This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Bismark’s Diplomatic Maneuvers.
This conﬂict, called also the Seven Weeks’ War, was an important step in the unification of Germany. The immediate reasons for starting the war were disputes over the “Schleswig-Holstein question” but these were more of an excuses than reasons. With this war Prussia got rid of a rival for primacy among the German states.
This selection is from History of Modern Europe by Charles A. Fyffe published in 1890.
Charles A. Fyffe was an English historian and a war correspondent for The Daily News in the Franco-Prussian War.
On March 16, 1866, the Austrian Government announced that it should refer the affairs of Schleswig-Holstein to the Federal Diet. This was a clear departure from the terms of the Convention of Gastein,  and from the agreement made between Austria and Prussia before entering into the Danish War in 1864 that the Schleswig-Holstein question should be settled by the two Powers independently of the German Federation. King William was deeply moved by such a breach of good faith; tears ﬁlled his eyes when he spoke of the conduct of the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph; and though paciﬁc inﬂuences were still active around him, he now began to fall in more cordially with the war like policy of his minister. The question at issue between Prussia and Austria expanded from the mere disposal of the duchies to the reconstitution of the federal system of Germany. In a note laid before the Governments of all the minor States, Bismarck declared that the time had come when Germany must receive a new and more effective organization, and inquired how far Prussia could count on the support of allies if it should be attacked by Austria or forced into war. Immediately after this reopening of the whole problem of federal reform in Germany the draft of the treaty with Italy was brought to its ﬁnal shape by Bismarck and the Italian envoy, and sent to the Ministry at Florence for its approval.
[1 A treaty concluded between Austria and Prussia at Wildbad Gastein, August 14, 1865, by which the duchies conquered from Denmark were disposed of. -ED.]
Bismarck had now to make the best use of the three-months’ delay that was granted to him. On the day after the acceptance of the treaty by the Italian Government the Prussian representative at the Diet of Frankfort handed in a proposal for the summoning of a German parliament, to be elected by universal suffrage. Coming from the minister who had made parliamentary government a mockery in Prussia, this proposal was scarcely considered as serious. Bavaria, as the chief of the secondary States, had already expressed its willingness to enter upon the discussion of federal reform, but it asked that the two leading Powers should in the meantime undertake not to attack each other. Austria at once acceded to this request, and so forced Bismarck into giving a similar assurance. Promises of disarmament were then exchanged; but as Austria declined to stay the collection of its forces in Venetia against Italy, Bismarck was able to charge his adversary with insincerity in the negotiation, and preparations for war were resumed on both sides. Other difficulties now came into view. The treaty between Prussia and Italy had been made known to the Court of Vienna by Napoleon, whose advice La Marmora, the Italian minister, had sought before its conclusion, and the Austrian Emperor had thus become aware of his danger. He now determined to sacriﬁce Venetia if Italy’s neutrality could be so secured. On May 5th, the Italian ambassador at Paris, Count Nigra, was informed by Napoleon that Austria had offered to cede Venetia to him in behalf of Victor Emmanuel if France and Italy would not prevent Austria from indemnifying itself at Prussia’s expense in Silesia.
Without a war, at the price of mere inaction, Italy was offered all that it could gain by a struggle which was likely to be desperate and which might end in disaster.
La Marmora was in sore perplexity. Though he had formed a juster estimate of the capacity of the Prussian army than any other statesman or soldier in Europe, he was thoroughly suspicious of the intentions of the Prussian Government; and in sanctioning the alliance of the previous month he had done so half expecting that Bismarck would through the prestige of this alliance gain for Prussia its own objects without entering into war, and then leave Italy to reckon with Austria as best it might. He would gladly have abandoned the alliance and have accepted Austria’s offer if Italy could have done this without disgrace. But the sense of honor was sufﬁciently strong to carry him past this temptation. He declined the offer made through Paris, and continued the armaments of Italy, though still with a secret hope that European diplomacy might ﬁnd the means of realizing the purpose of his country without war.
The neutral Powers were now, with various objects, bestirring themselves in favor of a European congress. Napoleon believed the time to be come when the treaties of 1815 might be ﬁnally obliterated by the joint act of Europe. He was himself ready to join Prussia with three hundred thousand men if the King would transfer the Rhenish Provinces to France. Demands, direct and indirect, were made on Count Bismarck in behalf of the Tuileries for cessions of territory of greater or less extent. These demands were neither granted nor refused. Bismarck procrastinated; he spoke of the obstinacy of the King his master; he inquired whether parts of Belgium or Switzerland would not better assimilate with France than a German Province; he put off the Emperor’s representatives by the assurance that he could more conveniently arrange these matters with the Emperor when he should himself visit Paris. On May 28th invitations to a congress were issued by France, England, and Russia jointly, the objects of the congress being deﬁned as the settlement of the affairs of Schleswig-Holstein, of the differences between Austria and Italy, and of the reform of the Federal Constitution of Germany, in so far as these affected Europe at large. The invitation was accepted by Prussia and by Italy; it was accepted by Austria only under the condition that no arrangement should be discussed which should give an increase of territory or power to one of the States invited to the congress.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history