Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 31.]

Sir: So soon as the news of the proclamation of the empire in Mexico, together with the offer of the imperial crown to the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, reached Vienna, I requested an interview with Count Rechberg.

I saw the minister accordingly on the 11th August. As he was to leave next day for Frankfort to attend the conference at the diet of sovereigns, and as many other members of the diplomatic corps were waiting to see him, the interview was necessarily very brief; I merely begged him to inform me what was authentically known to him in regard to the Mexican affair.

He replied that the intelligence received by the government was hardly in an authentic shape. He said: We do not consider our situation essentially altered. We are not prepared to take action on what may prove to be an ephemeral demonstration. We regard all that is reported concerning the whole affair—so far as relates to his Imperial Highness—as not having occurred; (comme non avenu, was his expression, the conversation being in French.) I asked if he considered it true that a deputation was on the way from Mexico to offer the crown to the archduke. He replied that it [Page 1006] was possible, but that it was very doubtful whether such a deputation would be received.

I asked if it was true that a telegram had been sent by the Emperor Napoleon congratulating the archduke on the news. He said, yes; but that, from the tenor of the telegram, the Emperor Napoleon did not appear to attach much weight to the intelligence.

Under such circumstances, I said it was useless to ask whether any decision had been taken in regard to the offer, as such a question had already been answered in the negative by what he had already said.

He replied, “of course;” and I then took my leave, saying that I only wished to know the exact position of the affair up to the present moment.

I beg to be informed, at your earliest convenience, what language you wish me officially to hold on this very important subject. The recent conquest of Mexico by France seems to me fraught with future woe to our whole continent; but I cannot think it desirable, in the present condition of our own affairs, that we should hasten the evil day by taking any part in that most unhappy adventure.

It is generally supposed that the Archduke Maximilian is desirous of accepting the crown of Mexico, but I am not aware that there are many persons in this empire who regard the project with favor. It certainly is an unpopular one with all classes of society, so far as I have been able to observe.

The language of the press is, in some cases, guarded, but in general decidedly hostile on the subject.

As a specimen of Vienna journalism in this matter, I send you a translation of a portion of an article from a widely circulated journal, Die Presse. The tone, although bold and bitter, is not exceptionably so.

I have the honor, sir, to remain your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.


“The journals of Paris announce to-day that the Emperor and Empress have already sent congratulations by telegraph to the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, on the imperial Mexican dignity which has been offered to him. Well, they may think it a piece of good fortune—and they may have their reasons for it—to obtain possession of a crown in such a way in a country like Mexico. We, however, believe that we are a faithful organ of the opinion of the Austrian people when we say, without concealment, that the acceptance of the crown by the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian would not be looked upon by any of them as a piece of good fortune, but, on the contrary, they would look upon it as an evil destiny. An evil destiny, we say, for it would be nothing else if an Austrian prince should ever seriously think of accepting a crown from the hands of a Napoleon. In the deepest humiliation of Germany by the forcible dominion of Napoleon I, we find nothing similar to this; and shall constitutional Austria bear to-day what absolute Austria was too proud to endure? And what sort of a crown is it? Without any plausible reason, treading under foot those liberties of the people of which they are always speaking, the French soldiers have broken into Mexico, and, after shedding streams of blood, they have occupied the Mexican capital, followed by the curses of a people hitherto proud of its independence. And shall a crown of tears and blood, conquered in this forcible manner, be placed upon the head of a prince of constitutional Austria, perhaps [Page 1007] as an indemnity for the pearl which in 1859 was broken from Austria’s crown, or as a present to keep us unharmed in case of future occurrences of a similar kind? The more we lose ourselves in speculations of this kind, the more impossible, adventurous, unacceptable, and monstrous, this proposed attention of the court of Napoleon to Austria appears to us. Have those who play with the thoughts of wrapping themselves in the purple mantle of an Aztec emperor already reflected on the political consequences which would follow Austria’s acceptance of this imperial crown? Have they painted to themselves the wretched, dependent relation, the vassalage in which Austria—even assuming that there is no thought of compensation at the bottom of the French offer—that it is dictated by the purest unselfishness—will find itself in regard to Napoleonic France by accepting the Mexican crown? Is Archduke Maximilian, in Mexico, to be the counterpart to King George of Greece, with only the difference that before his throne French soldiers would keep watch, as the King’s crown in Athens would be protected by those of England? And even if it should be decided to give the new Emperor of Mexico an Austrian corps as an escort, has the cost of this scheme been already counted? What in the name of Heaven has Austria to do in this Mexican galley? It would be bound and exposed to France on all sides for this present of the Danaides, and particularly in regard to Poland it would be made lame and impotent in its political action; it would afford France a pretext for occupying Mexico, as the Pope affords a pretext for occupying Rome; it will have engaged its honor for specific French speculations, without satisfying a single reasonable interest. We already see the moment when the cabinet of Washington, fortified by the Monroe doctrine, by the alliance of the states of Central and South America, and by the enormous military resources which the end of the civil war will leave at its disposition, shall call upon the French in Mexico to leave a continent on which they have no business and no right to command. Shall Austria, then, make war in company with France upon America to uphold and occupy a problematical throne in Mexico? That would be the height of the adventurous, and Austria would have then no alternative than that of a shameful fiasco or that of a vassalage, which would absorb its best powers for the interests of France. Even if the thought of ruling the old empire of the Aztecs should not be devoid of poetic charm to a romantic character, we believe that the times have gone by when such caprices are sufficient to compromise the policy of great states and to throw them into endless complications. And so we still hope that the answer of Austria to the proposition of the Mexican asamblea, received by way of Paris, will, this time, be a decided negative, and that once for all an end will be put to an intrigue which has no other aim than to shift the ignominy of the Mexican expedition—that attack on an independent people—from the shoulders of France on those of Austria, and to cover the gulf of the dirty speculations of the banker Jecker and his worthy associates in France and Mexico with the brilliant name of an Austrian prince.”