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By Virginia Valian

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The Oberalten formed an elite drawn almost exclusively from prosperous mercantile families. Many enjoyed kinship ties to members of the Rat and were frequently elected into the Rat themselves. From 1528 (when the first Oberalten were chosen) until 1712, the Rat selected 58 Oberalten (of a total of 254) as senators, that is, as members of the Rat. Apparently the Rat had developed its own method of dampening burgher opposition by co-opting prominent opponents. The bur- 20 Patriots and Paupers: Hamburg, 1712-1830 ghers, understandably angered by the easy defection of their spokesmen, sought to make the Oberalten less cautious in their dealings with the Rat and less susceptible to such "bribery" by having them declared ineligible for selection as senators.

The bank acted as a clearing house and helped Hamburg avoid the worst of the widespread currency devaluation that rocked northern Europe in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Just as central to the economic life of the city was the creation in 1665 of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce (CommerzDeputation). The Chamber of Commerce represented the merchant-bankers in politics, keeping abreast of commercial trends, informing the Rat of its observations, and making its wishes known. 3 During the first half of the seventeenth century, the Netherlands, followed by Spain and Portugal, were Hamburg's most valuable trading partners.

Free-trade policies fed the disgruntlement of guildsmen who were alternately protected and then exposed to foreign competition. Particularly in the eighteenth century, this issue assumed another dimension as the guilded trades could no longer supply the demands of a swelling population. 10 Guilds and Guildsmen Only in the tumultuous period from 1680 to 1710 had Hamburg's guilds exercised much political influence. In the eighteenth century, artisans were poorly represented in the collegia! bodies and deputations and their economic position was being irreversibly eroded by the rising power of new branches of manufacturing.

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