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Veit Ludwig von Seckendorff, Excerpts from Teutscher Fürsten-Staat (1656)

The standard German work on administrative-bureaucratic practice, Teutscher Fürsten-Staat [German Princely State] went through twelve editions by the year 1754. Author Veit Ludwig von Seckendorff acquired his earliest credentials in the service of Duke Ernst I (“the Pious”) of Saxe-Gotha. In this book, he aimed to present a model of state administration applicable to “most German principalities and lordships.” Seckendorff opposed princely absolutism and extolled the authority of the Holy Roman Emperors and the Empire’s High Courts, to which lesser princes were entitled to appeal against the unlawful actions of the more powerful. The Empire was the higher German fatherland. Princely subjects were “free-born” men whose customary liberties and rights their rulers were obliged to uphold. Seckendorff assumed that princes had to negotiate legislative and fiscal innovations with estates-based parliaments. Unworthy rulers, Seckendorff warns, could face the specter of domestic revolt and changes of government.

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German Princely State Part Two

On the government and constitution of a land and principality of clerical and secular status

Chap. I. On the territorial-princely government, sovereignty, and dominion in general

[ . . . ]

§ 1. We know, thank God, in the German states of no such power as is exercised by a single person in the land, who regards himself as the most elevated, and who holds most of the power over all others with or without right, solely according to his will and pleasure, much like, for example, a lord is accustomed to commanding over his bonded manservants and maids, ordering them to do this or that, whatever is useful to him in his home or what he desires.

§ 2. Instead, the territorial-princely government in the German principalities and lands, as in almost every lawful and well-ordered polity, is nothing other than the highest and uppermost dominion of the rightfully governing territorial prince or lord, which is employed and applied by him over the estates and subjects of the principality, as also over the land itself and the things belonging to it, for the preservation and affirmation of the common good and weal, in the clerical and secular estate, and for the application of the law.

§ 3. However, by attributing this supreme dominion solely to the person of the territorial lord [Landes-Herr], and therefore calling it territorial-princely [Landes-fürstlich] or territorial-sovereign [Landes-herrlich], we set aside all those persons in a land whom we have previously described in the first part, regardless of whether the same are enfeoffed or invested with a certain lordship [Herrlichkeit] and dominion, either by the territorial lord himself, or his ancestors, or by other external and foreign magistrates, in as much as the same are, by the customs of the lands, not mere liegemen or enclosed within the land, but simultaneously also freeholders and subjects: since in those cases neither the one nor the other, however mighty and rich he may be, nor the same taken as a whole, hold this kind of sovereign lordship and government in the land; rather, with respect to the territorial sovereign they are to be seen, as a whole and in particular, as subjects.

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