Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Van Loon
The Story of Mankind by  Hendrik Van Loon

National Independence

The Love of National Independence, However Was Too Strong to Be Destroyed in This Way. The South Americans Were the First to Rebel against the Reactionary Measures of the Congress of Vienna, Greece and Belgium and Spain and a Large Number of Other Countries of the European Continent Followed Suit and the Nineteenth Century Was Filled with the Rumour of Many Wars of Independence

I T will serve no good purpose to say "if only the Congress of Vienna had done such and such a thing instead of taking such and such a course, the history of Europe in the nineteenth century would have been different." The Congress of Vienna was a gathering of men who had just passed through a great revolution and through twenty years of terrible and almost continuous warfare. They came together for the purpose of giving Europe that "peace and stability" which they thought that the people needed and wanted. They were what we call reactionaries. They sincerely believed in the inability of the mass of the people to rule themselves. They re-arranged the map of Europe in such a way as seemed to promise the greatest possibility of a lasting success. They failed, but not through any premeditated wickedness on their part. They were, for the greater part, men of the old school who remembered the happier days of their quiet youth and ardently wished a return of that blessed period. They failed to recognise the strong hold which many of the revolutionary principles had gained upon the people of the European continent. That was a misfortune but hardly a sin. But one of the things which the French Revolution had taught not only Europe but America as well, was the right of people to their own "nationality."

Napoleon, who respected nothing and nobody, was utterly ruthless in his dealing with national and patriotic aspirations. But the early revolutionary generals had proclaimed the new doctrine that "nationality was not a matter of political frontiers or round skulls and broad noses, but a matter of the heart and soul." While they were teaching the French children the greatness of the French nation, they encouraged Spaniards and Hollanders and Italians to do the same thing. Soon these people, who all shared Rousseau's belief in the superior virtues of Original Man, began to dig into their past and found, buried beneath the ruins of the feudal system, the bones of the mighty races of which they supposed themselves the feeble descendants.

The first half of the nineteenth century was the era of the great historical discoveries. Everywhere historians were busy publishing mediaeval charters and early mediaeval chronicles and in every country the result was a new pride in the old fatherland. A great deal of this sentiment was based upon the wrong interpretation of historical facts. But in practical politics, it does not matter what is true, but everything depends upon what the people believe to be true. And in most countries both the kings and their subjects firmly believed in the glory and fame of their ancestors.

The Congress of Vienna was not inclined to be sentimental. Their Excellencies divided the map of Europe according to the best interests of half a dozen dynasties and put "national aspirations" upon the Index, or list of forbidden books, together with all other dangerous "French doctrines."

But history is no respecter of Congresses. For some reason or other (it may be an historical law, which thus far has escaped the attention of the scholars) "nations" seemed to be necessary for the orderly development of human society and the attempt to stem this tide was quite as unsuccessful as the Metternichian effort to prevent people from thinking.

Curiously enough the first trouble began in a very distant part of the world, in South America. The Spanish colonies of that continent had been enjoying a period of relative independence during the many years of the great Napoleonic wars. They had even remained faithful to their king when he was taken prisoner by the French Emperor and they had refused to recognise Joseph Bonaparte, who had in the year 1808 been made King of Spain by order of his brother.

Indeed, the only part of America to get very much upset by the Revolution was the island of Haiti, the Espagnola of Columbus' first trip. Here in the year 1791 the French Convention, in a sudden outburst of love and human brotherhood, had bestowed upon their black brethren all the privileges hitherto enjoyed by their white masters. Just as suddenly they had repented of this step, but the attempt to undo the original promise led to many years of terrible warfare between General Leclerc, the brother-in-law of Napoleon, and Toussaint l'Ouverture, the negro chieftain. In the year 1801, Toussaint was asked to visit Leclerc and discuss terms of peace. He received the solemn promise that he would not be molested. He trusted his white adversaries, was put on board a ship and shortly afterwards died in a French prison. But the negroes gained their independence all the same and founded a Republic. Incidentally they were of great help to the first great South American patriot in his efforts to deliver his native country from the Spanish yoke.

Simon Bolivar, a native of Caracas in Venezuela, born in the year 1783, had been educated in Spain, had visited Paris where he had seen the Revolutionary government at work, had lived for a while in the United States and had returned to his native land where the widespread discontent against Spain, the mother country, was beginning to take a definite form. In the year 1811, Venezuela declared its independence and Bolivar became one of the revolutionary generals. Within two months, the rebels were defeated and Bolivar fled.

For the next five years he was the leader of an apparently lost cause. He sacrificed all his wealth and he would not have been able to begin his final and successful expedition without the support of the President of Haiti. Thereafter the revolt spread all over South America and soon it appeared that Spain was not able to suppress the rebellion unaided. She asked for the support of the Holy Alliance.

This step greatly worried England. The British shippers had succeeded the Dutch as the Common Carriers of the world and they expected to reap heavy profits from a declaration of independence on the part of all South America. They had hopes that the United States of America would interfere but the Senate had no such plans and in the House, too, there were many voices which declared that Spain ought to be given a free hand.

Just then, there was a change of ministers in England. The Whigs went out and the Tories came in. George Canning became secretary of State. He dropped a hint that England would gladly back up the American government with all the might of her fleet, if said government would declare its disapproval of the plans of the Holy Alliance in regard to the rebellious colonies of the southern continent. President Monroe thereupon, on the 2nd of December of the year 1823, addressed Congress and stated that: "America would consider any attempt on the part of the allied powers to extend their system to any portion of this western hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety," and gave warning that "the American government would consider such action on the part of the Holy Alliance as a manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States." Four weeks later, the text of the "Monroe Doctrine" was printed in the English newspapers and the members of the Holy Alliance were forced to make their choice.


The Monroe Doctrine

Metternich hesitated. Personally he would have been willing to risk the displeasure of the United States (which had allowed both its army and navy to fall into neglect since the end of the Anglo-American war of the year 1812.) But Canning's threatening attitude and trouble on the continent forced him to be careful. The expedition never took place and South America and Mexico gained their independence.

As for the troubles on the continent of Europe, they were coming fast and furious. The Holy Alliance had sent French troops to Spain to act as guardians of the peace in the year 1820. Austrian troops had been used for a similar purpose in Italy when the "Carbonari" (the secret society of the Charcoal Burners) were making propaganda for a united Italy and had caused a rebellion against the unspeakable Ferdinand of Naples.

Bad news also came from Russia where the death of Alexander had been the sign for a revolutionary outbreak in St. Petersburg, a short but bloody upheaval, the so-called Dekaberist revolt (because it took place in December,) which ended with the hanging of a large number of good patriots who had been disgusted by the reaction of Alexander's last years and had tried to give Russia a constitutional form of government.

But worse was to follow. Metternich had tried to assure himself of the continued support of the European courts by a series of conferences at Aix-la-Chapelle, at Troppau, at Laibach, and finally at Verona. The delegates from the different powers duly travelled to these agreeable watering places where the Austrian prime minister used to spend his summers. They always promised to do their best to suppress revolt but they were none too certain of their success. The spirit of the people was beginning to be ugly and especially in France the position of the king was by no means satisfactory.

The real trouble however began in the Balkans, the gateway to western Europe through which the invaders of that continent had passed since the beginning of time. The first outbreak was in Moldavia, the ancient Roman province of Dacia which had been cut off from the Empire in the third century. Since then, it had been a lost land, a sort of Atlantis, where the people had continued to speak the old Roman tongue and still called themselves Romans and their country Roumania. Here in the year 1821, a young Greek, Prince Alexander Ypsilanti, began a revolt against the Turks. He told his followers that they could count upon the support of Russia. But Metternich's fast couriers were soon on their way to St Petersburg and the Tsar, entirely persuaded by the Austrian arguments in favor of "peace and stability," refused to help. Ypsilanti was forced to flee to Austria where he spent the next seven years in prison.

In the same year, 1821, trouble began in Greece. Since 1815 a secret society of Greek patriots had been preparing the way for a revolt. Suddenly they hoisted the flag of independence in the Morea (the ancient Peloponnesus) and drove the Turkish garrisons away. The Turks answered in the usual fashion. They took the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople, who was regarded as their Pope both by the Greeks and by many Russians, and they hanged him on Easter Sunday of the year 1821, together with a number of his bishops. The Greeks came back with a massacre of all the Mohammedans in Tripolitsa, the capital of the Morea and the Turks retaliated by an attack upon the island of Chios, where they murdered 25,000 Christians and sold 45,000 others as slaves into Asia and Egypt.

Then the Greeks appealed to the European courts, but Metternich told them in so many words that they could "stew in their own grease," (I am not trying to make a pun, but I am quoting His Serene Highness who informed the Tsar that this "fire of revolt ought to burn itself out beyond the pale of civilisation") and the frontiers were closed to those volunteers who wished to go to the rescue of the patriotic Hellenes. Their cause seemed lost. At the request of Turkey, an Egyptian army was landed in the Morea and soon the Turkish flag was again flying from the Acropolis, the ancient stronghold of Athens. The Egyptian army then pacified the country "à la Turque," and Metternich followed the proceedings with quiet interest, awaiting the day when this "attempt against the peace of Europe" should be a thing of the past.

Once more it was England which upset his plans. The greatest glory of England does not lie in her vast colonial possessions, in her wealth or her navy, but in the quiet heroism and independence of her average citizen. The Englishman obeys the law because he knows that respect for the rights of others marks the difference between a dog-kennel and civilised society. But he does not recognize the right of others to interfere with his freedom of thought. If his country does something which he believes to be wrong, he gets up and says so and the government which he attacks will respect him and will give him full protection against the mob which to-day, as in the time of Socrates, often loves to destroy those who surpass it in courage or intelligence. There never has been a good cause, however unpopular or however distant, which has not counted a number of Englishmen among its staunchest adherents. The mass of the English people are not different from those in other lands. They stick to the business at hand and have no time for unpractical "sporting ventures." But they rather admire their eccentric neighbour who drops everything to go and fight for some obscure people in Asia or Africa and when he has been killed they give him a fine public funeral and hold him up to their children as an example of valor and chivalry.

Even the police spies of the Holy Alliance were powerless against this national characteristic. In the year 1824, Lord Byron, a rich young Englishman who wrote the poetry over which all Europe wept, hoisted the sails of his yacht and started south to help the Greeks. Three months later the news spread through Europe that their hero lay dead in Missolonghi, the last of the Greek strongholds. His lonely death caught the imagination of the people. In all countries, societies were formed to help the Greeks. Lafayette, the grand old man of the American revolution, pleaded their cause in France. The king of Bavaria sent hundreds of his officers. Money and supplies poured in upon the starving men of Missolonghi.

In England, George Canning, who had defeated the plans of the Holy Alliance in South America, was now prime minister. He saw his chance to checkmate Metternich for a second time. The English and Russian fleets were already in the Mediterranean. They were sent by governments which dared no longer suppress the popular enthusiasm for the cause of the Greek patriots. The French navy appeared because France, since the end of the Crusades, had assumed the role of the defender of the Christian faith in Mohammedan lands. On October 20 of the year 1827, the ships of the three nations attacked the Turkish fleet in the bay of Navarino and destroyed it. Rarely has the news of a battle been received with such general rejoicing. The people of western Europe and Russia who enjoyed no freedom at home consoled themselves by fighting an imaginary war of liberty on behalf of the oppressed Greeks. In the year 1829 they had their reward. Greece became an independent nation and the policy of reaction and stability suffered its second great defeat.

It would be absurd were I to try, in this short volume, to give you a detailed account of the struggle for national independence in all other countries. There are a large number of excellent books devoted to such subjects. I have described the struggle for the independence of Greece because it was the first successful attack upon the bulwark of reaction which the Congress of Vienna had erected to "maintain the stability of Europe." That mighty fortress of suppression still held out and Metternich continued to be in command. But the end was near.

In France the Bourbons had established an almost unbearable rule of police officials who were trying to undo the work of the French revolution, with an absolute disregard of the regulations and laws of civilised warfare. When Louis XVIII died in the year 1824, the people had enjoyed nine years of "peace" which had proved even more unhappy than the ten years of war of the Empire. Louis was succeeded by his brother, Charles X.

Louis had belonged to that famous Bourbon family which, although it never learned anything, never forgot anything. The recollection of that morning in the town of Hamm, when news had reached him of the decapitation of his brother, remained a constant warning of what might happen to those kings who did not read the signs of the times aright. Charles, on the other hand, who had managed to run up private debts of fifty million francs before he was twenty years of age, knew nothing, remembered nothing and firmly intended to learn nothing. As soon as he had succeeded his brother, he established a government "by priests, through priests and for priests," and while the Duke of Wellington, who made this remark, cannot be called a violent liberal, Charles ruled in such a way that he disgusted even that trusted friend of law and order. When he tried to suppress the newspapers which dared to criticise his government, and dismissed the Parliament because it supported the Press, his days were numbered.

On the night of the 27th of July of the year 1830, a revolution took place in Paris. On the 30th of the same month, the king fled to the coast and set sail for England. In this way the "famous farce of fifteen years" came to an end and the Bourbons were at last removed from the throne of France. They were too hopelessly incompetent. France then might have returned to a Republican form of government, but such a step would not have been tolerated by Metternich.

The situation was dangerous enough. The spark of rebellion had leaped beyond the French frontier and had set fire to another powder house filled with national grievances. The new kingdom of the Netherlands had not been a success. The Belgian and the Dutch people had nothing in common and their king, William of Orange (the descendant of an uncle of William the Silent), while a hard worker and a good business man, was too much lacking in tact and pliability to keep the peace among his uncongenial subjects. Besides, the horde of priests which had descended upon France, had at once found its way into Belgium and whatever Protestant William tried to do was howled down by large crowds of excited citizens as a fresh attempt upon the "freedom of the Catholic church." On the 25th of August there was a popular outbreak against the Dutch authorities in Brussels. Two months later, the Belgians declared themselves independent and elected Leopold of Coburg, the uncle of Queen Victoria of England, to the throne. That was an excellent solution of the difficulty. The two countries, which never ought to have been united, parted their ways and thereafter lived in peace and harmony and behaved like decent neighbours.

News in those days when there were only a few short railroads, travelled slowly, but when the success of the French and the Belgian revolutionists became known in Poland there was an immediate clash between the Poles and their Russian rulers which led to a year of terrible warfare and ended with a complete victory for the Russians who "established order along the banks of the Vistula" in the well-known Russian fashion. Nicholas the First, who had succeeded his brother Alexander in 1825, firmly believed in the Divine Right of his own family, and the thousands of Polish refugees who had found shelter in western Europe bore witness to the fact that the principles of the Holy Alliance were still more than a hollow phrase in Holy Russia.

In Italy too there was a moment of unrest. Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma and wife of the former Emperor Napoleon, whom she had deserted after the defeat of Waterloo, was driven away from her country, and in the Papal state the exasperated people tried to establish an independent Republic. But the armies of Austria marched to Rome and soon everything was as of old. Metternich continued to reside at the Ball Platz, the home of the foreign minister of the Habsburg dynasty, the police spies returned to their job, and peace reigned supreme. Eighteen more years were to pass before a second and more successful attempt could be made to deliver Europe from the terrible inheritance of the Vienna Congress.

Again it was France, the revolutionary weather-cock of Europe, which gave the signal of revolt. Charles X had been succeeded by Louis Philippe, the son of that famous Duke of Orleans who had turned Jacobin, had voted for the death of his cousin the king, and had played a role during the early days of the revolution under the name of "Philippe Egalité" or "Equality Philip." Eventually he had been killed when Robespierre tried to purge the nation of all "traitors," (by which name he indicated those people who did not share his own views) and his son had been forced to run away from the revolutionary army. Young Louis Philippe thereupon had wandered far and wide. He had taught school in Switzerland and had spent a couple of years exploring the unknown "far west" of America. After the fall of Napoleon he had returned to Paris. He was much more intelligent than his Bourbon cousins. He was a simple man who went about in the public parks with a red cotton umbrella under his arm, followed by a brood of children like any good housefather. But France had outgrown the king business and Louis did not know this until the morning of the 24th of February, of the year 1848, when a crowd stormed the Tuileries and drove his Majesty away and proclaimed the Republic.

When the news of this event reached Vienna, Metternich expressed the casual opinion that this was only a repetition of the year 1793 and that the Allies would once more be obliged to march upon Paris and make an end to this very unseemly democratic row. But two weeks later his own Austrian capital was in open revolt. Metternich escaped from the mob through the back door of his palace, and the Emperor Ferdinand was forced to give his subjects a constitution which embodied most of the revolutionary principles which his Prime Minister had tried to suppress for the last thirty-three years.

This time all Europe felt the shock. Hungary declared itself independent, and commenced a war against the Habsburgs under the leadership of Louis Kossuth. The unequal struggle lasted more than a year. It was finally suppressed by the armies of Tsar Nicholas who marched across the Carpathian mountains and made Hungary once more safe for autocracy. The Habsburgs thereupon established extraordinary court-martials and hanged the greater part of the Hungarian patriots whom they had not been able to defeat in open battle.

As for Italy, the island of Sicily declared itself independent from Naples and drove its Bourbon king away. In the Papal states the prime minister, Rossi, was murdered and the Pope was forced to flee. He returned the next year at the head of a French army which remained in Rome to protect His Holiness against his subjects until the year 1870. Then it was called back to defend France against the Prussians, and Rome became the capital of Italy. In the north, Milan and Venice rose against their Austrian masters. They were supported by king Albert of Sardinia, but a strong Austrian army under old Radetzky marched into the valley of the Po, defeated the Sardinians near Custozza and Novara and forced Albert to abdicate in favour of his son, Victor Emanuel, who a few years later was to be the first king of a united Italy.

In Germany the unrest of the year 1848 took the form of a great national demonstration in favour of political unity and a representative form of government. In Bavaria, the king who had wasted his time and money upon an Irish lady who posed as a Spanish dancer—(she was called Lola Montez and lies buried in New York's Potter's Field)—was driven away by the enraged students of the university. In Prussia, the king was forced to stand with uncovered head before the coffins of those who had been killed during the street fighting and to promise a constitutional form of government. And in March of the year 1849, a German parliament, consisting of 550 delegates from all parts of the country came together in Frankfort and proposed that king Frederick William of Prussia should be the Emperor of a United Germany.

Then, however, the tide began to turn. Incompetent Ferdinand had abdicated in favour of his nephew Francis Joseph. The well-drilled Austrian army had remained faithful to their war-lord. The hangman was given plenty of work and the Habsburgs, after the nature of that strangely cat-like family, once more landed upon their feet and rapidly strengthened their position as the masters of eastern and western Europe. They played the game of politics very adroitly and used the jealousies of the other German states to prevent the elevation of the Prussian king to the Imperial dignity. Their long training in the art of suffering defeat had taught them the value of patience. They knew how to wait. They bided their time and while the liberals, utterly untrained in practical politics, talked and talked and talked and got intoxicated by their own fine speeches, the Austrians quietly gathered their forces, dismissed the Parliament of Frankfort and re-established the old and impossible German confederation which the Congress of Vienna had wished upon an unsuspecting world.

But among the men who had attended this strange Parliament of unpractical enthusiasts, there was a Prussian country squire by the name of Bismarck, who had made good use of his eyes and ears. He had a deep contempt for oratory. He knew (what every man of action has always known) that nothing is ever accomplished by talk. In his own way he was a sincere patriot. He had been trained in the old school of diplomacy and he could outlie his opponents just as he could outwalk them and outdrink them and outride them.

Bismarck felt convinced that the loose confederation of little states must be changed into a strong united country if it would hold its own against the other European powers. Brought up amidst feudal ideas of loyalty, he decided that the house of Hohenzollern, of which he was the most faithful servant, should rule the new state, rather than the incompetent Habsburgs. For this purpose he must first get rid of the Austrian influence, and he began to make the necessary preparations for this painful operation.

Italy in the meantime had solved her own problem, and had rid herself of her hated Austrian master. The unity of Italy was the work of three men, Cavour, Mazzini and Garibaldi. Of these three, Cavour, the civil-engineer with the short-sighted eyes and the steel-rimmed glasses, played the part of the careful political pilot. Mazzini, who had spent most of his days in different European garrets, hiding from the Austrian police, was the public agitator, while Garibaldi, with his band of red-shirted rough-riders, appealed to the popular imagination.

Mazzini and Garibaldi were both believers in the Republican form of government. Cavour, however, was a monarchist, and the others who recognised his superior ability in such matters of practical statecraft, accepted his decision and sacrificed their own ambitions for the greater good of their beloved Fatherland.


Giuseppe Mazzini

Cavour felt towards the House of Sardinia as Bismarck did towards the Hohenzollern family. With infinite care and great shrewdness he set to work to jockey the Sardinian King into a position from which His Majesty would be able to assume the leadership of the entire Italian people. The unsettled political conditions in the rest of Europe greatly helped him in his plans and no country contributed more to the independence of Italy than her old and trusted (and often distrusted) neighbour, France.

In that turbulent country, in November of the year 1852, the Republic had come to a sudden but not unexpected end. Napoleon III the son of Louis Bonaparte the former King of Holland, and the small nephew of a great uncle, had re-established an Empire and had made himself Emperor "by the Grace of God and the Will of the People."

This young man, who had been educated in Germany and who mixed his French with harsh Teutonic gutturals (just as the first Napoleon had always spoken the language of his adopted country with a strong Italian accent) was trying very hard to use the Napoleonic tradition for his own benefit. But he had many enemies and did not feel very certain of his hold upon his ready-made throne. He had gained the friendship of Queen Victoria but this had not been a difficult task, as the good Queen was not particularly brilliant and was very susceptible to flattery. As for the other European sovereigns, they treated the French Emperor with insulting haughtiness and sat up nights devising new ways in which they could show their upstart "Good Brother" how sincerely they despised him.

Napoleon was obliged to find a way in which he could break this opposition, either through love or through fear. He well knew the fascination which the word "glory" still held for his subjects. Since he was forced to gamble for his throne he decided to play the game of Empire for high stakes. He used an attack of Russia upon Turkey as an excuse for bringing about the Crimean war in which England and France combined against the Tsar on behalf of the Sultan. It was a very costly and exceedingly unprofitable enterprise. Neither France nor England nor Russia reaped much glory.

But the Crimean war did one good thing. It gave Sardinia a chance to volunteer on the winning side and when peace was declared it gave Cavour the opportunity to lay claim to the gratitude of both England and France.

Having made use of the international situation to get Sardinia recognised as one of the more important powers of Europe, the clever Italian then provoked a war between Sardinia and Austria in June of the year 1859. He assured himself of the support of Napoleon in exchange for the provinces of Savoy and the city of Nice, which was really an Italian town. The Franco-Italian armies defeated the Austrians at Magenta and Solferino, and the former Austrian provinces and duchies were united into a single Italian kingdom. Florence became the capital of this new Italy until the year 1870 when the French recalled their troops from Rome to defend France against the Germans. As soon as they were gone, the Italian troops entered the eternal city and the House of Sardinia took up its residence in the old Palace of the Quirinal which an ancient Pope had built on the ruins of the baths of the Emperor Constantine.

The Pope, however, moved across the river Tiber and hid behind the walls of the Vatican, which had been the home of many of his predecessors since their return from the exile of Avignon in the year 1377. He protested loudly against this high-handed theft of his domains and addressed letters of appeal to those faithful Catholics who were inclined to sympathise with him in his loss. Their number, however, was small, and it has been steadily decreasing. For, once delivered from the cares of state, the Pope was able to devote all his time to questions of a spiritual nature. Standing high above the petty quarrels of the European politicians, the Papacy assumed a new dignity which proved of great benefit to the church and made it an international power for social and religious progress which has shown a much more intelligent appreciation of modern economic problems than most Protestant sects.

In this way, the attempt of the Congress of Vienna to settle the Italian question by making the peninsula an Austrian province was at last undone.

The German problem however remained as yet unsolved. It proved the most difficult of all. The failure of the revolution of the year 1848 had led to the wholesale migration of the more energetic and liberal elements among the German people. These young fellows had moved to the United States of America, to Brazil, to the new colonies in Asia and America. Their work was continued in Germany but by a different sort of men.

In the new Diet which met at Frankfort, after the collapse of the German Parliament and the failure of the Liberals to establish a united country, the Kingdom of Prussia was represented by that same Otto von Bismarck from whom we parted a few pages ago. Bismarck by now had managed to gain the complete confidence of the king of Prussia. That was all he asked for. The opinion of the Prussian parliament or of the Prussian people interested him not at all. With his own eyes he had seen the defeat of the Liberals. He knew that he would not be able to get rid of Austria without a war and he began by strengthening the Prussian army. The Landtag, exasperated at his high-handed methods, refused to give him the necessary credits. Bismarck did not even bother to discuss the matter. He went ahead and increased his army with the help of funds which the Prussian house of Peers and the king placed at his disposal. Then he looked for a national cause which could be used for the purpose of creating a great wave of patriotism among all the German people.

In the north of Germany there were the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein which ever since the middle ages had been a source of trouble. Both countries were inhabited by a certain number of Danes and a certain number of Germans, but although they were governed by the King of Denmark, they were not an integral part of the Danish State and this led to endless difficulties. Heaven forbid that I should revive this forgotten question which now seems settled by the acts of the recent Congress of Versailles. But the Germans in Holstein were very loud in their abuse of the Danes and the Danes in Schleswig made a great ado of their Danishness, and all Europe was discussing the problem and German Männerchors and Turnvereins listened to sentimental speeches about the "lost brethren" and the different chancelleries were trying to discover what it was all about, when Prussia mobilised her armies to "save the lost provinces." As Austria, the official head of the German Confederation, could not allow Prussia to act alone in such an important matter, the Habsburg troops were mobilised too and the combined armies of the two great powers crossed the Danish frontiers and after a very brave resistance on the part of the Danes, occupied the two duchies. The Danes appealed to Europe, but Europe was otherwise engaged and the poor Danes were left to their fate.

Bismarck then prepared the scene for the second number upon his Imperial programme. He used the division of the spoils to pick a quarrel with Austria. The Habsburgs fell into the trap. The new Prussian army, the creation of Bismarck and his faithful generals, invaded Bohemia and in less than six weeks, the last of the Austrian troops had been destroyed at Königgrätz and Sadowa and the road to Vienna lay open. But Bismarck did not want to go too far. He knew that he would need a few friends in Europe. He offered the defeated Habsburgs very decent terms of peace, provided they would resign their chairmanship of the Confederation. He was less merciful to many of the smaller German states who had taken the side of the Austrians, and annexed them to Prussia. The greater part of the northern states then formed a new organisation, the so-called North German Confederacy, and victorious Prussia assumed the unofficial leadership of the German people.

Europe stood aghast at the rapidity with which the work of consolidation had been done. England was quite indifferent but France showed signs of disapproval. Napoleon's hold upon the French people was steadily diminishing. The Crimean war had been costly and had accomplished nothing.

A second adventure in the year 1863, when a French army had tried to force an Austrian Grand-Duke by the name of Maximilian upon the Mexican people as their Emperor, had come to a disastrous end as soon as the American Civil War had been won by the North. For the Government at Washington had forced the French to withdraw their troops and this had given the Mexicans a chance to clear their country of the enemy and shoot the unwelcome Emperor.

It was necessary to give the Napoleonic throne a new coat of glory-paint. Within a few years the North German Confederation would be a serious rival of France. Napoleon decided that a war with Germany would be a good thing for his dynasty. He looked for an excuse and Spain, the poor victim of endless revolutions, gave him one.

Just then the Spanish throne happened to be vacant. It had been offered to the Catholic branch of the house of Hohenzollern. The French government had objected and the Hohenzollerns had politely refused to accept the crown. But Napoleon, who was showing signs of illness, was very much under the influence of his beautiful wife, Eugénie de Montijo, the daughter of a Spanish gentleman and the grand-daughter of William Kirkpatrick, an American consul at Malaga, where the grapes come from. Eugénie, although shrewd enough, was as badly educated as most Spanish women of that day. She was at the mercy of her spiritual advisers and these worthy gentlemen felt no love for the Protestant King of Prussia. "Be bold," was the advice of the Empress to her husband, but she omitted to add the second half of that famous Persian proverb which admonishes the hero to "be bold but not too bold." Napoleon, convinced of the strength of his army, addressed himself to the king of Prussia and insisted that the king give him assurances that "he would never permit another candidature of a Hohenzollern prince to the Spanish crown." As the Hohenzollerns had just declined the honour, the demand was superfluous, and Bismarck so informed the French government. But Napoleon was not satisfied.

It was the year 1870 and King William was taking the waters at Ems. There one day he was approached by the French minister who tried to re-open the discussion. The king answered very pleasantly that it was a fine day and that the Spanish question was now closed and that nothing more remained to be said upon the subject. As a matter of routine, a report of this interview was telegraphed to Bismarck, who handled all foreign affairs. Bismarck edited the dispatch for the benefit of the Prussian and French press. Many people have called him names for doing this. Bismarck however could plead the excuse that the doctoring of official news, since time immemorial, had been one of the privileges of all civilised governments. When the "edited" telegram was printed, the good people in Berlin felt that their old and venerable king with his nice white whiskers had been insulted by an arrogant little Frenchman and the equally good people of Paris flew into a rage because their perfectly courteous minister had been shown the door by a Royal Prussian flunkey.

And so they both went to war and in less than two months, Napoleon and the greater part of his army were prisoners of the Germans. The Second Empire had come to an end and the Third Republic was making ready to defend Paris against the German invaders. Paris held out for five long months. Ten days before the surrender of the city, in the nearby palace of Versailles, built by that same King Louis XIV who had been such a dangerous enemy to the Germans, the King of Prussia was publicly proclaimed German Emperor and a loud booming of guns told the hungry Parisians that a new German Empire had taken the place of the old harmless Confederation of Teutonic states and statelets.

In this rough way, the German question was finally settled. By the end of the year 1871, fifty-six years after the memorable gathering at Vienna, the work of the Congress had been entirely undone. Metternich and Alexander and Talleyrand had tried to give the people of Europe a lasting peace. The methods they had employed had caused endless wars and revolutions and the feeling of a common brotherhood of the eighteenth century was followed by an era of exaggerated nationalism which has not yet come to an end.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Great Reaction  |  Next: The Age of the Engine
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.