Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.

No. 184.]

Sir: The most important events since the date of my last despatch, in regard to German affairs, is the recent statement of the Austrian government at the Germanic Diet on June 2.

By this declaration the imperial royal government formally transfers to the Bund its share of the condominium over Schleswig-Holstein, declares its intention to submit to such decision in the matter as the Bund may take, and announces that it has ordered its stadtholder in Holstein to summon the estates (Stäude) of that duchy, in order that those legal representatives of the territory in question may decide as to their own destiny.

This will unquestionably be regarded by Prussia as a renunciation on the part of Austria of the Vienna treaty of 1864, and of the Gastein convention of the following year. By those documents, as you are well aware, Austria and Prussia acquired from Denmark the joint sovereignty of the two duchies, or at least supreme jurisdiction over them, and subsequently arranged for a separate and provisional administration of them, without any impeachment of that undivided sovereignty.

Instead of Austria, the Bund would now appear invested—so far as Austria has the power to confer it—with the half of the undivided condominium. To the Bund then belong the privileges and the responsibility of the sovereignty which Austria renounces. Among those responsibilities is the necessity of preventing by military power the annexation of the duchies to Prussia. To do this a decree of execution by the Bund against Prussia will be necessary. This will be equivalent to a declaration of war against Prussia, in which war Austria, as well as the other German states of Germany, are bound to take part in obedience to the Bund. Prussia, on the other hand, intimated at the above-mentioned session of the Diet, that she is likley to declare the Bund, as at present constituted, incompetent for its office, and to take this legal conviction of hers as a basis for future action.

If this be a threat of formal secession from the confederacy, the effect of such a step on its other members remains to be seen, It is possible that some of them [Page 666] might hold the permanent league to be thus broken, and might excuse themselves therefore from marching to execute its decree against Prussia. Hanover and other small northern powers might thus justify themselves in neutrality. The others, if they took the field, would do so, not as allies of Austria, but only as members of the Bund. And the Bund moves slowly. Meantime there is an Austrian brigade in Holstein and the Austrian stadtholder is ordered to summon the Holstein estates. Those estates will vote for the prince of Augustenburg as their sovereign. But the very beginning of the quarrel was the Prussian despatch of January 26, complaining of the Augustenburg intrigues, by permission of Austria, as an unpardonable offence.

The first blow would, therefore, seem most likely to be struck in Holstein, and indeed it is already known in Vienna that Prussia means at once to move troops into Holstein. She has announced, as I am informed, that she goes there not as an enemy, but in exercise of her right as joint sovereign. A casus belli would, therefore, seem almost found.

Austria justifies her course in regard to the Vienna treaty and the Gastein convention by the manifest intention of Prussia to carry out her annexation schemes by force of arms, by the fruitlessness of all efforts hitherto made by the imperial royal government to come to an understanding with that of Prussia, and by the fact that Prussia had “not shrunk from the lamentable decision to rely upon the assistance of foreign enemies of the Austrian empire” in bringing the question of the duchies to the solution by force.

It may be noticed in passing that the document here speaks of an alliance of Prussia not with one foreign enemy but with enemies in the plural.

(“Und trat selbst nicht vor dem beklazenswerthen Entschlusze Zurück sich auf die Hilfe auswartiger Gegner des Kaiserstaates zu stützen.”)

Who besides Italy is the other foreign ally of Prussia in the opinion of the imperial royal government? The question seems a pregnant one.

“Threatened on two sides, and not knowing whether to expect the first attack in the north or the south,” Austria proceeded to declare to the Bund on this same occasion that “she was in arms to hold her own,” (um das seinige zu behaupten.”) Such being the cause of her arming, she declares that the conditions precedent to her return to a peace footing might be easily deduced.

This plain declaration, together with the language of the imperial royal cabinet in accepting on the following day (June 3) the invitation to the proposed conference at Paris, seems to make the position of Austria as clear as words can make it. She accepts, with the presupposition (voranssetzung) that “no combinations are to be proposed at the conference giving to any one of the invited powers any extension of territory or increase of power.”

In short, Austria solemnly declares that she means to hold her own and oppose the territorial aggrandizement of either Prussia or Italy.

Yet there are those who believe, or who pretend to believe, that the coming conferences (if they take place) are to effect a pacification.

I doubt whether there are many such believers at present in this empire.

Austria is invited to confer upon the Schleswig-Holstein question, the reform of the Bund, and upon that which, by a not very graceful euphonism, is described in the invitation as the “Italian difference,” (“defferand Italien.”)

It was known that if the phrase “Venetian question” had been used, Austria would have simply replied that she knew no such question.

As to the question of the Bund reform, it is hardly reasonable to consider projects of that sort as fit matter at present for international debate at Paris.

So far as Schleswig-Holstein is concerned, Austria has now turned that subject over to the Bund.

What, then, has she to do at a conference?

Certainly the steady tramp of regiment after regiment through the streets of Vienna to the northern railway—a daily spectacle, which has been exhibited [Page 667] now for many weeks—does not look much like peace. Neither does the official publication, on the 3d of June, of two imperial edicts, the one suspending the laws securing personal security and household rights in all the southern portion of the empire, (Lombardo-Venetian kingdom, Illyria, South Tyrol, Dalmatia;) the other empowering the commander-in chief (Benedek) of the northern army to take the same measures at his discretion throughout the territory under his command, and to declare martial law, seem to indicate much hope of a pacific solution.

As nearly as I can ascertain, Austria has now at least 500,000 regular troops in marching order, ready for action, besides garrisons, reserves, and veterans. Of these, nearly 350,000 are massed near the Prussian frontier.

On the other hand, the whole of the Prussian army is said to be mobilized, and the numbers are stated as high as 460,000.

The enormous expense of these armaments is in itself a reason why the public feeling, (in this empire, at least,) after having been for a long time most pacific, seems now completely changed.

The sooner the inevitable is met the better for all, appears to be the prevailing thought.

I should be far from speaking of the proposed conference as a great publicist once spoke of the congresses of Soissons and of Cambray, as “a tedious farce acted on the political theatre, in which the principal performers were less desirous of coming to an accommodation than of appearing to desire it.”

Doubtless there is a very sincere desire for peace felt by many of the governments engaged in the coming conference. I doubt, however, if a serious expectation of a pacific result is felt by any of them.

The parties to the game, in case it should be played, will more or less show their hands, and a shrewd guess will be possible as to the combinations for the coming war.

It would be interesting to know what understanding there may be between France and other powers, but that, I suppose, is for the present past finding out.

I should doubt, however, whether there was a very cordial feeling between this government and that of France.

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


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