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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Being favored by the Chancellor


[Sidenote:

1882. REVISION OF THE MAY LAWS.]

After the Roman Church had been restricted to its lawful boundaries, the most important questions looming up were those in reference to financial matters. The income of the Empire proved insufficient to cover the enormous outlay for necessary changes and reforms to be perfected, while at the same time influences were brought about to forward a higher protective policy than had been adhered to hitherto. In order to bring about an increased tariff, and such taxation as the financial situation required, the Chancellor had to look for the support of other parties than the Nationals and the Liberal-Conservatives. He took it where it was offered, and here the Ultramontanes or Centre party saw their opportunity. The consequence was a tacit compromise with the latter. The contest with the Vatican faltered; a conciliatory policy was adopted in matters concerning the Catholic Church, and Falk, seeing his work crippled, resigned his office, in 1879, to make room for a reactionary Minister of Culture. In 1882 a revision of the May laws took place; the refractory bishops were allowed to return, the ecclesiastical institutions were reopened, salaries were paid once more to the clergy by the State, and other restitutions were made, for all of which the Pope only acceded to the demand that new appointments of ecclesiastics should be announced in due form to the German Government.

At this period

the political situation was aggravated by the agitation of the Social-Democrats, and by what seemed to be its direct outgrowth, the repeated murderous attempts on the life of the Emperor William I. in May and June, 1878. These startling events opened the eyes of the people to a danger in their very midst--a danger threatening society and all its most sacred institutions. To avert it, the Chancellor at once caused a bill to be drawn up for an exceptional law, meant to suppress all aggressive movements of the Social-Democrats and reduce them to silence. When it was laid before Parliament, it found no favor with the majority, and was rejected; whereupon the Chancellor, in the name of the Emperor, declared Parliament to be dissolved. The new elections did not bring about any considerable change; but a majority was obtained, and the exceptional law was established for two years and a half, which period afterwards was prolonged several times.

[Sidenote: 1881.]

The steady inner growth of the first eight or nine years had now been checked by party dissension and political discord, brought on chiefly by the financial difficulties, in which the new Empire found itself involved, and the steady demand from centres of industry and agriculture for higher protective measures. These demands, being favored by the Chancellor, were gaining the upper hand: customs were increased, a new duty was raised on cereals, and a considerable tax was put upon spirits. All this made it easy for the Radicals to agitate and alarm the masses of the people, and in consequence the parliamentary elections of 1881 gave a majority to the extreme Liberals in opposition to the Government. When the new Parliament convened, the venerable Emperor, William I., opened it in person, and read a message the tenor of which was more than usually solemn, pointing with great emphasis to the social evils of the time, and the best remedies for healing them. The sequel of this message was a project of great magnitude, which the Federal Government introduced into Parliament for the purpose of bettering the conditions of the laboring classes. To carry it out required successive bills and years of indefatigable work, incessant debating, and many a hard struggle with opposition, until at present the whole system is in working order. It comprises a series of insurances for laborers, to secure them from losses by sickness, accidents, invalidity, and age. These insurances are obligatory, and the cost of them is borne jointly by the Government, the employers, and the laborers themselves.


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