Page images

General-Adjutants, an institution which for many years had defied Parliament and rendered liberal government an impossibility.

The House then proceeded to pass three most important measures. The first related to the Octroyirung' (i. e., carrying over the head of Parliament) of laws by the Emperor. It was ordained that, for the future, every octroyirung should be made under the responsibility of the Ministry ; 2, that no such measure should have the power of setting aside any fundamental law of the state (Staatsgrundgesetz), of imposing any fresh burden on the taxpayers, or alienating public property ; 3, that any such measure should become null and void if it were not notified within four weeks after the meeting of the Reichsrath. Thus the sting was utterly taken out of this old instrument of military despotism.

The law relating to ministerial responsibility appears, to an English mind at any rate, a somewhat curious piece of legislation. It was chiefly aimed at preventing the interference of the peers, it being evidently held that the condemnation of a minister in the Lower House could be annulled by the refusal of the Upper House to endorse the vote. It provided for the erection of a permanent tribunal, consisting of twelve members, elected by each House, not from their own midst, but from the ordinary judges and State-lawyers, before which tribunal either House had the power of bringing any member of the Ministry on a distinct charge to be set forth in the indictment. It was further provided that a charge brought against a minister and supported by twothirds of either House should suffice to suspend the minister ipso facto from his office. Thus there was no recognition of the

solidarity of the Cabinet, and nothing but a distinct offence was held as sufficient ground for removing a minister from power.* The depth to which Parliamentary government had sunk is told more expressively by the mere statement of this law than by the most elaborate description.

The third law concerned the freedom of public meeting. It provided that every political club (verein) should notify to the magistrate the nature and object of the club, the names and number of its members, as also the place and time at which each of its meetings was to be held. Further, it gave the Government power to break up any society or meeting, the object of which was inconsistent with the public safety or the public good.' This last clause was added by request of the Cabinet, which


* This law is probably borrowed from the American constitution, which secures to the President a certain fixed period of otfice, while subjecting him to the possibility of impeachment. It is needless to point out that it is properly inconsistent with the English system of Cabinet government.


declared that, without some such powers, it would be impossible to offer the requisite resistance to the feudal-clerical opposition in Bohemia. Within these limits, no obstacles were offered to the formation of political clubs or the holding of public meetings.

So far the proceedings of the Reichsrath had run smoothly enough. But all the true friends of freedom in Austria felt that there still existed one fatal obstacle to all their patriotic endeavours. As long as the Concordat formed part of the law of the land, the priests had it in their power to check the free development of the nation in the very bud, and to talk of freedom was a mere mockery. There were two ways of dissolving the unholy treaty with Rome. Either the Concordat could be directly abrogated and a new set of laws introduced affirming the equality of all religions and sects in the eyes of the State, or a series of half measures might be passed through the Reichsrath, which, by laying down principles inconsistent with the Concordat

, would gradually encroach on the ecclesiastical prerogative, and render the former position of the priests untenable. The objection to the first course, which was in every other way preferable, was its impracticability. The Reichsrath could not have commanded a majority for so radical a measure, still less could the nation be expected to endorse it. Hence the proposition of the veteran Mühlfeld was rejected, and the abstract motion of Dr. Herbst, affirming the expediency of new laws to regulate the action of the State on the three subjects of marriage, education, and religion, was carried by a majority of 134–22. So ended this eventful session.

It was well that Parliament had not adjourned before declaring -in principle at any rate—its willingness to grant the people religious freedom ; for this act of theirs encouraged an expression of popular feeling during the vacation which greatly strengthened the hands of the ministers. On the 5th of September, a monster meeting of 1500 schoolmasters, from all parts of Austria, was held in Vienna, in which it was resolved, that for the proper attainment of their ends in the cause of education, a complete independence from the authority of the Church was requisite. There is reason to believe that, if the Government had taken the necessary steps, they might have found support from an unexpected quarter, namely, from the lower clergy. It is said that at this time there was not an editor in Vienna whose office was not daily flooded with letters from these poor men, who were bound by the Concordat to a state of the most abject servitude under their superiors. No one, however, but Mühlfeld was found brave enough to propose the liberation of the inferior Vol. 131.-No. 261.



priests and the abrogation of the law conferring legal immunity on the bishops.

On the 23rd of September, the Reichsrath commenced its autumn sitting, and at once proceeded to appoint a Committee to draw up measures for the reconstitution of the laws affecting marriage and education. The new Marriage Law provided, 1, that the jurisdiction in all questions affecting marriage should be transferred from the priestly to the ordinary civil tribunals; 2, that if a priest refused to perform the rite of marriage (as, e.g., when man and wife were of two different religions), the civil magistrate, after acquainting himself with the refusal of the priest, should himself sanction and register the union of the couple. The new School Law gave over the management of all religious teaching to the Church or religious society in question, but ordained that all other subjects taught in the schools should be made entirely independent of their influence ; 2, it provided that all schools maintained by the State, the provincial, or municipal authorities, should be open to all citizens without distinction of religion ; 3, that the office of schoolmaster should be open to any candidate who had proved his competence in an examination to be appointed by the State ; 4, that all funds held by the State for the purposes of education, except where a reservation had been made by the testator, should be applied to their end without prejudice in favour of any religious sect; 5, that school-boards should be appointed in every district (Bezirke) and parish for' the carrying-out of the above regulations, and that the organization of these boards was to be left to the Landtage. This last unfortunate clause did much to neutralize the effects of the whole law, by opening a door to clerical opposition in the provincial assemblies. Through its baneful operation much of the measure has, up to the present time, remained a dead letter.

The House then undertook the task of drawing up a number of fundamental State-laws (Staatsgrundgesetze), which were to constitute the Magna Charta of the Austrian citizen. These laws are four in number, and the first is divided into twenty articles. It would be beyond the scope of this essay to give the details of these laws. But a glance may be cast at the most important of them, and the main alterations effected by them in the constitution.

Law I. Article 2 declares 'All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law. This infringes Article 14 of the Concordat, which gives immunity to the bishops, and provides that a priest condemned by a court of law shall undergo his punishment in a house of ecclesiastical discipline. _Article 3 declares · All public offices are open to all citizens.' Before the passing of this law a

non-Catholic * The word magisterial is used in preference to judicial as a translation for ‘richterlich. But it must be remembered that magistrates in the English sense do not exist in Austria. These • Richter’are rather under-judges.


non-Catholic could not be appointed to any of the regular University chairs, and a Jew was ineligible to the bench of judges. Article 4 gives every tax-paying citizen in a given parish the right of vote in the municipal elections. Hitherto the 'Gemeindegenossen'i.e., temporary inhabitants, were excluded from voting. It further declares that the freedom of migration is only restricted by the duty of service in the army. This provision was to prevent wholesale migrations from the country in the case of war being proclaimed. Article 5 asserts the competency of Parliament to restrict, in the interest of the public weal, the right of inheritance, and to dispose of inherited property as it shall think fit. This is directed against Article 29 of the Concordat, which provides that the property of the Church is its own for ever, and cannot be alienated without consent of the Pope. Article 8—the Austrian Habeas Corpus-declares the freedom of every citizen's person. A citizen, viz., can only be properly apprehended after a magisterial sentence. If confined under suspicion for more than forty-eight hours, the official responsible for the confinement is liable to a fine or imprisonment. Article 9 declares the freedom of every citizen in his own house. A private house can only be searched on the authority of a magisterial* warrant. Article 10 provides that no private letter may be opened without express sanction of a magistrate or in case of war. Article 11 gives to every recognized corporation or society the right of petition. This restriction of the right of petition is justified on the plea that, without it, an insignificant minority might represent its views as those of the community in a given parish or province. Article 12 guarantees the freedom of public meeting under the restrictions of the law passed November, 1867: Article 13 the freedom of the press. The text of this article runs as follows:- Every citizen has the right to express freely his opinions in word or writing within the limits laid down by law. The Press may not be subjected to censorship, nor have its rights restricted by any system of concessions. This requires some explanation. By censorship’ is meant condemnation of a book or journal before it has been published. It is still open to the magistrate to confiscate' any book, or any number of a newspaper which contains false news or unconstitutional articles. The difference is that, before the law, a writer could be condemned unheard ; now, confiscation’ must be based on a distinct charge, from which there may be a subsequent appeal. Article 16 declares the right of any religious society, not recognized by law, to hold meetings in a private house : Article 17 the freedom of science and education from religious trammels. Article 19the Magna Charta of the minor nationalities--declares, 'All nationalities under the dominion of the State have equal rights. Each different race has the right to preserve its own nationality and language. The State recognizes all languages spoken in a given province as equal in the public schools, the public offices, and public life generally. Where more than one language is spoken the authorities are to provide that each citizen receives the requisite State assistance for education in his own tongue, without being forced to learn any other.'

The remaining three State ground-laws are of less importance. The second was aimed at the ecclesiastical tribunals established by the Concordat. It ordained that all jurisdiction should be administered for the future in the name of the Kaiser by officers appointed directly by him. The third provided that every officer of the State should swear obedience on entering office to the State laws in question. The fourth instituted a supreme judicial court, Reichsgericht,' which was to be a final court of appeal in all questions arising (1) between the judicial and executive bodies; (2) between the Landtage and the central executive; (3) between two Landtage of separate provinces; (4) between Landtag and Reichsrath.

Finally a law, ' Reichsgesetz,' was passed defining the constitution and competence of the various legislative bodies. The delegations were to be competent in all questions affecting the relations of the empire with foreign countries, whether diplomatic or commercial. Secondly, they were to have the direction of the imperial military system. Thirdly, they were to have the control of all the finances requisite for these purposes. The Cisleithanian Delegation was to be constituted after the fashion of a federal assembly. That is to say, the Reichsrath was not to choose directly the sixty best men it could nominate for the purpose; but each nationality represented was to elect a given number of members. Thus the deputation of the Bohemian Landtag was to choose ten delegates, that of the Moravian seven, and so on.

The Reichsrath reserved to itself the following powers : (1) of voting the men required for the army (Recrutenbewilligungsrecht); (2) of voting the supplies for the army and foreign office; (3) the right of examining and accepting diplomatic or commercial treaties signed by the authority of the delegates; (4) the regulation of the schools, universities, the press, public meetings, the mint, sanitary laws, police-courts, courts of justice, postal, telegraphic, and railway systems, and a few other


« PreviousContinue »