Today’s installment concludes The Austro-Prussian War,
our selection from History of Modern Europe by Charles A. Fyffe published in 1890.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Austro-Prussian War.
Time: August, 1866
In the meantime, while negotiations passed between all four Governments, the Prussians pushed forward until their outposts came within sight of Vienna. If in pursuance of General Moltke’s plan the Italian generals had thrown a corps northeastward from the head of the Adriatic, and so struck at the very heart of the Austrian monarchy, it is possible that the victors of Koeniggraetz might have imposed their own terms without regard to Napoleon’s mediation, and, while adding the Italian Tyrol to Victor Emmanuel’s dominions, have completed the union of Germany under the house of Hohenzollern at one stroke. But with Hungary still intact, and the Italian army paralyzed by the dissensions of its commanders, prudence bade the great statesman of Berlin content himself with the advantages he could reap without prolongation of the war, and without the risk of throwing Napoleon into the enemy’s camp. He had at ﬁrst required, as conditions of peace, that Prussia should be left free to annex Saxony, Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, and other North German territory; that Austria should wholly withdraw from German affairs; and that all Germany, less the Austrian Provinces, should be united in a federation under Prussian leadership.
To gain the assent of Napoleon to these terms, Bismarck hinted that France might by accord with Prussia annex Belgium. Napoleon, however, refused to agree to the extension of Prussia’s ascendency over all Germany, and presented a counter-project, which in its turn was rejected by Bismarck. It was ﬁnally settled that Prussia should not be prevented from annexing Hanover, Nassau, and Hesse-Cassel, as conquered territory that lay between its own Rhenish Provinces and the rest of the Kingdom; that Austria should completely withdraw from German affairs; that Germany north of the Main, together with Saxony, should be included in a federation under Prussian leadership; and that for the States south of the Main the right of entering into a national bond with the Northern League should be reserved.
Austria escaped without loss of any of its non-Italian territory; it also succeeded in preserving the existence of Saxony, which, as in 1815, the Prussian Government had been most anxious to annex.
Napoleon, in conﬁning the Prussian Federation to the north of the Main, and in securing by a formal stipulation in the treaty the independence of the South German States, imagined himself to have broken Germany into halves, and to have laid the foundation of a South German League that should look to France as its protector. On the other hand, Bismarck by his annexation of Hanover and neighboring districts had added a population of four million to the Prussian Kingdom, and given it a continuous territory; he had forced Austria out of the German system; he had gained its sanction to the federal union of all Germany north of the Main, and had at least kept the way open for the later ex tension of this union to the South German States.
Preliminaries of peace embodying these conditions and recognizing Prussia’s sovereignty in Schleswig-Holstein were signed at Nicolsburg on July 26th, and formed the basis of the deﬁnitive treaty of peace, which was concluded at Prague on August 23d. An illusory clause, added at the instance of Napoleon, provided that if the population of the northern districts of Schleswig should by a free vote express the wish to be united with Denmark, these districts should be ceded to the Danish Kingdom.
Bavaria and the southwestern allies of Austria, though their military action was ineffective, continued in arms for some weeks after the Battle of Koeniggraetz, and the suspension of hostilities arranged at Nicolsburg did not come into operation in their behalf till August 2d. Before that date their forces were dispersed and their power of resistance broken by the Prussian generals Falckenstein and Manteuffel in a series of unimportant engagements and intricate maneuvers. The city of Frankfort, against which Bismarck seems to have borne some personal hatred, was treated for a while by the conquerors with extraordinary and most impolitic harshness; in other respects, the action of the Prussian Government toward these conquered States was not such as to render future union and friendship difficult.
All the South German Governments, with the single exception of Baden, appealed to the Emperor Napoleon for assistance in the negotiations they had opened at Berlin. But at the very moment when this request was made and granted Napoleon was himself demanding from Bismarck the cession of the Bavarian Palatinate and of the Hessian districts west of the Rhine. Bismarck had only to acquaint the King of Bavaria and the South German ministers with the designs of their French protector in order to reconcile them to his own chastening but not unfriendly hand. The grandeur of a united “Fatherland” ﬂashed upon minds hitherto impenetrable by any national ideal, when it became known that Napoleon was bargaining for Oppenheim and Kaiserslautern. Not only were the insigniﬁcant questions as to the war indemnities to be paid to Prussia and the frontier villages to be exchanged promptly settled, but by a series of secret treaties all the South German States entered into an offensive and defensive alliance with the Prussian King, and engaged in case of war to place their entire forces at his disposal and under his command.
The diplomacy of Napoleon III had in the end effected for Bismarck almost more than his earlier intervention had frustrated, for it had made the South German courts the allies of Prussia, not through conquest or mere compulsion, but out of regard for their own interests. It was said by the opponents of the Imperial Government in France, and scarcely with exaggeration, that every error which it was possible to commit had, in the course of the year 1866, been committed by Napoleon III. One crime, one act of madness, remained open to the Emperor’s critics, to lash him and France into a conﬂict with the power whose union he had not been able to prevent.
This ends our series of passages on The Austro-Prussian War by Charles A. Fyffe from his book History of Modern Europe published in 1890. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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