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Emperor Joseph II on the Structure and Political Condition of the Austrian Monarchy and the Holy Roman Empire (1767/68)
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You see from the thorough description that I just gave you of the most important members of our German body [Corpus Germanicum] that the picture of the entirety that I presented at the outset is not exaggerated, and that such an irregular body only continues to exist because of a miracle or, better yet, because of the mutual jealously of the foreign powers. The best means to combat so much disorder would be a good standing electoral agreement. There was already talk of this previously at the Imperial Diet, and a draft has already been composed and is available. Without infringing upon the estates’ reasonable liberty, it would at least restore to the emperor the power that he needs to preserve law and order and to protect the weak against the oppression of the powerful. However, one cannot touch this issue under the current critical circumstances. One must wait for more fortuitous times to raise it. During this waiting period, one must attempt, as I already said, to make clear to some of the most powerful houses the urgent necessity [of implementing a new electoral agreement] – the weak know it all too well through their many quite painful experiences – and to convince them all that one is not motivated by anything but the desire to do good and not to expand one's power at their expense.

Source: Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv Wien: Familienarchiv, Sammelbände, Kasten 88.

Source of German translation: Hermann Conrad, “Verfassung und Politische Lage des Reiches in einer Denkschrift Josephs II. von 1767/68” [“Constitution and Political Situation of the Empire in a Memorandum by Joseph II from 1767-68”], in Louis Carlen und Fritz Steinegger, eds. Festschrift Nikolaus Grass zum 60. Geburtstag, dargebracht von Fachgenossen, Freunden und Schülern. Bd. 1: Abendländische und deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, Geschichte und Recht der Kirche, Geschichte und Recht Österreichs [Festschrift for Nikolaus Grass on his 60th Birthday, Compiled by Colleagues, Friends, and Students. Volume 1: Occidental and German Legal History, History, and Church Law, Austrian History and Law]. Innsbruck and Munich: Universitätsverlag Wagner, 1974, pp. 161-85. [Text of the Memorandum, pp. 165-85. Translated from the French by Hermann Conrad and Thea von der Lieck-Buyken.]

Reprinted in Helmut Neuhaus, ed., Zeitalter des Absolutismus 1648-1789 [The Era of Absolutism, 1648-1789]. Deutsche Geschichte in Quellen und Darstellung, edited by Rainer A. Müller, volume 5. Stuttgart: P. Reclam, 1997, pp. 130-40.

Translation from German to English: Benjamin Marschke

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