Mass Meeting and the Committee of Public Safety (Cologne, 1848)

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 15 September 1848


First published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 103, September 15, 1848
Printed according to the newspaper
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 7
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung

Cologne, September 14. We return to the subject of yesterday’s mass meeting and its results, since these have caused a fairly considerable sensation in our city.

The mass meeting on the Frankenplatz was opened shortly after 12 o’clock by Herr W. Wolff, who briefly explained its purpose and proposed that Herr H. BĂŒrgers should preside over it. Herr BĂŒrgers, who was elected by acclamation, came on to the platform and gave the floor again to Herr Wolff, who then proposed that a Committee of Public Safety be formed to represent the parts of the population of Cologne not represented in the existing legal authorities. Herr F. Engels seconded the motion, which was supported also by Herr H. Becker and Herr E. Dronke. The proposal was adopted amid stormy applause by the audience of at least 5,000-6,000 persons, with only five votes against, after no opposer had come forward despite repeated invitations. It was then decided to fix the number of members of the Committee at 30, and these 30 were elected.[1] Since these included also two, Gottschalk and Anneke, who were under arrest, two substitutes for them were also elected.

Herr F. Engels then proposed the following address to the Berlin Assembly:

To the Assembly which is to agree on the Prussian Constitution in Berlin.

The undersigned citizens of Cologne, considering:

that the Assembly which is to agree on the Prussian Constitution has made it the bounden duty of the Government to issue without further delay the decree decided on August 9 concerning reactionary efforts of officers so as to calm the country and also avoid a breach with the Assembly[2]; that in consequence of this decision the Auerswald-Hansemann Government has been dismissed and the King has charged Imperial Minister Beckerath, who has just been overthrown, to form a new Government; that Herr Beckerath by no means affords the requisite guarantees for implementing the decision of the Assembly; and that, on the contrary, in view of his known counter-revolutionary sentiments, an attempt to dissolve the Assembly is to be expected; that an Assembly elected by the people for reaching agreement on the Constitution between King and people cannot be unilaterally dissolved, because otherwise the Crown would not be on a level with, but above the Assembly; that a dissolution of the Assembly would therefore be a coup d’état; call upon the [members of the] Assembly, in the event of an attempt to dissolve the Assembly, to do their duty and defend their seats even against the force of bayonets.

This address was unanimously adopted, following which the meeting came to an end.

Although numerous delegates from the Citizens’ Association[3] were present in the upper parts of the square, and although it is said that a number of well-known “wailers”[4] did their utmost to recruit rowdies by persuasion and the offer of money, and furthermore although policemen in plain clothes were present in fairly large numbers, nevertheless the meeting was skilful enough to prevent all attempts at disturbing the peace.

Meanwhile the commanders of the civic militia were sitting in the Town Hall and debating what to do, for some of them considered that disturbances were bound to occur. In the middle of their deliberations the door opened and the leaders of the Citizens’ Association burst into the room, declaring that the Committee of Public Safety was the first step towards revolution, that Cologne was in danger and the red republic on the verge of being proclaimed, and that if the civic militia by itself was insufficient to maintain order, the Citizens’ Association with all its resources would put itself at the disposal of Herr von Wittgenstein] Herr von Wittgenstein was adroit enough to refuse this offer and to refrain also from calling any of the civic militia to arms. The consequences proved how right the civic militia was on this occasion.

Not satisfied with this, while the mass meeting was still in progress, the gentlemen of the Citizens’ Association posted up copies of a “Protest”, which we reproduce below. Within five minutes the

Protest, which was unsigned, disappeared without trace from every part of the city. Towards evening it reappeared as a leaflet in bold type, printed at the press of the Kölnische Zeitung and distributed to subscribers to this newspaper. This time it had the following amusing introduction:

Cologne, September 13, 1848

The so-called democrats want to exploit the alarm caused by the latest decisions of the Assemblies in Frankfurt and Berlin in order to regain the ground they have increasingly lost and to provoke a conflict at all costs. With this aim, too, the significance and danger of the friction between the army and the citizens which occurred in Cologne on the 11th of this month has been recklessly depicted with deliberate exaggeration and exploited for criminal purposes.[5] By means of a wallposter, even this morning a mass meeting was convened to be held in the open air at midday, and this meeting actually elected by acclamation a list of persons who had been proposed and agreed upon in advance, to a Committee of Public Safety.

It is unquestionably true that no one should recognise such an authority, which has arisen from a casually assembled mass of people, bypassing the existing official bodies, and that the members of this committee, should they presume to act as such, at once make themselves liable to legal proceedings. It is however better to prevent crimes than to punish them after they have been committed and perhaps claimed many victims.

Hence it is our duty to warn all citizens and to call their attention to the present danger.

To this end, the following protest is issued, together with an appeal:

Protest

The formation of a Committee of Public Safety is the first step towards

Revolution.

Whoever wants true freedom and order is invited to support the existing authorities with all his might, to oppose the criminal efforts of a minority and to protest against the formation of a Committee of Public Safety.

In particular, all members of the civic militia are urged to do their duty and energetically protect law and order. The pretended danger from the army is non-existent, but the real danger arises from the formation of a Committee of Public Safety.

Several members of the managing committee of the Cologne Citizens’ Association.

The Committee of Public Safety held its first meeting yesterday evening and in the first place decided to file this amusing protest, and the gentlemen of the Citizens’ Association will evidently have to be satisfied with that. The Committee elected a president,[6] a secretary[7] and three members of an Executive Committee.[8] Furthermore, it adopted a communication addressed to the RegierungsprĂ€sident, the Commandant’s office, the Town Council, and the command of the civic militia, in which it notified these authorities of its formation and informed them that it would use all legal means to pursue the aim of maintaining calm, in agreement with the authorities wherever possible, but at the same time watching over the preservation of the people’s rights. It resolved moreover to announce this by means of a wall-poster to the inhabitants of Cologne. We shall publish both documents tomorrow.

This morning, people’s minds have already been to some extent set at rest. People laugh at yesterday’s alarm which caused them to see in the Committee a Provisional Government, a comitĂ© de salut public, a conspiracy for a red republic, in short, everything but what it actually is: a committee elected directly and publicly by the people, a committee which undertakes the task of representing the interests of the part of the population not represented in the legally instituted authorities, a committee which operates only in a legal way and has no intention of wanting to arrogate any other authority than the moral influence which the right of free association, the laws, and the confidence of the electors allow it to exert.

  1. ↑ The Committee of Public Safety consisting of 30 people was formed by the democratic and workers’ organisations of Cologne at their mass meeting on September 13, in view of the ministerial crisis in Prussia, the menace of a counter-revolutionary coup and the increasing popular unrest in the Rhine Province aroused by the armistice with Denmark concluded at Malmö. The editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, including Marx, Engels, Wolff, Dronke and BĂŒrgers, as well as the leaders of the Cologne Workers’ Association Schapper and Moll, were elected among its members. The Committee of Public Safety became a guiding centre of the Cologne solidarity movement with the Frankfurt insurgents and of the mass struggle against encroachments on the revolutionary gains and democratic freedoms by the Prussian authorities, who started openly to persecute members of democratic and proletarian organisations.
  2. ↑ See The Fall of the Government of Action.—Ed.
  3. ↑ Citizens’ associations (BĂŒrgervereine), consisting of moderate liberal elements, arose in Prussia after the March revolution. Their aim was to preserve “law and order” within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, and to combat “anarchy”, i. e. the revolutionary-democratic movement.
  4. ↑ In 1848-49 the advocates of a bourgeois constitutional system in Germany called the republican democrats “agitators” (WĂŒhler) and these in turn called their opponents “wailers” (Heuler).
  5. ↑ On September 11, 1848, soldiers of the 27th Regiment billeted in Cologne clashed with citizens supported by the democratic part of the civic militia.
  6. ↑ Hermann Becker.— Ed.
  7. ↑ Funk.— Ed.
  8. ↑ Weyll, Bernigau and Moll.— Ed.