The Confederation of the Rhine and the Dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire (1 August 1806)

To increase his control over the German states and definitively destroy the Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon set up the Confederation of the Rhine, grouping together a large number of formerly indepedent states, and forced the Emperor to abdicate his position.


The undersigned, chargé 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:

Their Majesties the Kings of Bavaria and of Würtemberg, the Sovereign Princes of Regensburg, Baden, Berg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Nassau, as well as the other leading princes of the south and west of Germany have resolved to form a confederation between themselves which shall secure them against future emergencies, and have thus ceased to be states of the Empire.

The position in which the Treaty of Pressburg has explicitly 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 contradiction which could not fail to be a permanent source of agitation, 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 them and to which she is pledged, France cannot but regard the confederation that 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. Everything indicates such serious weakness that the federal bond no longer offers any protection whatever and only constitutes a source of dissension and discord between the powers. The results of three coalitions have increased this weakness to the last degree. An electorate has been suppressed by the annexation of Hanover to Prussia. A king in the north has incorporated with his other lands a province of the Empire. The Treaty of Pressburg assures complete sovereignty to their majesties the Kings of Bavaria and of Würtemberg and to His Highness the Elector of Baden. This is a prerogative which the other electors will doubtless demand, and which they are justified 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, compelled to declare that he can no longer acknowledge the existence of the German Constitution, recognizing, however, the entire and absolute sovereignty of each of the princes whose states compose Germany today, maintaining with them the same relations as with the other independent 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 with a view only 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 theatre 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 continent. He trusts that the French armies which have crossed the Rhine have done so for the last time, and that the people 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 faithful 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.

Bacher

Regensburg, 1 August 1806

Source: James H. Robinson, ed., Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, vol II, no. 2: The Napoleonic Period (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1902), pp. 13-15.