Your correspondent has been taking a German class at the Goethe Institute and part of our classwork involves watching and discussing an excellent TV series broadcast by the ZDF network, “Die Deutschen.” Last week the subject was Thomas Müntzer (1489-1525), an Evangelical preacher who broke with Luther over social issues. Müntzer became a leader of the Peasants War demanding more rights from the nobility, such things as the abolition of serfdom. The revolt was put down, Müntzer was tortured and executed.
A monument from the uprising is the 12 Articles of the Peasant Revolt of 1525, the demands of the peasants of Memmingen against the Swabian League, a document that stands as one of the first declarations of human rights. No. 10 stood out:
Soll der Todfall ganz und gar abgetan werden, und nimmermehr sollen Witwen und Waisen also schändlich wider Gott und Ehre beraubt werden.
Which is to say:
The death tax should be completely abolished, and never more shall widows and orphans be robbed of their inheritance contrary to God and Honor.
No messing around with 45 percent rates or 100 Mark exemptions. Abolishing the death tax was considered a basic human right.
The full list of the 12 articles from Wikipedia.
- Every municipality shall have the right to elect and remove a preacher if he behaves improperly. The preacher shall preach the gospel simply, straight and clearly without any human amendment, for, it is written, that we can only come to God by true belief.
- The preachers shall be paid from the great tithe. A potential surplus shall be used to pay for the poor and the war tax. The small tithe shall be dismissed, for it has been trumped-up by humans, for the Lord, our master, has created the cattle free for mankind.
- It has been practice so far, that we have been held as villain, which is pitiful, given that Christ redeemed all of us with his precious bloodshed, the shepherd as well as the highest, no one excluded. Therefore, it is devised by the scripture, that we are and that we want to be free.
- It is unfraternal and not in accordance with the word of God that the simple man does not have the right to catch game, fowls, and fish. For, when God our master created man, he gave him power over all animals, the bird in the air and the fish in the water.
- The high gentlemen have taken sole possession of the woods. If the poor man needs something, he has to buy it for double money. Therefore, all the woods that were not bought (relates to former community woods, which many rulers had simply appropriated) shall be given back to the municipality so that anybody can satisfy his needs for timber and firewood thereof.
- One shall have understanding (pretty much reduce) with regard to the corvee which keeps increasing from day to day to how our parents served in accordance with exclusively the word of God.
- The nobility shall not raise the peasant’s corvee in excess of what was established at bestowal. (Raising corvee without any agreement was not unusual.)
- Many properties can not support the levies (lease fees). Honest men shall inspect these properties and shall determine the levy upon their discretion so that the peasant shall not do his work in vain, for every person is worth his pay.
- New rules are ever made for the great outcry “große Frevel” (a fine that had to be paid to the court). One does not punish with regards to the subject but at discretion (raising fines and arbitrary punishment was common). It is our opinion that we shall be punished by old, written penalty with regards to what was done and not to favour.
- Several have appropriated meadows and acres (community land that was at the disposition of all members), that belong to the municipality. Those we want back to our common hands.
- The “Todfall” (a sort of inheritance tax) shall be abolished altogether and never again shall widows and orphans be robbed contrary to God and honour.
- It is our decision and final opinion that if one or several of the articles mentioned herein were not in accordance with the word of God, those we shall refrain from if it is explained to us on the basis of the scripture. If several articles were already granted to us and it emerged afterwards that they were ill, they shall be dead and null. Likewise, we want to have reserved that if even more articles are found in the writ that were against God and a grievance to though neighbour.
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