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Chapter XXVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

Negotiations for Peace - Position of Austria - Treaty of December 2nd, 1854 - Austria's Engagements - Bases of Negotiation accepted by Russia - Lord John Russell starts for Vienna (February 20th, 1855) - Conference opens March 15th - Two Points agreed to - The Third Point - Difficulty of approaching it - Russia declines the Initiative - Proposals of the Allies - Internal Discord - Austria backing out of the Treaty of December 2nd - Russia refuses the Allied Proposals - Tactics of Russia - Lord John goes home - M. Drouyn de Lhuys returns to Paris, and resigns - Last Proposal of Austria - Conference formally closed - Austria backs out - Position of Lord John Russell on his return - Called to account in Parliament, he resigns before a Motion of Censure - Discussions on the War in Parliament - Character of the Opposition - Mr. Disraeli Defeated - Vote on the Turkish Loan - Vote on Mr. Roebuck's Sebastopol Inquiry - Motion of Censure - Views of Mr. Gladstone and Lord John Russell on the War - Finance of the War.
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While the armies in the Crimea had been occupied in holding their ground, and recovering from the effects of the winter campaign, the political action of the allied Governments had been directed into a channel of negotiations opened by Austria, and conducted at Vienna.

Austria had not approved of the expedition to the Crimea. She had, to a certain extent, joined the Western Powers: and although Russia might not deem it expedient to turn upon Austria and make war upon her, still that was possible; for Austria had given a cause of war to Russia by exerting that pressure - severe, though distant and indirect - which impelled the Czar to raise the siege of Silistria, and then abandon the Principalities. Then the troops of Austria, by slow degrees, occupied the country as far as the Pruth, and thus enabled the Western Powers to divert their armies upon Sebastopol. But when they took that direction, and left Austria alone face to face with Russia, supported only by a few Turks, and having in Germany a very doubtful ally in Prussia, Austria was discontented. She had, however, gone too far to recede. She was committed to the course of armed neutrality, verging always upon open war. Becoming aware of her situation, and having, just before the war broke out, reduced her army by 90,000 men, she now spent 16,000,000 sterling in order to place her public force on an effective war footing. For a moment, in the victory of the Alma and the first bombardment of Sebastopol, she saw prospects of a speedy termination of the war. The dark cloud of Inkermann and the failure of the bombardment suddenly hid those prospects from her view. The allies had not been beaten, but they had been frustrated; and Austria saw in the new circumstances an opening for a new effort to bring about a peace. Her special object had been gained when the Russian monopoly of the Lower Danube had been removed, and she did not appear to appreciate the larger objects of the allies, namely, a definite reduction of Russian power in the Black Sea; or she did not feel capable of aiding in their accomplishment by a direct participation in hostilities. She therefore renewed her part of peace-maker.

In order to place herself in a better position as regards the Western Powers, she agreed to sign a treaty known as the Treaty of the 2nd of December, 1854. This document stated that the Three Powers, being desirous of bringing the war to an end as speedily as possible, and of re-establishing peace on a solid basis, and being convinced that nothing would be more conducive to this result than the complete union of their efforts, they had resolved to conclude this treaty. By it they undertook not to make peace without first deliberating in common. Austria engaged to defend the frontier of the Principalities against any return of the Russian forces; in case war ensued between Austria and Russia, the Three Powers mutually promised to each other their offensive and defensive alliance; and in case peace should not be re-established before the 1st of January, 1855, the Three Powers agreed "to deliberate, without delay, upon effectual means for obtaining the object of their alliance." Here, then, it seemed, were fetters binding Austria to the fortunes of the alliance; and the Western Powers believed that, at last, they had a fair prospect of aid from Austrian arms. The object of Austria, however, was not war, but negotiation. By giving what seemed a proof of her willingness to share the fortunes of the allies, she took up a position which enhanced the value of any peace proposals she might devise. Accordingly, she set to works contriving how, upon the bases of the negotiations carried on in the summer, which took the shape of the Four Points, she could present a scheme which Russia would be willing to consider. If she succeeded, she would relieve herself from the obligation of fighting imposed by the treaty; if she failed, some excuse might be evolved in the process of failure.

Thereupon negotiations were quietly resumed at Vienna between Count Buol and the ministers of the allies. Prussia, having declined to accede to the treaty of December 2nd, had no part in these proceedings. By the 28th of December the ministers had agreed to a paper defining the sense of the Four Points. Those points were first, the cessation of the Russian protectorate in the Principalities, and the substitution therefore of a European protectorate; second, the free navigation of the Danube; third, an arrangement having "for its object to connect the existence of the Ottoman Empire more completely with the European equilibrium, and to put an end to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea;" fourth, renunciation by Russia of her pretensions to exercise a protectorate over the Christian subjects of the Sultan. These bases of negotiation were presented to Prince Gortschakoff, Russian Minister at Vienna, and by him transmitted to the Cabinet of St. Petersburg. The Emperor of Russia was not at all disinclined to treat. He had nothing to lose by negotiations, and, as it was possible something might occur at a conference to disturb the harmony of the allies, he might have something to gain. Then it may well be that he counted on the presence of a Prussian envoy, and consequently of a backer; and therefore in December he gave his Minister at Vienna conditional, and on the 7th of January definite, power to negotiate. But the English Ministry falling under the shock of a popular tempest, it became impossible to send any plenipotentiary to Vienna, until the Government of England was once more in such a position, as regarded Parliament, that it could act with authority. Lord Palmerston formed a Ministry mainly composed of the chief members of Lord Aberdeen's Cabinet, and this Ministry adopted the resolution of sending Lord John Russell to attend a conference at Vienna. On the morning of the very day, the 20th of February, that the first Palmerston Ministry, striking on the rock of the Crimean inquiry, went to pieces, Lord John Russell took ship at Folkestone. The Ministry was rapidly built up again, and while at Paris Lord John received and accepted an offer of the post of Colonial Secretary. He had been sent off so hurriedly that his written instructions were not prepared until two days after he had sailed. Passing through Paris and Berlin, and conferring in each capital with the highest personages of the State, he did not reach Vienna until the 4th of March, and even then ten more days passed before the Conference held its first sitting.

This took place on the 15th of March, in the Austrian Foreign Office. The Plenipotentiaries were, for Austria, Count Buol-Schauenstein and Baron Prokesch-Osten; for France, Baron de Bourqueney; for England, Lord John Russell and the Earl of Westmoreland; for Turkey, Aarif Effendi; and for Russia, Prince Gortschakoff and M. de Titoff. Count Buol, as a matter of course, became the President of the Conference. At the very outset there was a faint foreshadowing of the discussion which subsequently occurred. The Czar Nicholas had just died, but his successor had declared with emphasis that he should pursue the policy of Peter, Catherine, Alexander, ' and Nicholas. When, therefore, the mild tones of conciliation in which Count Buol opened the Conference had ' died away, and Baron de Bourqueney and Lord John Russell had, on behalf of their Governments, reserved the right of making special conditions over and above the four guarantees, Prince Gortschakoff seemed to regard this as a challenge. At all events, he took it up as such, and answered promptly. He hoped, he said, they all had a common object, the object of arriving at an honourable peace. "If," he added, "from whatever quarter they come, conditions of peace were wished to be imposed on Russia which should not be compatible with her honour, Russia would never consent to them, however serious might be the consequences." He did not contest the right of the belligerent powers to add new demands according to the chances of the war; but, for his part, he considered himself under the obligation to keep within the limits of the Four Points. Having thus broken ground, the Conference went at once into the details of the First Point, and determined to debate them in the order laid down. We need not enter into these details. It is sufficient to state that in five sittings the plenipotentiaries had agreed upon a form of words, fully embodying the spirit of the original basis of the first two Points. It was on the third, the key-stone of the whole, that they split asunder.

It was on the 26th of March that Count Buol broached the question. It may be remembered that the object in view was to connect Turkey with the European system, and, in the words used by Lord Clarendon's instructions to Lord John, to abrogate the supremacy of Russia in the Black Sea. For this, indeed, three fleets and three armies were thundering against the stronghold of the Czar. It was this supremacy and the temptation it held out to Russia which had led her sovereign into arrogant courses, and had brought on the war. In opening the debate on this now famous Third Point, Count Buol, speaking not only for himself but his allies, suggested that it would be the better course for the Ministers of Russia and Turkey to state to the Conference what means they thought adequate to accomplish the ends desired. The French and English Ministers supported this suggestion, Lord John enforcing it with the courteous remark, called forth by Prince Gortschakoff's early declaration touching the honour of his country, that England and her allies deemed "the best and only admissible conditions of peace would be those which, being the most in harmony with the honour of Russia, should, at the same time, be sufficient for the security of Europe." Of course, Prince Gortschakoff could only be gratified, and could not do less than agree to ask his Cabinet whether they would act on the suggestion of Count Buol. The Turks did the same. As it was unavoidable that some time should elapse before answers were received, Count Buol proposed to pass to the Fourth Point; but to this neither the Cabinet of England nor France, and both were consulted, would consent. Thus several days were wasted, during which the French and Turkish Ministers for Foreign Affairs were hurrying towards Vienna to take part in these critical negotiations.

At the ninth sitting, on the 9th of April, these two, M.( Drouyn de Lhuys and Ali Pasha, were formally introduced. But no other business was transacted, because Prince Gortschakoff had not received instructions from his Court in regard to Count Buol's suggestion touching the views of Russia on the Third Point. On the 17th the Conference again assembled. Would Russia take the initiative and propound a plan for the abrogation of her preponderance? The question was answered at once, and all the more readily, perhaps, because the second bombardment of Sebastopol had failed. Russia would not take the initiative; moreover, "Russia would not consent to the strength of her navy being restricted to any fixed number, either by treaty or in any other manner." The allies were, or affected to be, in consternation. They had no plan, and M. Drouyn de Lhuys suggested that they should meet at once to decide what they should demand. Lord John Russell blurted out the opinion that the refusal of Russia had diminished the chances of peace. Prince Gortschakoff rejoined that Russia would consider any mode except that of limitation. That was not consistent with honour. The high spirit and bold front maintained by the Czar is shown in nothing more than the arrogance with which, at this period, his Ministers endeavoured to prevent the allies from meeting to consult on and arrange the terms to be offered to Russia! Of course, the allies would not suffer such arrogant pretensions. They retired to debate among themselves, and a singular debate it was. The Austrian Cabinet clearly wished to shrink out of the engagement of the 2nd of December. Although in favour of the complete neutralisation of the Black Sea, preferring limitation to counterpoise, and agreeing to support the plan of limitation, Count Buol not only declined, on behalf of Austria, to make a refusal by Russia of the two former a casus belli, but suggested the extravagant plan of simply binding Russia not to increase her naval force in the Black Sea beyond the point at which it stood before the war! To this, strange to say, Lord John Russell assented, telling his Government that if this system of settlement could be made an ultimatum by Austria, the Western Powers ought to accept it. But when, a few days afterwards, Count Colloredo, in London, submitted the scheme to Lord Clarendon, the Minister did not hesitate a moment in rejecting it. "England and France," he said, "had given abundant proofs of the value they attached to the alliance of Austria; but they were not prepared to sacrifice for it their honour and the future security of Europe; and peace upon the terms proposed by Count Buol would be as dishonourable as it would be hollow and unsafe." That was a true English answer, and it is amazing that it was not made by Lord John Russell on the spot in swift rejoinder to the Austrian Minister, Well might Lord Clarendon say that Count Buol's dispatch gave him much reason to fear that Austria would propose nothing that Russia would be unwilling to accept - a fear justified by the event.

In the meantime, with this tendency to give way on the side of the allies, the Conference had become a farce. They met on the 19th, after consulting, and propounded a plan. The first proposition declared that the Powers undertook to respect, as an essential condition of the general equilibrium, the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire. The Russians concurred, but - did not intend thereby to pledge their Court to a territorial guarantee! So the virtue of the article vanished at once. Then came the proposal intended to take away Russian preponderance by limiting the number of her ships in the Black Sea. Prince Gortschakoff demanded time to consider the project, and M. de Titoff took the liberty of regretting that Russia had not the option of settling the whole question by discussion with a State "free in its movements and resolutions " - meaning Turkey, which he knew, as well as the other Ministers, was, like England and France, bound to act on the basis of a common understanding. The taunt is of no moment, except as an illustration of the assurance of Russian envoys. They had not exhausted the ample stock of that commodity they brought to Vienna. Indeed, it seemed to increase under the influence of Austrian vacillation and timidity. The Conference held two more sittings. On the 21st of April Prince Gortschakoff point blank refused to accede even to the mild and inadequate proposal of limitation, and brought forward an impudent plan for throwing open the Black Sea and, of course, the Dardanelles and Bosphorus to the war-ships of all nations - a very startling mode of liberating Turkey from menace, and preserving her independence. The Ministers of England and France at once declined to discuss such a proposal, and declared their instructions to be exhausted; and Lord John Russell started for London. M. Drouyn de Lhuys lingered to attend another conference, and to hear Prince Gortschakoff, as if in mockery of the allies, put forth a proposition to maintain the old plan of keeping the Straits closed, and - admirable benevolence! - giving the Sultan the right, a right he already possessed, of opening the Straits, and calling up the ships of his allies when he was menaced. The Conference closed, leaving the Russians exulting at the skill with which they had done what they were sent to do - that is, to feel the pulse of Austria, to find out whether she would actively join the war, and to make a brave show of resolution before all Europe.

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