The Ambassador in Austria-Hungary ( Penfield ) to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I feel I should write you of the Austrian opinion on the subject of bringing the war to a close, a theme that a fortnight ago dominated the speech of almost every human being in the Habsburg capital. All seemingly wanted peace, while many believed it was certain to come in a few months and through the efforts of President Wilson.

Newspapers rang with these opinions, and the man in the café was as certain of early peace as the man in the street. That was immediately following the President’s North Carolina speech.2

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Day by day I have seen the idea contract until the Austrian official now is far from certain that the Monarchy of Francis Joseph wants the war to end before some of the issues of the vast struggle have been settled in a way making a recurrence of strife impossible for generations.

There seem to be four reasons for this reaction of judgment, and are:

Firstly, the Fourth War Loan of Austria-Hungary recently closed succeeded beyond expectation, giving encouragement for fresh borrowing.

Secondly, the forces of the Monarchy are having such success on the Italian front and on Italian soil that many Austrians want to go on until the Archduke Eugen’s armies are in Verona and on the plain of Venice and hated Italy is humbled.

Thirdly, the triumph this week of Germany over the British fleet in the North Sea gives color to the belief that the Central Powers in the not distant future may practically dictate terms of peace without submitting to mediation.

Fourthly, in certain circles there is growing fear that our President may not be the best mediator to bring benefit to a Monarchy peopled by a congeries of nationalities as is Austria-Hungary with its nine or ten different races. Many persons have been circulating the report that more than once President Wilson has stated his belief that it was the inherent right of every race to govern itself, and that this belief might conflict with the interests of a Monarch ruling Austrians, Hungarians, Bohemians, Slavs, Croats, and various other races. Some debaters of the peace proposal pretend that the King of Spain, half Habsburg and a Roman Catholic, and for the most part reared in Vienna, might give the Dual Monarchy a larger measure of advantage than the well-intentioned American President.

I know that some members of the Imperial Family, near relations of the King of Spain, are doing their utmost to eventually have the Archduchess Christina’s son officiate as sole mediator; and failing this, then as joint mediator with America’s Chief Executive. There seems to be but little real sentiment in favor of the Pope as a co-arbitrator. Austrians revere the Holy Father but prefer as peace-maker a potentate whose influence is more than spiritual.

It is widely published here that the President recently told the Peace League that each people should have the right to choose the form of its Constitution; and that small States, like the Great Powers, should be entitled to have their sovereignty and integrity respected. This may not be pleasing reading to a people conquering Montenegro, Albania, and a portion of Serbia in the present war.

A newspaper before me states that the number of orphans in Hungary caused by the war now exceeds 400,000, that misery is everywhere growing there, while the cry for peace is becoming louder. These statements only show that the masses of poor—the man with [Page 657] the hoe and the widow with numberless children to feed—want peace, and want it quickly. They care not through whose instrumentality it comes so long as it arrives in time to keep them from perishing.

I am informed from good sources that Germany is far more desirous of early peace than is class-ruled Austria-Hungary.

These rambling observations I am aware can have but little value, and are only sent in the performance of what I deem a duty—to advise you frankly of the current state of opinion in Vienna.

I am [etc.]

Frederic C. Penfield
  1. For the text of President Wilson’s remarks at Charlotte, N. C., May 20, 1916, see the New York Times, May 21, 1916.