Works of Frederick Engels 1850

Letters From Germany

The Prussian King Swearing to the Constitution and "Serving the Lord!".-Grand Conspriacy of the Holy Alliance.-The Approaching Onslaught on Switzerland.-Projected Conquest and Partition of France!

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 14-16;
Written: Cologne, Feb. 18th, 1850;
First published: in The Democratic Review in January-March 1850, marked by the editors "From Our Own Correspondent"

At last His Majesty, the King of Prussia, has taken the oath to the so-called "Constitution".[20] Had it not been for the occasion of making a speech, there is no doubt but that royal farce would never have taken place. But his speech-loving majesty, for the sake of the speech, resolved to swallow the oath, quite as humbly as he has been seen to swallow so many unpalatable things before, such as the celebrated "Hat off!"[21] shouted to him by the people of Berlin on the 19th of March, 1848. The oath is of no consequence. What is the oath of a king, and particularly of a Frederick William IV! The speech is the principal feature, and a precious speech it is. Think of the Prussian Majesty declaring most seriously, and neither him nor any one else in the assembly bursting forth in laughter, that he is a man of honour, and that he is about to give what is dearest to him--his royal word! But, he continues--after a series of most whimsical oratorical efforts--he gives his word on one condition only: that it be made possible for him to govern with this constitution, and to fulfil the promise he made three years ago, viz., "I and my house will serve the Lord!"[22]

What this new-fashioned "man of honour" means by governing with the constitution and serving the Lord, is already becoming pretty clear. His Majesty's ministers have come out since that swearing farce; firstly, with two laws, doing almost entirely away with the liberty of the press and the right of association and of public meeting; secondly, with a demand for eighteen millions of dollars (two millions and a half sterling) for increasing the army. The meaning of this is evident. First destroy in detail the few sham liberties left to the people by the precious mock-constitution, and then raise the army to the war footing, and march with Russia and Austria against France. There is no doubt of the bourgeois chambers agreeing to all this, and thus making it possible to the king to govern with the constitution, and serve the Lord with his house.

This Prussian credit for the army "to meet eventualities which might present themselves during spring", must be taken, together with the other measures of the Holy Alliance,[23] in order to make us see clearly through their plots. Prussia, besides these eighteen millions, is already treating for a loan of sixteen millions--ostensibly for the purpose of constructing the great Eastern Railway. You know, too well, since the Russian loan affair, what a splendid pretext for raising money railways are made by the governments of the Holy Alliance. Prussia, thus, will soon raise five millions sterling the whole of which will be at the disposal of the war-office. Russia, besides the five millions sterling already raised, is about to contract for another loan of thirty-six millions of roubles silver, or five millions sterling. Austria alone, after the shabby result of her late effort to raise money, must be satisfied with what she can get at home. Her deficit, as I stated in my last, really amounts to two hundred million florins (twenty millions sterling) in one year! Thus, while Russia and Prussia raise money to make war, Austria must make war in order to raise money!

There is no doubt that if there are no untoward events in France, the "holy" campaign will be opened next month against Switzerland," and perhaps Turkey. Russia keeps in Poland, and its vicinity, an army of 350,000 men, ready to march at a moment's notice. She has already contracted for large supplies of victuals, to be delivered next month, not in Poland, but in Prussia, at Dantzic. The Prussian army--about 150,000 now--can in a month be raised to 350,000, by calling in the reserve and the first class of the Landwehr. The Austrian army--about 650,000--has never been diminished, but, on the contrary, increased by the Hungarian prisoners. The whole of the forces, which may be disposable for a foreign war, may be something like a million; but two-thirds of the Prussians and Austrians are infected with the democratic disease, and would most likely pass to the other side, as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

The first pretext for attacking Switzerland is the German refugees living in that country. This pretext will soon cease to exist, as the cowardly persecutions of the federal government directly or indirectly force all refugees to leave Switzerland. There are now perhaps 600 German refugees in that country, and even they will soon have to leave it. But then there is another pretext--the demand of Prussia to restore the Prussian king's authority in the ex-principality of Neufchatel, which made itself a republic in 1848.[24] And if even this be complied with, there will be the question of the Sonderbund raised again, in connection with the new federal constitution, which, in 1848, replaced the old reactionary treaty of 1814, guaranteed by the Holy Alliance.[25] Thus, there will be no chance for Switzerland escaping war and foreign occupation.

But the final aim of the Holy Alliance is the conquest and partition of France. The plan designed to finish at once this great revolutionary centre is as follows: France, once conquered, will be divided into three kingdoms--the South-west, or Aquitania (capital, Bordeaux), will be given to Henry, Duke of Bordeaux; the East, or Burgundy (capital, Lyons), will be given to Prince Joinville; and the North, or France proper (capital, Paris), will be awarded to Louis Napoleon, for the signal services he has rendered to the Holy Alliance. Thus France, reduced to the old state of division it was in some centuries ago, would be utterly powerless. What do you say to this pretty scheme, which no doubt originated in the "historical" head of the king of Prussia?

But, be assured, the People--without whom the Holy Alliance have reckoned--will very soon put a stop to all these plots and schemes, and that as soon, too, as the Holy Alliance commence to put their plans into execution. For the people are wide awake, both in France and Germany, and, fortunately, they are strong enough to put down all their opponents, as soon as matters are brought to a general, decisive, and open contest. And then the enemies of democracy will, to their terror, see that the movements of 1848 and '49 were nothing, in comparison to the universal conflagration which will burn up the old institutions of Europe, and light the victorious nations to a future--free, happy, and glorious.


20 This refers to the second revised version of the imposed Constitution adopted by the Chambers on January 31, 1850, including the King's amendments to the previous version. In the new version, the reactionary monarchist traits of the Constitution became more prominent and new concessions were made to the aristocracy and the junker landowners. On February 6, 1850, Frederick William IV took the oath to the Constitution.

21 On March 19, 1848, during the revolutionary events in Berlin, the armed people compelled King Frederick William IV to come out onto the balcony of his palace and bare his head before the bodies of the insurgents who had fallen at the barricades.

Further, Engels refers to Frederick William IV's speech on February 6, 1850, concerning the oath to the Prussian Constitution.

22 This expression is from the speech from the throne made by Frederick William IV at the opening of the First United Diet in Berlin on April 11, 1847 (Allgemeine Preussische Zeitung No. 101, April 12, 1847).

23 The Holy Alliance--an association of European monarchs founded in 1815 to suppress revolutionary movements and preserve feudal monarchies in European countries. During the 1848-49 revolution, and in subsequent years, counterrevolutionary circles in Austria, Prussia and Tsarist Russia attempted to revive the Holy Alliance's activities in a modified form.

24 From 1707 to 1806 the principality of Neuchatel and Valangin (in German: Neuenburgand Vallendis) was a dwarf state under Prussian rule. In 1806, during the Napoleonic wars, Neuchatel was ceded to France. In 1815, by decision of the Vienna Congress, it was incorporated into the Swiss Confederation as its 21st canton, at the same time retaining its vassalage to Prussia. On February 29, 1848, a bourgeois revolution in Neuchatel put an end to Prussian rule and a republic was proclaimed. Up to 1857, however, Prussia laid constant claims to Neuchatel and only pressure from France forced her to renounce it officially.

25 The Sonderbund--a separatist union of the seven economically backward Catholic cantons of Switzerland formed in 1843 to resist progressive bourgeois reforms and to defend the privileges of the church and the Jesuits. The decree of the Swiss Diet of July 1847 dissolving the Sonderbund served as a pretext for the latter to start hostilities against the other cantons early in November. On November 25, 1847, the Sonderbund army was defeated by the federal forces. Attempts by Austria and Prussia to interfere in Swiss affairs in support of the Sonderbund failed.

The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation was adopted on September 12, 1848. The new Constitution ensured a certain centralisation of the country, which had been turned from a confederation of cantons (the confederation treaty of 1814 sanctioned by the Congress of Vienna restricted the power of central government to the utmost) into a federative state.