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Peasants, Grain Tariffs, and Meat Quotas: Imperial German Protectionism Reexamined

  • James C. Hunt


The transportation of the nineteenth century; the opening of fertile virgin soil, farmed by extensive methods, in North America, Argentina, and Russia; the expansion of animal husbandry in the Americas and Australia; the development of refrigeration and canning; a chronic worldwide shortage of currency; and such natural catastrophes as the destruction of French vineyards by phylloxera, epidemics of hoof-and-mouth disease, and years of drought followed by years of excessive rain, produced a severe crisis for European farmers in the final quarter of the nineteenth century. European farmers found themselves in a squeeze between the cheap prices of their overseas competitors and their own high production costs, which were caused by intensive or antiquated methods. Two alternative policies confronted European of the high-cost areas.



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1. See, e.g., Gothein, Georg, Der deutsche Aussenhandel: Materialien und Betrachtungen (Berlin, 1901), pp. 1243, 99, 809–15 (Gothein was a Left Liberal Reichstag deputy and economic expert);Geschichte der Frankfurter Zeitung, 2d ed. (Frankfurt a.M., 1911), p. 1073;Barkin, Kenneth D., The Controversy over German Industrialization, 1890–1902 (Chicago, 1970), pp. 186207;Sheehan, James J., The Career of Lujo Brentano: A Study of Liberalism and Social Reform in Imperial Germany (Chicago and London, 1966), pp. 124–36, 186, 192–93. Left Liberal electoral proclamations and programs regularly condemned tariffs that served special interests (without ever stating whether any tariff served the general interest) and called for international commercial treaties. The Left Liberal Reichstag deputies normally voted against all tariff bills. Although the National Liberal Party included extreme protectionists, its programs consistently affirmed the existing tariff system at any given time (whether high tariffs or low) and called for the reconciliation of interests. In contrast, Center and Conservative programs were explicitly protectionist. Salomon, Felix, ed., Die deutschen Parteiprogramme, 3 vols. (Leipzig and Berlin, 19071920), II, 27–37, 73–74, 80–100, 107–09, 129.Mommsen, Wilhelm, ed., Deutsche Parteiprogramme (Munich, 1960), pp. 156–78, 238.

2. Stolper, Gustav, German Economy, 1870–1940 (New York, 1940), pp. 182–83.Gerschenkron, Alexander, Bread and Democracy in Germany (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1943), pp. 388.Angress, Werner T., “The Political Role the Peasantry in the Weimar Republic,” Review of Politics, XXI (1959), 530–49.Lütge, Friedrich, Deutsche Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 3d ed. (Berlin, 1966), pp. 512–13.Rosenberg, Hans, Grosse Depression und Bismarckzeit: Wirtschaftsablauf, Gesellschaft und Politik in Mitteleuropa (Berlin, 1967), pp. 185–86.Rosenberg, , Probleme der deutschen Sozialgeschichte (Frankfurt a.M., 1969), pp. 59, 65–67, 70–73. Barkin, Controversy over Industrialization, pp. 24, 30–31, 47–48, 105–26, 225–69. An extreme and polemical version in Kehr, Eckart, Schlachtflottenbau and Parteipolitik 1894–1901 (Berlin, 1930), pp. 253–54, 267–70. The most comprehensive and nuanced analysis based on the liberal interpretation is Puhle, Hans-Jürgen, Agrarische Interessenpolitik und preussischer Konservatismus im wilhelminischen Reich (1893–1914) (Hanover, 1966). In a review of Puhle, , Journal of Modern History, XII (1969), 257–60, Herman Lebovics urges historians to move beyond the simplistic view that peasants were dupes of the large landowners. A number of historians note the predominant role of Junkers in the protectionist movement, but avoid the question—cui bono? Tirrell, Sarah R., German Agrarian Politics after Bismarck's Fall: The Formation of the Farmers’ League (New York, 1951);Nichols, J. Alden, Germany after Bismarck: The Caprivi Era, 1890–1894 (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), pp. 139–41, 150–51, 289–90;Holborn, Hajo, A History of Modern Germany, 1840–1945 (New York, 1969), pp. 267, 318–20, 371–72.

3. The use of the word “liberal” or “liberalism” refers both to the views of the specific individual figures cited in fnn. 1 and 2 and to the policy and actions of the German Left Liberal parties and the National Liberal Party. It should be clear from the context to which the term refers, but common to both meanings is the emphasis upon economic rationality and commercial and occupational freedom.

4. To avoid any misunderstanding, I should emphasize that I do not dispute the remaining evidential bases of the liberal interpretation (i.e., that grain tariffs burdened the urban population, lowered real wages of industrial workers, hampered the export industries, and in themselves slowed the expansion of animal husbandry, although other protectionist measures offset the last-named disadvantage).

5. Esslen, Joseph B., Die Fleischversorgung des deutschen Reiches (Stuttgart, 1912), pp. 212–20, 288–89.

6. Gerschenkron, Bread and Democracy, pp. 73–75, compares duties on pigs and eggs to the duty on barley.

7. A few historians have recognized the existence of the de facto quota system, but not its magnitude or effect: Rosenberg, Probleme, p. 68; Puhle, Interessenpolitik, pp. 244–45.

8. The above based on Esslen, Fleischversorgung, pp. 113–27, 275–75; Teichmann, Ulrich, Die Politik der Agrarpreisstützung: Marktbeeinflussung als Teil der Agrarinterventionismus in Deutschland (Cologne-Deutz, 1955), pp. 596609;Marchet, Gustav, “Internationale Veterinärkonventionen,’ Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik, XCIII (1901), 239–81;Gignilliat, John L., “Pigs, Politics, and Protection: The European Boycott of American Pork, 1879–1891,” Agricultural History, XXXV (1961), 312.

9. Computed from Hoffmann, Walther G. et al. , Das Wachstum der deutschen Wirtschaft seit der Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1965), pp. 297300, for the years through 1904; computed from Die deutsche Landwirtschaft: Hauptergebnisse der Reichsstatistik, bearbeitet im Kaiserlichen Statistischen Amt (Berlin, 1913), pp. 205, 207, and Esslen, Fleischversorgung, p. 278, for later years.

10. Esslen, Fleischversorgung, pp. 248–49. “Vorläufige Mitteilungen über Ergebnisse der Schlachtvieh- und Fleischbeschau … 1911,” Veröffentlichungen des Kaiserlichen Gesundheitsamt, XXXVI (1912), 1251—data for 1910 and 1911.

11. Die deutsche Landwirtschaft, pp. 166–67.

12. Hoffmann, Wachstum, pp. 160, 162, 537–44.

13. Also see the data on prices in Esslen, Fleischversorgung, pp. 227–30; Gläsel, Ernst Julius, Die Entwicklung der Preise landwirtschaftlicher Produkte und Produktionsmittel während der letzten 50 Jahre (diss., Breslau, 1917), pp. 1213; Hoffmann, Wachstum, pp. 552–87; Puhle, Interessenpolitik, pp. 17, 319. While details differ, all the works agree on the basic trends.

14. Esslen, Fleischversorgung, pp. 238, 240.

15. According to Hoffmann's data (Wachstum, p. 632), the total consumption of beef and veal peaked in 1909, and the consumption of pork in 1910, but the decline was moderate; consumption of meat in 1912 and 1913 was still higher than in any year prior to 1905. The decline occurred because of a shortage of fodder (caused by several poor harvests of potatoes and a severe drought) and an epidemic of hoof-and-mouth disease. Esslen, Fleischversorgung, pp. 104–5, 240–43.

16. I.e., the Kanitz motion for a state monopoly of grain imports. Teichmann, Politik der Agrarpreisstützung, pp. 245–50. Puhle, Interessenpolitik, pp. 230–32.

17. Thyssen, Thyge, Bauer und Standesvertretung: Werden und Wirken des Bauerntums in Schleswig-Holstein seit der Agrarreform (Neumünster, 1958), pp. 195203.

18. Holl, Karl, “Antisemitismus, kleinbäuerliche Bewegung und demokratischer Liberalismus in Hessen: Drei Briefe Philipp Köhlers an Adolf Korell,” Archiv für hessische Geschichte und Altertumskunde, n.s., XXX (19671970), 150–59.Israel, Otto, “Bauernbund,” in Handbuch der Politik, ed. Laband, Paul, 2 vols. (Berlin and Leipzig, 19121913), II, 6163. Puhle, Interessenpolitik, pp. 144–47, 169–73. Hunt, James C., “The People's Party in Württemberg and Southern Germany, 1890–1914: The Possibilities of Democratic Politics” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1970), pp. 183–84, 212–17, 222.Bachem, Karl, Vorgeschichte, Geschichte und Politik der deutschen Zentrumspartei, 9 vols. (Cologne, 19271932), VI, 129–34, 148–70; VIII, 30–33. According to Rudloff, Hans, “Bäuerliche Bevölke-rung and Politische Parteien in Deutschland und Frankreich,” Zeitschrift für politik, VI (1913), 665–66, the Center Party held 37 out of the 63 Reichstag districts in which the number of peasant farms (defined as farms of 3 to 50 hectares) equalled at least 25% of the eligible voters.

19. E.g., Geschichte der Frankfurter Zeitung, p. 1073; the economists Albert Schäffle and Max Weber cited by Barkin, Controversy over Industrialization, p. 197; Gerschenkron, Bread and Democracy, pp. 26–27, 57–58, 75–76.

20. The crux of the debate concerns the small and middle peasant farms of 2 to 20 hectares. It is generally conceded that farms over 20 ha. sold at least a little grain. At the other extreme the “farms” under 2 ha. (5 acres) comprised 58.9% of the total number, but held only 5.4% of the agricultural land (1907). Only 28.9% of the owners of these “farms” had their principal occupation in agriculture. Of these less than one-half were primarily self-employed. A substantial but indeterminable number of the self-employed in agriculture with farms under 2 ha. were vintners, who enjoyed high tariff protection. Figures computed from Die deutsche Landwirtschaft, pp. 34–35, 53.

21. Sering, Max et al. , Deutsche Agrarpolitik auf geschichtlicher und landeskundlicher Grundlage (Leipzig, 1934), pp. 1819 and end map. Also see Buchholz, Ernst Wolfgang, Ländliche Bevölkerung an der Schwelle des Industriezeitalters: Der Raum Braunschweig als Beispiel (Stuttgart, 1966), p. 1.Zorn, Wolfgang, Kleine Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte Bayerns 1806–1933 (Munich, 1962), p. 38.

22. Statistisches Jahrbuch für das Deutsche Reich, XXX (1909), 56–57, 62. Around 37% of the Württemberg population was engaged in agriculture in 1907 as compared to the national average of around 28%.

23. The table is ultimately derived from the official rail freight statistics: Statistik der Güterbewegung auf deutschen Eisenbahnen (Berlin, 1883ff.). These statistics may be applied to Württemberg, as only negligible amounts of freight entered the state by water. The statistics on internal water freight (at irregular intervals in the Statistik des Deutschen Reiches) are too incomplete and too disaggregated prior to 1908 to allow one to develop percentages of grain self-sufficiency for other states. Zorn, Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte, p. 44, states that Bavaria was normally self-sufficient in all agricultural products except legumes and was a net exporter of wheat, but does not give any source.

24. Calculated from Statistik des Deutschen Reiches, n.s., CCXII, pt. 2 b, pp. 34, 36, 40.

25. Tabulated from Stumpfe, , Der kleine Grundbesitz und die Getreidepreise (Leipzig, 1897), pp. 115–26. Stumpfe's own figures are 135 against 46 and 128 against 26, as he deducted the cost of milling, etc., from purchased flour or bread and as he counted the bread consumption by industrially employed family members as a sale. The balance sheets upon which this and the following studies rest represent averages for several years or—more commonly—the peasants' judgment of their “normal” production, sales, and purchases. Stumpfe's data embrace 60 farms in Baden, 44 in Hessen, 12 in Württemberg, and 2 in the province of Saxony (1883–86); 1 in the Rhineland (1889); 3 in Bavaria, 7 in Hanover, 24 in Silesia, and 28 in the kingdom of Saxony (1895–96). Another 32 farms between 10 and 20 ha. in Baden, Hessen, and Württemberg (1883–86) displayed a net sale of plant products (i.e., grain, vegetables, wine, etc.); 6, a net purchase. Stumpfe, pp. 129–30.

26. Computed from Koenig, , Statistische Mitteilungen aus 62 kleinbäuerlichen Betrieben über Erzeugung, Verbrauch, Verkauf und Zukauf von Getreide (diss., Giessen, 1901), pp. 434. Koenig's own figures are 34, 15, and 13; he made deductions similar to Stumpfe's.

27. Tabulated from Grebe, , Die Lage der bäuerlichen Landwirtschaft auf dem Schiefergebirge im Eisenberger Kreise des Fürstentums Waldeck nebst Untersuchung … über Erzeugung … von Getreide (diss., Berlin, 1904), pp. 4078.

28. Tabulated from Keup, and Mührer, Richard, Die volkswirtschaftliche Bedeutung von Gross- und Kleinbetrieb in der Landwirtschaft (Berlin, 1913), pp. 11, 40, 57, 78, 94.

Several other studies deserve mention: (1) The Socialist David, Eduard, “Zur Beweisführung unserer Agrarier,” Die Neue Zeit, XIII (1894/1895), Band II, 293303, analyzed the Hessen enquête of the mid–1880's and conceded that some farms of 2 to 4 ha. were net grain sellers because of unusually favorable conditions. (2) The Deutscher Landwirtschaftsrat surveyed 59 farms under 5 ha. throughout Germany; 9.2% of their gross income came from the sale of grain (an average for the years 1893/94–1897/98, the period when prices were the lowest); only 18 did not sell any grain. For 341 farms between 5 and 20 ha., 19.6% of average gross income came from grain sales; 24 did not sell any grain. But data were not provided on grain and flour purchases. Verhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstags, X, Legislaturperiode, II. Session (1900–03), Anlageband VII, p. 4399. (3) Lotz, Walther and Rau, Heinrich, “Wirtschaftsergebnisse einiger mittlerer und kleinerer Getreidebauern in der Pfalz,” Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, LXXVII (1901), 241–59, studied six large Palatinate farms (30 to 211 ha.) in the vicinity of cities; the bulk of their income came from meat and dairy products. The article is curiously mistitled. (4) von Pantz, Ferdinand Reichsritter, Die Hochschutzzollpolitik Hohenblums und der österreichische Bauernstand (Vienna, 1910), gave data from several farms to demonstrate that high grain tariffs were harming the Austrian peasant (roughly in the area of the present Austrian Republic). He did not, however, provide a complete balance sheet for any one farm, and the higher altitude and rougher terrain would cause the situation of the typical Austrian peasant to diverge from that of the German peasant.

29. Stumpfe, Kleine Grundbesitz, pp. 115–23, 129–30. Grebe, Lage der Landwirtschaft, pp. 126, 134. Keup and Mührer, Bedeutung von Gross– und Kleinbetrieb, p. 393. Pantz, Hochschutzzollpolitik, pp. 25–30, 35. From Stumpfe's data, only 17 out of 149 farms under 10 ha. for which complete balance sheets are available enjoyed a higher net sale from grain than from animals; 10 out of 38 farms between 10 and 20 ha. profited more from plant production than from animal husbandry.

30. Gerschenkron, Bread and Democracy, pp. 76, 190–91, concedes a peasant interest in grain tariffs, but argues that the interest was the result of a conversion to grain forced upon the peasant by high grain prices. I argue, on the contrary, that the peasant interest predated grain tariffs and arose from the essential self-sufficiency and diversification of peasant agriculture.

31. Flathmann, J., Die Landbevölkerung der Provinz Hannover und die Agrarzölle (Berlin, 1902), pp. 46101: reports of some 200 local agents (Vertrauensmänner) of the party, most of whom were farmers.

32. The Bülow tariff raised the duties on maize and barley, but reduced the rate on feed barley unsuitable for malt from 2.25 marks per quintal to 1.30 (for Russia, Serbia, and Rumania) or 2.00 marks (Austria-Hungary). Bran, certain oleaginous seeds, certain root crops, hay and clover (from Serbia and Austria–Hungary), rice waste, oleaginous seed waste, etc., were duty–free. Complete listing of rates in Verhandlungen des Deutschen Reichstags, XI. Legislaturperiode, I. Session (1903–5), Anlageband VIa, pp. 2–8, 70–72.

33. Grebe, Lage der Landwirtschaft, pp. 88–91, 126–29. Koenig, Statistische Mitteilungen, pp. 36, 40. Flathmann, Landbevölkerung, pp. 37–38. Mührer (Keup and Mührer, Bedeutung von Gross– und Kleinbetrieb, p. 383) commented in 1913 that now even small farmers were more and more selling grain and purchasing cheaper fodder, but the peasants he studied pursued a more rational and market–oriented agriculture than most.

34. Flathmann, Landbevölkerung, pp. 38–39. Koenig, Statistische Mitteilungen, p. 40. Grebe's peasants (Lage der Landwirtschaft) resided in a remote, hilly area; their foddering with grain presumably reflected lack of transportation and perhaps inadequate marketing facilities.

35. Cf. Blum, Jerome, “The Internal Structure and Polity of the European Village Community from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century,Journal of Modern History, XLIII (1971), 570–75;Migdal, Joel S., “Peasants in a Shrinking World: The Socio-Economic Basis of Political Change” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1972), pp. 4145, 66–67, 116–46, 223–41.

36. Haushofer, Heinz, Die deutsche Landwirtschaft im technischen Zeitalter (Stuttgart, 1963), pp. 212, 218–19.Schnorbus, Alex, “Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in Bayern vordem Ersten Weltkrieg,” in Bösl, Karl, ed., Bayern im Umbruch: Die Revolution von 1918 (Munich and Vienna, 1969), pp. 110–11, 116. Barkin, Controversy over Industrialization, pp. 95–100, 125.

37. We lack an adequate study of agricultural marketing in Imperial Germany. The few authors who comment on the subject disagree in regard to the availability and competitiveness of markets. See Esslen, Fleischversorgung, pp. 160–65; Graf, Hans Wolframvon Finckenstein, Finck, Die Entwicklung der Landwirtschaft in Preussen und Deutschland 1800–1930 (Bern, 1959), pp. 288301, 310–13; Rosenberg, Grosse Depression, pp. 98–101; Teichmann, Politik der Agrarpreisstützung, pp. 223–31, 543–96.

38. Gerschenkron, Bread and Democracy, pp. 37–38, 192–95, 223, is frank on this point.

39. The agricultural population declined by 5% between 1895 and 1907. All the regions in the Southwest—an area of small peasant farms—revealed an above-average decline: Hessen-Nassau (6.1%), Hessen (9.4), Württemberg (5.9), Baden (8.5), and AlsaceLorraine (8.2). Die deutsche Landwirtschaft, pp. 14–19.

40. Schlögl, Alois, ed., Bayerische Agrargeschichte: Die Entwicklung der Land- und Forstwirtschaft seit Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1954), pp. 280–81.

41. Heberle, Rudolf, Landbevölkerung und Nationalsozialismus: Eine soziologische Untersuchung der politischen Willensbildung in Schleswig-Holstein 1918–1932 (Stuttgart, 1963), p. 126 and passim.Loomis, Charles and Beegle, J. Allen, “The Spread and Persistence of German Nazism in Rural Areas,” American Sociological Review, XI (1946), pp. 726, 730.

42. Rosenberg, Grosse Depression, pp. 151–52.

43. Teichmann, Politik der Agrarpreisstützung, pp. 590–96. Geschichte der Frankfurter Zeitung, p. 885.

44. Molt, Peter, Der Reichstag vor der improvisierten Revolution (Cologne-Opladen, 1963), pp. 5560, 68–70.Anderson, Eugene N. and Anderson, Pauline R., Political Institutions and Social Change in Continental Europe in the Ninteeenth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967), pp. 148–52.Bachem, , Geschichte der Zentrumspartei, VIII, 50 (statistics on voting and Landtag representation in Bavaria). Hunt, “People's Party in Württemberg,” pp. 218, 247–48, 395–99. Warren, Douglas, The Red Kingdom of Saxony: Lobbying Grounds for Gustav Stresemann, 1901–1909 (The Hague, 1964), pp. 16, 78.

45. Bertram, Jürgen, Die Wahlen zum Deutschen Reichstag vom Jahre 1912 (Düsseldorf; 1965), pp. 156–64, 215–20: data on the occupations of Reichstag candidates and the party vote by size of community. On the party politics of 1909 to 1914 and the internal splits among the National Liberals, see—in addition to Eschenburg, Bertram—Theodor, Das Kaiserreich am Scheideweg: Bassermann, Bülow und der Block (Berlin, 1929), pp. 196272;Reiss, Klaus-Peter, ed., Von Bassermann zu Stresemann: Die Sitzungen des nationalliberalen Zentralvorstandes 1912–1917 (Düsseldorf, 1967), pp. 2230, 37–38;Stegmann, Dirk, Die Erben Bismarcks: Parteien und Verbände in der Spätphase des Wilhelminischen Deutschlands: Sammlungspolitik 1897–1918 (Cologne and Berlin, 1970), pp. 176236, 305–28; Warren, Kingdom of Saxony, pp. 79–87; White, Dan S., “Hessen and the Reformulation of National Liberalism” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1966), pp. 291–94, 317–37.

46. For a contrast, see Rudloff, “Bäuerliche Bevölkerung in Deutschland und Frankreich,” pp. 668–72, and Wright, Gordon, Rural Revolution in France: The Peasantry in the Twentieth Century (Stanford, Calif., 1964), pp. 2025, 58–59, on peasant support for the French Left.

47. Beyer, Hans, “Landbevölkerung und Nationalsozialismus in Schleswig–Holstein,” Zeitschrift für Agrargeschichte und Agrarsoziologie, XII (1964), 6974. Puhle, Interessenpolitik, pp. 193–99. White, “Hessen,” pp. 281–86, 291–305.

48. Jansen, Reinhard, Georg von Vollmar: Eine politische Biographie (Düsseldorf; 1958), pp. 4763. Whether the Socialists could have won peasant votes is doubtful, but the Socialists needed to neutralize peasant hostility so as to facilitate political alliances with peasant–based parties, particularly the Center Party.

49. Salomon, , Parteiprogramme, II, 91, 95, 115.

50. Beobachter (Stuttgart organ of the People's Party), June 3, 4, 12, 13, 1885. Muser, Oscar, Die Sociale Frage und die nächstliegenden Aufgaben der Gesellschaft (Frankfurt a.M., 1891), pp. 5864, 128–30.

51. After 1919 the Weimar Coalition governments abolished entail and slightly increased the pace of internal settlement. The Social Democratic Agricultural Laborers Union had over 600,000 members in 1919, but thereafter declined rapidly because of neglect by the party and by the Socialist–led Prussian government. The Social Democrats adopted a propeasant platform in 1927. All these efforts were too little or too late. Haushofer, Landwirtschaft im technischen Zeitalter, pp. 232–35. Gerschenkron, Bread and Democracy, pp. 92–95, 101–4, 127–32. Kosok, Paul, Modern Germany: A Study of Conflicting Loyalties (Chicago, 1933), pp. 6063.


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