Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.

No 157.]

Sir: Since my despatch of last week the war has been coming gradually nearer and nearer. Nothing seems left now but a diplomatic rupture between Austria and Prussia, to be followed by a declaration of war and the commencement of hostilities.

As I have frequently observed in this correspondence, I can form no hypothesis according to which peace can be preserved, except by a shrinking back at the last moment of the King of Prussia, and a consequent change of ministers.

Of this there is no symptom, and the present prime minister of Prussia will certainly not recede from his warlike policy.

He means, it would seem, to annex the Duchies at all hazards, and Austria, much as she desires to avoid war, cannot permit the annexation.

I cannot too often observe that I wish only to write objectively.

My purpose at present is to throw all the light I can upon the actual state of affairs in Europe, and to abstain from any surperfluous commentary.

The moment seems to have arrived, in the opinion of those who at present guide the affairs of Prussia, for asserting the necessity of the aggrandizement of that kingdom, and of making its long-cherished dream of supremacy in Germany a fact. The present confederation is regarded as an obstacle to this project, and Prussia has therefore formally declared the insufficiency of the Bund, as at present constituted, to protect Germany from foreign aggression. It may be almost said that Prussia has in terms declared that she will no longer recognize the existence of the present Bund.

This appears from the remarkable circular addressed on the 24th of March, by the Prussian government, to the governments of the middle and lesser German states.

In this despatch it is stated that Austria has, without provocation from Prussia, ordered warlike preparations, (Rustunger,) threatening the Prussian frontier, which compels Prussia to take counter military measures, in order not see repeated the situation of the year 1850. The despatch instructs the different envoys at the courts of the middle and lesser German states to give the necessary explanations, in order that the preparations of Prussia may be comprehended in their true light. “Besides measures for momentary security,” continues the circular, “the situation imperatively requires that the future should be steadily surveyed, and that guarantees should be looked for which will preserve for Prussia that security which we in vain sought for in an alliance with Austria—a security which was even threatened by Austria. Prussia’s position, its German character, the German inclinations of its princes, lead Prussia at first (Zunachst) to seek for these guarantees in Germany.

“On the ground of German nationality Prussia will always at first attempt to find in Germany the assurance of national independence. Herein we are continually forced to recognize the truth that the Germanic confederation (Bund) in its present form is not sufficient for such a purpose, for an active policy.

“The regulations of the Bund cannot endure (estragen) the earnest antagonism between Austria and Prussia, cannot prevent or overcome the threatening rupture between them. We can feel no confidence in the effective assistance of the Bund in case we are attacked. In every attack Prussia is obliged to rely at first on its own strength, if the especial good will of individual governments belonging to the Bund do not put in motion measures for its protection, which in the regular course of proceedings by the Bund would come much too late. Prussia is at present in the situation to ask its associates in the Bund whether and to what extent it can reckon on their good will. The good will at present existing of several members of the Bund does not tranquilize Prussia in regard [Page 651] to coming dangers, because the present situation of the Bund excludes the possibility of making that good will efficient. Therefore Prussia must strive for a reform of the Bund answering to the actual relations of things. Prussia is the more compelled to do this the less it obtains a satisfactory answer to the question just proposed.

“The interest of Prussia is by its geographical position identical with the interests of Germany. The situation of Prussia, if it is not sure of Germany, is much endangered. Prussia’s fate draws after it the fate of Germany. After the annihilation of the strength of Prussia, Germany could without doubt only take a passive share in European polities. To prevent this is the holy duty of all German governments. The German Bund in its present form would not protect Germany in European crises from the fate of Poland.”

Reserving further manifestations, the Prussian government in this despatch begs for the present only an answer to the above-stated question, whether and how far Prussia can reckon on support in ease it is attacked by Austria, or should be obliged by unequivocal threats to make war.

This despatch was sent to all the Prussian representatives at German courts. It has also been communicated to the Austrian government, and it has been published. Certainly it would be difficult to use much plainer language.

Either a Bund without Austria or without Prussia.

The Germanic confederation, as such, must cease to exist. No Bund can hold two such antagonistic members as the great kingdom and the great empire.

A notice to quit the Bund on the part of Prussia unless the other States join her in the coming war with Austria. Such is the manifesto of Prussia.

On the 27th this despatch was read to the government of Bavaria, the most considerable German state after Austria and Prussia.

The answer of the Bavarian goverment to the above question, verbally but officially put by the Prussian envoy at that court, was to this effect:

“The Bavarian government will act in accordance with the law of the confederation and fulfil her duties to the Bund. The Bund law forbids every act of self-help or violence among members of the Bund, according to article XI of the Bund constitution. If a member of the Bund believes itself threatened by another, it is bound to appeal to the Bund assembly, and that assembly is bound to the maintenance of peace and guarantee of actual possessions, according to article XIX of the Vienna concluding act.

“That member of the Bund which attacks another is guilty of a breach of the Bund, (Bund Brüchig.”)

That Prussia will pause in her present determination to annex the duchies, for fear of being pronounced guilty of breach of the constitution of the confederacy, is scarcely to be supposed. Her manifesto is almost a summons to each member of the confederacy to declare for one of the two belligerents. The immediate object would seem to be to force the hand of Austria and to obtain from her the first blow.

That Prussia is putting her army on a war footing is now publicly announced. That she is assured of assistance from Italy, and of the preliminary neutrality of France, I do not much doubt. Russia is the natural ally of Prussia, and will at least be, I think, neutral.

On the other hand nearly all the middle and lesser states of Germany sympathize with Austria and fear Prussia. Whether they, however, will draw the sword against Prussia, in case of a decree of the Bund against that kingdom, is still doubtful. It is not easy to see therefore how peace can be preserved.

“Although Austria, at the peace of Vienna, accepted in common with us,” says the already cited Prussian circular of March 24, “the cession of the duchies from King Christian, who was in possession of the same, on the ground of the throne succession established in 1853, and recognized by Austria, yet the activity of the Austrian administration in Holstein has been directed towards surrendering [Page 652] practically this province, belonging in common to the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria, to the Prince of Augustenburg, who has no right to the same, and whose claims were formerly decidedly contested by Austria herself.”

Accordingly Prussia felt herself obliged to make, it is further remarked, friendly but firm remonstrances on this infraction by Austria of the convention of Gastein, and on receiving a negative reply on the 7th of February, from Austria, to the demands thus made in a spirit of conciliation, she has considered the alliance and intimacy between the two countries at an end, and has not thought it expedient again to break silence. “Every threat of war, however, lay as far from us then as now,” says the circular. * * * * “Nothing has been done on our side to change the situation, and yet we see with amazement Austria suddenly making preparations for a great war, and at the same time making reproaches to us, as if it were we that intended breaking the peace. Numerous bodies of men with artillery and other materials of war are directed from the eastern and southern provinces of Austria towards the north and west, towards our own borders; the regiments are placed on a war footing, and soon a strong army will stand on our frontier, which is perfectly bare of any counter preparations.”

To this Prussian circular, likely to be a memorable one in European history, of the 24th of March, Austria has answered by the following despatch, addressed to the Austrian envoy at Berlin:

“It has come to the knowledge of the imperial Austrian cabinet that the government of his Majesty the King of Prussia, in order to avert from itself the responsibility for the existing anxieties as to an endangerment of peace, has attributed to the imperial court hostile intentions, yes, has even indicated the eventuality of a threat to the Prussian monarchy through ah aggression on the part of Austria. Although the groundlessness of such a subterfuge (unterstellung) is notorious throughout Europe, the imperial cabinet must, notwithstanding, take pains in presence of the royal cabinet to enter an express protest against an accusation so perfectly at variance with the evidence of facts.

“The undersigned has accordingly received instructions to declare to Count Bismarck, in all form, that nothing lies further from the views of his Majesty the Emperor than an offensive demonstration (auftreten) against Prussia. Not only the so many times by word and deed exhibited friendly inclinations of the Emperor for the person of his Majesty the King as well as for the Prussian state, exclude decisively every such intention, but the Emperor is mindful also of the duties which Austria, as well as Prussia, has solemnly assumed by the treaty of the German confederation. His Majesty the Emperor is firmly resolved on his part not to put himself in opposition to the provisions of article XI of the Bund act, which forbids members of the Bund from pursuing their disputes by force.

“While the undersigned requests the minister president to lay the present note before the King, he has to add the expression of the hope that the royal cabinet will find itself induced, in as decided and unequivocal manner as he has now done in the name of the imperial government, to repel the suspicion of an intended breach of the peace, and thereby to restore that universal confidence in the maintenance of the internal peace of Germany which it ought never to be possible to disturb.”

This note, as you will perceive, is brief and to the point. It is an announcement on the part of Austria of its determination to refer the existing dispute to the decision of the Bund, according to the provisions of article XI.

On the answer of Prussia to this notification depends the issue of peace and war.

Austria and Prussia combined in 1863 in taking the Schleswig-Holstein matter out of the hands of the Bund. Will Prussia do the same? If so, she suddenly [Page 653] changes the whole course of her policy. The answer cannot be long delayed. The crisis would seem to be at hand.

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


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