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Effects of the French Revolution - Europe page 4


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On the 11th of October the Assembly commenced its discussions upon the Prussian Constitution. The first day was occupied with a debate upon two articles settling the title of the King. The question was whether he should be King " by the grace of God," or merely by the will of the people. The House divided, when the phrase, " the grace of God," was rejected by a majority of 217 to 134. The next question debated was whether he was to be " King of Prussia " or "King of the Prussians." On the 15th of October, while these discussions were proceeding, the King's birthday was celebrated. Various congratulatory addresses were presented to him on that occasion, but the deputations found him not in so gracious a humour as they had expected. To one of them he said, " Remember, I am still King by the grace of God." To the commander of the burgher guard he said, " Remember, the burgher guard received their arms from me; " and to the city deputies, who promised that order should be preserved, he remarked "that it was better to prove their loyalty by deeds than to make promises." The King's petulant remarks were deeply resented. His Prime Minister, Count Pfuel, resigned, and though the resignation was twice refused, the Minister persevered. There were more riots in the streets, more barricades erected, and many lives were lost before order could be restored. On the 30th of October the National Assembly retaliated upon the King by resolving that all Prussians were equal before the law, that there existed neither titles, privileges, nor rank in the State - that the nobility was abolished. These events led to the appointment of Count Brandenburg, the King's uncle, who was thoroughly devoted to the old régime, and abhorred everything revolutionary. This appointment threw the Assembly into a state of consternation; and on the 2nd of November they adopted the following resolution: - " In consequence of the information that the Count of Brandenburg has been commissioned to form a new Ministry, the National Assembly, in its sitting of this day, has resolved to send a deputation to your Majesty, in order to inform you that this step on the part of your Majesty has occasioned the greatest anxiety amongst the people, and that it threatens to bring unspeakable misfortune upon the country. During several past weeks ominous reports respecting the views of the reactionary party have alarmed your Majesty's faithful people. The nomination of the now retiring Ministry had not tended to weaken the effect of that report. A Government under the auspices of the Count Brandenburg, without any prospects of obtaining a majority in the National Assembly, or of gaining the confidence of the country, will undoubtedly bring the excitement to a head, and produce melancholy results for your Majesty's capital and country - results which will remind one of the fate of a neighbouring State. Your Majesty was not well informed by your former councillors respecting the situation of the country, if they concealed from you this danger for throne and country. Upon that ground we supplicate your Majesty, in a manner as respectful as urgent - and your majesty's heart has always beaten for the welfare of your people - to afford the country, by the appointment of a popular Ministry, a fresh guarantee that your Majesty's views are in unison with the wishes of the people."

The King was then at Potsdam, whither seventy-five members went as a deputation with the address, the whole population meantime surrounding the Assembly House in a state of the greatest possible excitement. The King at first refused to see the deputation in the absence of his responsible advisers. But he received a telegraphic communication from the Cabinet requesting him to see the deputation. He did so; but refused to give an answer. One of the deputation then said, "We have been sent here, not only to hand the address to your Majesty, but also to give you information respecting the true state of the country. Will your Majesty hear us? " The King answered, " No." As the deputation retired, one of them, Herr Jacobi, remarked, "It's the misfortune of kings that they will not hear the truth." The King next day returned a formal answer to the address, stating that he would not withdraw the appointment of the Count Brandenburg in consequence of rumours and apprehensions, which were not justified by any act of his Government. On the 9th the new Ministry was gazetted. It consisted altogether of persons not members of the Assembly, a significant intimation that the King had resolved at length to resist instead of leading the revolution. On the same day Count Brandenburg entered the Assembly, and rose to speak. He was stopped by the President, who told him that he must first obtain permission to speak from the Assembly. Anticipating this, the Count handed to the President a royal decree, in which it was stated that in consequence of the display of Republican symbols and demonstrations of popular force, to overawe the Assembly, it stood prorogued to the 27th of the month, when it was to meet at Brandenburg, where it could conduct its deliberations free from the intimidation of the Berlin mob. This decree fell upon the Assembly like a thunder-stroke. The reading of it was repeatedly interrupted by cries of, " Never, never!" "We protest." "We will not assent." "We will perish here sooner." " It is illegal." " It is unconstitutional." "We are masters." In the midst of the storm, Count Brandenburg rose and said, " In consequence of the royal message just read, I summon the Assembly to suspend its deliberations forthwith, and to adjourn until the day specified. I must, at the same time, declare all further prolongation of the deliberations to be illegal, and protest against them in the name of the Crown." The Minister and his colleagues then withdrew.

When the agitation produced by this scene had subsided, the Assembly set about considering what should be done under these circumstances. First, it was proposed that the Ministers should be required to withdraw their message. This motion was lost. Secondly, it was resolved, almost unanimously, that there was no necessity for removing the Assembly from Berlin; that the Crown had no right to remove it against its will; and that the Ministry who had advised such a step were guilty of a dereliction of duty towards the Crown, the country, and the Assembly. Before the division was come to on this resolution, fifty of the supporters of the Government had withdrawn; and when it was passed, the diplomatic corps, who were sitting in their box during the scene, retired in a body. The Assembly now resolved to sit iü permanence, the President and about thirty members remaining in the House all night. Meantime, Count Brandenburg had sent a note to the President, warning him and the Assembly against the consequences of illegally persisting to meet in Berlin, and the seceding minority sent in a protest to the same effect. The population of the city were, of course, greatly excited; and during those hours of painful suspense and apprehension, several deputations from the city in vain sought an interview with the King, who sullenly shut himself up in his palace at Potsdam. Notwithstanding the warnings it had received, the Assembly met at five o'clock on the following morning, 225 members being present. The President advised them to maintain an attitude of dignified resistance. Every drop of blood shed through their fault must injure their cause. The blood of citizens must not be squandered, but must be reserved for other occasions. The burgher guard and the people surrounded the House in dense masses. Several orators delivered harangues exhorting them to keep the peace. A hostile army was approaching; that army, alas! their own, advancing against their capital. The Assembly would issue a proclamation, protesting against this act of oppression. It might be their last will and testament; their enemies might apply the axe to the root of the tree of liberty; but it would spring up again fresh and green, and flourish for ever. A committee of five was appointed to draw up a proclamation; and while they were thus engaged, the great seal of the Assembly was brought forth and laid upon the President's desk. The committee entered and read the proclamation, which was an embodiment of the resolution, and concluded thus: - " Fellow-citizens, we address you at the moment the National Assembly is about to be dispersed by bailiffs. Stand firm for the liberties for which we stake our life and blood; do not deviate from the path of legality; firmness and moderation will, with God's help, cause liberty to triumph." At four o'clock the President informed the Chamber that the building was completely surrounded by military. The troops were commanded by General Wrangel, who, in answer to questions put to him, stated that he should remain there a week, if the Assembly sat so long; that his troops were accustomed to bivouac; that he would be really glad, however, to get back to his quarters; and that he would be happy to allow the members to leave the House, but he should permit none to return. Thereupon the Assembly resolved to submit to force under protest, withdrawing for the present, in order to re-assemble next day somewhere else. The soldiers made passages, the deputies marched out two and two through the columns, followed by the burgher guard. Next day the expelled deputies met in the great hall of the Rifle Guild, where they resumed their deliberations. Addresses of sympathy and condolence reached them from the provinces, as well as from the capital, the town council of which voted the freedom of the city to Unruh, the President. Committees were appointed to prepare a report of the events that had occurred, in order to lay it before the nation, and to consider the propriety of impeaching Ministers. A rumour having been circulated that the burgher guard was about to be disarmed, the Assembly exhorted them to resist by force, stating that if they surrendered they would be traitors to their country. On the same day, however, an order went forth for disbanding the guard. The bitter pill was wrapped in a soothing and pious proclamation, in which the King said - "To all of you I give this inviolable assurance, that nothing shall be abrogated from your constitutional liberties; that it shall be my holiest endeavour to be unto you, by the help of God, a good constitutional King, so that we may mutually erect a stately and tenable» edifice, beneath whose roof, to the weal of our German fatherland, our posterity may quietly and peacefully rejoice in the blessings of genuine and true liberty for generations to come. May the blessing of God rest upon our work! " The political atmosphere now began to lower; the clouds gathered blackness; and a bloody collision between the troops and the citizens seemed to be inevitable. The City Guard met and resolved not to give up their arms. Deputations, addresses, and money, from the provinces, poured into the Assembly - Magdeburg having sent 5,000 dollars for the deputies whose pay had been stopped. The city was that evening placed under martial law, a state of siege was proclaimed, and large bodies of soldiers paraded the streets. But the word went through the crowds of excited people - "Be cool; be quiet." The night passed without any disturbance. Next day the Assembly resumed its sittings, and while engaged in its deliberations, an officer entered, and commanded the members to disperse as an illegal meeting. The Vice-President was in the chair, which he peremptorily refused £o leave. The whole House supported him in this resolve, shouting - "Never, till forced by arms!" The officer repeated the order, and received the same answer. The officer then, calling some soldiers to his assistance, seized the chair, and gently carried it out into the street with great good humour, the President still maintaining his position in it, and resolutely protesting against this violation of his dignity. The members then followed, joining in the protest. The military shut up the building and retired, while the expelled President enjoyed a popular ovation. Several attempts were made to hold meetings in other places; but they were in every instance prevented by the military, except one at a cafê, when the Assembly continued together long enough to pass a decree that the Brandenburg Ministry was not authorised to levy taxes, or disburse the public money, until the National Assembly could fulfil its duties safely in Berlin. After this, an officer entered, stating that if they did not disperse, he would immediately employ force. The members then rose in an uncontrollable state of excitement, exclaiming - "No, no; a thousand times no! We will hot move from this room till driven by bayonets." Sixty or seventy deputies sprang forward towards the soldiers, whilst the remainder crowded round the President's table. The confusion and uproar lasted for some time, during which the officer and his escort stood perfectly calm. At length there was a general call from members - "Continue the deliberations. We will hear of no more interruptions. Clear the Chamber of strangers."

The members returned to their seats; the officer and his escort went outside, as if to send for fresh instructions. Meantime, the resolution against the Government was put from the chair, and carried with. acclamation, after which the House adjourned, and so escaped forcible expulsion. The Brandenburg Government was fully prepared for all eventualities. The burgher guard did not give up their arms, but they quietly allowed them to be taken from them - a work which occupied a whole day. A great number of arrests were made, and all the gaols were crammed with prisoners. This was the end of the King's declamations about liberty. The Assembly met on the 27th of November, at Brandenburg, and was adjourned without doing anything, as the number of members was not sufficient to form a House. It was finally dissolved on the 5th of December. The Frankfort Assembly, however, stood by the King, and declared the decree against the payment of taxes null and void, stating that the Prussian Assembly had loosened the bonds of political existence, deeply shaken the foundations of civil society, and brought Prussia, and with it the whole of Germany, to the verge of civil war. At the same time, Archduke John, Regent of the empire, issued a proclamation in the name of the "Imperial Assembly" at Frankfort, declaring that it represented the German nation in the aggregate; that its decision was supreme law to all; and that he would not allow the resolution against the pavement of taxes to be carried into effect. While the conflict between the Crown and the Assembly was going on at Berlin, the city was in a deplorable state. The respectable inhabitants had nearly all left; the houses were empty; the streets appeared nearly deserted, except by a few work-people and military patrols. Nothing could be more dreary or desolate than the appearance of the town. In fact, to the well-to-do Berliners the National Assembly brought nothing but trouble, alarm, and loss of business. They had seen the red flag hoisted in front of the Assembly House; they witnessed the violence of the mob; they dreaded a communistic revolution; and therefore they felt a real relief when order was restored, and they were permitted to resume their avocations. Accordingly, when the King and Queen went to the opera, they met with an enthusiastic reception. But although the King had proclaimed a liberal constitution as his own gift, Berlin continued in a state of siege. On the 1st of January His Majesty issued an address to the army, couched in the most glowing terms of praise and gratitude for the services they had rendered, and for their fidelity and devotion during the year of revolution. The new Chambers were opened on the 26th of February by the King in person, Count Brandenburg having conducted him to the throne. He stated that circumstances having obliged him to dissolve the National Assembly, he had granted to the nation a constitution which by its provisions fulfilled all his promises made in the month of March. This constitution was modelled after that of Belgium. The House was to consist of two Chambers, both elective - the former by persons paying 24s. a year of direct taxes, and the latter by a process of double election: that is, the deputies were chosen by delegates, who had themselves been elected by universal suffrage, there being one deputy for every 750 inhabitants. All Prussians were declared equal in the eye of the law, freedom of the press was established, and all exclusive class privileges were abolished. The judges were made independent of the Crown, and no ordinance was to have the force of law without the sanction of the Assembly.

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