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Theory of Reconciliation

Theory of Reconciliation The term provides an outline of a political idea based on a concept of legality which, during the years of the revolution of 1848-49, aimed at a denial of this revolution and a compromise between the leading forces of liberal bourgeoisie and the crown in Prussia. The general concern was to reach an accommodation between the traditional rights of the crown and the constitutional claim of the up-and- coming bourgeoisie, without allowing the March revolution to become the starting point for new constitutional revisions. Therefore, the representatives of the principle of reconciliation made crown and parliament equitable partners in forming a constitutional consensus. Thus, sovereignty of parliament was from the very beginning limited, with the crown having an advantage as the established power in case of a conflict of interests. The idea of reconciliation was commensurate with the aim of transforming the existing semi-feudal regime into a constitutional monarchy. This idea implied a partial renunciation of power by the citizens because they wanted to secure the continuity of state power and to prevent a breach with the legal title of the king. But ultimately, the principle of reconciliation was forced to fail because the crown's unwillingness to compromise and the restorative forces increased their influence to overcome the revolutionary and democratic movement.

The term "Theory of Reconciliation" emerged as a critical reaction to a policies of the liberal ministry Camphausen/Hansemann in Prussia and the Berlin constituent assembly. This term, which described the idea of reconciliation as "estranged from life" and as "impracticable", was essentially coined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and, probably, had been introduced into political journalism in the beginning of June 1848. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung provided for a rapid propagation of this term that was preferred by the critics of the course of the liberal bourgeoisie. The advocates of reconciliation called it the "principle of reconciliation". They spoke of an "accommodation between old and new conditions", of a "settlement" or of the indispensable "transaction with the crown".

It was the Marxist-oriented historiography that took over the critical linguistic usage coined by K. Marx and F. Engels. But the idea of reconciliation was reflected also by several other authors in a more or less critical manner. At the same time the idea has subsequently been vindicated. The discussion of the possibility of a policy of a "balance in the middle" as necessary and justifiable has been a subject of controversy. As a result it was possible to portray the different causes for motives, background and correlations underlying bourgeois policies during the revolution.

Ludolf Camphausen (1803-1890), the Cologne banker and railway entrepreneur, and his liberal ministry in Prussia (March 1848- June 1848) were the exponents and consistent advocates of the idea of reconciliation. Thus, L. Camphausen has been often described as the inventor of the "theory of reconciliation" in the contemporary and historical literature. But it has so far been impossible to document such an immediate connection.

The idea of reconciliation does not represent any separate and self-enclosed theoretical complex, or any special teachings of national and constitutional law. It is rooted in the policies of moderate reforms of the bourgeois wing of the liberal movement. The idea of reconciliation goes back to the theory of the fundamental rights, according to which a new civil law could and would have to be developed out of the existing legal foundation. The theory on fundamental law had already been propagated among the moderate liberal movement long before the revolution. It referred to the constitutional promises made by the Prussian king and by other German rulers in their struggle against Napoleon's foreign rule and at the time of the foundation of the German Confederation's federal act. The invocation of the legal fundamentals entailed, in consequence, the constitutional claim of liberal bourgeoisie. While this stance prior to the revolution clearly aimed at a change of the existing semi-feudal system, after the March revolution, this approach was directed at a recognition of the newly emerging legal position.

The idea of reconciliation politics emanated from the deliberations on the formation of the liberal ministry in Prussia by the end of March 1848. This idea provided the core of the government program of Ludolf Camphausen, the first bourgeois Prussian premier. At the beginning of April 1848 he convened the second United Landtag against the resistance and the protests of the democratic movement and proposed to it a program of legislation. This Landtag expressly confirmed its old electoral law, the competence of which was laid down in an agreement, or reconciliation of a constitution with the crown. In addition, the United Landtag passed the "Decree on the foundations of the future Prussian constitution". Thus the mode and major content of the imminent constitutional work were legally stipulated from the very beginning. Quite consciously, the Camphausen/Hansemann ministry had reconvened this institution of the former semi-feudal system in an attempt to show clearly that it had derived its governmental order from existing legal foundations rather than from the March revolution.

The idea of reconciliation found its clearest expression in the project of an "Assembly convened on the agreement of the Prussian national constitution", which met in Berlin from May 22, 1848 until it was forcibly dissolved in November and was finally closed after a last session at the beginning of December. Although the Prussian assembly had asserted its claim to sovereignty in individual questions, it proved incapable of elevating itself to a permanent body. This proved to be fatal, because on June 9, 1848, the majority of deputies failed to pay tribute to the fighters of the March revolution and virtually sanctioned the principle of reconciliation.

The draft constitution of the government (May 20, 1848) had enshrined the concept of reconciliation as a pervasive constitutional principle. Reference was made to it already in the preamble. With no concessions to the principle of popular sovereignty, the crown was actually left with the absolute veto. The king did not swear to uphold the constitution, as was the general practice in constitutional monarchies. He was only deprived of the right to absolute disposal of legislation.

The liberal March ministry under Ludolf Camphausen, which perceived itself as the "ministry of mediation" was thwarted by the limits and conflicts in the middle of June 1848 which it had cause for itself with the principle of reconciliation. Nevertheless, L. Camphausen in his subsequent function as the delegate of the Prussian government to the interim central power in Frankfurt am Main, was seeking to reassert the principle of reconciliation also vis-à-vis the national assembly.

Elements of the policy of reconciliation were found outside Prussia with the moderate wing of the liberal movement in other German states.

Jürgen Hofmann


David Hansemann Das Preussische und das Deutsche Verfassungswerk Mit Rücksicht auf mein politisches Wirken Berlin 1850.

Jürgen Hofmann Das Ministerium Camphausen-Hansemann: Zur Politik der preussischen Bourgeoisie in der Revolution 1848/49 Berlin 1981.

Dieter Langewiesche Europa zwischen Restauration und Revolution 1815-1849 Munich 1985.

Hans Mähl Die Überleitung Preussens in das konsitutionelle System durch den zweiten Vereinigten Landtag Munich and Berlin 1909.

Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels Works, Vol. V, Berlin 1971.

Johannes Seitz Entstehung und Entwicklung der preussischen Verfassungsurkunde im Jahre 1848. Greifswald 1909.

Joachim Strey / Gerhard Winkler Marx und Engels 1848/49: Die Politik und Taktik der " Neuen Rheinischen Zeitung" während der bürgerlich-demokratischen Revolution in Deutschland Berlin 1972.

Hans Victor von Unruh Erfahrungen aus den letzten drei Jahren. Magdeburg 1851.

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