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Imperial and Free Conservative Party, Founding Manifesto (October 27, 1867)

Although dissension was evident in conservative ranks as early as July 1866, after the North German Confederation was established in 1867 a small group split from the main body of Conservatives to form the Imperial and Free Conservative Party. In Prussia the new grouping took the name Free Conservative Party, which is how most Germans knew it; but the Imperial Party label was used nationally to signal the party's willingness to embrace the new German empire. Probably drafted by Karl Ludwig Aegidi (1825-1901), the party's founding manifesto became its de facto program. It expresses typical conservative support for strong government and the monarchy; it also asserts a commitment to the constitution and self-government. The last lines of the manifesto indicate the party's sensitivity toward the charge that it will toe the government line through thick and thin. Not without justification it was known as the “party of ambassadors and ministers,” as a quintessential “middle party,” as the “Bismarckian party sans phrase.” Thus the party profited just as much from Bismarck's support in the anti-Socialist Reichstag campaign of 1878, when it won 57 seats with about 14% of the popular vote, as it suffered from the anti-Bismarck backlash in 1890, when it sank to 20 Reichstag seats and 7% of the vote.

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At the close of the Reichstag and in view of a new legislative period in the [Prussian] Landtag, the undersigned Prussian members of the Free Conservative Party feel compelled to announce the political course they represent in clear words, and [to describe] the way they have advanced, and will continue to advance, this course in their parliamentary work. Above all, we welcome the memorable moment when the old and new Prussia will seal its united statehood in a common representative body of the people. We have come together in the Reichstag as countrymen, and it shall thus be the national interest that unites us in the most heartfelt way. We will have to prove to the new provinces that Prussian and German are one and the same, and that Germany wins that which Prussia acquires. An un-German attitude is alien to us.

We do not fail to recognize the legitimacy of the party system, but we resolutely reject its excesses and exaggerations. We approve of neither the subjugation of men with strength of character to the dogmatism of one political school, nor the subjection of patriotic interests to the special interests of partisan parties. We do not seek to reach an agreement on comprehensive theories but rather on practical questions of current interest. We always value the Fatherland above the party; we value the national interest above all else.

There is a deeper purpose to this. We regard the history of the Prussian state as the prehistory of the new Germany. The great task that reached its progressive resolution in the creation of the Prussian state, the Customs Union [Zollverein], and the North German Confederation is now nearing fulfillment and completion – not only through the inevitable unification with the German south but also through the internal organization of the new German state, towards which the first meaningful steps have been taken in this session of the Reichstag. By offering our support, in every way we can, for the national policies of the Federal Chancellor, who pursues the same goals, we, as independent men true to our principles, are putting into practice an essentially conservative idea: we are carefully cultivating and fostering the existing healthy elements that are capable of development, but we are neither breaking with history nor trying to reshape living reality according to some doctrine. The North German Confederation, arising from the Customs Union and about to expand into the “German Empire,” appears to us to be a German extension of the Prussian monarchy.

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