Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung August 1848

The Agreement Debate about the Valdenaire Affair

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 301;
Written: by Engels on August 1, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 63, August 2, 1848.

Cologne, August 1. Once again we have to catch up with a couple of agreement sessions.

During the session of July 18 the motion calling for the summoning of Deputy Valdenaire was discussed. The central section called for its adoption. Three Rhenish jurists spoke against it.

First there was Herr Simons of Elberfeld, a former Public Prosecutor. Herr Simons Was apparently under the impression that he was still in the Assizes or in the police court. He demeaned himself like a Public Prosecutor by making a formal plea against Herr Valdenaire and for the judicature. He said: The matter has been placed before the indictment board and will be quickly decided there. Valdenaire will either be freed or referred to the Assizes. If the latter should occur

“it would he exceedingly desirable that the whole case is not then pulled apart so that judgment is not delayed”.

As far as ‘ Herr Simons is concerned, the interests of the judicature, i.e. the convenience of the indictment board, the Public Prosecutor and the Court of Assizes, carry much more weight than the interest of freedom and the immunity of the people’s representatives.

Herr Simons then throws suspicion first upon Valdenaire’s defence witnesses and afterwards upon Valdenaire himself. He declares that the Assembly “would not be deprived of any talent” by his absence. He then proceeds to pronounce him unfit to sit in the Assembly as long as he is not completely cleared of every suspicion of having plotted against the Government or rebelled against the armed forces. As far as talent is concerned, one could, according to Herr Simons’ logic, arrest nine-tenths of the praiseworthy Assembly just as well as Herr Valdenaire and still not deprive it of any talent whatever. As far as the second argument is concerned, it does indeed redound to Herr Simons’ honour that he has never hatched any “plots” against absolutism nor been guilty of “rebellion against the public authority” on the March barricades.

After Valdenaire’s substitute, Herr Gräff, had irrefutably proved that neither was there the slightest suspicion against Valdenaire nor had the action in question been unlawful (since it consisted in having helped the legally constituted civic militia, which was occupying the barricades of Trier with the approval of the Municipal Council in the execution of its functions), Herr Bauerband rises to support the Public Prosecutor’s office.

Herr Bauerband also has a very weighty scruple:

“Would not the summoning of Valdenaire prejudice the future judgment of the jury?”

Profoundly thoughtful doubts which are made still more insoluble by the simple remark of Herr Borchardt: Whether the non-summoning of Valdenaire would not likewise prejudice the jury? The dilemma is really so profound that a thinker of even greater mental force than Herr Bauerband might spend years trying in vain to resolve it. There is perhaps only one man in the entire Assembly who has enough strength to solve the riddle: Deputy Baumstark. [Baum-stark — tree-strong]

Herr Bauerband continues to plead for a while in an extremely verbose and confused manner. Herr Borchardt answers him briefly. After him, Herr Stupp gets up in order to say also so much against Valdenaire that he “had in every respect nothing (!) to add” to the speeches of Simons and Bauerband. All this is, of course, enough reason for him to continue speaking until he is interrupted by shouts calling for the closure of the debate. Herr Reichensperger II and Herr Wencelius speak briefly in favour of Valdenaire and, as we know, the Assembly decides to summon him. Herr Valdenaire has played a trick on the Assembly by not obeying the summons.

Herr Borchardt puts the following motion: In order to prevent the impending executions of the death penalty before the Assembly has given its decision on Herr Lisiecki’s motion which advocates the abolition of capital punishment, a decision should be made on this motion within a week.

Herr Ritz is of the opinion that such a precipitous procedure would not be parliamentary.

Herr Brill: If we shall in the near future, as I certainly hope, abolish the death penalty it would certainly he very unparliamentary to decapitate somebody in the meantime.

The President would like to terminate the discussion but the popular Herr Baumstark has already mounted the rostrum. Casting fiery glances and his face flushed with noble indignation, he exclaims:

“Gentlemen, permit me to say a serious word! The subject here in question is not of the kind that should he treated lightly from this rostrum by referring to decapitation as an unparliamentary matter!” (The Right, which looks upon decapitation as the height of parliamentarism, bursts into tempestuous shouts of bravo.) “It is a subject of the greatest, most serious significance” (it is well known that Herr Baumstark says this of very topic he discusses). “Other parliaments ... the greatest men of legislation and science” (ie. “all political philosophers, from Plato down to Dahlmann”) “have occupied themselves with this problem for 200 to 300 years” (each of them?) “and if you want us to be blamed for having passed over such an important question with such ...... (Bravo!) “Nothing but my conscience impels me ... but the question is too serious... surely, one more week will not make any difference!”

Because the subject is of the greatest, most serious significance the serious words of the noble Deputy Baumstark become the rashest frivolity. Is there, indeed, greater frivolity than Herr Baumstark’s apparent intention to discuss the abolition of capital punishment for the next 200 to 300 years and in the meantime to let decapitations continue at a smart pace? “Surely, one more week will not make any difference” and the heads which will roll during this time will not make any difference either!

Incidentally, the Prime Minister [Rudolf von Auerswald] declares that it is not intended to carry out death sentences for the time being.

After Herr Schulze from Delitzsch has expressed a few ingenious scruples concerning rules of procedure, Borchardt’s motion is rejected. On the other hand, an amendment by Herr Nethe, which recommends greater dispatch to the central commission, is adopted.

Deputy Hildenhagen proposes the following motion: Until the relevant Bill has been submitted, the President should terminate every session with the following solemn pronouncement:

“We, however, are of the opinion that the Ministry should work most zealously on the submission of the new municipal laws.”

This edifying proposal was unfortunately not designed for our bourgeois times.

We are not Romans, we smoke tobacco.
[Heine, Zur Beruhigung]

The attempt to carve from the raw material of President Grabow the classical figure of an Appius Claudius and to apply the solemn Ceterum censeo ["Ceterum censeo, Carthaginem em delendum” — “As for the rest, Carthage must be destroyed”, the words with which Cato the Elder concluded his speeches in the Senate, from 157 B. C. onwards] to the municipal legislation failed under “huge mirth”.

After Deputy Bredt of Barmen has asked the Minister of Trade three fairly mildly-worded questions on the unification of an Germany into a customs union and into a maritime league with navigation duties, and finally on provisional protective tariffs, and after he has received similarly mild, but also rather unsatisfactory answers to his questions from Herr Milde, Herr Gladbach is the last speaker of the session. Herr Schütze of Lissa had intended to move that he be called to order because of his vigorous language during the debate over the disarming of the volunteers. He decided, however, to withdraw his motion. Herr Gladbach, however, quite unceremoniously challenged the brave Schütze and the entire Right and to the great annoyance of the hidebound Prussians related the amusing anecdote of a Prussian lieutenant who, having fallen asleep on his horse, rode into the midst of the volunteers. These troops greeted the officer with the song “Sleep, Baby, Sleep” and for this offence they were to be court-martialled! Herr Schütze stammered a few words which were as indignant as incoherent and the session was terminated.