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Maximilian von Montgelas, "Ansbach Memorandum." Proposal for a Program of State Reforms (September 30, 1796)

Maximilian von Montgelas (1759-1838) composed this reform program for Duke Max IV Joseph of Palatinate-Zweibrücken, who went on to become Elector Max IV Joseph of Bavaria and the Rhine Palatinate in 1799 and King Maximilian I of a newly enlarged Bavaria in 1806. From 1799 to 1817, Montgelas was the presiding spirit and executor of a Bavarian reform program that transformed the state in fundamental ways. In the following document, originally written in French, Montgelas speaks as a “humane and enlightened person” and criticizes the inefficiencies and corruption of the old-regime administration. He advocates tightening state control over the Catholic Church and cutting back its incomes and costs; fundamental school reforms, especially at the elementary level, where the “national spirit” is formed; religious tolerance; and an end to censorship. Montgelas claims that it is not enlightenment but “crude ignorance that sparks revolutions and overthrows empires.”

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Memorandum Presented to Monseigneur the Duke on September 30, 1796

One of the greatest flaws of the Bavarian administration lies in the defective organization of the central ministry. A precise division of the departments, so useful for maintaining the order without which business cannot be carried out in a regular fashion, is absolutely unknown there. Most of the ministers sit on the council merely as a matter of form. The chancellor is, strictly speaking, the only one who works. Everything is referred to him. He alone prepares and deals with all the questions on which the Sovereign has reserved the right of decision. This arrangement, which was fine for the Middle Ages, when the simplicity of handling things facilitated and lessened the work of government officials, is no longer suitable today, as matters have become much more complicated. It has simply led to this minister, who cannot cope with a task that exceeds human capacities, being obliged to rely on subordinates who are almost always imperfectly trained and very often corrupt. More than once, simple copyists have made final decisions regarding the happiness or misfortune of a respectable family. This major shortcoming could be easily remedied if a rational division of the departments were undertaken; there needs to be a separation of those matters that, on the basis of their diversity, are not suitable for combination; there must be clear demarcations that no sub-department can overstep; and the purely nominal figures who have headed the ministries up to this point must be replaced with intelligent persons, workers who are capable of supervising their subordinates, of bringing their ideas into line, and of justifying in every respect the confidence that the Prince has in them. One obstacle that would have to be avoided is setting salaries too low. Every individual who devotes his time to the service of the state has a right to a salary allowing him to live decently, in a style commensurate with his rank in society, and after his death, to a decent livelihood for his wife and children. Up to this point, a completely opposite principle has been followed: it has been thought possible to gain a great deal by purchasing service cheaply. [ . . . ]

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