Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.

No. 160.]

Sir: Affairs between Prussia and Austria remain as at the date of my last despatch.

The answer of the Prussian cabinet to the Austrian note of 31st March, was communicated by Baron Werthen to the Austrian minister of foreign affairs, on the 6th of this month.

Doubtless the text of this note will be published in all the journals of the United States, and will have met your eye before this despatch can reach you.

I shall therefore simply state that its tone is not conciliatory, although it expressly disavows an intention on the part of the Prussian government of making an aggressive war upon Austria.

The greater part of the paper is occupied with recriminations. It distinctly charges Austria with making great preparations for an attack upon Prussia, charges which the imperial royal government had already most emphatically denied.

“Anxieties for endangerment of the peace,” says Count Bismarck, “have sprung exclusively from the fact that Austria, without any recognizable cause, has been since the 13th of March moving considerable masses of troops in a threatening manner towards the Prussian frontier. No explanation whatever of the motives for these extraordinary proceedings has been given by the imperial government since the assertion that the Jew note* had made these armaments necessary, is contradicted by the extent of these warlike preparations as well as by the localities in which the reinforcement of troops have been stationed on the Saxon and Prussian frontier, where the safety of the Jews has never been endangered.”

The note then expresses surprise (somewhat ironically, as it is thought here) that Austria had not at once taken shelter under article XI of the Bund act, to which Count Karolyi refers, if she considered herself threatened by Prussia.

“The secrecy in which the warlike preparations of Austria have been shrouded,” proceeds the note, “and the attempt to make their extent, which is very well known to the royal Prussian government, appear less than it is, only strengthened the natural impression that the imperial troops which have been daily accumulating on the northern frontier of Austria are intended for an aggressive hostile enterprise upon Prussia.”

The minister goes on to say, that notwithstanding all these proceedings, Prussia has delayed its counter preparations for two weeks, in order not to endanger the peace, and had taken them only when the number of Austrian troops concentrated on the border had made the safety of Prussian territory dependent upon the decisions of the Vienna cabinet.

“If the imperial government has not the intention of attacking Prussia,” says [Page 654] the minister, “the royal government is at a loss to perceive why Austria took these warlike measures.”

The note concludes by repelling the suspicion that Prussia contemplates “in the situation as it thus far exists, (in der bisherigen Lage) any disturbance of the peace, and by the declaration that nothing is further from the intentions of the King than aggressive war upon Austria.

“As to the benevolent sentiments which influence his Majesty the Emperor towards the Prussian state, it would not be difficult for the imperial government to find an opportunity of expressing them by actions.”

These are the last words of the note.

They obviously refer to the Austrian administration of the duchy of Holstein, the hostile character of which towards Prussia formed the subject of the last note addressed by the cabinet of Berlin to that of Vienna. That note was written on the 26th of January; was answered by the Austrian government on the 8th of February, since which time the correspondence has been considered as closed.

That Prussian note of 26th January was published for the first time in the Frankfort Gazette of 6tb April. It is probably destined to have so much historical value that I shall venture to call your attention to a few pages of it, by which, as well as by the exasperated tone of the whole document, you will perceive the full gravity of the situation. You will see that the quarrel is a deep-seated one, very difficult to arrange without blows.

Prussia is undoubtedly the legal co-sovereign of both the duchies. Since the treaty of Vienna of 1864, no one else in the eyes either of Prussia or of Austria has any claim to that sovereignty save the monarchs of those two countries.

Prussia considers that her joint sovereignty is endangered by the presence of the Prince of Augustenburg and his adherents in Holstein; while by her famous ordinance of 11th March, such disturbers of her rights would, in Schleswig, be put into the penitentiary for ten years.

She also complains that Holstein is made the place of assembly for democrats and revolutionary agitators from all parts of Germany, whose schemes are directed expressly and openly against Prussia.

“It seems almost inconceivable that it has come to this,” says Count Bismarck, “if we look back on the days of Gastein and Salzburg. I could then assume that his Majesty the Emperor of Austria and his ministers looked as clearly as we did at the common foe of both powers, the revolution.”

For that reason both governments went hand in hand, in regard to the proceedings in Frankfort, against the revolutionary party.

“The present attitude of the imperial government in Holstein has a very different character,” continues the note; “we must describe it in straightforward terms as an aggressive one. The imperial government does not hesitate to lead into the field against us exactly the same means of agitation as it was willing to give battle to in common with us at Frankfort.”

The minister proceeds to say that the only difference between the mass-meetings, under democratic leaders in Holstein, and the previous demonstrations at Frankfort is that the imperial stadtholder in Holstein could have put these agitations down much more easily than the senate at Frankfort could have suppressed the similar troubles in that city, and that the agitators in Holstein had a more distinct purpose, and were more directly and ostensibly hostile to Prussia.

The minister says that if the Vienna cabinet can look quietly at this conversion of the eminently conservative province of Holstein into a focus of revolutionary intrigues, “we, on our side, are resolved not to do so.” * * *

“I leave it to be imagined what impression such conduct as this, in peace, of his ally in war must make upon his Majesty the King, and how painfully it [Page 655] must move him to see revolutionary tendencies, hostile to every throne, unfolded Under the protection of the Austrian double eagle.”

The minister instructs his envoy at Vienna to “say all this expressly to Count Mensdorff, and to beg him to bring it to the notice of his imperial master.”

He speaks of the necessity of making impossible for the future the insults against Prussia in the press and public meetings of Holstein, and especially of suppressing the influence of the so-called court at Kiel,* which is a standing protest and assault against both the Austrian and the Prussian sovereignty.

He observes that a negative or evasive answer by Austria to these complaints and propositions will carry conviction to the Prussian government that Austria is no longer willing to travel the same road with Prussia.

“We must then,” he adds, “obtain full freedom for our whole policy, and make that use of it which we consider adapted to the interests of Prussia.”

This despatch was answered by Austria on the 8th February. That answer has just been published. It is a calm and courteous but decided refusal to comply with the demands of the Berlin cabinet in regard to the administration of Holstein, and contains a general defence of the Austrian policy against the charges of Prussia. Count Mensdorff calmly states that “the imperial government is subject, according to the convention of Gastein, to no control in its administration of Holstein. It is not the only proprietor of sovereign rights there, but the manner in which they are to be exercised is left to its own free discretion. As everywhere else, so also in the north, it represents the high conservative interests of Germany. The same independence of action which Austria claims in Holstein she leaves to Prussia in Schleswig.”

In reply to the charges of the Prussian government as to the revolutionary agitation in Holstein, the note observes: “If the complaints against us are to the effect that through our lukewarmness and passiveness the monarchical principle in Holstein has suffered damage, the conservative sentiment which has ever distinguished the Schleswig-Holstein race been metamorphosed, and the subject-matter of future arrangement deteriorated, then the conscience of all Europe will, in common with us, repel this accusation; for all Europe knows that the political endeavors which are now the leading ones in Holstein are the same as existed at the time of the Gastein convention and long before that epoch—the very ones out of which the resistance of the duchies to Denmark derived their strength.”

In regard to Prussian charges as to the “Altona excesses,” the Austrian minister observes, “how could the Prussian cabinet expose itself to the ready reply that it was exactly Prussia which refused to propose a prohibition of such popular assemblages as took place in Altona, for the whole territory of the Germanic confederation?

“Had such a regulation been issued by the Bund there would not have been wanting a fixed rule in Holstein, and the royal government would not have been limited to demand from us the reintroduction of those Danish ordinances, the presence of which the duchies most complained of, and which we did not find in practical operation when we assumed the administration of Holstein.”

The minister then gravely defines the relative position of Prussia and Austria to each other.

“The Emperor,” he says, “laments this whole polemical discussion. It is difficult for his Majesty to believe that King William will take his measure for the value which the Emperor lays upon his relations to Prussia from Austria’s consent or non-consent to the wish for the annexation of the duchies to Prussia. So one-sided an assumption must certainly lie very far from the [Page 656] King’s thoughts; nevertheless the royal government speaks to us as if our so natural refusal to allow this annexation to be completed could only be explained as a return to a policy of destructive jealousy and rivalry; yes it speaks as if it had been deserted by Austria in its battle with the common enemy, the revolution, and thereby prevented from carrying out its will to travel in future on the same road with us. Would that the royal government were willing to take an unprejudicial view of the latest events. If it looks at Germany’s position, the fact must meet its eyes that we, far from wishing to form a coalition against Prussia, have decidedly placed our relations to the middle states below our alliance with Prussia. Yes, we have gravely prejudiced those relations, as this is made manifest by the retaliatory recognition of the kingdom of Italy. If Prussia casts its eyes on the relations between the European cabinets, she must acknowledge that we have nowhere sought to act upon Prussia by external pressure, and even the activity of our ambassador in Paris, which is so much scoffed at in Berlin, has always had the aim to strengthen France in its policy of reserve in the Schleswig-Holstein question.” * * * *

“I repel, therefore, with firm conviction the reproach against the imperial cabinet that in its sentiments or actions is to be found the reason why the common policy of the two powers, so earnestly desired by Count Bismarck’s concluding words, cannot be realized.”

You perceive from this exchange of opinions that Prussia and Austria are in rivalry with each other as to which least deserves the reproach of permitting public manifestations of sentiment in Germany, and as to which is most active in suppressing popular assemblages, public discussions, and putting down what is considered by both governments the common enemy of Europe, democracy.*

I give you these statements as they are printed. There is no need of my discussing them academically from our American point of view.

The effect of this note was to terminate all diplomatic correspondence between the two governments until the Austrian note of the 31st of March, which was regarded almost as an ultimatum, was answered by the note received in Vienna on April 6.

If one ponders well the deliberate, well chosen, yet acrimonious language of the Prussian communications, especially that of 26th of January, one sees the expression of a fixed resolve—the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein at all hazards.

It seems, therefore, almost idle to talk of a specific arrangement as long as the present prime minister of Prussia holds his place. He is daring, firm of purpose, fertile in resource, and possesses almost boundless influence over the king.

* * * * * *

The note just received has given no satisfaction to the government here.

The exasperation against Prussia is as great as it can possibly be.

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


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

P. S.—In an interview with Count Mensdorff since the above was written, I learn that an answer to the Prussian note received here April 6th was sent by the imperial royal government yesterday. Its tone is described to me by the minister as less conciliating than that of previous notes, and the various complaints against the Prussian government have been placed very strongly on record. Much weight is laid in this note on the Prussian secret arrangements with Italy, and the royal cabinet is summoned to disarm, if it really means to [Page 657] keep the peace. No result, however, is expected from this communication, and there is absolutely no change in the situation.

A sudden blow is not expected, I find, by this government, as the King of Prussia has personally stated his unwillingness to adopt such a course. Meantime, Prussia made yesterday a formal proposition to the Diet at Frankfort to summon a German assembly, to be elected from the whole German people by direct votes and universal suffrage, before which propositions for a reform of the Bund are to be made by the different German governments.

Such was the information received here by the Foreign Office last night by telegraph. Of course it is premature to say anything upon the subject to-day.

  1. This alludes to disturbances which have lately taken place in Bohemia, during which many houses of Jews have been destroyed and other disgraceful excesses perpetrated.
  2. The Prince of Augustenburg and his adherents.
  3. See postscript to this dispatch.