Page images

the history of parties there will help to make the matter clear.

History of parties in Germany.

The Conservatives and the Fortschritt, 1862-66.

Effect of the war with Austria.

The bitter conflict between the King of Prussia and the House of Representatives, which reached its height shortly after Bismarck became chief of the cabinet in September, 1862, and lasted for the next four years, consolidated the different political elements in the Chamber into two hostile bodies, the supporters and the opponents of the government. The former, who shrunk at times to a mere handful of members, were called the Conservatives, while their enemies belonged for the most part to a new organization known as the Fortschritt or party of progress. The decisive victory over the Austrians at Sadowa wrought a sudden change in public opinion. Instead of the tyrannical despiser of popular rights, Bismarck appeared in the light of the champion of German unity and even of liberty, and the result was a breaking up of the old party relations and a rearangement of the political groups on a new basis.' The Conservatives, who had supported the government, ceased to be unpopular, and regained the seats they had lost; but, what is more important, each of the great parties split in two. A number of the Conservatives, who were more progressive in and National opinion than their fellows, and more in favor of the new federal system, left the party to organize another under the name of Free Conserva

Rise of the Free Conservatives


1 See the articles on the parties in the Reichstag in Unsere Zeit, by Oppenheim (1880, i.) and Johannes Berg (1882, i., ii.; 1883, ii.).

tives; and, on the other hand, a body of men, including the most influential leaders, separated themselves from the Fortschritt, and formed the National Liberal party. These men were less dogmatic than their former associates, were more inclined to sacrifice the ideal for the practical, and, above all, had more confidence in Bismarck.

Thus two new middle parties arose, the four groups corresponding fairly well to the four divisions into which, according to the theory of Röhmer,2 all mankind is naturally divided, the Reactionaries, the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the Radicals. Each of the four has continued to exist under one name or another ever since the formation of the North German Confederation; for although some of the members have often broken away and formed new groups, these have disappeared after a short time, or been absorbed by one of the older bodies. It is therefore worth our while to consider these parties a little more closely. The two extreme one - the Fortschritt and the Conservative were a most exclusively Prussian, the Conservatives ng recruited chiefly among the lesser nobility or Junker, and the Fortschritt in the larger towns and cities. The Free Conservatives also came mainly from Prussia, the core of the party being the greater nobility, from whom the ambassadors and other high officials were mostly selected. The National Lit Is, on the other hand,

1 Called later the Deutsch-Reichspartei.

3 Lehre von den Politischen Parteien. Cf. Bluntschli, Charakter u. Geist der Pol. Parteien

The Centre.

extended far more into the other States, and included during their era of prosperity almost all the deputies from the smaller North German States, and most of the men of liberal views from the South. This has been, indeed, the only truly national party that the Empire has ever known, all the other groups being mainly local, or founded on questions of sect or of race, rather than on general political issues.1 Of the latter class are the Catholic party or Centre (which will be more fully described when we come to the time of its rise), and the various kinds of particularists so called. These last are irreconcilables, who complain that their province or their race has been unjustly treated, and has been forced into a union repugnant to its feelings. The most important of them are the Poles, the Hanoverian Guelphs, the Danes, and the Alsatians, all few in numbers, but uncompromising fighters. The only other party that can make any claim to be considered national is that of the Social Democrats. Small at first, Democrats. this body has grown rapidly of late and with the increase of power has come greater moderation; but recruited as it is from the discontented classes in the large cities, it is still too far removed in its aims from the field of actual politics, and too thoroughly unpatriotic in its utterances, to be considered a really national party.2

The Poles,
Danes, and

The Social

1 Cf. Lebon, p. 128 et seq.


2 When the North German Confederation was founded, there were a few other groups, such as the Old Liberals and the Left Centre, but these soon disappeared. From time to time other groups appeared, such as the Liberal Reichspartei and the Southern Democrats, but most c them have had no permanent importance.


Parties in


It is worth while to observe here that the parties in the Prussian Landtag have always been similar to those in the Reichstag-except, of the state course, for certain groups like that of the Alsatians, which belong exclusively to other parts of the Empire, and do not appear at all; and, in general, it be said that in each State the parties for national and local politics are very nearly the same, so that every party in the Reichstag corresponds to a local party in one or more of the States, and every considerable local party appears in the Reichstag either as a separate group by itself, or as part of a larger organization. It is not, however, possible to say that the parties are divided as in France, on national issues, or, as in Italy, on local ones, because neither class of issues has a predominant influence; and, in fact, owing to the peculiar apportionment of power between the federal government and the States, the same question, as, for example, that of the rights of the Catholic church, is constantly presented both in the Reichstag and in the state legislatures.


relation to

During the earlier years of his chancellorship Bismarck relied for support chiefly on the two middle parties, the National Liberals and the Free Conservatives, while the extreme groups the Fortschritt and the Conserva

[ocr errors]

the parties during the

earlier years

of the Em


tives were in a position of more or less hostility. But in saying this it must be borne in mind that in Germany the parliamentary system does not exist, and hence no party consistently supports or opposes the ministry as it does in England. No one of


these four parties was at this time avowedly hostile to the Chancellor, and none of them ever supported him with a blind devotion, even the Free Conservatives, who aspired to be his parliamentary body-guard, occasionally voting against his measures. As for the National Liberals, they always criticised and amended his bills with great freedom, and often forced him to accept a compromise. For some time, indeed, after they were heartily in sympathy with his national policy, they remained intractable in the Prussian Landtag, on account of his retention of the old reactionary ministers of state.

Bismarck saw that the new nation must be founded on liberal principles, and as soon as the war with Austria was over, he adopted a progressive policy. Not only was this true of his imperial plans, which led to the enactment during the first three years of a number of excellent laws, but before long he began to drop one by one the most reactionary Prussian ministers, replacing them by men of more liberal views. Up to the time of the close of the war with France, matters went smoothly; for although some of the groups disagreed with many of Bismarck's measures, yet, except for the handful of particularists, he had no bitter enemies until he became involved in that unfortunate contest with the Catholic church, which has become famous under the name of the Kulturkampf. It is idle to attempt here to apportion the blame for a struggle that has proved a great injury to GerThat Bismarck's policy was a mistake few people will now deny, for he raised a spirit which he

The Kulturkampf.


« PreviousContinue »