- Sep 30, 2006
The Frankfurt Parliament
Chapter XVII. A New Government & The Frankfurt Question
With the Constitution of 1845 having been signed in early September, Grand Duke Karl next turned his attention to forming and calling to session the newly created Landtag. The Landtag, as specified by the Constitution, would consist of two houses, and it's members were to be chosen by the Grand Duke and his senior ministers- though in reality the Grand Duke's vote would be the only one that really counted. The exact structure of the new body and how many representatives would come from each of the Grand Duchy's districts had occupied the Convention for the last few days leading to the signing of the constitution. In the end it had been agreed that the Upper House would have twenty members, and the Lower House thirty-three.
The Upper House would be staffed by the aristocracy and it broke down as follows: two representatives from each of the provinces of Hesse-Darmstadt proper (a total of six), one representative from each of the provinces of Hanover (a total of eight), and six so-called "Ducal representatives". These last six would be the personal choice of the Grand Duke and Karl had made sure that the Constitution stipulated that it be made up of the head of the Lutheran Church, the President of the University of Giessen, and four members of the Ducal Family- one of whom would serve as President of the Upper House. For the first session Karl named his younger brother Alexander (who had survived the wounds he received during his father's assassination) to the post.
The Lower House, aside from being larger in size than the Upper House, also differed in that it would consist solely of "common" men with the aristocracy barred from membership. The most serious wrangling during the last days of the Convention had gone on as a result of the make up of this house due to the fact that there was virtually no way around it being dominated by Hanover. The final agreement reached by the delegates called for each of the Grand Duchy's provinces to be divided into three districts with each sending a representative to the Landtag. As a result the Lower House was made up of nine representatives form Hesse-Darmstadt and twenty-four from Hanover. Like the Upper House, the Lower House would also have a President and Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann of Hanover occupied that post during the first session.
Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann
The Grand Duke and his three chief ministers met several times over the days following the signing of the Constitution to select the fifty-three men who would make up the new Landtag. As all of these men were present in Darmstadt for the Convention the first Landtag was called to session very quickly and met for the fist time on September 17, 1845. Once formed, the Landtag had no real function until given something to vote on. Constitutionally the new government functioned as follows: one of the government ministers (either the Minister of Justice & the Interior or the Minister of Finance) would draft a proposal and submit it to the Minister of State for his approval. He would then submit it to the Grand Duke who, if he approved as well, would submit the proposal to the Upper House of the Landtag for ratification. Once through the Upper House it would pass to the Lower House for final approval before then being officially signed into practice by the Grand Duke.
While it would seem on the outside that all parts of the government would have some say over laws and government policies under this system, that was not necessarily the case. Both the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Finance had complete authority to act within the confines of their own departments, and it was only if they wanted to forward a proposal that would affect the Grand Duchy as a whole that they needed to seek the approval of the Minister of State. If the Minister of State did not give his approval, however, it was not the end of the issue. The minister in question could then appeal to the Grand Duke for approval- effectively bypassing the Minister of State. Also, proposals did not necessarily have to come from the Ministries as the Grand Duke had the power to go directly to the Landtag without consulting the ministers at all. Finally, if the Landtag failed to approve any measure sent to it by the Grand Duke, the measure could modified and re-submitted or the Grand Duke could declare that the Landtag was "acting against the interests of the nation" and dissolve it completely. If the latter action was taken the Grand Duke could either call a new Landtag (which would presumably be made up of more agreeable persons), or simply rule autocratically until the disbanded session's term expired (the Landtag met for two years) and a new Landtag was called.
With the Landtag in session the government ministries got to work. At the time there were three important issues facing the Grand Duchy- two internal and one external. The internal issues consisted of the status of the controversial Geheimpolizei and the high taxes being forced upon the citizenry. Both of these were high on the Liberal agenda and many were demanding that something be done immediately. The issue of the Geheimpolizei would be solved first- somewhat.
As Minister of Justice and the Interior, Ludwig (now dubbed Prince Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt following his abdication and subsequent renouncing of the royal throne) was faced with dealing with the political crisis that his creation was causing. While the Geheimpolizei were a very unpopular group among most of the population of the Grand Duchy, it could not be denied that they were an effective tool when it came to monitoring subversive activity. Karl, for his part, wanted the public outcry to go away but did not want to lose the Geheimpolizei completely. To that end it was decided that all Geheimpolizei stations in Hesse-Darmstadt proper were to be closed and their staff quietly transferred north to Hanover. The abolition of the Geheimpolizei in Hesse-Darmstadt was met with approval, while it's continued existence caused some grumbling in Hanover. The complaints of the Hanoverians were, however, countered by arguments that the continued nationalist sentiment in Hanover necessitated the presence of the Geheimpolizei. While that particular political fire continued to burn, it at least was not burning quite so hot.
Justus von Liebig
The question of taxation was the next to be addressed and would involve the efforts of every member of the government. Since the reign of Ludwig II the people of Hesse-Darmstadt had been forced to pay crippling taxes in order to fund the expansion of the military and it's subsequent campaigns in Hanover. Taxes were so heavy that in the last few years the once growing middle class in the Grand Duchy had nearly vanished- it's members joining the ranks of the poor. Minister of Finance Justus von Liebig had only accepted his post following a promise from the Grand Duke himself that taxes would be lowered and had immediately set to work on a proposal that would both be acceptable to the Grand Duke and ease the burden of the poor.
As Liebig reviewed the government's finances he found that with the income being generated by Hanover's industrial centers the Grand Duchy was more prosperous than it had ever been. In fact, the government was bringing in over six times more revenue than it had been under Ludwig II. Realizing that the government was more than capable of supporting itself without crushing the people with taxes, Liebig drafted a budget proposal that called for a dramatic reduction on taxes. As part of the proposal he divided the people in three groups which were determined by income. For the lower class, which was made up of the poorest citizens, he suggested a 40% tax reduction. For the middle class, which generally consisted of government employees and shop owners, he suggested a 30% reduction. Finally, for the nation's wealthiest citizens, he suggested a reduction of only 15%, reasoning that they should share their wealth with their fellow citizens. Also included in his budget proposal were increases to funding of education and security (the police) and a reduction of funds to the military.
The proposal was passed onto Minister of State Heinrich von Gagern. Not suprisingly, he immediately approved of it and passed it on to the Grand Duke. Karl, however, refused to approve of the budget proposal and ordered it to be re-written. He further instructed Liebig that he would collaborate with himself and the other two ministers on the buget from here on out and added that there was to be no reduction to the defense budget at all. The four men would wrangle over the budget for over a month before finally submitting it to the Landtag. The final proposal called for increases to education and security along the lines of the initial proposal and a reduction of taxes across the board. The final proposal, though, called for reductions of 20%, 35%, and 40% to the lower, middle, and upper classes respectively, Also included was a small increase to the defense budget. The budget passed through the Upper House swiftly and was handed down to the Lower House in late October. There was some debate over the budget in the Lower House, chiefly due to the belief that the reduction in taxes to the lower class was too small, but the budget passed on October 28, 1845.
Now that some of the more pressing domestic issues were taken care of Karl turned his attention outside of the Grand Duchy's borders. To the north of Darmstadt and right in the middle of the Hesse-Darmstadt proper was the free city of Frankfurt. The city had been named a Reichsstadt or imperial city in the fourteenth century and had enjoyed independence ever since other than a brief period during the Napoleonic Wars. Following Napoleon's defeat and the formation of the German Confederation, Frankfurt had been chosen as the seat of the Bundestag. More recently it had become the seat of the so-called Federal Parliament and it was here that the leaders of the Liberal revolts that had rocked Germany had gathered. Even though the revolution was being destroyed on the battlefield these leaders continued to sit in Frankfurt and exhort the people to overthrow the old order. Grand Duke Karl I was not about to allow these men to continue to espouse revolution so close to his borders and ordered his Minister of State, Heinrich von Gagern, to travel to Frankfurt and order the Federal Parliament to disperse or face arrest. Under the Constitution, the Minister of State was responsible for all foreign relations so sending Gagern was only a matter of course, but seeing as Gagern was once a member of the Federal Assembly, it is quite probable that Karl intended the diplomatic mission as a slap at his opponent in the Grand Duchy's recent internal struggle.
Despite his deep sympathy with his former comrades in the Federal Parliament, Gagern knew in his heart that armed revolution was useless and would only lead to unnecessary bloodshed. Accordingly, he traveled to Frankfurt and delivered Karl's ultimatum. The members of the Federal Parliament refused to disperse even when Gagern warned them that they would be arrested. Frankfurt was an independent city, they claimed, and Hesse-Darmstadt's ruler had no say here.
Hessian troops and police preparing to arrest the Federal Parliament in Frankfurt
When Karl was informed of their response to his ultimatum he immediately ordered the army to occupy the city on November 16, 1845. It was a bold move considering that he was essentially invading a territory that was a member of the German Confederation, and was therefore risking the entire Confederation declaring war on him under the defense agreement that all member states had signed when the Confederation was formed. Karl, though, pointed out that the close proximity of as he called it "a hotbed of radicalism and sedition" to his borders represented a "grievous risk to the security of his nation" and argued that his occupation of the city was necessary. When no one lifted a finger to stop him or even protest his occupation of the city, Karl ordered the Federal Parliament arrested and took the further step of declaring that Frankfurt and it's environs were now part of the the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt. Again, Karl was not opposed by any of the other states of the Confederation and the federal tri-colors that had flown all over the city of Frankfurt since the beginning of the revolutions were torn down and replaced by the Hessian flag.