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David Hansemann to Prussian Interior Minister Ernst von Bodelschwingh (March 1, 1848)

With revolution spreading in France and about to reach Germany, David Justus Ludwig Hansemann (1790-1864), an Aachen businessman and politician, wrote a letter on March 1, 1848, to Prussian Interior Minister Ernst von Bodelschwingh (1794-1854), in which he described the dramatic consequences of three decades of absolutist rule. Highly critical of dynastic hubris, excessive military spending, and bloated bureaucracy, Hansemann rejected the Metternichean system.

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When the Fatherland is in danger, those who love it, however divergent their political views may previously have been, must draw closer together. Here the utmost candor is the primary duty. With this short preface I now turn to Your Excellency so that I might express, as concisely as possible, my views about Prussia's and Germany's situation and about ways to counter looming dangers.

For thirty years, the Continental governments have – with violence, cleverness, and consistency – pursued a system of bondage for the peoples. In one country, this has been achieved by the unvarnished ostentation of the most unrestricted princely power; in others, one has held fast to the principle of Absolutism, but sought to wrap it in somewhat more pleasant forms; in yet other countries, the government has arbitrarily changed a liberal constitution, or one has – by influencing the election of the estates or their composition, or by excluding unpopular members of the estates – twisted and turned it in such a way that one created the majorities one wanted, to the extent that this could be done. And even when these estates expressed their view with large majorities, one has preferred not to regard them as the wishes of the people. One has variously, specifically in German and Italian lands, established principles on the part of the governments, the purpose of which was to give the dynasties more importance than the nations.

The government ministers who have pursued such a policy, I assume, have done so in the honest conviction that they were following a good and reasonable path; but it is high time to realize that one was very much mistaken; it is now urgent to turn back and take a different path. For what results has this policy produced? In Spain and Portugal, a change in the order of succession. In France, the expulsion of a legitimate dynasty, and now also (at least for the time being) the expulsion of a new dynasty, a branch of the older one, and a state of affairs whose future shape is beyond human foresight. In Switzerland, a stronger development of the democratic principle in the republics there. In Italy, in all the lands not completely dependent on Austria, [there are] constitutional monarchies for now – but after the events in France, it is not at all certain whether this kind of development toward freedom will end matters, and additionally [there is] the liveliest spirit of nationality, linked with the strongest hatred against the Germans, whom one views as oppressors of Italian freedom.

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