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

Metternich and the constitutions


The

conception of the diet as a sort of international board of control, responsible in the last resort not to Germany but to Europe, exactly suited Metternich's policy, in which the interests of Germany were subordinate to the wider ambitions of the Habsburg monarchy. It was, moreover, largely justified by the constituent elements of the diet itself. Of the German states represented in it even Prussia, by the acquisition of Posen, had become a non-German power; the Habsburg monarchy was predominantly non-German; Hanover was attached to the crown of Great Britain, Holstein to that of Denmark, Luxemburg to that of the Netherlands. The diet, then, properly controlled, was capable of being converted into an effective instrument for furthering the policy of "stability" which Metternich sought to impose upon Europe. Its one effort to make its authority effective as the guardian of the constitution, in the matter of the repudiation of the Westphalian debt and of the sale of the domains by the elector of Hesse, was crushed by the indignant intervention of Austria. Henceforth its sole effective function was to endorse and promulgate the decrees of the government of Vienna.

The question of constitutions.

In this respect the diet fairly reflected the place of Germany in Europe. The constitution was the work of the powers, which in all matters arising out of it constituted the final court of appeal. The result was not wholly

one-sided. Until the congress of Troppau in 1820 "Jacobinism" was still enthroned in high places in the person of Alexander I. of Russia, whose "divine mission," for the time, included a not wholly disinterested advocacy of the due carrying out of Article 13 of the Final Act. It was not to Russia's interest to see Austrian influence supreme in the confederation. The lesser German princes, too, were quick to grasp at any means to strengthen their position against the dominant powers, and to this end they appealed to the Liberal sentiment of their peoples. Not that this sentiment was very deep or widespread. The mass of the people, as Metternich rightly observed, wished for rest, not constitutions; but the minority of thoughtful men--professors, students, officials, many soldiers--resented the dashing of the hopes of German unity aroused by the War of Liberation, and had drunk deep of the revolutionary inspiration. This sentiment, since it could not be turned to the uses of a united Germany, might be made to serve the purposes of particularism. Prussia, in spite of the promises of Frederick William in the hour of need, remained without a central constitution; all the more reason why the states of second rank should provide themselves with one. Charles Augustus, the enlightened grand duke of Weimar, set the example, from the best of motives. Bavaria, Baden, Wurttemberg and others followed, from motives less disinterested. Much depended on the success of these experiments.

Metternich and the constitutions.

The Wartburg festival, 1818.

To Metternich they were wholly unwelcome. In spite of the ring-fence of censors, and custom-house officers, there was danger of the Liberal infection spreading to Austria, with disintegrating results; and the pose of the tsar as protector of German liberties was a perpetual menace. The zeal and inexperience of German Liberals played into his hands. The patriotism and Pan-Germanism of the gymnastic societies (_Turnvereine_) and students' associations (_Burschenschaften_) expressed themselves


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