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was chosen Emperor in an assembly of sixty thousand persons.
But at length the great princes, who at first had only nominated the Emperor to the people by whom in form he was elected, usurped to themselves the exclusive right of election, and maintained it by means of alliances and the power possessed by them in virtue of their feudal or ecclesiastical rank; - leaving, meanwhile, ample power in other respects in the hands of the Diet of the Empire, the successor of the celebrated campassemblies of the ancient Germans. And in the course of that process of disorganization, explained in the introductory pages of this work, the Electors, the great lay and ecclesiastical Barons, and the Free Cities, proceeded from one act to another of encroachment upon the authority of the Emperor, until, from being simple subjects or feudatories, they became independent sovereigns in most of the attributes of sovereignty, and thus converted the German Empire into a great confederacy, instead of a common monarchy.
Meanwhile, the Lotharingian Kingdom had disappeared, being absorbed in France and Germany; and of the Empire of Charlemagne there remained, at the epoch of the existing system of European politics, only two grand subdivisions, which, starting from the same point of origin, and with precisely similar institutions, arrived at entirely different ends. In France, the principle of hereditary succession gained footing earlier and the policy or good fortune of her princes brought about the extinction of the great feudal principalities, and gathered up all the scattered elements of power into the hands of the sovereign.
In Germany, on the contrary, the form, and much of the substance, of an elective monarchy subsisted for a
ong period, and the great feudatories, instead of becoming merged in the imperial sovereignty,
FORMATION OF THE EMPIRE.
maintained their feudal rank to the last, or raised themselves into independent princes and kings. The Emperor of Germany had the preeminence of honor among all the sovereigns of Christendom; but, as Emperor, he possessed neither treasure, domains, nor power; - his might in the scale of Europe belonging to him only as the honorary head of the great German Republic.
At length, however, in the fifteenth century, when the monarchical principle was becoming the predominant one in all Europe, and the subdivision of power, which distinguished the feudal age, was giving place to its centralization in the hands of national sovereigns, the House of Austria gained possession of the imperial crown. The dignity of Emperor was united with the solid power exercised by one of the great princes of the Empire, who had intrinsic means of aggrandisement, and was prompt to use them for his
Frederic, Maximilian, and Charles V effectually employed their influence and power to fix the Empire in their family; and there it contioued, under the forms of election, and with brief and imperfect interruptions, down to the time of the French Revolution. *
And while the Emperor was a sovereign prince in his own person, he had ample possessions, which composed no part of the Empire. The Elector of Brandenburg, raised to be King of Prussia, had States in the same situation; as also had the Elector of Hanover, become King of Great Britain. It is impossible to conceive of a confederation, composed of more discordant elements. It was, in fact, a living picture of the old feudal kingdoms, in which one independent king was the vassal of another by virtue of some foreign fief, and in which the barons levied formal war *Gibbon's Decline and Fall, ch.49; Robertson's Charles V.
upon each other and their common suzerain; and such hostilities occurred so frequently, that all the pride and interests of nationality gradually grew up in the great fragments of the Empire. The Germans, like the Italians, although one in name, and substantially one in language, --although nominally governed in the last resort by their elected Emperor as the executive, and the Diet of Ratisbon as the legislative, authorities of the Empire,-had utterly ceased to possess that unity of political being, which belonged to the subjects of Louis the Germanic or Otho theGreat.
The French Revolution swept away the whole organization of the Germanic Empire. The Emperor Francis renounced the title of Emperor of Germany, and assumed that of Emperor of Aus tria. Bishops were deprived of their secular power, sovereign princes were mediatized, free cities were subjected to the general laws of the land, villenage was abolished, - in short, so many antiquated abuses, relics of feudal barbarism, and contrivances for sacrificing the good of the many to the benefit of the few, vanished, like spirits of darkness at cock-crow, before the victorious march of the Gauls. Bavaria, Saxony, and Wurtemberg, exalted into Kingdoms by Napoleon, formed, with the smaller States around them, the Confederation of the Rhine, as closely associated with France as the German Confederacy had been with Austria.
But Napoleon fell, and with him, of course, the Confederation of the Rhine. The recombination of Germany was one of the pressing objects of attention at the Congress of Vienna. While the smaller States, the free cities, the secularized bishops, and the mediatized nobles, were clamorous for the restitution of their old privileges, and the new Kingdoms of the Rhine were
THE GERMAN CONFEDERATIOy.
anxious to maintain their independence and territorial integrity, - the great powers, Austria, Prussia, and Hanover, were solicitous to regain their former ascendancy over all Germany, so as to use it in the interest of monarchy and the oppression of popular rights. Austria, Prussia, and Great Britain, taking advantage of circumstances, permitted Bavaria and Wurtemberg to meet with them in congress to deliberate, but refused to permit the direct participation of the other German States in the pending deliberation; and the latter accordingly formed an association of their own, having the countenance, at the same time, of Bavaria and Wurtemberg. The parties came to no conclusion; and a serious conflict seemed impending between them; when the apparition of Napoleon in France put to flight the selfish projects of the greater States, which promptly invited the concurrence of the smaller ones in the discussion of their common interests, and the present Confederation was hastily formed amid the final struggle with France.
The Confederacy consists of thirty eight States Of these, five, Austria, Prussia, Great Britain for Hanover, Denmark for Holstein and Lauenberg, and the Netherlands for Luxemburg, having possessions independent of Germany, entered into the league with views and feelings, which were by no means exclusively, or for the chief part, German. Four of the members are the free cities of Lubec, Frankfort, Bremen, and Hamburg:
The residue are sovereign princes under various names, and purely German, including the three Kingdoms of Bavaria, Wurtemberg, and Saxony. The professed object of the Confederacy is to maintain the security of Germany from within and without, and the independence and inviolability of the several States.' Such
being the purpose of the confederates, they constructed a union of States, not of men; its Diet is a congress of the plenipotentiaries of princes, not an assembly of the representatives of the people;
- and its laws attach to governments, not to individuals. Of course, the Diet itself has no ordinary and legitimate means, but force, to give effect to its decrees within the limits of any of the States of the Confederacy.
Practically, the working of the Confederacy has proved it to be nothing more nor less than a complicated machine for imposing the policy and interests of Austria and Prussia upon all the rest of Germany. England, whilst at home she is the champion of representative freedom, is the champion of Asiatic despotism in her colonies, and of European absolutism in Germany. The Kings of Bavaria and Wurtemberg, the Duke of Baden, have usually manifested'a liberal spirit in their domestic policy, and an independent one in their foreign relations: - the King of Hanover truckles on all occasions to Austria and Prussia. If Austria, by force or corruption, was able to obtain such overwhelming influence in the German Empire, even when she and Prussia were actuated by hostile interests, it will be readily conceived how potent is their united authority in the present Confederacy.*
The Diet has been occupied, at different times, in four great objects, the organization of a federal army, the regulation of river-navigation, the commercial intercourse of the States, and the suppression of political inquiry and reform. This last topic only is material to be considered here.
When the Allies sought to rouse the men of Germany against Napoleon, it was by calling into play the popular energies, by appealing to the
* Dwight's Travels in the North of Germany, p. 29.