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"Declaration of Sovereignty of the [German] People Between the [Rivers] Meuse, Rhine, and Mosel" (November 13, 1797)

The numbers of German partisans of the French Revolution – German Jacobins – are difficult to establish, but in the early- and mid-1790s they gained strength, especially in west and south Germany. In 1792-93, they succeeded in establishing a short-lived republic in the important city of Mainz. Later, they aimed at the creation of a German republic on the left bank of the Rhine, but when French policy decreed the annexation of this “cisrhenian” region into the French Republic, the German Jacobins shifted their ground accordingly, producing the statement excerpted here as a “declaration of sovereignty,” that is, secession from the Holy Roman Empire. This text illustrates the various strands of criticism of Old Regime Germany and liberal-democratic Enlightenment ideology that comprised the German Jacobins’ exalted mentality.

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Straining under the yokes of our tyrants, oppressed by the despotism of the monarchy, we kissed the hand that struck us, and we did not even dare to think of a revolution [Umwälzung] that could end all of that evil. Our oppressors saw that their crimes went unpunished; blinded by this, they pondered the means of spreading their limitless despotism further, and they allied themselves with the conspirators whom a reborn France had disgorged from its crotch [Schoße]. Then, at once, the French people shook the kings on their wobbling thrones, the people were witnesses to the victories of the great nations who proclaimed the inalienable rights of humankind [unveräußerlichen Rechte des Menschen]. Restored to our natural state, we say: the tyrants are only great because the people kneel before them. Stand up, people! And the tyrants will lay at your feet. We are thoroughly convinced that no public good [Gemeinwohl] is conceivable without the exercise of democratic principles. We have been taught by experience that the people who deviate from such principles can never accomplish the goals that they have articulated in forming an association [bei der Bildung in Gesellschaften]. Thus, we have decided to break the chains of slavery which have hitherto shackled us. For these reasons [ . . . ]

The patriots, who represent the people between the Meuse, Rhine, and Mosel [Rivers] by way of the reconquest of inalienable natural rights, in consideration of all this, proclaim before the Supreme Being the sovereignty of the people, and declare as follows:

1) The former princes or so-called sovereigns of these territories are enemies of the nation and banished from this region forever;

2) The inhabitants of the aforementioned territories are free and independent;

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