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Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 11, Slice 8 "Germany" to "Gibson, William"

The first union of the Agrarian party


The agricultural interests in Germany had during the middle of the 19th century been in favour of Free Trade. The reason of this was that, till some years after the foundation of the empire, the production of corn and food-stuffs was more than sufficient for the population; as long as they exported corn, potatoes and cattle, they required no protection from foreign competition, and they enjoyed the advantages of being able to purchase colonial goods and manufactured articles cheaply. Mecklenburg and Hanover, the purely agricultural states, had, until their entrance into the Customs Union, followed a completely Free Trade policy. The first union of the Agrarian party, which was formed in 1876 under the name of the Society for the Reform of Taxation, did not place protection on their programme; they laid stress on bimetallism, on the reform of internal taxation, especially of the tax on land and buildings, and on the reform of the railway tariff, and demanded an increase in the stamp duties. These last three points were all to some extent attained. About this time, however, the introduction of cheap corn from Russia began to threaten them, and it was in 1879 that, probably to a great extent influenced by Bismarck, they are first to be found among those who ask for protection.

After that time there was a great increase in the importation of food-stuffs from America. The increase of manufactures and

the rapid growth of the population made the introduction of cheap food from abroad a necessity. In the youth of the empire the amount of corn grown in Germany was sufficient for the needs of its inhabitants; the amount consumed in 1899 exceeded the amount produced by about one-quarter of the total. At the same time the price, making allowance for the fluctuations owing to bad harvests, steadily decreased, notwithstanding the duty on corn. In twenty years the average price fell from about 235 to 135 marks the 1000 kilo. There was therefore a constant decrease in the income from land, and this took place at a time when the great growth of wealth among the industrial classes had made living more costly. The agriculturists of the north and east saw themselves and their class threatened with loss, and perhaps ruin; their discontent, which had long been growing, broke out into open fire during the discussion of the commercial treaties. As these would inevitably bring about a large increase in the importation of corn from Rumania and Russia, a great agitation was begun in agricultural circles, and the whole influence of the Conservative party was opposed to the treaties. This brought about a curious situation, the measures being only carried by the support of the Centre, the Radicals, and the Socialists, against the violent opposition of those classes, especially the landowners in Prussia, who had hitherto been the supporters of the government. In order to prevent the commercial treaty with Russia, a great agricultural league was founded in 1893, the _Bund der Landwirte_; some 7000 landowners joined it immediately. Two days later the Peasants' League, or _Deutsche Bauernbund_, which had been founded in 1885 and included some 44,000 members, chiefly from the smaller proprietors in Pomerania, Posen, Saxony and Thuringia, merged itself in the new league. This afterwards gained very great proportions. It became, with the Social Democrats, the most influential society which had been founded in Germany for defending the interests of a particular class; it soon numbered more than 200,000 members, including landed proprietors of all degrees. Under its influence a parliamentary union, the _Wirtschaftsvereinigung_, was founded to ensure proper consideration for agricultural affairs; it was joined by more than 100 members of the Reichstag; and the Conservative party fell more and more under the influence of the Agrarians.

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