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Chapter XXXV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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When, in the autumn of 1852, the Emperor demanded from the popular voice a condonation of the past and a sanction for the future, the Ayes numbered nearly 8,000,000, the Noes only 253,000. The returns of the voting in 1870 marked a notable progress in dissatisfaction since the commencement of the Empire. But it is believed that the nature of the military vote was that which chiefly disquieted the Emperor. Like Macbeth, he would pry into the secrets of futurity, would ascertain beyond all reasonable doubt the prospect which lay before his son of ascending the Imperial throne; and, like Macbeth, he was terrified and startled by the apparition which he evoked. These fifty thousand soldiers who, in spite of the restraints of discipline the ties of self-interest, had, by their " Noes," expressed their disapproval of the Imperial system, could not but be regarded as the more active and intelligent spirits in the army, who were more likely, unless their aims were attained, to estrange from the Empire the still loyal majority, than to be absorbed in that majority themselves. What, then, were their aims? In a warlike nation, where the humblest day labourer is possessed by the sentiment of military glory, the more stirring and ambitious characters in the army are prone to become impatient in a long-continued peace; and this feeling is likely to be enhanced when a neighbouring people, the rival and antagonist of the soldier's country in many a historic campaign, has been winning spolia opima, and gaining victories of extraordinary brilliancy. Such reflections must have agitated the mind of Napoleon, as he thought of those fifty thousand "Noes;" and the conviction must have come upon him with a lurid clearness, that the only way to regain the loyalty of the army, and to secure the succession of his son, lay through War. When the ruler of a great nation, having the absolute control of its military resources, arrives at such a conclusion as this, an occasion is not likely to be long wanting.

But for a time everything wore a peaceful aspect, and the results of the plebiscite were even considered on the whole to have strengthened the Emperor's position. It was a matter of course that, on receiving from M. Schneider (May 21) the official report of the results of the voting, the Emperor should use the language of serenity and cheerful hope. "We must," he said, "more than ever look fearlessly forward to the future." Who, indeed, could be opposed to the progressive march of a dynasty founded by a great people in the midst of political disturbances, and fortified by liberty? In a debate on the bill for fixing the army contingent for 1870, M. Ollivier, to whom the Emperor's mind was a sealed book, declared that the Government had no uneasiness whatever; that in no epoch was the peace of Europe more assured; and that no irritating question anywhere existed. When, after the death of Lord Clarendon, Earl Granville repaired to the Foreign Office, to take up the portfolio of the deceased statesman, he was informed by Mr. Hammond, the Under Secretary, that in all his experience he had never known so great a lull in foreign affairs. Two hours later, a telegram from Mr. Layard, the British Minister at Madrid, communicated the decision of the Spanish Council of State to offer the crown of Spain to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern. On the same afternoon, the Duc de Gramont informed Lord Lyons, our Ambassador at Paris, that France would endeavour with her whole strength to prevent the election of a Prussian prince, and he requested the co-operation of England in warding off this danger to the peace of Europe. On the following day (July 6), the Due de Gramont read in the Chamber a memorandum of the views of the Government, the unusual and menacing language of which spread alarm through all the capitals of Europe. "We do not believe," ho said, "that respect for the rights of q, neighbouring people obliges us to suffer a foreign Power, by placing a prince upon the throne of Charles Y., to disturb the European equilibrium to our disadvantage, and thus to imperil the interests and honour of France. We entertain a firm hope that this will not happen. To prevent it, we count upon the wisdom of the German nation and the friendship of the people of Spain; but in the contrary event, with your support and the support of the nation, we shall know how to do our duty without hesitation or weakness." These words were received with wild and enthusiastic cheering.

The candidature of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern had been first broached so far back as March, 1869, but at that time it met with no encouragement at Berlin; while M. Benedetti, under instructions from the French Government, represented that such an election could only be viewed by France with serious dissatisfaction. Now, after an interval of more than a year, the project was resumed, and that under circumstances of apparent trickery and intrigue which called forth disapprobation, not in Paris only, but also in London. The Duc de Gramont suggests, though he has no means of proving, that the idea of reviving the candidature of Prince Leopold came to General Prim from a Prussian source; and he pledges his veracity for the existence of a letter written to Prim by Count Bismark some time in June, 1870, in which the Prussian Chancellor said, that the candidature of the Frince of Hohenzollem was in itself an excellent thing, that it must not be abandoned, and that at a given moment it might be serviceable. The Duke declares that though he has never seen this letter himself, it has been seen and read by eminent men whose names are well known. All this, and many other details are related by the Duc de Gramont in order to bear out his theory that Prussia, and in particular Count Bismark, was the real originator of the war, by means of a series of studied provocations and affronts, designedly framed so as to awaken the warlike passions of the French people, and hurry them into a strife for which he knew that Prussia was far better prepared than France. Whatever may be thought of this theory, it is certain that the suddenness of the whole thing (for the Council of Ministers at Madrid decided on the 5th July to propose the Prince of Hohenzollern to the Cortes, and to convoke that body for the purpose on the 20th July) was viewed with suspicion and disfavour in this country, where no prejudice existed either against Prussia or France. The Times, in a leader dated the 8th July, had " no hesitation in declaring that the way in which this negotiation has been conducted has been in the highest degree reprehensible, and that it excuses, if it does not justify, the attitude of France." After commenting on the secrecy which had been, observed, the Times proceeded: " Now this conduct, we will make bold to say, is grossly discourteous to foreign Powers. The transaction, too, has the air of a vulgar and impudent coup d'etat of a kind that is sure not to be successful" The excitable imagination of Frenchmen immediately developed the incident into a hundred painful and humiliating consequences. Prussia, they thought, (Jesires first to isolate us in Europe, and then to crush us. Just as she ruined Austria in 1866, by placing her between two fires - herself on the north, and Italy on the south - so it is her present aim to place France also between two fires - North Germany on the one side, and Spain, with a Prussian prince on its throne, and its army reorganised on the Prussian system, on the other. Considering the unscrupulous audacity with which Count Bismark had pursued the aim of the aggrandisement of Prussia - considering his language in the Prussian Chamber in 1862, that " it was not by long speeches, nor by plurality of votes, that the great questions of the day had to be decided, but by iron and blood," it may not be so unreasonable in M. Jules Favre as it appears at first sight, to declare that in his judgment the candidature of Prince Leopold, if adhered to by Prussia, might have constituted a just casus belli.

But it was not adhered to; and this fact, in the absence of more weighty evidence on the other side than has yet been adduced, suffices in the judgment of most men to saddle France with the chief responsibility of the rupture. Lord Granville exerted all his influence at Berlin to procure the withdrawal of the dangerous candidature; and M. Olozaga, the Spanish Minister at Paris (a statesman of great experience, and sincerely friendly to France), alarmed at the terrible excitement around him, took measures with the Prince Antoine de Hohenzollern, the father of Prince Leopold, to induce him to exercise his parental authority and bring about the renunciation by his son of the honour proposed for him. Could this be accomplished, it seemed certain that the storm would blow over, for the Duc de Gramont himself said to Lord Lyons, on the 8th July, that the voluntary renunciation of his candidature by Prince Leopold would be " a most fortunate solution " of the difficulty. Prince Antoine accordingly wrote to General Prim renouncing all pretensions to the crown of Spain on the part of his son; Prim communicated the renunciation to Olozaga, and by him it was conveyed to the French Government. M. Ollivier was greatly elated, and went about in the lobbies of the French Chambers telling his friends that all difficulty was at an end, "l'incident est vidé" But, in fact, he was not behind the scenes; to the secret councils of the Emperor, in which the issues of peace or war were discussed, he was not summoned.

Finding, as the result of its pressing representations since the first announcement of the candidature, that the Prussian Government declined all responsibility in regard to it, and professed to consider it as a matter which only regarded the King of Prussia, in his capacity of head of the Hohenzollern family, the French Government instructed M. Benedetti to seek an interview with the King, who was then at Ems, and obtain from him an explicit disavowal of all share in the project. M. Benedetti accordingly went to Ems, where he obtained an interview with the King on the 10th inst. At first, the King of Prussia said that he had certainly consented to the Prince of Hohenzollern's accepting the crown of Spain; and that, having given his consent, it would be difficult for him now to withdraw it. Two days later, the Prince's renunciation was known at Paris, and it became then a serious question with the French Government, what course it should take. By the peremptory and unusual language which they had employed in the tribune, they had excited the passions and raised the expectations of the people to an extraordinary height, so that merely to accept the renunciation of the candidature appeared too tame and poor a conclusion to the tumult which they had raised. The Duc de Gramont accordingly explained to Lord Lyons, on the 13th July, that while the withdrawal of the candidature put an end to all question with Spain, from Prussia France had obtained literally nothing. In the first place, if the statement of the Prussian Minister at Paris may be believed, the French Government required that the King should offer to France something in the form of an apology for ever having sanctioned the candidature at all. To this Count Bismark is said to have replied, that he must decline to bring so unbecoming a demand under the notice of his sovereign. In the second place, M. Benedetti was ordered again to wait on the King and endeavour to obtain from him a guarantee that the project of raising his kinsman to the Spanish throne should not be renewed. The exact terms of the French demand, according to a memorandum placed by the Duc de Gramont in the hands of Lord Lyons, were these: " We ask of the King of Prussia to forbid the Prince of Hohenzollern to alter his present resolution. If he does so, the whole matter is at an end." M. Benedetti saw the King again at Ems, on the 13th, and endeavoured to obtain from him the assurance for the future required by the French Government. But to this the King, although M. Benedetti insisted warmly, and hinted at the serious consequences which might follow upon a refusal, refused to consent. Later in the day Benedetti sent to request another interview; but the King sent word that, as his mind was made up, and he had no other answer to give than that which he had given in the morning, it would be useless to re-open the question. This message, which seems to have been sent naturally and with perfect sincerity, and in which M. Benedetti himself, as his despatches prove, saw no discourtesy, was so magnified and distorted as to create, on the minds of all who received the intelligence, the impression of an already consummated rupture. From Berlin the incident was telegraphed to this country to the following effect - that M. Benedetti had accosted the King in the Kurgarten at Ems, and preferred his last extravagant demand; and that the King had thereupon turned round and ordered an aide-de-camp to tell M. Benedetti that there was no reply, and that he would not receive him again. In France the rumour flew that the King had affronted the French Ambassador, and the ardour for war rose to fever heat. Immense crowds of Parisians gathered on the Boulevards (July 14), singing the "Marseillaise," and eagerly discussing the chances of war. At Berlin, on the same day, the King was received, on his return from Ems, by the acclamations of an immense multitude of persons, all animated by stern and enthusiastic resolution. On the next day occurred the memorable scene in the French Chambers, which left no doubt remaining that the die was cast, and that the terrible eventuality of a war between France and Prussia was close at hand. The Due de Gramont in the Senate, and M. Ollivier in the Corps Legislative, communicated a ministerial message, in which it was stated that the King had refused to give the engagement required by France; that, notwithstanding this, in consequence of their desire for peace, they did not break off the negotiations; but that they had learnt, to their surprise, that the King had refused to receive M. Benedetti, and had communicated the fact officially to his Cabinet. " Under these circumstances, we should have forgotten our dignity, and also our prudence, had we not made preparations. We have prepared to maintain the war which is offered to us, leaving to each that portion of the responsibility which devolves upon him." M. Ollivier, in the course of the explanation which he gave to the Chamber, transcended the limits of moderation in his warlike, no less than he had lately done in his peaceful, avowals. " The Prussian Cabinet," he said, " has informed all Governments that it refused to receive our Ambassador while the negotiations were still proceeding. If in my country a Chamber should be found who would suffer this, then I should not for five minutes remain a minister." It was this flighty statesman who declared, a few days later, that he entered into the war "with a light heart." This unpardonable Prussian outrage was stated to consist in the sending by Count Bismark of a circular despatch to all the Cabinets of Europe, informing them that the King had refused to receive the Ambassador of France again, and informed him, through one of his aides-de-camp, that he had no further communication to make. To a sensitive people there was something not a little irritating in the wording of this telegram, and the Duc de Gramont maintains that this was the precise effect which Count Bismark intended that it should produce.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

M. Ollivier
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Coblenz from Ehrenbreitstein
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Mitrailleuse
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Attack upon Weissenburg
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General von Göben
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