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1635: The Eastern Front: Chapter Twelve
Last updated: Monday, July 12, 2010 23:24 EDT
“Wilhelm, this course of action is very reckless.” The Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel set down his glass of wine and leaned forward in his chair. That took a bit of effort, since Wilhelm V was a portly man and the armchair in Wilhelm Wettin’s salon was plush and deep. “What could have possessed you to decide this?”
Standing behind her husband, with her hand on his shoulder, Amalie Elizabeth knew the argument was futile. Wilhelm had that stubborn, grumpy expression that she’d come to know all too well in the three days since she and her husband had returned to the capital. He seemed to have aged a year for every week in office, too.
She wondered what had happened to the charming, gracious, intelligent man who’d been a close friend and confidant of the ruling family of Hesse-Kassel for decades. Had a troll from legend abducted him and left an impostor in his place? This — this — pigheaded, sullen blockhead whom she could barely recognize.
That was just a fancy, though. She knew the real explanation was prosaic, and shied away from it simply because she hated to admit that even people as acute and perceptive as Wilhelm Wettin — as herself also, she imagined, in the wrong circumstances — could behave so foolishly.
It was a matter of poise. Wilhelm had been mentally off-balance and staggering for at least a year, ever since he smelled the scent of victory and began making short-sighted bargains and compromises in order to gain the support of everyone he could. Being fair, Amalie Elizabeth and her husband had initially inclined in that direction themselves. But once they recognized the danger involved, they’d tried to restrain Wilhelm.
To no avail, unfortunately. They were bystanders, to a degree, where he was the man at the very center of the maelstrom. What they’d been able to see — as would Wilhelm himself, had he retained his normally judicious temperament — was that the petty obsessions of the average aristocrat and the most prosperous burghers was driving the Crown Loyalist Party off a cliff. Their insistence on retaining all possible privileges was blinding them to the need to abandon many of them if they were to survive at all.
And blinding Wilhelm too — or, at least, putting so much pressure on him that he refused to look.
“If you have to throw these dogs a bone,” her husband continued, “then make it the established church. But whatever you do, stay away from trying to impose a uniform solution upon the citizenship problem.”
Wettin was sunk far back into his own chair, his hands gripping the armrests tightly. “I’ve already told you, I can’t. Our coalition — which is what it is, never think otherwise — has too many factions which are adamant on both issues. And if they were willing to compromise, it’d be over the established church. They won’t budge on citizenship.”
It was all Amalie Elizabeth could do not to grind her teeth.
There were two central issues roiling the United States of Europe. It was their differences on these two points that had so sharply distinguished Wilhelm and his opponent Mike Stearns in the recent election.
The first was the matter of an established church. Basically, there were four possible positions:
The position of Stearns and his Fourth of July Party was simple: complete separation of church and state. They wanted no established church of any kind.
On the far opposite side of the political spectrum, some figures in the Crown Loyalist Party — a relatively small minority, thankfully — wanted a single established church for the entire nation. That would have to be Lutheranism, of course. One could hardly do otherwise, given that the emperor was a Lutheran.
Most members of the Crown Loyalist Party, however, took a more moderate stance. They agreed that an established church was a necessary basis for any stable polity, but they felt it would be impossible to impose a single church on the entire country. The USE simply had too many denominations, even leaving aside the issue of the Jews. Those moderate Crown Loyalists had no desire to repeat the century of instability caused by excluding the Calvinists from the Peace of Augsburg in 1555.
Instead, they favored separate established churches in each province. With some exceptions — the only really important one being the State of Thuringia-Franconia, and those people could be counted on to be obstreperous no matter what — the provinces were relatively uniform, in religious terms. Where an established church for the entire USE would be an endless source of conflict, established churches for each separate province should be stable enough.
Within that broad agreement, however, another division existed: One camp, led by Hesse-Kassel, argued that the issue of an established church should be settled entirely on a provincial level. That would allow some of the more free-thinking provinces, like the SoTF and Magdeburg, to opt for separation of church and state.
But most of the Crown Loyalists, pigheaded as usual, would not accept that compromise. They wanted an established church to be mandatory for every province, whether that province wanted one or not. In effect, they insisted on picking a fight with the Committees of Correspondence in their own strongholds, which the ruling couple of Hesse-Kassel thought was about as smart as picking a fight with a bear in its own den.
Still, despite the heat that had been generated over the question of an established church during the campaign, almost nobody thought it was really a critical matter. The reason was simple. With the exception of a very small number of reactionary diehards, who were considered blockheads even by most Crown Loyalists, every prominent figure in the political life of the USE agreed that religious persecution was dead and buried. No one would be required to join the established church, nor would any member of any other denomination be penalized for not belonging — except, of course, that some of the taxes they paid would be used to support a church they didn’t belong to.
In private discussions, Mike Stearns had told Amalie Elizabeth and her husband that he would be willing to accept an established church as a compromise solution, if need be. He’d even accept a nation-wide established Lutheran church, provided it was set up the way established churches had been set up in some of the nations from the universe he’d come from, like England and Denmark.
The real heat — the real fury, calling things by their right name — was centered on the other major issue before the nation.
Who was to be considered a citizen of the USE in the first place?
Again, there were basically four positions:
The citizenship program of Mike Stearns and his Fourth of July Party was simple. They lifted it word-for-word, in fact, from the constitution of the United States in the universe they’d left behind, as modified by what the up-timers called the Fourteenth Amendment:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Substitute “Province” for “State” and there you had, in two sentences, the position of the Fourth of July Party. Which, needless to say, was vociferously and belligerently supported by the Committees of Correspondence.
The opposing positions fell into three camps.
The far opposite position, as with the matter of an established church, was subscribed to by few people — in this case, intellectuals rather than reactionaries. These were people so addicted to regularity and precision that they insisted that whatever criteria for citizenship were decided upon needed to be applied to all provinces uniformly.
Most members of the Crown Loyalist Party considered that completely impractical. The variations in local and regional custom when it came to citizenship were simply too great. Trying to come up with any standard criteria applied across the board nationally would tie up the parliament for years.
Instead, as with the established church, most Crown Loyalists felt that each province needed to establish its own criteria for citizenship. Some of them even pointed out that that had been the stance originally taken by the United States the up-timers came from.
(To which Mike Stearns responded bluntly and crudely: “Yup, we sure did, which goes to prove Americans can fuck up like the best of ‘em. As a result of which, we saddled ourselves with slavery, property qualifications to vote — you name the stupid limitation on citizenship, we did it — and it took Andy Jackson and a civil war to get rid of all that crap.”)
Within that broad camp, a division existed. The moderate wing of the Crown Loyalists, with Hesse-Kassel again in the lead, advocated that citizenship criteria should be established by the provincial governments.
That was simple enough, they argued. In private, Stearns had told them that if his back was to the wall, he’d accept that compromise also.
But most of the Crown Loyalists thought that policy would be disastrous, and for two reasons.
First, they pointed out — correctly enough — that Hesse-Kassel’s position amounted to locking the barn after the horse got out. There being as yet no established constitution for the USE, the recent election that had produced the existing provincial governments had willy-nilly been held under the terms dictated by the prime minister in power, Mike Stearns. He had simply decreed that all adult permanent residents were citizens and thus could vote.
To be sure, in many of the provinces still dominated by traditional elites there had been plenty of voter intimidation and vote fraud. Still, from the viewpoint of most Crown Loyalists, the result was hopelessly tainted. Allowing the provincial governments elected under Stearns’ dictatorial fiat to turn around and decide citizenship was preposterous. As one prominent Crown Loyalist put it, “You might as well allow a band of robbers to vote on whether their loot is legal.”
Abstractly, their position held quite a bit of merit. But Wilhelm V and Amalie Elizabeth thought that was pure folly. In the real world, sensible people — for sure, sensible rulers — had to accept that certain realities, no matter how unpleasant, were too well-established to try to overturn.
Unfortunately, their practical and moderate position was not shared by most of their party. The majority of Crown Loyalists insisted that the decision on who was and who wasn’t a citizen had to be made in each province by that province’s traditional and established authorities, not the newly-elected, bastard legislatures.
Looked at from one angle, this stance was more than a bit absurd. After all, the Crown Loyalists held state power in the USE because they’d won a majority of the seats in the existing parliament, be that parliament never so distorted and basely-born.
But that was only true nationally. The majority of the Crown Loyalists were adamant that “proper” citizenship criteria had to be established in every province as well. Left to their own devices, Magdeburg province and the State of Thuringia-Franconia would implement the Fourth of July Party’s definition of citizenship. That would give those two very prominent provinces — the SoTF was already the USE’s most populous province — even more sway in national affairs. That would be inevitable, since the voter rolls of most other provinces would drop drastically after the provincial elites re-established traditional citizenship criteria.
Without realizing it, the down-time Crown Loyalists were being sucked into the same quicksand that had trapped the slave-owners in the early up-time United States. The free states — or full-citizenship provinces, in the case of the USE — would inevitably wind up with more voters than the slave states. Or, in this case, more voters than those provinces which sharply limited citizenship.
Amalie Elizabeth and her husband were far more familiar with up-time history than most Crown Loyalists. The Landgrave had once suggested at a national gathering of Crown Loyalist leaders, quite sarcastically, that perhaps the Crown Loyalists should demand that all non-citizens in limited-citizenship provinces should be considered 3/5 of a person for the purpose of determining the size of the electorate.
The reference had passed right over the heads of most people present, of course. But it didn’t matter. The proposal that was actually adopted by that gathering and then accepted by most Crown Loyalists went beyond Hesse-Kassel’s satire: They argued that all non-citizens in a limited-citizenship province should be counted as citizens for the purpose of determining the electoral strength of that province.
That position, needless to say, infuriated the CoCs and the members of the Fourth of July Party. As one wag put it, “Why not simplify things and have just one citizen in every province who exercises all of the votes of the rest of the people who live in the province? What a novel idea! Maybe we could call it ‘tyranny.’”
But the traditional elites who provided most of the leadership of the Crown Loyalists ignored the criticisms. For them, steeped in paternalistic traditions and customs, the idea seemed perfectly reasonable. Of course all people who live in a province should have their existence reflected in the electoral strength of that province. The decisions made by their legislatures would affect them, would they not? But likewise, of course most of those people shouldn’t actually be allowed to vote. They weren’t competent to do so. You might as well give children in a family the same authority as the parents.
Wilhelm V and Amalie Elizabeth were firmly convinced the end result of forcing limited citizenship on every province would be a civil war. They were not at all sure who would wind up winning that war. But even if they’d been confident their side would win, they didn’t think the enormous destruction was a price worth paying.
The Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel said so again today, to the prime minister who now had the power to make the decision. And the response was the one he and his wife had feared. A man, trapped in quicksand, who insisted that he was just going for a swim.
“In the long run, we don’t have any choice,” Wettin said. His tone was mulish, his gaze was downcast. He reminded Amalie of a petulant child. “If we let them set the terms of citizenship, we’ll wind up with a civil war for sure. The only way to prevent that is to limit their power from the outset.”
Amalie Elizabeth could no longer restrain herself. “Wilhelm, that’s wrong from more angles than I can count! Just to begin with, it’s absurd to think that you can limit the power of the Committees of Correspondence — not to mention someone like Mike Stearns! — by simply fiddling with the voter rolls. It didn’t work in the United States that Grantville came from, did it? What makes you think it will work here?”
Her husband nodded. “Like it or not, their power stems from their political influence over the lower classes. Most of those people are not accustomed to voting anyway. Did the peasants who fought the Peasant War have voting privileges? No. But they still rebelled — and the only thing that crushed them was military force, not stringent voting registrars.”
That last came with a sneer, to which Wettin responded with a glare. But the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel was now too angry himself to care about diplomacy.
“And have you given any thought to that little problem? How many of those squabbling petty noblemen and burghers you’re pandering to have volunteered to raise and fund an army? Or are you lunatic enough to believe you can rely on the USE’s army? — which is riddled with CoC agitators and organizers.”
Amalie Elizabeth was no more inclined to be polite herself, any longer, although she refrained from sneering.
“You did notice, I hope — you being the prime minister now — the results of the recent fracas between the CoCs and the anti-Semites?”
Her husband’s sneer had never wavered. “Oh, yes. Wasn’t that splendid? Thousands of reactionaries dead all over the country, the CoCs triumphant everywhere — and you might ask that pack of semi-literate exile noblemen from Mecklenburg why they haven’t returned to their homes. Consider that, Wilhelm, before you get too cocksure about triggering a civil war.”
But it was no use. The prime minister’s expression might as well have been set in stone. The statue of a dwarf king, perhaps, determined to do what he was damn well determined to do, no matter the consequences.
After Rebecca finished speaking, Gretchen nodded. “Thank you for the information. Would you care for some more tea?” With a little smile, she wiggled her fingers at the large tea pot on the kitchen table between them, with its very ample accompanying provisions of sugar and cream. “It turns out I can afford a lot of tea, these days.”
Rebecca shook her head and then cocked it sideways a little. “You don’t seem upset by the news.”
Gretchen shrugged. “I was expecting it. This clash is inevitable, Rebecca. There won’t be any way to negotiate with the Crown Loyalists until they fracture and real political parties emerge from the wreckage. That thing they call a party is nothing of the sort. It’s an unholy alliance whose sole basis of agreement is seizing and holding power. Wettin is no more in control of it than a wave controls the sea.”
Rebecca sighed. “I fear you may well be right.”
She rose from her seat. “I must leave.” Hearing the sounds of teenagers quarreling in a nearby room, she smiled. “The demands of children. As you well know.”
Gretchen accompanied her to the door. Two Yeoman Warders were waiting in the corridor beyond, ready to escort Rebecca home.
“Thank you,” she repeated.
Gretchen had been notified by Rebecca ahead of time that she’d be visiting this morning. That meant important political news, of course. Gretchen, in turn, had sent word to all the CoC leaders in the city.
So, within half an hour of Rebecca’s departure, most of them had arrived at the apartment building and were gathered in Gretchen’s kitchen. It was a very big kitchen, as it needed to be given that it was the kitchen for the entire complex.
“So it’s definite then?” asked Spartacus, who was standing near one of the stoves.
“As definite as any information from Rebecca,” she replied. “But, certainly on a subject like this one, that’s pretty damn definite.”
Across the table from her, Gunther Achterhof nodded. “Yes, I think we can assume it’s true. As soon as the parliament begins its session, Wettin will introduce bills that will force through the reactionaries’ positions on citizenship and the established church. The only question is: what do we intend to do about it?”
Gretchen reached for the tea pot. “Tea, anyone?”
Achterhof grinned. “Better get a bigger one. We’re going to be here for hours.”
“Days,” predicted Spartacus.
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