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Chapter XX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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Meantime events were ripening to a crisis in Germany On the 27th of April, Count Bismarck dispatched an imperious missive to Dresden, demanding to know with what intentions Saxony was arming, and declaring that Prussia could not view the preparations that were being made so close to her border with indifference, the more so as there were grounds for believing that Saxony was arming against Prussia. Baron Beust, the Saxon Premier, replied with diplomatic reserve, evading all assertion of direct partisanship, and appealing to various articles of Federal law; at the same time the Saxon envoy was instructed to bring the correspondence which had taken place with Prussia under the notice of the Diet, and claim the intervention of the Confederation. This was done on the 5th of May. The Prussian envoy declared that Prussia did not intend to attack Saxony, but that it was the duty of the Diet, if it disapproved of his Government's proceedings, to restrain Austria and Saxony in their warlike preparations; if this were not done, Prussia would be compelled to have regard only to her own security and the necessity of upholding her European position, and would subordinate her relations to the Confederation to the imperative claims of self-preservation. The voting on Saxony's motion - the object of which was to obtain a decree of the Diet, with reference to the proceedings of Prussia, that the internal peace of the Confederation must be preserved - was taken on the 9tli of May, and the motion was carried. Bismarck told Count Baikal that the hostile feelings of the middle states towards Prussia were plainly expressed at this meeting, and that there could be no doubt that the preparations which they were making were intended for the support of Austria; he did not care, however, for Prussia would be ready before they were.

The secondary states resolved that they would make one last effort for the maintenance of peace. At the Conference of Bamberg, convened with this object, representatives of Bavaria, Wurtemburg, Baden, and several minor Powers, agreed upon a policy which they embodied in a motion made in the Diet on May 19, to the effect that all Powers which had armed should be called upon to state at the next meeting of the Diet their reasons for arming, and whether, and on what conditions, they were prepared to consent to a general and simultaneous disarmament. This motion was carried, and June 1 was the day fixed on which these important explanations were to be given.

The efforts of neutral and friendly Powers were, of course, not wanting to the cause of peace. From the beginning of May the project of a Congress of the five great Powers, together with Italy and the German Confederation, to discuss the three European questions of the most urgent interest - the cession of Venetia, the fate of Schleswig-Holstein, and the reform of the German Confederation - had found favour with the Emperor Napoleon. Russia had cordially accepted the scheme, and England also was favourable to it, though with a proviso which marks the progress which Lord Russell, through sad experience and many failures, had made in his diplomatic education. For, although the actual Foreign Minister at this time was the Earl of Clarendon, yet the empressement with which the English Government, at the outset of the negotiations, volunteered a statement that its interference would under no possible circumstances be carried beyond the limits of persuasion, evidently bespeaks the hand of the minister whose previous attempts at a dictatorial intervention had failed so disastrously. The Marquis d'Azeglio telegraphed on May 11 from London, that " England accepted the Congress in principle, and also the bases which France proposed with reference to the three urgent questions, but refused categorically to bind herself to impose any decision of the kind otherwise than by persuasion."

Some time elapsed before the three mediating Powers could arrive at a precise understanding as to the form in which the Congress should be proposed to Prussia and Austria. Of the three topics for discussion, the first was described by France as " the cession of Venetia;" this was afterwards modified to " the question of Venetia but even in this form the Russian Government considered that there was something in the phrase wounding to the susceptibilities of Austria, and obtained the consent of France to the substitution of the words, " difference between Austria and Italy." Everything at last appeared to be in train; it was arranged that the Congress should be held in Paris, and that the principal Ministers for Foreign Affairs in the different states should attend it. Bismarck, knowing the settled resolve of the Emperor Napoleon to facilitate and promote the cession of Venetia to Italy, was not disposed to refuse the invitation to the Congress; he said to those around him that it would end in nothing, and that they would simply adjourn from the Congress-chamber to the battle-field; and he told Count Barral (May 26) that the Congress was a vain simulacrum, and that he saw no human power capable of preventing war. Yet even Bismarck, three days later, was confounded by the insistence with which France appeared to labour to avert war, and said to Barral, in a tone of deep dissatisfaction, " The Emperor of the French now wishes for peace at any price." To go to war against the will of France was, as Bismarck had before admitted to Govone, hardly within the bounds of possibility. An unfriendly neutrality west of the Rhine would have compelled a concentration of Prussian troops in Westphalia and Rhineland which would have left her too weak to contend with Austria in Saxony or Bohemia. On the 28th May, notes, couched in almost identical terms, from the Governments of France, England, and Russia, communicated to the Powers at variance the proposal of the mediating Courts for the convocation of a Congress. Count Bismarck, while stipulating that the proceedings should be brief, and that the opening of the Congress should not be delayed if the representatives of the Confederation were not nominated in time, accepted the proposal for Prussia, but he took an opportunity of declaring to the French ambassador, M. Benedetti, in vehement and impassioned tones, that the position of affairs was become intolerable, and must be brought to a close at all risks. Italy also agreed to the Congress, as well she might, knowing the settled opinion and desire of the Emperor Napoleon with regard to the cession of Venetia. For Austria, the desirable course was not so clear. If she rejected the Congress, she alienated the good opinion of the neutral Powers. Yet if she accepted it, she knew that she could expect no good from its deliberations. The Chevalier Nigra wrote to La Marmora, on the 24th May, that the French Foreign Minister, Drouyn de Lhuys, had assured him that it was " well understood between the three neutral Powers that the Congress should discuss the cession of Venetia," Beyond question the existence of this " understanding" was known at Vienna; the Austrian statesmen knew that they would enter a Congress the members of which had already made their minds up on the one subject of discussion which vitally affected her interests and her honour. It is true that Austria had a month before offered to cede Venetia; but at that time she reckoned on compensation. If Italy could be induced by the cession to stand neutral, Austria hoped to overrun and annex Silesia. Yet to refuse the Congress absolutely was not to be thought of. Austria, therefore, hit upon a middle course; she professed a readiness to send a plenipotentiary to the Congress, but only on condition that no combination should be discussed which would result in an extension of territory for any one of the states invited. Such a limitation - especially when the preconceived views of the neutral Powers are remembered - was felt on all sides to render the project of a Congress nugatory, and it was accordingly dropped.

On June 1, the Diet met, according to arrangement, to receive the explanations of the Powers which had increased [their armaments. Baron Kübeck, the Austrian envoy, rose, and, after adverting to the now notorious fact that a leading member of the Confederation had, for the purpose of coercing another leading member, entered into a close alliance with a non-German Power, he explained that, on account of the menacing attitude of Italy, Austria could not leave herself unguarded on the side of Venetia; but that she would recall the troops that had been raised to protect her northern frontier, if Prussia would declare that she did not intend to make an attack on Austrian territory, or on any state allied to Austria, and would give security against the recurrence of the danger of war. The envoy then turned to the question of the duchies. He reminded the Diet that in August, 1865, the two Powers had promised to communicate to it the result of their negotiations as to the future of the duchies, and then added that, in spite of the sincere and strenuous efforts of Austria to come to an understanding with Prussia on this subject, all her exertions had been in vain; he therefore declared, in the name of his Government, that Austria, being unable to procure a settlement of the Schleswig-Holstein question in the manner first proposed, now remitted the settlement of it to the Diet, and, in order to assist their deliberations, had ordered her Commissioner in Holstein to convoke the Estates of that duchy, with a view to obtaining an expression of the wishes of the people as to their future fate.

This convocation of the Estates of Holstein appears to have been an ill-considered step on the part of Austria; for while it can have tended but little to gain for her the reputation of liberalism and respect for German popular rights (which was doubtless her object in taking it), it amounted to a distinct breach of the Convention of Gastein, and, as such, placed a weapon in the hands of an adversary, who was only too well able to play his own game, without the assistance of false moves on the other side. It will be remembered that that Convention, while it severed the administration, left the sovereignty of both duchies in the joint possession of the two Powers as before. Now, to summon the Estates of Holstein for the purpose indicated was certainly no mere act of administration; it was only compatible with the possession of full sovereignty in Holstein by the convening Power, whereas Austria held under the Convention, as under the original treaty, only a divided sovereignty. Austria, therefore, first broke the Convention, and Prussia, as we shall soon see, did not fail to press the act to its logical consequences.

When Baron Kübeck sat down, the Prussian envoy, M. de Savigny, rose, and said that, with regard to the question of disarmament, Prussia was still willing to disarm in the measure and at the rate that Austria and other German Powers did so. A sentence of ominous import followed - that if Germany could not give to Prussia guarantees for the maintenance of peace, and rejected those reforms of the Federal constitution which were everywhere recognised as necessary, Prussia must entertain the conclusion that the Confederation did not fulfil the object of its existence, and was powerless to attain its proper and most important aims. He added, that in the proceedings of Austria with regard to Schleswig-Holstein, both as concerned her appeal to the Diet, and in convoking the Estates of Holstein, Prussia saw a violation of the Convention of Gastein,

These two speeches were the main events of the famous meeting of the Diet on the 1st June. They were telegraphed to every part of Germany, and disturbed the repose of all Germans. Yet few suspected that war was so imminent as proved to be the case; for Prussia was at that time supposed to be much inferior in military resources to Austria, nor was the existence of the treaty with Italy generally known; it was supposed, therefore, that Austria would be the first to break the peace, and she was, it was well known, far from being ready for war.

Count Bismarck sent a despatch, on June 3, to Vienna, renewing the protest which had been made by the Prussian envoy in the Diet against the infraction by Austria of the Convention of Gastein, and declaring that Prussia now considered herself justified in reverting to the basis of the Treaty of Vienna, and that the Government had consequently placed the defence of its condominate rights in the hands of General Manteuffel. At the same time, the Prussian Minister addressed a circular to the Prussian representatives of all foreign Courts, accusing Austria of giving direct provocations to Prussia, with the manifest intention of settling the matters in dispute by an appeal to arms. This circular was couched in terms of the bitterest invective, and sufficiently indicated that all prospect of an accommodation was renounced.

The reasoning and the acts of Prussia, in consequence of the precipitate declaration by the Austrian envoy of the intentions of his Government in regard to Holstein, were strictly logical. If Austria broke the Convention of Gastein, then the original Treaty of Vienna, of which the Convention was a sort of modification, came again into force; then the joint occupation of both duchies which had existed previously to the Convention must be resumed; and General Manteuffel must detach a portion of his troops into Holstein, but "quite in a friendly spirit." No sooner had General Gablenz, acting under instructions from Vienna, issued an order (June 5) convoking the Holstein Estates at Itzehoe for the 11th inst., than General Manteuffel intimated to him that he regarded the act of convocation as an infringement upon the sovereign rights of the King of Prussia, and invited the Austrian Governor to recall the order. At the same time, he communicated his orders to occupy, by way of practical assertion of the revived condominate right of Prussia in Holstein, certain unoccupied points in the duchy, and his intention of leading troops across the frontier for that purpose; but he declared that the contemplated movement had solely a defensive character, and requested that the local authorities of the places which he meant to occupy might be warned of the fact, so that all collision between the troops of the two nations might be avoided. Suiting the action to the word, Manteuffel crossed the Eyder on the 8th and 9th June, and directed his march upon Itzehoe, in order to prevent the deputies who were assembling there for the expected meeting of the Estates on the 11th from executing their purpose.

General von Gablenz, with his one weak brigade and one regiment of dragoons, was in no condition to prevent General von Manteuffel from carrying out in Holstein any policy which the Prussian Government might have resolved upon; at the same time, even if the pacific professions of the advancing General could be fully relied i upon, it was incompatible with the dignity of Austria that her administrator should act the part of a passive spectator, while Prussian troops were dissolving an assembly which had been convened under an order emanating from the Imperial Government. Instructions j had also been received from Vienna, should Prussia make hostile demonstrations, to concentrate the Austrian troops at Altona, and retreat across the Elbe. General Gablenz therefore hastily withdrew his troops from Kiel, and | concentrated them at Altona. Manteuffel marched unopposed to Itzehoe, and on the 11th June prevented the assembly of the Holstein Estates by taking military possession of the town, locking the door of the House of Assembly, and placing a guard before it with fixed bayonets. The attention of the Austrian commander was now solely directed to making good his escape out of the duchy; and this he skilfully accomplished by bringing his whole force across the Elbe on the night of the 11th to Harburg, and thence dispatching it by railway, through Hanover, Cassel, and Frankfort, to the Austrian Army of the North in Bohemia. The Prince of Augustenburg, his protectors having gone, took his departure also; and Herr von Scheel Plessen was appointed by the Prussian Government Supreme President of the Elbe Duchies. From this time the thorny question of Schleswig-Holstein has ceased to trouble the peace of European diplomatists.

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Pictures for Chapter XX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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