The Italian War
“The freedom of the Peninsula will be brought about, because it is necessary for the welfare of France, for the maintenance of her weight in Europe.”
War has been pronounced the condition of humanity; and it is certain that conflict of some kind rages everywhere and at all times. The most combative people on earth are the advocates of universal and perpetual peace. There is something essentially defiant in the action of men who avowedly seek the abolition of a custom that has existed since the days of Cain, and which was well known to those magnificent beasts that ranged over the earth’s face long before man began to dream or was dreamed of. To fight seems a necessity of the animal nature, whether the animal be called tiger, bull, or man. Those who have fought assure us that there is a positive pleasure in battle. That clever young woman, Miss Flora Mac-Ivor, who passed most of her life in the very highest fighting society, assures us, that men, when confronted with each other, have a certain instinct for strife, as we see in other male animals, such as dogs, bulls, and so forth. It is even so; and, further, the fondness that men have for accounts and details of battles is another evidence of the popularity of war, and an absolute stumbling-block in the way of the Peace Society, which has the hardest of combats to fight.
The journals of the world are at this time full of the details of a war such as that world has not witnessed since 1815, and in comparison with which even the Russian War was but a second-rate contest. The old quarrel between Austria and France, which has repeatedly caused the peace of Europe to be broken since the days of Frederick III. and Louis XI., has been renewed in our time with a fierceness and a vehemence and on a scale that would have astonished Francis I., Charles V., Richelieu, Turenne, Condé, Louis XIV., Eugène, and even Napoleon himself, the most mighty of whose contests with Austria alone cannot be compared with that which his nephew is now waging with the House of Lorraine. For, in 1805 and in 1809, Napoleon was not merely the ruler of France, but had at his control the resources of many other countries. Belgium and Holland were then at the command of France, and now they are independent monarchies, holding strictly the position of neutrals. In 1809, Napoleon had those very German States for his active allies that now threaten Napoleon III.; and some of the hardest fighting on the French side, in the first days of the campaign, was the work of Bavarians and other German soldiers. That part of Poland which then constituted the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was among his dependent principalities and Russia sent an army to his aid. In 1805, Napoleon I. had far more of Italian assistance than Napoleon III. has had at the time we write; and in 1809, the entire Peninsula obeyed his decrees as implicitly as they were obeyed by France. Napoleon III. entered upon the war with the hereditary rival of his country with no other ally than Sardinia, though it is now evident that there was an “understanding” between him and the Czar, not pointing to an attack on England, but to prevent the intervention of the Germans in behalf of Austria, by holding out the implied threat of an attack on Germany by Russia, should its rulers or people move against the allies.
Whatever may be thought of the motives of the French Emperor, and however little most men may be disposed to believe in his generosity, it is impossible to refrain from admiring the promptness and skill with which he has acted, or to deny to him the merit of courage in daring to pronounce so decidedly against the Austrians at a time when he could not have reasonably reckoned upon a single ally beyond the limits of Italy, when England, under Tory rule, was more disposed to act against him than with him, and when the hostility of Germany, and its readiness to support the Slavonic empire of Austria, were unequivocally expressed. So great, indeed, were the odds against him, that we find in that fact the chief reason for the indisposition of the world to believe in the possibility of war, and its extraordinary surprise when war actually broke out.
To those who had closely scanned the affairs of Europe, and who observed them by the light of the history of nearly four centuries, the coming of war was no surprise. They foresaw it, and predicted its occurrence some time before that famous lecture which the Emperor of the French administered to the Emperor of Austria in the person of Baron Hübner. With them, the question was not, Shall there be a war? — but it was, When will the war break out? They reasoned from the cause of the quarrel between the two empires; while those who so long clung to the belief that peace would be preserved, and who so plausibly argued in support of their theory as to impose upon well-nigh the whole world, concerned themselves only with its occasion. The former referred to things that lay beyond the range of temporary politics, and, while admitting that the shock of actual conflict might be postponed even for a few years, were certain that such conflict must come, even if in the interval there should happen an entire change of government in France. France might be imperial, or royal, or republican, — she might be Bonapartean, or Henriquist, or Orléansist, or democratic, — tri-color, white, blue, or red, — but the quarrel would come, and cause new campaigns. The latter, thinking that the dispute was on the Italian question only, and knowing that that was susceptible of diplomatic settlement, and believing that there would be a union of European powers to accomplish such settlement, rather than allow peace to be disturbed, never could suppose that the balance of probabilities would be found on the side of war. It is due to them to say, that a variety of causes conduced not merely to make them firm in their faith, but to win for their views the general approbation of mankind. Prominent among these was the striking fact, that there had been no European war, strictly so called, with the single exception of the Russian contest, — and that was highly exceptional in its character, — for four-and-forty years. The generation that is passing away, and the generation that is most active in discharging the business of the world, never had seen a brand conflict between Christian states, in which mighty armies had operated on vast and various fields. Old men recollected the wars of Napoleon, but the number of such men is not large, and their influence on opinion is small. Of quarrels and threats of war all had seen enough; but this only tended to make them slow to believe that war was really at hand. If so many quarrels had taken place, and had been settled without resort to arms, assuredly the new quarrel might be settled, and Europe get on peaceably for a few years more without warfare. Neither the invasion of Spain in 1823, nor the revolution of 1830, nor the Eastern question of 1840, nor the universal outbreaks of 1848-9, nor the threats of Russia against Turkey when she sought to compel the Sultan to give up those who had eaten his salt to the gallows of Arad, nor the repeated discussions of the practicability of a French conquest of England had led to a general war. If so many and so black clouds had been dispersed without storms, it was not unreasonable to believe that the cloud which rose in the beginning of 1859 might also break, and leave again a serene sky. It may be added, that we have all of us come to the conclusion that this is the best age the world has ever known, as in most respects it is; and it seemed scarcely compatible with our estimate of the age’s excellence to believe that it could send a couple of million of men into the field for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats, except clearly as an act of self-defence. Man is the same war-making animal now that he was in the days of Marathon, but he readily admits the evils of war, and is peremptory in demanding that they shall not be incurred save for good and valid reasons. He is as ready to fight as ever he was, but he must fight for some definite cause, — for a cause that will bear examination; and it did not seem possible that a mere dispute concerning the manner in which Austria governed her Italian dominions was of sufficient moment to light up the flames of war anew on a scale as gigantic as ever they were made to blaze during the days of Napoleon. Then, so far as the Russian War threw any light upon the policy of France, the fair inference was that she at least was not disposed to fight. France made the peace by which that war was brought to a sudden end. She dictated that peace, much to the disgust of the English, who had just become thoroughly roused, and who, little anticipating the Indian mutiny, were for carrying on the contest until Russia should be thoroughly humiliated. Considering all these things, it was not unreasonable to believe that peace could be maintained, and that Austria, far from taking the initiative in the war, would be found ready to make such concessions as should lead to the indefinite postponement of hostilities.
Those who reasoned from the mere occasion of the war were perfectly right, from their point of view. Unfortunately for their reputation for sagacity, their premises were entirely wrong, and hence the viciousness of their conclusion. If we would know the cause of the war, we must banish from our minds all that is said about the desire of Napoleon III. for vengeance on the conquerors of his uncle, all that we are told of his sentimental wish for the elevation of the Italian people to a national position, and all that is predicated of his ambitious longings for the reconstruction of the First Empire. We must regard Napoleon III. in the light of what he really is, namely, one of the greatest statesmen that ever lived, or we shall never be able to understand what are his purposes. We have nothing to do with his morals, but have to regard him only as the chief of France, pursuing the policy he believes best calculated to advance that country’s interests, and doing so in strict accordance with her historical traditions, and in the same manner in which it was pursued by the ablest of the Valois kings, by Henry IV. and Sully, by Richelieu and Mazarin, by Louis XIV., by the chiefs of the First Republic, and by Napoleon I. He may be a good man or a bad man, but his character is entirely aside from the question, the nature and merits of which have no necessary connection with the nature and merits of the men engaged in effecting its solution. Let us examine the subject, and see if we cannot find an intelligent, reasonable cause for Napoleon’s course of action, that shall harmonize with the duties, we might almost say the instincts, of a great French statesman. The examination will embrace nothing recondite, but we are confident it will show that the French Emperor is no Quixote, and that he has been forced into the war by the necessities of his situation, and by the very natural desire he feels to prevent France from being compelled to descend to a secondary place in the scale of European nations.
Modern Europe, in the sense in which we understand the term, dates from the last quarter of the Fifteenth Century. Then England ceased to attempt permanent conquests on the continent. Then Spain assumed European rank and definite position. But two powers then began especially to show themselves, and to play parts which both have maintained down to the present time. The one was France, which then ceased to dread English invasions, from the effects of which she was rapidly recovering, whereby she was left to employ her energies on foreign fields. The other was the House of Austria, which, by a series of fortunate marriages, became, in the short period of forty years, the most powerful family the modern world has ever known. On the day when Maximilian, son of Frederick III., Emperor of Germany, wedded Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold, the rivalry between France and the Austrian family began. Philip, son of that marriage, married Juana, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella; and their son, Charles I. of the Spains, became Charles V. of Germany. Thus there centred in his person a degree of power such as other sovereign could boast, and which alone would have sufficed to make him the rival of the King of France, Francis I., had no personal feeling entered into the relations between them. But such feeling existed, and grew out of their competition for the imperial crown. The previous ill-will between the Valois and the Hapsburg was greatly increased, and assumed such force as permanently to color the course of European history from that day to this. The rivalry of Charles and Francis was the cause of many contests, and the French monarch, though he was The Most Christian King, in the opinion of some, more than once aided, or offered to aid, the German Protestants against the Emperor. To Philip II. and Henry II. the rivalry of their fathers descended as an inheritance. It was in their warfare that the Battle of St. Quentin was fought. The progress of the Reformation led monarchs in those days to take a view of affairs not much unlike that which monarchs of this century took in the days of the Holy Alliance, and after the revolution of 1830. The hatred of Protestantism led the two kings to draw together, though Henry II. had had no mean part in that work which had enabled the Protestant Maurice of Saxony to render abortive all the plans of Charles V. for the full restoration of Catholicism in Germany. During the thirty years that followed the death of Henry II., the dissensions of France had rendered her unable to contend with the House of Austria, then principally represented by the Spanish branch of that family; and Philip II. at one time thought of obtaining the crown of that country for a member of his own house. But no sooner had Henry IV. ascended the French throne, and established himself firmly thereon, than the rivalry of France and Austria became as clearly pronounced as it had been in the reign of Francis I.; and at the time of his death that most popular of the Bourbon kings was engaged on a plan having for its object the subversion of the Austrian power. His assassination changed the course of events for a few years; but Richelieu became the ally of the Swedes and Protestant Germans in the Thirty Years’ War, though he was a Cardinal, had destroyed the political power of the Huguenots, and might have aspired to the Papacy. Mazarin, another Cardinal, followed Richelieu’s policy. Louis XIV. was repeatedly at war with the House of Austria, though he was the son of an Austrian princess, and was married to another. His last war with that house was for the throne of Spain, when the elder branch of the Hapsburgs died out, in 1 700. Louis XV. had two contests with Austria; but in 1756, under the lead of Count Kaunitz, France and Austria were united, and acted together in the Seven Years’ War, the incidents and effects of which were by no means calculated to reconcile the French to the departure of their government from its ancient policy. One of the causes of the French Revolution was the Austrian alliance, and one of its effects was the complete rupture of that alliance. Austria was the most determined foe that the French Republic and Empire ever encountered. Including the war of 1815, there were six contests between Austria and republican and imperial France. In all these wars Austria was the aggressor, and showed herself to be the enemy of France as well as of those French principles which so frightened the conservatives of the world in those days. In the first war, she took possession of French places for herself, and not for the house of Bourbon; and in the last she purposed a partition of France, long after Louis XVIII. had been finally restored, and when Napoleon was at or near St. Helena. She demanded that Alsace and Lorraine should be made over to her, in the autumn of 1815. She sought to induce Prussia to unite with her by offering to support any demand that she might make for French territory; and, failing to move that power, endeavored to get the smaller German States to act with her, — the same States, indeed, that are now so hostile to France, and which talk of a march upon Paris, and of a reduction of French territorial strength. Nothing prevented the Austrian idea from being reduced to practice but the opposition of Russia and England, neither of which had any interest in the spoliation of France, while both had no desire to see Austria rendered stronger than she was. It was to England that Austria owed her Italian possessions, which, in 1814, she at first had the sense not to wish to be cumbered with; and to make her still more powerful north of the Alps was not to be thought of even by the Liverpools and Castlereaghs. The Czar, too, had in his thoughts a closer connection with France than it suited him then to avow, and for purposes of his own; and therefore he could not desire the sensible diminution of the power of a country the resources of which he expected to employ. Nicholas inherited his brother’s ideas and designs, and we are to attribute much of the ill-feeling that he exhibited towards the Orléans dynasty to his disappointment; for the revolution that elevated that dynasty to the French throne destroyed the hope that he had entertained of having French aid to effect the conquest of Turkey. There never would have been a siege of Sebastopol, if the elder branch of the Bourbons had continued to rule in France. It required even a series of revolutions to bring France to that condition in which the Western Alliance was possible. But there would have been something more than an “understanding” between France and Russia concerning Austria, had the government of the Restoration endured a few years beyond 1830. It suited the Austrian government to show considerable coldness towards the Orléans dynasty; but assuredly so wise a man as Prince Metternich, and who had such excellent means of information, never could have believed otherwise than that the establishment of that dynasty saved Austria from being assailed by both Russia and France.
The rivalry of France and Austria being understood, and that rivalry leading to war whenever occasion therefor chances to arise, it remains to inquire what is the occasion of the existing contest. When Napoleon III. became head of France, as Prince-President, at the close of 1848, Austria was the last power with which he could have engaged in war, supposing that he had then been strong enough to control the policy of France, and it had suited him to make an occasion for war. She was then engaged in her death-and-life struggles with Hungarians, Italians, and others of her subjects who that year threw off her yoke, while the Sardinians had endeavored to obtain possession of Lombardy and Venice. Francis Joseph became chief of the Austrian Empire at the same time that Louis Napoleon ascended to the same point in France. Certainly, if the object of France had been the mere weakening and spoliation of Austria, then was the time to assail her, when one half her subjects were fighting the other half, when the Germans outside of her empire were by no means her friends, and when it was far from clear that she could rely upon assistance from Russia. Austria was then in a condition of helplessness apparently so complete, that many thought her hour had come; but those who knew her history, and were aware bow often she had recovered from just such crises, held no belief of the kind. Yet if France had assailed her at that time, Austria must have lost all her Italian provinces; and it is now generally admitted, that, if Cavaignae had sent a French army into Italy immediately after the victory won by Radetzky over Charles Albert at Somma Campagna, (July 26th, 1848,) the “Italian question” would then have been settled in a manner that would have been satisfactory to the greater part of Europe, and have rendered such a war as is now waging in Italy quite impossible. Russia could have done nothing to prevent the success of the French arms, and it is probable that Austria would have abandoned the contest without lighting a battle. At an earlier period she had signified her readiness to allow the incorporation of most of Lombardy with Sardinia, she to retain the country beyond the Mincio, and to hold the two great fortresses of Peschiera (at the southern extremity of the Lago di Garda, and at the point where the river issues from the lake) and Mantua. She even asked the aid of France and England to effect a peace on this basis, but unsuccessfully. Cavaignae’s anomalous political position prevented him from aiding the Italians. He was a Liberal, but the actual head of the reactionists in France of all colors, of men who looked upon the Italians as ruffians wedded to disorder, while Austria, in their eyes, was the champion of order. France did nothing, and in December Louis Napoleon became President. An opportunity was soon afforded him to interfere in Italian affairs. The armistice that had existed between the Austrians and the Sardinians after the 9th of August, 1848, was denounced on the 12th of March, 1849, by the latter; and Radetzky closed the order of the day, issued immediately after this denunciation was made, with the words, — “Forward, soldiers, to Turin!” The intentions of the Sardinians must have been known to Louis Napoleon, but he took no measures to aid them. He saw Piedmont conquered in a campaign of “hours.” He saw Brescia treated by Haynan as Tilly treated Magdeburg. He saw the long and heroical defence of Venice against the Austrians, during the dreary spring and summer of ’49, — a defence as worthy of immortality as the War of Chiozza, and indicating the presence of the spirit of Zeno, and Contarini, and Pisani in the old home of those patriots. But nothing moved him. He would not even mediate in behalf of the Venetians; and it was by the advice of the French consul and the French admiral on the station that Venice finally surrendered, but not until she had exhausted the means of defence and life. At that time, few men in America but were in the habit of denouncing the French President for his indifference to the Italian cause. He was charged with having been guilty of a blunder and a crime. His consent to the expedition to Rome aggravated his offence, for it was an act of intervention on the wrong side. But the passage of ten years enables us to be more just to him than it was possible for us to be in 1849. He was not firm in his seat. He was but a temporary chief of the State. He was surrounded by enemies, political and personal, who were seeking his overthrow, without any regard for the tenure of his office. He knew not his power. His object was the restoration of internal peace to France, her recovery from the weakness into which she had fallen or had been precipitated. He dared not offend the Catholics, who saw then, as they see now, a champion in Austria. He was the victim of circumstances, and be had to bow before them, in order that he might finally become their master. Then he had no occasion for a quarrel with Austria. She was at the lowest ebb her fortunes had known since the day that the Turks appeared for the second time before Vienna. She could not have maintained herself in Italy, even after the successes of Radetzky, had not Nicholas sent one hundred and fifty thousand men to her assistance in Hungary. What had France to fear from her? No more than she had to fear from her on the day after Austerlitz.
Years rolled on, and brought with them great changes; and the greatest of those changes was to be seen in Italy, in reference to the position of Austria there, and its effect upon France. Austria rapidly reëstablished her power in Italy, not only over Lombardy and Venice, but over every part of the Peninsula, excepting Sardinia. Tuscany was connected with her by various ties, and was ruled as she wished it to be ruled. Parma and Modena were hers in every sense. She was the patron and protector of the abominable Bomba, and her support alone enabled him to defy the sentiment of the civilized world, and to indulge in cruelties such as would have added new infamy to the name of Ezzelino. She upheld the misgovernment of the Papal States, which has made Rome the scandal of Europe. All the nominal rulers of the Italian States, with the honorable exception of the King of Sardinia, were her vassal princes, and were no more free to act without her consent than were the kings the Roman Republic and Empire allowed to exist within their dominions free to act without the consent of the proconsuls. What the proconsul of Syria was to the little potentates mentioned in the New Testament, the Austrian viceroy in the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom was to the nominal rulers of the various Italian States. It only remained to bring Sardinia within this ring-fence of sea and mountains to convert all Italy into an Austrian dependency. There is nothing like this in history, we verily believe. In the short period of ten years after the capture of Milan by Radetzky, (August 4,1848,) the Austrians had established themselves completely in nearly every part of Italy. Of the twenty-seven millions of people that compose her population, twenty-two millions were as much at the command of Austria as were the Hungarians and Bohemians. Had she had the sense to use her power, not with mildness only, but beneficially to this great mass of men, and had nothing occurred to disturb her plans, she would have nearly doubled the number of her subjects, and have more than doubled her resources. She would have become a great maritime state, and have converted the Mediterranean into an Austrian lake. Had they been well governed, the Italians might, and most probably would, have accepted their condition, and have become loyal subjects of the house of Lorraine. Foreign rule is no new thing to them, nor have they ever been impatient under its existence, when it has existed for their good. The people rarely are hostile to any government that is conducted with ordinary fairness. There is no greater error than that involved in the idea that revolutions or changes of any kind originate from below, that they proceed from the people. Almost invariably they come from above, from governmental action and it is ever in the power of a government to make itself perpetual. The term of its existence is in its own hands. At the very worst for Austria, she might have accomplished in Italy what was accomplished there three centuries ago by Spain, then ruled by the elder branch of the Hapsburgs. She might have commanded almost everything within its limits, with Sardinia to play some such part as was then played by Venice.
This is said on the supposition, first, that her government should have been mild and conciliatory, active only for good, and that all her interference with local rule should have been on the side of humanity; and, second, that no foreign power should have interfered to prevent the full development of her policy. Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for other nations, and especially so for Italy, she not only did not govern well, but governed badly; and there was a great power which was deeply, vitally interested—moved by the all-controlling principle of self-preservation—in watching all her movements, and in finding occasion to drive her out of Italy. She was not content with upholding misgovernment in Naples, Rome, Tuscany, Modena, Parma, and elsewhere, but she meant to subvert the constitutional polity established in the Sub-Alpine Kingdom of Sardinia. The enemy of constitutionalism and freedom everywhere, she was especially hostile to their existence in the little state that bordered on a portion of her Italian possessions, whence they always threatened Lombardy with a plague she detests far more heartily than she detests cholera. No natural boundary or cordon militaire could suffice to stay the march of principles. Nothing would answer but the subversion of the Sardinian constitution and the bringing of that nation’s government into harmony with the admirable rule that existed, under the double-headed eagle’s protection, in Naples and Modena. Unless all Austrian history be false, Austria’s object for years has been a revolution in Sardinia, and Rome has aided her. This is the necessity of her moral situation with reference to her little neighbor. The world has smiled at Austria’s late complaint that Sardinia menaced her, it seemed so like the wolf’s protestation that the lamb was doing him an injury; but it was really well founded, though not entitled to much respect. Sardinia did menace Austria. She menaced her by the force of her example, — as the honest man menaces the rogue, as the peaceful man menaces the ruffian, as the charitable man menaces the miser, as the Good Samaritan menaced the priest and Levite. In the sense that virtue ever menaces vice, and right constantly menaces wrong, Sardinia was a menace to Austria; — and as we often find the wrongdoer denouncing the good as subverters of social order, we ought not to be astonished at the plaintive whine of the master of thrice forty legions at the conduct of the decorous, humane, and enlightened Victor Emanuel.
The only foreign power that had a direct, immediate, positive interest in preventing the establishment of Austrian power over Italy was France. Several other powers had some interest adverse to the success of the Austrian scheme, but it was so far below that which France felt, that it is difficult to make any comparison between the several cases. England, speaking generally, might not like the idea of a new naval power coming into existence in the Mediterranean, which, with great fleets and greater armies, might come to have a controlling influence in the East, and prevent the establishment of her power in Egypt and Syria. She might see with some jealousy the further development of Austrian commerce, which has been so successfully pursued in the Mediterranean and the Levant since 1815. But then England is not very remarkable for forethought, and she has a just confidence in her own naval power. Besides, would not Austria, in the event of her adding Italy virtually to her dominions, become the ally of England in the business of supporting Turkey against Russia, and in preventing the further extension of Russian power to the South and the East? The old traditionary policy of England pointed to an Austrian alliance, and nations are tenacious of their traditions. The war in Italy was unquestionably precipitated by Austria’s belief that in the last resort she could rely upon English support; and she made a fatal delay in her military movements in deference to English interposition. Prussia could not be expected to see the increase of the power of the House of Austria with pleasure; but it was possible that the extension of its dominions to. the South, by giving it new objects of ambition, and forcing upon it a leading part in Eastern affairs, might cause that house to pay less regard to German matters, leaving them to be managed by the house of Hohenzollern. Russia, under the system that Nicholas pursued, could not have seen Austria absorb Italy without resisting the process at any cost; but Alexander IV.,1 a wiser man than his father was, never would have gone to war to prevent it, his views being directed to those internal reforms the success of which is likely to create a Russian People, and to place his empire in a far higher position than it has ever yet occupied. Yet Russia could not have witnessed Austria’s success with pleasure and the readiness with which she has agreed to aid France, should the Germans aid Austria, is proof sufficient that she is desirous that Austria should not merely be prevented from extending her territory, but actually reduced in extent and in means. From no part of Europe have come more decided condemnations of the course of Austria than from the Russian capital. The language of the St. Petersburg journals touching the Treaties of Vienna has been absolutely contemptuous; and that language is all the more oracular and significant because we know that the editors of those journals must have been inspired by the government. It has been justly regarded as expressing the views of the Czar, and of the statesmen who compose his cabinet. Though not disposed for war, and probably sincerely desirous of the preservation of peace everywhere, the rulers of Russia are quite ready to support France in all proper measures that she may adopt to drive the Austrians from every part of the Italian Peninsula. They are too sagacious not to see that France cannot hold a league of Italian territory, and the reduction of Austrian power is just so much gained towards the ultimate realization of their Oriental policy.
Of the other European powers, and of their opinions respecting the effect of Austrian supremacy, little need be said. Such countries as Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Portugal have little weight in the European system, individually or collectively. Even Spain, though she is not the feeble nation many of our countrymen are pleased to represent her, when seeking to find a reason for the seizure of Cuba, — even Spain, we say, could not be much moved by the prospect of Austria’s reaching to that condition of vast strength which would necessarily follow from her undisputed ascendency in Italy. The lesser German States would probably have seen Austria’s increase with pleasure, partly because it would have helped to remove their fears of France and Russia, and partly because it would have been flattering to their pride of race, the house of Austria being Germanic in its character, though ruling directly over but few Germans, — few, we mean, in comparison with the Slaves, Magyars, Italians, and other races that compose the bulk of its subjects. Turkey alone had a direct interest in Austria’s success, as promising her protection against all the other great European powers; but Turkey is not, properly speaking, a member of the European Commonwealth.
But the case was very different with France. She is the first nation of Continental Europe, — a position she has held for nearly four centuries, though some times her fortunes have been reduced very low, as during the closing days of the Valois dynasty, and in 1815; but even in 1815 she had the melancholy consolation of knowing that it required the combined exertions of all Europe to conquer her. Her wonderful elasticity in rising superior to the severest visitations has often surprised the world, and those who remember 1815 will be most astonished at her present position in Europe, or rather in Christendom. Her position, however, has always been the result of indefatigable exertions, and a variety of circumstances have made those exertions necessary on several occasions. Great as France is now, and great as she has been at several periods of her history since the death of Mazarin, it may be doubted if she is so great as she was at the date of the Treaty of Westphalia, the work of her arms and her diplomacy (1648). At that time, and for many years afterwards, several nations had no pronounced political existence that now are powers of the first class. Russia had no weight in Europe until the last years of Louis XIV., and her real importance commenced fifty years after that monarch was placed in his grave. Prussia, though she attained to a respectable position at the close of the seventeenth century, the date of the creation of her monarchy, did not become a first-class power until two generations later, and as the result of the Seven Years’ War. The United States count but eighty-three years of national life; and they have had international influence less than half of that time. England, which the restoration of the Stuarts caused to sink so low in those very years during which Louis XIV. was at the zenith of his greatness, has been for one hundred and severity years the equal of France. On the other hand, the two nations with which France was formerly much connected, Turkey and Sweden, have ceased to influence events. France allied herself with Turkey in the early years of her struggle with the House of Austria, to the offence of Christian peoples; and the relations between Paris and Constantinople were long maintained on the basis of common interest, the only tie that has ever sufficed to hind nations. Both countries were the enemies of Austria. The second half of the Thirty Years’ War was maintained, on the part of the enemies of Austria, by the alliance of France and Sweden; and between these countries a good understanding frequently prevailed in after-times, the growth of Russia serving to force Sweden into the arms of France. Poland has disappeared from the list of nations, and her territory has augmented the resources of two countries that had no political weight in the first century of the Bourbon kings, and those of Frances rival. Thus France has relatively fallen. That ancient international system of which she was the centre for nearly one hundred and fifty years—say from the middle of the reign of Henry IV. to the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, (1599-1748)—has passed entirely away from the world, and never can be restored. France has seldom seriously thought of attempting its restoration, though some of her statesmen, and probably a large majority of the more intelligent of her people, have from time to time warmly favored the idea of the reconstruction of Poland; and of all the errors of Napoleon I., his failure to realize that idea was unquestionably the greatest. The turn that things took in the French Revolution enabled France to establish an hegemony in Europe, which might have been long preserved but for the disasters of 1812; but the empire of Napoleon I. was never a political empire, being only of a military character. France then led Europe, but she lost her ascendency on the first reverse, like Sparta after Leuctra. History has no parallel to the change that the France of 1814 presented to the France of 1812. On the 1st of October, 1812, the French were at Moscow; on the 1st of April. 1814, the allies were in Paris. Eighteen months had done work that no man living at the first date had expected to see accomplished. What happened in 1815 was but the complement of 1814. Then France was struck down, trampled upon, spoiled, insulted, and mulcted in immense sums of money; and finally forced to pay the cost of an armed police, headed by Wellington himself, which held her chief fortresses for three years, and saw that her chains were kept bright and strong. Never, since Lysander demolished the Long Walls of Athens to the music of the Spartan flute, had the world seen so bitter a spectacle of national humiliation, so absolute a reversal of fortune, — the long-conquering legions perishing by the sword, and him who had headed so many triumphal processions perishing as it were in the Mamertine dungeon.
It was from the nadir to which she had thus fallen, that the rulers of France, acting as the agents of its people, have been laboring to raise her ever since 1815. They have had a twofold object in view. They have sought territory, in order that France might not be driven into the list of second-class nations, — and military glory, to make men forget Vittoria, and Leipzig, and Waterloo. All the governments of France have been alike in this respect, no matter how much they have differed in other respects. The legitimate Bourbons, of whom an American is bound to speak well, for they were our friends, and often evinced a feeling towards us that exceeded largely anything that is required by the terms or the spirit of a political alliance, — the solitary Orléans King, the shadowy Republic of ’48, and the imperial government, all have endeavored to do something to elevate France, to win for her new glories, and to regain for her her old position. The expedition into Spain, in 1823, ostensibly made in the interest of Absolutism, was really undertaken for the purpose of rebaptizing the white flag in fire. Charles X. and M. de Polignac were engaged in a great scheme of foreign policy when they fell, the chief object of which, on their side, was the restoration to France of the provinces of the Rhine, — and which Russia favored, because she knew, that, unless the Bourbons could do something to satisfy their people, they must remain powerless, and it did not answer her purpose that they should he otherwise than powerful. The conquest of Algiers was made for the purpose of gratifying the French people, and with the intention of spreading French dominion over Northern Africa. It was a step towards the acquisition of Egypt, for which land France has exhibited a strange longing. In this way the loss of French India and French America, things of the old monarchy, were to be compensated. The government of Louis Philippe expended mines of gold and seas of blood in Africa, much to the astonishment of prudent men, who had no idea of the end upon which its eyes were fixed. When the Republic of 1848 was improvised, even Lamartine, not an unjust man, could talk of the rights of France in Italy, and of her proper influence there; and the wicked attack on the Romans, in 1849, was prompted by a desire to make French influence felt in that country in a manner that should be clear to the sense of mankind.
When Louis Napoleon became President of France, it was impossible for him to devote much attention to foreign affairs. His aim was to make himself Emperor, to restore the Napoleon dynasty. This, after a hard struggle, he effected in 1851-’52. It must he within the recollection of all that the French invasion question was never more vehemently discussed in England than during the ten or twelve months that followed the coup d’état. This happened because it was assumed that the Emperor must do something to revenge the injuries his house and France had suffered from that alliance of which England was the chief member and the purse-holder. Whether he ever thought of assailing England, no man can say; for he never yet communicated his thoughts on any important subject to any human being. We may assume, however, that he would not have attacked England without having made extensive preparations for that purpose; and long before such preparations could have been perfected, the Eastern question was forced upon the attention of Europe, and the two nations which were expected to engage in war as foes united their immense armaments to thwart the plans of Russia. Blinded by his feelings, and altogether mistaking the character of the English people, the Czar treated Napoleon III. contemptuously, and sought to bring about the partition of Turkey by the aid of England alone. It will always furnish material for the ingenious writers of the history of things that might have been, whether the French Emperor would have accepted the Czar’s proposition, had it been made to him. Certainly it would have enabled him to do great things for France, while by the same course of action he could have struck heavy blows at both England and Austria. As it was, he joined England to oppose Russia, and the English have borne full and honorable testimony to his fidelity to his engagements. The war concluded, his attention was directed to Italy, and he sought to meliorate the condition of that country; but Austria would not hear even of the discussion of Italian affairs. The events that marked the course of things in Paris, in the spring of 1856, showed that nothing could be hoped for Italy from Austria. She spoke, through Count Buol, as if she regarded the whole Peninsula as peculiarly her property, meddling with which on the part of other powers was sheer impertinence, and not to be borne with good temper, or even the show of it.
The twenty-second meeting of the Congress of Paris, held the 8th of April, was long, exciting, and important; for then several European questions were discussed, among them being the affairs of Italy. The protocol of that day proves the sensitiveness of the Austrian plenipotentiaries and the earnestness of those of Sardinia. Eight days later, the Sardinian plenipotentiaries, Cavour and Dc Villa Marina, addressed to the governments of France and England a Memorial relating to the affairs of Italy, in the course of which occur expressions that must have had a strong effect on the mind of Napoleon III. “Called by the sovereigns of the small states of Italy, who are powerless to repress the discontent of their subjects,” says the Memorial, “Austria occupies militarily the greater part of the Valley of the Po and of Central Italy, and makes her influence felt in an irresistible manner, even in the countries where she has no soldiers. Resting on one side on Ferrara and Bologna, her troops extend themselves to Ancona, the length of the Adriatic, which has become in a manner an Austrian lake; on the other, mistress of Piacenza, which, contrary to the spirit, if not to the letter, of the Treaties of Vienna, she labors to transform into a first-class fortress, she has a garrison at Parma, and makes dispositions to deploy her forces all along the Sardinian frontier, from the Po to the summit of the Apennines. This permanent occupation by Austria of territories which do not belong to her renders her absolute mistress of nearly all Italy, destroys the equilibrium established by the Treaties of Vienna, and is a continual menace to Piedmont.” In conclusion, the plenipotentiaries say, “Sardinia is the only state in Italy that has been able to raise an impassable barrier to the revolutionary spirit, and at the same time remain independent of Austria. It is the counterpoise to her invading influence. If Sardinia succumbed, exhausted of power, abandoned by her allies, — if she also was obliged to submit to Austrian domination, then the conquest of Italy by this power would be achieved; and Austria, after having obtained, without its costing her the least sacrifice, the immense benefit of the free navigation of the Danube, and the neutralization of the Black Sea, would acquire a preponderating influence in the West. This is what France and England would never wish, — this they will never permit.”
These are grave and weighty words, and were well calculated to produce an effect on the mind of Napoleon III.; and we are convinced that they furnish a key to his conduct toward Austria, and set forth the occasion of the Italian War. The supremacy of Austria once completely asserted over Italy, France would necessarily sink in the European scale in precisely the same proportion in which Austria should rise in it. The subjects of Francis Joseph would number sixty millions, while those of Napoleon III. would remain at thirty-six millions. The sinews of war have never been much at the command of Austria, but possession of Italy would render her wealthy, and enable her to command that gold which moves armies and renders them effective. Her commerce would be increased to an incalculable extent, and she would have naval populations from which to conscribe the crews for fleets that she would be prompt to build. Her voice would be potential in the East, and that of France would there cease to be heard. She would become the first power of Europe, and would exercise an hegemony far more decided than that which Russia held for forty years after 1814. It was to be expected that the Italians would cease fruitlessly to oppose her, and, their submission leading to her abandonment of the repressive system, they might become a bold and an adventurous people, helping to increase and to consolidate her power. They might prove as useful to her as the Hungarians and Bohemians have been, whom she had conquered and misruled, but whose youth have filled her armies. All these things were not only possible, but they were highly probable; and once having become facts, what security would France have that she would not be attacked, conquered, and partitioned? With sixty millions of people, and supported by the sentiment and arias of Germany, Austria could seize upon Alsace and Lorraine, and other parts of France, and thus reduce her strength positively as well as relatively. All that was talked of in 1815, and more than all that, might be accomplished in sixty years from that date, and while Napoleon III. himself should still be on the throne he had so strangely won. That degradation of France which the uncle’s ambition had brought about at the beginning of the century would be more than equalled at the century’s close through the nephew’s forbearance. The very names of Napoleon and Bonaparte would become odious in France, and contemptible everywhere. On the other hand, should he interfere successfully in behalf of Italian nationality, he would reduce the strength of Austria, and prevent her from becoming an overshadowing empire. Her population and her territory would be essentially lessened. She would be cut off from all hope of making Italy her own, would be compelled to abandon her plans of commercial and maritime greatness, would be disregarded in the East, would not be courted by England, would lose half her influence in Germany, and would not be in a condition to menace France in any quarter. The glory of the French arms would be increased, the weight of France would be doubled, new lustre would shine from the name of Napoleon, the Treaties of Vienna would be torn up by the nation against which they had been directed, the most determined foe of the Bonaparte family would be punished, and that family’s power would he consolidated.
Such, we verily believe, were the reasons that led Napoleon III. to plan an attack on Austria, that attack which has been so brilliantly commenced. That he has gone to war for the liberation of Italy, merely as such, we do not suppose; but that must follow from his policy, because in that way alone can his grand object be effected. The freedom of the Peninsula will be brought about, because it is necessary for the welfare of France, for the maintenance of her weight in Europe, that it should be brought about. That the Emperor is insensible of the glory that would come from the rehabilitation of Italy, we do not assert. We think he is very sensible of it, and that he enjoys the satisfaction that comes from the performance of a good deed as much as if he were not a usurper and never had overthrown a nominal republic. But we cannot agree with those who say that the liberation of Italy was the pure and simple purpose of the war. He means that Austria shall not have Italy, and his sobriety of judgment enables him to understand that France cannot have it. That country is to belong to the children of the soil, who, with ordinary wisdom and conduct, will be able to prevent it from again relapsing under foreign rule. The Emperor understands his epoch, and will attempt nothing that shall excite against himself and his dynasty the indignation of mankind. If not a saint, he is not a senseless sinner.
Our article is so long, that we cannot discuss the questions, whether Napoleon III. is not animated by the desire of vengeance, and whether, having chastised Russia and Austria, he will not turn his arms against Prussia and England. Our opinion is that he will do nothing of the kind. Prussia is not likely to afford him any occasion for war; and if he should make one, he would have to fight all the other German powers at the same time, and perhaps Russia. The only chance that exists for a Prussian war is to be found in the wrath of the Germans, who, at the time we write, have assumed a very hostile attitude towards France, and wish to be led from Berlin; but the government of Prussia is discreet, and will not be easily induced to incur the positive loss and probable disgrace that would follow from a Russian invasion, like that which took place in 1759. As to England, the Emperor would be mad to attempt her conquest; and he knows too well what is due to his fame to engage in a piratical dash at London. An invasion of England can never be safely undertaken except by some power that is master of the seas; and England is not in the least disposed to abandon her maritime supremacy. There would have to be a Battle of Actium before her shores could be in danger, and she must have lost it; and no matter what is said concerning the excellence of the French navy, that of England is as much ahead of it in all the elements of real, enduring strength, as it has been at any other period of the history of the two countries.
- I call the present czar Alexander the Fourth, as there have been three other Alexanders sovereigns of Russia; but he is generally styled Alexander the Second. ↩