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The Appeal of the Conservative Party in One Federal State (1876-1877)

The veneer of doctrinal unity and national reliability expressed in the German Conservative Party's 1876 program was transparently thin to observers in non-Prussian territories. These reports from the Kingdom of Saxony in 1876-1877 show that political observers held widely divergent opinions about the character of the new party and its prospects. All three reports are penned by diplomatic envoys stationed in the Saxon capital, Dresden. The British envoy has little sympathy for what he describes as a doctrinaire and marginal party. The Bavarian envoy is more sympathetic, not least because the Saxon Conservatives share the envoy's pro-church and anti-Prussian sentiments. The Prussian envoy offers three reports written during the Reichstag election campaign of January 1877 – the first test of the new party. He is appalled that the Saxon Conservatives are rebellious and particularist: they seem to detest liberals more than Social Democrats. This envoy worries that local support for August Bebel represents the wedge that will open up further socialist advances in Germany. We know from other evidence, however, that Bismarck in the 1880s, like the Saxon Conservatives in 1877, was willing to consider socialist victories over left-liberal opponents as the lesser of two evils.

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I. The British envoy reports from Dresden (July 29, 1876)*

The appeal of the “German Conservatives” seems to have met with no response in Saxony except in a small High Protestant organ [the Neue Reichszeitung] and in a Dresden journal belonging to Herr [Ludwig] von Zehmen, the President of the 1st Chamber, and a knot of landowners. But although the “Reichszeitung” invites all loyal opponents of the prevalent political and economic anarchy to support the new party, neither Herr von Zehmen nor any of his more conspicuous friends have signed the Conservative Programme, which has a very obscure contingent of Saxon names.

The objectives of the old Conservatives of Saxony (where a Constitution was signed nearly 20 years before the King of Prussia allowed the “sheet of white paper to come between me and my people”)** are not quite identical with those of the North German Junkerthum. The Saxon type may indulge in feudal regrets, but his active political passion is his Particularism, which is far too bitter to approve the compromise with centralisation apparently admitted in the Programme. Then he is not altogether an “Agrarian” in the new Prussian sense. The word has been used, here, but industrial interests predominate so much that agricultural questions do not come to the front, the complaint of excessive and unusual taxation being besides a town rather than a country cry. The National Liberal papers have done little more than reproduce the Berlin criticisms of the movement, which the Fortschritt “Presse” [a Progressive Party newspaper] ridicules as a still-born attempt to form the long announced party of “Bismarck avec phrase.”*** If the Saxon Conservatives believe the statement that Prince Bismarck has approved the Programme, they will scarcely follow the call of the “Reichszeitung.” Their adhesion or indifference can be of no great importance, for although some [number illegible] of them sit in the 1st Chamber they have no existence as an effective political party.

* Common abbreviations used by the envoy have been expanded; otherwise, British spelling and syntax have been preserved – ed.
** The envoy refers here to the Saxon constitution of 1831 and the Prussian constitution of 1850; in 1848-49 Prussia's King Friedrich Wilhelm IV refused to accept a constitution – a mere “scrap of paper” – from the Frankfurt Parliament – ed.
*** The Progressives' satirical allusion here is to the Free Conservative and Imperial Party, which was known as the “Bismarckian Party sans phrase” because of its consistent pro-governmental stance – ed.

Source: British envoy George Strachey, Dresden, to the British Foreign Office, London, report no. 34 (draft), 29 July 1876, in the National Archives, London (formerly Public Record Office, Kew), FO 215, No. 34.

[Original language is English]

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