Front Page Titles (by Subject) 366.: THE OPENING OF THE PRUSSIAN DIET MORNING CHRONICLE, 16 APR., 1847, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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366.: THE OPENING OF THE PRUSSIAN DIET MORNING CHRONICLE, 16 APR., 1847, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE OPENING OF THE PRUSSIAN DIET
The House of Hohenzollern, Electors of Brandenburg, became Kings of Prussia in 1701 with Frederick I. The current King, Frederick William IV (1795-1861), who had in 1840 succeeded Frederick William III, of whom Mill approved, reluctantly yielded to liberal pressure in calling the first United Diet or parliament. His speech of 11 Apr. opening the Diet was printed in the Morning Chronicle on the same day as Mill’s article, 16 Apr., p. 5. This unheaded second leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on the opening of the Prussian diet, in the Morning Chronicle of 15th [sic] April 1847”
(MacMinn, p. 68).
the first speech of the King of Prussia at the opening of the first Prussian Parliament, which we print to-day, is an historical event. Of all persons interested in the question, the King himself is probably the one who has the least idea of the significance of his own act. To him it may present the aspect of a mere formality—a tardy and imperfect accomplishment of promises too long eluded, and which might never, but for the sharp twinge of a financial embarrassment, have received their completion. He may cast his eye back on ancestors few in number, but mighty in deed, and nurse himself in the fond expectation that the house of Hohenzollern will be as able permanently to control, as they were to call into existence the united energies of a great people.
Whereas all other nations that we read of have been of slow growth, and that spirit which we call nationality, or patriotism, the hardest of all to be breathed into the souls of mankind, the Prussian people stand prominently out from the canvass as the great exception to the rule. By how short a period are we separated from the time when the foresight, judgment, and perseverance of the Great Elector laid deep the foundation of his future kingdom, and the genius of the still greater Frederick, who was at once King, Minister, Treasurer, the first general and the most skilful diplomatist of his day, reared upon this foundation a fabric which seems destined to withstand the shocks of time.1 To Frederick William III it was given to prove how solid had been the work of his predecessors, when not even a military occupation of his country could stamp out of the hearts of his people that they were “Prussians before all.” The mild and religious spirit of the late King may, however, have gone for something in preparing the present intellectual and commercial development of a people who, with scarce a century of existence, have obtained peaceful possession of the highest and most responsible rights of freemen.
The speech of the King is a most voluminous document, utterly different from the short and pithy sentences which are the peculiar properties of Royal speeches in other constitutional countries of Europe. This perhaps was necessary to the occasion—necessary certainly in the King’s apprehension of it, as it appears to be his object to indoctrinate his subjects in what he considers to be correct views of the theory and practice of constitutional liberty. We find his Majesty congratulating his subjects upon the solemn nature of the occasion that had called them together, and then passing to an eulogy upon the paternal anxiety of his deceased father for his subjects, and an explanation why the constitution had been so long deferred. From this the King passes to a review of the situation of the monarchy on the map of Europe, and points with justifiable pride to the external triumphs which Prussia has won by her military valour, and to those still higher triumphs in her internal development which are due to the intellectual qualities of the people. He next proceeds to point out those objects to which he wishes them peculiarly to direct their attention—means of communication, bridges, roads, &c. It is not, however, from a speech delivered under such peculiar circumstances that we can expect a full exposition of the policy of Government, or even such indication of its views as we are accustomed to look for on similar occasions in older constitutional countries. The true significance of the event will be found rather in the fact itself—in the opening of the Diet than in the speech of the King.
We took a former occasion of commenting upon the terms in which the Magna Charta of Prussia was promulgated.2 These, however, matter but little. When a king and a people are brought face to face, a wise spirit of concession is the policy of the weaker party. Since the events of 1815 restored permanent tranquillity to Europe, the history of Prussia has been the history of the reluctance of two successive kings to grant the constitution they had promised to their people; but to the constitution they have come after all—
All who have taken any interest in Prussian politics can remember the endless pourparlers and discussions between the late King and the Minister Hardenberg, to settle the precise form of the constitutional Utopia best suited to the genius of the country. No homely serviceable plan would suffice: the necessity was felt of devising a mystic something which should reconcile the fantastic requirements of a coy royalty with the rude wants of a people, and the difficulty of the task became the hackneyed pretext for eluding the sacred obligations of a pledged word. Squaring the circle is nothing to devising a scheme of polity in which the despotism of the one and the freedom of the many shall co-exist. The more the Minister pressed, the more the King shrunk back. Hardenberg’s plan was, if we remember right, to be modelled upon that of France. The project which he laid before the King for a new organization of the communes (Communal-Ordnung);4 the promise which he drew from him conditionally of instituting the States of the kingdom; and his design of subjecting all domains to a land-tax, by which he purposed to render the royal domains contributory to the revenue of the country, are proofs that Hardenberg at least was sincere in his intentions. Still, at the very moment of projection, the late King always interposed with the objection that it was indispensable, above all, to remove and smooth down everything which might tend to bring on collisions or misunderstandings, and as this desirable end was difficult of accomplishment, the promised constitution stood over to a perpetually receding “next term.” Then Hardenberg died; then Voss died;5 and then, as we are somewhat naïvely told by a German writer, it came into the King’s mind that he was not worthy to accomplish the sacred task of giving a constitution to his subjects, and he determined to bequeath the responsibility to his successor, even as David devolved on Solomon his son the duty of erecting a temple for the people.6
To carry the history of this change in the form of the Prussian Government down to our present time—In 1841 the King sent forth a decree, which, in place of giving a real constitution to Prussia, simply remodelled the States or Diets upon a somewhat more liberal foundation than before.7 By the decree of March, 1841, Diets of the provinces were to be held every two years. A committee was to continue to sit after the Diet had been dissolved, for the despatch of business, and to form a channel of communication between the King and the nation. The King would, upon proper cause appearing, call together the different committees for the purpose of common deliberation.
In this arrangement two things were wanting. First, that a periodical meeting of all the committees of the provinces should be appointed, in order to deliberate together; and, secondly, that the control over all the receipts and expenditure should be vested in the committees. Both of these requirements are now in some measure satisfied, although so shackled and hampered with restrictions that, were it not for our full confidence in the vis medicatrix libertatis, we should almost have looked upon the constitution, the inauguration of which we this day record, as nothing better than a jest.
[1 ]Frederick William of Brandenburg (1620-88), known as the Great Elector, and Frederick II (1712-86), known as the Great.
[2 ]Leading article on the New Prussian Constitution, Morning Chronicle, 10 Feb., 1847, p. 5 (presumably not by Mill, who is using the editorial “we”).
[3 ]Cf. Hamlet, V, ii, 10-11; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1181.
[4 ]Hardenburgs Verfassungsentwurf für Preuszen vom 3 Mai 1819 in Form eines Kgl. Kabinetsbefehles was actually published only in 1894, in Vol. I, pp. 649-53 of Alfred Stern, Geschichte Europas seit den Verträgen von 1815 bis zum Frankfurter Frieden von 1871, 10 vols. (Berlin: Hertz, 1894-1924).
[5 ]Otto Karl Friedrich von Voss (1755-1823), Prussian minister 1789-1807 and 1817-23, was Hardenberg’s opponent and a leader of the anti-reform group.
[6 ]See II Samuel, 7 (esp. 13); and I Kings, 6 (esp. 12).
[7 ]The confirming decrees, Verordnungen über die Bildung eines Ausschusses der Stände, were issued a year later; see Gesetz-Sammlung für die Königlicher Preuszischen Staaten, 20 (1842), 215-41.