1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carlsbad Decrees

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CARLSBAD DECREES (Karlsbader Beschlüsse), the name usually given to a series of resolutions (Beschlüsse) passed by a conference of the ministers and envoys of the more important German states, held at Carlsbad from the 6th to the 31st of August 1819. The occasion of the meeting was the desire of Prince Metternich to take advantage of the consternation caused by recent revolutionary outrages (especially the murder of the dramatist Kotzebue by Karl Sand) to persuade the German governments to combine in a system for the suppression of the Liberal agitation in Germany. The pretended urgency of the case served as the excuse for only inviting to the conference those tales whose ministers happened to be visiting Carlsbad at the time. The conferences were, therefore, actually attended by the representatives of Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Württemberg, Hanover, Baden, Nassau and Mecklenburg; at the fourth conference (August 9th) Baron von Fritsch, minister of state for Saxe-Weimar, who “happened to be present” at Carlsbad on that day, attended by special invitation. Prince Metternich presided over the conferences, and Friedrich von Gentz acted as secretary.

The business to be discussed, as announced in Metternich's opening address, was twofold: (1) Matters of urgent importance necessitating immediate action; (2) Questions affecting the fundamental constitution of the German Confederation, demanding more careful and prolonged discussion. To the first class belonged (a) the urgent necessity for a uniform system of press regulation in Germany; (b) the most urgent measures in regard to the supervision of universities and schools; (c) measures in view of the already discovered machinations of the political parties. To the second class belonged (a) the more clear definition of article XIII. of the Act of Confederation (i.e. state constitutions); (b) the creation of a permanent federal supreme court; (c) the creation of a federal executive organization (Bundes-Executions Ordnung) armed with power to make the decrees of the diet and the judgments of the high court effective; (d) the facilitation of commercial intercourse within the confederation in accordance with article XIX. of the Act of Confederation (Beilage A. zum ersten Protokoll, Martens, iv. p. 74).

These questions were debated in twenty-three formal conferences. On the issues raised by the first class there was practical unanimity. All were agreed that the state of Germany demanded disciplinary measures, and as the result of the deliberations it was determined to lay before the federal diet definite proposals for (1) a uniform press censorship over all periodical publications; (2) a system of “curators” to supervise the education given in universities and schools, with disciplinary enactments against professors and teachers who should use their position for purposes of political propaganda; (3) the erection of a central commission at Mainz, armed with inquisitorial powers, for the purpose of unmasking the widespread revolutionary conspiracy, the existence of which was assumed.

On the questions raised under the second class there was more fundamental difference of opinion, and by far the greater part of the time of the conference was occupied in discussing the burning question of the due interpretation of article XIII. The controversy raged round the distinction between “assemblies of estates,” as laid down in the article, and “representative assemblies,” such as had been already established in several German states. Gentz, in an elaborate memorandum (Nebenbeilage zum siebenten Protokoll, iv. p. 102), laid down that representation by estates was the only system compatible with the conservative principle, as the “outcome of a well-ordered civil society, in which the relations and rights of the several estates are due to the peculiar position of the classes and corporations on which they are based, which have been from time to time modified by law without detracting from the essentials of the sovereign power”; whereas representative assemblies are based on “the sovereignty of the people.” In answer to this, Count Wintzingerode, on behalf of the king of Württemberg, placed on record (Nebenbeilage 2 zum neunten Protokoll, p. 147) a protest, in which he urged that to insist on the system of estates would be to stereotype caste distinctions foreign to the whole spirit of the age, would alienate public opinion from the governments, and — if enforced by the central power — would violate the sovereign independence of those states which, like Württemberg, had already established representative constitutions.

Though the majority of the ministers present favoured the Austrian interpretation of article XIII. as elaborated by Gentz, they were as little prepared as the representative of Württemberg to agree to any hasty measures for strengthening the federal government at the expense of the jealously guarded prerogatives of the minor sovereignties. The result was that the constitutional questions falling under the second class were reserved for further discussion at a general conference of German ministers to be summoned at Vienna later in the year. The effective Carlsbad resolutions, subsequently issued as laws by the federal diet, were therefore only those dealing with the curbing of the “revolutionary” agitation. For the results of their operation see Germany: History.

The acts, protocols and resolutions of the conference of Carlsbad are given in M. de Martens's Nouveau Recueil general de traités, &c., t. 4, pp. 8-166 (Göttingen, 1846). An interesting criticism of the Carlsbad Decrees is appended (p. 166), addressed by Baron Hans von Gagern, Luxemburg representative in the federal diet, to Baron von Plessen, Mecklenburg plenipotentiary at the conference of Carlsbad.

(W. A. P.)