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

Signs of Peace - Views of Russia and France - of England - Speech of the French Emperor - Its effect on Germany - Austria proposes Terms at St. Petersburg - Their nature - Russian Manœuvre - Austria imperative - Makes her Terms an Ultimatum - Attitude of Germany - Russia gives way - Congress to be held at Paris - Position of Sardinia - Peace Plenipotentiaries - Opening of British Parliament (1856) - Speech from the Throne - Feeling of Parliament - Ministerial Explanations - German Diet accepts Basis of Peace - Meeting of the Congress - Armistice - Opening of French Chambers - Remarkable Imperial Speech - The Hatti-Scherif or Rayah Magna Charta - Progress of the Congress- Prussia admitted to participate - Treaty concluded - The Eagle's Plume - Stipulations of the Treaty, and Conventions - Treaty of Guarantee - Striking Discussions in Congress - Declaration of Maritime Rights - The Mediation Clause - End of the Congress - Debate on Kars in British Parliament - Proclamation of Peace - Debates on the Treaty - Evacuation of the Crimea - Russia again imperils the General Peace - Settlement of the Frontier Question.
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In the early part of the winter of 1855 there were two powers - Austria and Russia - eager, and one - France - willing to conclude a peace as soon as possible. Austria was eager for peace, because another year of war must have brought her into the field as a belligerent. She could not hope that the theatre of operations would remain restricted to a corner of the Crimea, nor, indeed, to the whole of the Crimea; but that if the war went on, the troops of the allies would appear either in Southern or Western Russia. The contest could not go on with out raising the question of Poland as well as Finland; and if the former question were raised, Austria must take one side or the other. Her engagements with the allies, her political necessities, forbad her taking part with Russia. Yet she was barely prepared to act against her, and would have done so only with the greatest reluctance. Yet, as will be seen, under certain conditions and contingencies, she did make up her mind to cast in her lot frankly with the allies. But what she really wanted, was peace, for war to her was not only full of political dangers, but threatened her with something like financial ruin. Russia was eager for peace, because she had lost so much by war. The drain of adult males was enormous. These were lost to her, not only - not in great part, even - on the battle-field and in the camp, but on the great roads during the immense marches of regiments from Moscow and Warsaw to the Crimea - marches, often forced, over bad roads, through wet, and frost, and heat. The drain upon the southern provinces for transport, for horses and cattle, for carts and wagons, was prodigious. These were seized everywhere, on the road from Moscow to Odessa, from Odessa to Perekop, from Taganrog to Tchongar, from Tchongar to Kherson. The valleys of the Don and Dnieper, and Boug and Dniester, were made to supply all that was needed for the transport of the huge armies maintained in the Crimea. The harvests of Southern Russia and the forage went the same road. The stores destroyed by the allied flotilla in the Sea of Azoff showed what vast supplies were collected for the army. True, a great part of these stores would have been exported had there been no war; but the diversion of the resources of a country from lucrative trade to the purposes of war, is not conducive to the prosperity of the producers. Nor was it only men, and transport, and food which had been used up with astonishing prodigality, first by the Emperor Nicholas, and then by his son, to whom he bequeathed that fatal legacy, a devouring war. The Russian treasury was empty, and although the credit of Russia had always been good, still, capitalists were shy, and money was hard to obtain, could not be obtained, even on terms very unfavourable to the borrower. Under these circumstances, and looking to the energetic preparations of England by land and sea, Russia saw that she could not gain anything, and probably would lose greatly on all sides, if she were exposed to another year of war. The visit of the Czar to Odessa, Nicolaief, Simpheropol, and the north side of Sebastopol, must have enlightened him on the state of his armies and his provinces. He had never approved of the violent policy of his father, but he had been bound to continue the defence of his empire, especially when assailed at that point in which all Russians took pride. For these reasons he was eager for peace.

On the other side, France was willing to make peace. The Emperor had gained all that he wanted out of the war. He had displayed the eagles of the Empire in the face of Europe. He had won glory. Sebastopol had given to France a military duke. The war had raised France, as Frenchmen phrased it at the time, to the foremost rank among nations. The Emperor had figured in war as an ally of England. He had visited the Queen at Windsor, and had taken his place in the chapel of St. George's as a Knight of the Garter. He had kissed Queen Victoria when she landed in France, and had escorted her to the tomb of the first Napoleon in the Invalides. Moreover, and this was not the least gratifying fact, England had played a secondary part in the Crimea, and she had suffered a blow from the effects on Persia and Hindostan of the fail of Kars. The Emperor, it is true, was a faithful ally, and did not spare his army in the common cause. That must be put down to his credit, although nobody thinks of claiming credit for England, because she also was a faithful, not to say a subservient ally. But, as no one can fail to see, at the close of 1855, the Emperor, for the then present, had gained all he could gain by the English alliance, and peace would conduce most to his interest, especially a peace signed at Paris. He did not like to see the development of the material power of England, who was fast outstripping him at sea. He did not wish to witness the destruction of the maritime fortresses of Russia, still less to hear that a British army had expelled Russia from Georgia. He thought that he could make friends with Russia. The Czar Alexander was ready to treat him as an equal, and as Russia could not but be angry with Austria, and as the weakening of Austria was then one of the designs of Louis Napoleon, the latter hoped to secure Russian acquiescence in those ulterior projects which filled the brain of one who considered that it was his mission to exact vengeance for the just punishment inflicted on France in 1815. The settlement of the inherent antagonism between Russia and France in the East could be adjourned, and in the meantime they could come to an understanding, based on a common enmity to Austria, which might serve the purposes of both. Moreover, the reviver of the empire in France had said that the empire was peace, and there was something attractive to the mind of the French Emperor in the idea of appearing as the pacificator of Europe, and of bringing all the Powers to sign a treaty under the shadow of his throne.

The English Government and the English people were not so ready or willing to make peace. The real strength of the British power was only just beginning to tell. Our armaments, by land and sea, were only just acquiring bulk and organisation. There was a feeling abroad, and a just one, that the task of curbing the aggressive ambition and checking the greed of Russia, which the allies had undertaken, was only half completed. There was a desire to see Russia expelled from Asia Minor and from Finland, and to weaken, if not overthrow her in Poland, as well as to expel her from the Crimea, and root up the mighty establishments with which she menaced Turkey. In this feeling there was some reason. But the statesmen charged with the conduct of the war could not forget that, although it would have been just to take that opportunity of diminishing the vast power of the Czar, yet that the primary object of the war was the safe-guarding of European interests, so seriously menaced in the Black Sea and the Baltic, and that, providing Russia could be brought to agree to terms securing the safeguards required, it would be expedient to bring the war to an end. The Government, therefore, were induced to consider terms of peace, and the people acquiesced with sullen reluctance. Neither wanted war for the sake of war, or glory for the sake of glory; nor did either want victories to augment or secure the moral influence of their country in the affairs of Europe. The reluctance to make peace was due solely to a gnawing sense that the grasping ambition of Russia had been only partially restrained. In reality, the injury done to the enemy was greater than the English people believed it to be; but in the winter of 1855 they did not know how deeply the blows of the allies had struck.

It must not, however, be supposed that either of the belligerents allowed any of the symptoms of their desire for peace to be seen. The lateness of the season accounted for the languid operations of the allies after the fall of Sebastopol. The resolve of the Czar to cling to the north side of that fortress covered his weakness; and the success of Mouravief in Armenia allowed him even to boast that his gains were equal to those of the allies. On the surface there was every sign that the war would go on in the spring more extensively than ever; for not only had the British prepared hundreds of gun and mortar boats for service in the Baltic - not only had the British Government raised and drilled a German legion numbering 17,000 men, and a Turkish contingent, under British officers, 20,000 strong; but Austria had increased her army, and the allies held frequent councils of war in Paris, with the object of settling plans of campaigns for 1856. It is true that the Emperor of the French had made a remarkable speech as early as the 15th of November, in which he gave some hints that peace would not be unacceptable. The occasion was the closing of the Paris Exposition of 1855, an imitation of the London Exposition of 1851. Such a gathering in the midst of war the Emperor regarded as a great example, and as a sign that the war was held to be dangerous only to those who had been its cause, and by others as a pledge of independence and security. " Nevertheless," he continued, " on beholding the many marvels spread before our eyes, the first impression is a desire for peace. Peace alone, in fact, can develop to a greater degree these remarkable products of human intelligence. You must, therefore, like myself, entertain a wish that this peace may be speedy and durable. But to be durable, it must decisively solve the question upon which war has arisen. To bring it about speedily, Europe must pronounce itself; for, without the pressure of general opinion, struggles between great powers are liable to become protracted; while, on the contrary, if Europe comes to a determination to declare who is right and who is wrong, a great step will have been made towards arriving at a solution." For military successes only bring about temporary results: it is public opinion which wins the decisive victory. " All of you, therefore " - he was addressing men of all nations except Russia - "who think that the progress of the agriculture, industry, and commerce of one nation contributes to the welfare of all others - who think that the more mutual relations are multiplied, the more national prejudices tend to disappear - tell your countrymen, when you return, that France entertains hatred against no nation; that she sympathises with all who, like herself, wish for the triumph of justice and right. Tell them" - and this is the point of the speech - "that, if they wish for peace, they must at least openly express their wishes for or against us; for, in the midst of a great European conflict, indifference is a bad speculation, and silence is a mistake." These sentiments told upon Germany. In order to clinch the effect of these remarks, which were at once an overture and a threat, Count Walewski was directed to inform all the courts by circular that the Emperor meant what he said; that he desired peace, and that the neutral powers could help powerfully in bringing it about by openly expressing their opinions in the actual crisis. There was, therefore, a crisis; and the crisis involved peace or a continuance of the war.

The allies had resolved not to make any overtures themselves - that is, any direct overtures. There was nothing in the public language of Lord Palmerston, at this time, at all like that which we have seen in the language of the French Emperor. The British Premier spoke of obtaining the objects of the war, and so did every public speaker not opposed to the war from the beginning. It was the French Emperor who hinted that it was time for some neutral to step in and suggest peace. "The war," said a very able French writer, not a Buonapartist, " has restored to France her independent action in Europe, and, with independence, the ascendant . . . When we pray for peace, it is not to finish as speedily as possible a war useless and gratuitous; it is to finish befittingly a war that has given us all that it can give; for peace has all the advantages that war can have at this present day, and it is peace alone which can consolidate the work of war. " No writer, except himself, could have better expressed the views of the Emperor. That writer was M. Saint-Marc de Girardin, who must not be confounded with the brilliant and erratic Emile de Girardin. Under these circumstances Austria, who understood the situation, stepped in to propose peace.

We have already described the position of Austria. The war was a burden to her, and it promised no advantages whatever. It was a danger, because it was a burden weighing her down further and further in debt. She had always been anxious to bring it to an end, and she was not less so now; wherefore she set her diplomatists to work, and sounded both sides, but more especially sought to extract from the allies the terms on which they would agree to a peace. As the French Emperor was so well-disposed to come to terms, this was not difficult; but he still had to shape his course so as not to endanger the English alliance, from which he had not yet distilled all the advantages it contained for him. The Emperor, however, had only to allow his inclination to be felt, and then to drift, or appear to drift, along the current of English views. Ostensibly the "Western Powers were not engaged in any negotiations for peace; but in reality they did entertain the proposals of Austria, and gave a general assent to the terms which that Power undertook to send to St. Petersburg; and this for the sound reason that it would have been useless for Austria to press upon Russia the acceptance of terms to which the Western Powers would not agree.

The Austrian Government selected Count Valentine Esterhazy to carry on this delicate negotiation with the Cabinet of St. Petersburg. He took his instructions direct from the Emperor Francis Joseph, and they were formally embodied in a despatch written by Count Buol on the 16th of December. " Convinced," he writes, " by the so often reiterated declarations of the Emperor Alexander, of his readiness to lend his hand to any peace that would not infringe upon his dignity or upon the honour of his country, his Imperial Majesty [of Austria] felt himself called upon to employ his best efforts to assure himself of the degree of reciprocity that those dispositions might meet with at the courts of France and Great Britain. His Majesty, therefore, deigned to charge me to sound the Cabinets of Paris and London on the subject. Although we found them embued with the firm resolution not to lend themselves to the initiative of any overtures for peace, nevertheless, to our great satisfaction, we found such dispositions in those cabinets as to lead us to hope that they would not refuse to examine and accept conditions of a nature to offer all the guarantees of a permanent peace, and to come to a clear solution of the question which gave rise to the war. Nay, more," so the cautious diplomatist proceeded, " we think ourselves authorised to express the hope that these Powers, while maintaining in full force the right of presenting such conditions of peace as they might deem suitable, would not the less be disposed now not to deviate from the principle established at the commencement of the struggle - not to seek any advantage to themselves, and to limit their pretensions to the sacrifices necessary to re-assure Europe against the return of so deplorable a complication." In this guarded style wrote the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs. To his despatch he annexed the " four points " or indispensable preliminaries, set forth at some length, so as to avoid the chance of a misunderstanding; but substantially they were these: - 1. That the Russian protectorate in the Danubian Principalities should be completely abolished, and that these principalities should receive such an organisation as might be suited to their wants and interests, to be recognised by the Powers, and sanctioned by the Sultan as suzerain. That, in exchange for the strong places and territories occupied by the allied powers, Russia should consent to the "rectification " of her frontier with Turkey in Europe. 2. That the freedom of the Danube and its mouths should be secured efficaciously. 3. That the Black Sea should be open to merchant ships, and closed to war ships - except a limited number for coast service - and consequently that no naval or military arsenals should be created or maintained there. 4. The immunities of the Christian subjects of the Porte to be secured, without infringing the independence of the Sultan. To these was added a fifth of great moment, as it was, in a measure, the touchstone of Russian sincerity. It was this: - "The belligerent powers reserve to themselves the right which appertains to them of producing in a European interest special conditions over and above the four guarantees." These were tolerably stringent conditions; and it was easy to see that the fifth, so indefinite in its nature, would test the sincerity of Russia to the uttermost.

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