Part 7 out of 10
Imperial Guard, General Bourbaki--Nancy.
Ist Corps, Marshal MacMahon--Strassburg.
IId Corps, General Frossard--St. Avold.
IIId Corps, Marshal Bazaine--Metz.
IVth Corps, General Ladmirault--Diedenhofen.
Vth Corps, General Failly--Bitsch.
VIth Corps, Marshal Canrobert--Chalons.
VIIth Corps, General Felix Douay--Belfort.
Thus there were only two Corps in Alsace, and five on the Moselle;
and, on the day of the declaration of war, one of these, the IId
Corps, was pushed forward close to the German frontier, near St. Avold
and Forbach. This IId Corps, however, received instructions not to
engage in any serious conflict.
The regiments had marched out of quarters incomplete as to numbers,
and insufficiently equipped. Meanwhile the reserves called out to fill
their place had choked the railway traffic; they crowded the depots,
and filled the railway stations.
The progress to their destination was delayed, for it was often
unknown at the railway stations where the regiments to which the
reserves were to be sent were at the time encamped. When they at last
joined they were without the most necessary articles of equipment. The
Corps and Divisions had no artillery or baggage, no ambulances, and
only a very insufficient number of officers. No magazines had been
established beforehand, and the troops were to depend on the
fortresses. These were but ill-supplied, for in the assured
expectation that the armies would be almost immediately sent on into
the enemy's country they had been neglected.
In the same way the Staff-officers had been provided with maps of
Germany, but not of their own provinces. The Ministry of War in Paris
was inundated with claims, protestations, and expostulations, and
finally it was left to the troops to help themselves as best they
could. _On se debrouillera_ was the hope of the authorities.
When the Emperor arrived at Metz, a week after the declaration of war,
the regiments were not yet complete, and it was not even exactly known
where whole Divisions were at that time encamped. The Emperor ordered
the troops to advance, but his Marshals declared that the condition of
the troops made this impossible for the time being.
It was gradually dawning upon them that, instead of attacking the
enemy in his country, they would have to defend their own. Rumor had
it, that a strong army of the enemy had assembled between Mayence and
Coblentz; instead of sending reinforcements from Metz to Strassburg,
they were ordered to proceed from the Rhine to the Saar. The
determination to invade South Germany was already abandoned; the fleet
had sailed round, but without any troops to land.
Germany had been surprised by the declaration of war, but she was not
unprepared. The possibility of such an event had been foreseen.
When Austria had separated her interests from those of the other
German states, Prussia undertook the sole leadership, and paved the
way to more intimate relations with the South-German states. The idea
of national unification had been revived, and found an echo in the
patriotic sentiments of the entire people.
The means of mobilizing the North-German army had been reviewed year
by year, in view of any changes in the military or political
situation, by the Staff, in conjunction with the Ministry of War.
Every branch of the administration throughout the country had been
kept informed of all it ought to know of these matters. The Berlin
authorities had likewise come to a confidential understanding with the
army chiefs of the South-German states on all important points. It
had been conceded that Prussia was not to be reckoned on for the
defence of any particular point, as the Black Forest, for instance;
and it was decided that the best way of protecting South Germany would
be by an incursion into Alsace across the central part of the Rhine;
which could be backed up by the main force assembled at that point.
The fact that the Governments of Bavaria, Wuertemberg, Baden, and
Hesse, denuding their own countries as it were, were ready to place
their contingents under the command of King William proves their
entire confidence in the Prussian generals.
As soon as this understanding was arrived at the other preparations
could be made. The orders for marching, and traveling by rail or boat,
were worked out for each division of the army, together with the most
minute directions as to their different starting points, the day and
hour of departure, the duration of the journey, the refreshment
stations, and place of destination. At the meeting-point cantonments
were assigned to each Corps and Division, stores and magazines were
established; and thus, when war was declared, it needed only the Royal
signature to set the entire apparatus in motion with undisturbed
precision. There was nothing to be changed in the directions
originally given; it sufficed to carry out the plans prearranged and
The mobilized forces were divided into three independent armies on a
basis worked out by the general of the Prussian staff.
The First Army, under the command of General von Steinmetz, consisted
of the VIIth and VIIIth Corps, and one division of cavalry; 60,000 men
all told. It was ordered to encamp at Wittlich and form the right
The Second Army, under the command of Prince Frederick Charles, was
131,000 strong, and constituted the central army. It consisted of the
IIId, IVth, and Xth Corps of Guards, and two divisions of cavalry. Its
meeting-point was in the vicinity of Homburg and Neunkirchen. The
Third Army, under the command of the Crown Prince of Prussia, was to
form the left wing, near Landau and Rastat, a strength of about
130,000 men. It consisted of the Vth and XIth Prussian, and the Ist
and IId Bavarian Corps, the Wuertemberg and the Baden Field Divisions,
and one division of cavalry.
The IXth Corps, consisting of the 18th and the Hesse divisions, was
united with the XIIth Royal Saxon Corps to form a reserve of 60,000
men, and was encamped before Mayence, to reinforce the Second Army,
which was thus brought up to the strength of 194,000 men.
The three armies combined numbered 384,000 men.
There were still the Ist, IId, and IVth Corps, 100,000 men; but they
were not at first included, as the means of railway transport were
engaged for twenty-one days.
The 17th Division and the Landwehr troops were told off to defend the
coast. During the night of July 16th the Royal order for the
mobilization of the army was issued, and when His Majesty arrived in
Mayence, a fortnight later, he found 300,000 men assembled on and in
front of the Rhine.
In his plan of war, submitted by the Chief of the General Staff, and
accepted by the King, that officer had his eye fixed, from the first,
upon the capture of the enemy's capital, the possession of which is of
more importance in France than in other countries. On the way thither
the hostile forces were to be driven as persistently as possible back
from the fertile southern states into the narrower tract on the north.
But above all the plan of war was based on the resolve to attack the
enemy at once, wherever found, and keep the German forces so compact
that a superior force could always be brought into the field. By
whatever special means these plans were to be accomplished was left to
the decision of the hour; the advance to the frontiers alone was
preordained in every detail.
It is a delusion to believe that a plan of war may be laid for a
prolonged period and carried out in every point. The first collision
with the enemy changes the situation entirely, according to the
result. Some things decided upon will be impracticable; others, which
originally seemed impossible, become feasible. All that the leader of
an army can do is to get a clear view of the circumstances, to decide
for the best for an unknown period, and carry out his purpose
The departure of the French troops to the frontier, before they were
thoroughly prepared for service in the field, which is a very serious
step to take, was evidently ordered for the purpose of surprising the
German army, with the forces immediately at command, and thus
interfering with the formation of their advance. But, in spite of
this, the German commanders did not deviate from their purpose of
massing their armies on the Rhine and crossing that river. The railway
transport of the troops of the IId and IIId Corps, however, was to end
at the Rhine; thence they were to march on foot into the cantonments
prepared on the left bank of the river. They moved in echelon,
advancing only so many at a time as would make room for the Division
behind them, as far as the line marked by the towns of Bingen,
Duerkheim, and Landau.
The final advance towards the frontier was not to be undertaken until
the Divisions and Corps were all collected, and provided with the
all-necessary baggage train; and then proceed in a state of readiness
to confront the enemy at any moment.
The assembling of the First Army appeared to be less threatened, as
its route lay through neutral territory, and was protected by the
garrisons of Treves, Saarlouis, and Saarbruecken, the German outposts
on the Saar.
The First Army, 50,000 strong, was concentrated at Wadern, in the
first days of August. The Second Army, which meanwhile had been
increased to a strength of 194,000 men, had pushed forward its
cantonments to Alsenz-Guennstadt, at the termination of the Haardt
Mountains, a position which had been thoroughly reconnoitered by an
officer of the Staff, and where the troops might boldly await an
The 5th and 6th Cavalry Divisions were reconnoitering the country in
front. The regiments and squadrons of the Third Army were still
gathering on both banks of the Rhine.
The French so far had made no serious attempt at Saarbruecken;
Lieutenant-Colonel Pestel was able to successfully withstand their
petty attacks with one battalion and three squadrons of cavalry.
It had meanwhile been observed that the French were moving further to
the right, toward Forbach and Bitsch, which seemed to indicate that
the two French Corps, known to be drawn up at Belfort and Strassburg,
might purpose crossing the Rhine and marching on the Black Forest. It
was therefore of very great importance to set the Third Army moving at
the earliest opportunity, first to protect the right bank of the Upper
Rhine by an advance on the left; secondly to cover the progress of the
Second Army towards that point.
A telegraphic order to that effect was dispatched on the evening of
July 30th, but the General in command of the Third Army Corps desired
to wait for the arrival of the Fourth and its baggage train. In spite
of this hesitancy the Second Army was ordered to proceed towards the
Saar, where the French were showing much uneasiness.
The time had gone by when they might have taken advantage of their
over-hasty mobilization; the condition of the men had prohibited any
action. France was waiting for news of a victory; something had to be
done to appease public impatience, so, in order to do something, the
enemy resolved (as is usual under such circumstances) on a hostile
reconnoissance, and, it may be added, with the usual result.
On August 2d three entire Divisions were sent forward against three
battalions, four squadrons, and one battery in Saarbruecken. The
Emperor himself and the Prince Imperial watched the operations. The
IIId Corps advanced on Voelklingen, the Vth on Saargemuend, the IId on
The Germans evacuated Saarbruecken after a gallant defence and repeated
sorties, but the French did not cross the Saar. They may have
convinced themselves that they had wasted their strength by hitting in
the air, and had gained no information as to the resources and
position of the enemy.
After this the French generals hesitated for a long while between
contrary resolutions. Orders were given and recalled on the strength
of mere rumors. The left wing was reinforced on account of a current
story that 40,000 Prussians had marched through Treves, the Guards
received contradictory orders, and, when a small German force showed
itself at Loerrach in the Black Forest, it was at once decreed that the
VIIth Corps must remain in Alsace. Thus the French forces were spread
over the wide area between the Nied and the Upper Rhine, while the
Germans were advancing in compact masses on the Saar.
This scattered state of the army finally induced the French leaders to
divide their forces into two distinct armies. Marshal MacMahon took
provisional command of the Ist, VIIth, and Vth Corps, the latter being
withdrawn from Bitsch. The other Divisions were placed under Marshal
Bazaine, with the exception of the Guards, the command of which the
Emperor reserved to himself.
It had now become a pressing necessity to protect the left wing of the
advancing Second German Army against the French forces in Alsace; the
Third Army was therefore ordered to cross the frontier on August 4th,
without waiting any longer for the batteries to come up. The First
Army, forming the right wing, was already encamped near Wadern and
Losheim, three or four days' march nearer to the Saar than the Second
Army in the centre. They were ordered to concentrate in the
neighborhood of Tholey and there await further orders. In the first
place this, the weakest of the two Divisions, was not to be exposed
single-handed to an attack of the enemy's main force; and, secondly,
it was to be used for a flank-movement in case the Second Army should
meet the enemy on emerging from the forests of the Palatinate.
To execute this order, the First Army had to extend its cantonments in
a southerly direction as far as the line of march of the Second Army,
and evacuate its quarters near Ottweiler. This was a difficult matter
to accomplish, as all the towns and villages to the north were
billeted, and quarters had also to be found for the Ist Corps, now
advancing by the Birkenfeld route. General von Steinmetz therefore
decided to march his entire forces in the direction of Saarlouis and
Saarbruecken. The Second Army had assembled, and was ready for action
on August 4th, and received orders to take the field on the farther
side of the wooded zone of Kaiserslautern.
[Footnote 44: From _The Franco-German War of 1870-71._ Permission
Harper & Brothers, New York and London.]
BATTLE OF GRAVELOTTE--ST. PRIVAT
TRANSLATED BY CLARA BELL AND HENRY W. FISCHER
Marshal Bazaine had not thought it advisable to proceed to Verdun now
that the Germans were so close on the flank of such a movement. He
preferred to assemble his forces at Metz, in a position which he
rightly supposed to be almost impregnable.
Such a position was afforded by the range of hills, bordering on the
west of the valley of Chatel. That side facing the enemy sloped away
like a _glacis_, while the short and steep decline behind offered
protection for the reserves. The IId, IIId, IVth and VIth Corps were
placed on the ridge of the hills between Roncourt and Rozereuilles, a
distance of one mile and a half (German); thus there were eight or ten
men to every yard of ground.
A brigade of the Vth Corps stood at Ste.-Ruffine in the valley of the
Moselle, the cavalry in the rear of the two wings.
The positions of the IId and IIId Corps were hastily entrenched,
batteries and covered ways were established, and the farmhouses in
front prepared for defense. To approach this left wing from the west
it was necessary to cross the deep valley of the Mance. The VIth Corps
on the other hand had no engineering tools; and it is indicative of
the general ill-equipment of the French that, merely to convey the
wounded to the rear, in spite of the enormous baggage-train, provision
wagons had to be unloaded and their contents burnt. This Corps was
therefore unable to construct such defenses on the side overlooking
the forest of Jaumont as were necessary to strengthen the right wing.
This would undoubtedly have been the place for the Guards, but in his
fear of an attack from the south, Marshal Bazaine kept them in reserve
The King again arrived at Flavigny at six o'clock on the morning of
the 18th. All officers in command were ordered to report directly to
headquarters, and Staff-officers of Army Headquarters were despatched
in all directions to watch the progress of the engagement.
The VIIth army Corps, forming the pivot upon which the intended wheel
to the right was to be effected, occupied the Bois de Vaux and Bois
des Ognons; the 8th, under the personal command of the King, halted at
Rezonville, ready to proceed to the north or east, as might be
required. The IXth Corps, on its left, advanced toward the Marcel,
while the IIId and Xth formed the second line. The Guards and XIIth
Corps moved in a northerly direction.
A serious delay occurred when the XIIth Corps of the Second Army,
which was stationed on the right, was commanded to form the left wing,
by the crossing of the two on the march. The Saxon troops did not get
through Mars-la-Tour until nine o'clock, and till then the Guards
could not follow.
The advanced guard of the XIIth Corps had meanwhile reached Jarny, and
proceeded as far as Briey without encountering the enemy.
Before this could be known, the authorities at headquarters had been
convinced that at least the main forces of the enemy were still at
Metz; misapprehension, however, prevailed as to the extension of their
lines, and it was thought the French front did not reach beyond
Montigny. The general in command of the Second Army was therefore
instructed not to proceed further northward, but to join the IXth
Corps in attacking the enemy's right wing, and move in the direction
of Batilly with the Guards and the XIIth Corps. The First Army was
not to attack in the front until the Second was ready to strike.
In obedience to this, Prince Frederick Charles ordered the IXth Corps
to march on to Verneville, and, in case the French right wing should
be found there, to open battle by bringing a large force of artillery
into action. The Guards were to continue their advance _via_ Doncourt
to reinforce the IXth as soon as possible. The XIIth was to remain at
Jarny for the present.
A little later fresh reports came in which indicated that the IXth
Corps, if proceeding in the manner ordered, would come upon the French
centre, instead of their right wing. The Prince therefore determined
that the Corps should postpone the attack till the Guards had done so
at Amanvillers. At the same time the XIIth Corps was pushed on to
But, while these orders were being given, the first heavy firing was
heard at Verneville. This was at twelve o 'clock.
The two Corps on the left had, of their own accord, taken an easterly
direction without waiting for orders, and the IId Corps moved up
behind the IXth at the farm of Caulre.
General von Manstein, in command of the IXth, had observed from near
Verneville a French encampment at Amanvillers, apparently in a state
of quietude. From that point of view the great masses of troops on
their immediate left at St.-Privat were not visible. Mistaking this
camp for the right wing, he determined to act on his first orders and
take the foe by surprise. Eight of his batteries at once opened fire.
But it did not take the French troops long to move into the position
assigned to them. The independent action of a single Corps naturally
exposed it not only to the fire of the troops opposite, but to an
attack in flank.
To obtain some shelter on the field, the Prussian batteries had taken
up a position on the shoulder of the hill below Amanvillers facing the
southeast, where they were exposed from the north, on the flank, and
even in the rear to the fire of French artillery, as well as to the
concentrated fire of their infantry.
To meet this, the battalions nearest at hand were ordered forward.
They took possession of the eastern point of the Bois de la Cusse on
the left, and on the right seized the farmhouses of L'Envie and
Chantrenne, forcing their way into the Bois des Genivaux. Thus the
line of battle of the 18th Division gained a front of 4,000 paces.
Its losses were very great, for the French with their long-range
Chassepot rifles could afford to keep out of range of the needle-gun;
the artillery especially suffered severely. One of the batteries had
already lost forty-five gunners when it was attacked by French
sharpshooters. There was no infantry at hand to retaliate, and two
guns were lost. By two o'clock all the batteries were almost
_hors-de-combat_, and no relief arrived till the Hessian Division
reached Habonville, and brought up five batteries on either side of
the railway, thus diverting on themselves the concentrated fire of the
enemy. The batteries of the 18th Division, which had suffered most,
could now be withdrawn in succession, but even in their retreat they
had to defend themselves against their pursuers by grapeshot.
The artillery of the IIId Corps and the Guards were likewise sent to
the assistance of the IXth, and those of the damaged guns which were
still fit for service were at once brought into line. Thus a front of
130 guns was drawn up before Verneville as far as St.-Ail, and its
fire soon told upon the enemy. Now, when the IIId Corps was
approaching Verneville and the 3d Brigade of Guards had reached
Habonville, there was no fear that the French would break through the
The main force of the Guards had arrived at St.-Ail as early as two
o'clock. General von Pape at once saw that by wheeling to the east he
would not encounter the right wing of the French, which was to be
out-flanked, but would expose his own left wing to the forces
occupying Ste.-Marie-aux-Chenes. The first thing to be done was to
gain possession of this village--almost a town. It was strongly
occupied and well flanked by the main position of the French army;
but, in obedience to superior orders, he must await the arrival of a
cooeperative Saxon contingent.
The advance guard of this Corps had already reached the vicinity of
Batilly, but was yet half a mile distant from Ste.-Marie, so its
batteries could not be placed in position west of the town until three
o'clock. But, as the Guards had sent most of their own artillery to
the support of the IXth Corps, this was substantial aid.
Ten batteries now opened fire upon Ste.-Marie, and by the time it was
beginning to tell the 47th Brigade of the XIIth Corps came up. At
half-past three the Prussian and Saxon battalions stormed the town
from the south and west and north, amid vociferous cheers, and without
further returning the fire of the enemy. The French were driven from
the place, and a few hundred were taken prisoners.
The Saxons tried to follow them up, and a lively infantry engagement
ensued, north of Ste.-Marie, which masked the artillery. As soon as
the brigade had been ordered to retire, the batteries reopened fire,
and the repeated efforts of the French to regain the lost position
Soon afterwards the IXth Corps succeeded in taking and holding the
farm of Champenois, but all further attempts, by isolated battalions
or companies, to force their way on against the broad and compact
centre of the French were, on the face of it, futile. Thus, by about
five o'clock, the infantry ceased fire, and the artillery only fired
an occasional shot. Fatigue on both sides caused an almost total
suspension of hostilities in this part of the field.
The Commander-in-Chief decided that the First Army should not engage
in serious assault until the Second stood close to the enemy; but when
the day was half-spent and brisk firing was heard about noon from
Vionville, it was to be supposed that the time for action had arrived;
still, for the present permission was only given to send forward the
artillery in preparation for the fight. Sixteen batteries of the
VIIth and VIIIth Corps accordingly drew up to right and left of the
highway running through Gravelotte. Their fire was ineffective, as
they were too far from the enemy; besides they were suffering from the
fire of the French tirailleurs, who had established themselves in the
opposite woods. It became necessary to drive them out, so here again
there was a sharp skirmish. The French had to abandon the eastern
portion of the Mance valley, and the artillery, now increased to
twenty batteries, was able to advance to the western ridge and direct
its fire against the main position of the enemy.
The battalions of the 29th Brigade followed up this advantage. They
pressed forward into the southern part of the Bois des Genivaux on the
left, but were unable to effect a connection with the IXth Corps,
occupying the north of the forest, as the French could not be driven
from the intervening ground. On the right, various detachments took
possession of the quarries and gravel-pits near St.-Hubert.
The artillery meanwhile had got the better of the French guns; several
of their batteries were silenced, others prevented from getting into
position. The French fire was in part directed on the farm of
St.-Hubert, on which the 30th Brigade were gradually encroaching. This
well-defended structure was stormed at three o'clock, close under the
face of the enemy's main position, and in spite of a tremendous fire.
The 31st Brigade had also got across the valley, but an attempt to
reach the farms of Moscow and Leipzig, over the open plain enclosed by
the enemy on three sides, proved a failure and resulted in great loss.
The 26th Brigade had taken possession of Jussy, on the extreme right,
thus maintaining the connection with Metz, but found it impossible to
cross the deep valley of Rozerieulles.
The advanced detachments of the French had been repulsed on all sides,
the farms in their front were burning, their artillery appeared to be
silenced, and, viewing the situation from Gravelotte, there remained
nothing but pursuit. General von Steinmetz, therefore, at four
o'clock, ordered fresh forces to the front for a renewed attack.
While the VIIth Corps occupied the border of the wood, four batteries,
backed by the 1st Cavalry Division, made their way through the narrow
ravine extending for about 1,500 paces east of Gravelotte. But as soon
as the advanced guard of the long column came in sight, the French
redoubled their rifle and artillery fire, which had till now been kept
under. One battery had soon lost the men serving four of its guns, and
was hardly able to return into the wood; a second never even got into
position. The batteries under Hesse and Gnuegge, on the other hand,
held their own at St.-Hubert in spite of the loss of seventy-five
horses and of the firing from the quarries in their rear.
The foremost regiment of cavalry wheeled to the right after leaving
the hollow way, and galloped toward Point-du-Jour, but the enemy,
being completely under cover, offered no opportunity for an attack.
Evidently this was no field for utilizing the cavalry, so the
regiments retired through the Mance valley under a heavy fire from all
This ill-success of the Germans encouraged the French to advance from
Point-du-Jour with swarms of tirailleurs, who succeeded in driving the
Prussians back from the open ground as far as the skirts of the wood.
The bullets of the Chassepots even reached the hill where the
Commander-in-Chief was watching the battle, and Prince Adalbert's
horse was shot under him.
Fresh forces were now at hand and drove the enemy back to his main
position. St.-Hubert had remained in the hands of the Germans; and
though the survivors there were only sufficient to serve one gun,
still every attempt to cross the exposed plateau proved a failure.
Thus hostilities ceased at this point also, at about five o'clock in
the afternoon, allowing the weary troops on both sides to take breath
King William and his staff rode over to the hill on the south of
Malmaison at about the same hour, but could see nothing of the
situation of the left wing, which was more than a mile away. The
French artillery had ceased firing along the centre, from La Folie to
Point-du-Jour; but to the northward the thunder of artillery was
louder than ever. It was six o'clock, the day was nearly at an end,
and decided action must at once be taken. The King therefore ordered
the First Army to advance once more, and for that purpose placed the
IId Corps, just arrived after a long march, under the command of
General von Steinmetz.
Those battalions of VII Corps which could still do good service,
except five, which were kept in reserve, were again sent up the Mance
valley, and the battalions from the Bois de Vaux came to their support
toward Point-du-Jour and the quarries. The IId Corps of the French
Army thus attacked was now reinforced by Guard Voltigeur Division. All
the reserves were brought to the front. The artillery was more rapidly
served, and a destructive musketry fire was directed on the advancing
enemy. Then the French on their side made an attack. A strong body of
riflemen dispersed the smaller parties which were lying in the open,
destitute of commanders, and drove them back to the wood. There,
however, their advance was checked, and there was still another Army
Corps ready for action.
The IId Corps, the last to come up by rail to the seat of war, had up
to this time followed in the wake of the army by forced marches, but
had not yet fought in any engagement. It had started from
Point-a-Mousson at 2 p.m. and, taking the road by Buxieres and
Rezonville, arrived south of Gravelotte in the evening. The
Pomeranians were eager to get at the enemy without delay.
It would have been better if the Chief of the Staff, who was
personally on the field at the time, had not allowed this movement at
so late an hour. A body of troops, still completely intact, might have
been of great value the next day; it was not likely this evening to
affect the issue.
Rushing out of Gravelotte, the foremost battalions of the IId Corps
pushed forward to the quarries, and up to within a few hundred paces
of Point-du-Jour; but those following were soon entangled in the
turmoil of the troops under fire south of St.-Hubert, and any further
advance toward Moscow was arrested. Darkness was falling, and friend
became indistinguishable from foe. So the firing was stopped; but not
until ten o'clock did it entirely cease.
The advance of the IId Corps resulted in some good, however, for these
fresh troops could occupy the fighting-line for the night, while the
mixed companies of the VIIth and VIIIth Corps were enabled to re-form
in their rear.
The whole course of the engagement had conclusively proved that the
position of the French left wing, made almost impregnable by nature
and art, could not be shaken even by the most devoted bravery and the
greatest sacrifices. Both parties were now facing each other in
threatening proximity, and both fully able to reopen battle next
morning. The success of the day must depend on events at the other end
of the French line.
The Prince of Wurtemburg, standing at Ail, believed that the hour had
come for an attack on the French right at about a quarter-past five;
but that wing extended much further north than the line of his Guards,
further, indeed, than the French Commander-in-Chief himself was aware
of. Though the Saxons had participated in the capture of
Ste.-Marie-aux-Chenes, the Crown Prince deemed it necessary to
assemble his Corps at the Bois d'Auboue, to attack the enemy in flank.
One of the brigades had to come from Jarny, and one from Ste.-Marie;
so, as the Corps was late in getting away from Mars-la-Tour, it was
not expected to be on the field for some hours yet.
The 4th Brigade of Foot Guards, in obedience to orders, proceeded in
the direction of Jerusalem, immediately south of St.-Privat. As soon
as General von Manstein, in command of the IXth Corps, observed this,
he ordered the 3d Brigade of Guards, which had been placed at his
orders, to advance from Habonville toward Amanvillers.
Between these two brigades marched the Hessians, but it was not till
half an hour later that the First Division of Guards joined from
Ste.-Marie, marching on St.-Privat, on the left of the Second. This
attack was directed against the broad front of the French IVth and
VIth Corps. Their fortified positions at St.-Privat and Amanvillers
had as yet hardly felt the fire of the German batteries, which had
found sufficient employment in replying to the enemy's artillery
outside the villages.
Several ranks of riflemen, one above the other, were placed in front
of the French main position, on the hedges and fences in a slope up
the ridge. At their back towered St.-Privat, castle-like, with its
massive buildings, which were crowded by soldiers to the very roof.
The open plain in front was thus exposed to an overwhelming shower of
The losses of the attacking Guards were, in fact, enormous. In the
course of half an hour five battalions lost all, the others the
greater part of their officers, especially those of the higher grades.
Thousands of dead and wounded marked the track of the troops, who, in
spite of their losses, pressed forward. The ranks, as fast as they
were thinned, closed up again, and their compact formation was not
broken even under the leadership of young lieutenants and ensigns. As
they got nearer to the enemy the needle-gun did good service. The
French were driven from all their foremost positions, where, for the
most part, they did not await the final struggle. By a quarter-past
six the battalions had advanced to within 600 to 800 paces of
Amanvillers and St.-Privat. The troops, weary from long combat, halted
under the steeper slopes offering some, though small, protection, and
in the trenches just abandoned by the enemy. Only four battalions now
remained in reserve at Ste.-Marie, behind the German line, which now
extended to a length of 4,000 paces. Every charge of the French
cavalry and of Cissy's Division had been persistently repelled with
the aid of twelve batteries of the Guards which had now put in an
appearance; but the German troops, reduced, as they were, by untold
losses, had to face two French Corps for thirty minutes longer before
reinforcements came to their aid.
It was nearly seven o'clock when, to the left of the Guards, two
brigades of the Saxon infantry arrived on the field; the other two
were still assembling in the forest of Auboue; their artillery,
however, had for some time kept up a lively fire on Roncourt.
When Bazaine, at three o'clock, received word that the Germans were
extending the line to enclose his right wing, he ordered Picard's
Division of the Grenadier Guards, posted at Plappeville, to advance to
the scene of action. Though the distance was no more than a mile
through the wooded valley on the right of the highway, his
all-important reinforcement had not yet arrived at seven o'clock, and
Marshal Canrobert, who was hardly able, by the most strenuous efforts,
to check the advance of the Prussians, decided to rally his troops
closer to the fortified town of St.-Privat. The retreat from Roncourt
was to be covered by a small rearguard, as the border of the Bois de
Jaumont was to be held.
Thus it happened that the Saxons found less resistance at Roncourt
than they expected, and entered the town after a short struggle,
together with the companies of the extreme left of the Guards; part of
them had previously been diverted from the road to Roncourt to assist
the Guards, and marched direct on St.-Privat. There terrible havoc was
worked by the twenty-four batteries of the two German Corps. Many
houses were in flames, or falling in ruins under the shower of shell.
But the French were determined to defend this point, where the fate of
the day was to be decided, to the last. The batteries belonging to
their right wing were placed between St.-Privat and the Bois de
Jaumont, that is, on the flank of the advancing Saxons. Others faced
the Prussians from the south, and as the German columns came on side
by side they were received by a shower of bullets from the French
[Illustration: THE CAPITULATION OF SEDAN ANTON VON WERNER]
All these obstacles were defied in the onward rush, though again under
heavy losses, some stopping here and there to fire a volley, others
again never firing a shot. By sundown they stood within 300 paces of
St.-Privat. Some detachments of the Xth Corps, who were on the road to
St.-Ail, now joined them, and the final onset was made from every side
at once. The French still defended the burning houses and the church
with great obstinacy, till, finding themselves completely surrounded,
they surrendered at about eight o'clock. More than 2,000 men were
taken prisoners, and the wounded were rescued from the burning houses.
The defeated remnant of the IVth French Corps retired towards the
valley of the Moselle, their retreat being covered by the brigade
occupying the Bois de Jaumont and by the cavalry.
Only at that period did the Grenadier Guards put in an appearance,
drawing up the artillery reserves east of Amanvillers. The German
batteries at once took up the fight, which lasted till late in the
night, and Amanvillers also was left burning.
Here the retirement of the IVth French Corps had already commenced,
screened by repeated severe onslaughts; the right wing of the Guards
and the left of the IXth Corps had a lively hand-to-hand encounter
with the enemy. Still the town remained in the hands of the French for
the night. Their IIId Corps maintained their position at Moscow until
three o'clock, and the IId until five o'clock in the morning, though
engaged in constant frays with the outposts of the Pomeranian
Division, who eventually took possession of the plateaus of Moscow and
This success of the 18th of August had only been made possible by the
preceding battles of the 14th and 16th.
The French estimate their losses at 13,000 men. In October, 173,000
were still in Metz, which proves that more than 180,000 French engaged
in the battle of the 18th. The seven German Corps facing them were
exactly 178,818 strong. Thus the French had been driven out of a
position of almost unrivalled natural advantages by a numerically
inferior force. It is self-evident that the loss of the aggressors
must have been much greater than that of the defence; it amounted to
20,584 men, among them 899 officers.
Though the war-establishment provides one officer to every forty men,
in this battle one officer had been killed to every twenty-three; a
splendid testimony to the example set by the officers to their brave
men, but a loss which could not be made good during the course of the
war. During the first fortnight of August, in six battles the Germans
had lost 50,000 men. It was impossible at once to find substitutes,
but new companies were formed of time-expired soldiers.
The first thing to be done that same evening was to move on the
foremost baggage train, and the ambulance corps from the right bank of
the Moselle; ammunition was also served out all round. In Rezonville,
which was crowded with the wounded, a little garret for the King and
quarters for the Staff had with much difficulty been secured. The
officers were engaged throughout the night in studying the
requirements which the new situation created by the victory
peremptorily demanded. All these orders were placed before His Majesty
for approval by the morning of the 19th.
[Footnote 45: From _The Franco-German War of 1870-71_. Permission
Harper & Brothers, New York and London.]
CONSOLATORY THOUGHTS ON THE EARTHLY LIFE AND A FUTURE EXISTENCE
TRANSLATED BY MARY HERMS
The last noteworthy use to which the aged Fieldmarshal put his pen was
to commit to paper certain reflections and chains of reasoning, for
which he drew upon the rich experience of his strenuous and eventful
life, and in which he hoped to find consolation in his last days, and
a vantage ground from which he might cast a glance over the unknown
future and confirm his faith in an everlasting life.
The aim of the Fieldmarshal, in writing these pages, was to attain to
clearness of vision concerning his earthly lot, to bring the forces
which were at work in his soul into harmony with those which govern
the universe, to reconcile faith and knowledge, and to satisfy himself
that life on this earth can only be regarded as a preparation for
eternal life, and must be regulated accordingly. So lofty is this aim
that it alone entitles these confessions to a serious and respectful
consideration. But how much must our admiration and our sense of the
value of this work be increased when we perceive with what earnestness
of effort, and with what depth of feeling, the Fieldmarshal had
revolved these thoughts in his mind till he brought them to maturity.
And more than that. It was his wish to bequeath these consolatory
thoughts to his family, as a sincere confession of his private
convictions. This is the light in which he wished posterity to regard
this manuscript, which he wrote out in the last year of his life, in
wonderfully firm characters, which attest the worth of the matter
contained in it.
He wrote down these thoughts at Creisau, and left the copy on his
desk. Whenever he visited his country-seat he revised and corrected
what he had written. No less than four drafts of the introduction to
this work have been preserved.
The succession of thoughts is the same in all four versions, but on
the one hand renewed and deepened meditations enabled him to express
his ideas with greater force and precision, and on the other sometimes
developed them further, so as to present them more exhaustively and
These pages contain the last efforts of a noble life. In them Moltke
appears as he was when we knew him and took him for our pattern,
reconciled with the anomalies and the contradictions of life, with a
pious grasp of principles which he had thought out for himself, and in
the assurance of which he found peace. We learn here how it was
possible for him to rise superior to the world, and preserve a
contented mind in all the vicissitudes of life.
[Footnote 46: From _Moltke: His Life and Character_. Permission Harper
& Brothers, New York and London.]
Man feels that he is a complete being, different from other creatures,
and outwardly distinguished from them by his body, which here on earth
is the habitation of the soul.
Yet in this complete whole I believe I can distinguish different
functions, which, though closely connected with the soul, and ruled by
it, have an independent existence.
In the mysterious beginnings of life physical development takes the
first place. Nature is busily at work in the child's body as it grows,
and is already preparing it to be the dwelling-place of higher
functions. The body reaches the acme of its perfection before its
career is half over, and out of the surplus of its energy calls new
life into being. Thenceforward its lot is decay and painful struggling
to preserve its own existence.
During something like a third of our existence, that is, while we are
asleep, the body receives no commands from its ruler, and yet the
heart beats without interruption, the tissues are wasted and repaired,
and the process of respiration is continued, all independently of our
The servant may even rebel against the master, as when our muscles are
painfully contracted by cramp. But pain is the summons for help which
is sent by the living organism when it has lost control over the dead
matter, which loss we feel as the illness of our vassal.
On the whole we must regard our body as a real part of our being,
which is still, in a sense, external to our inmost selves.
Is, then, the soul at least the true ego, a single and indivisible
The intellect advances, by slow development, to greater and greater
perfection till old age is reached, if the body does not leave it in
the lurch. The critical faculty grows as experience accumulates, but
memory, reason's handmaid, disappears at an earlier stage, or at least
loses the power of receiving new impressions. Wonderful enough is this
faculty which enables us to store up all the valuable lessons and
experiences of earliest youth in a thousand drawers, which open in a
moment in answer to the requirements of the mind.
It is not to be disputed that the old often appear dull-witted, but I
cannot believe in a real darkening of the reason, which is a bright
spark of the Divine, and even in madness the negation of reason is
only external and apparent. A deaf man playing on an instrument out of
tune may strike the right notes, and be inwardly persuaded that his
execution is faultless, while all around him hear nothing but the
The sovereignty of reason is absolute; she recognizes no superior
authority. No power, not even that of our own wills, can compel her to
regard as false what she has already recognized as true.
_E pur si muove_!
Thought ranges through the infinite realms of starry space, and
fathoms the inscrutable depths of the minutest life, finding nowhere
any _limit_, but everywhere _law_, which is the immediate expression
of the divine thought.
The stone falls on Sirius by the same law of gravitation as on the
earth; the distances of the planets, the combinations of chemical
elements are based on arithmetical ratios, and everywhere the same
causes produce the same effects. Nowhere in nature is there anything
arbitrary, but everywhere law. True, reason cannot comprehend the
origin of things, but neither is she anywhere in conflict with the
laws that govern all things. Reason and the universe are in harmony;
they must therefore have the same origin.
Even when, through the imperfection of all created things, reason
enters on paths which lead to error, truth is still the one object of
Reason may thus be brought into conflict with many an honored
tradition. She rejects miracle, "faith's dearest child," and refuses
to admit that Omnipotence can ever find it necessary for the
attainment of its purposes to suspend, in isolated cases, the
operation of those laws by which the universe is eternally governed.
But these doubts are not directed against religion, but against the
form in which religion is presented to us.
Christianity has raised the world from barbarism to civilization. Its
influence has, in the course of centuries, abolished slavery, ennobled
work, emancipated women, and revealed eternity. But was it dogma that
brought these blessings? It is possible to avoid misunderstandings
with regard to all subjects except those which transcend human
conception, and these are the very subjects over which men have fought
and desolated the world for the last eighteen hundred years, from the
extermination of the Arians, on through the Thirty Years' War, to the
scaffold of the Inquisition, and what is the result of all this
fighting? The same differences of opinion as ever.
We may accept the doctrines of religion, as we accept the assurance of
a trusty friend, without examination, but the kernel of all religions
is the morality they teach, of which the Christian is the purest and
And yet men speak slightingly of a barren morality, and place the form
in which religion is presented before everything else. I fear it is
the pulpit zealot, who tries to persuade where he cannot convince,
that empties the church with his sermons.
After all, why should not every pious prayer, whether addressed to
Buddha, to Allah, or to Jehovah, be heard by the same God, beside whom
there is none other? Does not the mother hear her child's petition in
whatever language it lisps her name?
Reason is nowhere in conflict with morality, for the good is always
finally identical with the rational; but whether our actions shall or
shall not correspond with the good, reason cannot decide. Here the
ruling part of the soul is supreme, the soul which feels, acts, and
wills. To her alone, not to her two vassals, has God entrusted the
two-edged sword of freewill, that gift which, as Scripture tells us,
may be our salvation or our perdition.
But, more than this, a trusty councillor has been assigned us, who is
independent of our wills, and bears credentials from God Himself.
Conscience is an incorruptible and infallible judge, whom, if we will,
we may hear pronounce sentence every moment, and whose voice at last
reaches even those who most obstinately refuse to listen.
The laws which human society has imposed upon itself can take account
of actions only in their tribunals, and not of thoughts and feelings.
Even the various religions make different demands among the different
peoples. Here they require the Sunday to be kept holy, here the
Saturday or Friday. One allows pleasures which another forbids. Even
apart from these differences there is always a wide neutral ground
between what is allowed and what is forbidden; and it is here that
conscience, with her subtler discrimination, raises her voice. She
tells us that _every_ day should be kept sacred to the Lord, that even
permitted interest becomes unjust when exacted from the needy; in a
word, she preaches morality in the bosom of Christian and Jew, of
heathen and savage. For even among uncivilized races which have not
the light of Christianity there is an agreement as to the fundamental
conceptions of good and evil. They, too, recognize the breaking of
promises, lying, treachery, and ingratitude as evil; they, too, hold
as sacred the bond between parents, children, and kinsmen. It is
hard to believe in the universal corruption of mankind, for, however
obscured by savagery and superstition, there lies dormant in every
human breast that feeling for the noble and the beautiful which is the
seed of virtue, and a conscience which points out the right path. Can
there be a more convincing proof of God's existence than this
universal sense of right and wrong, this unanimous recognition of one
law, alike in the physical and in the moral world, except that nature
obeys this law with a full and absolute obedience, while man, who is
free, has the power of violating it?
The body and the reason serve the ruling part of the soul, but they
put forward claims of their own, they have their own share of power,
and thus man's life is a perpetual conflict with self. If in this
conflict the soul, hard-pressed from within and without, does not
always end by obeying the voice of conscience, let us hope that He who
created us imperfect will not require perfection from us.
For consider to what violent storms man is exposed in the voyage of
life, what variety there is in his natural endowments, what
incongruity between education and position in life. It is easy for the
favorite of fortune to keep in the right path; temptation, at any rate
to crime, hardly reaches him; how hard, on the other hand, is it for
the hungry, the uneducated, the passionate man to refrain from evil.
To all this due weight will be given in the last judgment, when guilt
and innocence are put in the balance, and thus mercy will become
justice, two conceptions which generally exclude one another.
It is harder to think of nothing than of something; when the something
is once given, harder to imagine cessation than continuance. This
earthly life cannot possibly be an end in itself. We did not ask for
it; it was given to us, imposed upon us. We must be destined to
something higher than a perpetual repetition of the sad experiences of
this life. Shall those enigmas which surround us on all sides, and for
a solution of which the best of mankind have sought their whole life
long, never be made plain? What purpose is served by the thousand ties
of love and friendship which bind past and present together, if there
is no future, if death ends all?
But what can we take with us into the future?
The functions of our earthly garment, the body, have ceased; the
matter composing it, which even during life was ever being changed,
has entered into new chemical combinations, and the earth enters into
possession of all that is her due. Not an atom is lost. Scripture
promises us the resurrection of a glorified body, and indeed a
separate existence without limitation in space is unthinkable; yet it
may be that this promise implies nothing more than the continued
existence of the individual, as opposed to pantheism.
We may be allowed to hope that our reason, and with it all the
knowledge that we have painfully acquired, will pass with us into
eternity; perhaps, too, the remembrance of our earthly life. Whether
that is really to be wished is another question. How if our whole life
all our thoughts and actions should some day be spread out before us
and we became our own judges, incorruptible and pitiless?
But, above all, the emotions must be retained by the soul, if it is to
be immortal. Friendship does indeed rest on reciprocity, and is partly
an affair of the reason; but love can exist though unreturned. Love is
the purest, the most divine spark of our being.
Scripture bids us before all things love God, an invisible,
incomprehensible Being, who sends us joy and happiness, but also
privation and pain. How else can we love Him than by obeying His
commandments, and loving our fellow-men, whom we see and understand?
When, as the Apostle Paul writes, faith is lost in knowledge, and hope
in sight, and only love remains, then we hope, not without reason, to
be assured of the love of our merciful Judge. COUNT MOLTKE.
Creisau, October, 1890.
* * * * *
THE LIFE AND WORK OF FERDINAND LASSALLE
By ARTHUR N. HOLCOMBE, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Government, Harvard University
Ferdinand Lassalle was born on April 11, 1825, at Breslau, of Jewish
parents. The father, Hyman Lassal, was a prosperous business man,
ambitious for his son, able to give him the best education the times
afforded, and willing to let him choose his own career. The life of
the Lassal family seems to have been like that of any well-to-do
Jewish family in the kingdom of Prussia during the early nineteenth
century. Of a quiet and peaceable behavior, they were devoted mainly
to money-making and their domestic affairs.
The young Lassalle gave early indications of his unusual character.
While still a boy in the local grammar school, his proud and
independent disposition won him the displeasure of his teachers.
Especially the oppression of his own race filled his soul with wrath.
"O could I only give myself up to my boyish day-dreams," he wrote in
his note-book at this time, "how I would put myself at the head of the
Jews, weapons in hand, and make them independent!" Eventually he
abandoned in disgust the attempt to gain a classical education in the
schools of his native city and entered the commercial high school in
Leipzig. Here again his fiery temperament could not brook the
restraints imposed upon him and he presently returned to his father's
The problem of a career was not easy to solve. The father's success
enabled the son to choose his course in life without regard to
financial considerations. Business and mere money-making were in fact
distasteful to him.
[Illustration: FERDINAND LASSALLE]
The learned professions were more to his liking. The father
recommended medicine or the law, but the son aspired to some less
hackneyed career. Jews were not then admitted to the service of the
state in Prussia and the absence of popular institutions of government
rendered an independent political career for the time being out of the
question. The son chose, therefore, to make his mark as a man of
learning. He would be a great philosopher or scientist. Doubtless he
kept in mind the possibility of engaging in journalism, should the
times change, and becoming a tribune of the people. Such bold ideas
are the birthright of all boys of spirit.
Ferdinand Lassale finished his education with his destiny consciously
before him. He studied philology and philosophy at the universities of
Breslau and Berlin and in the winter of 1845-46 made his first visit
to Paris as a traveling scholar. Here he first adorned his family name
with the final _le_, and here, also, he met the chief of the heroes of
his youth, Heinrich Heine. Heine has given us a vivid pen-picture of
Lassalle, as he saw him in those student days. "My friend, Mr.
Lassalle ... is a most highly gifted young man, uniting the widest
knowledge with the greatest astuteness. I have been astounded at his
energy of will, vigor of intellect, and promptness of action....
Lassalle is a true child of modern times, wishing to know nothing of
the humility and renunciation which have characterized our own lives.
This new race means to enjoy, to assert itself.... We were, however,
perhaps happier in our idealism than these stern gladiators who go
forth so proudly to mortal combats."
Returning to Berlin in the spring of 1846, Lassalle signalized the
attainment of his majority by espousing the cause of the Countess von
Hatzfeld, then in the midst of her suits for divorce and for an
accounting of her property. It was a characteristic act. The Countess'
troubles arose through no fault of his. He had little to gain by
engaging in the affair and much to lose--not only time and money,
but friends, reputation, and his very career. Yet he plunged into the
thick of the fray and made the cause of the unhappy lady his own. For
eight long years he fought her enemies from law-court to law-court,
through thirty-six of them in all, to final victory. From it all he
gained a good working knowledge of the law, a splendid training in
forensic address, and a taste of the joys of combat against bitter
odds. These things were later to stand him in good stead. But he had
touched smut and was himself besmirched.
Meanwhile the famous year, 1848, had come and gone. Men like Lassalle
are made for just such years. His friends all played their parts, each
in his own way, in the struggle for German liberty and union. Lassalle
alone was absent from the field. He was defending himself against a
charge of criminal conspiracy to commit larceny, an incident in the
case of the Countess von Hatzfeld. He disposed of this charge in
season to join the editors of the _Neue Rheinische Zeitung_, and in
the spring of 1849 he completed his apprenticeship as a revolutionist
with a term in jail. At the expiration of his sentence he returned to
the cause of the Countess, but he was required by the Prussian
government to keep away from Berlin. Not until 1857, through the
intervention of A. von Humboldt, did he receive permission to resume
his residence in the capital. Then, with his friend, the Countess, he
settled down once more to the realization of his youthful dreams, and
the long-deferred career was taken up in earnest.
Lassalle's career as a scholar and man of learning was short, but
productive. It was opened in 1857 with the publication of his work,
the _Philosophy of Heraclitus,_ projected more than ten years before,
and it was concluded in 1861, as the event proved, by the publication
of his _System of the Acquired Rights_. Midway between the two
appeared a dramatic composition, _Franz von Sickingen,_ which served
both as an intellectual diversion from the more serious studies in
philosophy and law and as a personal confession of faith on the part
of the author. None of these works can be pronounced an unqualified
success. The philosophy of Heraclitus was too obscure to exert any
great influence upon contemporary thought, even when expounded by a
Lassalle, and the philosophy of Lassalle himself was too closely
modeled upon that of his master, Hegel, to obtain much notice on its
own account. The treatise on the acquired rights of man was too
technical to attract popular attention and too unorthodox to receive
the general approval of professional students of the law. The _Franz
von Sickingen_ was too deficient in dramatic action to be presented on
the stage and too artificial in literary form to be read in the
library. The three productions secured for Lassalle a position among
scholars but brought him no general recognition.
The three productions, however, pour a flood of light upon
Lassalle's own powerful personality. In the _Philosophy of
Heraclitus_ he grappled with the most formidable philosophical
problems and showed himself a master of the Hegelian dialectic.
In the _System of the Acquired Rights_ he attacked the very foundations
of the current theories of law and justice with the same concentration
of energy and purpose as had been displayed in the more practical
problems of law and justice involved in the case of the Countess
von Hatzfeld. But it is in _Franz von Sickingen_ that Lassalle
expressed his own nature most clearly and most completely.
Here indeed he speaks directly for himself through the lips of
Ulrich von Hutten. Passage after passage springs from the soul of
the living Lassalle, the same Lassalle that in his boyhood dreams
would emancipate the Jews by force of arms, that in his early manhood
so deeply impressed Heine, and that so shortly afterwards
was ready to defy all the powers of the kingdom in defence
of a friendless woman. The following speech of the legendary
von Hutten is characteristic of the real Lassalle:
"O worthy Sir! Think better of the sword!
A sword, when swung in freedom's sacred cause,
Becomes the Holy Word, of which you preach,
The God, incarnate in reality.
* * * * *
And all great things, which e'er will come to pass
Will owe their final being to the sword."
In short, Lassalle was not by nature a man of the study. He was a man
of the battlefield.
The hour for battle was fast approaching. In 1859 the alliance of
Napoleon the Third and Cavour against the Austrians was consummated
and the war for the liberation and unification of Italy began. The
hopes of all true Germans for the unification of the Fatherland took
new life. Especially the survivors of '48 felt their pulses quicken.
In 1859 Lassalle revealed his own interest in contemporary politics by
the publication of his pamphlet on _The Italian War and the Duty of
Prussia_, and in the following year by his address on _Fichte's
Political Legacy and Our Own Times_. He also planned to establish a
popular newspaper in Berlin, but the scheme was abandoned in 1861, on
account of the refusal of the Prussian government to sanction the
naturalization of the man whom Lassalle desired for his associate in
the enterprise, Karl Marx. With the Prince of Prussia's accession to
the throne and the brilliant successes of the Progressive party in the
Prussian elections, men instinctively felt that the times were big
with portentous events.
Lassalle's political ideas were already well developed. He was born a
democrat. In early nineteenth-century England the young Disraeli could
hopefully plan a different course, but Lassalle in Prussia could look
for no public career as an aristocrat. Under the circumstances to be a
democrat meant also to be a republican, and, if need be, a
revolutionist. As a youth he drank deep from the idealistic springs
that inspired the republican party throughout Germany. He admired
Schiller and Fichte and, above all, Heine and Boerne. Lassalle indeed
had drunk deeper than most of the revolutionists of '48. He was not
only a democrat and a republican; he was also a socialist. Even before
his first visit to Paris he had become acquainted with the writings of
St. Simon, Fourier, and the utopian socialists in general. His mind
was ripe for the doctrines of the _Communist Manifesto_, when that
epoch-making document appeared, but he does not seem to have become
personally acquainted with Marx until his connection with the _Neue
Rheinische Zeitung_ in the fall of 1848. From that time on till the
foundation of the _Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein_ Lassalle
stood closer to Marx than to any other one man.
Lassalle's opportunity to turn definitely from scholarship to politics
came in 1862 with the outbreak of the struggle over the Prussian
constitution. In a series of vigorous addresses (April, 1862, to
February, 1863) he first criticised, then condemned, the Progressive
party for its--as it seemed to him--pusillanimous policy. But Lassalle
was not content merely to criticise and condemn. His restless energy
found no adequate expression short of the creation of a new party of
his own. His repudiation of the Progressives, however, was not
dictated by differences over tactics alone. He rejected the
fundamental principles of the liberal movement in German politics. He
saw around him the evidences of deep and widespread poverty. The great
problem of the day to his mind was not the political problem of a
proper constitution of government, but the social problem of a proper
distribution of wealth. The need, as he saw it, was not for
parchment-guarantees of individual liberty. It was for practical
promotion of social welfare. Hence, at the same time that he opened
fire upon the tactics of the Progressives, he unfolded his plans for
the constructive treatment of the social, as distinct from the
The nature of Lassalle's social ideal and the character of the means
by which he sought to justify it are for the first time
systematically set forth in his address (April 12, 1862) "upon the
special connection between modern times and the idea of a laboring
class," subsequently published under the title, _The Workingmen's
Programme_. This address was the point of departure for the socialist
movement in Germany, as the _Communist Manifesto_ of Marx and Engels
was that of international socialism. It was indeed largely inspired by
the spirit of that revolutionary document. During the two and a half
years which followed the publication of this address, Lassalle often
set forth his fundamental social philosophy with extraordinary
clearness and force, but he never surpassed his opening salutation to
the workingmen of Germany. It has been read by hundreds of thousands.
It was his masterpiece.
_The Workingmen's Programme_ attracted the immediate attention of the
Prussian government. The police took offence at the tone of the
address and brought against its author a charge of criminal incitement
of the poor to hatred and contempt of the rich. On January 16, 1863,
Lassalle appeared in court and defended himself against this charge in
an almost equally celebrated address, published under the title,
_Science and the Workingmen_. Here Lassalle speaks in a different but
no less brilliant vein. From that time forth Lassalle's appearances
before audiences of workingmen quite generally led to corresponding
appearances before audiences of judges. If one court set him free, he
was liable to be haled before another court for defamation of the
prosecuting attorney in the court of first resort. But the prisoner's
dock served as well as the orator's platform for the purposes of his
_The Workingmen's Programme_ attracted less immediate attention from
the workingmen themselves. But among the few whose attention was
attracted was a group of Leipzig labor leaders who invited Lassalle to
advise them more fully concerning his plans for the formation of an
independent labor party. Lassalle's reply to this invitation was the
_Open Letter to the Committee for the Calling_ _of a General
Convention of German Workingmen at Leipzig_, dated March 1, 1863. This
letter sets forth the platform upon which Lassalle proposed to make
his appeal for the support of the working classes. The two main planks
of the platform were the demands for manhood suffrage and for the
establishment of cooeperative factories and workshops with the aid of
subventions from the State. Through manhood suffrage Lassalle expected
that the working classes would immediately become the dominant power
in the State, and through State-aided producers' associations he
expected that the cooeperative commonwealth would eventually come into
being. Manhood suffrage was thus the fundamental political condition
of Social Democracy. State-aided producers' associations were but a
temporary economic expedient. Upon this basis, May 23, 1863, the
General Association of German Workingmen (_Allgemeiner Deutscher
Arbeiterverein_) was founded.
The immediate results of the foundation of the General Association of
German Workingmen were much less than Lassalle had anticipated. He had
hoped that it would quickly surpass the Liberal National Association,
founded by the leaders of the Progressive party in 1859, which at this
time counted about 25,000 members. In fact, during Lassalle's life the
Workingmen's Association never reached one-fifth of that number. The
workingmen generally were slow to recognize either the character of
Lassalle's purposes or the character of the man himself. Despite the
power and brilliancy of the speech-making campaign upon which Lassalle
promptly entered he made little headway. The progress of the movement
among the rank and file, however, was more satisfactory than in any
other quarter. Marx had been lost to the movement before it was
inaugurated and the rigid Marxians among the German socialists
continued to hold aloof. Lassalle's close personal friend, Lothar
Bucher, could see no prospect of early success and withdrew while
there was still time. The independent socialist, Rodbertus, to whom
Lassalle next turned for assistance, had little faith in manhood
suffrage and none at all in State-aided producers' associations. To
confirm his unbelief in manhood suffrage he pointed to the ease with
which a popular plebiscite could be manipulated by a Louis Napoleon.
State-aided producers' associations, he declared to be incompatible
with scientific socialism, a dangerous compromise between the national
workshops advocated by the utopian socialist, Louis Blanc, and the
cooeperative corporations, advocated by the anarchist, Prudhomme. So
Lassalle found himself alone at the head of his new independent labor
It was not the workingmen but the middle-class Progressive party that
was most aroused by Lassalle's _Open Letter._ He was regarded as a
traitor to the cause of the constitution and a practical ally of the
forces of reaction--in short, as either a fool or a knave. Lassalle
saw clearly enough that he could not succeed without making clear to
his prospective followers the irreconcilability of liberalism and
socialism, and directed his most powerful efforts against the position
of the Progressive party. His _Workingmen's Reader_ (May, 1863) and
_Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch_ (January, 1864) are conspicuous
memorials of his campaign against liberalism. The liberal position was
substantially that the workingmen, though without effective
voting-power, were honorary members of the Progressive party, and
hence needed no independent party of their own, and that, for the
rest, they could best promote their special economic interests by
"self-help," that is, through voluntary and unassisted cooeperation.
Liberal leaders, especially Schulze-Delitzsch, labored strenuously to
improve the well-being of the working-classes along these lines, and
their efforts were not in vain. The Progressive watchword, "right
makes might," sophistical as it seemed to Lassalle, appealed to the
idealism of the German people, and the party was in the heyday of its
success. More and more Lassalle found himself forced by the
necessities of his struggle with the Progressives into compromising
relations with the government of Bismarck. His last great speech
delivered at Ronsdorf on the first anniversary of the foundation of
the Workingmen's Association betrays the dilemma into which he had
fallen. Under the conditions of the time there was not enough room
between the contending forces of progress and reaction for the great
independent labor party which Lassalle had hoped to create. There was
room for a humble beginning, but that was all.
It is not necessary to dwell on the details of Lassalle's last twelve
months and tragic end. The story is brief: a year of exhausting toil
and small result, then a short vacation, an unfortunate love-affair, a
foolish challenge to a duel, a single pistol-shot, and three days
later, August 31, 1864, the end. Thus he died, and on his tomb in
Breslau was written: "Here lies what was mortal of Ferdinand Lassalle,
the Thinker and Fighter."
The name of Lassalle is most frequently connected with that of Marx.
Certainly the two had much in common. They worked together in 1848 and
would have done so again in 1862 if Lassalle had had his way. For
fourteen years they were personal friends. Though they ultimately
drifted apart, they never became enemies. Lassalle was seven years
younger than Marx and was unquestionably strongly influenced by the
ideas of the founder of scientific socialism. At the same time he was
a man who did his own thinking, and his speeches and writings, even
those dealing most particularly with the philosophy of socialism, are
by no means mere paraphrases of Marx. His ideas betray resemblances to
those of various contemporary writers on socialism and the socialist
movement, notably Lorenz von Stein, the author of the _History of the
Social Movements in France from 1789_. The economic interpretation of
history, set forth in the _Workingmen's Programme_, however, is in
many respects but an amplification of the economic interpretation of
history originally and more briefly set forth in the _Communist
Manifesto_. The theory of economics in general and of wages in
particular, contained in the _Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch_, is
substantially the same as that contained in Marx's _Critique of
Political Economy,_ published in 1859. Regarded solely as a
theoretical socialist, Lassalle is rightly classed among the Marxians.
Yet Lassalle's position with regard to some important theoretical
questions was distasteful to Marx. In philosophy, for example,
Lassalle was a pure Hegelian and never abandoned the idealistic
standpoint of his master. Marx, as is well known, was a materialistic
Hegelian. The differences between them in this regard were revealed
most clearly in the _System of the Acquired Rights_. Lassalle traced
the development of the German laws of inheritance from the Roman
concept of the immortality of the legal personality. Marx would have
derived them from the conditions of life among the Germans themselves.
In Franz von Sickingen and his cause Lassalle thought he saw a glimpse
of the revolutionary spirit of modern times. Marx saw only a belated
and futile struggle on the part of a member of the decadent medieval
order of petty barons against the rising order of territorial princes.
Had Lassalle linked up the cause of the petty barons with the revolt
of the peasants, Marx would have thought better of his performance,
but this Lassalle had neglected to do. In the _Philosophy of
Heraclitus_ Marx took little interest.
The most important differences between Marx and Lassalle arose with
respect to the exigencies of practical politics. Marx, like Lassalle,
was a democrat. Lassalle, however, consistently placed the demand for
manhood suffrage in the forefront of his immediate political demands,
whilst Marx believed that manhood suffrage under the then-existing
conditions on the Continent of Europe would prove more useful to those
who controlled the electoral machinery than to the workingmen
themselves. Marx, like Lassalle, believed in the republican form of
government. Lassalle, however, could recognize the temporary value of
monarchical institutions in the struggle against the capitalistic
system, whilst Marx would have had the workingmen depend upon
themselves alone. Marx, like Lassalle, believed in the inevitableness
of the fall of capitalism. Lassalle, however, could appreciate the
desirability of realizing some portion of the promised future in the
immediate present, whilst Marx preferred not to risk the prolongation
of the life of the capitalistic system by attempting to discount the
day when the wage-earning classes should come wholly into their own.
Marx, like Lassalle, was a revolutionist. Lassalle, however, was
interested primarily in bringing about the social revolution on German
soil, whilst Marx was an internationalist, a veritable man without a
The two were bound to clash as soon as Lassalle began the development
of his practical political programme. Marx was not only sceptical of
the wisdom of Lassalle's campaign for manhood suffrage, but he was
even strongly opposed to the campaign for the establishment of
producers' associations with the aid of subventions from the Prussian
monarchy. That programme represented all that was odious to Marx:
organization of the wage-earners on purely national instead of
international lines, conversion of private ownership of capital into
corporate instead of public ownership, establishment of a social
monarchy instead of a cooeperative commonwealth. Obviously Marx could
not endorse Lassalle's proposals to make the socialist movement a
factor in contemporary German politics, nor did Lassalle endorse the
Marxian policy presently embodied in the "International."
In the matter of programme and tactics neither Marx nor Lassalle has
been altogether justified by the verdict of history. In the beginning
the followers of Lassalle and the followers of Marx pursued their
common ends by independent roads. Brought together by the logic of
events, they composed their differences, taking what seemed best to
serve their purpose from the ideas of each. It is known that Marx was
harshly critical of the programme adopted at Gotha in 1875. It may be
guessed that Lassalle, had he lived, would not altogether have
approved of the tactics pursued by those in charge of the united
party's affairs. Today, the Social Democratic party, having grown
strong and great, can recognize its obligations to both Marx and
Lassalle and Marx had entirely different functions to perform in the
socialist movement. Marx's part was to be the prophet of socialism,
not a prophet in the vulgar sense of a mere prognosticator, but in the
old Hebrew sense of an inspired voice crying in a wilderness of
unbelief. Lassalle was no prophet. His function was to reduce
principles to action, to engage the forces of the times in the spirit
of the times, and by combat with such weapons as lay to hand to urge
the cause forward. The word "agitator" might have been invented for
him. He was the first great warrior of socialism. It is no reflection
upon Marx to indicate that the present need of the Social Democracy is
for warriors rather than for prophets.
Lassalle was one of the great figures of modern German history.
Bismarck's judgment of men was of the keenest and his opinion of
Lassalle, expressed in a speech before the Reichstag (September 16,
1878) is well known: "In private life Lassalle possessed an
extraordinary attraction for me, being one of the most brilliant and
most agreeable men I have ever met, and ambitious in the biggest sense
of the term." The eminent classical historian, Boeckh, who knew
Lassalle well, compared him to Alcibiades. Heine, in a letter
introducing Lassalle to a friend, wrote: "I present to you a new
Mirabeau." There is much that is striking in either of these
Thoughts of what might have been, had Lassalle's career in politics
not been brought to so melancholy an end, are likely to be idle. Helen
von Racowitza, the pathetic instrument of his fate, not unnaturally
indulged her fancy in such thoughts. Writing in her old age she
queries: "Would he, ... with his incomparable ambition and will, ever
have been able to adapt himself to the compact edifice of the German
empire? Assuredly it must always have seemed to him like a prison!" To
a woman wracked by remorse it may have been comforting to believe that
when the catastrophe occurred the work of the man she once had loved
was really completed. Doubtless indeed Lassalle himself had begun to
realize, short as was the period from the foundation of the
Workingmen's Association to the fatal duel with the Rumanian Yanko,
that he could not bring his enterprise to a head as quickly as he had
hoped. Doubtless he already saw that the establishment of an
independent labor party was not a matter of a single hard-fought
campaign, to be waged and won by the genius of any one great leader,
but a task requiring long and patient toil and the indefinite
postponement of the sweet joys of victory. Certainly in his last
months Lassalle showed an unwise readiness seriously to compromise his
position for the sake of more immediate success. Had he lived, he
would soon have discovered that he must retrace those latest steps, or
Bismarck, and not he, would have been the actual leader of the first
German independent labor party. There was nothing in Lassalle's life
to warrant the assumption that he would deliberately sell his party
for a mess of pottage. Lassalle had put his hand to the plow and it
was not in his nature to leave the furrow unturned.
Yet Lassalle's title to greatness must lie less in what he himself
achieved than in the achievements of others in his name. He founded a
political party; others have made that party great. But the most
signal service is the service of the founder, for to found a party is
to generate a living organism which will, in the fullness of time,
express the purposes and unite the energies of millions. So it has
been with the party of Lassalle. Like the husbandman who casts his
seed on good ground, he implanted the germs of the Social-Democracy in
the hearts of his country's workingmen when the time was ripe for the
sowing. It is enough to secure his fame that he had the vision to see
that the time was ripe and the strength to break the ground.
* * * * *
THE WORKINGMEN'S PROGRAMME (1862)
TRANSLATED BY E.H. BABBITT, A.B.
Assistant Professor of German, Tufts College
Gentlemen: Requested to deliver an address before you, I have thought
it best to choose, and to treat in a strictly scientific way, a
subject, which, from its nature, must be particularly interesting to
you, namely, the special relation of the character of the historical
period in which we are living to the idea of a working class.
I have said that my treatment of the subject will be purely
A true scientific attitude, however, is nothing more than perfect
clearness, and therefore the complete separation of our thinking from
any preconceived notion. For the sake of this complete absence of
preconceived notions with which we must approach the subject, it will
even be necessary, in the course of the discussion, to form a clear
conception of what we really mean by the term "workingmen" or "working
class." For even on this point we must not admit any preconceived
notion, as if these terms were something perfectly well
understood--which is by no means the case. The language of common life
very frequently attaches at different times different conceptions to
the words "workingman" or "working class," and we must therefore, in
due time, get a clear conception as to what meaning we will attach to
With this problem, however, we are not concerned at the present
moment. We must rather begin this presentation with a different
question: The working class is only one class among several which
together form the body politic, and there have been workingmen at
every historical period. How, then, is it possible, and what does the
statement mean, that a particular connection exists between the idea
of this special definite class and the principle of the particular
historical period in which we are living?
To understand this it is desirable to take a glance into history--into
the past, which properly interpreted, here, as everywhere, gives us
the key to the present and points out to us an outline of the future.
In this retrospect we must be as brief as possible, or we shall be in
danger (in the short time which is before us) of not reaching at all
the essential subject of the discussion. But even at this risk we
shall at least be obliged to cast such a glance into the past, even if
it is limited to the most general considerations, in order to
understand the import of our question and of our subject.
If, then, we go back to the Middle Ages, we shall find, in general,
that the same classes and divisions of the population which today
compose the body politic were already in existence, although by no
means so fully developed; but we find, furthermore, that at that time
one class, one element, is predominate--the landholding element. It is
land proprietorship which in the Middle Ages is the controlling
influence in every particular, which has put its own special stamp
upon all the institutions and upon the whole life of the time: it must
be pronounced the ruling principle of that period.
The reason why land ownership is the ruling principle of that time is
a very simple one. It lies--at least this reason is quite sufficient
for our present purposes--in the economic conditions of the Middle
Ages and in the state of development of production. Commerce was then
very slightly developed, manufactures still less. The chief wealth of
every community consisted, in greatest measure, in the products of
Personal property at that time, in comparison with the ownership of
real estate, came only slightly into consideration; how far this was
the case is shown very plainly by property law, which always gives a
very clear criterion for the economic relations of the period in which
it arises. Medieval property law, for instance, with the object of
holding the property of families from generation to generation and
protecting it from dissipation, declared family property or "estate"
inalienable without the consent of the heirs; but by this family
property or "estate" was expressly understood only real estate.
Personal or portable property, on the other hand, could be disposed of
without the consent of the heirs; and in general all personal property
was treated by the old German law not as an independent
self-perpetuating basis of property (capital), but always as the fruit
of the soil--in the same way, for instance, as the annual crop from
the soil--and was subject to the same legal conditions as the latter.
Nothing but real estate was then regularly treated as an independent
self-perpetuating basis of property. It is therefore entirely in
keeping with this condition of things, and a simple consequence of it,
that landed property and those who had it in their hands almost
exclusively--the nobility and clergy--formed the ruling factor, from
every point of view, in the society of that period.
Whatever institution of the Middle Ages you may consider, you meet
this phenomenon at every point. It will suffice us to glance at a few
of the most essential of these institutions in which landholding
appears as a ruling principle.
First: The organization of the public power given by it, or the Feudal
System. The essential point of this was that kings, princes and lords
ceded to other lords and knights land for their use, in return for
which the recipient had to promise military vassalage--that is, he had
to support the feudal lord in his wards or feuds, both in person and
Second: The organization of public law, or the constitution of
the empire. In the German parliaments the princes and the large
landholdings of the counts, the empire, and of the clergy were
represented. The cities had the right to a seat or a vote only if they
had succeeded in acquiring the privileges of an imperial free city.
Third: The exemption from taxation of the large landholdings. It is a
characteristic and constantly recurring phenomenon that every ruling
privileged class tries constantly to throw the burden of the
maintenance of the State, in open or disguised manner, in direct or
indirect form, on the propertyless classes. When Richelieu, in 1641,
demanded six million francs from the clergy as an extraordinary
revenue, the latter gave, through the archbishop of Sens, the
characteristic answer: "L'usage ancien de l'eglise pendant sa vigeur
etait que le peuple contribuait ses biens, la noblesse son sang, le
clerge ses prieres aux necessites de l'Etat." (The ancient custom of
the church in her prosperity was that the people contributed to the
needs of the State their property, the nobility their blood, the
clergy their prayers.)
Fourth: The social stigma that rested upon all work other than
occupation of the soil. To conduct manufacturing enterprises, to
acquire money by commerce and manual trades, was considered
disgraceful and dishonorable for the two privileged ruling classes,
the nobility and the clergy, for whom it was regarded as honorable to
obtain their revenue from landownership only.
These four great and determining motives which established the basic
character of the period are entirely sufficient, for our purpose, to
show how it was that landed property put its stamp upon that epoch and
formed its ruling principle.
This was so far the case that even the movement of the Peasant War,
which apparently was completely revolutionary--the one which broke out
in Germany in 1524 and involved all Swabia, Franconia, Alsace,
Westphalia, and other parts of Germany--depended absolutely upon
this same principle, and was therefore in fact a reactionary movement
in spite of its revolutionary attitude. The peasants at that time
burned down the castles of the nobles, killed the nobles themselves,
and made them run the gauntlet according to the custom of the times;
but, nevertheless, in spite of this externally revolutionary
appearance, the movement was essentially thoroughly reactionary. For
the new birth of State relations--the German freedom which the
peasants desired to establish--was to consist, according to their
ideas, in the abolition of the special and intermediary position which
the princes occupied between the emperor and the empire, and, in its
stead, the representation in the German parliament of nothing but free
and independent landed property, including that of the peasants and
knights (these two classes up to this time not having been
represented), as well as the individual independent estates of the
nobles of every degree--knights, counts, and princes, without regard
to former differences; and, on the other hand, of the landed property
of the nobles as well as of the peasants.
It is clear at once, then, that this plan, in the last instance,
results in nothing more than still more logical, clear, and equitable
carrying-out of the principle which had formed the basis of the
historical period which was even then approaching its end; that is,
landownership was to be the ruling element and the only condition
which entitled anybody to participation in the government of the
State: that anybody should demand such participation just because he
was a man, because he was a reasonable being, even without owning any
land--this did not occur to the peasants in the remotest degree! For
this the conditions of the time were not sufficiently developed, the
method of thought of the time was not revolutionary enough.
So then this peasant uprising, which came forward externally with such
revolutionary determination, was in its essence completely
reactionary; that is to say, instead of standing upon a new
revolutionary principle, it stood unconsciously on the old,
existing principle of the period which was then just closing; and just
because it was reactionary, while it thought itself revolutionary, did
the peasant uprising fail.
Accordingly, in comparison with the uprising of the peasants as well
as that of the nobles under Franz von Sickingen--both of which had the
principle in common of basing participation in the government, more
definitely than had before been the case, upon landholding--the rising
monarchical idea was relatively a justifiable and revolutionary
factor, since it was based upon the idea of a state sovereignty
independent of landholding, representing the national idea independent
of private property relations; and it was just this which gave it the
power for a victorious development and for the suppression of the
uprising of the peasants and the nobles.
I have gone into this point somewhat explicitly, in the first place to
show the reasonableness and the progress of liberty in the development
of history, even by an example in which this is not at all evident on
superficial observation; in the second place, because historians are
still far from recognizing this reactionary character of the peasant
uprising and the reason for its failure, which lay chiefly in this
aspect; but, rather deceived by external appearances, they have
considered the Peasant War a truly revolutionary movement.
Finally, in the third place, because at all ages this phenomenon is
frequently repeated--that men who do not think clearly (among whom are
often found those apparently most highly educated, even professors)
have fallen into the tremendous mistake of taking for a new
revolutionary principle what is only a more logical and clear
expression of the thought of a period and of institutions which are
just passing away.
Gentlemen, let me warn you against such men, who are revolutionists
only in their own imaginations, and such tendencies, because we shall
have them in the future as we have had them in the past. We can also
derive consolation from the fact that the numerous movements which,
after momentary success, have immediately, or in a short time, come to
naught again, which we find in history and which may cloud the
superficial vision of many a patriot with gloomy forebodings, have
never been revolutionary movements except in imagination. A true
revolutionary movement, one which rests upon a really new idea, as the
more thoughtful man can prove from history to his consolation, has
never yet failed, at least not permanently.
I return to my main subject. If the Peasant Wars are revolutionary
only in imagination, what was really and truly revolutionary at that
time was the advance in manufacturing--the production of the middle
class, the constantly developing division of labor, and the resulting
wealth in capital, which accumulated exclusively in the hands of the
middle class because it was just this class that devoted itself to
production and reaped its profits.
It is usual to date the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of
modern history from the Reformation--accordingly, from the year 1517.
This is correct in the sense that, in the two centuries immediately
following the Reformation, a slow, gradual, and unnoticed change took
place, which completely transformed the aspect of society and
accomplished within it a revolution that later, in 1789, was merely
proclaimed, not actually produced, by the French Revolution.
Do you ask in what this transformation consisted?
In the legal position of the nobility there had been no change.
Legally the nobility and the clergy had remained the two ruling
classes, and the middle class the class universally kept down and
oppressed. But although there had legally been no change, yet actually
the reversal of conditions had been all the more tremendous.
By the production and accumulation of capital and of personal
property, in contrast to real estate, in the hands of the
middle class, the nobility had dwindled into complete
insignificance--even into actual dependence upon the enriched middle
class. If the nobles wished to maintain their place beside the middle
class, they must renounce all class traditions and begin to adopt the
same methods of industrial acquisition to which the middle class owed
their wealth and in consequence their _de facto_ power. The comedies
of Moliere, who lived at the time of Louis XIV., show us, as an
extremely interesting phenomenon, the nobles of the times despising
the rich middle class and at the same time playing the parasite at its
tables. Louis XIV. himself, this proudest of monarchs, takes off his
hat in his palace at Versailles and humbles himself before the Jew,
Samuel Bernard, the Rothschild of the times, in order to influence him
in favor of a loan.
When Law, the famous Scotch financier, at the beginning of the
eighteenth century, formed in France his trading companies--a stock
corporation which was formed for the exploitation of the Mississippi
region, the East Indies, etc., the Regent of France himself was on its
directorate--a member of a merchant company! The Regent found himself
in fact compelled in August, 1717, to issue edicts in virtue of which
the nobles might, without loss of dignity, enter into the naval and
military service of these trading companies! To that point, then, the
warlike and proud feudal aristocracy of France had fallen--to be the
armed employees of the industrial and commercial enterprises of the
middle class, whose relations extended through all continents.
Corresponding to this radical change, there had already developed a
materialism and an eager, grasping struggle for money and property
which could overcome all moral ideas and (what I regret to say was
generally still more significant for the privileged classes) even all
privileges of rank. Under this same Regent of France, Count Horn, one
of the highest of the aristocracy and connected with the first
families of France, even with the Regent himself, was broken on the
wheel as a common robber and murderer; and the Duchess of Orleans, a
German princess, writes in a letter of November 29, 1719, that six
ladies of the highest rank waylaid in the court of a building the
above-mentioned Law, who was at that time the most courted and the
busiest man in France and therefore very hard to interview, in order
to induce him to dispose of some of the shares founded by him, for
which at that time all France was competing and which brought on the
Exchange six and eight times the nominal price at which Law had issued
If you ask me again what the causes were which made possible this
development of manufacturing and the consequent wealth of the middle
class, I should have to exceed, if I tried to give them thorough
treatment, the time at my disposal. I can only enumerate for you the
most essential ones: The discovery of America and its tremendous
influence on production; the route to the East Indies around the Cape
of Good Hope, taking the place of the former land route by way of Suez
for all trade with the East Indies; the discovery of the magnetic
needle and the invention of the mariner's compass, and in consequence
greater safety and speed and lower insurance rates for all ocean
traffic; the waterways established in the interior of the countries,
the canals, also the good roads which made possible for the first time
a more remote market through the lessening of the transportation costs
of various commodities which formerly could not carry the raise in
price thus caused; greater security of property; well-established
courts of law; the invention of powder, and, in consequence of this
invention, the breaking down by the monarchy of the feudal military
power of the nobility; the dismissal of the mercenaries and mounted
retainers of the nobles on account of the destruction of their castles
and of their independent military power. For these retainers there was
now nothing left but to find work in the medieval workshops. All these
events gave impetus to the triumphal chariot of the middle class. All
these events, and many more which might be enumerated, combined to
produce this one effect. By the opening of wider markets and the
accompanying reduction of the costs of production and transportation,
there comes production for the world-market, and consequently the
necessity for cheap production which, in its turn, can be met only by
a constantly extending division of labor, i.e., by the more perfectly
developed division of the work into its simplest mechanical processes;
this in turn brings about a constantly increasing output.
We are on the ground here of action and reaction. Each of these
circumstances is a cause for the other, and the latter then reacts
upon the former, and extends it and increases its scope.
It must be clear that the production of an article in enormous
quantities--its production for the world-market--is, in general,
possible only if the costs of production of the article are low and if
also its transportation is cheap enough not to raise its price
essentially. Production in enormous quantities demands a wholesale
market, and a wholesale market for any commodity can be obtained only
by its low price, which makes it available for a very large number of
consumers; thus the low cost of production and transportation of any
commodity brings about its production on a huge scale in enormous
quantities. It must also be clear, on the other hand, that the
production of a commodity in enormous quantities causes and increases
its cheapness. A manufacturer, for instance, who turns out 200,000
pieces of cotton goods in a year, is able, because he procures his raw
material more cheaply on a large scale and because the profit on his
capital and the interest on his plant is distributed over so large a
number of pieces, to market each piece, within certain limits, at a
far lower price than the manufacturer who produces yearly only 5,000
such pieces. Greater cheapness of production leads accordingly to
production on a large scale. This results, in turn, in greater
cheapness; this in its own turn brings about production in still
greater quantities, and this still greater cheapness, and so on.
The relations are also quite similar in the matter of division of
labor, which is another necessary condition for production in large
quantities and for cheapness, for without it neither cheapness of
production nor large quantities would be possible.
The division of labor which splits up the production of an article
into a great number of very simple and often purely mechanical
operations requiring no thought on the part of the operative, and sets
at each one of these single operations a single workman, would be
entirely impossible without extensive production of this article. It
is therefore established and extended only through such production. On
the other hand, this division of the work into simple operations leads
(1), to a constantly increasing cheapness; (2), to production in
enormous and constantly increasing quantities--a production calculated
not only for this or that neighboring market, but for the entire
world-market; and (3), through this and through new divisions which
can for this reason be applied to single operations, to still farther
advances in the division of labor itself.
By this series of actions and reactions there had accordingly appeared
a complete transformation in the manufacturing institutions of the
community and hence in all its relations of life. The best way to
state this briefly is to reduce it to the following contrast:
In the early Middle Ages, since only a small number of very valuable
products could stand the expense of transportation, production was
calculated for the need of the immediate locality and a very limited
neighboring market whose demand was, just for this reason, a
well-known, steady, and unchanging one. The need or the demand
preceded production and formed a well-known criterion for it; in other
words, the production of the community had been chiefly artisan
production. Now, in distinction from factory or wholesale production,
the character of small or artisan production is this: Either the need
is awaited before production--as, for example, a tailor waits for my
order before he makes me a coat, a locksmith before he makes me a
lock; or even if some goods are manufactured to be sold ready-made, on
the whole this ready-made business is limited to a minimum of what is
definitely known from experience to be the needs of the immediate
locality and its nearest neighborhood--as, for instance, a tinsmith
makes up a certain number of lamps, knowing that the local demand will
soon dispose of them.
The characteristics of a community producing chiefly in this manner
are poverty, or at least only a moderate prosperity, but, to offset
this, a certain definiteness and steadiness of all relations.
Now, on the other hand, through the incessant and complete action and
reaction which I have been describing to you, there had appeared in
the community a totally different kind of work, and therefore of all
relations of life. There had already appeared the germ of the same
characteristic which today marks, in a differently developed but
enormously extended manner, the production of the community. In the
tremendous development which it has today this characteristic, in
contrast to that previously described, can be indicated as follows:
Whereas, formerly, need preceded production, made it a consequence of
itself, determined it, and formed a criterion and well-known standard
for it--production and supply now go in advance of the demand and try
to develop it. Production is no longer for the locality, no longer for
the well-known need of neighboring markets, but for the world-market.
Production goes on for remote regions and for a general market, for
all continents, for an actually unknown and not definitely calculated
need; and in order that the product may arouse need a weapon is
supplied it--cheapness. Cheapness is the weapon of a product, with
which, on the one hand, it obtains customers, and, on the other,
drives from the field other goods of the same nature, which are likewise
urged upon the consumers; so that under the system of free
competition any producer may hope, no matter what enormous quantities
he may produce, to find a market for them all if he only succeeds, by
making his goods exceedingly cheap, in keeping out of the market the
goods of his competitors. The predominant character of such a society
is vast and boundless wealth, but, on the other hand, a great
instability of all relations, an almost continual, anxious insecurity
in the position of each individual, together with a very unequal
sharing of the returns of production among those taking part in it.
Thus great had been the changes brought about, unnoticed in the heart
of society, by the revolutionary and all-pervading activity of
industrialism, even before the end of the eighteenth century.
Though the men of the Peasant Wars had not ventured any other
conception than that of founding the State upon land ownership, though
they had not, even in thought, been able to free themselves from the
view that land ownership is necessarily the element which holds
sovereignty over the State and that participation in that ownership is
the condition for participation in that sovereignty, yet the quiet,
imperceptible, revolutionary progress of industrialism had brought
about the condition that, long before the end of the eighteenth
century, land ownership had become an element stripped entirely of its
former importance, and had fallen to a subordinate position, in the
face of the development of new methods of production, of the wealth
which this development bore in its bosom and increased from day to
day, and of the influence which it clearly had on all the people and
their affairs--even upon the largely impoverished nobility.
The revolution was therefore an accomplished fact in the actual
relations of society long before it broke out in France; and it was
only necessary to bring this reversal of conditions to outward
recognition to give it legal sanction. This is always the case in
all revolutions. You can never make a revolution. You can only give
external legal recognition and logical embodiment in practice to a
revolution which has already become an actuality in the essential
relations of society. Trying to make a revolution is the folly of
immature men who have no conception of the laws of history.
Precisely for this reason it is just as immature and childish to
suppress a revolution already fully formed in the womb of society and
to oppose its legal recognition, or to reproach those who assist at
its birth with being revolutionary. If the revolution is at hand in
the actual conditions of society, nothing can prevent its appearing
and passing into legislation.
How these things were related, and how far they had already gone in
this direction in the period of which I speak, you will best see from
another matter which I will mention.
I have already spoken about the division of labor, the development of
which consists of separating all production into a series of entirely
simple mechanical operations requiring no thought on the part of the
operator. As this separation progresses farther and farther, the
discovery is finally made that these single operations, because they
are quite simple and call for no thought, can be accomplished just as
well, and even better, by unthinking agents; and so in 1775, fourteen
years before the French Revolution, Arkwright invented the first
machine, his famous spinning-jenny.
We can see that the machine in itself was not the cause of the
revolution. Too little time intervened between this invention, which
furthermore was not immediately introduced into France, and the
revolution; but it embodied in itself the actually incipient and fully
ripe revolution. This machine, however innocent it seemed, was in fact
the revolution personified. The reasons for this are simple. You, of
course, have heard of the guild system, by which production in the
Middle Ages was directed. The guild system of the Middle Ages was
inseparably connected with other institutions. The guilds lasted
through the whole medieval period up to the French Revolution; but as
early as 1672 the matter of their abolition was considered in the
German parliament, though without result. Even in 1614, in the French
_Etats Generaux_, the abolition of the guilds was demanded by the
middle class, whose production the guilds everywhere restricted; but
also without result. Indeed thirteen years before the Revolution, in
1776, a minister of the Reformed party in France, the famous Turgot,
abolished the guilds, but the privileged world of medieval feudalism
considered itself, and with perfect justice, in mortal danger if its
vital principle of privilege did not extend to all classes of society;
and so, six months after the abolition of the guilds, the king was
empowered to revoke this edict and to reestablish the guilds. Nothing
but the Revolution could overthrow (and it did overthrow in one day,
by the capture of the Bastille) that which in Germany had been vainly
assailed since 1672 and in France since 1614--for almost two
centuries--by legal means.
You see from this, Gentlemen, that however great the advantages of
reformation by legal means are, such means have nevertheless in all
the more important points one great disadvantage--that of being
absolutely powerless for whole centuries; and, furthermore, that the
revolutionary means, undeniable as its disadvantages are, has as a
compensation the advantage of attaining quickly and effectively a