Markus Moesslang, Sabine Freitag, Peter Wende, eds. British Envoys to Germany, 1830-1847. Volume II, 1830-1847. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xiii + 600 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-81868-1.
Reviewed by James M. Brophy (Department of History, University of Delaware)
Published on H-German (February, 2004)
The colloborative enterprise of London's German Historical Institute and the Royal Historical Society to publish hundreds of envoys' reports from Germany in the period 1830-47 constitutes a significant contribution to the era's research apparatus. Editors Markus Moesslang, Sabine Freitag, and Peter Wende have done a superb job editing and annotating the volume. The introduction offers a cogent analysis of the principal themes; the subject index is thorough and thematically subdivided; and the annotated index of names is a trove of biographical information on both the famous and obscure in the Vormaerz period. We have here a first-rate research tool. No mention is made of a third volume for the Revolution of 1848/49, which might have been the logical conclusion to this volume, and the remaining decades of the Confederation, but one hopes that this important third volume is in the making.
For balanced analysis on the affairs of the German Confederation, the British government stationed envoys in Frankfurt, Berlin, Hanover, Dresden, Stuttgart, Munich, and Vienna. (The Hansa consulates of Bremen, Luebeck, and Hamburg are, however, not included.) Sensibly, the editors have held true to this basic organization by presenting reports from each city in separate sections. As noted in the introduction, diplomats were trained to referee the views of the host government as well as to interpret them; consequently, the reports are doubly useful in recording regional political differences within the Confederation as well as registering the British perception of them. Diplomats consistently reported on regional and national politics, but the missives also deliver a passel of discrete commentaries on religion, commerce, public opinion, military affairs, harvests, popular culture, and other subjects that contributed to the omnibus category of social stability. As serial data, the reports mark the dynamic character of the two decades preceding the Revolution of 1848/49.
The main fare is formal politics, and the reportage will certainly interest historians of many stripes. Between 1830 and 1832, the July Monarchy of France, the new statehood of Belgium, and a series of revolutionary impulses generated within the German states demanded that Britain reassess its posture on the continent. Britain's response was a middling position. Staked between the "radical" activities of the "revolutionary party" and the counterrevolutionary measures of Austria and Prussia, British policy could be simultaneously critical of [government and opposition. Envoys, for example, could applaud the censoring of Young Germany authors but still criticize the arbitrary nature of neoabsolutist governance. The British response to the Six Articles (1832) and the Storming of the Frankfurt Guard House (1833) are probably the most salient episodes to trace the new diplomatic demarche. In 1832, and again in 1833-34, Lord Palmerston forcefully protested the violation of state sovereignty that the confederal Six Acts imposed on the constitutional freedoms of individual German states. As a co-signatory to the Vienna Settlement in 1815, Palmerston argued, Britain possessed the right to guarantee the constitutional rights of smaller German states. In 1832, Britain objected to the Six Act's intention to roll back the relatively liberal press freedoms of southwestern Germany. A year later, the Confederation's military occupation of the free city of Frankfurt, following the city's bungled attempts to defend itself against revolutionary conspirators, became the crux of another dispute about the rights of small states to maintain sovereignty. Palmerston's principles, of course, rested on the pragmatism of maintaining the Confederation as a stable buffer zone between great powers and not tolerating any designs by Austria or Prussia (whether annexationist or hegemonic) that might undermine the legitimacy of the Confederation.
Britain lost this diplomatic intervention in 1834, but the stance resurfaced with the constitutional crisis of Hanover (1837) and remained a guiding policy throughout the tumultuous 1840s. Although the envoys' reports did not always affect Palmerston's policies, which worked within a larger international scope, they nonetheless confirm Britain's critical attention to the various constitutional configurations in the Confederation, and furthermore register the impact of popular political agitation on European statecraft. For scholars interested in comparing constitutional affairs in Baden, Bavaria, Brunswick, Hanover, Prussia, Saxony, and Wuerttemberg, these reports make for interesting reading. Because only four of the thirty-nine states of the Confederation lacked constitutions by 1847, Vormaerz Germany can be viewed as a laboratory of constitutional experimentation, explaining the vigorous public interest in politics, and the ensuing tempo of politicization. Equally interesting are the envoys' observations regarding the waning power of the Confederation's Diet to arbitrate and govern between the states of the union. Whereas envoys perceived the Diet as a legitimate and powerful political force in Germany in the early 1830s, the Diet's loss of prestige is increasingly noted after its fruitless intervention in the Hanoverian constitutional crisis of 1837-39. By the mid-1840s, the character and reputation of the Diet had significantly deteriorated.
Envoys also reported on the Prussian Zollverein and Germany's rising commercial capabilities. One finds mostly telegraphic announcements of changes in the expanding union, but there are occasionally shrewd analyses of Prussian designs. Perhaps the most insightful is Thomas Cartwright's lengthy analysis in May 1836, which denoted both the commercial and political dimensions to the tariff union (pp. 79-83). Cartwright assessed Prussia's economic gradualism as politically astute:
"If Prussia had attempted too soon to manifest ambitious views of Political ascendancy, She might have aroused the jealous fears of Bavaria and Wuerttemberg and afforded Austria an opportunity of overturning her projects, but she is carefully avoiding any fault of the kind. She is playing a cautious and prudent game and quietly laying the sure foundations of future power" (p. 82).
The quality of this report, though, is exceptional. Although the editors' introduction offers a logical analysis of British policy toward the Customs Union, the reports are more desultory and fragmented than one is led to believe. Envoys were not always particularly interested in the details of commercial life, a suspicion that is confirmed by the absence of any systematic discussion on Germany's impressive industrial development in the 1840s. In his study on Britain's views of the Zollverein in the period 1848-66, John R. Davis argued that, for various reasons, "British decision-makers remained pitifully unaware of developments in the Zollverein until 1866." One could perhaps extend this argument to the pre-1848 period; economic analysis of the German Confederation was not consistently strong, thus encouraging domestic indifference to continental developments.
As with all edited volumes of primary source material, the reader always wonders about what is left out. The criteria for excision are not explicitly stated, so one wonders whether reports were deleted to avoid undue repetition from other consulate reports or merely because they no longer appeal to current historical interests. Given the exacting and professional standards of the editors, however, I am inclined to trust their judgment and praise their ability to introduce a wide range of political, social, economic, and cultural issues to attest this source material's richness. In conclusion, this volume and its companions are highly recommended for undergraduate and graduate seminar work. It deserves to be a standard work in every reference library.
. John R. Davis, Britain and the Zollverein, 1848-66 (London: MacMillan, 1997), p. 170.
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James M. Brophy. Review of Moesslang, Markus; Freitag, Sabine; Wende, Peter, eds., British Envoys to Germany, 1830-1847. Volume II, 1830-1847.
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Copyright © 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.