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CHAPTER XIV.: hannover—the present states. - Thomas Hodgskin, Travels in the North of Germany, vol. 1 
Travels in the North of Germany, describing the Present State of the Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in that Country, particularly in the Kingdom of Hannover, (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1820). Vol. 1.
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hannover—the present states.
When united.—Speech of the Duke of Cambridge.—Intention of forming a general assembly of the states.—How composed.—Dependent on the government.—Imperfect as a system of representation.—Proceedings secret.—Salaries of members.—States protect a right of the people.—Benefits and disadvantages of the new system.—Probable effects.—Remarks on the wish of the Germans for new constitutions.
It had long been thought desirous to unite the many different provincial states which existed in Hannover into one general assembly for the whole country. The chief circumstance which prevented this union was, that each one of the provinces had different debts and taxes, which it was difficult or impossible to equalize according to any general principles, which should be just to all. When the country was taken possession of by the French, they reduced all the provinces to the same level of misery, and set aside all the provincial states, and thus facilitated, at a future period, the completion of the long desired union. Soon after Hannover was restored to the rule of its ancient sovereigns, the different provincial states, with some modifications, were ordered, by a proclamation dated August the 12th, 1813, to assemble in the town of Hannover, there to form one general assembly of the states for the whole kingdom. This assembly was not composed of precisely the same number of deputies as composed the several provincial states, but the sovereign ordered what number of deputies should be sent from each province, and by whom they should be elected.
The assembly was opened in form by the Duke of Cambridge on the 16th of December of the same year. In his speech, among other things, his Royal Highness said, “The Prince Regent was preceding the other sovereigns of Germany in calling an assembly together, in which the voice of the people might lift itself with freedom, but with order, for the purpose of informing him how he might best see his wish of promoting the welfare of the land fulfilled.” The president of the assembly, on the following day, replied to this speech, and praised in it “the noble spirit of the Prince Regent, because he wished to give his Hannoverian subjects that activity of mind which was the pride of the British nation, and which was the source of all those lesser advantages which support and adorn life.” The Duke of Cambridge replied, that “the Prince Regent had given up some rights which other princes regarded as a necessary part of the royal dignity, inasmuch as he had called them to be to him, what the parliament is in the sister kingdom of Great Britain; a great council of the nation.”∗
This is the language of temperate and rational freedom, and it explains tolerably well what was the intention of the sovereign in forming this assembly, and what he expected it to perform. Parliaments in some measure similar to this one, and with similar intentions, have been promised or given to most of the countries of Germany. They are modelled in name after the House of Commons of Great Britain, and are to form great councils for each nation. How far they are likely to succeed, and what are likely to be their effects, may, in some measure, be known by attending to the real formation of this of Hannover. A list, therefore, is given in the Appendix, No. II. of this assembly. It consists of 101 persons, 48 of whom represent the nobility, 10 the clergy, 37 the towns, and 6 the holders of free property, which has not the privileges of nobility attached to it. Four of the six represent the free proprietors of Friezland, one those of Hoya, and one is sent by the inhabitants of the marsh lands on the Elbe.
It must be remembered, that what are classed as representatives of the clergy are not elected by any members of that body, but by the chapters of the several secularized convents which have been mentioned, all the members of which, with the single exception of those of the abbey of Loccum, hold these appointments at the will of the crown, and are very generally some of its civil servants. The representatives of the towns are elected by the magistrates, who are all either appointed by the crown, or dependant on it. In the absence of the sovereign the nobles, who possess the exclusive privilege of filling all the higher offices of the ministry and government, must be considered as the real sovereign and executive power. There remains, therefore, of the whole assembly only the six representatives of free property, who may not be considered as appointed by the executive government. A great majority of this “great council of the nation” is composed of members appointed by the executive government, to sanction, in the name of the people, all its acts. The name it bears in the country corresponds to this character; it is called the jahen Gesellschaft,—the assenting society.
There are only twenty-nine members of this assembly who do not actually hold some office, from which they may be removed at the pleasure of the crown; and, of this twenty-nine, there are only three merchants, and two agricultural gentlemen, who do not fill some situations in the service of the crown, such as officers of the army, from which it is not customary arbitrarily to remove them, or who have not filled some office, the title of which they still retain, and of which they may be deprived. Those who know how dear every title is to the vanity of a German, may appreciate the influence which these give the crown over the members of this assembly not actually in its service.
As a system of representation, even of the three classes, which it is said to represent, it is very defective. The whole body of the real clergy have no representative, and the deputies of the towns are elected by the magistrates, not by the citizens; as a system of representation for all the people it is still more defective. The whole class of the cultivators of land or peasants are neglected. They have no representative. In fact, the nobles are the only class adequately represented.
It cannot be expected that an assembly so composed should bestow on the country any of those advantages which we have derived from a popular government. It cannot give, according to the intentions of the sovereign, that activity of mind which our people derive from partly governing themselves, or rather from not being so much governed as other nations; it can never produce those benefits which we ascribe to our parliament; and bearing the name of a system of representation, it may chance to bring all such systems into discredit. The nations of Europe feel the weight of their respective governments more in taxation than in any other manner. All the members of this assembly are paid; it otherwise costs a considerable sum; it must add to the burdens of the people; and when they find, as they probably will, that no benefits are derived from it, they may be as unanimous in wishing its abolition as they were in asking it, and may gladly seek refuge in the less expensive government of a sovereign and his ministry.
One of the first acts nearly of this body was to decide whether their proceedings should be open and public, or not. I have been told by a member that the question was never decidedly put to the vote, but I have read that it was, and it was decided by a majority of two, that the proceedings should not be public. What they deliberate about, and the result of their deliberations, is never accurately known, further than that those things which they agree on are announced to the public in the form of laws.
A complete set of regulations for the conduct of the assembly was drawn up. A translation will be placed in the Appendix.
The deputies are to receive:—Those who live out of the town of Hannover, four thalers, 13s. 4d. per day each; and those who live in the town two thalers, 6s. 8d. per day each. To the officers of the assembly, such as the secretary and syndicii, some still greater pay is to be given, but the amount is not yet settled.
One instance has been mentioned of a deputy who was several years ago turned out by the government. Members may resign if they please; instances are known of their doing so; but with this exception they are elected for life.
The present powers of the states are not defined by any law, and they are not so established by custom that they can be described. They are to possess all the power which the different provincial states could rightly claim. This includes the right to grant or to refuse taxes, and to take them into their custody. This would be a mighty power, had the monarch no other revenues. His domains, however, render him independent of them. Every thing the government has yet asked for in the form of taxes has been given it. The management of them is entirely entrusted to what may be translated, the superior tax committee, ober Steuer Commission. This committee consists of five persons appointed by the crown, and of seven deputies elected by the states—one out of each province. The president is the minister of finance, and this committee regulates whatever relates to the levying, managing, and expending the taxes.
One particular point is known, and there may be more, in which the great prerogative of a representative assembly, that of granting taxes, is not regarded. The executive levies taxes without the consent of the states, by quartering soldiers to any extent it pleases on the people, without they receiving any remuneration. A particular instance of this is known to have occurred at Meppen, and of which the inhabitants complained.
It is equally bad that the governments of the provinces possess the power, at least they practise it, of ordering money to be collected for the support of the troops. By an order issued by the provincial government of Bentheim on the 10th day of March 1818, the inhabitants were made to pay two certain taxes for the support of the landwehr, land dragoons, and the 2d regiment of hussars quartered in Osnabrück. The order seems to have been given entirely in the name of the government. Höheren Orts are the indefinite words; and the people are warned, by the probability of punishment, to be punctual in their payments. When this sort of power remains in the hands of the sovereign, and is used by his servants, it is but a mockery to say, no taxes shall be levied without the consent of the states.
It has been said that no laws shall be made without their consent; and then it is affirmed that only is a law which is made with their consent. But many regulations have been made in which the states have had no concern whatever, although they are truly laws of a most important character. One has been mentioned as entirely altering the constitution of the city of Embden. Yet, contrary to the custom, when any law has been made in conjunction with the states, it was decreed in the name of the sovereign alone.
There appears to be no sort of regulations which the states may not assist in making. They have been called to deliberate on the improvement of the system of justice; and, imitating the practices of a British House of Commons, they gave solemn thanks to their mercenary army. On another occasion they interfered to protect an important part of the freedom of the subject. This deserves to be recorded not only to their honour, but as an example to another nation, which boasts much of its justice and freedom. In an act relative to the Landwehr,∗ the ministers had inserted words which implied, it was only right for the subjects to quit the country when they had the permission of the government. These the states objected to, as “limiting the natural freedom of the inhabitants, and that right which is born with man, to seek his residence, according to his convenience, in a foreign country.”∗ The ministers allowed the alteration, and the inhabitants of Hannover, more privileged in this point than some of the inhabitants of Great Britain, are allowed to carry their industry to the best market.
Representative assemblies are at present asked for in many parts of Germany. Subjects demand new constitutions of their sovereigns; and it may therefore be worth while to inquire what benefits have been conferred on Hannover by this new form of government, and what the rest of the Germans may expect from their demands being complied with.
Many persons appear to imagine, that hitherto Germany has been arbitrarily governed;—that the sovereigns have been every thing, and the people nothing; they therefore conclude, that any assembly bearing the name of a representative assembly, and approaching the character of one, must be a benefit to the country, and a step towards freedom. But the unlimited government of the sovereigns is of very modern origin; and it may be doubted if the representative assemblies which they may establish, will not be so framed as to support their own power, rather than to add to the freedom of the people. A very favourable opinion is also entertained of the principle of representation; and it seems to be imagined, that any assembly bearing the name of representatives of the people, is a sure guarantee to liberty. This is judging hastily; and it must not be inferred that the inhabitants of Hannover have had freedom given them by the sovereign, because he has established what he was pleased to call an assembly similar to the parliament of Great Britain.
The inhabitants of the different provinces of Hannover have long had different privileges; and a system of representation which might be a benefit to one part, might be a curse to another. A similar fact is true of most of the countries of Germany. A system of representation which would be an advantage to the ancient provinces of Prussia, might be a step towards slavery, if applied to the provinces on the Rhine. A very ill formed government might be a blessing to Hungary, which would be a curse to the dukedom of Austria. In the same way, the general assembly of the states in Hannover, which may be advantageous to some of the ancient provinces, may be most pernicious to Friezland. It is a very pretty sounding doctrine of politicians, that all the subjects of the same government should have equal rights and privileges. It would be still better extended to all men; they should all have equal rights and privileges. In the mouths of statesmen, however, this maxim does not mean an equality of freedom, nor that all should be raised to the same enjoyments, but that all should bear the same burdens, and be visited with the same oppressions. With them it is a sort of Jack Cade equality;—all men are to be equal, but they are to be the lords and masters. In pursuing this equalizing system, the free inhabitants of Hadeln and Friezland are now to be inflicted with as great a portion of the evils of government, with as great a weight of taxation, as the provinces of Kalenberg or Hoya. Those who have struggled for ages against their enemies, are now to be loaded with slavery by their professed friends. Such seems to be one characteristic of that general system now adopted for Hannover; and systems similar to it are probably about to be adopted throughout Germany.
Comparing the present situation of Friezland and Hadeln with their situation before the French occupation, they have both evidently lost much by being made parts of the general system. Where Friezland had its own parliament, in which the proprietors of land were adequately represented, it now sends nine members to the general assembly, four only of whom can be considered as independent. It has been already proved, that they are not able to shield their country against the power of the government. When the parliament assembled in Friezland, it was under the influence of the opinion of all the people; but how shall the opinions of the Friezlanders cross the sands, so as to make any impression on the assembly at Hannover? or what weight will be allowed to so small a part of the whole? It is generally a blessing to limit the number of separate governments. Scotland, Ireland, and England, have only become one nation, since they had but one government. As governments are reduced in number, so national distinctions and national animosities are diminished; but it must always be desirable, that the less free should be united to the more free, and not that the freeman should be bound with the slave. It is from changing its own free government for the government of Hannover, that Friezland has suffered.
The little Land Hadeln also has changed the ten deputies which it formerly had, who met together in that Land itself, and who were controlled by the opinion of their neighbours and friends, for a single representative in the general assembly; and he is a doctor of laws, chief of the police, and bürgermeister of Otterndorf.
Could the assembly be considered as independent of the sovereign, it would undoubtedly be a more efficacious instrument for supporting the rights of the people than so many scattered provincial states. Being dependant, however, it will probably be more easily led by him now when it is united, than the separate assemblies could be. In fact, the difficulty of procuring similar resolutions to be adopted by all the provincial states, was one reason assigned for uniting them together. One assembly is a focus for public opinion, but public opinion has yet to be formed, and it can only be worked into a consistency by a free press, which the country does not enjoy. This assembly at present can have no support from public opinion; there is no such thing in all the half-inhabited provinces of the kingdom, and there is no means of forming it. The press from the other parts of Germany may have an influence on the assembly, but its nominal constituents, and the nation at large, can neither support it nor bring it into disrepute. It is at present independent of them, and can only work good or evil of itself.
The prosperity of our country is frequently attributed to the mere circumstance of our having a House of Commons, which may lead persons to imagine, that, now Hannover has a similar assembly, she can have nothing more to desire. Her people having received that from the bounties of the crown, will be seduced into indolence, and tempted to believe that they have done whatever is necessary to secure their freedom. They will be likely to slacken their efforts, and resign themselves more patiently to the direction of the government. It is, however, apparent, that most of our prosperity is more owing to our free press than to our parliament, and, composed as that of Hannover is, it never can be a cause of prosperity to that country. Contemporary, however, with its establishment, a sort of free press, and a thirst for political discussion, have in some measure grown into use in Germany. Political knowledge is rapidly spreading. The Germans must improve, and it is probable that the improvements derived from an increase of knowledge will be ascribed to an expensive parliament. Men will be still taught to look to parliaments for those remedies for their sufferings which they must in fact supply themselves. This assembly must be regarded as adding to the expences of the country, and as complicating still more the machinery of government. It will reduce the peasant to a still greater degree of poverty, and rather prevent than promote the spread of political knowledge. It never can be what the sovereign said it was intended to be. It never can be a larger council of the nation. It may echo the voice of the ministers, but it can never lift up the voice of the people.
Men boldly arraign and censure the laws of an individual sovereign or his minister, or the actions of any single man, when they patiently submit to those laws which emanate from a body of men, and they deem those actions right which are performed by a multitude. The decrees of a congress, or of a parliament, though as unjust as the decrees of a single man, are much more respected. When the debates of a legislative assembly till it forms a decision, be in secret, the delusions of interest, and the inflammation of passion, are likely to render its decrees unjust. The wisdom of a few men is but little better competent to govern nations than the wisdom of one. Both are inadequate. But, from the respect which men now pay to the decisions of deliberative assemblies, it is obvious, that, by establishing them, the principles of obedience are laid on a broader foundation. When such assemblies are under the influence of the crown, they add to its direct power all that indirect power which is derived from the subjects entertaining a conviction that the decisions of a number of legislators will be more correct than the decisions of one. They are very often, however, dictated by the wisdom or prejudice of one person only, and deliberative assemblies, under the control of the crown, are a covert means of stamping laws with the signatures of many wise men, which are often made by one very foolish man.
It is not a new spectacle for ministers to shelter an unpopular and an unjust action by the authority of parliament. Had it rested on their individual responsibility, were their names alone to be blackened with all its infamy, they would have shrunk from its performance. But when they can seduce or persuade a large assembly to sanction the deed, the infamy becomes so divided, and so small a portion falls to each individual’s share, that a large assembly, under the influence of the crown, may be considered as a convenient instrument for executing all its unjust or oppressive measures. We have seen how the assembly for Hannover is formed. If the parliaments which the monarchs may give to other countries be formed in a similar manner, they will only be a more secure means of carrying into execution unjust decrees. They will be what our House of Commons has sometimes been described to be,—a control upon the people, not a control for them.
There are many testimonies at present to the evil of numerous laws. There is a diseased desire to legislate common to this age, which crowds the statute-books of every European nation with numerous and contradictory enactments. It has been mentioned how mischievous the provincial governments of Germany are, merely from being composed of a number of persons who have nothing else to do but to govern. And long since the rest of these observations were written, Sir J. Mackintosh is said to have observed in the House of Commons, “that the revolution of 1688, by giving more power to parliaments, had given a facility to legislation which had been productive of many unjust laws.”∗ Creating a legislative assembly supposes a necessity to make laws, and it encourages that desire to legislate which has already been so productive of evil. The doctrines of political economy have taught us that there exist laws made by nature which are eminently productive of prosperity; that these laws cannot be violated without impeding that prosperity, and that the whole of European legislation, in so far as the production of wealth is concerned, is, and has long been, a violation of all those natural laws by which wealth is produced. It is notoriously known, that individual industry is the source of national wealth; that the natural love of luxury and distinction constantly excites industry, and that this is never so well regulated, nor so productive, as when it is left entirely free. Nature has, therefore, already made laws for the conduct of individuals and of nations, which cannot be violated without prejudice, and which teach us that there is little or no necessity for human legislation. For the people to demand legislative assemblies, supposes them ignorant of this most important fact, and to create legislative assemblies can only tend to oppress future generations, even more than we are oppressed with the unwise regulations of a more ignorant age. There is room to doubt if legislative assemblies be the best means of promoting improvement, and, before such a quantity of political knowledge can be spread amongst the mass of the German people, as will make such assemblies beneficial by subjecting them to public control, it is possible that they may be abolished as pernicious in countries more advanced in political knowledge. Many evils are in Germany occasioned by governing too much, and this is likely to be increased rather than diminished by creating parliaments. Too much good is already expected from governments, and more will be expected from them as they are supposed to be better constituted. Men will augment that blind obedience they now pay to sovereigns when they transfer it to legislative assemblies, and the great failure of the German, perhaps of the European mind, is its habitual and undiscerning reverence for constituted authority. A host of governments and unproductive labourers is already one sore on the body politic of Germany, and this disease will be much increased by the creation of legislative assemblies.
The present power and prosperity of Great Britain excite envy amongst other European nations, and they imitate those institutions which are supposed to be the causes of this power and prosperity. It would be well for the world if they were accurately traced and thoroughly known. They are all to be referred to “the greater activity of our people.” And in Germany there seems to be but one opinion as to the causes of this activity. It is attributed to our free press and our representative system. Hence the Germans are loud in their demands for a similar system. Some men ridicule these demands from a hatred of freedom, others are jealous of our own superiority, and imagine no other people are capable of appreciating political liberty but ourselves, and they affirm that other nations are not yet qualified, by their knowledge, to enjoy it. There are others, again, who, quite in love with our own institutions, assume them as a standard of perfection, and measure the progress of other nations by the approximations they make to them. Without joining with either of these parties, the wish which the Germans have for a representative system like that of Great Britain, and their loud demands for it, appear to me both blind and rash; though they cannot be regarded as incapable of appreciating and of enjoying the highest degree of political liberty. If there be one people on earth who are qualified to receive and to enjoy freedom, that people is the Germans. The kindness of their hearts; the amiableness of their manners; the softness of their dispositions; and the quantity of agreeable knowledge which is spread amongst them, and which constantly employs, without subduing, the passions, will secure to every man, without the interference of an iron government, the free enjoyment of his property and his time, and may guarantee all the surrounding nations against any irruption from Germany, except the irruptions of knowledge. They are blind and rash, however, in their demands, because they value legislative assemblies too highly, and because it is certain that for them partially to imitate one of the institutions of Britain, when the whole frame of their society is different, can never promote that freedom to which they have so just a claim.
“Each nation,” says one of their own authors, “must imitate the spirit, and not the words and forms, of what is excellent in another country. Each one must form itself after its own manner. Some general ideas are applicable to all, but the manner in which they must be carried into execution must, and always will, be different in each nation that possesses a history.” The Germans, therefore, should build on German foundations, rather than seek to import the institutions of another country. They should recognize, as the basis of their proceedings, the most perfect state of society, and they should endeavour expediently to bring their own country to that state. They are now only imitating imperfection, confounding change with improvement, and adopting the errors of another people, instead of following their own wisdom.
The exclusive privileges of their towns were undoubtedly great evils, and ought to have been gradually and utterly abolished, but organized as they were, the residence, as they have long been, and are, of all that is polished and informed, they afford a ready means of opposing a consolidated mass of opinion to any acts of oppression. Their magistracy required to be made more popular; their exclusive privileges to be gradually rubbed away; their walls to be thrown down, and the entry to them made free. The Germans, however, seem not to admit of gradual improvements. They are boys in politics; they wish to knock down systems like card-houses; they would not reform the privileges of their towns; they abolished them.
I can but regard the writers of Germany as having accelerated the ruin of the political privileges of their ancient and venerable cities; as having gone before the steps of the sovereigns with their wishes and advice. The former usurpations of the towns, their lofty and unjustifiable pretensions, had excited a spirit of opposition and of hatred. They were regarded also as the remains of feudality. In truth they were; but they were the temples of that system, in which all that was innocent, and sacred, and free, had been harboured, and from which issued all the light of liberty and science. Much of the hatred against them was built on the pride of learning. Learned men listen with no patience to the pretensions of shoemakers and masons. They could not forget that low mechanics framed the laws of the guilds, which were therefore contemptible from their origin, and which they have unsparingly reprobated. I am sensible of the impolicy of the close corporations of the towns of Germany; but, by demanding the sovereign to reform them, the whole of their powers and privileges have fallen into the hands of government. It has acquired a greater power to resist the wishes of the people, and many powerful bodies of men, who were accustomed to act together for political purposes, have been entirely dissolved.
All the separate and particular privileges and laws of the thousand little Gaus, districts, and circles which there are in Germany, are all impolitic; but each one had a name peculiar to itself, and its inhabitants were in some measure accustomed to live and act together. It was on such local distinctions, and on such German and ancient foundations, that the Germans should have sought to build up their political edifice. The great want is, a means of giving political knowledge and power to the great mass of the people. The ancient distinctions found them collected into bodies, and fitted them to receive and transmit political power. German authors and German governments seem to have formed to themselves a more scientific and mathematical idea of these matters. They want an equality throughout to be established. They strive anxiously after a uniformity of organization to which we are utter strangers; and the consequence has been, that they have all been reduced to the same measure of submission to the power of the sovereigns. The striving after uniformity, and the wish to introduce a British constitution into Germany, have led the Germans not merely to forget all their ancient privileges and rights, but induced them to aid the sovereigns in trampling them under foot, and in seizing the whole powers of the several classes.
The long established privileges of a feudal nobility were most debasing and pernicious to the people; but the gradual increase in wealth and knowledge of the other classes, rendered the nobles no longer dangerous. The veneration which other people had for them it was right to destroy. It may however be doubted, if the society will not be more injured by all the powers and privileges of the nobles now centering in the hands of the sovereigns, than when they were divided amongst several people. One master is better than many; but from the natural progress of things, there was a greater chance of destroying the many than there is of resisting the one successfully, now when he concentrates in himself all the powers of the many. It would be better if the Germans could unite the nobles in favour of political improvements, rather than drive them, as they are now doing, by an eagerness to destroy them, into the palace of the monarch.
In England, a constitution seems to be regarded as the grand principles assented to by the monarch, as a guide for his mode of government, and by the people, as prescribing the extent of their obedience. In Germany, however, constitutions are asked from the sovereigns as favours, and accepted as gifts. This is fundamentally wrong. For the giver may annex to his gift what conditions he pleases. If the states be representatives of the people, or if they assemble by virtue of rights inherent in themselves, the extent of their powers must be previously established, or they can only be limited by the people whom they represent. All power rests in the people; it is nothing separate and distinct from muscular force; and they ought to determine what portions of it they will give their representatives, how many they will have when they shall meet, and what business they shall perform. When they ask constitutions from their sovereigns, however, they give them that right to prescribe conditions, which belongs to the people themselves. By the very petition they degrade themselves to servants and slaves; and where they ought to command on what conditions their delegated authority should be exercised, they entreat permission to approach a master. The petition implies, that the sovereigns possess a greater degree of political power than they ought to possess, or than they ever have before possessed. The only sovereign of Germany who ever possessed such a power was the king of Prussia; but his arbitrary assumptions of it in a time of disorder and distress were illegal, till they were sanctioned by his people imploring him as a favour to give back the rights which he had usurped.
A demand for new constitutions throws the power of new modelling all the ancient usages of a country into the hands of a sovereign. We have seen how this has been used in Hannover and Prussia, and we may thence infer that it will most generally be employed to strengthen and secure the power of the sovereign. There has yet been but one Washington in the world, and he was born and bred not a sovereign but a subject. From the mighty increase which has taken place in the power of the sovereign throughout Europe, it is manifest that its further increase is what men have most to dread, and to guard against, unless it should be absurdly supposed that the whole race of men ought to suffer their faculties and powers to be limited by some of the weakest of their fellow mortals.
Men are perhaps now, however, awake to the evils of unrestrained power. The recent conduct of most of the sovereigns and their ministers has taught them what to expect from an implicit confidence in the promises of kings. These gentlemen everywhere pursue the same sort of conduct, they promise largely, and they give to their subjects such a mockery of free institutions as the states of Hannover, in whose name they attempt to secure their own power. The circumstance of questioning their infallibility has taught them to take measures to secure ready obedience. They have increased their revenues, they have augmented their armies, they give constitutions suitable to the circumstances of the times, they establish numerous subordinate governments, they control education, they bribe the arts, they seduce the sciences; whatever they can do, that they do to secure and to augment their sovereign power. It may be hoped, however, that their attempts will be vain. They must stand or fall by opinion, and this most assuredly grows against them. Men begin to measure the value of governments, to mock at their preposterous claims to a power to make the race happy, and they must sink to the level ordained by general utility. It is from doubting the utility of sovereign power that we are most taught to deprecate and condemn a demand for new constitutions. It invites sovereigns to mix in all the affairs of men, till the most common concerns of life are not left to the guidance of individual wisdom; and these feeble mortals, encouraged by our reverence, charge themselves with the enormous, and when coolly examined, the impracticable power of regulating and promoting the happiness of the whole race of mankind.
What the Germans have already gained they have gained by means of their press, and they should rely on that alone for greater conquests. In fact, the only utility of a legislative assembly, such as that of the parliament of Great Britain, arises from its being the organ through which public opinion may make itself quietly known; and, since the force of public opinion has already, in several instances, procured the establishment of such assemblies, it surely may be relied on to effect alterations of less importance without the intervention of these intermediary organs. Public opinion is no tangible thing like the walls of a parliament-house or the members of a parliament, and in this age of figures, when every thing is numbered and counted, nothing is believed that cannot be submitted to the test of arithmetic. Public opinion is not, therefore, confided in unless it has a specific and regular mouth piece, that can be examined and measured. It has demolished empires, it has controlled and destroyed the mightiest power the world ever saw,—it has altered, and is constantly altering, every society in Europe,—it renders laws of no avail,—it supplies their place,—it punishes crimes that they can never reach,—and yet, because it can neither be seen nor put into a mathematical shape, men act as if they did not believe in its existence. Its organization costs nothing, its progress is exactly in proportion to the wants of the society, and it is on it the Germans should rely, rather than on new and expensive institutions.
The progress of public opinion in Germany is strongly marked by the homage which the former military despots of that country are now obliged to pay to the name of Freedom; they assume her dress and her language, and wear a mask resembling her, when their only aim is to destroy her. The very words, “Voice of the people,” “Council of the nation,” mark a deference in the sovereigns of Germany to the formerly despised people, and to public opinion, which were equally unknown and unhoped for prior to the French Revolution. It is only from tracing what men have performed that we can conceive what they may accomplish. The progress which the Germans have already made is a pleasing guarantee for their future improvement. We are quite certain that they must go on improving, though it is impossible for any imagination to tell where they will stop.
Since this was written, I have read two or three reports that another, a newer, and a finer constitution, is to be given to Hannover. It is now to have a House of Peers and Commons, which will be a still farther and still more ridiculous imitation of Great Britain, and a still farther complication of what is already a most complicated machine. Are not these changes sporting with solemn and sacred things? Are not men taught by them to despise governments altogether? And is not this modelling and remodelling Jacobinism on the part of sovereigns? Reform may lead to innovation, but change can only be followed by destruction.
[∗]Luden, Appendix, pp. 28–32.
[∗]Luden says, p. 160, that the ordinance relative to the landwehr made no mention of the states. That copy which I have seen said the ordinance was made after consulting with them.
[∗]See speech as reported, on March 2, 1819.