THE DISSOLUTION OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE (1806)

 

[Napoleon had no desire to unify Germany, but wished to have several independent states, or groups of states, which he could conveniently bring under his control. Consequently, when it came to arranging the Treaty of Pressburg after his great victory at Austerlitz, Napoleon forced the defeated emperor to recognize the rulers of Wurtemberg and Bavaria as "kings" and the elector of Baden as enjoying "the plenitude of sovereignty." In short, he proposed that the three most important princes of southern Germany should be as independent as the king of Prussia or the emperor himself, and that, moreover, they should owe their elevation to him. He then formed a union of these new sovereigns and of other Ger衫an rulers, which was called the Confederation of the Rhine. In the rather insolent message given below he informs the diet of the empire that the new union, of which he is to be the protector, will be incompatible with the continued existence of the venerable Holy Roman Empire.]

 

The undersigned, charge d'affaires of his Majesty the emperor of the French and king of Italy, at the general diet of the German empire, has received orders from his Majesty to make the following declarations to the diet [of the Holy Roman Empire]:

 

Their Majesties the kings of Bavaria and of Wurtem苑erg, the sovereign princes of Ratisbon, Baden, Burg, Hesse-Darmstadt, and Nassau, as well as the other leading princes of the south and west of Germany [many more German states joined later], have resolved to form a confederation between themselves which shall secure them against future contingencies, and have thus ceased to be states of the empire.

 

The position in which the Treaty of Pressburg has ex計licitly placed the courts allied to France, and indirectly those princes whose territory they border or surround, being incompatible with the existence of an empire, it becomes a necessity for those rulers to reorganize their relations upon a new system and to remove a contradic負ion which could not fail to be a permanent source of agi負ation, disquiet, and danger.

 

France, on the other hand, is directly interested in the maintenance of peace in southern Germany and yet must apprehend that the moment she shall cause her troops to recross the Rhine discord, the inevitable consequence of contradictory, uncertain, and ill-defined conditions, will again disturb the peace of the people and reopen, possibly, the war on the continent. Feeling it incumbent upon her to advance the welfare of her allies and to assure them the enjoyment of all the advantages which the Treaty of Pressburg secures to them and to which she is pledged, France cannot but regard the confederation which they have formed as a natural result and a necessary sequel to that treaty.

 

For a long period successive changes have, from century to century, reduced the German constitution to a shadow of its former self. Time has altered all the relations, in respect to size and importance, which originally existed among the various members of the confederation, both as regards each other and the whole of which they have formed a part.

 

The diet has no longer a will of its own; the sentences of the superior courts can no longer be executed; every-thing indicates such serious weakness that the federal bond no longer offers any protection whatever and only consti負utes a source of dissension and discord between the powers. The results of three coalitions have increased this weak要ess to the last degree. . . . The Treaty of Pressburg assures complete sovereignty to their Majesties the kings of Bavaria and of Wrttemberg and to his Highness the elector of Baden. This is a prerogative which the other electors will doubtless demand, and which they are justi苯ied in demanding; but this is in harmony neither with the letter nor the spirit of the constitution of the empire.

 

His Majesty the emperor and king is, therefore, com計elled to declare that he can no longer acknowledge the existence of the German constitution, recognizing, how-ever, the entire and absolute sovereignty of each of the princes whose states compose Germany to-day, maintain虹ng with them the same relations as with the other inde計endent powers of Europe.

 

His Majesty the emperor and king has accepted the title, of Protector of the Confederation of the Rhine. He has done this only with a view to peace and in order that by his constant mediation between the weak and the powerful he may obviate every species of dissension and disorder.

 

Having thus provided for the dearest interests of his people and of his neighbors, and having assured, so far as in him lay, the future peace of Europe, and that of Germany in particular, heretofore constantly the theater of war, by removing a contradiction which placed people and princes alike under the delusive protection of a system contrary both to their political interests and to their treaties, his Majesty the emperor and king trusts that the nations of Europe will at last close their ears to the insinuations of those who would maintain an eternal war upon the conti要ent. He trusts that the French armies which have crossed the Rhine have done so for the last time, and that the peo計le of Germany will no longer witness, except in the annals of the past, the horrible pictures of disorder, devastation, and slaughter which war invariably brings with it.

 

His Majesty declared that he would never extend the limits of France beyond the Rhine and he has been faith苯ul to his promise. At present his sole desire is so to employ the means which Providence has confided to him as to free the seas, restore the liberty of commerce, and thus assure the peace and happiness of the world.

 

RATISBON, August 1, 1806