GHDI logo

National Liberal Party, Founding Program (June 12, 1867)

With the defeat of Austria in 1866 and the establishment of the North German Confederation in early 1867, the dream of a “lesser German” (kleindeutsch) nation-state appeared within reach to National Liberals; but many questions lay open. Indeed, ever since the Progressive Party split in the early autumn of 1866 over the Indemnity Law, liberals who wanted to express their agreement with Bismarck's course in other ways had been edging towards independence. This development had been slowed but not halted when the “liberal nationalists” made a dismal showing in the Reichstag elections of February 1867. In its founding program of June 1867 – authored in large measure by Eduard Lasker (1829-1884) and written with the next Reichstag elections of July 1867 very much in mind – the National Liberal Party advocates national unity as its major objective. It also stresses the inclusion of southern Germany, the need for liberty and the rule of law, a stronger Reichstag, and the continuing evolution of the constitution. Soon the party's central role in national unification was rewarded with electoral success. In 1874 it won 155 Reichstag seats with about 30% of the popular vote. Long-term electoral decline, which was only partly the result of the Secession of 1880, was briefly reversed in the “nationalist” elections of 1887, when the party's seat total rose to 99. But three years later, in 1890, the party suffered the odium of belonging to Bismarck's “Cartel”; it won just 42 seats with about 16% of the vote.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 5

When the old Confederation broke apart last year and the Prussian government declared its earnest intention to maintain the national bond and to set German unity on firmer foundations, we felt there could be no doubt that the liberal forces of the nation must assist in the undertaking if the work of unification were to succeed and in the process satisfy the people's need for freedom. For the sake of this goal we were ready to render assistance. This assistance only became possible when the government desisted from its infractions of constitutional law, recognized the principles that have been so resolutely defended by the Liberal party, and requested and received the indemnity. The groupings within the party occasioned by the constitutional conflict were not adequate to assure the continuation of this assistance. Thus the requirements of the new situation called for the formation of the National Liberal party, a party whose purpose is the establishment, upon the foundations at hand, of a unified Germany endowed with both power and freedom.

We never harbored any illusions about the difficulties inherent in the task of promoting development along liberal lines while working in collaboration with a government that for years maintained the constitutional conflict and administered without a duly passed budget, and having to do this with imperfect constitutional weapons. But we undertook this task with the firm intention of overcoming the difficulties involved through continuous, earnest labor and with the confidence that the greatness of the goal would strengthen the energy of the people.

For we are inspired and united by the thought that, in the long run, national unity cannot be achieved and maintained without the full satisfaction of the liberal demands of the people and that, without the active and driving power of national unity, the people's instinct for freedom cannot be satisfied. Therefore our motto is as follows: the German state and German freedom must be achieved simultaneously and through the same means. It would be a pernicious error to believe that the people, its advocates, and its representatives need only protect the interests of freedom; or that, on the other hand, unity will be achieved without us by the government on the basis of politics made by its ministers.

first page < previous   |   next > last page