Austria at once demanded and obtained from the Diet of Frankfort the mobilization of the whole of the federal armies.
Continuing The Austro-Prussian War,
our selection from History of Modern Europe by Charles A. Fyffe published in 1890. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Austro-Prussian War.
Time: June, 1866
This subtly worded condition would not indeed have excluded the equal aggrandizement of all. It would not have rendered the cession of Venetia to Italy or the annexation of Schleswig Holstein to Prussia impossible; but it would either have involved the surrender of the former Papal territory by Italy in order that Victor Emmanuel’s dominions should receive no increase, or, in the alternative, it would have entitled Austria to claim Silesia as its own equivalent for the augmentation of the Italian Kingdom. Such reservations would have rendered any efforts of the Powers to preserve peace useless, and they were accepted as tantamount to a refusal on the part of Austria to attend the congress. Simultaneously with its answer to the neutral Powers Austria called upon the Federal Diet to take the affairs of Schleswig-Holstein into its own hands, and convoked the Holstein Estates. Bismarck thereupon declared the Convention of Gastein to be at an end, and ordered General Manteuffel to lead his troops into Holstein. The Austrian commander, protesting that he yielded only to superior force, withdrew through Altona into Hanover.
Austria at once demanded and obtained from the Diet of Frankfort the mobilization of the whole of the federal armies. The representative of Prussia, declaring that this act of the Diet had made an end of the existing federal union, handed in the plan of his Government for the reorganization of Germany, and quitted Frankfort. Diplomatic relations between Austria and Prussia were broken off on June 12th, and on the 15th Count Bismarck demanded of the sovereigns of Hanover, Saxony, and Hesse-Cassel that they should on that very day put a stop to their military preparations and accept the Prussian scheme of federal reform. Negative answers being given, Prussian troops immediately marched into these territories, and war began. Weimar, Mecklenburg, and other petty States in the north took part with Prussia; all the rest of Germany joined Austria.
The goal of Bismarck’s desire, the end he had steadily set before himself since entering upon his ministry, was attained; and, if his calculations as to the strength of the Prussian army were not at fault, Austria was at length to be expelled from the German Federation by force of arms. But the process by which Bismarck had worked up to this result had ranged against him the almost unanimous opinion of Germany outside the military circles of Prussia itself. His ﬁnal demand for the summoning of a German parliament was taken as mere comedy. The guiding star of his policy had hitherto been the dynastic interest of the house of Hohenzollern; and now, when the Germans were to be plunged into war with one another, it seemed as if the real object of the struggle was no more than the annexation of the Danish duchies and some other coveted territory to the Prussian Kingdom. The voice of protest and condemnation rose loud from every organ of public opinion. Even in Prussia itself the instances were few where any spontaneous support was tendered to the Government.
The Parliament of Berlin, struggling up to the end against the all-powerful minister, had seen its members prosecuted for speeches made within its own walls, and had at last been prorogued in order that its insubordination might not hamper the Crown in the moment of danger. But the mere disappearance of Parliament could not conceal the intensity of ill-will which the minister and his policy had excited. The author of a fratricidal war of Germans against Germans was in the eyes of many the greatest of all criminals; and on May 7th an attempt was made by a young fanatic to kill Bismarck in the streets of Berlin. The minister owed the preservation of his life to the feebleness of his assailant’s weapon and to his own vigorous arm. But the imminence of the danger affected King William far more than Bismarck himself. It spoke to his simple mind of supernatural protection and aid; it stilled his doubts and conﬁrmed him in the belief that Prussia was in this crisis the instrument for working out the Almighty’s will.
A few days before the outbreak of hostilities the Emperor Napoleon gave publicity to his own view of the European situation. He attributed the coming war to three causes: To the faulty geographical limits of the Prussian State, to the desire for a better federal system in Germany, and to the necessity felt by the Italian nation for securing its independence. These needs would, he conceived, be met by a territorial rearrangement in the north of Germany consolidating and augmenting the Prussian Kingdom; by the creation of a more effective federal union between the secondary German States; and ﬁnally, by the incorporation of Venetia with Italy, Austria’s position in Germany remaining unimpaired.
Only in the event of the map of Europe being altered to the exclusive advantage of one great Power would France require an extension of frontier. Its interests lay in the preservation of the equilibrium of Europe, and in the maintenance of the Italian Kingdom. These had already been secured by arrangements which would not require France to draw the sword; a watchful but unselﬁsh neutrality was the policy which its Government had determined to pursue. Napoleon had in fact lost all control over events, and all chance of gaining the Rhenish Provinces, from the time when he permitted Italy to enter into the Prussian alliance without any stipulation that France should at its option be admitted as a third member of the coalition. He could not ally himself with Austria against his own creation, the Italian Kingdom; on the other hand, he had no means of extorting cessions from Prussia when once Prussia was sure of an ally who could bring two hundred thousand men into the ﬁeld.
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