The Conflict Between Marx and Prussian Citizenship

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On his arrival in Cologne on April 11, 1848, Marx successfully applied to the Cologne City Council for citizenship. However, the decision was subject to approval by the local royal authorities who were slow in answering. At the beginning of August 1848, after four months’ delay, Marx was informed that his application had been turned down. The conduct of the Cologne authorities aroused indignation in the city’s democratic circles. The Cologne Democratic Society sent a deputation demanding that police measures against Marx should cease (see MECW Vol. 7, pp. 562-63). In reply to Marx’s complaint, the Prussian Minister of the Interior Kühlwetter approved the decision of the local authorities on September 12, 1848 (see MECW Vol. 7, p. 581). Although the protest campaign prevented reactionary circles from carrying out their schemes with regard to Marx immediately, he was in danger of being deported from Prussia as a “foreigner”. Subsequently, the Prussian Government deported Marx for alleged “violation of the right of hospitality”. This act and repressive measures against other editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung caused the newspaper to cease publication in May 1849.

Cologne, September 4. As has already been mentioned earlier, Karl Marx, the editor-in-chief of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, has become involved in a conflict with Prussian citizenship. This affair is a new example of the way in which the attempt is made to conjure away the promises of March. How the matter stands emerges from the following document that Marx has sent to the Minister of the Interior, Herr Kühlwetter:

Dear Minister,

Permit me to protest against a decision of the local royal administration which affects me personally.

I left my homeland, Rhenish Prussia, during the year 1843 in order to settle for the time being in Paris. In 1844 I learned that the royal Oberpräsidium in Koblenz had sent to the respective border police authorities an order to arrest me because of my writings. This piece of news was also published in the censured Berlin newspapers.

From that moment on, I regarded myself as a political refugee. Later on, in January 1845, I was expelled from France at the direct instigation of the then Prussian Government and settled in Belgium.

Since here too the Prussian Government applied to the Belgian Ministry for my expulsion, I was finally forced to relinquish Prussian nationality. I had to use this last expedient in order to escape these persecutions. The best proof that I only asked for permission to emigrate in self-defence is the fact that I did not accept citizenship in any other state even though it was offered to me by members of the Provisional Government in France after the February revolution.

After the March revolution, I returned to my homeland and applied for citizenship in Cologne in the month of April. It was readily granted to me by the local City Council. Under the law of December 31, 1842, the matter was sent for confirmation to the royal administration. I then received from the local acting Police Superintendent, Herr Geiger, a communication which reads as follows:

“Dear Sir,

“I am herewith informing you that in view of your position up to now the royal administration has for the present not used in your favour Paragraph 5 of the law of December 31, 1842, which authorises it to bestow the status ‘ of a Prussian subject upon a foreigner. You are therefore still to he regarded as a foreigner. (Paragraphs 15 and 16 of the cited law.)

Cologne, August 3, 1848
acting Police Superintendent
(signed) Geiger

Dr. Marx, Esquire,
No. 2678.”

I regard the decision of the royal administration as unlawful on the following grounds:

Under the decision of the Federal Diet of March 30 of this year, political refugees, too, may vote for and be elected to the German National Assembly provided they return to Germany and declare that they want to resume their German citizenship. [1]

The decision of the Preparliament[2], which it is true does not have a direct legal force but nevertheless sets the standard of the prospects and promises which were held out to the German people immediately after the revolution, accords the right to vote and to be elected even to all those political refugees who became citizens abroad but want to resume their German citizenship.

In any case, the decision of the Federal Diet and the electoral regulations of the Camphausen Government which are based upon it, are legally valid in Prussia.

Since I declared clearly enough my intention to resume my German citizenship by virtue of my application to obtain the right to reside in Cologne, it is an established fact that I had the right to vote for and to be elected to the German National Assembly. Thus I at least possess citizenship rights in the German Empire.

If, however, I possess the greatest right which a German can possess, so much less reason is there for refusing me the lesser right of Prussian citizenship.

The royal administration at Cologne refers to the law of December 31, 1842. This law, taken together with the above-mentioned decision of the Federal Diet, also speaks in my favour.

Under Paragraph 15, 1 and 3, a subject loses his Prussian citizenship if he asks to be relieved of it or if he has resided abroad for ten years. After the revolution many political refugees who had been abroad for more than ten years returned home and so had lost their rights as Prussians under Paragraph 15 of the above-mentioned law as much as I have. Some of them, Herr J. Venedey, for example, even sit in the German National Assembly. Thus, if they wanted to, the Prussian “police authorities” (Paragraph 5 of the law) could likewise refuse Prussian citizenship to these German legislators!

Finally, I deem it to be thoroughly improper that the local royal administration or Police Superintendent Geiger uses the word “subject” in the notice sent to me, considering that both the former and the present Ministry have barred this designation from all official documents and speak instead only of citizens. It is equally improper, disregarding for the moment my right to Prussian citizenship, to label me, a citizen of the German Empire, as a “foreigner”.

Furthermore, if the royal administration “in view of my position up to now” refuses to confirm my Prussian citizenship, it cannot refer to my material circumstances since, even according to the text of the law of December 31, 1842, only the City Council of Cologne could decide this issue and has done so in my favour. Thus it can only refer to my activities as editor-in-chief of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung and that means in view of my democratic attitude and my opposition to the present Government. But even if the local district administration or the Ministry of the Interior in Berlin should have the authority, which I deny, to withhold from me my Prussian citizenship because this is a special case which comes under the decision of the Federal Diet of March 30, such tendentious reasons could only be employed in the old police state, not however by revolutionary Prussia and her responsible Government.

Finally, I must mention that Police Superintendent Müller, upon my comment that I could not transfer my family from Trier to Cologne under these uncertain circumstances, assured me that there would be no objections to my re-naturalisation.

For all of these reasons I demand that you, Herr Minister, instruct the local royal district administration to confirm my right (request) to take up residence which was approved by the local City Council, and thereby to restore my Prussian citizenship to me.

Please, Herr Minister, accept the assurances of my perfect esteem.

Cologne, August 22, 1848

Karl Marx

  1. Under the impact of the March revolution in the German states, the Federal Diet established by its special decision of March 30, 1848, the representation quota to the German National Assembly. On April 7, an amendment to this decision was approved which extended the right to vote and to be elected to political refugees who returned to Germany and were reinstated in German citizenship
  2. The Pre-parliament which met in Frankfurt am Main from March 31 to April 4, 1848, consisted of representatives from the German states, most of its delegates being constitutional monarchists. The Pre-parliament passed a resolution to convoke an all-German National Assembly and produced a draft of the “Fundamental Rights and Demands of the German People”. Although this document proclaimed certain rights and liberties, including the right of all-German citizenship for the residents of any German state, it did not touch the basis of the semi-feudal absolutist system prevalent in Germany at the time.