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Property and Civil Society in South-Western Germany 1820-1914$

Jonathan Sperber

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199284757

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199284757.001.0001

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(p.256) Appendix

(p.256) Appendix

Source:
Property and Civil Society in South-Western Germany 1820-1914
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

COURT-CASE STATISTICS

Doing research in legal records is frustrating, because they contain both too much and too little. In contrast to administrative records, legal ones are very voluminous. Even ignoring standard phrases, postal return receipt coupons and the like, there remains more than can be read. Consequently, it is necessary to take a sample, but doing so leads to the discovery that the records have been very erratically preserved, with few or no complete runs of files and very different material available from different times and places. In this Appendix, I will indicate which materials I have chosen to use and provide some simple indicators of their extent and scope. None of the materials can be regarded as statistically representative random samples of the tens of thousands of civil cases brought before the Palatine courts each year.

All the court records used in this book come from the Landesarchiv Speyer. To understand the choices made in selecting files one needs to know something about the filing procedure for civil court cases, which changed very drastically in 1879. After that date, all the material from a case is filed together. Each individual record contains all the relevant material on one case (as well as other items, such as postal return receipts)—the lawyers' written briefs, the verdict, and the evidence, including testimony, expert reports, and court visitations of the scene.1 For pre-1879 cases, though, the files were arranged quite differently. Each file contains one kind of material for a large run of cases: all the testimony, for instance, in all the civil cases heard by a court in, say, the year 1861. Verdicts or lawyers' briefs would be in another file, and because the material has been only sporadically preserved it is not possible to bring these different files together to recreate whole cases. Consequently, pre-1879 materials are invariably fragmentary. That is not to say that they are always very small. A fragment might contain pages and pages of testimony, with a good deal more material of interest to the historian than is available in a later complete case, but these pre-1879 materials are all case fragments.

In general, by far the richest material of the civil court cases in the Landesarchiv Speyer is to be found in the records of the Landgericht Frankenthal (record group J6), which extend from the Napoleonic era to the eve of the Second World War. In the pre-1879 period of fragmentary records, this record group contains the most useful material. No verdicts seem to have been preserved, so I have chosen to use files that contain primarily evidence—testimony, expert reports, and visits to the scene. These files also contain the transcripts of the administration of the judge's oath, the oath taken by one of the parties to decide a case when the preponderance of the evidence was in favour of that party. Although verdicts and lawyers' briefs are missing, so, with very few exceptions, outcomes are not known, it is generally possible from the available material to figure out what the case was about and sometimes even the relevant paragraphs of the Napoleonic Code that were central to the legal questions involved.

(p.257) I took a sample of the relevant files, choosing every single instance for the decades before 1860, when the records are scantiest, and a selection for the subsequent decades. J6/1150 (1823), J6/1153 (1834), J6/1156 (1838), J6/1157 (1840), J6/1158 (1844), J6/1160 (1848), J6/1162–4 (1850–2, but just expert reports and oaths, no testimony), J6/1169–70 (1861), J6/1171 (1862), J6/1173 (1865), J6/1178 (1872), J6/1179–80 (1874–5). Also within this group of records were two somewhat different files, J6/1151–2, which contained portions of the records of foreclosure proceedings in 1831 and 1832. All in all, there were 1,098 case fragments for this period.

For the later period I went through 198 case files of the Landgericht Frankenthal concerning legal actions begun from 1879 to 1913. The filing system is odd, combining a chronological with a subject-oriented arrangement, so I will not give the individual numbers. Other useful post-1879 records include those of the Amtsgericht Kaiserslautern (record group J20) bankruptcy files, arranged alphabetically and covering the years 1887 to 1919. I chose 192 files J20/296–400 and 1200-96, roughly GöLo and Me-Sch. I also read through all the available files in the record groups Amtsgericht Pirmasens (record group J31) and Amtsgericht Edenkoben (record group J15), which covered the years 1900–14. Some 80 per cent of these files consisted of paternity cases.

All in all, there were 1,646 cases or case fragments, of which 1,296, or 79 per cent, came from the records of the Landgericht Frankenthal, 192 or 12 per cent from the records of the Amtsgericht Kaiserslautern, 126 or 8 per cent from the records of the Amtsgericht Pirmasens, and 32 or 2 per cent from the records of the Amtsgericht Edenkoben. The cases provide good coverage of a wide geographical swathe of the Palatinate, and include material from wine-growing, grain- or tobacco-growing, and forested upland rural areas, commercial towns, and industrial cities. The major gaps of coverage are in the north-western Palatinate and in the south-east of the province. This latter gap is particularly to be regretted as it included the city of Landau, the major centre of the wine and tobacco trade, although available material from the cities of Neustadt, Speyer, and Bad Dürkheim, which were secondary centres, helps make up for the gap.

Table A.1 provides a chronological distribution of the cases. The year in which the case fell was determined by the year the case was filed, or, if the filing date was not clear, by the first year in which records for the case exist. Not surprisingly, the most recent decades are the best represented, and there are considerable lacunae for the 1850s and 1890s, but, overall, there is a good balance across the decades. Forty-seven per cent of the total number of cases and case fragments come from before 1870, the approximate midpoint, and 53 per cent from after that time.

Table A.1. Chronological distribution of cases and case fragments

Years

%

Number

Before 1830

4

64

1830–9

16

268

1840–9

11

189

1850–9

2

39

1860–9

14

237

1870–9

18

295

1880–9

7

108

1890–9

3

55

1900–09

12

201

1910 and after

12

190

Total

99

1,646

(p.258) It is possible to draw up a list of the types of cases contained in this material. The designations are just rough approximations, but they do give some idea of what business came before the courts—or, to be more precise, what has been preserved of the business that came before the courts (Table A.2). We can bring together these many individual types into three larger groups and one smaller one. The single largest group was cases concerning the granting and taking of credit and its ramifications, including bankruptcies, foreclosures, and seizures. Thirty-five per cent of the cases in the sample dealt with these topics. Closely related to these cases were complaints about the non-fulfilment of other forms of contractual obligation, making up one-fifth of all the cases. Family matters—inheritance, paternity, and other issues of family life and family property, such as divisions of marital property or alimony or child custody disputes following a divorce—amounted to a little over a quarter of all the cases.2 A smaller group consisted of disputes over property boundaries and over the expropriation of property, in conjunction with the building of railways, which were not quite one-twelfth of the cases. All in all, these four groups made up almost 90 per cent of the cases. Other causes for civil dispute more prevalent in Common Law countries, such as suits for compensation for property damages or personal injuries, were much less common. There were just thirty of the latter, two of which were filed on behalf of a horse. Given the very erratic preservation of cases, the extent to which the material in the sample accurately reflects the business of the nineteenth-century Palatine civil courts is not entirely clear, but they do give some idea of what was taken up in them.

Table A.2. Types of cases

Type of case

%

Number

Contract

19.7

325

Insurance

0.7

12

Employment

0.2

4

Credit

10.4

172

Bankruptcy

13.3

219

Foreclosure

10.6

175

Seizure

0.8

14

Inheritance

15.4

254

Paternity

8.4

138

Family

2.7

44

Property boundaries

6.0

99

Property expropriation

1.6

27

Personal injury

1.8

30

Damages

1.2

19

Competency

1.3

21

Tariffs and taxes

0.5

9

Usage rights

1.0

17

Seigneurial obligations

0.5

9

Slander

0.6

1

Other, unknown

3.5

57

Total

100.2

1,646

(p.259) Coming from the cases to the parties in them, I have divided the parties into three groups: plaintiffs, defendants, and others. The latter appeared in cases where there was no formal dispute: petitioners for bankruptcy, for instance, or deceased individuals whose estates were being appraised by court-appointed experts. There were more parties than cases, because in some cases there was more than one plaintiff or defendant. Table A. 3 gives the breakdown of parties by gender and by religion. There is not much difference in the extent to which men and women or Christians and Jews appeared in the courts in different roles. About two-thirds of the parties were men and one-third women; about 90 per cent Christians and 10 per cent Jews. Men were obviously over-represented in legal actions, as were Jews, who made up only about 2 per cent of the Palatinate's population.3

It is also possible to produce figures about the litigants by social group. Here, the insecurities and inexactitudes are clearly much greater than was the case in the breakdown by gender and religion. I have divided the many occupational designations into five broader groups:

  1. 1. the upper classes, composed of nobles, army officers, estate owners, gentleman farmers, rentiers, manufacturers, merchants, bankers, professionals, and state officials;

  2. 2. a commercial middle class of millers, innkeepers, retailers, agents, brokers, dealers, and contractors;

  3. 3. a salaried middle class of clerks, foremen, and other salaried employees as well as schoolteachers;

  4. (p.260)
  5. 4. a group of small producers and proprietors composed of peasants, artisans, teamsters, and Rhine boatmen;

  6. 5. a group of workers, composed of day labourers, servants, railway, factory, craft, and service workers;

  7. 6. finally, two residual categories: minors, and those with other, unknown, or no occupation.

Table A. 3. Parties by gender and by religion

Plaintiffs

Defendants

Others

All parties

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

Male

63

1,130

69

1,716

73

191

67

3,037

Female

37

664

30

750

26

67

32

1,481

Unknown

1

10

1

32

1

3

1

45

All

101

1,804

100

2,498

100

261

100

4,563

Christian

88

1,588

90

2,248

90

236

89

4,072

Jew

10

177

8

212

7

17

9

406

Unclear

2

39

2

38

3

8

2

85

All

100

1,804

100

2,498

100

261

100

4,563

Wives and widows have been categorized under their husbands' occupations, unless they are listed as having separate ones.

There is plenty of overlap among these groups, and undoubtedly there were modest merchants and manufacturers closer to the commercial middle class, and innkeepers or dealers who were wealthy and affluent.4 As usual in German social classifications, it is hard to tell whether artisans were masters or journeymen, and I have only included among workers those specifically designated as journeymen or apprentices. To judge from the material in the cases, most of the artisans were probably property-owning master craftsmen, although in the Palatinate, where the guilds had been abolished at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the distinction between master and journeyman was not hard and fast (Table A. 4). Parties in the cases came from all walks of life and represented a broad cross-section of nineteenth-century Palatine society. It is clear that the upper classes and, more generally, urbanites were over-represented among litigants, and the lower classes and the rural population were under-represented. Still, small producers and workers made up 44 per cent of litigants, and when we consider that these groups were probably strongly over-represented in the residual categories—children, parties with other occupations (such as travelling musicians), and those with no occupation or no designation—it seems likely that over half the parties appearing in court belonged to the lower strata of the population. Defendants were a bit more likely to be small producers than plaintiffs, while the opposite was true of the commercial middle strata, a state of affairs that reflects the role of the civil (p.261) courts in enforcing contracts and dealing with debt. Still, in a society of property owners, access to the civil courts was not just reserved for the elite.

Table A. 4. Parties by social group

Group

Plaintiffs

Defendants

Others

All parties

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

Upperclasses

19

341

17

417

17

45

18

803

Commercial Middleclass

21

371

15

387

32

84

18

842

White collar Middle class

1

26

1

34

2

4

1

64

Small producers

32

581

40

994

30

79

36

1,654

Workers

10

179

7

184

7

18

8

381

Minors

7

134

10

253

0

0

8

387

Other, none, unknown

10

172

9

229

12

31

9

432

Total

100

1,804

99

2,498

100

261

98

4,563

Table A. 5. Organizations as parties

Kind of organization

Plaintiffs

Defendants

All parties

%

No.

%

No.

%

No.

Railways

15

20

31

48

24

68

Insurance companies

2

2

6

9

4

11

Other businesses

44

58

29

45

36

103

Institutions

8

11

6

9

7

20

Municipalities

21

27

17

26

18

53

Bavarian government

10

13

12

19

11

32

All

100

131

101

156

100

287

A final point about court parties is that not all of them were individuals. Businesses, institutions, municipalities, and the Bavarian state appeared as parties in court cases. Table A. 5 gives the role of these sorts of parties, who appeared in the records exclusively as plaintiffs or defendants. The civil courts were primarily for individuals, who outnumbered organizations as litigants by about fifteen to one. Corporations, as can be seen from the figures on railways and insurance companies, were noticeably more likely to be defendants in litigation than plaintiffs.

A NOTE ON CITATION

All the files used in this work, at least when I consulted them, were completely unpaginated and unfoliated. Simply citing the file for a particular reference would be very inexact, in view of the considerable size of many of the files. To provide a better idea of the location of a citation, I have cited the record group, the file number, the specific procedure of the case from which the citation came, and the individual (if relevant) who was the author of the information. A typical citation: J6/1180, Zeugenverhör-Protocoll, 14 June 1875, testimony of the pensioned soldier Jacob Rettinger. This citation refers to the record group Landgericht Frankenthal (J6), file number 1180. It quotes a statement taken from the record of the testimony (Zeugenverhör-Protocoll) given on 14 June 1875 by one of the witnesses, namely the retired soldier Jacob Rettinger. Although cumbersome, this method of citation provides as precise a reference as is possible without being able to quote indi-vidual pages or folios. The mostly handwritten records can usually be deciphered, albeit often with some effort. Individual names, though, could be hard to make out with certainty. When I was not sure, I cited the name by putting it, followed by a question mark, in brackets.

A NOTE ON CURRENCY AND MONEY VALUES

From 1816 until 1875, the official currency in circulation in the Palatinate was the south German standard gulden (abbreviated fl.), divided into sixty kreuzer (xr.). The creation of (p.262) a united German nation-state brought with it a German central bank and a standard nationwide currency, the mark (mk.). Each mark was worth five-sevenths of a gulden. Before the creation of a national currency, Prussian money, the thaler, divided into thirty groschen, and each groschen into twelve pfennig, also circulated in the Palatinate. The thaler was converted into the all-German currency at the rate of one mark = one-third of a thaler, making a gulden seven-fifteenths of a thaler. French coins also circulated in the Palatinate. One gulden was worth two and one-seventh French francs. On the eve of the First World War, a regularly employed, male, urban unskilled labourer might have expected to earn something on the order of 800 to 1,000 marks per year, and somewhat less if employed in agriculture. In the first half of the nineteenth century, earnings for someone in a similar occupation would have been about one-third of what they were in the years before 1914.

Notes:

(1) In the record group Amtsgericht Pirmasens, a number of smaller cases are contained in one record, but even there, all the records of each individual case are grouped together.

(2) Although there are cases dealing with the ramifications of a divorce, regrettably the files include no divorce cases as such.

(3) Two points about these figures. First, when men were only parties because they were husbands, whose wives could not take legal action without their consent, I have not included them as parties. Including them would, obviously, have increased the percentage of litigants who were men. Second, the distinction between Jews and Christians is based primarily on individuals' names, so there is some margin for error. The ‘unclear’ figure represents individuals whose surnames and family names could have been borne by either Jews or Christians.

(4) A contemporary observation on this point, Riehl, Die Pfälzer, 171.