Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 122.]

Sir: The relations between Austria and Prussia upon the Schleswig-Holstein question have become so very much embittered that I think it my duty to write a line by to-day’s steamer, although there are but few new facts to communicate.

The mission of Count Bloome to the King of Prussia, at Gastein, to which I referred in my last, has not produced a distinct result. I am informed that he reports his Prussian Majesty and his prime minister as not disposed to concessions, and as maintaining very firmly the propositions of February last, which have already been distinctly rejected by the Austrian cabinet.

Those propositions which relate to the conditions to be laid down before any one of the candidates for the position of Duke of Schleswig-Holstein can be installed in that dignity, are regarded here as inadmissible, because they give the virtual sovereignty, both military and political, in those provinces to Prussia, and would reduce the nominal duke to a state of vassalage.

On the other hand, no compensation, as I understand, is offered to Austria.

The answer of the imperial government has always been—let us decide the question between the rival claimants of the sovereignty first, and then prescribe such conditions as may seem proper.

Prussia insists on laying down the conditions first; and those conditions are regarded by Austria as incompatible with any sovereignty but that of the King.

The provinces, as you are aware, have been, since the termination of the war with Denmark, under the condominium of Austria and Prussia, as represented by two commissioners, and sustained by detachments of troops from both armies.

This condominium, as might be supposed, has led to much wrangling and to [Page 37] many unpleasant incidents, the result of which has been great exacerbation of feeling between the empire and the kingdom. Yet the only means of avoiding an immediate rupture, to be followed by a war between these two great German powers, is a continuation of that condominium.

As well as I can learn, Count Bloome will go back this week to Gastein, instructed to propose this prolonged condominium under new conditions, and with new commissioners.

Obviously, this arrangement is but little better than an armed truce preliminary to a war which, although it yet may be averted, is now regarded as at least probable.

Austria, believing the Prince of Augustenburg to be the sovereign desired by a majority of the inhabitants of the provinces, and most acceptable to Germany in general, has supported and continues to support his claim.

Prussia insists, as I understand, upon his expulsion from the duchies, together with all his adherents, and refuses to hear of him as a candidate.

As the Prince of Augustenburg has for some time been residing in the duchies, and will probably not withdraw voluntarily, it seems almost inevitable that his violent expulsion during the condominium would lead to an armed conflict between Austria and Prussia within those provinces.

If diplomacy succeeds in arranging this question without bloodshed, it will achieve a triumph, of which, at present, I am sorry to say there are no strong indications.

It is considered almost certain by Austria that Prussia is bent upon annexing the provinces in question. This is not possible for the imperial government to permit, for it would be equal to an abdication on the part of Austria of her position of first German power. Even now that rank, and the consequent precedency of the Diet at Frankfort, is regarded by Prussia as an assumption, because Prussia has already more German subjects than the empire has. Should she now place half a million more Germans under her sceptre this argument would be irresistible.

Austria is in no position to go to war. Her internal affairs, and especially the condition of her budget, (on all which subjects I have fully dilated in my recent despatches,) make peace almost indispensable to her, and most earnestly is she striving to avert a conflict.

Nevertheless, the annexation she will, I think, prevent if possible, even at the cost of a war. Every effort, however, will be made to keep the peace, and it is fervently to be hoped that those efforts will be successful.

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


Hon. William H. Seward, &c., &c., &c.