Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

The Hohenzollern Press Bill

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 125;
Written: by Marx on March 21-22, 1849;
First published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung Nos. 252 and 253, March 22 and 23, 1849.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 252, March 22, 1849

Cologne, March 21. In accordance with our promise we return to the Hohenzollern plans to reform the freedom of the press and the right of association, plans which owe their inspiration to the state of siege. Today, a comparison with the previous plans for penal legislation, which were already rejected by the Rhenish Diet[119] under the aegis of the Camphausen opposition, will suffice to show what glorious “achievements” the Rhinelanders owe to the March uprising in Berlin, and what fresh features of the Prussian Law’s love of violence have been bestowed on Rhenish legislation [120] by the “unweakened” Crown of the Grand Duke in Berlin.

Two years ago at the United Diet, which as one remembers was brought into being by royal patent,[121] the Junker Thadden-Triglaff from the Pomeranian Mancha entered the lists on behalf of freedom of the press. This associate of the Westphalian “valiant” young knight Vincke wielded his lance:

“Yes, public, but really public, proceedings for the gentlemen of the press:
"Freedom of the press, and along with it the gallows!"[122]

The Bills which the November Government seeks to impose represent the re-emergence of these old pre-March patented efforts. The “strong Crown of Prussia” exclaims in reply to the hated provisions of the Code pénal and to the acquittal verdicts of Rhenish juries against tax refusers and agitators:

“Yes, public, but really public, proceedings:

Freedom of the press, and along with it the gallows, the gallows of the Prussian Law!

The provisions of the Code pénal entirely ignore the easily offended susceptibility of the feelings of His Hohenzollern Majesty. In spite of the property qualification and infiltration by the police, it is not possible to find Rhenish jurymen who would punish the unspeakable crime of lèse-majesté with anything more than the 5-franc fine for insult to a “private person”. The imperial despotism had too high an opinion of itself to state that its majesty could be “insulted”, but the Christian-Germanic Father-of-the-people consciousness which understandably can in no way bear comparison with the lofty eminence of Napoleonic pride, feels a “deep-seated need” to re-establish the protection of its old-Prussian dignity in its Rhenish Grand Duchy. The “strong” Crown does not dare to abolish the Rhenish legal system, but it grafts on it the much more promising shoot of the legal concepts of the Prussian Law and exclaims:

Public, really public proceedings, and along with them the gallows of the Prussian Law!”

As regards the “public proceedings” which for the time being are to be imposed on the Rhenish Code para. 22 of the Bill states:

“The police authorities are entitled to confiscate any publication intended for distribution wherever found, even if it has already begun to be issued, insofar as ... its content provides the basis for a crime or offence which can be administratively the subject of prosecution.”

The police is entitled to confiscate newspapers displeasing to it in the post and in offices even if they have “already begun to be issued”, that is to say, when the “preventive measures” of the police “as such” are supposed to cease and the matter “legally” comes within the competence of the courts. The police possesses this right of confiscation in all cases where the “content” of publications, newspapers etc. “provides the basis for a crime or offence” which can be “the subject of prosecutionadministratively”, i.e. by the police, that is to say, where the police wishes to indulge its Uckermark[123] hankerings to play the role of the Public Prosecutor’s office and considers it necessary to justify this inclination by the extremely odd plea of some kind of “crime or offence” or other circumstances which “can be the subject of prosecution”. Finally, the police can confiscate all such printed matter, c'est-à-dire all that it suits the lord and his holy Hermandad [124] to confiscate, wherever found, that is to say, it can invade private houses and the secrets of family life, and where there are no grounds for protecting property by means of the state of siege and the Croats, under the power afforded by constitutional legality the private property of law-abiding citizens can be plundered by the police. The Bill, moreover, speaks of all publications “intended” for distribution, “even if” their issue has already begun; this presupposes “as a matter of course” the right of confiscation where the distribution has not yet begun, which cannot yet be the basis for any “crime or offence”, and thus extends police robbery to the private possession of objects which are not legally “liable to prosecution”. The French September laws,[125] the sabre-rattling censorship of Cavaignac’s military dictatorship, and even the Bills on penal legislation put before the old Provincial Diets and Committees “to the displeasure of His Majesty”, at least respected private property that “still gives no grounds for crime or offence”. The press Bill based on the March achievements in Berlin, on the other hand, organises a public police vendetta against private property and the possessions of citizens and in the name of Christian-Germanic police morality violently drags into public view personal matters that have nothing whatever to do with penal law.

Public, really public proceedings, and along with them the gallows of the Prussian Law!

The improvement of these public proceedings goes hand in hand with improving the provisions of the Prussian Law.

The desired enactment concerning lèse-majesté is “constituted” in para. 12 in the following way:

“Anyone who by word, writing, printing or signs, by pictorial or other representation, violates respect for the King will be punished by imprisonment of from two months to five years.

If the Rhenish subjects do not know what degree of “respect” is demanded from them by their Hohenzollern Grand Duke, who was foisted on them by the haggling over nations at Vienna, [126] they can look up the preamble to the Berlin penal law.

Up to now, the highest sentence that could be imposed by the Prussian Law [127] for lèse-majesté was two years, and for violation of respect one year, of imprisonment or detention in a fortress (Prussian Law [Allgemeines Landrecht], II. 20. paras. 199, 200).

These provisions, however, do not seem to have been an adequate safeguard for the august feelings of the “strong Crown of Prussia”. Already in the “Bill concerning penal law for the Prussian states” submitted to the United Commissions [128] of 1847, “utterances in words or writing, or by pictures etc., which intentionally violate the honour of the King (para. 101), are punishable by six months’ to five years’ penal labour”. On the other hand, however, “utterances and actions which, although not to be regarded in themselves as insults to the King, nevertheless violate due respect to him (para. 102), are punishable by imprisonment of from six weeks to one year.” In the official preamble to this Bill it is stated that while it is true that the Saxon Diet (in connection with a similar Bill of 1843) had proposed that “violation of respect” should be more narrowly defined by the addition of the word “intentional” in order to prevent utterances and actions being brought under the law “in which there was not the remotest intention to violate respect for the King”, nevertheless such an addition must be rejected by the Government because it “would blur the distinction between lèse-majesté and violation of respect” and because “intentional” violations of “respect” must be regarded as lèse-majesté.

From these reasons, which are still paramount in regard to the concepts used in the press law which is about to be imposed on us, it follows that “violation of respect”, which at the present time like lèse-majesté is punished by two months’ to five years’ imprisonment, consists precisely in “unintentionallèse-majesté.

At the same time the “preamble” informs us that the maximum length of punishment for “violation of respect” was at that time fixed at one year solely because of a motion by the Rhenish Diet.

The benefit of the “March achievements” for the Rhinelanders is obvious. The first attempts to adapt the Code pénal to the Prussian Law foisted on the Rhinelanders the new crimes of lèse-majesté punishable by two years’ imprisonment and “violation of respect” punishable by one year’s imprisonment.[129] In the Bills put forward in 1843 and 1847, the value of lèse-majesté was increased to five years, whereas, on the motion of the Rhenish Diet violation of respect had to retain its valuation of one year. By the achievements of the March revolt under the state of siege, punishment for “violation of respect” (even if unintentional) is also increased to five years’ imprisonment and by once again introducing new crimes the Rhenish Code of Law is brought closer to the old-Prussian Law.

Freedom of the press, public proceedings under the state of siege, and along with them the gallows!

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 253, March 23, 1849

Cologne, March 22.

“There was all the more reason why the provisions concerning lèse-majesté could not be omitted,” states Manteuffel’s preamble to para. 12 of the Bill, “because in the greater part of the Rhine Province the penal laws on lèse-majesté had been made invalid by the ordinance of April 15, 1848, and since then this gap has not been filled.”

The Manteuffel preamble states that this part of the Hohenzollern legislation on the press, which surpasses even the old-Prussian Law and His Majesty’s revelation in the Bills on penal legislation of 1843 and 1847, appeared essential chiefly with reference to the Rhine Province. The ordinances of April 15, 1848, i.e. the promises which the “Crown that had fallen into the dust” (see the Neue-Preussische Zeitung of the 20th of this month) condescended to make under the pressure of the March uprising, have “rendered invalid” in the Rhine Province the laboriously imposed adjustment made in the spirit of the Prussian Law and restored the Code pénal in its original defective purity. But in order fittingly to fill this “gap” due to the March achievements and simultaneously to testify to the progressive capacity for expanding the Hohenzollern Majesty’s value the “strong” November Government proposes for the Rhinelanders not the old pre-March provisions of the Prussian Law, — no, it proposes a new declaration of respect for the King envisaging a punishment more than double that of all previous penal law projects. Le roi est mort, vive le roi! Prior to March 1848, the still “unweakened” dignity of the Father of the people was valued in the Prussian Law at one year’s imprisonment; in March 1849 the cost of disrespect to the Crown which had “fallen into the dust” has risen to five years’ imprisonment. Prior to March 1848, the Rhenish law was supplemented only by the patriarchal additional provisions of the Prussian Law; in March 1849 the Manteuffel November achievements have been imposed on it:

Freedom of the press, sabre-rattling censorship, and along with them the gallows!

The “gap” in Rhenish legislation, however, reveals still further depths. Para. 12 of the Berlin press reform continues with the following additions:

The same punishment” (from two months’ to five years’ imprisonment) “is incurred by anyone who in the way indicated above” (by word, writing or signs, by pictorial or other representation) “insults the Queen. Anyone who in the same way insults the successor to the throw (?) or any other member of the royal house ... will be punished by imprisonment of from one month to three years.”

As already mentioned, the old-Prussian Law punished insult even to the “supreme head of the state” with only two years’ imprisonment. The advance made by the Bill on the press, which lays down the term of imprisonment for insult to persons of lower rank — five years for the Queen, three years for the successor to the throne and “other” members of the “royal house” — is very obvious.

Rhenish legislation no more recognises insult to the Queen etc. than it does insult to the “supreme head of the state”. Rhenish newspapers hitherto were able with impunity to print stories about “hopes of the court for an unexpected event”, which at times can, however, for medical reasons, amount to impugning the honour of the person involved.

Finally, the ex-patented Bill on penal legislation of the United Commissions ranked insult to the “Queen” as inferior to insult to the “supreme head of the state”, by threatening it (para. 103) with three years’ imprisonment instead of five years. And as regards equal punishment for insults to the “Queen” and insults to other members of the royal family, the 1847 preamble states that the Rhenish, Silesian, Saxon and Pomeranian Diets had already wanted a distinction to be made between these persons but that the Government could not put this lamentable “casuistry” into effect.

The strong Manteuffel Government did not consider the “casuistry” of the old Rhenish, Silesian and Saxon Diets beneath its dignity. Was not the successful von der Heydt also among the patented casuists of that period? The Manteuffel-von der Heydt press Bill “establishes” the casuistic distinction between the Queen and other members of the royal house; but it does it in accordance with the progressive development of the sovereign’s dignity in general in the post-March period. The old Rhenish, Silesian and Pomeranian Diets demanded that a distinction be made between the Queen and other members of the royal family so that the equal punishment of three years’ imprisonment for insulting the latter would be reduced. The strong Manteuffel-von der Heydt Government accepts the distinction, not in order to make this reduction but to raise the punishment for insulting the Queen to the newly increased level of punishment for insulting the “supreme head of the state”.

That the concepts of majesty show a similar capacity for development is proved by the provision appended to the same paragraph, according to which insults to any “German head of state” and likewise insults to the “successor to the throne” are punished by three years’ imprisonment.

According to Rhenish law, insults to other “heads of state” are punished like insults to private persons (a fine of 5 francs), and that only on the demand of the person insulted and not because his public character is the concern of penal law. Under the Bill on penal legislation which had already been rejected by the Rhenish Diet in 1843 thus incurring “the displeasure of His Majesty”, and which was again put forward in 1847, insults to foreign rulers and “their spouses” incurred punishment of from two months’ imprisonment to two years’ penal labour. The Prussian Diet moved the entire deletion of this provision and the Westphalian opposition of Junkers from the backwoods declared the original level of punishment too high. Finally the Manteuffel-von der Heydt Government filled the serious post-March gaps in the Rhenish legislation by increasing to three years the two years’ term of punishment which the Westphalians elected on a property qualification were opposing, and by taking up the cudgels on behalf of the Pomeranian Don Quixote of the United Diet:

Freedom of the press, really Public proceedings, and along with them the gallows!

In the plans for press reform inspired by His Majesty, para. 19 has furthermore a noteworthy amusing feature:

“Anyone guilty of insulting 1. either of the two Chambers (“as such”), 2. a member of either Chamber during the course of its sittings, 3. any other political organisation, an official authority, or an official ... by word, writing, printing, signs, by pictorial or other representation, will be punished by up to nine months, imprisonment.”

While Manteuffel-von der Heydt are using bayonets to disperse “political organisations”, Agreement Assemblies and Chambers, the Rhinelanders are having a botchwork of new crimes for “the protection of these Assemblies” inserted in their Code pénal to fill up its “gaps”. From the divine-royal source of grace, the Manteuffel von der Heydt Government is foisting on the country a national Constitution in order to introduce into the Rhenish Code of Law a new, hitherto unknown crime in the shape of “insult to the Chambers”:

Freedom of the press, public proceedings, and along with them the gallows!

Let the Rhinelanders take care before it is too late. The history of previous attempts to adapt the Rhenish Code of Law to the Prussian Law, and the Hohenzollern further elaboration of the March promises, will tell them what they have to expect from the achievements made on the other side of the Rhine.

The aim of the martial-law attacks against the Code pénal hitherto has been nothing less than the complete incorporation of the Rhine territories in the old-Prussian provinces, an incorporation which was not complete so long as the Rhine Province was not wholly subjected to the cudgel of the Prussian Law. The new Bill, however, under the pretext of filling the “gaps” in the Rhinelanders’ own legislation by means of the benefits of the Prussian Law, perfects also the Prussian Law for the old provinces as regards its “gap” of excessive mildness.

Miserable as the present Chamber is, nevertheless we do not expect it to accept these Bills. But in that case we do expect that there will be imposed on us also the Hohenzollern gallows for the press, and that is precisely what we wish.