Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung April 1849

Lassalle [262]

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 339;
Written: by Engels on April 26, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 283, April 27, 1849.

Cologne, April 26. We have to report a fact which testifies that en fait de justice there is no longer anything impossible. Herr Nicolovius, Public Prosecutor General, clearly intends to surpass even the laurels which Herr Hecker in his time won for himself.

From our previous reports it will be recalled that during the criminal court trial against Lassalle, von Ammon I deputy Chief Public Prosecutor in Düsseldorf, for three weeks concealed in his office desk and withheld from the examining magistrate a letter of Lassalle’s in which the latter requested a farmer from Schanstein to arrange for a reinforcement of some 100 men to march to Düsseldorf in the event of a struggle and that von Ammon only handed the letter to the examining magistrate when the latter informed him that the investigation had been concluded. It will be recalled that because of this letter — which, incidentally, was so far from containing a direct call for an uprising that neither the Court nor the indictment board included it among the grounds for prosecution — the investigation had to be begun afresh, and this was the reason why Lassalle’s trial was not already concluded in the previous session of the Assize Court.

Lassalle protested at the time to the Public Prosecutor General against this deliberate dragging out of the case by Herr von Ammon I.

The Public Prosecutor General, instead of making any reply to Lassalle, sent the latter’s complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s office in Düsseldorf with instructions to instigate proceedings against Lassalle for this complaint on the basis of Article 222 because in it Herr von Ammon had been insulted!

Pends-toi, Figaro, tu naurais pas inventi cela!.[Hang yourself, Figaro, you would not have thought of that! — Beaumarchais, Le mariage de Figaro]

Thus, a letter to Herr Nicolovius is alleged to constitute an insult to Herr von Ammon within the meaning of Article 222! Already once before, on the occasion of the trial of the press, which we had the pleasure of conducting against Herr Zweiffel and Herr Hecker, we explained that Article 222 does not even apply to public insults by the press but only to insults levelled at officials when they are actually present.

But even if Article 222 were also applicable to insults through printed matter, it would still certainly not occur to anyone to maintain that a letter to a third person could be an insult to an official. According to the practice adopted hitherto in the police courts, it was always requisite that the material containing the insult should be addressed to the insulted person himself or that it should be publicly disseminated. Herr Nicolovius now discovers that if one writes in insulting terms to a third person about an official, that is an insult to the official! It seems, therefore, that one must beware of speaking about officials in a disrespectful tone in one’s private correspondence!

The fact that Lassalle’s letter was addressed to the official authority superior to Herr von Ammon and was therefore a complaint, a protest, makes the matter still more impossible.

For the law even makes it obligatory for complaints against wrongful actions of officials to be addressed to the superior authority. If, therefore, the substance of the complaint was true, it was perfectly in order; if it was false then the Public Prosecutor General should have instituted legal proceedings on the basis of Article 373 — because of a calumniatory complaint. But in that case it would be the easiest thing in the world for Lassalle on the basis of the documents to prove the truth of his complaint, whereas this proof is of no avail to him when brought before a police court on a charge of insulting an official.

The case came before the Court in Düsseldorf. But this Court, too, found that an insult has to be made either publicly, or in the presence of the insulted person, and dismissed the case. The Public Prosecutor’s office opposed this, and our local Cologne indictment board, which has often been tested and has always proved reliable, actually decided to institute legal proceedings based on Article 222 against Lassalle, who is now happily burdened with a police court case.

What else will be achieved with the help of Article 222, if things continue in this way?

Incidentally the Lassalle case will come before the Assize Court on May 3.