The Congress of Princes

On July 31st 1863 The Emperor of Austria, in an autographed letter, invited all the sovereigns of the German Confederation, and the senates of the free cities to meet in assembly at Frankfurt-on-the-Main. In it he encouraged all to attend, to discuss the question of re-organizing the German Confederation suitable to the requirements of that ever changing age. Most of the governments accepted the invitation, and the sitting of the congress opened on August 17th at 11am. under the presidency of the Emperor. In his opening speech he spoke at great length of the proposed reform and the king of Bavaria replied. The following is a complete list of all who took part in the proceedings of the congress. On August 19th the King of Saxony left Frankfort for Baden, where the King of Prussia was staying, with a joint invitation from the assembled princes to the king to take part in the Congress, but the king (under influence from Bismark) continued to decline. The session of the Congress ended on September 1st. The Emperor of Austria at the closing sitting expressed his satisfaction at the complete fulfilment of his hopes of a direct cooperation on the part of the German sovereigns. He hoped that this first Congress of German Princes would be followed by a second, one that all the members would attend, and that all might be united in a strong body. As a result of this Congress, the Reform act was agreed by all but 6 states. (Baden, Luxemburg, Saxe-Weimar, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Waldeck and Pymont and Reuss (younger line)). The Act bears the date of September 1st 1866 and is entitled "Reform of the German Bund as proposed by the Congress of Princes held at Frankfort".

It's provisions were as follows:

1. The objects of the German Confederation are declared to be the maintenance of the security and power of Germany in regard to foreign countries, the maintenance of public order at home and the furtherance of the interests of the German nation.
2. A Directory is established for the management of the affairs of the confederation, a Federal Council is organised from among the plenipotentiaries of the governments, an assessment of Federal delegates is to be convoked periodically and a Federal court of justice is established.
3. The Directory is to consist of 6 votes, namely: 1. Austria, 2. Prussia, 3. Bavaria, 4. Saxony, Hanover & Wurtemburg, 5. A member elected by Baden, the two Hesse's Holstein, Luxemburg, Brunswick, the two Mecklenburgs & Nassau, and 6. A member elected by all the other states. The Federal council of 17 members nominally (but 23 actually) as Austria and Prussia had three votes each.
4. The Assembly of Delegates is to consist of three hundred and two members - elected not by the people but by the representative bodies of several German States. Austria is to have 75 members, Prussia (if she pleases) the same. The four free cities are entitled to send two representatives (the original proposal was for one only). This assembly was to meet once in three years, in the month of May, and may not be prorogued by the Directory for any period not exceeding two months. Should the Assembly be dissolved, the Directory is empowered immediately to issue orders for a new election. The right to make representatives and complaints is granted to the Assembly and it may pass resolution on national affairs but legislative privileges are denied.
5. The Assembly of Princes takes into consideration the results of the deliberations of the Chamber of Deputies and examines in the representations and complaints of the Chamber of Delegates and orders the promulgation by the Directory and by the several states of the acts it has sanctioned.
6. No formal declaration of war can be made without the consent of two thirds of the Federal Council. Should there be danger of a war between a foreign power and a state which has possessions not belonging to the Confederation, the Directory is bound by the decision of the Federal Council whether or not the Confederation shall take part in the war.

Before separating, eighteen of the rulers and the four burgomasters of the free cities signed another letter to the King of Prussia, in which they expressed their deep regret at having been deprived of the kings personal cooperation in the great work they had undertaken and state that they nevertheless cherished the hope that a general understanding will ultimately be arrived at. The letter concluded “being all inspired by the wish for German unity, and ready to make sacrifices, we have come to a perfect agreement upon the project of reform. We shall consider it a great success for ourselves and for our peoples if resolutions are maturing in the mind of your Majesty, by which thanks to the unanimity of her princes, Germany will realize her desire for a wholesome reform of her constitution based upon the laws of the Confederation.

In its reply dated 24th September, the Prussian Government made its participation in the work of the reform contingent upon three preliminary conditions. 1. a right for both Prussia and Austria of vetoing every war which is not carried on for the defence of Federal territory . 2. Complete equality of Austria and Prussia within the Confederacy. 3. the election of the Assembly of National Delegates by a direct vote of the German people.

The attempt of Austria to prevail upon the other German courts to agree upon a joint answer to Prussia failed and it was therefore, deemed best to call a “Conference of Ministers” to deliberate on the next step to be taken. This conference was opened at Nurnberg on October 24th but only 10 of the 23 governments which had signed the letter of September 1st were represented. A majority of them did not agree to the proposition of Austria and Saxony to reply to Prussia by identical notes.

On August 21st, the Assembly of German deputies (members of the Legislatures of German states) was opened at Frankfort-on-the-Main. It was attended by about 800 delegates. Herr von Benningsen of Hanover was elected President, Herr Barth of Bavaria and Her von Unruh vice presidents. The following resolutions were unanimously adopted.
1. The Assembly regards the initiative of the Emperor of Austria in preparing the way for a reform of the Federal Constitution and the ready participation of most of the German princes and the free cities in this work as a cheering testimony of the universal conviction as to the insufficiency of the actual Federal Constitution and as a necessity of its reform.
2. The Assembly still believes that the only idea Of a Federal State as expressed in the “Constitution of the German Empire of March 28th 1849” can fully satisfy the national demand but under the actual circumstances, it is unwilling to reject absolutely the proposition of the Emperor of Austria.
3. But it must emphatically declare itself against some portions of the Act of Reform especially against the proposed plan of national representation. It regards the election of a German Representative Assembly by a direct vote of the German people as indispensible.
4. The two great powers ought to have equal rights; and those provinces of Prussia which before 1848 did not belong to the German Confederation ought to be admitted to it.
5. The Act of reform ought not to be introduced without the consent of a German National Assembly.

The “National Verein” held its third General assembly at Leipzic on October 17th It was resolved that the Act of Reform proposed by Austria does not meet the expectations of the German people; that its introduction would be no step toward the realisation of German unity and therefore the National Verein must decidedly oppose it. The counter propositions of the Government of Prussia are equally insufficient. The National Verein stands by the Constitution of 1849. It rejects no means which will tend to making Germany really a Federal state. But the German people alone through its chosen delegates can ultimately decide upon the Constitution of the Empire. The General Assembly of the “Grossdeutche” (Great Germany) party was opened at Frankfurt-on-the-Main on October 28th. This meeting expressed a more favourable opinion of the Congress of Princess and its work. It declared in favour of adopting the Act of Reform, but at the same time proposed several amendments as the holding of biennia instead of triennial Assemblies of Deligates of German Legislatures. It was attended by 442 members and the principal speakers were Herrvon Lerchenfeld of Bavaria, Herr von Wydenbrugk of Saxe-Weimar and Prof. Brinz of Austria.

The difficulties between the diet of Holstein and the German majority of the Diet of Schleswig on the one hand and the Danish Government on the other, led to a very serious complicationbetween Denmark and Germany and the year 1863 closed with almost the same certainty of a war.