Another hotly contested issue of the period was the nature of governmental power. Should the executive – that is, the German monarchs – be able to rule in an authoritarian fashion, or should their power be limited by a constitution, explicitly listing the powers of an elected legislature and guaranteeing the right to public discussion of political affairs?
A prominent proponent – and practitioner – of authoritarian (or, as contemporaries would have said, absolutist) rule was the Austrian chancellor, Clemens Prince von Metternich (1773-1859). In his letter of June 17, 1819, to his personal secretary and, as we might say today, political operative, Friedrich Gentz, Metternich denounced the enemies of absolutist rule, whom he identified as trouble-making intellectuals. Metternich was particularly hostile to both freedom of the press and constitutional government, arguing that while they might be acceptable in England or France, they were impossible in the German states. In his political testament, written in 1820, he expanded the argument made in his letter to Gentz, asserting that the common people accepted authoritarian rule, while opposition to it came from the middle class and from anti-clerical free-thinkers, and he called on monarchs across Europe to join together in taking action to preserve their rule.
Metternich's proposals were easier said than done, and even authoritarian governments, resolutely rejecting constitutions and elected legislatures, still found it necessary to cultivate public opinion. This letter of June 7, 1844, from the Prussian Minister of Educational and Religious Affairs, Karl Friedrich von Eichhorn to the Prussian Minister of the Interior, Adolf-Heinrich Count von Arnim, noted, as did Metternich, the anti-governmental activity of trouble-making intellectuals in Prussia's Rhine Province. To compete with them, Eichhorn sought funds to subsidize a newspaper that would offer a conservative, pro-governmental voice and seek to win over public opinion.
The Staats-Lexikon was a twelve-volume encyclopedia of political concepts that first appeared in the 1830s. Its editors and authors were proponents of political liberalism and a constitutional form of government. In the excerpts from the entry "Constitution," Carl von Rotteck (1775-1840), Professor of Law at the University of Freiburg, one of the editors of the Staats-Lexikon, and a liberal leader in the Grand Duchy of Baden, carefully noted the difference between absolutist and constitutional government, and argued that all of Europe was faced with a choice between these two ways of governing.