Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatches Nos. 159,160, and 161, of dates November 4, 6, and 17.
Since my last despatch upon the internal politics of this empire events have been transpiring of which the result must necessarily be of considerable importance not only to Austria, but to all Europe. No results, however, have yet [Page 626] been reached. The Diet of Hungary has not yet been opened, but it will doubtless be organized in the course of this week. Meantime the diets of Croatia and Transylvania have been for some time in session, as well as the diets of the seventeen provinces on this side of the Leitha.
The chief object of discussion in these various assemblies is, of course, the manifesto of 20th of September last, by which the part of the constitution called the Reichsrath statute was suspended.
I wish to abstain as much as possible from what I have already said in this correspondence upon Austrian affairs. I shall simply remind you, therefore, that the general object of the policy of the past four years has been to overcome the passive resistance of Hungary to the arrangement of February, 1861. This policy has now been substantially abandoned. The mountain refusing to move, Mohamet goes to the mountain.
The whole problem as to the most feasible method of a constitutional unification of the empire for imperial purposes is to be tried over again. The Schmerling, or February system, after puzzling all heads in Austria during four years, is at last thrown aside.
“If the road hitherto pursued by government towards a harmonious whole is now forsaken,” said the chief magistrate of Carinthia to the assembled diet of that province, a few days since, “it is because government has gained the conviction that it is not possible in this way to fulfil the imperial promise.”
What was this imperial promise? It was the October diploma. In this instrument the monarch pledged himself that there should be a constitutional representation of the populations of the empire for consultative and legislative purposes, especially for that most vital function of all organized communities, the tax-laying and money-spending power.
The February patent created an imperial parliament in two houses, consisting of members from all the kingdoms and provinces of the realm, was a deliberate attempt to carry out the pledge. This parliament, in conjunction with the seventeen cis-Leithan provincial diets created by the same patent, and with the ancient diets of Transylvania, Croatia, and Hungary, as modified by the laws of 1848, and revised by the patent, was the constitution promised by the Emperor. But the parliament itself was only a part, although a very considerable part, of that constitution.
It is natural that the German portion of the? Austrian empire—say, ten millions out of thirty-five—should be bitterly disappointed at finding themselves obliged to renounce their imperial parliament in Vienna; for certainly during its four years of existence eloquence of a high character had been exhibited within the walls of its temporary house of assembly, and there had been proof of much capacity on the part of its members for dealing with great questions of state, and as certainly the German element is the predominant one in Austrian civilization, as on a wider scale it has been the leading ingredient in all that is intellectual and progressive in Europe or America since the downfall of the Roman empire.
But it is perhaps unjust to suspect bad faith or sinister designs against constitutional life in general on the part of the present government, because they have advised the suspension of that form of life which, during the past four years, has been struggling to make itself a fact. That those suspicions exist, and that there is much uneasiness felt on this side of the Leitha as to the possibility of anything practical and beneficent being evolved out of the chaos to which the September manifesto has remitted the populations of the realm, cannot be denied.
It must not be forgotten, however, on the other hand, that the chaos had not been dispelled by the fiat of February. The light was a very partial one, illuminating the favored regions so brilliantly that the coldness and obstruction of two-thirds of the empire were for a time overlooked.[Page 627]
It is not necessarily unjust for a monarch to say to the thirty-five millions under his sceptre that a representative system, thoroughly approved by less than one-quarter of their number, and obstinately rejected by at least one-half, and which required the indefinite maintenance of martial law throughout the greater portion of the empire, must, after four years of patient waiting, be pronounced a failure, and that some other scheme must he devised to bring about that harmony of parts out of which only a consistent and living whole can be produced.
Of the diets now in session, those of the purely German provinces, as Upper and Lower Austria, Styria, Salzburg, Vorarlberg, and Carinthia, six in all, with, however, only four millions inhabitants, have, with more or less violence of language, censured the course of government and voted addresses to the Emperor requesting him to rescind the September manifesto and restore the Reichsrath.
In Lower Austria, of which the capital is the imperial city of Vienna, the tone has been less decided than in the other German provinces, and, although the speeches against the ministry have been very severe, in some cases not even sparing the monarch himself, the resolutions proposed by the more extreme party, and carried by a vote of forty-six to ten, are by no means violent. They demand that such decisions as may be formed by the Hungarian Diet, as the result of the deliberations about to open, may be laid before the Reichsrath, but without specifying whether the greater or lesser Reichsrath be intended.
But it seems at present very difficult to admit that the lesser Reichsrath has a legal existence. The lesser, as I have explained in a former despatch, is evolved out of the greater, but the greater or imperial Reichsrath being suspended, the lesser would seem to be necessarily suspended with it.
It is also understood, I believe, that the resolutions of the Hungarian Diet (inclusive of the Croatian and Transylvanian diets) upon the whole subject, when these deliberations come to an end, will be submitted to each of the seventeen provincial cis-Leithan assemblies for approval or rejection. But the time is far from having arrived for this process.
Meantime, while the purely German provinces have, as above stated, denounced the ministers and their September manifesto, the non-German diets are of a very different mind.
Galicia, with its five millions inhabitants, has unanimously and at once voted its thanks to the Emperor for suspending the Reichsrath, while there can of course be no doubt as to the trans-Leitha sentiment. In the diets of the mixed provinces, as Bohemia, Moravia, and Carniola, where the German and Sclavonic elements are nearly in equilibrium, it is yet doubtful whether an address of thanks or of regret will be adopted, and the tone of the German party is much more moderate than it is when that party is predominant. In Bohemia the present indications are that the party which approves the course of government will have a small majority. The February party proposed an address in opposition to government, and were defeated by a majority of eleven. A motion is now pending from the other side, the adherents of the ministers. It may also fail, as this phenomenon has exhibited itself in Moravia. In the diet of that province a motion to thank the government lacked three votes of a majority, and a motion implying censure came within eight votes of being carried. Thus it would seem that a small number of members, disinclined to any demonstration, controlled the voting on both occasions.
I ought to add that considerable latitude of speech has been allowed, and the press has not been as much interfered with in its expressions of opinion as during the late administration. This would indicate a consciousness of upright intentions on the part of government. When the Hungarian Diet shall have been organized the October diploma and the February patent will be laid before that assembly and the deliberations will begin. If a resolution should [Page 628] be carried approving the February statute the Reichsrath would ipso facto be revived from its suspension, and the splendid vision of a central imperial parliament become a reality. I suppose, however, that no one dreams of any such result, and the chief interest now centres in the discussions immediately to take place in the trans-Leitha parliament. Afterwards, when a thorough understanding has been reached between the monarch and his subjects of the crown of St. Stephen, with its Croatian and Transylvanian “partes adnexa” it is probable that Francis Joseph I will be crowned at Pesth as king of Hungary before the attempt is made to reconcile the decision of the trans-Leitha diet with the resolutions of the other seventeen provinces.
The next great struggle, after the Hungarians shall have declared their minds, will be to invent some scheme of empire in which all can unite.
What that scheme will be I confess myself unable to imagine. That some bond of union must be found among the discordant and incoherent parts of the Austrian empire, if that empire is to continue to exist, is certain. Hitherto that body had been found in absolutism. The strong arm of military despotism had held together thirty or forty millions of people, differing essentially from each other in language, habits, culture, tradition and character. But it was and is honestly desired to find something better than bayonets to produce a harmonious whole, nor would there seem an absolute impossibility in applying something of the federation principle to a monarchy compounded of such divergent elements. The problem how to create a nation out of nationalities, a people out of populations, an empire out of provinces and states, is as old as history, and one of the most difficult and one of the most important for human sagacity to solve.
A thousand years ago the greatest of German emperors—whose name is such a whimsical blending of Latin and French dialects, while belonging to neither of them and to no language—Charlemagne, attempted in vain to unite under his sword and sceptre the discordant nationalities and populations of Europe which had need at that epoch, not of union, but of disintegration.
And now a successor in a portion of that mighty realm has to deal with a I portion of the difficulties which made the task of Charles the Great impossible.
That there is a tendency to disintegration, a strong centrifugal impulse in the Austrian states and provinces, is certain. Yet, on the other hand, as more and more powerful grows the great American republic, the more and more instinctively, even if unconsciously, does Europe press itself together, and the more and more urgent becomes the necessity of the great empires to become, if possible, greater, and to resist those dissolvents which, if not checked in their action, lead to national death.
That the great federal principle by which many states can be bound into a powerful homogeneous empire while preserving local autonomy, and the utmost amount of self-government and individual liberty consistent with a mighty imperial whole, is best attained in a republic, I think the United States has made manifest to the world, and never more triumphantly than during the magnificent four years of civil war which the superficial and the vulgar thought the precursors of our national existence.
But while we thankfully accept our own form of government as the best and the one which is likely to best fulfil the demands of the future upon humanity, and while our best patriots strive every day to improve a system which would be not human if not full of defects, we ought to remember how much we owe to our epoch and to physical science.
A thousand years ago, without printing and steam and the other great achievements of the human intellect, the mighty republic of the United States would have been a more extravagant vision than was the imperial dream of Charlemagne. Oregon, Tennessee, the shores of the Mexican gulf, New York and New England, would of necessity have been as foreign and as incomprehensible [Page 629] to each other and as remote from each other as the most hostile and warring portions of Europe among themselves, and as impossible to unite into one mighty realm.
I ask pardon for these reflections, which may strike you as superfluous, but in these days of construction and reconstruction and change on both sides of the Atlantic it is difficult to avoid falling into a vein of thought more academic than diplomatic.
That some scheme may be devised to extend the liberties and to advance the intellectual and material interests of the Austrian people, and that it may be found possible to unite a good degree of local self-government with the imperial necessities by some better means than physical force, is certainly to be sincerely desired.
I have the honor to remain your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.