For us the unification of all of Germany under one and the same constitution is the highest task of the present.
To bring a monarchical federal state into harmony with the requisites of constitutional law is a difficult assignment, something that has never yet been accomplished in the history of mankind. The constitution of the North German Confederation accomplished this task neither completely nor in a conclusively satisfactory manner. But we consider the new constitution to be the first indispensable step on the road to a German state whose freedom and power will be firmly secured. The accession of southern Germany, which the constitution holds open, must be promoted with urgency and with all available forces, but under no circumstances should it weaken or place in question the unitary central power.
A constitution that arises through the agency of practical necessities never comes into being without shortcomings. In the present instance these imperfections grew with the number of conflicting interests. However, it was always a sign of healthy vitality that the improving hand went to work immediately. We have not escaped the lot of human imperfection, but the difficulties have not discouraged us, and the imperfections have not blinded us to the good nucleus we now possess. Just as in its earliest stages our party was concerned to improve, so will it work without pause – indeed in the next session of the Reichstag – to strengthen and complete the constitution along the lines already laid out.
We saw in Parliament the union of the living active forces of the nation. Universal and equal suffrage, direct elections, and the secret ballot have with our assistance become the foundation of public life. We are not oblivious to the dangers that go along with these things, so long as freedom of the press and the rights of assembly and association are infringed upon by police power, as long as the primary schools stand under crippling regulations, and elections are subjected to bureaucratic interventions, dangers made all the more ominous by the fact that the refusal of daily allowances for deputies limits the ability of persons to stand for election. However, although these guaranties could not be achieved, the dangers have not deterred us. It is now up to the people to demand honest elections. Strenuous efforts will succeed in enabling the people to express its voice in accordance with the truth, and once this happens general suffrage will become the sturdiest bulwark of freedom. It will clear away the remnants of the estates system that have survived into modern times and will finally make guaranteed equality before the law a reality.