Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire - J. W. Headlam
We have seen that the result of the conflict would eventually depend upon the management of foreign affairs. Bismarck before his appointment had always said that the Government could only gain freedom at home by a more vigorous policy abroad. He was now in a position to follow the policy he desired. The conflict made him indispensable to the King; if he retired, the King would have to surrender to the House. This was always present to his mind and enabled him to keep his influence against all his enemies, who throughout the spring had used every effort to undermine his authority with the King.
There were many who thought that he deliberately maintained the friction in order to make himself indispensable, and in truth his relations to the Parliament had this advantage, that there was no use in attempting to take into consideration their wishes. Had he been supported by a friendly House he would have had to justify his policy, perhaps to modify it; as it was, since they were sure to refuse supplies whatever he did, one or two more votes of censure were a matter of indifference to him, and he went on his own way directing the diplomacy of the country with as sure and firm a hand as though no Parliament existed.
In the autumn he had the first opportunity for shewing how great his influence already was. During the summer holidays, he was in almost constant attendance on the King, who as usual had gone to Gastein for a cure. Perhaps he did not venture to leave the King, but he often complained of the new conditions in which his life was passed; he wished to be back with his wife and children in Pomerania. He writes to his wife from Baden: "I wish that some intrigue would necessitate another Ministry, so that I might honourably turn my back on this basin of ink and live quietly in the country. The restlessness of this life is unbearable; for ten weeks I have been doing clerk's work at an inn—it is no life for an honest country gentleman."
At the end of July, a proposal came from the Emperor of Austria which, but for Bismarck's firmness, might have had very far-reaching results. The Emperor had visited the King and discussed with him proposals for the reform of the Confederation. He explained an Austrian plan for the reform which was so much needed, and asked the King if he would join in an assembly of all the German Princes to discuss the plan. The King for many reasons refused; nevertheless two days afterwards formal invitations were sent out to all the Princes and to the Burgomasters of the free cities, inviting them to a Congress which was to meet at Frankfort. All the other Princes accepted, and the Congress met on the 15th of August. The Emperor presided in person, and he hoped to be able to persuade them to adopt his proposals, which would be very favourable for Austria. It was, however, apparent that without the presence of the King of Prussia the Congress would come to no result; it was therefore determined to send a special deputation to invite him to reconsider his refusal. The King had the day before moved from Karlsbad to Baden and was therefore in the immediate neighbourhood of Frankfort. It was very difficult for him not to accept this special invitation. "How can I refuse," he said, "when thirty Princes invite me and they send the message by a King!"
EMPEROR FRANCIS JOSEPH.
Personally he wished to go, though he agreed with Bismarck that it would be wiser to stay away; all his relations pressed him to go. It would have been pleasant for once to meet in friendly conclave all his fellow Princes. Bismarck, however, was determined that it should not be. He also had gone to Baden-Baden; the King consulted him before sending the answer. After a long and exhausting struggle, Bismarck gained his point and a refusal was sent. He had threatened to resign if his advice were not taken. As soon as the letter was sealed and despatched, Bismarck turned to a tray with glasses which stood on the table and smashed them in pieces. "Are you ill?" asked a friend who was in the room. "No," was the answer; "I was, but I am better now. I felt I must break something." So much were his nerves affected by the struggle.
The Congress went on without the representative of Prussia. The Kings and Princes discussed the proposals in secret session. They enjoyed this unaccustomed freedom; for the first time they had been able to discuss the affairs of their own country without the intervention of their Ministers. The Ministers had, of course, come to Frankfort, but they found themselves excluded from all participation in affairs. With what admiration and jealousy must they have looked on Bismarck, but there was none of them who had done for his Prince what Bismarck had for the King of Prussia.
Perhaps it was his intention at once to press forward the struggle with Austria for supremacy in Germany. If so, he was to be disappointed. A new difficulty was now appearing in the diplomatic world: the Schleswig-Holstein question, which had been so long slumbering, broke out into open fire, and nearly three years were to pass before Bismarck was able to resume the policy on which he had determined. Men often speak as though he were responsible for the outbreak of this difficulty and the war which followed; that was far from being the case; it interrupted his plans as much as did the Polish question. We shall have to see with what ingenuity he gained for his country an advantage from what appeared at first to be a most inconvenient situation.
We must shortly explain the origin of this question, the most complicated that has ever occupied European diplomacy.
The Duchy of Holstein had been part of the German Empire; for many hundreds of years the Duke of Holstein had also been King of Denmark; the connection at first had been a purely personal union; it was, however, complicated by the existence of the Duchy of Schleswig. Schleswig was outside the Confederation, as it had been outside the German Empire, and had in old days been a fief of the Kingdom of Denmark. The nobles of Holstein had, however, gradually succeeded in extending German influence and the German language into Schleswig, so that this Duchy had become more than half German. Schleswig and Holstein were also joined together by very old customs, which were, it is said, founded on charters given by the Kings of Denmark; it was claimed that the two Duchies were always to be ruled by the same man, and also that they were to be kept quite distinct from the Kingdom of Denmark. These charters are not undisputed, but in this case, as so often happens in politics, the popular belief in the existence of a right was to be more important than the legal question whether the right really existed.
The trouble began about 1830. There was a double question, the question of constitution and the question of inheritance. The Danes, desirous to consolidate the Monarchy, had neglected the rights of the old local Estates in the Duchies; this led to an agitation and a conflict. It was a struggle for the maintenance of local privileges against the Monarchy in Copenhagen. Moreover, a vigorous democratic party had arisen in Denmark; their object was to incorporate the whole of Schleswig in the Danish Monarchy; they did not care what happened to Holstein. This party were called the Eider Danes, for they wished Denmark to be extended to the Eider. Against this proposed separation of the two Duchies violent protests were raised, and in 1848 a rebellion broke out. This was the rebellion which had been supported in that year by Prussia, and it had the universal sympathy of everyone in Germany, Princes and people alike.
The question of constitution was complicated by one of succession. The male line of the Royal House which ruled in Denmark was dying out; according to a law introduced in 1660, descendants of the female branch might succeed in the Kingdom. This law had probably never been legally enacted for the Duchies; in Schleswig and Holstein the old Salic law prevailed. In the ordinary course of things, on the death of Frederick VII., who had succeeded in 1847, the long connection between Holstein and Denmark would cease. Would, however, Schleswig go with Holstein or with Denmark? Every Schleswig-Holsteiner and every German declared that the two Duchies must remain for ever "unvertheilt"; the majority of the Danes determined, whatever the law might be, that they would keep Schleswig, which had once been Danish. The King took a different line; he wished to maintain all the possessions in his House, and that the same man should succeed both in the Kingdom and the Duchies. There was no authority qualified to decide the legal question; and therefore the question of right was sure to become one of power. At first, strange as it may seem, the power was on the side of the Danes. Germany was weak and disunited, the Prussian troops who had been sent to help the rebellion were withdrawn, and the surrender of Olmütz was fatal to the inhabitants of the Duchies. The whole question was brought before a European Congress which met at London. The integrity of the Danish Monarchy was declared to be a European interest; and the Congress of the Powers presumed to determine who should succeed to the ducal and royal power. They chose Christian of Glucksburg, and all the Powers pledged themselves to recognise him as ruler over all the dominions of the King of Denmark.
Prussia and Austria were among the Powers who signed the Treaty of London, but the Diet of Frankfort was not bound by it. At the same time, Denmark had entered into certain engagements pledging itself to preserve the separation between Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark, and also not to oppress the German people in Schleswig. The Danes did not keep their engagement; despising the Germans, they renewed the old policy, attempted to drive back the German language, and introduced new laws which were inconsistent with the local privileges of Holstein and Schleswig. The Holstein Estates appealed for protection to the Diet. The Germans protested, but the Danes were obstinate. As years went on, the excitement of the Germans grew; they believed, and justly believed, that it was a matter of honour to defend the rights of the Duchies. Schleswig-Holstein was the symbol of German weakness and disgrace, and in defence of them the national enthusiasm was again roused.
With this popular enthusiasm Bismarck had no sympathy; and he had no interest for the cause of Schleswig-Holstein. He had originally considered the inhabitants merely as rebels against their lawful sovereign. He had learnt at Frankfort sufficient to make this indifferent to him, but he still regarded them as foreigners and looked on their claims merely from the point of view of Prussian interests. Both his sympathy and his reason led him in fact rather to take the Danish side. "The maintenance of Denmark is in our interest," he wrote in 1857, but Denmark could only continue to exist if it were ruled, more or less arbitrarily, with provincial Estates as it has been for the last hundred years; and in another letter: "We have no reason to desire that the Holsteiners should live very happily under their Duke, for if they do they will no longer be interested in Prussia, and under certain circumstances their interest may be very useful to us. It is important that, however just their cause may be, Prussia should act with great prudence." He recognised that if the complaints of the Duchies led again to a war between Germany and Denmark all the loss would fall on Prussia; the coast of Prussia was exposed to the attacks of the Danish fleet. If the war was successful, the result would be to strengthen the Diet and the Federal Constitution; and, as we know, that was the last thing which Bismarck desired; if it failed, the disgrace and the blame would fall upon Prussia.
The only thing which would have induced him warmly to take up the cause was the prospect of winning the Duchies for Prussia, but of that there seemed little hope.
So long, therefore, as he remained at Frankfort, he had endeavoured to keep the peace, and he continued this policy after he became Minister. The greater number of the German States wished to carry out a Federal execution in Holstein; he tried to avert this and warmly gave his support to Lord Russell in his attempt to settle the question by English mediation. His efforts, however, were unavailing, for the Danish Government, presuming on the weakness of Germany, continued their provocative action. On March 30, 1863, a new Constitution was proclaimed, completely severing Holstein from the rest of the Monarchy. The Holstein Estates had not been consulted and appealed to the Diet for protection; the law of the Federation enabled the Diet in a case like this to occupy the territory of the offending sovereign in order to compel him to rule according to the Constitution. The national German party wished to go farther, to confuse the questions of Schleswig and of Holstein, and so bring about a war with Denmark. Bismarck wrote to the Duke of Oldenburg to explain his objections to this: it would make the worst impression in England; and he insisted that they should attempt nothing more than Federal execution in Holstein. As Holstein belonged to the Federation, this would be a purely German affair and no ground would be given for interfering to England or France. In consequence, the simple execution in Holstein was voted. Even now, however, Bismarck did not give up hopes of keeping peace. He brought pressure to bear on the Danes and was supported by England. If only they would withdraw the proclamation of March 30th, and accept English mediation for Schleswig, he promised them that he would use all his influence to prevent the execution and would probably be successful.
His moderation, which received the warm approval of Lord Russell, of course only added to his unpopularity in Germany. The Danish Government, however, refused to accept Bismarck's proposal; they brought in still another Constitution by which the complete incorporation of Schleswig with the Monarchy was decreed. This was an overt breach of their treaty engagements and a declaration of war with Germany. At the beginning of November, it was carried through the Rigsrad by the required majority of two-thirds, and was sent up to the King to receive his signature. Before he had time to sign it the King died.
It was expected that the death of the King would make little difference in the situation, for it had been agreed that Christian of Glucksburg should succeed to all the provinces of the Monarchy. The first act he had to perform was the signature of the new Constitution; it is said that he hesitated, but was told by the Ministers that if he refused they would answer neither for his crown nor his head. On November 23d he signed.
Before this had happened the situation had received an unexpected change. A new claimant appeared to dispute his title to the Duchies. The day after the death of the King, Frederick, eldest son of the Duke of Augustenburg, published a proclamation announcing his succession to the Duchy under the title of Frederick VIII. No one seems to have foreseen this step; it was supposed that after the agreement of 1853 the question of succession had been finally settled. The whole of the German nation, however, received with enthusiasm the news that it was again to be raised.
They believed that the Prince was the lawful heir; they saw in his claim the possibility of permanently separating the Duchies from Denmark. Nothing seemed to stand between this and accomplishment except the Treaty of London. Surely the rights of the Duchies, and the claim of Augustenburg, supported by united Germany, would be strong enough to bear down this treaty which was so unjust.
The question will be asked, was the claim of Augustenburg valid? No positive answer can be given, for it has never been tried by a competent court of law. It may, however, I think, be said that although there were objections, which might invalidate his right to at least a part of the Duchies, it is almost certain that a quite impartial tribunal would have decided that he had at least a better claim than any of his rivals. This at least would have been true fifteen years before. When, however, the Treaty of London was arranged it was necessary to procure the renunciation of all the different claimants. That of the Emperor of Russia, the Duke of Oldenburg, and others was obtained without much difficulty; the Duke of Augustenburg long refused. In order to compel him to renounce, the Danish Government refused to restore to him his private property, which had been confiscated owing to the part he had taken in the late rebellion. He had been enormously wealthy, but was now living in exile and deprived of his revenues. By this means they had at last induced him to sign a document, in which he promised, for himself and his successors, not to make any attempt to enforce his claims to the succession. The document was curiously worded; there was no actual renunciation, only a promise to abstain from action. In return for this a sum of money, not equal, however, to that which he had lost, was handed over to him. Now it was Bismarck who, while envoy at Frankfort, had carried on the negotiations; he had taken much trouble about the matter, and earned the warm gratitude both of the King of Denmark and of the Duke. There is, I think, no doubt that he believed that the agreement was a bona fide one and would be maintained. Since then the Duke had renounced all his claims in favour of his eldest son; Prince Frederick had not signed the contract and maintained that he was not bound by it. Of course Bismarck could not admit this, and his whole attitude towards the Prince must from the beginning be hostile.
It is only fair to point out that there was no reason whatever why the Augustenburgs should do anything more than that to which they were bound by the strict letter of the agreement; they had no ties of gratitude towards Denmark; they had not, as is often said, sold their rights, for they had received only a portion of their own possessions. However this may be, his claim was supported, not only by the people and Parliaments, but by leaders of the German Governments, headed by the King of Bavaria.
Bismarck was now asked to denounce the Treaty of London to which Prussia had given her assent; to support the claims of Augustenburg; to carry out the policy of the Diet, and if necessary to allow the Prussian army to be used in fighting for Prince Frederick against the King of Denmark. This he had not the slightest intention of doing. He had to consider first of all that Prussia was bound by treaties. As he said: "We may regret that we signed, but the signature took place. Honour as well as wisdom allows us to leave no doubt as to our loyalty to our engagements." He had moreover to consider that if he acted as the Germans wished he would find himself opposed, not only by Denmark, but also by Russia and England, and in military operations on the narrow peninsula the power of the English fleet would easily outbalance the superiority of the Prussian army. Moreover, and this was the point which affected him most, what good would come to Prussia even if she were successful in this war? "I cannot regard it as a Prussian interest to wage war in order in the most favourable result to establish a new Grand Duke in Schleswig-Holstein, who out of fear of Prussian aggression would vote against us at the Diet."
His policy, therefore, was clearly marked out for him: he must refuse to recognise the claims of Augustenburg; he must refuse to break the Treaty of London. This, however, would not prevent him from bringing pressure to bear on the new King of Denmark, as he had done on his predecessor, to induce him to abide by his treaty engagements, and, if he did not do so, from declaring war against him.
There was even at this time in his mind another thought. He had the hope that in some way or other he might be able to gain a direct increase of territory for Prussia. If they recognised the Augustenburg claims this would be always impossible, for then either the Duchies would remain under the King of Denmark or, if the Danes were defeated, they would have to be given to the Prince.
In this policy he was supported by Austria. The Austrian Government was also bound by the Treaty of London; they were much annoyed at the violent and almost revolutionary agitation which had broken out in Germany; it was with much relief that they learned that Prussia, instead of heading the movement as in 1849, was ready to oppose it. The two great Powers so lately in opposition now acted in close union.
Issue was joined at the Diet between the two parties. The Prince brought his claim before it, and those who supported him proposed that, as the succession to the Duchies was in dispute, they should be occupied by a Federal army until the true ruler had been determined. Against this Austria and Prussia proposed that the Federal execution in Holstein, which had before been resolved on, should be at once carried out. If the execution were voted it would be an indirect recognition of Christian as ruler, for it would be carried out as against his Government; on this point, execution or occupation, the votes were taken.
Bismarck was, however, greatly embarrassed by the strong influence which the Prince of Augustenburg had in the Prussian Royal Family; he was an intimate friend of the Crown Princess, and the Crown Princess and the King himself regarded his claims with favour. Directly after his proclamation the pretender came to Berlin; he had a very friendly reception from the King, who expressed his deep regret that he was tied by the London Convention, but clearly shewed that he hoped this difficulty might be overcome. Bismarck took another line; he said that he was trying to induce the new King not to sign the Constitution; the Prince, to Bismarck's obvious annoyance, explained that that would be no use; he should maintain his claims just the same.
The King disliked the Treaty of London as much as everyone else did; he had to agree to Bismarck's arguments that it would not be safe to denounce it, but he would have been quite willing, supposing Prussia was outvoted in the Diet, to accept the vote and obey the decision of the majority; he even hoped that this would be the result. Bismarck would have regarded an adverse vote as a sufficient reason for retiring from the Federation altogether. Were Prussia outvoted, it would be forced into a European war, which he wished to avoid, and made to fight as a single member of the German Confederation. Rather than do this he would prefer to fight on the other side; "Denmark is a better ally than the German States," he said. The two parties were contending as keenly at the Prussian Court as at Frankfort; Vincke wrote a long and pressing letter to the King; Schleinitz appeared again, supported as of old by the Queen; the Crown Prince was still in England, but he and his wife were enthusiastic on the Prince's side.
How much Bismarck was hampered by adverse influences at Court we see from a letter to Roon:
"I am far removed from any hasty or selfish resolution, but I have a feeling that the cause of the King against the Revolution is lost; his heart is in the other camp and he has more confidence in his opponents than his friends. For us it will be indifferent, one year or thirty years hence, but not for our children. The King has ordered me to come to him before the sitting to discuss what is to be said; I shall not say much, partly because I have not closed my eyes all night and am wretched, and then I really do not know what to say. They will certainly reject the loan, and his Majesty at the risk of breaking with Europe and experiencing a second Olmütz will at last join the Democracy, and work with it in order to set up Augustenburg and found a new State. What is the good of making speeches and scolding? Without some miracle of God the game is lost. Now and with posterity the blame will be laid upon us. As God will. He will know how long Prussia has to exist. But God knows I shall be sorry when it ceases."
The only ally that Bismarck had was Austria. Their combined influence was sufficiently strong by a majority of one to carry through the Diet execution instead of occupation; though there was appended to the motion a rider that the question of succession was not thereby prejudiced.
The execution took place. During the month of December the Hanoverians and Saxons occupied Holstein; the Danes did not resist but retreated across the Eider. At the end of the year the occupation was complete. In the rear of the German troops had come also the Prince of Augustenburg, who had settled himself in the land of which he claimed to be ruler.
What was now to be done? The Augustenburg party wished at once to press forward with the question of the succession; let the Diet decide this immediately; then hand over Holstein to the new Duke and immediately seize Schleswig also and vindicate it from Christian, the alien usurper. Bismarck would not hear of this; he still maintained his policy that Prussia should not denounce the London Convention, should recognise the sovereignty of Christian, and should demand from him as lawful ruler of all the Danish possessions the repeal of the obnoxious November Constitution. In this he was still supported by Austria; if the Danes did not acquiesce in these very moderate demands, the Germans should enter Schleswig and seize it as a security. Then he would be able when he wished to free himself from the Treaty of London, for war dissolves all treaties.
The advantage of this plan was that it entirely deprived England of any grounds for interference; Prussia alone was now defending the London Convention; Prussia was preventing the Diet from a breach of treaty; the claim of Denmark was one in regard to which the Danes were absolutely wrong. Bismarck had therefore on his side Austria, Russia, probably France, and averted the hostility of England. Against him was German public opinion, the German Diet, and the Prussian Parliament; everyone, that is, whom he neither feared nor regarded. So long as the King was firm he could look with confidence to the future, even though he did not know what it would bring forth.
With the Parliament indeed nothing was to be done; they, of course, strongly supported Augustenburg. They refused to look at the question from a Prussian point of view. "On your side," Bismarck said, "no one dares honestly to say that he acts for the interests of Prussia and as a Prussian." They feared that he proposed to hand back the Duchies to Denmark; they refused to consider him seriously as Foreign Minister; they spoke of him as a rash amateur. It was to attack him on his most sensitive point. Here, at least, he felt on completely secure ground; diplomacy was his profession; what did the professors and talkers in the Chamber know of it? They were trying to control the policy of the State, but, he said, "in these days an Assembly of 350 members cannot in the last instance direct the policy of a great Power." The Government asked for a loan for military operations; he appealed to their patriotism, but it was in vain; the House voted an address to the King, remonstrating against the conduct of foreign affairs, and threw out the loan by a majority of 275 to 51. "If you do not vote the money, we shall take it where we can get it," Bismarck had warned them. The House was immediately prorogued after a session of only two months, not to meet again till January, 1865.
This policy of Bismarck was proposed by Austria and Prussia at the Diet; the other States refused to adopt it, as they wished to raise the question of succession; on a division Prussia was outvoted. The two great Powers therefore entered into a separate agreement in which, while still recognising the integrity of the Danish Monarchy, they undertook to force the King to withdraw the obnoxious Constitution, and, if he did not consent to do so, they agreed to occupy Schleswig.
The Prussian House, in its address to the King, had declared that the only result of this policy would be to give back the Duchies to Denmark. Was there no fear of this? What would have happened had Denmark after all given in, as England strongly pressed her to do? Had she withdrawn the obnoxious Constitution, and granted all that Bismarck asked, why then Prussia and Austria would have been bound to support the integrity of Denmark, and, if necessary, by force of arms to eject the Federal troops from Holstein. Bismarck had considered this contingency, and guarded himself against it. Many years later Beust put the question to him. "Oh, I was all right," he answered; "I had assured myself that the Danes would not give in. I had led them to think that England would support them, though I knew this was not the case." He had, however, even a surer guarantee than this; the ultimatum presented to Denmark was couched in such a form that even if he would the King could not comply with it. The requirement was that the Constitution should be revoked before the 1st of January. By the Constitution the King could not do this of his own prerogative; he must have the assent of the Rigsrad. This assent could not be obtained for the following reasons: the Rigsrad of the old Constitution had been dissolved and had no longer a legal existence; a new assembly could not be summoned before the 1st of January—there was not time. If an assembly were summoned after that date, it must be of course summoned according to the new Constitution. To do this, however, would be to bring the obnoxious Constitution actually into force, and would mean, so to speak, a declaration of war against Prussia. If the King wished to give in he must have time; he must be allowed to summon the new assembly, lay before it the German demands, and require it to declare its own revocation. The English Government, still anxious to keep the peace, represented to Bismarck the dilemma in which he had placed the Danes. Lord Wodehouse, who was in Berlin in December, requested that at least more time should be allowed. Bismarck refused to listen to the request.
"These constitutional questions," he said, "had nothing to do with him; the Danes had put off the Germans for years; they could not wait any longer. The King could always make a coup d'état; he would have to do so sooner or later. Germany and Denmark could never be at peace so long as the Democratic party had the authority."
Denmark did not give way; the help from England, on which they had reckoned, was not forthcoming; the fatal day passed; the Austrians and Prussians entered Holstein, marched across that Duchy, and in the early part of February began the invasion of Schleswig. The relations of the Allied troops to the Federal army of occupation were very remarkable. Both were opposed to the Danes, but they were equally opposed to one another; had they dared to do so, the Saxons would have opposed the Prussian advance. As it was they sullenly watched the Prussian and Austrian columns marching north to the invasion of Denmark.
It was the first time that the remodelled Prussian army had been tested on the field of battle; Bismarck had brought it about that they were fighting for the cause of Germany and in alliance with Austria. As soon as war began, his own position improved. The King and the army were, of course, all the more confident in a Minister who had given them so good a cause of war and allowed them to take the field side by side with their old ally. Their superiority in number and discipline ensured success in the military operations; the Danes evacuated their first position at the Dannewirk; the German troops occupied the whole of Schleswig, then after some further delay advanced into Jutland, and finally began the siege of the strong fortification of the Düppel. The taking of this was a difficult piece of work, which, after some delay, was successfully carried out at the beginning of April.
Meanwhile the diplomatic difficulties had continued. There had now come from England the proposal of a Conference. This Bismarck, always wishing to preserve the appearance of moderation, accepted. Before doing so, he knew that he had gained a very important ally. Napoleon was displeased with the English Government; he it was who suggested to Bismarck that the best solution of the difficulty would be the annexation of the Duchies to Prussia. It was just what Bismarck himself desired. Would he be able to bring it about? This was what was in his mind when he had to consider the attitude he should adopt at the Conference.
He could not, of course, propose it openly; he might be able to arrange affairs so that in the universal confusion this solution should be welcomed. He first of all began to change his attitude towards the German agitation for Augustenburg; hitherto he had opposed and discouraged it; now he let it have free course. He wrote:
"The present situation is such that it seems to me desirable to let loose the whole pack against the Danes at the Congress; the joint noise will work in the direction of making the subjugation of the Duchies to Denmark appear impossible to foreigners; they will have to consider programmes which the Prussian Government cannot lay before them."
What this means is that England and Russia were to be convinced that Denmark could not regain the Duchies; then they would have to consider who should have them. Bismarck believed that Austria was irrevocably opposed to Augustenburg. "She would rather see the Duchies in our hands than in those of the Prince," he wrote. Austria and Russia would, therefore, oppose this solution; if both Denmark and Augustenburg were impossible, then would be the time for France to ask why should they not be given to Prussia, and to join this proposal with another one for the division of the Duchies according to nationality.
FROM A PAINTING BY F. VON LENBACH.
Napoleon, in accordance with his principles, wished entirely to disregard the question of law; he was equally indifferent to the Treaty of London, the hereditary rights of Augustenburg, or the chartered privileges of the Duchies. He wished to consult the inhabitants and allow each village to vote whether it wished to be German or Danish; thus, districts in the north where Danish was spoken would then be incorporated in Denmark; the whole of Holstein and the south of Schleswig would be permanently united to Germany, and by preference to Prussia. These revolutionary principles of Napoleon were in the eyes of the Austrian statesmen criminal, for if applied consistently not only would Austria be deprived of Venetia, but the whole Empire would be dissolved. It required all Bismarck's ingenuity to maintain the alliance with Austria, which was still necessary to him, and at the same time to keep Napoleon's friendship by giving his assent to doctrines that would be so convenient to Prussia.
In considering Bismarck's diplomatic work we must not suppose that he ever deceived himself into thinking that he would be able clearly to foresee all that would happen; he knew too well the uncertain nature of the pieces with which he had to deal: no one could quite foretell, for instance, the result of the struggle which was going on in the English Ministry or the votes of the House of Commons; equally impossible was it to build on the assurances of Napoleon.
"The longer I work at politics," he said, "the smaller is my belief in human calculation. I look at the affair according to my human understanding, but gratitude for God's assistance so far, raises in me the confidence that the Lord is able to turn our errors to our own good; that I experience daily to my wholesome humiliation."
This time he had been mistaken in his forecast. In a despatch of May 23d to Austria he suggested two solutions,—the Augustenburg succession, and annexation by Prussia; he inclined towards the former, though, as he said, if the Prince was to be recognised,
"it would be imperatively necessary to obtain guarantees for a Conservative administration, and some security that the Duchies should not become the home of democratic agitations."
As he said elsewhere, "Kiel must not become a second Gotha." He no doubt anticipated that Austria would refuse this first alternative; then the annexation by Prussia would naturally arise for discussion. Had Austria been consistent, all would have been well, but a change had taken place there; the Government was not disinclined to win the popularity that would accrue to them if they took up the Augustenburg cause; after all, Austria would be rather strengthened than weakened by the establishment of a new Federal State, which, as all the other smaller Princes, would probably be inclined to take the Austrian side. In answer, therefore, to this despatch the Austrians, throwing aside all attempt at consistency, proposed vigorously to press the Augustenburg claim. "It is just what we were going to suggest ourselves," they said. Bismarck therefore was compelled now, as best he could, to get out of the difficulty, and, as Austria had not rejected it, he begins to withdraw the proposal he had himself made. To Bernstorff, his envoy at the Congress, he writes:
"Austria is endeavouring to establish irrevocably the candidacy of Augustenburg in order by this means to render it difficult for Prussia to impose special conditions. We cannot consent to this. The dynastic questions must be discussed with special consideration for Prussian interests, and, consequently, other possibilities cannot be ruled out, until we have negotiated with Augustenburg and ascertained in what relation to Prussia he intends to place himself and his country. If the person of Augustenburg meets with more opposition in the Conference than the project of a division, then let the former drop."
The proposal, however, had to be made; for once, all the German Powers appeared in agreement when they demanded from the neutrals the recognition of Augustenburg; but Bismarck proposed it in such words as to avoid pledging himself to the legality. Of course the proposal was rejected by the Danes and Russians and it was allowed to fall to the ground. For Bismarck the interest is for the moment diverted from London to Berlin.
The time had come when Bismarck should definitely decide on the attitude he was to adopt toward Augustenburg. Hitherto he had avoided committing himself irrevocably; it was still open to him either to adopt him as the Prussian candidate on such conditions as might seem desirable, or to refuse to have any dealings with him. He had, in fact, kept both plans open, for it was characteristic of his diplomatic work that he would generally keep in his mind, and, to some extent, carry out in action, several different plans at the same time. If one failed him he could take up another. In this case he intended, if possible, to get the Duchies for Prussia; it was always to be foreseen that the difficulties might be insurmountable; he had therefore to consider the next best alternative. This would be the creation of a new State, but one which was bound to Prussia by a special and separate treaty. There were many demands, some of them legitimate, which Prussia was prepared to make. Bismarck attributed great importance to the acquisition of Kiel, because he wanted to found a Prussian navy. Then he was very anxious to have a canal made across Holstein so that Prussian vessels could reach the North Sea without passing the Sound; and of course he had to consider the military protection on the north. It would therefore be a condition that, whoever was made Duke, certain military and other privileges should be granted to Prussia. On this, all through the summer, negotiations were carried on unofficially between the Prince of Augustenburg and the Prussian authorities. We cannot here discuss them in detail, but the Prince seems to have been quite willing to acquiesce in these naval and military requirements. He made several suggestions and objections in detail, and he also pointed out that constitutionally he could not enter into a valid treaty until after he had been made Duke and received the assent of the Estates. I think, however, that no one can doubt that he was quite loyal to Prussia and really wished to bring the matter to a satisfactory issue. As might be expected, he was very cautious in his negotiations with Bismarck, but his letters to the King are more open. Had Bismarck wished he could at any time have come to an agreement with the Prince, but he never gave the opportunity for a serious and careful discussion on the detailed wording of the conditions. He did not wish to be bound by them, but he kept the negotiations open in case events occurred which might compel him to accept this solution.
In his treatment of the question he was, to some extent, influenced by the personal dislike he always felt for the Prince.
What was the cause of this enmity? There was nothing in the Prince's character to justify it; he was a modest, honourable, and educated man; though deficient in practical ability, he had at a very critical time announced his claims to a decision and maintained them with resolution. Bismarck, who in private life was always able to do justice to his enemies, recognised this: "I should have acted in just the same way myself had I been in your place," he said. He always himself said that his distrust of the Prince was caused by his dislike of the men whom the latter relied upon for advice. He was too closely connected with the Progressive party. He had surrounded himself with a kind of ministry, consisting chiefly of men who, though by birth inhabitants of the Duchies, had for some years been living at Gotha under the protection of the Duke of Coburg. They were strong Liberals and belonged to that party in Germany of which the Court of Coburg was the centre, who maintained a close connection with the Crown Prince, and who undoubtedly were looking forward to the time when the Crown Prince would become King of Prussia, Bismarck would be dismissed, and their party would come into office. This is probably quite sufficient reason to explain Bismarck's personal dislike of Augustenburg, though it is probable that he laid more stress on this aspect of the matter than he otherwise would have done, for he hoped thereby to prejudice the King against the Prince; as long as the King recognised Augustenburg's claims, his own hands would be tied in the attempt to win the Duchies for Prussia.
He had, as we have seen, had a short interview with the Prince at the end of the previous year now a new meeting was arranged, avowedly to discuss the conditions which Prussia would require if she supported the Prince. The Crown Prince, who was very anxious to help his friend, persuaded him to go to Berlin and if possible come to some clear understanding with the King and Bismarck. Augustenburg was reluctant to take this step. Loyal as he was to Prussia he much distrusted Bismarck. He feared that if he unreservedly placed his cause in Prussia's hands, Bismarck would in some way betray him. The position he took up was perfectly consistent. He was, by hereditary right, reigning Duke; he only wished to be left alone with the Duchies; he knew that if he was, they would at once recognise him and he would enter into government. In order to win his dominions, he had required the help of Germany; it was comparatively indifferent to him whether the help came from Prussia, Austria, or the Federation. But he quite understood that Prussia must have some recompense for the help it had given. What he had to fear was that, if he entered into any separate and secret engagements with Prussia, he would thereby lose the support he enjoyed in the rest of Germany, and that then Bismarck would find some excuse not to carry out his promises, so that at the end he would be left entirely without support. We know that his suspicions were unfounded, for Bismarck was not the man in this way to desert anyone who had entered into an agreement with him, but Augustenburg could not know this and had every reason for distrusting Bismarck, who was his avowed enemy.
On the 30th of May, the Prince, with many misgivings, came to Berlin. The evening of the next day he had a long interview with Bismarck; it began about nine o'clock and lasted till after midnight. There is no doubt that this interview was decisive against his chances. From that time Bismarck was determined that under no circumstances should he succeed, and we shall see that when Bismarck wished for anything he usually attained it. We would gladly, therefore, know exactly what happened; both Bismarck and the Prince have given accounts of what took place, but unfortunately they differ on very important points, and no one else was present at the interview. It is clear that the Prince throughout, for the reasons we have named, observed great reserve. It would undoubtedly have been wiser of him openly to place himself entirely in Bismarck's hands, to throw himself on the generosity of Prussia, and to agree to the terms which Bismarck offered. Why he did not do this we have explained. The conversation chiefly turned on the Prussian demands for the harbour of Kiel and certain other concessions; the Prince expressed himself quite willing to grant most of what was required, but he could not enter into any formal treaty without the consent of the Estates of the Duchies. When he left the room he seems to have been fairly satisfied with what had been said. If so he deceived himself grievously. Scarcely had he gone (it was already midnight) when Bismarck sent off despatches to St. Petersburg, Paris, and London, explaining that he was not inclined to support Augustenburg any longer, and instructing the Ambassadors to act accordingly. Not content with this he at once brought forward an alternative candidate. Among the many claimants to the Duchies had been the Duke of Oldenburg and the Czar, who both belonged to the same branch of the family. The Czar had, at the end of May, transferred his claims to the Duke, and Bismarck now wrote to St. Petersburg that he would also be prepared to support him. We must not suppose that in doing this he had the slightest intention of allowing the Duke to be successful. He gained, however, a double advantage. First of all he pleased the Czar and prevented any difficulties from Russia; secondly, the very fact of a rival candidate coming forward would indefinitely postpone any settlement. So long as Augustenburg was the only German candidate there was always the danger, as at the Congress of London, that he might suddenly be installed and Bismarck be unable to prevent it. If, however, the Duke of Oldenburg came forward, Bismarck would at once take up the position that, as there were rival claimants, a proper legal verdict must be obtained and that Prussia could not act so unjustly as to prejudice the decision by extending her support to either. It was not necessary for anyone to know that he himself had induced the Duke of Oldenburg to revive his claim.
At the same time he took other steps to frustrate Augustenburg's hopes; he caused the statement to be published in the Prussian papers that during the conversation of May 31st the Prince had said that he had never asked the Prussians for help, and that he could have got on very well without them. It was just the sort of thing which would strongly prejudice the King against him, and Bismarck was very anxious to destroy the influence which the Prince still had with the King and with many other Prussians. At that time, and always later, the Prince denied that he had said anything of the kind. Even if, in the course of a long conversation, he had said anything which might have been interpreted to mean this, it was a great breach of confidence to publish these words from a private discussion taken out of their context. The Prussian Press received the word, and for years to come did not cease to pour out its venom against the Prince. This action of Bismarck's seemed quite to justify the apprehension with which the Prince had gone to Berlin.
It is not necessary to look for any far-fetched explanation of Bismarck's action; the simplest is the most probable. He had not arranged the interview with any intention of entrapping Augustenburg; he had really been doubtful whether, after all, it might not be wiser to accept the Prince and make a separate treaty with him. All depended on his personal character and the attitude he adopted towards Prussia. Bismarck, who had great confidence in his own judgment of mankind, regarded a personal interview as the best means of coming to a conclusion; the result of it was that he felt it impossible to rely on the Prince, who, instead of being open, positive, and ready to do business, was reserved, hesitating, distrustful, and critical. Bismarck had given him his chance; he had failed to seize it. Instead of being a grateful client he was a mere obstacle in the road of Prussian greatness, and had to be swept away. Against him all the resources of diplomacy were now directed. His influence must be destroyed, but not by force, for his strength came from his very weakness; the task was to undermine the regard which the German people had for him and their enthusiasm for his cause—work to be properly assigned to the Prussian Press.
The Conference in London separated at the end of June without coming to any conclusion; it had, however, enabled Bismarck formally to dissociate himself from the former Treaty of London, and henceforward he had a free hand in his dealings with Denmark.
Another brilliant feat of arms, the transference of the Prussian troops across the sea to the island of Alsen, completed the war. Denmark had to capitulate, and the terms of peace, which were ultimately decided at Vienna, were that Schleswig, Holstein, and also Lauenburg should be given up. Christian transferred to the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia all the rights which he possessed. As to Lauenburg the matter was simple—the authority of the King of Denmark over this Duchy was undisputed; as to Schleswig-Holstein all the old questions still continued; the King had transferred his rights, but what were his rights? He could only grant that which belonged to him; if the Prince of Augustenburg was Duke, then the King of Denmark could not confer another man's throne. There was, however, this difference: hitherto the question had been a European one, but since the London Congress no other State had any claim to interfere. The disputed succession of the Duchies must be settled between Austria and Prussia. It was a special clause in the terms of peace that it should be decided by agreement between them and not referred to the Diet.