Mr. Hay to Mr. Seward.
Sir: The Emperor has gone to France, and every one is now glad to consider that his Majesty goes to Paris as a guest merely and not as an ally. The few-weeks that have elapsed since the Salzburg interview have shown the wisdom of the counsels that then decided him to the strictest reserve and neutrality. When the question of an alliance between France and Austria was at first discussed, it was most earnestly opposed here by the more liberal classes, on the ground that it would divert to foreign affairs the attention of the country, which ought at this moment to be exclusively concentrated upon the important questions of internal government. Never did a nation have greater need of a laborious and conscientious statesmanship. The entire structure of society is to be founded and consolidated. The work which 18 years of revolution and war have only postponed, refuses to be longer deferred. The claims of conflicting nationalities must be heard and satisfied or reconciled. A scheme of finance must be devised to put an end to the chronic deficit of the treasury. Society must emancipate itself from the fetters of that ecclesiastical domination to which the state submitted, in the reaction that followed the terrible fatigues of 1848.
The last task has seemed to be the one most dreaded. The influence of the clergy has always been so powerful in the highest and lowest classes of Austrian society, that it was very seriously questioned whether the middle classes would be strong enough to carry their point of the abolition of the concordat against the combined powers of aristocracy and ignorance. The contest, it was foreseen, would be a bitter one. Both sides were very thoroughly in earnest. The opposition to clerical rule has been very strongly exhibited during the past summer, in the conversations of men, in the public journals, and in the official utterances of municipal bodies. Nearly a hundred petitions for the abolition of the concordat, from as many different towns and communes, headed by Vienna, have been presented within a few weeks to the Reichsrath. On the other hand the priests have been untiring in their efforts to excite the prejudices of the catholic masses against the national assembly on account of this intended sacrilege. Especially in the Tyrol, in Dalmatia, and Galicia, was this crusade against the Reichsrath preached. An ecclesiastical convention was held at Innsbruck, the object of which was, in the language of their organ, “to restore the Lord God to his rights.” The system of flattery to the throne, which has so often succeeded here, was again put in practice in this assembly, a portrait of the Emperor being hung side by side with a picture of the immaculate conception, and the walls of their hall adorned with alternate crucifixes and Hapsburg arms.
But when the house of representatives reassembled, and the intention of attacking the concordat became only more manifest, it was thought that a more solemn and direct protest against such action should be made by the church. For this purpose a meeting of the bishops of the empire, 25 in number, was held, in which it was resolved that an appeal in behalf of the endangered church should be made to the head of the state. A forcible and passionate address was drawn up and sent directly to the Emperor, passing over both Reichsrath and ministry. This proceeding occasioned great uneasiness and anxiety for several days, until the answer of his Majesty appeared.
This is an autograph letter addressed to the Cardinal Rauscher Prince, archbishop of Vienna, in which the Emperor briefly acknowledges the receipt of the address and says it has been referred to his responsible ministry. He willingly appreciates the pastoral zeal and the well-meaning intentions which have made it appear to the bishops to be a conscientious duty to stand forward again, as in 1849 and in 1861, with a solemn declaration in favor of the preservation of the [Page 562] rights and interests of the Catholic church. Yet he complains that instead of supporting, as he had wished, the earnest endeavors of the government in important pending questions, and instead of advancing their most pressing solution in a spirit of mutual conciliation, the bishops have preferred to increase the difficulties of the task at a time when, as they themselves very correctly remark, harmony is so necessary, and when an increase of the causes of dissension and complaint is to be so earnestly avoided. He trusts that the bishops will be assured that he shall at all times protect and defend the church, but he hopes they will also remember the duties which he as a constitutional ruler has to perform.
This letter has been greeted with an enthusiasm and joy that best indicate how deep were the anxieties which it dispelled. It is seldom that an act, apparently so simple, contains a meaning so significant. The liberalism of Austria receives this utterance of the Emperor as indicating that he means to carry out in good faith the new constitutional regime—that he rejects at once the dictation of the church and of those family councils which have formerly been so powerful in the politics of this empire—and that this action is taken heartily and in the spirit of liberalism and progress, since he has not waited for the formal promulgation of the law on this subject to declare his ministry responsible and himself a constitutional ruler. The legislative body received this letter, as read by their president the morning after its appearance, with hearty cheers, the whole assembly rising to their feet. It is unanimously applauded by the liberal press, and forms an endless subject of congratulation among apparently all classes of society. In ecclesiastical circles it is regarded with consternation and rage. So far is this feeling carried that the Cardinal von Schwarzenberg absented himself from the ceremonies which took place last Sunday on the unveiling of the statue of the illustrious soldier of his family, Marshal Prince Schwarzenberg, and the higher clergy were conspicuous by their absence from the stations at Vienna and Salzburg, at the Emperor’s departure for Paris.
Meanwhile the Reichsrath has gone quietly about its work, and yesterday, after an interesting and prolonged debate, struck the first blow at the life of the concordat by adopting a law for the legalization of civil marriage. There was little opposition in debate. The priestly members of the legislative assembly contented themselves with protests against the impiety of the house, and threats of vengeance from the people, more or less hysterical. The time seems to have gone by, here as elsewhere, for any serious appeal to the reason of men in favor of ecclesiastical domination in civil matters. To-morrow the debate upon the project for enfranchising the common schools of the empire from the shackles of the concordat will begin, and there is no doubt that the same result will follow. The public attention has been very much called to this matter since the convention of schoolmasters held here last month, which exhibited an unexpected degree of intelligence and independence, and earnestly appealed to the representatives of the nation for redress of injuries inflicted upon the cause of education and enlightenment by the oppressive and useless regulations of the ecclesiastical power.
The deepest interest is taken in Vienna in the pending political questions. They are discussed in the journals with a freedom and boldness to which it would be difficult to find a parallel in Europe. The right of reunion does not as yet exist, but the people exhibit in every way possible their desire to hear the discussion of matters in which they are so vitally concerned. The galleries of the legislative body are daily crowded long before the hour of debate. The theatres are continuously producing plays of a purely political and liberal tendency, the announcement of which never fails to bring together large and quick-witted audiences, who reward with the loudest applause every allusion in the popular sense to the questions of the day.
So far everything appears to have advanced smoothly in the direction of the popular desire for constitutional and liberal government. But many questions [Page 563] of the utmost importance, involving the very existence of the realm, yet remain to be considered. The settlement of the demands of the different nationalities in the formation of the new ministry, and the apportionment of representation; the financial arrangement with Hungary, of which I sent you some weeks ago the sketch proposed, but which has not as yet been adopted by either the Austrian or Hungarian parliaments, and the final settlement of the domestic, economy of the empire, are matters demanding not only the highest statesmanship, but a steady persistence of purpose, and a spirit of sacrifice and conciliation on the part both of parties and populations. Whether these will be found in proportion to the emergency, is a question upon which I forbear conjecture.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.