Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.
Sir: The progress made since my despatch No. 217 in settling interior questions in this empire may be briefly stated. No arrangement has yet been arrived at with Hungary. The committee of 67 has not yet made its report to the Hungarian diet. Nevertheless, it is well known that the basis of any possible transaction, in the opinion of the majority of that diet, remains as before. Reform the laws of 1848 so that they shall not be incompatible with the interests and with the very existence of the whole Austrian monarchy, and you shall have a responsible ministry, and the re-establishment of the Hungarian constitution, says the imperial government.
Re-establish the constitution first, and, as a necessary consequence, appoint a responsible Hungarian ministry to sit in the diet, and then we will revise the laws of 1848, says Hungary. Until that is done, no revision will be legal or [Page 556] constitutional. The laws of 1848 exist and have been duly sworn to by the Crown. Our constitution has never been forfeited; the continuity of our laws has, in every possible way, been proved. And in this vicious circle the process has not yet ceased to revolve.
Meantime, a new cause of complaint has been found by the Hungarians in an imperial decree signed on December the 28th last, concerning some changes to be made in the law of September 28th, 1858, for increasing the army.
This decree is valid for the whole empire. I send with this despatch a copy of the official Gazette of Vienna, for 31st December, 1866, in which it was first published.
I do not think it necessary to analyze or to translate any portion of this new project, as its particulars can hardly have very great interest for you.
By its chief provisions every man in the empire is obliged to serve twelve years in the army—six years in the line and six years in the reserve, (Article IV ;) and exemption on payment of the former liberation tax is no longer allowed, (Article XI.) There are exceptional arrangements in favor of students, professional persons, public officials, which need not here be indicated.
In order, however, to throw light on the situation, it is as well to allude to a project of address from the Hungarian diet on this subject, drawn up by Francis Deák and just made public. I suppose there is little doubt of its speedy adoption. (It has, since this writing, been unanimously voted.) It is a vigorous protest against the introduction of this new military law into Hungary. The Emperor is reminded of the request contained in the last respectful address of the Hungarian diet, that he would restore that solemn treaty, the basis of the mutual relations between Hungary and the empire, the violated pragmatic sanction, and the constitution guaranteed therein, but suspended by absolute power. Hope, however, has given place to anxiety and doubt, now that not only in the executive, but the legislative domain, absolute power is perpetually exerting itself over the most holy interests of Hungary, and especially by this late decree stretching far into the future.
The decree is described as a new denial of the unquestionable right of Hungary to decide, through its legislature, upon even the slightest change in the military law, a right which she will never renounce.
When, on the very threshold of the unexpected fulfilment of the Emperor’s promise to restore the constitution, come instead, imperial absolute decrees, clothed with the full power of laws to be instantaneously enforced, it is inevitable, says the address, that confidence just beginning to awake should disappear again. It is easy to see, therefore, how far from satisfactory is the present state of feeling in Hungary. Such is the result, after many months of stormy debates in the diet, in which it was thought that something like a compromise with the government had, been effected. On the other hand, the feeling in the German provinces is worse than it has been for a long time. The indignation felt by the party of the constitution of February, 1861, (suspended by the decree of September, 1865,) grows daily more intense. That this constitution can ever be resuscitated and accepted by the Hungarians, there are few to imagine possible. The exasperation at its violation and destruction is increased by an imperial patent issued on the second of this month, summoning the provisional diets of the cis-Leithan provinces to hold their election for a new six years’ session under the provisions of the constitution of 1861. These diets, which, according to that constitution, had the right to elect members to the suspended Reichsrath, are now ordered to choose such members to an extraordinary Reichsrath to meet on the 25th of February, solely to discuss the constitutional question. This means that an assembly of deputies from the cis-Leithan provinces are to hold debate on whatever proposition may come by 1he 25th of February from the diet of Hungary, in regard to the common affairs of that kingdom, with the rest of the monarchy. It is merely a convention ad hoc, therefore—neither a parliament nor a constituent body, having power to deliberate, not to decide.[Page 557]
Moreover, the question is raised whether those of the cis-Leithan Diets which have a Sclavonic majority, such as Bohemia, Gallicia, and Moravia, will not choose their deputies by general ticket (as we should say in America,) and not by districts or groups, as prescribed by the constitution of 1861. In that case, the Germanic element would be completely swamped in the extraordinary Reichsrath, and the majority of Czecho and other Sclavonic nationalities opposed to the constitution of 1861, and to anything like a centralized parliamentarism, would at once proceed to bury that system forever. Even dualism, as recently hoped for, would be made impossible.
Meantime it is agreed among the leaders of the German party that they will not send deputies at all to the extraordinary Reichsrath. It is probable, therefore, that this convention will be completely abortive, and absolutism may, therefore, be indefinitely continued over the whole empire.
I describe the situation as briefly as I can, and I think that a statement of the facts carries its own commentary with it.
A united Austria seems more and more impossible except so far as the power of the sword can hold its different and varying nationalities together. But how long under absolutism can the purse supply the demand of the sword ? In truth, the continued existence of the Austrian empire, as at present constituted, would seem to depend far more upon the growth and movements of external bodies than upon changes in its interior organization.
Great empires seem to be rapidly forming around her. Should a united and liberal Germany crystallize about the new North Bund, towards which even Bavaria, with the rest of southern Germany, is manifestly tending, it is difficult to see how the attractive force of that mighty body can fail to absorb the German portion of Austria. The consent extorted at the peace of Prague that Austria should be excluded from Germany would then mean that Germans were excluded from Austria. Where is the countervailing force to keep Germanic Austria within the imperial control ?
On the other hand, would Italy consolidate itself into a great Roman empire, how are the Italian territories still left to Austria, to escape absorption ? The East remains, and the Oriental question becomes, more and more pressing.
The object of the present government is to stave off as long as possible the solution of that ever-impending question.
But the partition of Turkey draws nearer and nearer. England will scarcely risk another Crimean, war. Prussia is not likely to interfere with Russia’s plans.
France is not ready for action; Austria, in her present condition, could offer little effective assistance. It would seem to be Russia’s golden moment, and already the telegraph, whether truly or falsely, announces that the rupture between the Porte and Greece had taken place.
It is obvious enough that the elements of a conflict are fast ripening, and it is quite possible that even the Paris Exposition may not be all-powerful to prevent the outbreak.
Nevertheless, means may be devised for covering over the smouldering fires for a longer period than now seems possible.
But that this is an epoch of great transitions and catastrophes in Europe seems certain.
I have the honor to remain, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.