‘Something Magical in the Name of Prussia…’ British Perceptions of German Nation Building in the 1860s

  • James Retallack
Part of the New Perspectives in German Studies book series (NPG)

Abstract

In 1816, the Göttingen historian Arnold Heeren described the new German Confederation as the most peaceable territorial unit in Europe. He wrote: ‘He who knows history cannot doubt that the rise of a single, unconstrained monarchy in Germany would soon prove to be the grave of liberty in Europe. ‘1 In 1859, at the dawn of Germany’s unification era, a newspaper published not far from Gottingen gave voice to much the same particularist sentiment. It declared that the typical German

wants his own customs at home, his own traditions in his towns, and his own law in his own country. These customs, these traditions, and this law have become deeply rooted over many centuries in the soil of the individual tribes [Stämme]; they have reached their zenith in the dynasties and constitutions [that exist today]. History, in its bloody course, has erected boundary walls whose levelling could be accomplished only through a kind of biblical flood, a destruction of everything that exists, in which the rights of the German tribes would be trampled as quickly as would the rights of the princes.2

As Abigail Green has recently argued in her important book, Fatherlands,3 an awareness of cultural difference and respect for local distinctiveness within Germany were important and hitherto neglected aspects of small-state patriotism in the mid-19th century.

Keywords

Welding Metaphor Cholera Barb Banner 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cited in Jonas Fliiter, ‘Btmdesrecht und deutsche Frage. Ki9nig Johanns und Beusts Vorstellungen zur Reform des Deutschen Bundes,’ in Verein fiir sachsische Landesgeschichte e.V. (ed.), Konig Johann von Sachsen 1801/1854–1873 (Dresden 2000), pp. 53–60, here p. 53.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Abigail Green, Fatherlands. State-Building and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Cambridge 2001). See also her essay in this volume.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See also Manfred Hanisch, ‘Nationalisierung der Dynastien oder Monarchisierung der Nation? Zum Verhältnis von Monarchie und Nation in Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert’, in Adolf M. Birke and Lothar Kettenacker (eds), Burgertum, Add und Monarchie (Miinchen 1989), pp. 71–91.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Typical of this mindset was a report in November 1858 documenting the new freedoms of press and association allowed under the current election campaign in Prussia: The elections ‘appear to be going on very satisfactorily’, the British chargé d’affaires in Berlin reported to the Foreign Secretary in London: ‘By this I mean that men of moderate views will probably be elected […) The whole thing appears to have got into a steady constitutional course’; Augustus Paget to the Earl of Malmesbury, 18 November 1858, cited in Frank Lorenz Mtiller, Britain and the German Question. Perceptions of Nationalism and Political Reform, 1830–1863 (London 2001), p. 165.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    John Philip Morier to Viscount Castlereigh, no. 20, 25 June 1818, in Sabine Freitag and Peter Wende (eds), British Envoys to Germany, 1816–1866, vol. 1, 18161829, Camden Fifth Series, vol. 15 (Cambridge 2000), p. 94.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Joseph Crowe, Leipzig, to British Foreign Office (hereafter FO), no. 1,11 January 1867, Public Record Office, Kew, London (hereafter PRO Kew), FO 68, no. 147. Wherever possible the final versions of reports from Saxony in FO 68 were compared with drafts found in FO 215. See also Scott W. Murray, Liberal Diplomanj and German Unification. The Early Career of Robert Morier (Westport/London 2000), p. 116. A later British chargé d’affaires in Dresden, George Strachey, was fond of describing Saxony as a land ruled by ‘modern Major Generals’.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See Miiller, Britain, p. 165. For background see Markus Mosslang, Sabine Freitat and Peter Wende (eds), British Envoys to Germany, 1816–1866, vol. 2, 18304847, Camden Fifth Series, vol. 21 (Cambridge 2002); John R. Davis, Britain and the German Zollverein, 1848–66 (Basingstoke 1997), pp. 21–35; and Karina Urbach, Bismarck’s Favourite Englishman. Lord Odo Russell’s Mission to Berlin (London/New York 1999). J. A. Crowe, Reminiscences of Thirty-Five Years of My Life, 2nd edn. (London 1895), is disappointingly thin.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    See Heinrich von Treitschke, Die Zukunfl der norddeutschen Mittelstaaten (2nd edn., Berlin 1866); Hellmut Kretzschmar, ‘Heinrich von Treitschkes Verh8ltnis zu Sachseri, Preuflische Jalrrbitcher 239 (1935), pp. 251–63. Two invaluable studies have recently focused on Saxon politics at home and abroad in these years: Andreas Neemann, Landtag und Politik in der Reaktionszeit. Sachsen 1849/50 — 1866 (Düsseldorf 2000); and Jonas Floter, Beust und die Reform des Deutschen Bundes 1850–1866 (Ktlln/Weimar/Wien 2001).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Report of Dudley Mann, Brussels, 28 August 1863, cited in Otto Graf zu Stolberg-Wernigerode, Deutschland und die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika im Zeitalter Bismarcks (Berlin/Leipzig 1933), pp. 55–6.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Cited in Karl Friedrich Vitzthum von Eckstadt London, Gastein und Sadowa, 1864–1866. Denkwi’irdigkeiten (Stuttgart 1889), p. 208.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Baron Josef von Werner to Austrian FO, no. 51A, 3 May 1866, in Heinrich Ritter von Srbik with Oskar Schmid (eds), Quellen zur deutschen Politik Osterreichs 18591866, 5 vols (Osnabriick 1967), vol. 5, pp. 578–9.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    Murray to FO, no. 32 23 June 1866, in PRO Kew, FO 68, No. 142; Constitutionelle Zeitung (Dresden), nos. 140 and 141, 21 and 22 June 1866. See also eye-witness accounts in Moritz Busch, Tagebuchblatter, rev. edit, 3 vols (Leipzig 1902), vol. 3, pp. 452–558; G[ustav] F[reytag], ‘Eine deutsche Stadt beim Ausbruch des Krieges’, in Grenzboten, Bd. 25, 1. Sem., Bd. 2 (1866), pp. 485–92; Alfred Hahn, Dresden im Wandel der Zeiten, 2 vols (Dresden 1937), vol. 2, pp. 120–5; Friedrich Boettcher, Eduard Stephani (Leipzig 1887), pp. 63–81; A. Kutschbach, Jugenderinnerungen eines alten Leipzigers (Leipzig 1926), pp. 135–71; and Richard von Friesen, Erinnerungen aus ineinein Leben, 3 vols (Dresden 18804910), vol. 2, pp. 153–358.Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    Discussed in more detail in James Retallack, “‘Why Cari t a Saxon be More Like a Prussian?” Regional Identities and the Birth of Modem Political Culture in Germany, 1866–67’, Canadian Journal of History, 32 (1997), pp. 26–55. See also Richard Dietrich, ‘Preuf3en als Besatzungsmacht im Kdnigreich Sachsen 1866–1868’, Jahrbuch für die Geschichte Mittel- und Ostdeutschlands, 5 (1956), pp. 273–93.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    See the various contributions in James Retallack (ed.), Saxony in German History: Culture, Society, and Politics, 1830–1933 (Ann Arbor 2000), pts. 2 and 3. See also Siegfried Weichlein, Nation und Region. Integrationsprozesse im Bismarckreich (Düsseldorf 2004).Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    The insufficiency of such a view is emphasised in John Breuilly, The Formation of the First German Nation-State, 1800–1871 (Basingstoke/London 1996).Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    See Frank Becker, Bilder von Krieg imd Nation. Die Einigungskriege in der burgerlichen Offentlichkeit Deutschlands 1864–1913 (Miinchen 2001).Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    Celia Applegate, ‘The Mediated Nation: Regions, Readers, and the German Past’, in J. Retallack (ed.), Saxony, pp. 33–50; Celia Applegate, A Nation of Provincials: The German Idea of Heimat (Berkeley 1990); Alon Confino, The Nation as a Local Metaphor: Wiirttemberg, Imperial Germany, and National Meinon,/, 1871–1918 (Chapel Hill 1997).Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    James J. Sheehan, ‘What Is German History? Reflections on the Role of the Nation in German History and Historiography,’ Journal of Modern Histon,/, 53 (1981), pp. 1–23, here p. 23.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • James Retallack

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