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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

And she strove to reorganize and enlarge her army


1873. THE MAY LAWS.]

The year 1873 brought about the important legislation by which the lines between the competencies of State and Church were conclusively defined. It was designed primarily to benefit Prussia, but its effect in the end was of advantage to the whole of Germany. The bills destined to restrict the undue power of the Roman Catholic Church, in spite of violent opposition on the part of the Ultramontanes and the reactionary Feudals, were carried through the Prussian Assembly in the month of May, and hence are called the "May laws." They were met by open rebellion on the part of the Prussian episcopacy. The Catholic clergy closed the doors of their seminaries to the Government supervisors; they published protests of every form against legislation that had not the sanction of the Papal See; they omitted to make announcement to the provincial governments of newly appointed curates or beneficiaries, and demonstrated in every way their insubordination to the lay authorities. In accordance with the new laws, these rebellious acts were punished by the withdrawal of dotations that had been granted by the State to Roman Catholic seminaries or schools, and the latter in some instances were closed. The curates appointed without consent of the head authorities were forbidden to officiate, and their religious functions declared to be null and void. Then the rebellious prelates were fined or imprisoned, and, as a last resort, declared to be out

of office, while the endowments of their dioceses were administered by lay officials.

[Sidenote: 1874.]

In 1874 civil marriage was made obligatory by law, first in Prussia, and then, after receiving also the sanction of Parliament, throughout the Empire. With this measure a powerful weapon was wrenched from the hands of the clergy, and another blow was dealt. Other measures followed, under protests from Pope and clergy, and hot debating was continued in the legislative bodies, until, in 1876, matters of another nature and more momentous importance forced themselves to the front.

The work for organization and reform, up to this time, had progressed in various directions, and the proposed measures for cementing German unity had received more or less ready support in Parliament and the Assemblies of the different States. The latter had their representatives at Berlin, who were nominated by their respective sovereigns. They met in a body called the Bundesrath--the Counsel of the Federation. Any step taken by the Federal Government towards legislation affecting the whole of the Empire had to be laid before and agreed to by the Bundesrath before it could be introduced into Parliament. Thus the rights of the States were preserved, and the reigning Princes were made still to feel their importance, which tended to create harmony between them and the Empire.

While the interior growth of the latter was of a healthy and steady nature, the genius of the great statesman, Prince Bismarck, was busy likewise in allaying the fears and, in a measure, mollifying the envy and jealousies of neighboring powers. In September, 1872, the Emperors of Germany, Austria, and Russia met at Berlin, to renew assurances of friendship and thus convince the world of their peaceable intentions. The cordial relations between the reigning families of Germany and Italy were strengthened by visits from court to court, and even Denmark was somewhat pacified in regard to its loss of Schleswig-Holstein. But France still frowned at a distance, and was preparing for revenge. The meeting of the three Emperors gave her additional offence, and she strove to reorganize and enlarge her army. This called forth counter-movements in Germany, where the reorganization of the army--even before the late wars a pet project of William I.--had been agreed to by Parliament. A prudent diplomacy, and the friendly demonstrations of Alexander II. to the German Emperor and his Chancellor, dispelled for a time the rising war-clouds, and the peaceful work of interior organization was continued.

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