A Final Declaration on the Late Cologne Trials

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A draft of this declaration was drawn up by Marx Shortly after the Cologne trial (the sentence was passed on November 12 and published in the German newspapers the next day). On November 16 Marx informed Engels of his intention to discuss the declaration with his London comrades, and then to send his variant to Engels for editing. The final text was sent to The Morning Advertiser on November 20 and also to some other newspapers and published in the New Yorker Criminal-Zeitung on December 10.

Under the sentence passed by the court in Cologne on November 12, 1852, Heinrich Bürgers, Peter Nothjung and Peter Röser were each condemned to six years’ imprisonment in a fortress; Hermann Heinrich Becker, Karl Otto and Wilhelm Reiff to five years; and Friedrich Lessner to three years. Four of the accused — Roland Daniels, Johann Jacob Klein, Johann Erhard and Abraham Jacobi — were acquitted. Roland Daniels died a few years later of tuberculosis contracted during the 18 months he had been imprisoned awaiting trial. Ferdinand Freiligrath evaded arrest and trial by emigrating to London.

To the Editor of the Morning Advertiser[edit source]

Sir, — The undersigned discharge a duty to themselves and towards their now condemned friends at Cologne, by laying before the English public a statement of facts connected with the recent monster trial in that city, which have not been made sufficiently known by the London press.

Eighteen months have been wasted on the mere getting up of the evidence for this trial. During the whole of that time our friends have been kept in solitary confinement, deprived of all means of occupation and even of books; those who became ill were refused proper medical treatment, or if they obtained it, the condition in which they were placed prevented them from benefiting thereby. Even after the “act of accusation” had been communicated to them, they were prohibited, in direct violation of the law, from conferring with their lawyers. And what were the pretexts for this protracted cruel imprisonment? After the lapse of the first nine months the “Chamber of Accusation” declared that there were no grounds on which a charge could be maintained, and that, therefore, the instruction had to be recommended. It was recommended. Three months later, at the opening of the assizes, the public accuser pleaded that the mass of the evidence had grown into a larger bulk than he had as yet been able to digest. And after three further months the trial was again adjourned, on the ground of the illness of one of the chief Government witnesses.

The real cause of all this delay was the fear of the Prussian Government to confront the meagre substance of the facts with the pompously announced “unheard-of revelations.” At last, the Government succeeded in selecting a jury, such as the Rhenish provinces had never yet beheld, composed of six reactionary nobles, four members of the haute finance, and two members of the bureaucracy.

Now, what was the evidence laid before this jury? Merely the absurd proclamations and correspondence of a set of ignorant phantasts, importance-seeking conspirators, the tools and associates at once of one Cherval, an avowed agent of the police. The greater part of those papers were formerly in the possession of a certain Oswald Dietz in London. During the Great Exhibition the Prussian police, while Dietz was absent from his home, had his drawers broken open, and thus obtained the desired documents by a common theft. These papers, in the first instance, furnished the means of discovering the so-called Franco-German plot at Paris.” Now, the proceedings at Cologne proved, that those conspirators, and Cherval, their Paris agent, were the very political opponents of the defendants and their undersigned London friends. But the public accuser pleaded, that a mere personal quarrel had prevented the latter from taking part in the plot of Cherval and his associates. By such an argumentation it was intended to prove the moral complicity of the Cologne defendants in the Paris plot; and while the accused of Cologne were thus made responsible for the acts of their very enemies, the professed friends of Cherval and his associates were produced by the Government in court, not at the bar like the defendants-nay, in the witness-box, to depose against them. This, however, appeared too bad. Public opinion forced the Government to look out for less equivocal evidence. The whole of the police machinery was set to work under the direction of one Stieber, the principal Government witness at Cologne, royal councillor of police, and chief of the Berlin criminal police. In the sitting of October 23rd, Stieber announced, that an extraordinary courier from London had delivered to him most important documents, proving, undeniably, the complicity of the accused in an alleged conspiracy with the undersigned.

“Amongst other documents, the courier had brought him the original minute-book of the sittings of the secret society, presided over by Dr. Marx, and with whom the defendants had been in correspondence.”

Stieber, however, entangled himself in discordant statements as to the date on which his courier was to have reached him. Dr. Schneider, the leading counsel for the defence, charged him directly with perjury, upon which Stieber ventured no other reply than to fall back upon his dignity of the representative of the Crown, entrusted with a most important mission from the very highest authority of the State. As to the minute-book, Stieber declared twice on oath, that it was the “genuine minute-book of the London Communist Society,” but later on, closely pressed by the defence, he admitted that it might he a mere book of notes, taken by one of his spies. At length, from his own evidence, the book was proved to be a deliberate forgery, and its origin traced back to three of Stieber’s London agents, Greif, Fleury, and Hirsch. The latter has since admitted that he composed the book under the guidance of Fleury and Greif. So decisive was the evidence at Cologne on this point, that even the public accuser declared Stieber’s important documents a “most unfortunate book,” a mere forgery. The same personage refused to take notice of a letter forming part of the Government evidence, in which the handwriting of Dr. Marx had been imitated; that document, too, having turned out a gross and palpable forgery. In the same manner every other document brought forward in order to prove, not the revolutionary tendencies, but the actual participation of the accused in some distant plot, turned out a forgery of the police. So great were the Government’s fears of an exposure, that it not only caused the post to retain all documents addressed to the counsel for the defence, but the latter to be intimidated by Stieber, with a threatened prosecution for his “criminal correspondence” with the undersigned.

If now, in spite of the absence of all convincing proof, a verdict has, nevertheless, been obtained,"’ that result has only become possible, at the hands even of such a jury, by the retroactive application of the new criminal code, under which The Times and the Peace Society themselves might at any time be tried on the formidable charge of high treason. Moreover, the trial at Cologne had assumed, by its duration, and by the extraordinary means employed on the part of the prosecution, such vast dimensions, that an acquittal would have equalled a condemnation of the Government; and a conviction prevailed generally in the Rhenish provinces, that the immediate consequence of an acquittal would be the suppression of the entire institution of the jury.

We are, Sir, your most obedient servants,

F. Engels

F. Freiligrath

K. Marx

W. Wolff

London, November 20, 1852