Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward

No. 89.]

Sir: The debates in the Reichsrath for the past few days have been of unusual interest. The subject of the budget has been under discussion, and the [Page 11] finance committee of the Reichsrath, after having obtained a concession for government of twenty millions of florins as a reduction of the appropriations, has insisted on still further subtractions in detail, amounting in gross to some five or six millions. This the government opposes, and there has been for a time a good deal of talk, both in the papers and in various circles of society, about what it is the fashion to call a “ministerial crisis.” As it seems certain that on the question of reduction the government would be in a minority, it was supposed that the ministry would resign.

The speeches in the Reichsrath have been very able; for, as I have often had occasion to remark in this correspondence, it is for no lack of forensic talent that Austria is not among the leading parlimentary governments of Europe; but I cannot venture to ask your attention, occupied so intensely as it is with our own most weighty affairs, to the debates in general; but I would recommend you to read the able and luminous exposition of the policy and principles of the present imperial administration, especially in regard to internal affairs, made by the minister of state, M. de Schmerling, the most pregnant passages of which I have just translated.

I abstain from all comment, because the speech itself will give you a clearer idea of the position of parties in and out of the Reichsrath than I could possibly do, even by a long despatch. You who are so familiar with the certaminis gaudia of great legislative assemblies, and are yourself so consummate a master of debate, will not fail to observe the passages which called forth the angry retorts of opponents, and those which gave most satisfaction to the supporters of government.

The conclusion you will perceive to be that the ministers have no intention of resigning.

(speech of the minister of state.)

“The debate on the address and the discussion of the budget,” said the minister of state, “are commonly the moments in parliamentary life when the contest is carried on on both sides in the most vigorous manner, and where the weightiest forces are summoned into action either for or against the government. We had the one contest—that on the address—months ago. The second is now begun; and although I maintain that, perhaps, under our present circumstances, it is not entirely justifiable to bring on a contest for or against the government on the occasion of the budget discussion, yet I cannot conceal from myself the fact that the contest is taking place.

“If I say that, according to my individual view, this should not be the object of an excited contest in the present condition of Austria, I may be permitted to express myself somewhat more definitely. Above all, there is no doubt on the part of the government and of the Reichsrath that the greatest possible economy should be practiced, that every possible effort should be made to restore the equilibrium in the state accounts, while in regard to the measure there may indeed be a difference.

“Still less, in my opinion, is there any reason to make a so-called act of confidence or of distrust in the government out of the question whether one votes for a greater or a lesser sum. This may have full justification in other parliaments, and, in fact, we have seen that the votes given in a budget discussion have been of necessity interpreted into a vote of confidence or want of confidence in the government. But in other countries—for in other countries we have, after all, totally different arrangements in the composition of the budget, quite different arrangements in the appropriation of the voted sum, quite different arrangements in the calculations of the same. There, where it is permissible to make a general appropriation for the whole of one department (ministerium;) there, where it is even permissible to make one general appropriation [Page 12] for all the departments—there, indeed, this act is of such a nature that it implies confidence or distrust in the government. For where a vast power of dealing with money is given to the departments, there certainly is a possibility of misuse of the sums voted, there certainly corruption is possible; but of all this there is no possibility in Austria.

“I say this quite openly. Any man who reads the five volumes of our state computations; who sees with what exactness the salary of the minister as well as the humblest servant, the residence of the stadtholder as of the gamekeeper on any domain, is settled; who sees the thousand and thousand sets of figures, and, on the other hand, looks through the finance laws in which the government is bound not only to the separate chapters but to the particular titles and paragraphs—that man I will ask, What minister, even if a much larger sum is accorded to him than to many may seem proper, will find that a special confidence is reposed in him, when it is pefectly clear in what way the money is to be spent, and when the ministers are not in the position to spend the money for anything else than the objects for which it was voted?* * * * * * * * * * During the debate on the address there was a very loud cry to us ministers in particular—for you we have one warning—self recognition and conversion. Now, as regards self-recognition, we can openly confess that we have it sufficiently. It is very conceivable that we should possess it; for if one looks into our circumstances, if one observes what is written and spoken, one will indeed admit that there has been no lack of warnings, rebukes, and tuition for the ministers. The days in which it could be said that men flattered princes and ministers are long since passed away. Certainly, the ministers are not much flattered at present. [Universal and continued merriment.] * * * * * And, first, of external policy. I shall say but a few words of this, as I doubt not my honored colleague, the minister of foreign affairs, will be able within a few days to speak circumstantially on the subject. * * * * * * * * Doubtless, one demands of us the greatest energy in our foreign policy, in order to strengthen and maintain the position of Austria as a great power. This is doubtless what is wished, what is justly required of him in whose hands the direction of our foreign affairs is placed. What is offered to him now for support of this vigorous policy? On the one side, that we cannot possibly maintain anything else than a perpetual peace—that we, at least, should not think of ever following any other policy than that of peace, that is to say, the abstinence from every active proceeding, even should such active proceeding be, after all, very much demanded. And what further is offered us? Perpetual representations that we are an entirely broken-down, dilapidated, creditless, ruined state.

“I think, gentlemen, that these are not the elements out of which to create for us a powerful position in foreign lands, and to make it possible for the minister of foreign affairs to bring his word as a weighty one into the councils of Europe. [Bravo in the centre.]

“Look, gentlemen, at the way in which they deal with such matters a little to the northward of us. We have in a northern capital the truly melancholy and unrefreshing spectacle of ruinous internal constitutional circumstances, an earnest conflict carried on by the house of deputies against the government, and the fierce and animated debates are brought to us in every newspaper. But have you, gentlemen, heard from one single deputy in that northern capital, during the debate on the military reorganization, an intimation that Prussia should give up her position as a great power—should reduce herself for a time, and keep quietly at home in politics, and let things roll over her as they might?* * * * * * * *

“No deputy has so spoken.* * * * * * Not one intimation has there been that the state was a broken-down and a ruined one, [Page 13] and that one must, therefore, renounce any vigorous movements in the external world. [Commotion on the left.]

“I come now to that which most concerns me, and about which I have been obliged, both yesterday and to-day, to hear many reproaches—namely, the management of our internal policy. The reproach is .always made to the government that the interior constitutional circumstances are not yet arranged; in other words, that the constitution is not yet carried out, or, as it is the fashion to say, the Hungarian question is not yet solved.* * * * * * * For us there is but one solution, whether a resultless one or not the future must show, that we hold on inviolably to the constitution, and put everything in motion to bring about its recognition in Hungary. We are by far not so sanguine as one thinks, if one assumes that we flatter ourselves that the next Hungarian diet (Landtag) will bring the constitution question to a pacific solution, and that, a few weeks after it has assembled, deputies will be chosen from Hungary for the Reichsrath, and come here to take their seats among us. We are not so sanguine as that; and if from some parts of the house there is always the greatest value attached to the summoning of the Hungarian Landtag, while then the constitutional question is to be at once solved, we are not disposed to believe that the question will be at once solved.

“But we flatter ourselves thatby a quiet and consistent forward movement of the government at last this question will also come to a settlement. We expect that very many, even in Hungary, who have the inner conviction that a close annexation (Anschluss) must be carried out, and that the imperial constitution must at last become a truth for Hungary; that they at last will take courage to stand up for their convictions by speaking out, and that we shall thus at last reach the goal towards which we have so long been striving.

“That this aim is a great one no man will deny; that great aims are not reached in a very short time is quite as certain; and if you will look back, gentlemen, to the period when it was at last possible for an English parliament to carry the Catholic bill, the corn bill, the reform bill, you will not stigmatize, this government as careless and inefficient if it has not in four years found it possible to bring the Hungarian question to its solution. At any rate, we have the honest will to take hold of the question. We can only manifest that will by declaring, in the name of the government, that all preparations are made to convoke in the shortest time the Croatian and Hungarian diets, and that at last it will only depend on this high assembly to hasten the period, because those bodies can only be assembled when the larger Reichsrath (Gesamntreiehsrath) has concluded its session.* * * * * * * * * In regard to the financial condition of the empire, the finance minister has already spoken, and I have, therefore, but little to say. But this I will say, that if our financial circumstances are such as they have been depicted—if the distress is so great throughout the empire as we have here been told, then is our position an entirely desperate one, and then one had better take counsel how to apply radical remedies for the calamity; I say radical remedies, because that it is not a radical measure, whether twenty or twenty-five millions are struck off from a budget of more than five hundred millions, seems to me tolerably clear.

* * * * * * * *

“A few words, in conclusion, as to the position of this administration in regard to this house and the different parties in it.

“I have repeatedly said, and say it now, that a true constitutional life is only thoroughly possible when there is as harmonious a co-operation as is practicable of the government with the representative body. I have repeatedly said that the government and the representative body are not two different parties, inasmuch as that both have one object before their eyes, namely, the welfare of the empire, and, perhaps, can only be of different opinions in regard to the means. I have already declared that conflicts between the government and the representative [Page 14] body are to be lamented, and to be as much as possible avoided, for the very simple reason that they are not two opposing parties, and because, if even that were the case, there is no superior judge to decide between the parties, that therefore prudence and necessity drive government and representatives into the way of working as harmoniously as possible together.

“This is the view which I have ever taken, and which I now express again, because it brings me to declare whether the government deserves the reproach that it is one-sided, obstinate, self-willed, because it does not conform itself in all directions to the votes of the representative body. On this I have to observe as follows: I leave out of view whether or not a strong parliamentary government is a possibility in Austria; whether it be possible or not to govern exactly according to the majority, and if it be possible or not to form so-called majority administrations.

“I will only indicate the moral effect of the so-called majority of a house on the resolutions of the government. I can well understand that a government which is opposed by a closely-formed party, a party which has a fixed programme, a party in the midst of which are men with a sufficient knowledge of affairs (Sachkenntnisz) and equipped with a competent gift of administration to take the reins of power if they are called upon to do so. I can well understand that a government is morally bound to be accountable to such a party and to accommodate itself to it as far as possible.

“I beg to be excused, however, if I adhere to the opinion of a deputy who has said that such parties do not exist in this house, and that, in particular, the party which calls itself his Majesty’s faithful opposition cannot be considered by us as a party with a fixed programme. The relation is rather that many men, doubtless guided by conviction, have temporarily found themselves together, who, in the most important questions, have quite divergent views, and whom we cannot, therefore, regard as a party, because it is only a party in that it makes opposition to government.

“And to this party we cannot concede that decisive weight which, according to our opinions, ought to fall into the scale as the moral weight of a fully organized party. This must not be taken ill of us, and therefore offence should not be taken, if when here and there the votes of this house go against the government we still find it consistent with our honor, our duty, and our constitutional principles, to continue to place our services at the disposition of his Majesty.* * * * *If we are—however we may lament it—not always in accordance with the views of this honorable house, it is not from a contradictory spirit; it is the expression of the feeling that the government is an independent factor in the constitutional life, and, therefore, must act according to its convictions, as it is assumed to be the case with the other factors of the constitutional life.

“For us is the same device as that which has often been announced by members of this honorable house: true to the Emperor, but also to the constitution, and true obedience to duty.”

You are aware that a new step is about to be taken in the Schleswig-Holstein affair. A motion has been made in the Diet, and will be voted on the 6th of this month, to establish the prince of Augustenburg in the government of Holstein, the question de jure being reserved for future decision. This so called Saxon-Bavarian-Hessian proposition is to this effect, the diction being important:

“That the high assembly of the Bund would, under reservation of a further and final decision, (Beschlusz fassung,) express the confident expectation that it will please the high governments of Austria and Prussia to give now to the hereditary prince of Schleswig-Holstein Sondesburg-Augustenburg into his own administration, the duchy of Holstein; in regard, however, to the arrangements made between them as to the duchy Louenburg, to cause communications to be made to the Diet.”

[Page 15]

I have reason to believe that this proposition is favored by the Austrian government, and that it will be opposed by Prussia.

The matter was, of course, much alluded to in the debates in the Reichsrath, and you will see by extracts from the speech of Count Mensdorff, which I append, that the position which Austria means to take will be very clearly laid down in the Diet. You will observe that the minister attaches the highest importance to the good understanding with Prussia, but expresses himself as hopeful of a satisfactory solution of the Schleswig-Holstein question.

If the Austrian declaration to the Diet be of the nature indicated, it is difficult to see how it can be otherwise than unpalatable to Prussia.

count mensdorff’s speech.

* * * * “Very far from regarding diplomacy,” said the minister of foreign affairs, Count Mensdorff, “as an exclusive guild, mystery, only attainable by the elect, I entirely share in the opinion expressed in this house, that it is possible for every educated man of average capacity, without having been at a regular diplomatic school, to form a correct judgment in questions of foreign policy. But I also permit myself to hold to my modest view, that the handling of these foreign questions requires the greatest discretion when one is not intending to quit the diplomatic field and to go over to that of deeds. The word which falls into publicity from the lips of the foreign minister of a great power must be closely and wisely pondered, because it imposes upon the state the obligation, in case of necessity, with its whole power to makeit good. That may be the reason why in all times and places the observance of reserve has always formed and still forms one of the first rules of diplomacy.

“After the gloomy picture painted in this house of our interior circumstances, it is a doubly sacred duty for him who has the honor of conducting our foreign affairs to lend all his energies to the maintenance of peace, of which the empire seems in every respect to stand so much in need. We believe ourselves to have never left this aim out of view, and to have attained it through the course pursued by the imperial cabinet, so far as that an earnest danger of war is not threatening us from any quarter.

“In a rapid solution of so complicated a question as that of Schleswig-Holstein probably no one ever seriously believed. Were the legal question as indisputably clear and indubitable as it is represented here to be on many sides, there would not be so many various conceptions concerning it, and the affair would have long since found its solution. The imperial cabinet will have an opportunity on the 6th of April to indicate in Frankfort the stand-point which it means to take on the question. By the co-possession in the duchies, Austria is in a position to prevent a solution detrimental to itself, and to guard the justifiable claims of the German Bund.

“Prussia enjoys the same advantage with equal justification, and we entertain the conviction that this much-decried diplomacy will succeed in making a solution possible without endangering that good understanding with Prussia which, notwithstanding all arguments to the contrary, has thus far, according to my inmost conviction, prevented any interference by foreign powers in German affairs. I see therein still the basis for a greater unifiction of Germany, and therefore of an elevation of our prestige (auschen) in respect to foreign countries. A less circumspect policy would probably have involved us in a war, as to the dimensions and consequences of which I shall refrain from giving any opinion. If thereby financial difficulties have been lessened, and the development of our institutions furthered, are questions which answer themselves.

You may be sure that the imperial government will do its best to further the industrial interests of the empire.* * * * * *

“The relations with Italy have great difficulties. The hostile attitude comes [Page 16] not from Austria alone, but it is maintained in those regions perpetually, and on all public manifestations nothing is neglected to depict our possessions in Italy as an unjustifiable one, and as an attack upon Italy. That this is no small difficulty for the minister of foreign affairs to find a way consistent with the honor and dignity of Austria for furthering Austrian commercial interests in this direction, you will surely, gentlemen, admit.”* * * *

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,


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