Mr. Hay to Mr. Seward.
Sir: The government of Austria pursues steadily its work of improvement and reform. The minister of the interior, Dr. Giskra, has issued to the civil functionaries of the empire a circular in which, while inviting them to take the oath of allegiance to the new constitution, he states in a most impressive way that this is not a mere formality, but that they will be expected to labor in good faith for the practical realization of the liberal aims of that instrument. The circular has been very well received by the great majority. By the party of reaction it is regarded as a new insult and affliction.
The government, acting in harmony with the spirit of this circular, has, at his own request, removed the Ritter von Toggenburg from the governorship of the Tyrol, and transferred him to the permanent retired list. He has been long known as one of the most prominent of the ultra conservatives holding high civil position, and his retirement affords significant evidence of the thoroughness of the intended reforms.
The vacancy in the presidency of the House of Lords, occasioned by Prince Auersberg’s appointment as minister resident, has been filled by the imperial nomination of Prince Colloredo-Maunsfeld, a nobleman of pronounced liberal tendencies.
The minister of war, Baron von John, has resigned, on account of a disagreement with the majority of the government, who could not assent to his ideas of the necessity of greater armaments, and his place has been supplied by General von Kuhn. The ober-commando of the army, an office hitherto vested in the Arch duke Albert as general-in-chief, has been incorporated with the responsible ministry of war. The prince retains his position as inspector general. This brings the military administration into harmony with the constitution.
The two delegations, representing respectively the Hungarian Diet and the Austrian Reichsrath, have been a fortnight in session, and have as yet made little progress in serious business. I find my impression growing stronger that this machinery of communication between the two halves of the empire will be found too cumbrous for the speedy and satisfactory dispatch of public business. It was a compromise founded too much upon mutual distrust, and too little upon mutual confidence to thoroughly succeed, Already some time has been lost by a peremptory interpellation of the Hungarian left, demanding explanations of the title reichsministerium, minister of the empire, which they said should have been “ministry for common affairs.” They were pacified by an explanation which, as there was nothing to explain, explained nothing.
The business now before the delegations is the war budget for the [Page 65]coming year. The impression among the Austrians was that the propositions of the government would be accepted, virtually in the state in which they were received, with a proviso declaring that this was to be considered merely a provisional arrangement, and that a fixed basis for the future should be at once discussed and settled. This is the besetting sin, as it appears to me, of Austrian politics—this tendency to accept measures with which no one is entirely satisfied, contenting their consciences with protesting against the precedent. But in this indolent plan of the provisorium they reckoned without the Hungarians.
The Magyars are a race endowed with a genuine passion for political matters. Their zeal and stubborn tenacity form a striking contrast to the easy and compromising character of the average Austrian. The Hungarians have by no means given up the idea of having their national Landwehr made independent of the Austrian commands in its orgagization. They know their liberties would be far more easily assured if universal peace could be made certain; and disarmament is peace. These motives, therefore, have doubtless inspired their opposition to the government military budget, which they claim is much too high for the peace establishment. Instead of 76,000,000 florins, which the government demands, they seem inclined to vote no more than 50,000,000. This, the Austrians say, will only suffice for an effective force of 150,000 men, instead of the present army of about 400,000. The secret answer of the Magyars is so much the better; we are then sure of peace, and the regular army will form merely a skeleton to be filled if needed by the reserve.
It is not in my power to predict the result of these debates. But I cannot help hoping that this time, at least, the tenacious Magyars may carry their point. The great calamity and danger of Europe to-day are these enormous armaments. No honest statesman can say that he sees in the present attitude of politics the necessity of war. No great power is threatened. There is no menace to peace that could not be immediately dispelled by a firm protest of the peacefully disposed majority of nations. There would be, therefore, no danger to any people, but a vast and immediate gain to all, from a general disarmament. It need not be simultaneous. It is idle to say France fears invasion from Prussia or Prussia from France, and an honest understanding among the western nations would keep the peace from the eastern side. Why, then, is this awful waste of youth and treasure continued? I believe from no other motive than to sustain the waning prestige of kings. Armies are to-day only useful in Europe to overawe the people in peace, or by groundless wars to divert their attention from domestic misrule. With the disappearance of great armies the welfare of the people would become the only mainspring of national action, and that false and wicked equilibrium, by which now the interests of one man weigh as heavily as those of millions of his fellow-creatures, would be utterly destroyed.
It would be singularly suggestive if Austria, so long the leader of the forces of reaction, should now come forward to set for the world the magnanimous and courageous example of a constitutional state, based upon the popular will, and refusing the support of bayonets.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. G.[Page 66]