Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 17.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch No. 27.

The subject of despatch No. 28 has been alluded to in mine of this day’s date (No. 16,) which goes by this post.

A few general observations upon the condition of this part of the world may be useful.

There is tranquillity in this empire, while in many directions, and in its immediate neighborhood, are indications of approaching storm.

Here the sincere, and thus far prosperous, effort to convert the despotic empire of Austria into a constitutional monarchy continues. The Parliament, or Reichs-Rath, adjourned on the 5th of December, after a session of twenty months, in which much useful and practical legislation was accomplished.

Not the least successful of the measures then adopted was one of the later ones, the bank act, by which the charter of the present bank was renewed on certain conditions, which it was, for some time, thought that the bank would not be induced to accept. The principal of these conditions regarded the permanent loan of eighty millions, made by the bank to the state. The finance minister, in his original project, required this loan without interest. The bank demanded two per cent. per annum. The lower house sustained the minister’s project, the house of peers modified it. There was a committee of conference, the result of which, so far as regarded this point, was, that the state agreed to pay as much interest as should be necessary towards making the annual dividends of the bank seven per cent., with the stipulation, however, that the amount thus contributed should not exceed the sum of one million.

Very soon after the passage of this act the Reichsrath was prorogued by the Emperor. I regret that I was prevented by illness from witnessing this event, which took place with considerable ceremony in the great hall of the palace. It is worthy of remark, that the Parliament waits upon the sovereign in his castle to get itself prorogued, instead of receiving the monarch in its own halls. This, however, would at present be an impossibility. The lower house sits in a temporary wooden building, outside the gate, called the Scotch don, while the peers occupy a building within the town, at a considerable distance from the commons.

The bank act was, after a brief discussion, accepted by the directors and stockholders of the institution, the first consequence of which was a rapid fall in the premium of gold, (to use the incorrect but universally adopted phraseology of the money market.)

Ten pounds sterling, which on January 1, 1862, were worth 141 florins, were equal on January 1, 1863, to but 115. They even fell subsequently as low as 112; but at the present moment the exchange is almost where it was at the beginning of the year. The funds have improved between the first and last days of the year as follows:

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5 per cent. national, from 81 30/100 to 81 90/100, or scarcely at all.

5 per cent. metalliques, from 66 35/100 to 76 50/100

Bank shares, from 749 to 809.

The provincial diets, or landtage, (having a certain analogy to our State legislatures,) are now in session. One of their principal functions is to choose members to the lower house of the national Reichsrath. The seventeen diets “on this side of the Leitha” are now in full operation. But Hungary, Transylvania, and Croatia maintain their attitude of quiet defiance. There is no meeting of the diets of those provinces, and they will send no representatives at present to the Reichsrath.

Meanwhile great complaints are heard from those districts of highway robbery on an extensive scale, by which the inhabitants are suffering much loss and general inconvenience. The imperial taxes are now collected, however, without the necessity of military force, and the government cherishes hopes that the passive resistance will, in due time, come to the same end which active opposition to central authority seems to have reached.

The late revolution in Greece, of which the quiet exclusion of King Otho was the singular catastrophe, has left that country, according to the accounts which reach us here, in a very unsettled and anomalous condition. Correspondents from Athens describe the outlying districts as entirely given over to brigands, who exercise an organized system of plunder, ransom, and blackmail; and even in the capital itself, if the same authorities may be relied upon, the highway robbers give the law, in broad daylight, to the passengers in public places, robbing and ransoming at their pleasure.

I am far from giving you this account as implicitly to be relied upon. The dethronement of a sovereign so nearly allied to this imperial house as King Otho has, of necessity, inspired great indignation here against his late subjects, and the accounts concerning the country are doubtless darkly colored. In the apparent impossibility of finding any prince willing to accept the throne, there seems a chance that the republican form of government may be adopted, and that, according to the views prevalent in Europe, would be the most fitting and most severe punishment for their sins which could be inflicted on the Greeks. It must be confessed that with its geographical position, overshadowed by the great monarchies of Russia, Austria, and Turkey, a small confederation of Greece and the Ionian islands, under the protection of England, would be the merest shadow of a republic. All the virtues which it might display would be attributed to its powerful protection; all its vices would be ascribed to the inherent evil of the republican form.

The last current reports are, that the Duke of Saxe Coburg has agreed to accept the crown, under certain conditions. There is yet no confirmation of the rumors. On the other hand, there is a rumor, which has gained credence, that Russia, foiled in the candidacy of the Duke of Leuchtenberg for the Greek throne, is disposed to put him in the place of Prince Conza. So far as I can learn, this is one of the many fictions of journalism.

The Oriental question, however, is rapidly assuming its old prominence in the affairs of the world. The maintenance of the integrity of the Turkish empire is considered by England as vital to the perpetuity of its own empire. Russia, by the results of the Crimean war, and by that vast, noble, but somewhat perilous and exhausting measure, the emancipation of its serfs, has been supposed to be no longer so dangerous.

Nevertheless, there is great commotion in the Danubian principalities. The transportation of arms into Servia, with many movements throughout those semi-Turkish, semi-independent countries, seems, to European politicians, to reveal the hidden but ever-suspected presence of the subtle and restless Russian diplomacy, and it is believed that Servia is to be made the [Page 999] arsenal out of which an armed attack is to be made, under Russian guidance, by the Slavonic populations of Turkey against the Porte. I do not under take to give you these matters as facts, but as current suspicions, rumors, hopes, and fears. * * * * * * *

The natural, or at least historical, antagonism between Austria and Prussia is at this moment more pronounced than ever. The northern kingdom, under the guidance of the new minister-president, Baron Bismark Schonhausen, seems tending either to absolutism or to civil commotion, while this empire, with its present constitutional aspirations and sentiments, is placing itself foremost among the liberal powers of the continent. Thus the old dualism between the kingdom and the empire still remains, with a change of features in the two antagonists.

The present prime minister of Prussia has great talent, energy, and courage, and a strong will. He is a legitimate, and as such, no lover of parliamentary government. With the exaggerations common to all journalism, he is depicted by hostile pens as desirous of swallowing up or “mediatizing “many of the lesser powers of Germany to the advancement of Prussia, whose body is supposed too slender for the great suit of armor which its military frontier in Europe obliges it to wear. Prussia is opposed to strengthening the powers of the federal union, as the late vote and debates in the Frankfort diet have proved, and is in favor of what is called “Lesser Germany,” a group of states all to be united together by the customs union and the Prussian-French commercial treaty. A league of which, with its powerful military organization, it would be the natural chief.

Austria, on the other hand, would prefer a larger generalization of the German idea, and the advanced liberals even speak of a great German Parliament at Frankfort, consisting of representatives chosen by the people of Germany at large, instead of the present diet of envoys plenipotentiary sent by the different governments. * * * *

You may well suppose that with so many topics of nearer moment agitating the public mind, there is less of absorbing interest in our own affairs here than is manifested by the two great western powers. This is fortunate for us. A disposition to meddle with us perpetually, to propound malicious, or ignorant, or mischievous criticisms, suggestions or complaints from high quarters, has never manifested itself here; and although the want of cotton is causing much distress in many provinces of the Austrian empire, no intimation has ever been made by the I. R. government that it is quite time for the American republic to dismember itself definitely, and doom itself, thereby, to a state of perpetual anarchy and civil war for the convenience of the European manufacturers.

I make no comment to-day on the aspect of our military affairs We have received dates to the 8th of January, with confused telegrams, via Cape Race, of four days later. The reports brought by the telegraph are so uniformly and manifestly concocted in a sense unfavorable to our cause, that I have ceased to pay much attention to them, and wait with what patience I may for the letters and journals which arrive several days later by post.

Thus far it appears that General Rosecrans has achieved by his great ability, personal bravery, and the persistent courage of his troops, an important victory in Tennessee, while the last confused accounts from Vicksburg are discouraging. It seems impossible, however, that the government should not put forth all its strength to obtain the mastery of the Mississippi, without which the war can never end, or the integrity of the republic be saved.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.