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“THIS book deals especially with a period of German history of twenty-three years’ duration. Beginning with the French Revolution of 1848 it records the rousing in Germany of passions long pent-up, and, for the time, difficult to be controlled or directed; the manner in which these passions were eventually mastered; the great void and the fierce longing they left behind them; the use made by one of the chief Powers of Germany of the feelings and aspirations thus dormant, and, finally, the complete reversal, by the means employed by that Power, of the positions held in Europe till that period by Austria and Prussia on the one side, by France and Germany on the other. During this period of twenty-three years there occurred in Europe five wars; and although, of those five wars, two, the Crimean war and the Franco-Austrian war require in this volume but a cursory notice, the other three, viz., the Danish war, the Austro-Prussian war, and the Franco-German war constitute the three steps which made possible the refounding of the German Empire. The second and third of these wars would have been impossible without their predecessor. For if the first of the three, the Danish war, may be regarded as a small thing—the whole of Germany being pitted against the smallest country in Europe—it was, nevertheless, the necessary prelude to the wars that followed. That war, and the two greater wars of 1866 and 1870, had been predetermined in the mind of the regenerator of Germany before a shot in the first had been fired. The initial war, in fact, was needed to cause the second; the second to produce the third. The Danish war, then, far from being a war of secondary importance, was the first act of a deliberately planned system; the first consequence of the introduction of that policy of ‘Blood and Iron’ which, in one of his earliest speeches to the Prussian parliament. Count Bismarck declared to be necessary for the solution of the great questions which were agitating Germany.”
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Copyright © 2016 by George Malleson
Published by Perennial Press
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THE EMPIRE OF CHARLEMAGNE—RENUNCIATION BY FRANCIS II.—THE NAPOLEONIC PERIOD—FROM 1815 TO 1848—FROM 1848 TO 1852.
The Holy Roman Empire, founded by Charlemagne, and dating from Christmas day 800, died on the 6th of August 1806. It had lived just over a thousand years. The hopes of the great Charles that the sceptre would descend in perpetuity to members of his own family had not been realised. The family became extinct in 911. From that date the numerous dukes and counts who had been content to serve as officers of the imperial court asserted their independence, and with it the right to elect their supreme overlord. The method of election, under the arrangement originally settled, was gradually found to be in practice crude, unwieldy, and unworkable. In the thirteenth century, then, the electoral basis was narrowed by restricting the voting power to seven of the most influential magnates of the land. In 1648 the number was increased to eight, and in 1692 to nine. It was reduced to eight in 1777, but the peace of Lunéville (February 9, 1801) increased it to ten. From the year 1407 onwards the electing body had, with rare exceptions, conferred the dignity on the representative of the House of Habsburg.
Alike in his capacity as Emperor of Germany and the hereditary ruler of the several States he had inherited from his ancestors, the Emperor Francis II. had taken a prominent part in the wars of the French Revolution. Up to the year 1796 the victories gained and the defeats sustained by his armies and those of his allies were not very unevenly balanced. In 1795 the tide had seemed to turn rather decisively in his and their favour, but in the following year the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte turned the scale very effectually against him. The same genius forced him the year immediately following to accept a peace by which he yielded the Low Countries and the Ionian islands to France, and Milan, Mantua, and Modena to the newly formed Cisalpine republic, receiving, by a secret article, Venice as compensation. The war was renewed a year later, Bonaparte was absent in Egypt, and Austria, powerfully aided by Russia, carried at the outset all before her. The return of Bonaparte on the 9th of October, his successful blow at the existing constitution exactly one month later, his nomination as First Consul, and, finally and chiefly, the campaign of Marengo, changed into despair the bright hopes to which the earlier successes of the war had given birth at Vienna. The peace of Lunéville which followed confirmed the advantages to France obtained by the preceding treaty, and in addition secured for her a preponderating influence in western Germany. The conditions imposed by the conqueror were lenient. It was the only time, if we may except the conditions regarding Russia of the treaty of Tilsit, when the young conqueror whose work it was showed consideration to a defeated enemy. His subsequent words and acts proved that he had come to believe that in displaying that consideration he had made a blunder.
The peace between France and Austria lasted four years. Meanwhile the conqueror of Marengo had become Emperor of the French (May 18, 1804), and the Emperor Francis of Germany had, nearly three months later, assumed, by letters patent, the position of hereditary Emperor of Austria, under the title of Francis I. (August II, 1804). When he assumed the rank and position of Emperor of the French, Napoleon was, and for some time previously had been, engaged in making gigantic preparations for the invasion of England. He was still pushing forward these preparations when, on the 5th of August 1805, the Emperor Francis, yielding to the solicitations of Pitt, declared war against him. How Napoleon, with marvellous skill, suddenly transferred his army from the shores of the ocean to southern Germany, how he compelled one Austrian army to capitulate at Ulm, and completely defeated another allied with the Russians, on the anniversary of his coronation (December 2) at Austerlitz, need not be told here in detail. Napoleon had prefaced the war by telling his soldiers that he would not again spare the enemy to whom he had been too merciful at Campo Formio and at Lunéville, and he kept his word. The treaty of Pressburg, the consequence of Austerlitz, rent Venice from Austria, transferred to Bavaria Tirol, Voralberg, the principality of Eichstadt, and part of the Bishopric of Passau; to Baden the greater part of the Brisgau, with Constance; to Würtemberg Augsburg and a portion of Suabia. The Electors of Bavaria and Würtemberg became kings, and Baden was recognized as a sovereign State. In the words of the latest English historian of the period: ‘The constitution of the empire ceased to exist even in name.’
But another and a fiercer blow directed against that constitution was to follow. Napoleon employed the comparative leisure which followed the signature of the peace of Pressburg (December 26, 1805) to devise a still more potent method for crippling Germany. On the ruins of the empire he had broken up he designed to constitute in Germany a new power, independent alike of Austria and Prussia, pushed in as a wedge between the two, a province of France in all but in name, and deriving from France all its motive power. He worked at this project with his accustomed energy during the earlier months of 1806. In July of that year he had arranged every detail. Sixteen prominent princes of western and southern Germany declared their separation from the German Empire and Emperor, and formed under the protection of the French Emperor, a league to be styled ‘The Confederation of the Rhine.’ On the 6th of August, the Emperor Francis, under the pressure of Napoleon, dissolved by decree the Germanic confederation, and formally abdicated his title as chief of the Holy Roman Empire. Before the close of the year the adhesion of Saxony had brought within that league almost every German who was not either Austrian or Prussian. The territories thus amalgamated for offence and defence became virtually a French province. They counted a population of more than fourteen millions, and had an extent of over 125,000 square miles. The military forces they disposed of, fixed after the union of Saxony at 119,180 men, were drilled by French officers. The frontiers were regarded to all intents as the frontiers of France. The Confederation, thrust into the very heart of Germany, was a standing menace to Austria and Prussia. Its formation, from the standpoint of the actual moment, seemed to its author and to Europe generally to be the outcome of the highest political genius. With the consent of a great part of Germany Napoleon had, it seemed, rendered German union against France for ever impossible. Nor can it be doubted that the German people admitted within the Confederation derived great immediate advantages from the amalgamation. Justice was made easy to all; the taxes were spread in more even proportions over the several classes; whilst to the ambitious a career was opened such as, under the petty governments which had been swept away, had been impossible.
Yet it can scarcely be doubted now that the measure in the form it took was adverse to the interests of France; that it really contributed, and greatly, to the cause of German unity. The existence of the Confederation was only possible under the condition of continued success on the field of battle. The campaign of 1812 in Russia, still more the campaign of 1813 in Germany, proved the instability of the foundations on which it rested. Nor was the evil—to France—confined to the sudden disaffection which immediately preceded and immediately followed the battle of Leipsig. The Confederation had introduced into the very heart of Germany that power of combination for the cause of national union which we have seen fructify in our own day. There were, indeed, in 1806 some shrewd men, some of them Frenchmen, who deprecated the policy of Napoleon because, in their view, it was bound to lead to such results. One of these, the Baron de Marbot, at the time aide-de-camp to Marshal Augereau, has detailed, in one of the most charming autobiographies ever given to the world, the opinions he formed at that period. In the presence of accomplished facts they are worthy of being transcribed. ‘Although,’ wrote the Baron, ‘I was very young at this epoch I thought that Napoleon committed a great fault in reducing the number of the small principalities of Germany. In fact in the ancient wars against France the 800 princes of the Germanic corps could not act together. There was some of them who furnished only a company, some only a platoon, many but half a soldier; so that the reunion of these different contingents composed an army totally deprived of any principle of combination, and disbanded at the very first reverse. But when Napoleon had reduced to thirty-two the number of the principalities he introduced the spirit of union into the forces of Germany. The sovereigns preserved and aggrandised formed a small but well-constituted army. That indeed was the end which the Emperor proposed to himself in the hope of thus utilising to his profit all the military resources of the country. This was the case so long as we were successful. But at the very first reverse the thirty-two sovereigns, having a common understanding, combined against France, and their coalition with Russia overthrew the Emperor Napoleon.’
The Confederation of the Rhine, wounded to the death by the campaign of 1812, and killed by the battle of Leipsig, was succeeded, in 1815, by a new league called ‘The Germanic Federation.’ In the autumn of 1814 the work of forming a scheme for the reorganisation of Germany had been committed to Austria, Prussia, and three of the minor powers. The scheme itself, promulgated June 8, 1815, fell short of the hopes that had been roused during the life and death struggles of 1813-14. The blighting influence of Metternich had successfully restricted the wider-reaching aspirations of the patriots of northern Germany. That many difficulties existed in the way of satisfying the latter must be admitted. The kings whom Napoleon had made, released from his yoke, were resolved to maintain, as far as was possible, the absolutism which had characterised their rule during the preceding eight years. Austria was bound hand and foot to the same principle. And though the general feeling of Prussia, as a nation, was strongly in favour of progress, the King and his ministers were in their hearts not one whit more inclined to it than was Metternich himself. The outcome, then, of the deliberations of the five powers was unsatisfactory. Germany became federated only in name. The act of June 1815 created a Federal Diet at which seventeen members, the representatives of States, or groups of States or free cities, were to meet. These representatives were nominated by the rulers of the respective States or groups. The place of meeting was the city of Frankfort on the Main. From its first meeting, in November 1816, to its last, in August 1866, the Diet was powerless to assure the real union of Germany. Throughout that period the influence of Austria was predominant; and during the arbitrary rule of Metternich, 1815 to 1848, and again during the reaction which followed the outbreaks of 1848, Austria used that influence to stifle every aspiration for freedom. Her principle was, ‘to aggrandise Austria, to humiliate Prussia.’ During its life of fifty-one years, inclusive of the suspension of its powers from July 1848 to May 1851, the Diet, with opportunities favourable for the development of sound patriotic principles, displayed only a genius for intrigue and a capacity for repression.
To the Diet, thus playing a part at once subordinate and humiliating, the mouthpiece in matters pertaining to Germany of Metternich, the revolution of February 1848 in Paris was a very rude awakener. To the people of every State in Germany the same event acted as a call to prompt and resolute action. It happened that at the moment (February 27) a meeting of patriotic men was being held at Mannheim to devise how to procure for the Fatherland a few moderate reforms. These were, the freedom of the press, trial by jury, liberty to carry arms, national representation. The terror inspired in ruling circles by the movements in Paris caused these proposals to be everywhere accepted. Baden led the way. The other States followed. In a few days not only had the modest requests I have mentioned been all but universally granted, but the governments, those of Austria and Prussia excepted, had promised to revoke the exceptional laws; to impose on the army an oath of fidelity to the constitution; to declare the political equality of all creeds; the responsibility of the ministers of the crown; the independence of the judges; the abolition of the remnants of feudalism. But little opposition was offered by the rulers. In Bavaria, indeed, there were tumults; but the abdication of King Louis (March 20) promptly put an end to these. Meanwhile, in Frankfort, the population of which, like the populations of all the great cities in Germany, was wild with enthusiasm and excitement, the Diet had passed a resolution (March 3) empowering every federal State to abolish the censorship, and, under certain guarantees, to sanction the freedom of the press. On the 10th, noting the continued swelling of the storm, it despatched to the rulers of Germany an invitation to send to Frankfort commissaries to discuss the reorganisation of the country. This invitation was its own death-warrant. In the tumult of the national aspirations it passed from the minds of men, and apparently expired. For nearly three years, from July 1848 to May 1851, it ceased to meet. But for Austria, fresh from her triumph over the internal foes of her unpopular sway, the Diet would never have been heard of again. But we shall presently see how, in May 1851, the powerful representative of the ambitious policy of that power needing the semblance of a national sanction to the schemes he was planning, summoned it from its tomb, and used its phantom form to impress the will of Austria on the Fatherland. How it existed for fifteen years, and then, under the treatment of Count Bismarck, went the way of other shams, will be told in due course.
In considering the course of events which in Germany followed the explosion of 1848 it must be borne in mind that during the first eighteen months Austria was too much occupied with her own affairs to take a decisive part in the settlement of German questions, and that it was not to her but to Prussia that the patriots of the Fatherland looked for the action which should make Germany a nation. It will then be only necessary to state that no country in Europe was apparently so completely shattered by the storm of the revolution as was the composite empire ruled over by the Habsburgs. For some time it seemed absolutely impossible that she could escape shipwreck. What with risings in Lombardy, at Venice, in Bohemia, in Hungary, in her own capital, Austria had the appearance of a gallant ship cast upon a lee shore combating with the breakers. The time came indeed when she righted herself, and made for a few years a show as proud and as defiant as that which she had presented before February 1848. But for the moment she seemed a wreck, and all eyes and all hearts turned with hope and expectation to Prussia and her king.
It seems advisable, under these circumstances, before we enter upon a sketch of the troubles at Berlin and at Frankfort, with their gradual subsidence in favour of a policy which, if responded to, might have anticipated by twenty years the great event at Versailles of January 1871, to examine very briefly the character of the sovereign who then ruled in Prussia.
Frederic William IV., King of Prussia, was in his fifty-fourth year when Paris dismissed the King of the French and his family. Though he had served as a youth in the stirring campaigns of 1811-14-15, he had none of the instincts of the soldier. The term ‘dreamer’ describes accurately what he was. He had unbounded confidence in, almost a worship for the Czar Nicholas, a dread of offending Austria, a reverence for royalty and for ruling princes, such as placed them on a pedestal not to be approached by the common people. A sentimentalist, irresolute, enthusiastic, and indolent, he wished the happiness of his subjects provided they would leave himself and his nobles in the enjoyment of the power and privileges he and they had inherited. He was ever ready with soft cajoling words, but he would not give them, if he could avoid it, any of the political food for which they clamoured. He was ready to promise without intending to perform. If he had ruled in France in the place of Louis XVI. he would have displayed no more firmness than did that ill-fated monarch. But there was this difference in the positions of the two men. In France, in 1789-90, the army sided with the people. In Prussia, in 1848, the soldiers were loyal to the sovereign.
Popular aspirations and popular enthusiasm had, early in March 1848, found a very strong expression in Berlin. With the cry for constitutional freedom in its broadest sense was joined the demand for the reorganisation of Germany on the principle of unity. The King was not disposed to grant any but the very slightest concession. On the 5th of March he attempted to disarm the leaders of the movement by telling them that their proposals would be considered by the Prussian Diet, the periodical meeting of which had been assured. Three days later the public were informed that the revision of the press laws was under consideration; but these paltry and halfhearted concessions rather irritated than satisfied the people. For the six days that followed Berlin was paraded by an angry mob, which seemed inclined even to court a contest with the soldiery. On the 14th the King, who had been apparently delaying action until he should ascertain the results of the movements in other large centres, especially in Vienna, driven by the attitude of the people to do something, made another feeble attempt to calm men’s minds. He issued a proclamation summoning the parliament to meet on the 27th of April, and promising that the question of unity should be considered at Dresden by a congress of princes. This ill-judged announcement drove the Berliners to fever heat, and for three days the city was a prey to continual tumult. The mind of the King was not relieved when, on the evening of the 15th, he received news of the untoward result of the outbreak at Vienna. Still he resisted; nor did a deputation from Cologne, warning him in threatening tones of the attitude of the people of the Rhine provinces, nor another from Berlin itself, urging him to comply with the popular wishes, move him to action. After a sleepless night on the 17th-18th he gave way. At midday of the 18th he issued an edict granting freedom of the press, summoning the united Prussian parliament for the 2d of April, and promising to aid with all his influence the meeting of a parliament for all Germany, to work out in the most practical manner the regeneration of the Fatherland. This manifesto seemed for the moment to satisfy the people. They crowded in groups round the palace, desirous to express their complete satisfaction. Then ensued one of those catastrophes which in times of revolution are brought about no one knows how. The scene was one full of excitement; there were groups round the palace, the King vainly striving to address and to make himself heard by the masses in the front rank. The position bore some analogy to that of the 20th of June 1791 in Paris. Behind the front ranks the people continued to press on until the pressure became intolerable; then to relieve it there was issued an order to disperse. The untrained elements which compose a crowd never disperse easily; there can seldom be that unity of thought and action which is the only insurance against disorder. On this occasion the crowd did not readily disentangle itself. The soldiers who had heard the order noticed that it was not obeyed, and two of them discharged their muskets. In the panic which ensued the cavalry and infantry charged the people and dispersed them. But the anger of the people had been roused, blood had been shed, bands of men from all parts of the city collected to continue the combat, and during the night to erect barricades. There was every prospect of a terrible battle on the 19th, when on the early morning of that day the King, who had been greatly distressed at the occurrences, yielded to the advice pressed upon him and issued an order to withdraw the troops into the palace. The order was understood by those by whom it was received to mean withdrawal from the city, and this was done, the palace being left unprotected. The people now stood in the position of victors; they used their victory far more generously than did the Paris mob on the occasion I have referred to. Desirous only that the King should witness the effect of the precipitate action of his soldiers, they had the bodies of the slain brought into the courtyard of the palace and their wounds laid bare. The King descended from the balcony and stood with uncovered head in the presence of the victims. His manner, sympathetic yet dignified, produced a deep effect. The same day he issued a political amnesty, to be extended to all-classes, granted permission to carry arms, dismissed his reactionary ministry, and formed one from the ranks of the liberals. The people, on their side, attributed none of the mischance to their King. It was his brother, afterwards the Emperor William I., to whom they, assigned the rôle of adviser against their interests, and that prince, conscious of his unpopularity, seized the opportunity to depart for London.
On the 21st took place the formal reconciliation between the King and the Berliners. The former, wearing the tricolour emblematic of German unity, rode, the head of a procession, through the streets, saluted by the crowd as Emperor of Germany, and talking platitudes regarding the duties imposed on all by a common danger. To him, an utter contemner of the authority of the people, the shouts which greeted him as Emperor were most distasteful. He endeavoured by signs to signify his disapproval, and declared repeatedly that he would not despoil the other princes of the Fatherland. However, on his return he published a manifesto in which, whilst declaring himself ready to assume the leadership in the hour of peril, and announcing that thenceforth Prussia was merged in Germany, he told the people that the country could only be saved by the most intimate union of German princes and peoples under a single headship. But at this time neither his words nor his acts gave a true indication of his inner convictions. Talking confidentially to a deputy at a later period of his conduct on this very day, March 21, he described his famous ride through the city and its accompaniments as ‘a comedy he had been made to play.’
Though internal peace was restored, and the victory of the party of progress seemed assured, the King’s position was still surrounded by difficulties. The principality of Neuchatel in Switzerland, which had come into the hands of the King of Prussia as heir to the House of Orange, seized the opportunity of the general convulsion to sever itself from its liege lord. The Prussian Poles, to whose demands for a national reorganisation the King had listened, were pressing their claims. At this moment of perplexity a request from the people of Schleswig-Holstein for assistance against the Danes came to him as a positive relief
The subject may be treated very briefly. On the 21st of March a deputation of Schleswig-Holsteiners had proceeded to Copenhagen to make demands affecting their national life, to which, as Germans, they were entitled. These were, the admission of Schleswig into the German Bund, a common constitution for Schleswig-Holstein, the freedom of the press, and the dismissal of their obnoxious Statthalter. The King of Denmark refused these demands, whereupon the duchies consummated (March 24) a bloodless revolution, dismissed their Statthalter, nominated in his stead a governing commission of five persons, summoned a common parliament, and appealed to Berlin for support in the struggle which they knew to be inevitable.
Frederic William IV. responded gladly to the appeal, and ordered Prussian troops to enter the duchies. These arrived just in time to prevent the collapse of the revolutionary movement. They proceeded to occupy the duchies, the Danes retaliating by employing their ships of war against the mercantile marine of Germany. Thus matters continued till the 26th of August, when Prussia and Denmark,—the latter refusing to admit to the deliberations the representatives of the National Assembly of Frankfort—signed an armistice for seven months.
It is time that I should advert to the proceedings at Frankfort, the outcome of the combined thought and action of the intellect of Germany. To those thinkers it had long been clear that the victorious issue of the struggle with Napoleon had not produced the results which had been hoped for. Napoleon had enslaved a great part of Germany because the Germans were disunited. After their release they remained almost as disunited as before. The yoke of Napoleon had been exchanged for the yoke of Metternich. Never had the freedom of thought and the freedom of the pen been more repressed than in the period from 1815 to 1848. But now a chance had occurred: the chance of recovering all and more than all Germany had been hoping and secretly struggling for during the past thirty-three years. Instantly there was a movement. Communications passed from hand to hand, from centre to centre. Finally it was resolved that some 500 men, who had for the most part taken a share in the discussions of the day, should meet at Frankfort, the central point between north and south, the seat of the Diet, and make there preparations for the assembling of a national parliament representative of the entire Fatherland. The 500 met, sat five days, framed resolutions for the election of members of the new parliament, and then began to quarrel. In a time of revolution there is always a party of extremists, and they were not wanting in the ante-parliament, as the assembly of the 500 was called. But they formed the minority, and after having been worsted in argument, and having risen in insurrection in Baden, they were defeated, and deported to America.
Meanwhile the elections had taken place, and on the 18th of May the national constitutional assembly was opened. The main object of its members was to frame a constitution which should ensure the unity of Germany. Recalling the circumstances of the times, the state of chaos existing everywhere, the energies, often badly directed, which had been aroused, the terror of the princes, and the madness of the people, we can see that their task was almost impossible of accomplishment. Some hundreds of excellent gentlemen, all enthusiasts, many of them deep thinkers, all eager for the unity of the Fatherland, had met in solemn conclave to devise a scheme which, without the support of an army, they would enforce on States till then disunited and independent. Their best chance of success lay in the rapidity with which the scheme should be formulated and adopted. Failing that, they could hope for success only by enlisting in favour of their constitution one of the two great German powers, Austria or Prussia. But instead of acting with the celerity absolutely necessary to success, the philosophers and fanatics of the National Assembly threw away valuable time in searching for first principles, in debating theoretical objections, and in debating the Schleswig-Holstein question. The result was that by the time their constitution was ready Austria had reasserted her influence, and the enthusiasm of the peoples had in great part evaporated.
It is not necessary here to examine minutely the several phases through which the National Assembly of Frankfort passed in 1848-9. Meeting on May 18th, it was not until the 28th of June that it had defined its powers for dealing with foreign affairs. On the day following it nominated the Archduke John of Austria to be regent of the empire, the holder, until a permanent chief should be appointed, of the executive power. An order assuring to itself indirectly supreme power, issued by the Assembly on this occasion, and directed to be read to the troops garrisoned all over Germany, gave rise on the part of the rulers of different parts of the country to expressions of opinion which should have warned the makers of the constitution to hurry on. Frederic William of Prussia was especially indignant, and although a meeting with the Archduke John at Cologne stilled his animosity, he could not refrain from telling a deputation of the Assembly which waited upon him that it was as well they should not forget that ‘in Germany there were princes, and he was one of them.’
Still the Assembly did not expedite the framing of the constitution. Early in June the consideration of the Schleswig-Holstein question had diverted it from the one path it should have followed, and served only to demonstrate its impotence. To the severance of its various parties, to the insurrectionary risings in Baden and their repression (September 24), it is not necessary to refer except to note the time diverted thereby from the main and pressing object. Nor is it desirable to do more than indicate the embroilment with Austria caused by the proposition of that power that the entrance of the Austrian empire into any scheme of union would mean the entrance of the whole empire, with its nearly 40,000,000 of inhabitants, the majority non-German. It must suffice to state that it was not until March 27, 1849, that the Assembly resolved by 267 votes against 263 to make the dignity of the future German Emperor hereditary; not till the 28th, that the constitution was read a second time, and that Frederic William IV. of Prussia was elected Emperor, 290 members voting for him, 248 abstaining.
Before we consider the reply made by Frederic William to the offer it is advisable to take a glance alike at the turn affairs had been taking in Prussia and to the position of Austria. We left Frederic William momentarily relieved from his internal troubles by the outbreak of war with Denmark, a valve, he thought, for the superabundant energies of the liberals. Shortly afterwards, May 22d, the constituent assembly met. It was composed of very mediocre men, the best heads in northern Germany having preferred seats in the Frankfort Assembly. It effected very little. For a time it could with difficulty repress the street riots which continued at intervals to rage. It rejected the constitution scheme put before it by the government as not sufficiently democratic. Thereupon the cabinet resigned (June 15), and ten days later a new ministry was constituted which styled itself a ‘ministry of action.’ At first it seemed to justify its title, but soon new complications arose which defied its capacity to unravel. At length the unlicensed demagogy of the streets paved the way by its excesses to a reaction. Gradually the party of order recovered courage, the army was staunch, and when, after many trials, the King had found the assembly impracticable, he suddenly appointed Count Brandenburg minister, prorogued the assembly (November 8), and ordered that it should meet at Brandenburg. Meanwhile troops were concentrated round the capital, and a state of siege was proclaimed On December 5th, finding the assembly still bent on obstruction, the King dissolved it, published a new constitution, and summoned a new parliament, composed of two chambers, to meet on February 26th.
Such was the situation of Prussia during the later months of 1848 and the earlier days of 1849. The King meanwhile was watching with mingled feelings the action tending to the unity of Germany under the presidency of Prussia at Frankfort. Whether he should accept or refuse the offer which he felt sure would be made him was a question he debated long and seriously with himself It can scarcely be doubted that in the earlier period of the consideration he was inclined to acceptance. This is evident from the fact that even at the last moment, when the imperial crown was actually offered, those about him believed that he would take it. But not only were his prejudices very strong, not only did he abhor the idea of accepting from inferiors that which he would have hailed if offered by men of his own caste, but the long delays of the Frankfort assembly, the indications of its waning authority, and, above all, the rapid revival of Austria, and the dictatorial tone she was assuming, set before his eyes every day more clearly the great difficulties to himself an acceptance would involve. But he wavered long. The smaller States of Germany had given evidence that the Frankfort plan would be acceptable to them. The King himself (Frederic William), in a circular note he addressed to the powers, seemed to favour it. But before the offer actually was made the action of Austria, under the guidance of Felix Schwarzenberg, came not only to increase the difficulties of the situation but to efface as far as was possible all the records of the revolution.
From that revolution Austria had suffered more than all the other German powers together. She had lost for the moment Italy and Hungary. Her capital, Vienna, was more than once in the hands of the revolutionary party. But she had recovered with a celerity which astonished Europe. The victory of Novara (March 23, 1849), followed by the peace of Milan (August 6), restored to her her Italian possessions. The energy of Prince Windischgrätz had put down revolution in Prague and Vienna. From September 1848 to August 1849 she was engaged in a severe struggle with Hungary, to emerge from it, with the aid of Russia, given without stint, absolutely victorious. On the 2d of December 1848 the feeble Emperor Ferdinand had abdicated in favour of a nephew in the prime of early youth—he was but just nineteen—at Olmütz in Moravia. With the new Emperor, Francis Joseph, or rather preceding him by a few days (November 22), came the famous minister who for a short time was to impose his will upon Germany, Prince Felix Schwarzenberg.
The recovery of Italy, and the suppression of the national rising in Hungary, by invoking the aid of Russia, were the work of Felix Schwarzenberg. He assumed at once the high tone which would have befitted the ruler of a recuperated empire. His one aim for the moment was to abolish all disunion within his own empire, to restore to Austria in Germany the preponderance she had exercised between 1815 and 1848, if possible to augment it. He set to work in a manner which quickly assured temporary union within, and certain preponderance without, the borders of his country. Had he lived and retained his position there is no saying how far he might have rendered permanent the advantages he had gained, but he died (April 5, 1852) too early for his purpose. It is necessary to examine here how far his action affected the cause of German unity as that cause was progressing in 1849.
When, in the early days of 1849, the majority of the National Assembly at Frankfort had made it abundantly clear that they contemplated the union of Germany as a federated State under the leadership of Prussia, to be followed by a union with Austria, Schwarzenberg protested in the most positive manner against the subordination of the Kaiser to a supreme power centred in any other German prince (February 1849). On the 5th of April following, for reasons presently to be mentioned, he recalled all the Austrian deputies from Frankfort. Meanwhile, in March, he had dissolved at Olmütz the parliament which, during the prevalence of the revolutionary fever, had been summoned to meet at Kremsier, a town in Moravia, and the seat during the troubles in Vienna of the government; had set aside the constitution it had drafted; and had published an edict, known as the edict of Olmütz, which professed to bestow upon die entire Austrian empire a uniform and centralised constitution. This constitution, under the pretence of securing equal rights for all the subjects of the Kaiser, really established absolute government throughout his dominions, some of them still in a state of rebellion. It contained, indeed, clauses granting provincial institutions to the German and Slav districts, but the powers of these were practically extremely limited.
The action of Austria towards the National Assembly in protesting against the subordination of the Kaiser to a central power vested in any other German prince had been indirectly supported by the four lesser kingdoms—Saxony, Bavaria, Würtemberg, and Hanover; for these had with one voice protested against any federation in which Austria was not included. Now, the Austria of Schwarzenberg would be included only on her own terms. She could make or mar. She could either, that is to say, impose terms, which, if accepted, would assure her a predominance in Germany, or she would restore the old Diet in which, for thirty-three years, her preponderance had been unquestioned. In the same note then in which he protested against the subordination of Austria Schwarzenberg proposed the entry into the Germanic federation of the entire Austrian empire, including all its foreign elements. This announcement, followed a month later by the edict of Olmütz, which merged into one mass the different nationalities which recognised the Kaiser, excited the greatest commotion at Frankfort, and hastened the action of the supporters of German unity under a Prussian king. It led directly to that election of the King of Prussia to the headship of the Fatherland (March 28) of which I have written in a preceding page.
It must always be borne in mind, when considering the action of the King of Prussia with respect to the offer of the headship of federated Germany, that he was thoroughly cognisant of the policy of Austria, and knew well that acceptance on his part would almost certainly mean war. Now he was not prepared for war. The army of Prussia was not in a condition to enter upon a campaign with a first-class power. Neither could the King count upon the support of the Czar. Indeed a little later, he had to learn that the sympathies of that powerful sovereign were entirely with Austria. He had besides, and had always had, a reverence for Austria. And although, in the early part of 1849, Austria had not retrieved her affairs in Italy, and her armies were still engaged in Hungary, yet no one doubted her speedy success in both quarters. That success achieved, she would have at her disposal troops seasoned by warfare, and probably rendered enthusiastic by victory. But what weighed most of all, probably, with Frederic William was the fact that if he were to accept the offer he would accept it from an assembly founded by a revolution, and he would have thus to assert his rights, as champion of the revolution, against the supporters of the divine right in which he implicitly believed.
Still the temptation to him was great; and when, on the evening of the 2d of April, the members deputed by the Frankfort assembly to offer the crown to the King arrived at Berlin, the minister, Count Brandenburg, received them with such cordiality that the impression was general that Frederic William had been won over. But the events of the following morning dispelled the impression. Whatever may have passed through his mind during the night, the dawn of day found Frederic William true to the traditions in which he had been nursed. He would not, he told the deputation, accept the proffered crown unless he were summoned to take it by the princes of Germany, and unless, also, the constitution should be approved by the same princes. The answer amounted to an absolute refusal: as such it was intended: as such it was sorrowfully accepted.
The answer was indeed much more than a refusal. It was the deathblow to the Frankfort Assembly: to that assembly of German patriots who had made a genuine and strenuous effort to heal the many wounds of the Fatherland, to remove all causes of discord, to anticipate, in a word, the work of 1866-71. For the answer of the King of Prussia was not only a rejection of the crown, it was virtually a rejection of the constitution, the result of so many debates and so many compromises. That part of his reply referring to the constitution supplied a keynote for all Germany, for Austria in particular. It was that reference which brought from Prince Schwarzenberg the order of the 5th of April to the Austrian deputies of the National Assembly, to which I have alluded, to quit Frankfort. The ground he took was that the Assembly had been guilty of illegality in publishing the constitution. It became clear that Bavaria and Würtemberg would act with Austria, and that neither Saxony nor Hanover would side with the Assembly. Frederic William followed up his refusal by dismissing his recently summoned parliament for passing a resolution in favour of the Frankfort constitution. This was a blow the significance of which could scarcely be overrated. When, in reply, the Frankfort Assembly addressed a note to all the disapproving Governments, demanding that they should abstain from dismissing or proroguing the representative bodies within their dominions, in order thus to stifle the free utterance of opinions in favour of the constitution they had drawn up, the official press of Prussia denounced that Assembly as a revolutionary body.
Thus denounced, the Assembly, the basis of moral power on which it had depended cut from beneath it, abandoned on all sides, had no choice but to succumb. Some of the most violent of the democratic spirits arranged a popular rising at Dresden (May 4). But five days later Prussian troops restored order in the Saxon capital. In Baden, despite the fact that the Grand Duke had accepted the constitution, and had issued summonses of election for the federal legislative body by which the Assembly was to be succeeded, insurrection broke out, the republic was proclaimed, the troops joined the insurgents, and revolutionists from beyond the borders poured in to assist them. The situation was a test situation for the Frankfort Assembly. Could it or could it not repress disorders the consequence of its own failure to ensure unity? It at least made the attempt. It called upon the regent of the empire it had appointed, the Archduke John, to put down the revolution in Baden, and to protect the expression of free opinion regarding the constitution where that expression was threatened. The Archduke refused, and on the consequent resignation of his minister Von Gagern, he placed a set of nobodies in office. Prussia then, anxious to finish with the Assembly, declared that it regarded the resolution passed by it on the 10th of May, calling upon the Archduke to employ all the forces of Germany in defence of the constitution as a summons to civil war, and ordered all the Prussian deputies to quit Frankfort. Saxony and Hanover followed her example, and a few days later. May 20th, sixty-five of the most respected of the deputies declared their conviction that under the actual circumstances the relinquishment of its task by the Assembly was the least of evils, and that their work must be regarded as ended. Their example was gradually followed by all but the extreme radicals. These withdrew first to Stuttgart (June 6). But their vagaries at that quiet capital roused against them the popular opinion, and on the 18th they were driven out and dispersed. The Baden revolutionists, to whom I have previously referred, made a longer stand, and a campaign of six weeks was necessary before the Prince of Prussia was able, after some reverses, to crush them.
Such was the end of the great attempt made in 1848-9 to secure the federal union of Germany. It was a bold, a generous, a patriotic attempt. Resting solely on moral force, it could only succeed by enlisting on its behalf one of the two great powers which influenced respectively the country north of the Main and the territories south of that river. Had the King of Prussia been other than he was, had his nature partaken of the adventurous, and his will been strong and resolute, had, moreover, the Assembly been more intent on quickly forming its constitution than on fruitlessly debating the Schleswig-Holstein question; in a word, had it made to the King in the autumn of 1848 the offer it submitted to him in April 1849, it is just possible that the scheme might have been accepted. But the delay gave time to Austria, and the opposition of Austria was fatal. The King of Prussia could not have accepted the offer of April 1849 without having to meet Austria in the field. That was a contingency which—it will be seen later on—with an unprepared army, he dared not face.
The failure of the Frankfort Assembly left Austria and Prussia practically face to face. The views of Frederic William and Prince Felix Schwarzenberg were essentially opposed. The former still desired, in the perfunctory manner habitual to him, to bring about some kind of German union, with Prussia at the head. The latter was determined to restore the state of affairs which had existed prior to March 1848. He would resuscitate the Bund with its Diet ensuring the preponderance of Austria. It is advisable to devote a very short space to the discussion of the methods they severally pursued, and note the results which followed therefrom. The story is another illustration of the maxim that, in politics as in war, the boldest player almost invariably chains victory to his car.
The secret hopes of Frederic William IV. of Prussia to obtain, not from the Frankfort Assembly, now through his action dying or dead, but from the princes of northern and central Germany, a position which should more than counterbalance the influence of Austria, had been inducing him, in the earlier months of 1849, to set on foot secret negotiations to bring about that end. When, on the 3d of April, he had refused the proffered crown, he had announced his determination to place himself at the head of a federation of States voluntarily uniting themselves to Prussia, under terms to be arranged; and, very soon afterwards, he had addressed to the several governments of Germany a circular, inviting such of them as might be disposed to attend a conference to be held at Berlin on the 17th of May. In the interval his government, by its reply to the resolution of the Frankfort Assembly of the 10th of May, had dealt to that Assembly the blow from which it never rallied. To transfer to himself, then, any moral power which up to that date might have been wielded by the Assembly as the promoter of German unity, and to calm the minds of the liberals at Breslau, Elberfeld, Dusseldorf, and other centres, the King, on the 15th, issued a proclamation to the Prussian people, declaring that despite the failure at Frankfort a German union was still to be formed. From the conference that he summoned, the smaller States, which had given in their adhesion to the Frankfort constitution, at first held aloof, though subsequently twenty-eight of them sent in their adherence. To gauge its real object, Austria sent a representative, but he retired at the close of the first sitting. The Bavarian agent followed his example. There remained, then, besides Prussia, the representatives of Hanover and Saxony. These three, proceeding to work, formed the confederation of the 26th of May, known as the ‘League of the Three Kingdoms,’ and which had for its object the formation of a federal union for all the States of Germany willingly adhering thereto. An undertaking was given that a federal parliament should be summoned for this purpose. Meanwhile Frederic William despatched troops to put down the disturbances which, as previously noted, had broken out in Saxony and Baden, a military operation which, in the case of the latter, occupied six weeks. The League of the Three Kingdoms gradually attracted to itself the smaller powers of Germany, but Austria, Bavaria, and Würtemberg would have nothing further to say to it. With Austria all that could be accomplished was to renew the agreement of the 30th of September previously, which provided that, until the permanent settlement of the affairs of Germany should be accomplished, a joint commission should carry on the administration of the Bund. But, as the internal affairs of the Austrian empire righted themselves, the opposition of Prince Schwarzenberg to the action taken by the King of Prussia became more strongly defined. The victory of Novara (March 23) had restored to Austria Northern Italy; the surrender of Vilagos (August 13) gave her back Hungary. Thenceforward Schwarzenberg could reckon upon an army proved in war to support his policy. Accordingly he began to work with a purpose which there was no mistaking. He first succeeded in detaching Saxony and Hanover from the Prussian league. Prussia, nevertheless, though followed only by the twenty-eight minor States of Germany, pursued her plan, and held at Erfurt (March 20, 1850) a federal parliament for the consideration of a new system of federal union. A draft of a constitution, drawn up in Berlin, was submitted to it. But hardly had it been read when the insincerity of the King of Prussia became manifest. In the interval between June 1849 and March 1850 a great reaction had taken place in Prussia. The King had reconquered the power he had lost in March 1848, and he was entirely disposed to retract all the concessions he had made at the period when, to use his own words, he had been ‘acting a comedy.’ The very federal constitution he had had drawn up at Berlin whilst his fears held the ascendency had now become too liberal; and, although the parliament he had summoned to Erfurt would have voted it en bloc, his supporters demanded that it should be revised. This proceeding excited the scorn and contempt of all the right-minded liberals of Germany. It was plain to them that Frederic William IV. of Prussia was a shuffler, whose word was not to be trusted, and from whom no scheme for the real union of Germany was to be expected.
Meanwhile Austria, her hands now completely free, had been slowly working for the attainment of her aim, the restoration of the Bund of 1815 to the position it had lost in 1848. The vacillations and want of faith of Frederic William greatly helped her. Already there sat in Frankfort thirteen representatives of States composing the Bund as an extraordinary Diet with full powers. This Diet was ready to act as Prince Schwarzenberg might desire. It possessed the fullest authority, for, legally, it was the Bund, the representative of all Germany. A circumstance very soon arose which gave Schwarzenburg the opportunity of exercising its powers with decisive effect against Prussia.
Frederic William I., Elector of Hesse-Cassel, born in 1802, had become, September 30, 1831, by the virtual abdication of his father, ruler of the electorate when still in his twenty-ninth year. A despot at heart, the young prince had begun by administering the electorate under constitutional forms which he was always endeavouring to evade. The death of his father, November 20, 1847, made him ruler in name as well as in fact. Not foreseeing the coming storm, he then made an attempt to suppress the constitution, which he detested, but when the crisis came his army failed him, and he was baffled. Close upon that rebuff broke out the revolution of February 1848, and the popular enthusiasm it caused made itself felt in every town and district of the electorate. The Elector bowed before the storm, and, deserted on the night of the 5th of March by his unpopular minister, Scheffer, promised the reforms immediately asked for (March 7). Pressed still further, he gave way on all points, formed a new ministry composed of liberals, and summoned the estates for the 13th of March. They met on that date, and passed laws which removed grievances long passively endured. A new era of happiness seemed to dawn for the people of Hesse-Cassel. They sent deputies to the Frankfort Assembly, and on its dissolution the electorate adhered to the league formed by Prussia and known as the League of the Three Kings. A fresh parliament, elected in July 1849, endorsed this policy.
But by this time it had, become clear to the rulers, who had divested themselves of absolutism, that the enthusiasm of March 1848 had waned considerably, and that the zeal for reform was abating. We have already noticed how this consideration affected the action of Frederic William IV. of Prussia. It acted similarly on the mind of the Elector of Hesse-Cassel. This prince, who had been waiting his opportunity, resolved now to strike a blow for the recovery of his lost authority. To attain this end he entered into secret negotiations with Austria; dismissed, February 22, 1850, his liberal, ministry, when he found the change he suggested unacceptable to his parliament; dissolved the latter without warning (June 12); and despatched his unpopular minister, Hassenpflug, to represent Hesse-Cassel at the Diet then sitting at Frankfort. He then proceeded to undo all that had been accomplished in the way of liberal reform in the period between March 1848 and the actual date, and he persisted in this course despite the refusal of his troops to coerce the people, and the opposition of the constituted authorities within the electorate.
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