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3: The Treaty of Vienna

<< 2: Charles V to Leopold II || 4: The Revolution of 1848 >>

AUSTRIA had to undergo further losses and humiliations, notably by the treaty of Vienna (1809), before the outcome of Napoleon's Russian campaign in 1812 gave her the opportunity for recuperation and revenge. The skilful diplomacy of Metternich, who was now at the head of the Austrian government, enabled Austria to take full advantage of the situation created by the disaster to Napoleon's arms. His object was to recover Austria's lost possessions and if possible to add to them, a policy which did not necessarily involve the complete overthrow of the French emperor. Austria, therefore, refused to join the alliance between Russia and Prussia signed on the 17th of March 1813 but pressed on her armaments so as to be ready in any event. Her opportunity came after the defeats of the Allies at Lützen and Bautzen and the conclusion of an armistice at Pleswitz. Between 200,000 and 300,000 Austrian troops were massed in Bohemia; and Austria took up the role of mediator, prepared to throw the weight of her support into the scale of whichever side should prove most amenable to her claims. The news of the battle of Vittoria, following on the reluctance of Napoleon to listen to demands involving the overthrow of the whole of his political system in central Europe, decided Austria in favour of the Allies. By this fateful decision Napoleon's fall was assured. By the treaty of Trachenberg (July 12, 1813) the Grand Alliance was completed; on the 16th, 17th and 18th of October the battle of Leipzig was fought; and the victorious advance into France was begun, which issued, on the 11th of April 1814 in Napoleon's abdication.

It was a recognition of the decisive part played by Austria in these great events that Vienna was chosen as the scene of the great international congress summoned (September 1814) for the purpose of re-establishing the balance of power in Europe, which Napoleon's conquests had upset. The result for Austria was a triumphant vindication of Metternich's diplomacy. He had, it is true, been unable to prevent the retention of the grand-duchy of Warsaw by Alexander of Russia; but with the aid of Great Britain and France (secret treaty of January 3, 1815) he had frustrated the efforts of Prussia to absorb the whole of Saxony, Bavaria was forced to disgorge the territories gained for her by Napoleon at Austria's expense, Illyria and Dalmatia were regained, and Lombardy was added to Venetia to constitute a kingdom under the Habsburg crown; while in the whole Italian peninsula French was replaced by Austrian influence. In Germany the settlement was even more fateful for Austria's future. The Holy Empire, in spite of the protests of the Holy See, was not restored, Austria preferring the loose confederation of sovereign states (Staatenbund) actually constituted under her presidency. Such a body, Metternich held, "powerful for defence, powerless for offence," would form a guarantee of the peace of central Europe - and of the preponderance of Austria; and in its councils Austrian diplomacy, backed by the weight of the Habsburg power beyond the borders of Germany, would exercise a greater influence than any possible prestige derived from a venerable title that had become a by-word for the union of unlimited pretensions with practical impotence. Moreover, to the refusal to revive the Empire - which shattered so many patriotic hopes in Germany - Austria added another decision yet more fateful. By relinquishing her claim to the Belgian provinces and other outlying territories in western Germany, and by acquiescing in the establishment of Prussia in the Rhine provinces, she abdicated to Prussia her position as the bulwark of Germany against France, and hastened the process of her own gravitation towards the Slavonic East to which the final impetus was given in 1866.

In order to understand the foreign policy of Austria, inseparably associated with the name of Metternich, during the period from the close of the congress of Vienna to the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848, it is necessary to know something of the internal conditions of the monarchy before and during this time, In 1792 Leopold II. had been succeeded by his son Francis II. His popular designation of "our good Kaiser Franz" this monarch owed to a certain simplicity of address and bonhomie which pleased the Viennese, certainly not to his serious qualities as a ruler. He shared to the full the autocratic temper of the Habsburgs, their narrow-mindedness and their religious and intellectual obscurantism; and the qualities which would have made him a kindly, if somewhat tyrannical, father of a family, and an excellent head clerk, were hardly those required by the conditions of the Austrian monarchy during a singularly critical period of its history.

The personal character of the emperor, moreover, gained a special importance owing to the modifications that were made in the administrative system of the empire. This had been originally organized in a series of departments: Aulic chanceries for Austria, for Hungary and Transylvania. a general Aulic chamber for finance, domains, mines, trade, post, etc., an Aulic council of war, a general directory of accounts, and a chancery of the household, court and state. The heads of all these departments had the rank of secretaries of state and met in council under the royal presidency. In course of time, however, this body became too unwieldy for an effective cabinet, and Maria Theresa established the council of state. During the early years of the reign of Francis, the emperor kept himself in touch with the various departments by means of a cabinet minister; but he had a passion for detail, and after 1805 he himself undertook the function of keeping the administration together. At the same time he had no personal contact with ministers, who might communicate with him only in writing, and for months together never met for the discussion of business. The council of state was, moreover, itself soon enlarged and subdivided, and in course of time the emperor alone represented any synthesis of the various department of the administration. The jurisdiction of the heads of departments, moreover was strictly defined, and all that lay outside this was reserved for the imperial decision Whatever was covered by established precedent could be settled by the department at once, but matters falling outside such precedent, however insignificant, had to be referred to the throne.¹ A system so inelastic, and so deadening to all initiative, could have but one result. Gradually the officials, high and low, subjected to an elaborate system of checks, refused to take any responsibility whatever; and the minutest administrative questions were handed up, through all the stages of the bureaucratic hierarchy, to be shelved and forgotten in the imperial cabinet. For Francis could not possibly himself deal with all the questions of detail arising in his vast empire, even had he desired to do so. In fact, his attitude towards all troublesome problems was summed up in his favourite phrase, "Let us sleep upon it": questions unanswered would answer themselves.

The result was the gradual atrophy of the whole administrative machine. The Austrian government was not consciously tyrannical, even in Italy; and Francis himself, though determined to be absolute, intended also to be paternal. Nor would the cruelties inflicted on the bolder spirits who dared to preach reform, which made the Austrian government a by-word among the nations, alone have excited the passionate spirit of revolt which carried all before it in 1848. The cause of this is to be sought rather in the daily friction of a system which had ceased to be efficient and only succeeded in irritating the public opinion it was powerless to curb.

Metternich himself was fully conscious of the evil. He recognized that the fault of the government lay in the fact that it did not govern, and he deplored that his own function in a decadent age, was but "to prop up mouldering institutions." He was not constitutionally averse from change- and he was too clear-sighted not to see that, sooner or later change was inevitable. But his interest was in the fascinating game of diplomacy; he was ambitious of playing the leading part on the great stage of international politics; and he was too consummate a courtier to risk the loss of the imperial favour by any insistence on unpalatable reforms, which, after all, would perhaps only reveal the necessity for the complete revolution which he feared.

The alternative was to use the whole force of the government to keep things as they were The disintegrating force of the ever-simmering racial rivalries could be kept in check by the army: Hungarian regiments garrisoned Italy, Italian regiments guarded Galicia, Poles occupied Austria, and Austrians Hungary. The peril from the infiltration of "revolutionary" ideas from without was met by the erection round the Austrian dominions of a Chinese wall of tariffs and censors, which had, however, no more success than is usual with such expedients.² The peril from the independent growth of Liberalism within was

¹ Thus, while the number of recruits, though varying from year to year, could be settled by the war department, the question of the claim of a single conscript for exemption, on grounds not recognized by precedent, could only be settled by imperial decree.

² Forbidden books were the only ones read, and forbidden newspapers the only ones believed.

guarded against by a rigid supervision of the press and the re-establishment of clerical control over education. Music alone flourished, free from government interference: but curiously enough, the movements, in Bohemia, Croatia and elsewhere, for the revival of the national literatures and languages - which were to issue in the most difficult problem facing the Austrian government at the opening of the 20th century - were encouraged in exalted circles, as tending to divert attention from political to purely scientific interests. Meanwhile the old system of provincial diets and estates was continued or revived (in 1816 in Tirol and Vorarlberg, 1817 in Galicia, 1818 in Carniola, 1828 in the circle of Salzburg), but they were in no sense representative, clergy and nobles alone being eligible, with a few delegates from the towns, and they had practically no functions beyond registering the imperial decrees, relative to recruiting or taxation, and dealing with matters of local police.¹ Even the ancient right of petition was seldom exercised, and then only to meet with the imperial disfavour. And this stagnation of the administration was accompanied, as might have been expected, by economic stagnation. Agriculture languished, hampered, as in France before the Revolution, by the feudal privileges of a noble caste which no longer gave any equivalent service to the state; trade was strangled by the system of high tariffs at the frontier and internal octrois; and finally public credit was shaken to its foundations by lavish issues of paper money and the neglect to publish the budget.

The maintenance within the empire of a system so artificial and so unsound, involved in foreign affairs the policy of preventing the success of any movements by which it might be threatened. The triumph of Liberal principles or of national aspirations in Germany, or elsewhere in Europe, might easily, as the events of 1848 proved, shatter the whole rotten structure of the Habsburg monarchy, which survived only owing to the apathy of the populations it oppressed. This then, is the explanation of the system of "stability" which Metternich succeeded in imposing for thirty years upon Europe. If he persuaded Frederick William III. that the grant of a popular constitution would be fatal to the Prussian monarchy, this was through no love of Prussia; the Carlsbad Decrees and the Vienna Final Act were designed to keep Germany quiet, lest the sleep of Austria should be disturbed; the lofty claims of the Troppau Protocol were but to cover an Austrian aggression directed to purely Austrian ends; and in the Eastern Question, the moral support given to the "legitimate" authority of the sultan over the "rebel" Greeks was dictated solely by the interest of Austria in maintaining the integrity of Turkey.

Judged by the standard of its own aims Metternich's diplomacy was, on the whole, completely successful. For fifteen years after the congress of Vienna, in spite of frequent alarms, the peace of Europe was not seriously disturbed; and even in 1830, the revolution at Paris found no echo in the great body of the Austrian dominions. The isolated revolts in Italy were easily suppressed; and the insurrection of Poland, though it provoked the lively sympathy of the Magyars and Czechs, led to no actual movement in the Habsburg states. For a moment, indeed, Metternich had meditated taking advantage of the popular feeling to throw the weight of Austria into the scale in favour of the Poles, and thus, by re-establishing a Polish kingdom under Austrian influence, to restore the barrier between the two empires which the partition of Poland had destroyed. But cautious counsels prevailed, and by the victory of the Russian arms the status quo was restored.

The years that followed were not wanting in signs of the coming storm. On the 2nd of March 1835 Francis I. died, and was succeeded by his son Ferdinand I. The new emperor was personally amiable, but so enfeebled by epilepsy as to be incapable of ruling; a veiled regency had to be constituted to carry on the government, and the vices of the administration were further accentuated by weakness and divided counsels at the centre. Under these circumstances popular discontent made rapid headway. The earliest symptoms of political agitation were in Hungary, where the diet began to show signs of vigorous life, and the growing Slav separatist movements, especially in the south of the kingdom, were rousing the old spirit of Magyar ascendancy. For everywhere the Slav populations were growing restive under the German-Magyar domination. In Bohemia the Czech literary movement had developed into an organized resistance to the established order, which was attacked under the disguise of a criticism of the English administration in Ireland. "Repeal" became the watchword of Bohemian, as of Irish, nationalists. Among the southern Slavs the "Illyrian" movement, voiced from 1836 onward in the Illyrian National Gazette of Ljudevit Gaj, was directed in the first instance to a somewhat shadowy Pan-Slav union, which, on the interference of the Austrian government in 1844, was exchanged for the more definite object of a revival of "the Triune Kingdom" (Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia) independent of the Hungarian crown. In the German provinces also, in spite of Metternich's censors and police, the national movements in Germany had gained an entrance, and, as the revolution of 1848 in Vienna was to show, the most advanced revolutionary views were making headway.

The most important of all the symptoms of the approaching cataclysm was, however, the growing unrest among the peasants. As had been proved in France in 1789, and was again to be shown in Russia in 1906, the success of any political revolution depended

¹ In Hungary the diet was not summoned at all between 1811 and 1825, nor in Transylvania between 1811 and 1834.

ultimately upon the attitude of the peasant class. In this lies the main significance of the rising in Galicia in 1846. This was m its origin a Polish nationalist movement, hatched in the little independent republic of Cracow. As such it had little importance; though, owing to the incompetence of the Austrian commander, the Poles gained some initial successes. More fateful was the attitude of the Orthodox Ruthenian peasantry, who were divided from their Catholic Polish over-lords by centuries of religious and feudal oppression The Poles had sought, by lavish promises, to draw them into their ranks, their reply was to rise in support of the Austrian government. In the fight at Gdow (February 26th), where Benedek laid the foundations of the military reputation that was to end so tragically at Königgrätz, flail and scythe wrought more havoc in the rebel ranks than the Austrian musketry. Since, in spite of this object-lesson, the Polish nobles still continued their offers the peasants consulted the local Austrian authorities as to what course they should take, and the local authorities, unaccustomed to arriving at any decision without consulting Vienna, practically gave them carte blanche to do as they liked. A hideous jacquerie followed for three or four days; during which cartloads of dead were carried into Tarnow, where the peasants received a reward for every "rebel" brought in.

This affair was not only a scandal for which the Austrian government, through its agents, was responsible; but it placed the authorities at Vienna in a serious dilemma. For the Ruthenians, elated by their victory, refused to return to work, and demanded the abolition of all feudal obligations as the reward of their loyalty. To refuse this claim would have meant the indefinite prolongation of the crisis; to concede it would have been to invite the peasantry of the whole empire to put forth similar demands on pain of a general rising. On the 13th of April 1846 an imperial decree abolished some of the more burdensome feudal obligations, but this concession was greeted with so fierce an outcry as an authoritative endorsement of the atrocities that it was again revoked, and Count Franz von Stadion was sent to restore order in Galicia. The result was that the peasants saw that though their wrongs were admitted, their sole hope of redress lay in a change of government, and added the dead weight of their resentment to the forces making for revolution. It was the union of the agrarian with the nationalist movements that made the downfall of the Austrian system inevitable.

The material for the conflagration in Austria was thus all prepared when in February 1848 the fall of Louis Philippe fanned into a blaze the smouldering fires of revolution throughout Europe. On the 3rd of March, Kossuth, in the diet at Pressburg, delivered the famous speech which was the declaration of war of Hungarian Liberalism against the Austrian system. "From the charnel-house of the Vienna cabinet," he exclaimed, "a pestilential air breathes on us, which dulls our nerves and paralyses the flight of our spirit." Hungary liberated was to become the centre of freedom for all the races under the Austrian crown, and the outcome was to be a new "fraternization of the Austrian peoples." In the enthusiasm of the moment the crucial question of the position to be occupied by the conflicting nationalities in this "fraternal union" was overlooked. Germanism had so far served as the basis of the Austrian system, not as a national ideal, but because "it formed a sort of unnational mediating, and common element among the contradictory and clamorous racial tendencies." But with the growth of the idea of German unity, Germanism had established a new ideal, of which the centre lay beyond the boundaries of the Austrian monarchy, and which was bound to be antagonistic to the aspirations of other races. The new doctrine of the fraternization of the Austrian races would inevitably soon come into conflict with the traditional German ascendancy strengthened by the new sentiment of a united Germany. It was on this rock that both in Austria and in Germany the revolution suffered shipwreck.

Meanwhile events progressed rapidly. On the 11th of March a meeting of "young Czechs" at Prague drew up a petition embodying nationalist and liberal demands, and on the same day the diet of Lower Austria petitioned the crown to summon a meeting of the delegates of the diets to set the Austrian finances in order. To this last proposal the government, next day, gave its consent. But in the actual temper of the Viennese the slightest concession was dangerous. The hall of the diet was invaded by a mob of students and workmen, Kossuth's speech was read and its proposals adopted as the popular programme, and the members of the diet were forced to lead a tumultuous procession to the Hofburg, to force the assent of the government to a petition based on the catch-words or the Revolution. The authorities, taken by surprise, were forced to temporize and agreed to lay the petition before the emperor. Meanwhile round the hall of the diet a riot had broken out; the soldiers intervened and blood was shed. The middle classes now joined the rebels; and the riots had become a revolution. Threatened by the violence of the mob, Metternich, on the evening of the 13th of March, escaped from the Hofburg and passed into exile in England.

<< 2: Charles V to Leopold II || 4: The Revolution of 1848 >>