Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

Speech from the Throne

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 445;
Written: on February 28-March 1, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung Nos. 234-235, March 1-2, 1849.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 234, March 1, 1849

Cologne, February 28. The speech from the throne which to the great indignation and annoyance of the Kölnische Zeitung was reported prematurely yesterday evening to the readers of Neue Rheinische Zeitung, proved to be authentic. Only a single passage, the one relating to the state of siege in Berlin, was altered overnight. In so doing the Brandenburg Ministry destroyed the whole point of its speech.

This passage, as reported by us yesterday evening in its original form, reads:

“To restore the rule of law, a state of siege had to be proclaimed in the capital and its immediate environs. This cannot be lifted until such time as public safety, which is still threatened and for which this measure was essential, is durably safeguarded by firm laws. The drafts of these laws will be presented to you without delay."[360]

This passage, even though it was hushed up, gives away the whole secret of the speech from the throne. In plain language it means: the exceptional states of siege will be lifted as soon as the general state of siege has been imposed on the entire kingdom by laws and has become part of our constitutional customs. The series of these “firm” laws will begin with September legislation [361] on associations and the press.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 235, March 2, 1849

Cologne, March 1. Let us first of all note that the speech from the throne has the full approval of the Kölnische Zeitung. The paper raises a few objections about the actions of the Government mentioned in the speech from the throne, but none at all about the speech itself.

“The King’s speech from the throne is truly a constitutional speech from the throne” —

thus the sagacious newspaper begins its reprint of the speech from the throne in a paraphrasing leading-article form.

“A constitutional speech from the throne"! Of course, to anyone who had expected a “speech directly from the King’s heart”, an importunate moralising outpouring of the heart such as used to occur in the United Diet, or a Brandenburg-Wrangel type of rodomontade with clinking of spurs and twirling of moustaches, this document must seem extremely “constitutional”.

One thing is certain: Manteuffel coped with his task far better than Camphausen by completely leaving out the “talented declamation” of 1847.[362] The bourgeois Minister presented a document of bourgeois-like dullness, limping and boring in language and content. With the greatest bonhomie, the Minister from the nobility submits to using the boring constitutional form in order by its means in fluent, easy language to scoff at the Chambers and all constitutionalism.

As for the serious content of the speech from the throne, this is reduced to practically nothing owing to the hushing up of the passage about the retention of the state of siege, which we mentioned yesterday. This was the only passage in which the Ministry spoke to the Chambers honestly and frankly.

One would have to be the Kölnische Zeitung or the Berlin National-Zeitung to take the rest of the speech from the throne seriously. One who only with respectful awe and solemn mien ventures to observe such constitutional supreme state functions as were performed the day before yesterday in Berlin will, of course, in his innocence never be able to understand how something so holy can be misused in frivolous wit. But anyone who attaches as little importance to the whole constitutional comedy as Herr Manteuffel does will not be so lacking in taste as to take au sérieux the document which the Minister caused to be delivered the day before yesterday to the reverential public of the White Hall[363] through the lips of the King by the grace of God.

We believe we shall be doing Herr Manteuffel a service if we point out the correct meaning of his speech from the throne to the German public, which unfortunately is not accustomed to witty sallies.

You expect Manteuffel to boast of his successfully accomplished counter-revolution, to threaten the Chambers with loaded rifles, razor-sharp swords etc., in the manner of a clumsy sergeant-major ŕ la Wrangel. Nothing of the kind! Manteuffel passes over all this with only a few lightly uttered phrases, as if it wore something quite self-evident.

“The events that are fresh in the memory of all of you, gentlemen deputies of the First and Second Chambers, compelled me in December of last year to dissolve the Assembly which had been convened to reach agreement on the Constitution. At the same time-being convinced of the absolute necessity of finally restoring a firmly based state of public law — I gave the country a Constitution, the content of which faithfully fulfils the promises I made in March of last year.” [364]

Herr Manteuffel speaks as if it were a question of some most insignificant trifle — the replacement of an old frock-coat by a new one, the appointment of a supernumerary official or the arrest of an agitator. Forcible transference, adjournment and dissolution of a sovereign assembly, state of siege, a sabre-rule — in short, the whole coup d'état — is reduced to “events that are fresh in the memory of all of you”. In exactly the same way as the knightly Ban Jellachich would relate with the most elegant insouciance how his red-coats had burned alive the inhabitants of some village or other.

And now you have the “faithful fulfilment of the promises I made in March of last year” in the form of the imposed so-called Constitution. And do you consider cunning Manteuffel to be so limited in intelligence as to have said that in all seriousness? Allons donc!

Such a beginning is striking. — But one must be able to make use of this initial astonishment in order to pass on to still more astonishing things. Herr Manteuffel can do that:

“Since then the tension under which a great part of the country was living a few months ago has given way to a calmer mood; confidence, which previously had been so deeply shaken, is gradually being restored, trade and industry are beginning to recover from the stagnation to which they threatened to succumb.”

What glances the worthy deputies have exchanged when they heard those words! Trade and industry are recovering! And why not? Why should not this same Manteuffel who can impose a Constitution be able to impose also an upswing in “trade and industry"? The aplomb with which Manteuffel utters this colossal assertion is truly remarkable. Mais nous marchons de surprise en surprise:

“You know, gentlemen, that I have reserved for you the right to revise the Constitution. It is for you now to come to an agreement on this among yourselves and with my Government.”

Of course, gentlemen, “come to an agreement"! But the humour of the situation lies precisely in the fact that two such Chambers as Manteuffel imposed on “My People” can never “come to an agreement among themselves"! Otherwise why was the First Chamber invented? And if, gentlemen, you were even to come to an agreement among yourselves, which is by no means to be expected, you would then have to come to an agreement with “My Government” and that you will never arrive at, Manteuffel can guarantee!

And so, gentlemen deputies of the First and Second Chambers, you are already sufficiently busy revising the Constitution. Since “I” have learnt from experience that an agreement between two agents is already impossible, “I” considered it expedient on this occasion to try to achieve an agreement between three factors which admit of no agreement. And if you do not go on trying to come to an agreement until doomsday without getting one inch farther forward, Manteuffel will pledge himself to become a contributor to the National-Zeitung.

Therefore, gentlemen, “come to an agreement"!

If, however, contrary to all human expectation, you after all succeed in solving what for decency’s sake can only be called your task, you will still not be a single step farther forward. To meet such a case “My Government” has issued a dozen laws “for implementing the Constitution”, which strip this Constitution of the last semblance of liberalism. Among other things, they include two decrees on trade corporations[365] which are worthy of the year 1500, and which can give such an advantageously combined representative institution as you are work that will make your head ache for ten years.

“All these decrees will be presented to you without delay for your approval.”

Therefore, gentlemen, “approve” them!

But then “My Government” will without delay put before you proposals concerning the state of siege — September laws, gagging laws,[366] laws for suppression of clubs etc. And until you “have approved” them — and it is to be hoped that this will never happen — the state of siege will, of course, continue.

And do you think that with that your work will have been accomplished? On the contrary, the most important thing only comes now:

“In addition you will have to undertake a discussion of various laws, which are in part essential for implementing the Constitution and the drafts of which will gradually be put before you. I particularly recommend for your most careful consideration the drafts for the new local government system and for the new district, regional and provincial systems, the law on education, the law on church administration, the law on income tax, the law on land taxation, the law on redemption from corvée obligations, and on the abolition without compensation of some of them, and also on the establishment of annuity offices.”

With these different occupations, gentlemen, which altogether amount to about three dozen organic laws containing several thousand paragraphs, you will have, God willing, so much to do that the revision of the Constitution as well as the approval of the preliminary laws, and the discussion of drafts laid before you will be at most half fulfilled. If you manage to do even that much you will have accomplished a superhuman labour. In the meantime the state of siege will continue everywhere and will also be introduced where it does not yet exist (who is to prevent us from putting the whole of Prussia in a state of siege “district by district"?); in the meantime the imposed so-called Constitution with the imposed additional laws will continue in force. Consequently there will remain the hitherto existing botched local government system, the existing district, regional and provincial system of representation, the existing absence of freedom of education, the exemption of the higher nobility from land taxation, and the corvée obligations of the Peasants.

In order, however, that you will not be able to complain, there will be laid before you, in addition to all these unfulfillable tasks, two budgets — for 1849 and for 1850. Will you rise from your seats in indignation at so much work? So much the better, gentlemen deputies of the First and Second Chambers. In that case, on the basis of the imposed so-called Constitution “My Government” will continue to levy the hitherto existing taxes for all eternity. In addition, there is still some money left of the 25 million voted by the United Diet, and if “My Government” should need more, it will know what it has to do.

But should you wish to follow in the footsteps of the dissolved National Assembly, then, gentlemen, I will remind you that the “organisation, fighting capacity and loyalty” of the Prussian army “have withstood the severest tests” — especially in the great drive against the agreers in November of last year.

And now, gentlemen deputies of the First and Second Chambers, after steps have been taken to ensure that, because of the composition of the two Chambers, you will not be able to reach agreement among yourselves, and because of the composition of “My Government” you will not be able to reach agreement with this Government after such a disorderly mass of materials has been laid before you that, apart from anything else, you will never be able to complete even the tiniest part of it, and after in this way the preservation of the bureaucratic-feudal-military despotism has been guaranteed — now take note of what the fatherland expects of you:

“Gentlemen deputies of the First and Second Chambers! The fatherland now confidently expects from the co-operation of its representatives with My Government the consolidation of the re-established legal order so as to be able to enjoy constitutional liberties and their peaceful development. The protection of these liberties and of legal order — these two fundamental conditions of public welfare — will always be the object of My conscientious care. In this work I count on your assistance. May your activity, with God’s help, serve to exalt the honour and glory of Prussia, whose people, in close union with their princes, have already successfully overcome many hard times, and may it prepare for the fatherland in both the narrower and the broader sense, a peaceful and blessed future!”

That is the speech from the throne of Citizen Manteuffel. And there are people who are so greatly lacking in taste that they call such a skilful comedy a “constitutional speech from the throne"!

Truly, if anything could prompt Herr Manteuffel to surrender his portfolio, it would be such a misinterpretation of his best intentions!