International Policing in Nineteenth-Century Europe: The Police Union of German States, 1851-1866 (1996)

Mathieu Deflem

This is an online copy of a print publication published in International Criminal Justice Review 6:36-57 (1996). Also available as pdf file.

Cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 1996. “International Policing in Nineteenth-Century Europe: The Police Union of German States, 1851-1866.” International Criminal Justice Review 6:36-57.

* Previously presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, Boston, March 1995, with the aid of the 1995 Student Scholarship Award from the ACJS. I thank Victor Lofgreen, Richard Bennett, and John Vagg for helpful comments at the meeting, and two anonymous reviewers for their evaluations of a previous draft. Analysis relies on documents collected at the Police Presidency in Berlin, the Polizeiführungs-Akademie in Münster (Germany), the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago, and the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Research for this paper was supported by a doctoral dissertation grant from the National Science Foundation (#SBR-9411478). Opinions and statements do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


I analyze issues of cross-border policing involved with the Police Union of German States. Between 1851 and 1866, this international police network exchanged information and confiscated materials to suppress political opposition and press activities. Situated in the context of Europe's political history and the transformation of the police function, I review the Police Union's organizational structures and surveillance activities. The presented evidence indicates the value of a perspective of international policing as a political technology, which can elucidate the relative autonomy of police operations vis-à-vis the political context and their functionally driven expansion beyond nation-state borders. This suggests a crucial duality of policing, indicating the complementarity of, rather than a presumed contradiction between, police as a functional power technology and a state-sanctioned institution of legality.


The Police Union of German States may count as one of the first formal initiatives in industrialized society to establish an organized police system across national borders. In 1851, the police forces of Austria, Baden, and the German principalities of Prussia, Sachsen, Hannover, Bavaria, and Württemberg formed the Union to unite their efforts to suppress revolutionary political activities following the popular unrests of 1848. Between 1851 and 1866, the Police Union organized annual meetings, exchanged confiscated political materials, and distributed information on wanted revolutionaries, democratic-liberal political parties, religious groups, and the press.

In this paper, I discuss this largely neglected case of international policing in relation to the 19th-century concept of police and its political contexts. I specifically analyze the Police Union's organizational structures and investigative domains from the viewpoint of the emergence of, and problems associated with, police operations across national borders. The emphasis in this paper is on some dimensions and implications of the Police Union's organization more than on its activities. In fact, it can be stated from the start that the Police Union was largely concerned with establishing swifter modes of information-exchange rather than seeking to expand police powers of investigation and arrest (Huber 1967:145). A narrow focus on police as an institution of crime control, of course, would seriously restrict the scope of research. Moreover, I suggest that a thorough investigation of historical antecedents of international policing is valuable, not so much to explain contemporary practices, but surely to enrich the systematic study thereof.

The following arguments are central to the analysis presented here. First, from a theoretical viewpoint, this case study should enable a redirection of the often suggested tensions between national and international police operations. Relative to the amount of scholarship devoted to regional and national police work, international police structures and processes form a largely neglected topic of analysis. And although research has recently begun to devote attention to the issue, it has mostly been discussed in terms of the problems international policing poses with respect to legal jurisdiction and national sovereignty (e.g. Anderson 1989; Fijnaut 1991; Nadelmann 1993). This is no doubt a valuable perspective inasmuch as it can, and often does, uncover problematic aspects of international policing in terms of nationally guaranteed legal rights and their protection. Yet an all too exclusive focus on jurisdiction also remains too closely bound to a legalistic conception of police (as law enforcement), which ultimately cannot elucidate important societal dimensions of international policing regardless of a self-professed police understanding. In this analysis, I will in fact argue that national and international police activities are not mutually exclusive and should analytically be treated as complementary processes.

Second, analyses of cross-border police activities which have discussed some of its historical forms have largely explained these in terms of the preservation of conservative political rule (e.g. Bayley 1975; Fijnaut 1979; Liang 1992; Siemann 1985). Specifically, it is suggested that 19th-century international police operations were directed against the common opponents of established political regimes. Yet, as my analysis will show, such an interpretation might underestimate the relative independence of police systems and the autonomy of the police function vis-à-vis political and legal contexts. The interconnections between police, law, and politics, I suggest, should be considered a problematic variable to be explained, rather than assumed to reflect a direct one-to-one relationship. These theoretical aspects, which I will substantiate on the basis of Max Weber's theory of bureaucratization and Michel Foucault's analysis of governmental power, are challenging concerns in the study of international policing, past and contemporary, but given the neglect of historical analyses on the issue, I here discuss them as concluding reflections rather than propositional assertions. To usefully inquire into some of the cross-border issues posed by the Police Union, I first briefly focus on two contexts of analysis which are central to adequately situate this historical antecedent of international policing: the political climate of 19th-century Europe, and the transformation of the police function in that period.

Politics and Police in 19th-Century Central Europe

The Political Formation and Transformation of "Germany"

A territorially and politically unified German nation-state did not exist until the formation of the German Empire in 1871 (Barber 1993; Carr 1991; Droz 1983; Holborn 1982; Hughes 1992; Wood 1964). Until the Vienna Treaty of 1815, Germany was but a collection of some several hundred, relatively autonomous dukedoms, free-towns and principalities or monarchies, loosely united in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Napoléon's terror regime following the French revolution of 1789 was a first catalyst to bring about German unification. After the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, large parts of the Empire were brought under French control and so united under external pressure between 1794 and 1814. In 1815, Prussia, Austria, and Russia successfully allied against the French armies, whereafter the Vienna Treaty specified a unification of the German territories in the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund), a federal union that comprised some 38 states, with Austria and Prussia as the dominant political powers.

In the year 1848, in wake of a steadily growing capitalist system and the economic crises it had produced, revolutionary unrests spread all over Europe, aiming to overturn the dictatorial rules of Europe's autocratic governments. In Prussia, the autocratic regime of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV was especially under attack by liberal politicians who demanded political and legal reforms guaranteed by a formal constitution. In 1847, the Prussian King partially gave in to the calls for liberal reform by announcing the convention of a United Diet. The Diet brought together in assembly political figures from a variety of regions of the German territory, but it fell far short from a parliament, for the Prussian monarch reserved the power to determine the Diet's agenda. The Diet was soon to be adjourned and later reinstated on a periodical basis. But by March 1848, demands for liberal-democratic liberal reform had, instigated by the revolution in Paris, spread among the masses and riots broke out across the German territories.

Yet, these revolutionary attempts did not threaten the autocratic nature of established political regimes, mainly because they incorporated moderate liberal concessions within their framework. Neither did the revolts of 1848 affect the precarious balance of power between Austria and Prussia. This would change gradually throughout the 1850s when Prussia witnessed more favorable economic developments than did Austria. Prussia and Austria drifted more and more apart after the accession of Wilhelm I to the Prussian throne in 1861 and particularly in the following year when the Prussian king appointed Otto von Bismarck as Minister-President. Bismarck's aggressive foreign policy sought to exclude Austria's influence from the German Confederation, and eventually, in 1866, led to the Seven-Weeks War between Austria and Prussia. The victory of Prussia allowed the state to further strengthen its conservative rule and form the North-German Confederation (1867), a federal union that excluded Austria and some southern German states. In 1870, France, spurred by Bismarck's tight control over Germany, declared war against Prussia. A year after the French defeat, the German Empire was formed, uniting the northern and southern German states under Prussian dominance.

Origins and Developments of German Policing

The evolution of institutionalized German police systems during the considered years was, much like the political process, marked by tendencies of decentralization and attempted centralization. The police function thereby underwent crucial transformations (Harnischmacher and Semerak 1986; Knemeyer 1980; Mawby 1990:19-27; Pasquino 1991). Modern police institutions were introduced in the German territories in the 15th century with the function of administering all matters concerning the "politeia", the constitution of town or state. Since the 16th century, this notion of police was merged with a conception of "politesse" to denote the police function with reference to order, welfare, and security (Loening 1910). In the 17th-century German states, this concept of administrative power, referred to as "good police" (gute Policey), concerned the observance and furtherance of all aspects of public life that concerned the population's happiness (Glückseligkeit), as well as the elimination of dangers that might threaten public or individual well-being. Within this perspective, known as cameralism, the police had the function to investigate and manage the lives of the totality and the individuals of the population in order to fulfill the government's goal of maximizing the resources and energies of the nation (Lexis 1910; Raeff 1975:1235; Small 1920:210).

From the 18th century onwards, police acquired a more restricted meaning to refer to the prevention of public dangers and matters of internal security (as a counterpart to the externally oriented function of the military). In the German territories, this police concept was first codified in the Prussian Landrecht Law of 1794, where was specified under Paragraph 10 Part II Title 17 that "police is the necessary apparatus for the establishment of public peace, security and order, and for the deterrence of dangers facing the public or single members thereof" (in Liang 1992:2). The police function in Germany was thereby for the first time restricted to the task of order maintenance. Yet, significantly, the negative police function, i.e. police as preventing, predicting, and otherwise reacting to violations, was originally not defined with reference to formalized legal systems, but was based on certain policies concerning life, health, well-being, and the protection of property, specified in an autonomous system of police-sciences (Polizeiwissenschaften) (Lüdtke 1992; von der Groeben 1984:435-438). The dual police concept was in the German states organizationally reflected in the existence of a welfare police (Wohlfahrtspolizei) and a security police (Sicherheitspolizei) or Gendarmerie (Harnischmacher and Semerak 1986:51ff). In Prussia, the introduction of the security police was modelled after the French Gendarmerie (Rupieper 1977). Such a police force was actually introduced in the German territories by the French during the occupation of the Holy Roman Empire. After 1815, the Gendarmerie was redirected against French (and German) espionage activities, and later it functioned internally to gather information on the political mood (Gesinnung) of the German population.

Whereas the Prussian Landrecht Law had delineated the police function more clearly in terms of order maintenance, the functions of police were later, particularly after the unrests of 1848, again defined in terms of both the care for welfare and the protection from dangers (Fallati 1844; Foucault 1975:280-285; Rau 1853). The Prussian Police-Administration Law of 11 March 1850 stipulated among the tasks of the police: "the protection of the person and of property; the care for life and health; the order, security and ease of traffic on public streets, roads and places, bridges, shores and waters; and everything else which from a police point of view must be included among the special interests of the towns and their members" (in Harnischmacher and Semerak 1986:59). The welfare policing component was a direct heir of the cameralist notion of policing, involving the lives of all and each as targets of police. The tasks of the security police, moreover, were broadly defined to include any form of danger, criminal or political, potentially threatening order and peace. The function of order maintenance so referred to much more than the legal order. But while the discussed police concept is very broad, it should be emphasized that there were not many police in 19th-century European society (Rupieper 1977:332). In Berlin, for instance, there were 400,000 inhabitants and only 204 police in the first half of the 19th century. This number gradually rose, particularly after the 1848/49 unrests, when the Berlin police employed 1,328 agents (Funk 1986:46).

Two central findings are important to be remembered from this brief historical review. First, the autocratic regime of the German Confederation sought to stabilize its political might in the wake of revolutionary unrests and the spread of liberal-democratic ideologies since the late 1840s. Police and military were the central institutional means with which these political goals could be fulfilled. Second, the precarious political situation, especially the constant threats that could topple conservative rule, contributed to a proliferation of the negative police function to avert all possible (criminal and political) dangers that could affect public order. Police in 19th-century European society can in many respects not be compared with contemporary police institutions. In particular, police was much more a close ally of the military, the two institutions being directed at the maintenance of peace and order within and towards the outside of society, respectively. Correspondingly, the formation of the Police Union, it will be shown, was tailored toward the fight against revolutionary unrests and so formed a central component of the elaboration of security-policing activities under politically uncertain conditions. Yet, at the same time, the police function in the considered time period did specialize and develop into a relatively autonomous practice, which, I argue, precisely enabled the spread of police operations across the borders of nationally circumscribed jurisdictions.

Policing Without Noise: The Formation of the Police Union

The Police Union of German States has received remarkably little attention in the contemporary literature on international policing (Haalck 1959-1960; Rupieper 1977; Siemann 1983b, 1990). Two recently published documents of primary sources, however, have put scholars in the fortunate position to analyze the Police Union's organization and operations more thoroughly (see the selection of documents in Siemann 1983a, and the collection of all of the Police Union's conference reports in Beck and Schmidt 1993).

The central driving force of the Police Union was Karl Ludwig Friedrich von Hinckeldey, the Police President of Berlin since his appointment by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV on 16 November 1848 (Fijnaut 1979:128-130; Schulze 1955). The ultra-conservative von Hinckeldey was a key figure in guaranteeing the success of the Prussian King's ambitions to maintain political dominion in the wake of revolutionary unrests. Von Hinckeldey entertained such excellent relationships with the Prussian monarch that in 1854 he was appointed General Director of Police (Generalpolizeidirektor), which in effect made him a kind of minister of police independent from the minister of the interior (Funk 1986:60). Von Hinckeldey founded a political police in Berlin and made critical efforts to establish a Prussian information system on political opponents, particularly revolutionaries involved with the 1848 uprisings. But von Hinckeldey did not want the fight against political opposition to be confined to the Prussian territories, particularly because he saw Paris and London as the centers of political conspiracies (Siemann 1990:44-46). His intent to organize the policing of political opponents across the borders of national jurisdictions would prove successful.

In 1851, von Hinckeldey sent letters to police officials of Sachsen, Hannover, Dresden, and Vienna, suggesting that the political opposition, consisting of liberals, communists and nationalists, should be policed jointly. Von Hinckeldey was convinced of the revolutionary plans of communist forces in part because of a message he had received from Alexis-Guillaume Baron de Hody, the head of the Belgian secret service, who had confirmed the collaboration and spread of revolutionary agitators across national borders (Letter, von Hinckeldey to Eberhardt, 3 April 1851, Beck and Schmidt 1993:5). De Hody, incidentally, had earlier, in 1848, been responsible for the arrest and extradition of Karl Marx in Brussels (Editors' note, Beck and Schmidt 1993:5). Von Hinckeldey in the first instance sought to establish a organized system for the exchange of information between the police of different states in the German Confederation. He therefore proposed a "joint, absolutely formless and noiseless conference" to be held in Dresden or Prague (Letter, von Hinckeldey to Eberhardt, 3 April 1851, Siemann 1983a:22).

Von Hinckeldey's proposal was well received, and a police conference was held in Dresden on 9 April 1851, attended by representatives from police in Austria, Prussia, Sachsen, and Hannover. Within a year, police of these four states negotiated with police officials from Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden, and the seven-member "Police Union (Polizeiverein) of the more important German States", as it was referred to in bureaucratic circles, was formed (Siemann 1983a:2). The Police Union divided the responsibilities of the participating police forces over four newly formed districts and designated one police official responsible for each district. Originally, von Hinckeldey had also hoped the Union would encompass a surveillance system for all of western Europe, but that plan mostly met with opposition. Although von Hinckeldey managed to have a German police officer appointed with the German embassy in London, and although the Union had agents placed in New York, Paris, London, and Brussels, most police outside of the German Confederation refused to cooperate with the Union. Specifically, the Police Union was unsuccessful in establishing collaboration with British police (Fijnaut 1979:129; Rupieper 1977:340).

Importantly, the heads of state of the participating police did not openly or formally sanction, but merely silently approved of, the formation of the Police Union. In Munich, Bavaria, for instance, the Austrian ambassador informed Bavarian Prime Minister von der Pfordten of the plan to form the Union. The Prime Minister then notified the Minister of the Interior von Zwehl, who informed King Max II. The King assured the minister that the Police Union was an excellent idea which should definitely be executed. In spite of this, however, the Union operated without a formal legal basis, without official treaties between the governments of the participating states, and without any public announcements.

The Union's centerpiece was the elaboration of a secret system to gather and transmit information (Siemann 1990:46-50). In the first instance, information was exchanged during police meetings. These took place every year between 1851 and 1866, with two meetings in 1851, 1853, and 1855, and three in 1852. The discussed information especially concerned the so-called leaders of the revolutions, German as well as French, Italian, Polish, and Hungarian political opponents. Referring to themselves explicitly as "political" police, the Union's agents did not focus on "regular or ordinary crime", directing their activities primarily to matters that could threaten the stability of the political order (Siemann 1990:50-52). Importantly, however, political activities were defined in an expanded way. Therefore, for instance, also controlled by the Police Union were migrants, religious groups, Freemasons, gymnastics groups, labor organizations, and student movements - in sum, everybody who was believed to possibly, but did not necessarily, organize political opposition. Next to the meetings, the Union relied on published magazines (search papers) with information on wanted political opponents. The magazines were compiled, and ideally published once a week, by the police commissioner responsible for one of the four districts, who would distribute the information to the other participating police forces (Siemann 1985:260).

Borderless Areas of Investigation: Press Activities and Political Opposition

I will not try to discuss all of the Police Union's activities in this paper. In fact, this is practically impossible because any conclusions on the Police Union's full range of investigative operations would have to rely on research of the activities undertaken by all of the participating regional police forces in the considered time period. Moreover, the relevance of the Police Union as an instance of cross-border policing may be revealed more from the issues posed by its operations in terms of the selected targets (political or criminal) and scope (national or international) than by their extent. Thematically, the Police Union's activities can be divided (following Siemann 1983b) into the following two categories: surveillance of the press, and the policing of political opposition. Mentioning examples of the Union's intelligence operations, I especially focus on dimensions of its work beyond Europe, particularly its connections with the United States.

Surveillance of the Press

The Police Union's activities associated with the policing of the press included the surveillance of bookstores and publishing companies; the confiscation of 'subversive' pamphlets and writings; and the transmission of information on political publications and the routes through which they were distributed. The policing of the press mainly involved making up lists of publishing companies that could possibly print anti-government political writings. One such list, compiled in 1852, contained some 1,180 publishing houses, including 28 Russian or Polish, 1 Turkish, 5 British or Irish, 1 Greek, 11 Danish, 3 Belgian, 14 Dutch, 7 French, 47 Swiss, and 10 American companies. The list was compiled on the basis of a book of publishing companies and the list of advertisers from the Leipzig book fair (Beck and Schmidt 1993).

The policing of the press was not confined to Europe. The third Weekly Report (Wochenbericht), issued on 22 May 1858 by Berlin Police President von Zedlitz (von Hinckeldey's successor) discussed the possible political influences of the German-language press in the United States (Siemann 1983a:157-158). Weeklies and dailies printed in the U.S.A. were reported to have been sent to Germany to spread "democratic tendencies" which could lead "to undermine monarchic foundations and Christianity and ethics" (Ibid.:157). In concord with the views of the Berlin police, the Prussian minister of the interior declared a ban on all German-language American newspapers and magazines, such as the "Wisconsins Democrat", "New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung", "Michigan Volksblatt", and German newspapers published in New York, Davenport, Chicago, and St. Louis. The Berlin Police President added to the memorandum that a "public announcement of the ban, however, has not been judged expedient" (Ibid.:158).

The Policing of Politics

The Police Union's political work comprised the surveillance of anti-government parties; a swift exchange of names and organizations of politically suspect nature; and the confiscation of political pamphlets. The preserved documents of the Police Union related to political activities clearly indicate the Union's concern that revolutions or revolutionary attempts abroad could have repercussions for German and Astrian political affairs, especially because it was thought that revolutionaries from different states cooperated across national borders. A memorandum submitted to the Union's Dresden conference in 1855, for example, mentioned the activities of the Central Committee of the Umsturzpartei (Overthrow Party) in London and its national subcommittees. It revealed the Committee's presumed plans "to unite, unify and convince present unsatisfied elements of the idea of solidary harmony among all revolutionary forces" (Siemann 1983a:129). Special mention was made of emissaries from Hungary, Italy, Poland and England, who would seek to form "democratic sections" in Germany and other European states (Ibid.:131). The Police Union kept track of the activities of some well-known revolutionaries, among them Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In a supplement to the June 1858 conference in Munich they were both classified as "known communist" in a list of German political opponents residing in England (Beck and Schmidt 1993:339-340).

The centrality of the cross-border dimensions of political opposition is also indicated by the fact that revolutionary emissaries from Germany who could organize opposition forces abroad were also policed by the Union. Gottfried Kinkel, a German professor and well-known democrat whose escape from prison instigated the reformation of the Prussian security police (see below), was at several of the Union's conferences mentioned as such an "emissary" of the revolution. At the June 1852 conference in Vienna, specific reference was made to his role in the Deutsche Revolutions-Anleihe (German Revolution Loan), a plan/group to raise money to support the revolution (Beck and Schmidt 1993:58). After his escape in 1851, Kinkel had fled to London where he indeed sought to collect money to support the revolution in Germany. In September 1852, Kinkel even travelled to the U.S.A. in the hope of bringing in some 2 million dollar, but upon his return he had collected only $10,000 (Editors' note, Beck and Schmidt 1993:58).

Karl Schurz, who had helped with liberating Kinkel from prison, was also a target of the Union. The policing of Schurz indicates well the Police Union's quest for a total control of political activities. In a supplement to the Police Union's conference of June 1858 in Munich, the Hannover representative of the Union discussed the political activities of a Mrs. Traun (Beck and Schmidt 1993:395-396). In London, Traun was living together with Johannes Ronge, a former catholic priest and democrat, who had gone in exile in 1849 (Editors' note, Beck and Schmidt 1993:106). The conference supplement indicates that Traun had gone back to Germany supposedly because she "hadn't found in Ronge what she had hoped for", but, in fact, her return was to enable Ronge to "keep up connections with Germany" (Beck and Schmidt 1993:395). This is very likely the case, the report continues, because Traun's sister, Margarethe Meyer, is married to "the keen emissary of the communist connection, Carl Schurz, who liberated Kinkel in the year 1851, fled with him to England, and worked there as agent of the Umsturzpartei" (Ibid.:396). In fact, Schurz, a dedicated democrat, was anything but a communist. In 1852, he migrated to the United States where he became a confidant of President Lincoln, U.S. ambassador in Spain, a general of the Union armies during the Civil War, member of the U.S. Senate, and Secretary of State.

A Police of International Peace, Security, and Order: Extraterritoriality and the Sovereignty of Politics and Policing

From this review of the Police Union, two issues, I believe, deserve further consideration. First, this analysis demonstrates that international or cross-border policing is not the invention of a recent era of globalization, broadly conceived to designate the rapidly growing interdependency between dispersed social units, processes and institutions. The contemporary literature on international police work has no doubt done much to advance our understanding of the mechanisms of policing across national borders, but it has generally paid little attention to its historical antecedents, and has not commented much on the transformations of international policing over some extensive period of time (but see, for example, Anderson 1989:35-56; Liang 1992:151-181; Nadelmann 1993:15-188). Yet analyses of historical antecedents of international policing can not, of course, rely solely on a power of revelation. In the remainder of this paper, I therefore draw attention to certain analytical issues pertinent to the history of international police operations, which may also be suggested to variably apply to similar contemporary initiatives. Specifically, I wish to substantiate the argument that international and national policing should be conceived as two dimensions of one process, rather than two opposing and conflictual processes. Moreover, crucial to be considered in this respect are the tensions between political developments and the relative autonomy of the police function.

International Police and the Reformation of National Policing

A successful implementation of the ambitious plans of the Police Union implied, first of all, that the police forces of the participating states would establish an adequate internal intelligence system that could meet the Union's intents. This involved the elaboration of an adequate system to transmit information which would bypass the regular procedure of information exchange between the police of different states. Legally, a police official wanting information from the police of another state had to pass on a request to the minister of the interior, who would get in touch with the minister of the exterior. Then the message would be passed on to, successively, the ambassador in another state, its minister of the exterior, the minister of the interior and finally the police. To transmit the information to the police official who had made the request, the entire route had to be followed backwards. With the establishment of the Police Union, most critically, the exchange of information could take place directly from police to police. This involved, minimally, that within each of the participating states, a police officer or a ministerial employee was appointed to deal with this task. In this way, then, local police powers were strengthened and expanded at the same time when, and precisely because, regional forces were locked into an international network (Siemann 1990:53).

The close association between national and international police tasks and their organizational consequences are with respect to the Police Union particularly manifested in the participating police of Austria and Prussia. In Austria, the political police in the considered time period could rely on weekly published police reports (Polizei-Wochen-Rapporte) transmitted between some 31 police directions. The Austrian police in Vienna, for instance, in the 1850s and 1860s published a two-weekly "Central Police Bulletin" (Central-Polizei-Blatt). In it was printed information on wanted suspects, organized in different sections, such as "searches" and "surveillance", with separately mentioned information on extradited foreigners. Other states, such as Sachsen, organized in addition to the Police Union meetings their own intra-national police conferences to enable a swift transmission of information.

In Prussia, the internal police system necessary to sustain the Police Union's plans was best developed, not in the least, of course, because of von Hinckeldey's strong position and good relationship with the Prussian King and the elaborate financial means the Berlin police could consequently rely on (Funk 1986:67ff; Siemann 1985:340ff). Some 17 cities in Prussia organized their own information service and transmitted information to Berlin via "Weekly Reports for the Interior" (Wochenberichte Inland). The Berlin political police could also depend on a well developed practice of informants and agents provocateurs, who infiltrated in political parties and movements on all (extreme) sides of the political-ideological spectrum (Huber 1967). A brief clarification of the role of the Berlin police officer Wilhelm Stieber, and his role in the reorganization of the Berlin criminal police, is revealing in this respect, for it illuminates the complex relationships between national and international, as well as between political and criminal, police tasks (see Stieber's interesting memoirs published in English translation in 1980 [Stieber 1980]).

The establishment of a Division on Criminal Police in Berlin was directly influenced by a spectacular event in the night of 6 November 1850 (Siemann 1985:371ff). It was then when Gottfried Kinkel, a former revolutionary of the 1848 unrests, was successfully rescued from prison by his former student Karl Schurz. The publicity surrounding the escape - Kinkel acquired the status of martyr among liberal-democrats - caused a great stir among the Berlin police. Von Hinckeldey notified the police of different German cities, and with approval of King Friedrich Wilhelm, he appointed Stieber as head of a newly formed section of Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei) placed under supervision of the Division on Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei). The criminal police would deal with all non-political matters, as did the protective street police (Schutzmannschaft), but its operations would not be geographically restricted to certain districts.

Once appointed, Stieber sought to establish the criminal police as a separate Division of the Berlin police and broaden its operations to include political matters. A first opportunity for this aim was his appointment as special agent to control the foreign and German Communist attendance at the international industrial exhibition in London in October 1851 (Auerbach 1884:22-32). The exhibition was believed to attract a large number of German and other foreign liberals and communists who would unite their efforts to overthrow Europe's conservative regimes. King Friedrich Wilhelm personally approved of Stieber's assignment to London. In a letter to von Hinckeldey, the King stated that Stieber's role should involve "intimate cooperation with the London police" in order to destroy "the gruelling nest of murder companions for general rebellion" and to create dissension and mistrust among the democratic fractions (in Siemann 1985:377-378). An initiative to invite foreign police to the London exhibition had in fact also been taken by the chief of the London police, Richard Mayne, who had sent a memorandum to the British Minister of the Interior, Palmerstone, suggesting the invitation of police from Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Cologne. Palmerstone sent the message to several British embassies on the European continent, and police officials from Prussia and Austria were indeed sent to London. There is, however, no indication that it was because of Mayne's invitation that foreign police were present in London - more likely, they were there at their own initiative.

From the viewpoint of international police cooperation, the German police at the London exhibition faced much resistance, particularly from its British colleagues. British police referred to constitutional constraints on police work, while their colleagues from the Continent objected to the British police using German-speaking emigres as translators in their investigations. Indicative of the poor international relations was the manner in which the foreign police activities in London were observed by Charles Dickens. In Household Words, the popular magazine Dickens edited, he observed the activities of the Continental police with much irony: "Conspiracies of a comprehensive character are being hatched in certain back parlours, in certain back streets behind Mr. Cantelo's Chicken Establishment in Leicester Square. A complicated web of machination is being spun - we have it on the authority of a noble peer - against the integrity of the Austrian Empire, at a small coffee-shop in Soho. Prussia is being menaced by twenty-four determined Poles and Honveds in the attics of a cheap restaurateur in the Haymarket" (Dickens and Wills 1851:97).

Problems of international cooperation aside, within Prussian borders Stieber's police activities on the occasion of the London exhibition did accomplish to strengthen his position as police expert on political and criminal matters (Huber 1967:158-159). In 1854, after von Hinckeldey's appointment as General Police Director, Stieber became Director of a newly established Division of Criminal Police which functioned separately next to the other branches of the Berlin police such as the Commercial Police, Building Police, Foreigners Police, and a fire brigade (Funk 1986:72). Stieber's appointment was largely a reward for his valuable work in London, where he had successfully collected information on Communist political activities and revealed their presumed relevance for the organization of political opposition in Germany. Relying on information Stieber had gathered in London, including material obtained during an undercover investigation of Karl Marx, several German communists were trailed and convicted in Cologne in 1852 (Stieber 1980:25-38). Not until the appointment of Bismarck, the Prussian political police would discontinue most of its activities, if only because at that time political struggles began to take place in a legitimate and controlled public sphere (Huber 1967:160). Remarkably, that did not stop Stieber's infiltration activities. Between 1860 and 1866, he combined his position of chief of the "Central Bureau of Press Matters" (a Prussian institution specialized in collecting information on international anarchists and communists) with espionage work for the Russian secret police (Huber 1967:162; von der Groeben 1984:448).

What this brief analysis indicates, then, are the mutual dependencies of national and international police work. As much as the Police Union's activities brought about changes at the level of national police systems, they in turn determined to what extent international police activities could be successfully accomplished. Thus is reflected that the internationalization and nationalization of policing went hand in hand. Theoretically, this co-existence of two forces often conceived in opposition deserves more careful scrutiny, but suffice to mention here that this point was suggested by the classics of sociological thought in their observations on social developments in the 19th century (Marx and Deflem 1993). Indeed, while 19th-century scholars like Marx, Durkheim, and Weber thought of industrialization and the development of modern national political systems as crucial, they thereby did not lose sight of the rise of international processes, either in the form of practices not limited to one nation-state, or in terms of the increasing relatedness between nation-states. More importantly, processes of nationalization and internationalization, it was argued, did not contradict, but complemented each other.

The Technology and Legality of International Policing

That the Police Union reflected aspects of the political conditions of 19th-century Europe can cause little surprise; the Union was after all formed as a result of the 1848 unrests and was mainly concerned with the control of political opponents of established autocratic regimes. Unlike the role of police in modern societies today, 19th-century police institutions generally remained intimately tied up with a quest to consolidate conservative political rule. Following the 1848 revolutions, not only were most police institutions reorganized and strengthened in Europe's states, the political police, in particular, was reformed and expanded to avert the danger of further political disorders (Fijnaut 1979:113-117, 127-130; Mawby 1990:39-42). In Germany this evolution took place immediately after the unrests in 1848, specifically with the appointment of von Hinckeldey as Berlin's Police President; in France it occurred few years later after the coup d'état of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in December 1851 and his elevation to Emperor Napoléon III in the following year. The political police of both countries no doubt had from the ideological viewpoint a common enemy in communist and social-democratic fractions, but the antagonisms between both countries proved a much stronger dividing force.

Therefore, in close relation with the formation of Europe's fragile order of nation-states and their quest to consolidate conservative rule, the Prussian initiative of the Police Union could count on the support of police of Austria, but not of France. At the level of police systems, the political affinity and distance between France and the German Confederation states is indeed well reflected. On the one hand, the government of Austria had been instrumental in establishing close cooperation between European police forces already during the first half of the 19th century, when it sought to secure the powers of the Habsburg monarchy. Having developed an elaborate internal system of political policing, and considering the fact that Austria was politically aligned with Prussia in the German Confederation, not much stood in the way of its participation in the Police Union. France, on the other hand, had since the reign of Napoléon developed a centralized police system organizationally separated between political (high) and criminal (low) police (Stead 1983:44-53). But in Germany the difference between high and low policing was for a long period of time only a functional specialization, not a structural arrangement, thus reflecting the police implications of the differences in geographical-political expression between the two strong powers of Europe.

As to the Police Union's activities, the relevance of political circumstances is of course also mirrored, from the Union's direct cause of existence in the 1848 revolutions until its abolition in wake of the Prussian-Austrian War. The fight against communist and liberal-democratic forces provided the essential common ground of police participating in the Union, and any indication of weakened power or threat to overthrow conservative dominion spurred a strengthening of its vigilance. The attempted assassination of Emperor Napoleon III by the Italian Felice Orsini on 14 January 1858, for example, served as a catalyst to renew the Police Union's activities. The murder attempt had led other monarches in Europe to fear similar actions against their lives. This clearly influenced the Police Union's Munich conference in 1858, where, as one of the most elaborate meetings, an enormous amount of information was discussed on political organizations and their leaders, German and foreign. Later, with the rise of Bismarck and his aggressive foreign policy, the Union's activities gradually began to decline. This is indicated by the fact that the conferences after 1862 could not always count on the attendance of all of the Union's participating states. And, finally, when the war between Prussia and Austria broke out, the Police Union ceased to exist.

But the political context alone cannot account for all of the complexities of the Police Union. After all, in 1851 the Union's participating states, while gathered in the German Confederation, explicitly recognized each other's political sovereignty, and yet they did succeed in establishing the international Police Union with its own investigative districts. In addition, an exclusive emphasis on political circumstances cannot explain the policing of the press as one of the Police Union's two main domains of concern. To inquire into this, a different route, one that focuses on certain technological developments, has to be taken. Indeed, the relevance of the press as a forum for the distribution of ideas, possibly subversive, should not be underestimated in a time when weekly magazines and daily journals constituted the prime source of information. Indicating the powers of the written word is the fact that the (illegal) opening of letters was one of the most favored surveillance methods of the political police (Huber 1967:153-154). Police and press were both crucial and related institutions during the early development of capitalism, specifically because a "good police" (in the cameralist sense of policy or administration) concerned the public market, whereas the press concerned public opinion (Habermas 1962:77-79). Press and market thus intimately referred to processes of trade and expansion, crucial for the development of modern industry across nation-state borders.

Relatedly, next to the technologies and economics of writing, the developments of the railways also had particularly troublesome implications for police activities, and such was explicitly recognized by the Police Union. In the German territories, railway lines were introduced since 1835 and heavily expanded in the following decades. Whereas only 469 kilometers of railway lines connected different cities within the German Confederation's territory in 1840, this number had risen to 2,143 in 1845, 7,826 in 1855, and 13,900 in 1865 (Pounds 1985). The relevance of these increased opportunities of mobilization for the Police Union was expressly acknowledged in a report by Union member Häpe, the Police Director of Sachsen, in 1855. In it, Häpe related the Police Union's activities to the fact that "traffic, accelerated through the railways, has since about 10 years particularly benefitted the overthrow parties of the different states in their common organization and dangerous cooperation" (Siemann 1983a:28). The non-political character of the Police Union is also indicated by the fact that while the Union's activities declined after the rise of Bismarck's Realpolitik, they then also changed qualitatively rather than just diminish in quantity. Most crucially, during the 1860s the Police Union focused more and more on issues of general and criminal policing, such as traffic, commerce, ethics, health, and various non-political offences.


What my analysis of the Police Union demonstrates is a need to concentrate on international police operations as a praxis of administration, a relatively autonomous technology of police, manifested at the same time when there occurred a gradual move towards constitutional legality and political sovereignty. Rooted in a concept of policing that stressed the promotion of welfare ("happiness policing") as well as the elimination of dangers in view of protecting peace, order, and security (order maintenance), the Police Union first and foremost sought to avoid the limitations on policing activities posed by constitutional law. While the targets of the Union's cross-border activities involved political opponents, and so were bound up to the quest of nation-states to consolidate power, the manner in which its activities responded to these events indicates a complex relationship in terms of the rise of the modern nation-state. The Police Union displayed a duality of policing that indicates a complementarity of, rather than a presumed contradiction between, police as a functionally-driven power technology and a state-sanctioned institution of legality.

hat the Police Union gained independence from its political environment can be theoretically explained with reference to Max Weber's provocative thesis on the power of bureaucracies to gain autonomy over and against the state authorities they owe their existence to (Weber 1922:551-579). Under those conditions, Weber argued, the political powers could find themselves in the role of dilettantes opposite the bureaucratic experts. In the case of the Police Union, this partial independence is most clearly reflected in the fact that the Union, while silently approved of by the heads of state of the participating nations, was never legally sanctioned and operated secretly. Key figures of the Union, like von Hinckeldey and Stieber, moreover, acquired high-level bureaucratic positions, where, once in place, they held considerable autonomous powers of control. Police in the German Confederation during the considered period, indeed, not only had a wide area of competence, but in much of its executive powers it was also unaccountable, needing no approval of any political body (Evans 1987:161-165; von der Groeben 1984:444-446).

Importantly, at the same time as there occurred an internationalization of policing in terms of a common cross-border enemy, international police practices also witnessed a critical qualitative shift of power away from jurisdictional sovereignty. Michel Foucault has discussed this transformation in terms of an elaboration of governmentality or governmental power (Foucault 1978a, 1978b). This form of power is characterized by a concern to observe and control everything that is, all events, actions, and opinions, for the state's strength was increasingly conceived to be related, not to monarchial might, but to the conditions of a population of living beings (Foucault 1974:589-593; 1975:213-216). Through this process of governmentalization, then, as well as in light of geographical proximity (Fijnaut 1991:104), police differentiated from its national legal contexts, opening the way for an internationalization of its operations.

In sum, what this analysis suggests is the value of a theoretical framework that elucidates a political technology of international policing. It is, of course, beyond the scope of this paper to extend the present analysis to incorporate contemporary developments. Only detailed historical investigations can provide more definitive conclusions on the trajectory of international policing since the considered time period. Yet, my analysis may at least have suggested selected determinants that variably apply to similar initiatives in more recent times. In the second half of the 19th century, there were more attempts to organize international police operations for political purposes. Most of these, such as the International Anti-Anarchist Conference in Rome in 1898, were not very successful and produced no enduring results (Jensen 1981). Later, with the gradual democratization of national states, the emphasis in international police work shifted from political to criminal duties, except with respect to the imposition of western rule in colonial territories (Deflem 1994). For instance, in 1904 and 1910, conferences were held in France to organize international policing of the so-called white slave trade (Fooner 1973:11; Marabuto 1935:16-17). In the years before and after the First World War, there took place a veritable explosion of similar initiatives. International criminal police conferences were held in Buenos Aires in 1905, in Madrid in 1909, in San Paolo in 1912, in Washington in 1913, in Monaco in 1914, in Buenos Aires in 1920, and in New York in 1922 and 1923 (Dressler 1933:361; Hagemann 1933; Marabuto 1935:22-27). Again, most of these initiatives had only moderate success in formalizing international police work. The International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), the direct forerunner of Interpol, established at the International Police Congress in Vienna in 1923, had a more lasting impact (Deflem 1996). Interestingly, much like the Police Union, the ICPC had no internationally recognized legal status and established an organizational network of national police institutions, each with their own interests, while never instituting any kind of supranational police force. The Commission, moreover, in its formative years successfully improved means of direct international police communications, through meetings, publications, telegraphic communications, and a radio network, but it was not very effective in terms of actual investigative work. The Police Union, likewise, exchanged information on thousands of political opponents and publishing houses, but its effectiveness, as measured by number of arrests, for instance, was very limited (Siemann 1983b). An important difference between the Police Union and the ICPC, however, was the Commission's focus on criminal matters at the exclusion of political concerns.

A critical concern of international police research, then, involves a clarification of the variable association between police and politics. Also would have to be inquired how these transitions at any given point in time shaped following initiatives. For there is evidence to suggest that changes in the target of police work do not necessarily imply changes in methods of investigation. Undercover tactics, for instance, developed historically in Europe as an intrinsic element of political police work, but after their dissemination across various countries, they were adopted, and continued to expand, under very different legal and political circumstances (Fijnaut and Marx 1995:6-7, 10-16). Technologies of policing, in other words, even when they originate from autocratic regimes, can eventually become disconnected from their political roots. This, finally, would require to investigate the contexts under which a variety of mechanisms of international policing have taken shape (Marx 1993, 1995). It thereby seems particularly relevant to research how the internationalization of society today, unprecedented in scope and intensity from previous times, affects the nature and scope of international police work.


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1. In fact, the Police Union generally tried to collect and transmit information on all politically suspect refugees and migrants. At the Union's meetings in Vienna (8-10 June 1857), Munich (14-17 June 1858), and Hannover (22 June 1859), lists were passed on of people who had migrated to the United States (Beck and Schmidt 1993:242-252, 345-351, 453-455).

2. A popularized version of the Prussian secret police was published by the Swiss novelist/historian Victor Tissot in 1884 (Tissot 1884). Not surprisingly, given the political antagonisms between France and the German Empire, this French-language work was very popular in France in the late 19th century.

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