the fallen
Great with heartless puns!
[Heine, “Der Tambourmajor"]

The second half of the session will be reported tomorrow.