Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 78.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatches, Nos. 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, and 95, of dates August 26, (two,) 29th, September 19, (two,) 24, 26, October 4, (two,) respectively, and a circular of date September 12.

I thank you very earnestly for the full and authentic intelligence they convey as to political and military events, the general character of which is certainly most encouraging to all those who sincerely love their country and have an abiding faith in the noble destiny of the commonwealth of the United States.

I have nothing especially new to report of European affairs. There has been a lull of considerable duration in the long agitation of the political surface.

The peace between the German powers and Denmark has not yet been signed, but it is thought that no obstacle exists to its signature in the immediate future. The treaty, when concluded, will doubtless be published, and as there is probably nothing in the details of any especial interest to us on the other side of the Atlantic, I have not thought it desirable to call your attention to such portions of them as might become known during the progress of the negotiation. After the scission of the provinces from the Danish monarchy has been consummated, the question of the sovereignty will press very strenuously for its solution, and there will probably be much animated debate before the succession question has been settled by the diet at Frankfort.

I am not in possession of any state secrets, and certainly should never affect in this correspondence to enjoy such an advantage, even supposing it to be an advantage to a representative of the United States government, and supposing that there were really very many profound mysteries in the diplomatic world to be discovered. I have, therefore, always abstained from attempting to cast any horoscope as to European politics, save to give the result of my observations from time to time as to the general question of peace or war in the immediate future, always an important one to us.

At the beginning of the year a war between Denmark and Germany seemed inevitable, as I ventured to state. During its progress it appeared probable, from the menacing language and attitude of other powers, that the local war would expand into a more general one. That fear has since been dispelled, and it is even possible that Denmark may now be more tranquil, deprived of provinces which it. was unable or forbidden to incorporate, than during that period of struggle against an inexorable conclusion which has been terminated by the war and the consequent triumph of the German powers.

The “personal union,” which at a certain stage of the proceedings might probably have been secured by Denmark, would hardly have been more than a very temporary arrangement.

I am not able, therefore, to inform you who is to be the sovereign of the [Page 2] duchies, although I suppose it to be probable that Lauenburg will be annexed to Prussia.

As to the future settlement of the “burning questions” of Europe I pretend to no power of prophecy. I doubt, too, whether there are many European statesmen who would be willing to hazard predictions with confidence. There is logic in events, but the syllogisms can with difficulty be comprehended until they have been fairly propounded by time. Academic dissertations about Prussian ambition and its possible schemes of annexation and mediatization, the chronic dualism between the great kingdom and the great empire of Germany, and their historic rivalry for the hegemony of the great people by which central Europe is mainly occupied, the embodiment of the German state-right principle in the policy pursued by the middle and lesser powers, the remodelling of the maps of Europe, and, in general, the possible future of the world in this century or the next, are interesting and important themes for philosophical and historical speculation, but have surely no place in a diplomatic correspondence, especially in that of a transatlantic power. I shall only say, therefore, that, so far as my observation can reach, no political changes seem very imminent, and the immediate future can be best expressed by negations.

It does not seem to me very probable at present that Schleswig Holstein will be annexed to Prussia, or that the German confederation will be strengthened or weakened or essentially modified in any way, or that France will extend her frontiers, or that the King of Italy will reign at Rome, or that an independent Poland will be reconstructed, or that Venetia will cease to be a part of the Austrian empire. At present it appears that the instinct of the governments, if not of the nations, is for peace, for the husbandry of state resources, and for the development of internal industry.

I have nothing to say of the famous French-Italian convention of September. Two years hence is a long way into the future. It is not probable that this government would look with satisfaction on the downfall of the Pope’s temporal power, even supposing that such an event were a possible result of the treaty. It is very certain that Austria would abstain from any unprovoked attack upon Italy, or upon any power, and I suppose it to be equally certain that she would resist to the utmost any attempt to deprive her of Venice and the Lombard quadrilateral I neither comment nor moralize, but give you objectively what seem to me the actual facts.

Austria is sincerely desirous of peace with all the world. Her financial condition is not very satisfactory at present, and there is a varying, but considerable deficit. The rate of taxation is very high. In Vienna, one-third of the rents of real estate goes to the tax-gatherer, and there is an income tax of seven per centum. The debt is about three thousand millions of florins, including the fund for disencumbering the soil from feudal charges (greindentlastungs Steuer.) Nevertheless, the resources of the empire are very great, and with a long period of peace, and a more thorough development of liberal institutions, there is no reason why the wealth of the empire should not be vastly increased.

The statesmen of Austria are well aware that the least profitable item of national expenditure is war-making. There is a strong party, too, who believe that the old system of exclusive tariffs, and of what it is the fashion in many parts of the world to call protection of native industry—that is to say, taxation of the mass of the consumers of a country for the benefit, not of the national treasury, but of a certain class of producers—is an error, and a very expensive one. But the production of beet-root sugar, of native tobacco, of spirits, wines, and many other articles, which could be purchased far more cheaply, and of better quality, in foreign countries, has been immensely stimulated by protection, and the classes interested are too powerful not to be able to oppose with success any sacrifice of their vested interests.

The new Zollverein, which will be formed on the basis of the recent [Page 3] French-Prussian treaty at the expiration of the original one after next year, will include nearly all the states of Germany, excepting the Austrian empire, and the tariff of duties will be considerably lower than those of the present Zollverein, and of course than those of this empire. There is much negotiation, I believe, between Austria and Prussia on this subject, and it is supposed some bitterness, as the political as well as commercial advantages ensuing to Prussia through the new customs union are thought to be great.

As you are well aware, the direct trade between the United States and Austria has sunk to an almost imperceptible amount. The direct exportation from the United States to Austria in the year 1862 was $35,615, although, of course, a considerable portion of the exports to Bremen, Hamburg, and the Zollverein, which in the same year amounted in all to nearly thirteen millions of dollars, was sent to Austria. Nevertheless, it will at some future day seem most astonishing that the traffic direct and indirect of seventy millions of people—about equally divided between the republic and the empire—could be kept within such infinitesimal proportions, mainly owing to the prohibitory legislation of both countries. There is a kind of panic in the Vienna bourse, and there has been a rise in the gold agio of a few per cent.—a very trifling matter in comparison with the spasmodic oscillations of our own exchange, but one which, nevertheless, causes uneasiness. The, premium on specie is now about 17 per cent. The panic is partly ascribed to the large purchases going on in financial centres, like Frankfort, of United States bonds, and a corresponding sale of Austrian securities. Certainly, to those who believe in the continued existence of the United States in the family of nations, the prices of our stocks are tempting. It is not often that the obligations of a great commonwealth pay an interest of 15 per cent, to the purchaser. When one recollects that the nation whose credit stands thus low adds one-third to its population and doubles its capital every ten years, and has never been delinquent to its plighted faith since its government was established, it may be supposed that there are individuals hardy enough to venture upon such a speculation, notwithstanding the enormous falsehoods and calumnies which have been sown broadcast through the world by our enemies.

I should say that a considerable change in the public opinion of Europe in regard to our affairs had taken place of late. It begins to be thought possible that the republic of the United States may, after all, prove to be the fact, and the slaveholders’ confederacy the fiction; and the world of late has been somewhat less favored than before with school-boy declarations about the horrors of war and the blessings of peace. Writers or speakers who imagine that the American people, in defending their national existence and their free institutions against the revolt of the slaveholders, were simply inspired by a love of carnage in the abstract, and by a desire to sacrifice themselves, their children, and their worldly goods, for the mere amusement of carrying on a terrible war, are, perhaps, a little less admired than they have been.

Those Europeans, on the other hand, who could understand from the first the great purpose, the high resolve, the steady progress, and the unfaltering energy of a great people, when engaged in a work which Providence had imposed upon this generation of Americans, rejoice at the result, which now seems to them secured—that negro slavery and the oligarchy based upon it are to be numbered with the things of the past—they have seen that no war of which history has preserved a record was ever more definite or more logical in its object, more humane in its details, or more thoroughly justified by reason and the highest considerations of humanity.

For the American republic to have accepted the political annihilation threatened by the slaveholders, from a base fear of the perils and sacrifices of war, would have been to proclaim itself unworthy to be the guardian of popular freedom and free institutions in the western world.

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The Reichsrath has been summoned by his Imperial Royal Majesty to assemble on the 12th of November.

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


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