1624: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 25:
The emperor got a distracted look on his face. “Speaking of which, when do you propose to hold the elections?” He gave Mike a look through those bright blue eyes that reminded Stearns rather forcefully that the emperor was a very shrewd man, beneath the sometimes blustery exterior. “You know—if you were a proper schemer and plotter—you would hold the elections right in the middle of the campaign. Most Germans would be more comfortable with Wilhelm Wettin as their Prime Minister, I think also. But… in time of war? I’m not so sure, Michael. You might get re-elected.”
Mike shrugged. “And so what? The war would be over, soon enough, and then I would face a reluctant electorate when it came time to implement the policies I want. Better, I think, to let things unfold at their own pace. Once Germany has the experience of Wettin in power, people may feel differently about things.”
Ekstrom had been following the discussion closely, and by now had become an astute observer of the politics of the USE. “You think he will insist on restricting the franchise? That will be the explosive issue, you know, not the religious business. I wouldn’t think Wilhelm would be that stubborn.”
Gustav Adolf was now listening intently also, but not saying anything. There was more in his stance and expression of an interested and curious observer than that of a ruler who had to make a decision any time soon. Mike wasn’t positive, but he didn’t think Gustav had any definite opinion on the subject of who should—and should not—be a citizen of the United States of Europe.
There was no reason he needed to have one, after all. Not yet, at least. His title of Emperor of the USE might be abstractly more prestigious than his title of the King of Sweden, but Gustav’s real power stemmed from the latter, not the former. In Sweden, he ruled as a monarch, with none of the constitutional restrictions he faced as emperor of the new German nation. And as thorny and potentially volcanic as the problem of defining citizenship was for Germans, it was simply not an issue in Sweden.
[NOTE: Double-check that. I’m not actually sure how citizenship was defined in Sweden, but I don’t recall the issue ever being something people quarreled about at the time.]
“Left to his own devices, Nils,” Mike said, “I think Wilhelm would prefer to just let the controversy over citizenship die a natural death. He knows that my party will introduce a proposal for complete and universal adult suffrage, whether I’m still the Prime Minister or simply the leader of the opposition. And no matter what, I can’t see any realistic outcome of any election held within the next year or two that didn’t produce a legislature at least one-third of whose members belonged to my party. In the lower house, I’ll be surprised if we don’t wind up with a majority. So all Wilhelm would have to do is quietly see to it that enough of his supporters—or those from allied parties—agreed to it. And since the Prime Minister has no sayso over measures adopted in a special constitutional convention, he couldn’t even be blamed for not vetoing it.”
“But…” The emperor cocked his head.
Mike shrugged again. “He owes too many favors, Gustav. Way too many. He made the mistake—this is my opinion, anyway—of going for a quick victory instead of taking the time to solidify his position. Those ‘Crown Loyalists’ of his are not really a political party so much as a coalition of several different parties, first of all. Secondly, they don’t have anything you could properly call a program. What they have is basically just a pastiche.” He grinned, rather sarcastically. “’What we don’t like about Mike Stearns,’ is really all it amounts to—which is not the same thing as ‘what we believe.’ And finally—”
He started scratching his jaw, in an old mannerism, before remembering Francisco Nasi’s insistence that it was a bad habit for a political leader. Before she left, Becky had told him the same thing.
“And finally”—he dropped his hand—“the only real cement that holds that ramshackle ‘party’ of his together is a complicated cross-hatch of favors exchanged between Wettin and a large number of people, most of whom—almost all of whom, except for Quentin Underwood and a few other up-timers—are noblemen of one sort or another. There are a few of them, like the Landgrave and Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, who are smart enough and secure enough that I think they’d just as soon see the citizenship issue buried. Ironically, I think Wilhelm’s brother Ernst feels the same way about it.”
That last sentence was as much of a question aimed at the emperor, as it was a statement. Ernst Wettin had decided to let his brother Albrecht assume the position of Duke of Saxe-Weimar after Wilhelm abdicated in order to run for office in the Commons. Instead, he’d accepted Gustav Adolf’s offer to become the imperial administrator for the Upper Palatinate. Officially, he still retained his title as one of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar, but that no longer really meant very much.
Gustav nodded. “Yes, I think you are right. Judging from what I hear from General Baner, at least. Ernst is too fussy for Baner’s taste—of course, almost anyone is too fussy for that man—but he never issues the sort of complaints about stupid petty aristocrats that he normally bestows on German noblemen.”
Mike decided to let the matter drop, for the moment. He was tempted to probe a little further, to see if he could get the emperor to take a definite stance on the citizenship issue. But…
One thing at a time. He had an immediately pressing issue to deal with. And one that he could no longer handle by—he’d admit to himself the charge had been true enough—maneuvering Gustav Adolf. To do what needed to be done now, he had to have the emperor’s full agreement, or it would all unravel come next spring.
Gustav, as perceptive as he normally was, spotted the moment also. “You want to keep driving the negotiations with the Spaniards. Or rather—since what you obviously have in mind is splitting the Spaniards—with the cardinal-infante.”
Gustav, cheerfully defying all counsels concerning the proper mannerisms for august political leaders, began tugging at his mustache. “It’s tempting, Michael. Yes, it is. As God is my witness, I can think of few things that would delight me more than seeing those stinking Habsburgs divided and quarreling among themselves as much as possible.”
He left off the mustache-tugging and held up an admonishing finger. “But! Two things concern me. The first—the simplest—is that I am also sure I can overrun the Netherlands myself.”
Catching sight of Colonel Ekstrom’s slight wince, the emperor barked a laugh. “You too! Another skeptic!”
He went back to his mustache-tugging. “Well. I should have said, the three northern provinces. None of them have any great allegiance to the United Provinces, being mostly Catholics. I agree it would be unwise to try to push further, into the Dutch heartland.”
Mike took a deep breath. They had now entered very perilous territory. For all that he basically liked and admired Gustav Adolf, he never let himself forget that at bottom the King of Sweden was not that much different from any monarch of the time. He was an imperialist, at heart. For seventeenth century rulers, grabbing as much land as possible was second nature. The nationalist sentiments that would dominate Europe before too long were still nascent in most places, although you could easily see them emerging if you looked and knew what to look for.
But no monarch did, not even Gustav Adolf. They thought in dynastic terms, not national terms—even those of them who, like Richelieu or Gustav himself, had carefully studied the histories brought back in time through the Ring of Fire. There was simply that deep-seated part of them that didn’t quite believe that any ramshackle dynastic territory they built up would surely come to pieces, sooner or later, if it didn’t have firm roots in popular sentiment.
Again, Mike decided to let it slide. He was pretty sure that Gustav’s desire to add three small Dutch provinces to his dynasty wasn’t really important to him. Assuming Gustav won the war, Mike intended to push for creating a USE “Danzig corridor” to the Zuider Zee. His own motives were mostly as a way of throttling the life out of the slave trade while it was still in its infancy. But he was fairly certain that Gustav would settle for that, simply as a token of his triumph.