Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward

No. 344.]

Sir: The war of which I announced to you the commencement scarcely three weeks since, appears to be approaching a sudden and unexpected termination. Austria, after sustaining a series of rapid and disastrous defeats from the Prussians, has withdrawn what a month ago was the only formidable obstacle to a conference by offering to cede Venetia to the Emperor of France. The following, announcement of this event appeared in the Moniteur yesterday morning:

“An important event has just taken place. The Emperor of Austria, having kept intact the honor of his arms in Italy, complying with the ideas expressed by the Emperor Napoleon in his letter addressed on June 11 to his minister of foreign affairs, cedes Venetia to the Emperor of the French, and accepts his mediation to bring about peace between the belligerents.

“The Emperor Napoleon hastened to respond to this appeal, and immediately made an application to the kings of Prussia and Italy to procure an armistice.”

Though the Austrian army seems to have been utterly demoralized by the succession of defeats which it experienced during the first days of July, and by its utter rout at Sadowa; and though the capital of the empire is thought to be in peril, the sudden surrender of Venetia to the Emperor of France has given rise to no little speculation. The result confirms an impression which I formed some weeks since, and which I think I communicated to you, that the war was a sort of feigned issue between the larger powers, to quiet certain disputed titles which have more or less disturbed the harmony of Europe since 1815, and that its end was foreseen by those who are to gain most by the result from the commencement.

It remains to be seen what answer Prussia will make to the Emperor’s appeal, but it is hardly to be supposed that he will impose terms which it will not be for her interest to accept, especially when she comes to reflect that the Emperor, in case of refusal, might be disposed to throw his own sword into the balance with the swords of Austria and of Italy, thus returning the compliments paid him by Prussia in 1859, when his army threatened the Quadrilateral.

It is to be presumed that the Emperor has invited the belligerents to unite in [Page 333] a conference at Paris, although up to this time no official intimation of such a purpose has transpired. If such a conference is held, I do not doubt that it would result in the practical absorption of the smaller states of northern Germany, and a revival of the project first announced by the Emperor, at the peace of Solferino, of an Italian confederation.

I will not venture to speculate upon the probable price of France’s friendly mediation, but no one seems to doubt that Prussia will be quite as generous to the Emperor, for an adjustment which will make her incontestably the head of the German empire, as Italy was for his aid in 1859.

Some days will probably elapse before the answers of Germany and Italy are received, as they must consult each other before either can accept the Emperor’s proposal. I understand that the Emperor entertains no doubt of its acceptance.

I am, sir, with very great respect, your very obedient servant,


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