Denmark and Germany (Danish-Prussian War)

Mr. Speaker,—Some of the longest and most disastrous wars of modern Europe have been wars of succession. The Thirty Years’ War was a war of succession. It arose from a dispute respecting the inheritance of a duchy in the north of Europe, not very distant from that Duchy of Holstein which now engages general attention. Sir, there are two causes why wars originating in disputed succession become usually of a prolonged and obstinate character. The first is internal discord, and the second foreign ambition. Sometimes a domestic party, under such circumstances, has an understanding with a foreign potentate, and, again, the ambition of that foreign potentate excites the distrust, perhaps the envy, of other Powers; and the consequence is, generally speaking, that the dissensions thus created lead to prolonged and complicated struggles. Sir, I apprehend—indeed I entertain no doubt—that it was in contemplation of such circumstances possibly occurring in our time, that the statesmen of Europe, some thirteen years ago, knowing that it was probable that the royal line of Denmark would cease, and that upon the death of the then king, his dominions would be divided, and in all probability disputed, gave their best consideration to obviate the recurrence of such calamities to Europe. Sir, in these days, fortunately, it is not possible for the Powers of Europe to act under such circumstances as they would have done a hundred years ago. Then they would probably have met in secret conclave and have decided the arrangement of the internal government of an independent kingdom. In our time they said to the King of Denmark, ‘If you and your people among yourselves can make an arrangement in the case of the contingency of your death without issue, which may put an end to all internal discord, we at least will do this for you and Denmark—we will in your lifetime recognize the settlement thus made, and, so far as the influence of the Great Powers can be exercised, we will at least relieve you from the other great cause which, in the case of disputed successions, leads to prolonged wars. We will save you from foreign interference, foreign ambition, and foreign aggression.’ That, Sir, I believe, is an accurate account and true description of that celebrated treaty of May, 1852, of which we have heard so much, and of which some characters are given which in my opinion are unauthorized and unfounded.

There can be no doubt that the purpose of that treaty was one which entitled it to the respect of the communities of Europe. Its language is simple and expresses its purpose. The Powers who concluded that treaty announced that they concluded it, not from their own will or arbitrary impulse, but at the invitation of the Danish Government, in order to give to the arrangements relative to the succession an additional pledge of stability by an act of European recognition. If honourable gentlemen look to that treaty—and I doubt not that they are familiar with it—they will find the first article entirely occupied with the recitals of the efforts of the King of Denmark—and, in his mind, successful efforts—to make the necessary arrangements with the principal estates and personages of his kingdom, in order to effect the requisite alterations in the lex regia regulating the order of succession; and the article concludes by an invitation and appeal to the Powers of Europe, by a recognition of that settlement, to preserve his kingdom from the risk of external danger.

Sir, under that treaty England incurred no legal responsibility which was not equally entered into by France and by Russia. If, indeed, I were to dwell on moral obligations—which I think constitute too dangerous a theme to introduce into a debate of this kind—but if I were to dwell upon that topic, I might say that the moral obligations which France, for example, had incurred to Denmark, were of no ordinary character. Denmark had been the ally of France in that severe struggle which forms the most considerable portion of modern history, and had proved a most faithful ally. Even at St. Helena, when contemplating his marvellous career and moralizing over the past, the first emperor of the dynasty which now governs France rendered justice to the complete devotion of the Kings of Denmark and Saxony, the only sovereigns, he said, who were faithful under all proof and the extreme of adversity. On the other hand, if we look to our relations with Denmark, in her we found a persevering though a gallant foe. Therefore, so far as moral obligations are concerned, while there are none which should influence England, there is a great sense of gratitude which might have influenced the councils of France. But, looking to the treaty, there is no legal obligation incurred by England towards Denmark which is not equally shared by Russia and by France.

Now, the question which I would first ask the House is this: How is it that, under these circumstances, the position of France relative to Denmark is one so free from embarrassment—I might say, so dignified—that she recently received a tribute to her demeanour and unimpeachable conduct in this respect from Her Majesty’s Secretary of State; while the position of England, under the same obligation, contained in the same treaty, with relation to Denmark, is one, all will admit, of infinite perplexity, and, I am afraid I must add, terrible mortification? That, Sir, is the first question which I will put to the House, and which, I think, ought to receive a satisfactory answer, among other questions, to-night. And I think that the answer that must first occur to every one—the logical inference—is that the affairs of this country with respect to our obligations under the treaty of 1852 must have been very much mismanaged to have produced consequences so contrary to the position occupied by another Power equally bound with ourselves by that treaty.

Sir, this is not the first time, as the House is aware, that the dominions of the King of Denmark have been occupied by Austrian and Prussian armies. In the year 1848, when a great European insurrection occurred—I call it insurrection to distinguish it from revolution, for, though its action was very violent, the ultimate effect was almost nothing—but when the great European insurrection took place, there was no portion of Europe more influenced by it than Germany. There is scarcely a political constitution in Germany that was not changed at that period, and scarcely a throne that was not subverted. The King of Denmark, in his character of a sovereign prince of Germany, was affected by that great movement. The population of Germany, under the influence of peculiar excitement at that time, were impelled to redress the grievances, as they alleged them to be, of their fellow countrymen in the dominions of the King of Denmark who were his subjects. The Duchy of Holstein and the Duchy of Schleswig were invaded, a civil war was excited by ambitious princes, and that territory was ultimately subjected to a decree of that Diet with which now we have become familiar.

The office was delegated to the Austrian and Prussian armies to execute that decree, and they occupied, I believe, at one time the whole Continental possessions of the King of Denmark. In 1851 tranquillity had been restored to Europe, and especially to Germany, and the troops of Austria and Prussia ultimately quitted the dominions of the King of Denmark. That they quitted them in consequence of the military prowess of the Danes, though that was far from inconsiderable, I do not pretend to say. They quitted the territory, I believe the truth to be, in consequence of the influence of Russia, at that time irresistible in Germany, and deservedly so, because she had interfered and established tranquillity, and Russia had expressed her opinion that the German forces should quit the dominions of the King of Denmark. They quitted the country, however, under certain conditions. A diplomatic correspondence had taken place between the King of Denmark and the Courts of Berlin and Vienna, and the King of Denmark in that correspondence entered into certain engagements, and those engagements undoubtedly were recommended to a certain degree by the wish, if possible, to remedy the abuses complained of, and also by the desire to find an honourable excuse for the relinquishment of his provinces by the German forces. The King of Denmark never fulfilled the engagements into which he then entered, partly, I have no doubt, from negligence. We know that it is not the habit of mankind to perform disagreeable duties when pressure is withdrawn, but I have no doubt, and I believe the candid statement to be, that it arose in a great degree from the impracticable character of the engagements into which he had entered. That was in the year 1851.

In 1852, tranquillity being then entirely restored, the treaty of May, which regulated the succession, was negotiated. And I may remind honourable members that in that treaty there is not the slightest reference to these engagements which the King of Denmark had entered into with the Diet of Germany, or with German Powers who were members of the Diet. Nevertheless, the consequence of that state of affairs was this, that though there was no international question respecting Denmark, and although the possible difficulties which might occur of an international character had been anticipated by the treaty of 1852, still in respect to the King of Denmark’s capacity as Duke of Holstein and a sovereign German prince, a controversy arose between him and the Diet of Germany in consequence of these engagements, expressed in hitherto private and secret diplomatic correspondence carried on between him and certain German Courts. The House will understand that this was not an international question; it did not affect the public law of Europe; but it was a municipal, local, or, as we now call it, a federal question. Notwithstanding that in reality it related only to the King of Denmark and the Diet of Germany, in time it attracted the attention of the Government of England and of the ministers of the Great Powers, signatories of the treaty of 1852. For some period after the treaty of 1852, very little was heard of the federal question and the controversy between the Diet and the King of Denmark. After the exertions and exhaustions of the revolutionary years, the question slept, but it did not die. Occasionally it gave signs of vitality; and as time proceeded, shortly—at least, not very long—after the accession of the present Government to office, the controversy between the Diet and the King of Denmark assumed an appearance of very great life and acrimony.

Now, Her Majesty’s Ministers thought it their duty to interfere in that controversy between the German Diet and the King of Denmark—a controversy strictly federal and not international. Whether they were wise in taking that course appears very doubtful. My own impression is, and always has been, that it would have been much better to have left the federal question between the Diet and the King to work itself out. Her Majesty’s Ministers, however, were of opinion—and no doubt there is something to be said in favour of that opinion—that as the question, although federal, was one which would probably lead to events which would make it international, it was wiser and better to interfere by anticipation, and prevent, if possible, the federal execution ever taking place. The consequence of that extreme activity on the part of Her Majesty’s Ministers is a mass of correspondence which has been placed on the table, and with which, I doubt not, many gentlemen have some acquaintance, though they may have been more attracted and absorbed by the interest of the more modern correspondence which has, within the year, been presented to the House. Sir, I should not be doing justice to the Secretary of State if I did not bear testimony to the perseverance and extreme ingenuity with which he conducted that correspondence. The noble lord the Secretary of State found in that business, no doubt, a subject genial to his nature—namely, drawing up constitutions for the government of communities. The noble lord, we know, is almost as celebrated as a statesman who flourished at the end of the last century for this peculiar talent. I will not criticize any of the lucubrations of the noble lord at that time. I think his labours are well described in a passage in one of the dispatches of a distinguished Swedish statesman—the present Prime Minister, if I am not mistaken—who, when he was called upon to consider a scheme of the English Government for the administration of Schleswig, which entered into minute details with a power and prolixity which could have been acquired only by a constitutional Minister who had long served an apprenticeship in the House of Commons, said:

Generally speaking, the monarchs of Europe have found it difficult to manage one Parliament, but I observe, to my surprise, that Lord Russell is of opinion that the King of Denmark will be able to manage four.

The only remark I shall make on this folio volume of between 300 and 400 pages relating to the affairs of Schleswig and Holstein is this—I observe that the other Powers of Europe, who were equally interested in the matter, and equally bound to interfere—if being signatories to the treaty of 1852 justified interference—did not interpose as the English Government did. That they disapproved the course taken by us I by no means assert. When we make a suggestion on the subject, they receive it with cold politeness; they have no objection to the course we announce we are going to follow, but confine themselves, with scarcely an exception, to this conduct on their part. The noble lord acted differently. But it is really unnecessary for me to dwell on this part of the question—we may dismiss it from our minds, and I have touched on it only to complete the picture which I am bound to place before the House—in consequence of events which very speedily occurred.

All this elaborate and, I may venture to say—not using the word offensively, but accurately—pragmatical correspondence of the noble lord on the affairs of Schleswig and Holstein was carried on in perfect ignorance on the part of the people of this country, who found very little interest in the subject; and even in Europe, where affairs of diplomacy always attract more attention, little notice was taken of it. This correspondence, however, culminated in a celebrated dispatch which appeared in the autumn of 1862, and then, for the first time, a very great effect was produced in Europe generally—certainly in Germany and France—and some interest began to be excited in England. Sir, the effect of the Secretary of State’s management of these transactions had been this, that he had encouraged—I will not now stop to inquire whether intentionally or not, but it is a fact that he had encouraged—the views of what is called the German party in this controversy. That had been the effect of the noble lord’s general interference, but especially it was the result of the dispatch which appeared in the autumn of 1862. But, Sir, something shortly and in consequence occurred which removed that impression. Germany being agitated on the subject, England at last, in 1863, having had her attention called to the case, which began to produce some disquietude, and gentlemen in this House beginning to direct their attention to it, shortly before the prorogation of Parliament, the state of affairs caused such a degree of public anxiety, that it was deemed necessary that an inquiry should be addressed to Her Majesty’s Government on the subject, and that some means should be taken to settle the uneasiness which prevailed, by obtaining from Ministers a declaration of their policy generally with regard to Denmark.

Sir, that appeal was not made, as I need hardly assure or even remind the House—for many were witnesses to it—in any party spirit, or in any way animated. I will say, by that disciplined arrangement with which public questions are by both sides of the House in general very properly brought before us. It was at the end of the session, when few were left, and when the answer of Her Majesty’s Ministers could not at all affect the position of parties, though it might be of inestimable interest and importance in its effect on the opinion of Europe and on the course of events. That question was brought forward by an honourable friend of mine (Mr. Seymour Fitz-Gerald) who always speaks on these subjects with the authority of one who knows what he is talking about. Well, Sir, a communication was made to the noble lord the First Minister on the subject, and it was understood on this side of the House, from the previous declarations of the noble lord, and our experience of his career generally, that it was not an appeal which would be disagreeable to him, or one which he would have any desire to avoid. The noble lord was not taken by surprise. He was communicated with privately, and he himself fixed the day—it was a morning sitting—when he would come down and explain the views of the Government in regard to our relations with Denmark.

I am bound to say that the noble lord spoke with all that perspicuity and complete detail with which he always treats diplomatic subjects, and in which we acknowledge him to be a master. The noble lord entered into particulars and gave to the House—who, with few exceptions, knew little about the matter—not only a popular, but generally an accurate account of the whole question. He described the constitution of the Diet itself. He explained, for the first time in Parliament, what federal execution meant. The noble lord was a little unhappy in his prophecy as to what was going to happen with regard to federal execution; but we are all liable to error when we prophesy, and it was the only mistake he made. The noble lord said he did not think there would be a federal execution, and that if there were we might be perfectly easy in our minds, for it would not lead to any disturbance in Europe. The noble lord also described the position of Holstein as a German duchy, in which the King of Denmark was a sovereign German prince, and in that capacity a member of the Diet, and subject to the laws of the Diet. The duchy of Schleswig, the noble lord said, was not a German duchy, and the moment it was interfered with, international considerations would arise. But the noble lord informed us in the most reassuring spirit that his views on our relations with Denmark were such as they had always been. I will quote the exact passage from the noble lord’s speech, not because it will not be familiar to the majority of those whom I am addressing, but because on an occasion like the present, one should refer to documents, so that it may not be said afterwards that statements have been garbled or misrepresented. The noble lord concluded his general observations in this manner:

We are asked what is the policy and the course of Her Majesty’s Government respecting that dispute. We concur entirely with the honourable gentleman (the member for Horsham), and, I am satisfied, with all reasonable men in Europe, including those in France and Russia, in desiring that the independence, the integrity, and the rights of Denmark may be maintained. We are convinced—I am convinced at least—that if any violent attempt were made to overthrow those rights, and interfere with that independence, those who made the attempt would find in the result that it would not be Denmark alone with which they would have to contend.

I say that is a clear, statesmanlike, and manly declaration of policy. It was not a hurried or hasty expression of opinion, because on a subject of that importance and that character, the noble lord never makes a hasty expression of opinion. He was master of the subject, and could not be taken by surprise. But on that occasion there was no chance of his being taken by surprise. The occasion was arranged. The noble lord was perfectly informed of what our object on this side was. The noble lord sympathized with it. He wanted the disquietude of the public mind in England, and on the Continent especially, to be soothed and satisfied, and he knew that he could not arrive at such a desirable result more happily and more completely than by a frank expression of the policy of the Government.

Sir, it is my business to-night to vindicate the noble lord from those who have treated this declaration of policy as one used only to amuse the House. I am here to prove the sincerity of that declaration. It is long since the speech of the noble lord was delivered, and we have now upon our table the diplomatic correspondence which was then being carried on by Her Majesty’s Government on the subject. It was then secret—it is now known to us all; and I will show you what at that very time was the tone of the Secretary of State in addressing the Courts of Germany mainly interested in the question. I will show how entirely and how heartily the secret efforts of the Government were exercised in order to carry into effect the policy which was publicly in the House of Commons announced by the noble lord. I think it must have been very late in July that the noble lord spoke—upon the 23rd, I believe—and I have here the dispatches which, nearly at the same period, were being sent by the Secretary of State to the German Courts. For example, hear how, on July 31, the Secretary of State writes to Lord Bloomfield at Vienna:

You will tell Count Rechberg that if Germany persists in confounding Schleswig with Holstein, other Powers of Europe may confound Holstein with Schleswig, and deny the right of Germany to interfere with the one any more than she has with the other, except as a European Power. Such a pretension might be as dangerous to the independence and integrity of Germany, as the invasion of Schleswig might be to the independence and integrity of Denmark.
(Denmark and Germany, No. 2, 115.)

And what is the answer of Lord Bloomfield? On August 6, after having communicated with Count Rechberg, he writes:

Before leaving his Excellency I informed him that the Swedish Government would not remain indifferent to a federal execution in Holstein, and that this measure of the Diet, if persisted in, might have serious consequences in Europe. (P. 117.)

I am showing how sincere the policy of the noble lord was, and that the speech which we have been told was mainly for the House of Commons, was really the policy of Her Majesty’s Government. Well, that was to Austria. Let us now see what was the dispatch to Prussia. In the next month Earl Russell writes to our Minister at the Prussian Court:

I have caused the Prussian chargé d’affaires to be informed that if Austria and Prussia persist in advising the Confederation to make a federal execution now, they will do so against the advice already given by Her Majesty’s Government, and must be responsible for the consequences, whatever they may be. The Diet should bear in mind that there is a material difference between the political bearing of a military occupation of a territory which is purely and solely a portion of the Confederation, and the invasion of a territory which, although a part of the German Confederation, is also a portion of the territory of an independent Sovereign, whose dominions are counted as an element in the balance of power in Europe.

I have now shown the House what was the real policy of the Government with respect to our relations with Denmark when Parliament was prorogued, and I have also shown that the speech of the noble lord the First Minister of the Crown was echoed by the Secretary of State to Austria and Prussia. I have shown, therefore, that it was a sincere policy, as announced by the noble lord. I will now show that it was a wise and a judicious policy.

Sir, the noble lord having made this statement to the House of Commons, the House was disbanded, the members went into the country with perfect tranquillity of mind respecting these affairs of Denmark and Germany. The speech of the noble lord reassured the country, and gave them confidence that the noble lord knew what he was about. And the noble lord knew that we had a right to be confident in the policy he had announced, because at that period the noble lord was aware that France was perfectly ready to co-operate with Her Majesty’s Government in any measure which they thought proper to adopt with respect to the vexed transactions between Denmark and Germany. Nay, France was not only ready to co-operate, but she spontaneously offered to act with us in any way we desired. The noble lord made his speech at the end of July—I think July 23—and it is very important to know what at that moment were our relations with France in reference to this subject. I find in the correspondence on the table a dispatch from Lord Cowley, dated July 31. The speech of the noble lord having been made on the 23rd, this is a dispatch written upon the same subject on the 31st. Speaking of the affairs of Germany and Denmark, Lord Cowley writes:

M. Drouyn de Lhuys expressed himself as desirous of acting in concert with Her Majesty’s Government in this matter.

I have now placed before the House the real policy of the Government at the time Parliament was prorogued last year. I have shown you that it was a sincere policy when expressed by the noble lord. I have shown that it was a sound and judicious policy, because Her Majesty’s Government was then conscious that France was ready to co-operate with this country, France having expressed its desire to aid us in the settlement of this question. Well, Sir, at the end of the summer of last year, and at the commencement of the autumn, after the speeches and dispatches of the First Minister and the Secretary of State, and after, at the end of July, that reassuring announcement from the French Government, there was great excitement in Germany. The German people have been for some time painfully conscious that they do not exercise that influence in Europe which they believe is due to the merits, moral, intellectual, and physical, of forty millions of population, homogeneous and speaking the same language. During the summer of last year this feeling was displayed in a remarkable manner, and it led to the meeting at Frankfort, which has not been hitherto mentioned in reference to these negotiations, but which was in reality a very significant affair.

The German people at that moment found the old question of Denmark—the relations between Denmark and the Diet—to be the only practical question upon which they could exhibit their love of a united fatherland, and their sympathy with a kindred race who were subjects of a foreign prince. Therefore there was very great excitement in Germany on the subject; and to those who are not completely acquainted with the German character, and who take for granted that the theories they put forth are all to be carried into action, there were no doubt many symptoms which were calculated to alarm the Cabinet. Her Majesty’s Government, firm in their policy, firm in their ally, knowing that the moderate counsels urged by France and England in a spirit which was sincere and which could not be mistaken, must ultimately lead to some conciliatory arrangements between the King of Denmark and the Diet, I suppose did not much disquiet themselves respecting the agitation in Germany. But towards the end of the summer and the commencement of the autumn—in the month of September—after the meeting at Frankfort and after other circumstances, the noble lord the Secretary of State, as a prudent man—a wise, cautious, and prudent Minister—thought it would be just as well to take time by the forelock, to prepare for emergencies, and to remind his allies of Paris of the kind and spontaneous expression on their part of their desire to co-operate with him in arranging this business. I think it was on September 16, that Lord Russell, the Secretary of State, applied in this language to our Minister at Paris—our ambassador (Lord Cowley) being at that time absent:

As it might produce some danger to the balance of power, especially if the integrity and independence of Denmark were in any way impaired by the demands of Germany, and the measures consequent thereupon, if the Government of the Emperor of the French are of opinion that any benefit would be likely to follow from an offer of good services on the part of Great Britain and France, Her Majesty’s Government would be ready to take that course. If, however, the Government of France would consider such a step as likely to be unavailing, the two Powers might remind Austria, Prussia, and the Diet, that any act on their part tending to weaken the integrity and independence of Denmark would be at variance with the treaty of May 8, 1852. (No. 2, 130.)

Sir, I think that was a very prudent step on the part of the Secretary of State. It was virtually a reminder of the offer which France had made some months before. Yet, to the surprise, and entirely to the discomfiture of Her Majesty’s Government, this application was received at first with coldness, and afterwards with absolute refusal.

Well, Sir, I pause now to inquire what had occasioned this change in the relations between the two Courts. Why was France, which at the end of the session of Parliament was so heartily with England, and so approving the policy of the noble lord with respect to Denmark and Germany that she voluntarily offered to act with us in endeavouring to settle the question—why was France two or three months afterwards so entirely changed? Why was she so cold, and ultimately in the painful position of declining to act with us? I stop for a moment my examination of this correspondence to look for the causes of this change of feeling, and I believe they may be easily discerned.

Sir, at the commencement of last year an insurrection broke out in Poland. Unhappily, insurrection in Poland is not an unprecedented event. This insurrection was extensive and menacing; but there had been insurrections in Poland before quite as extensive and far more menacing—the insurrection of 1831, for example, for at that time Poland possessed a national army second to none for valour and discipline. Well, Sir, the question of the Polish insurrection in 1831 was a subject of deep consideration with the English Government of that day. They went thoroughly into the matter; they took the soundings of that question; it was investigated maturely, and the Government of King William IV arrived at these two conclusions—first, that it was not expedient for England to go to war for the restoration of Poland; and, second, that if England was not prepared to go to war. any interference of another kind on her part would only aggravate the calamities of that fated people. These were the conclusions at which the Government of Lord Grey arrived, and they were announced to Parliament.

This is a question which the English Government has had more than one opportunity of considering, and in every instance they considered it fully and completely. It recurred again in the year 1855, when a Conference was sitting at Vienna in the midst of the Russian War, and again the English Government—the Government of the Queen—had to deal with the subject of Poland. It was considered by them under the most favourable circumstances for Poland, for we were at war then, and at war with Russia. But after performing all the duties of a responsible Ministry on that occasion, Her Majesty’s Government arrived at these conclusions—first, that it was not only not expedient for England to go to war to restore Poland, but that it was not expedient even to prolong a war for that object; and, in the next place, that any interference with a view to provoke a war in Poland, without action on our part, was not just to the Poles, and must only tend to bring upon them increased disasters. I say, therefore, that this question of Poland in the present century, and within the last thirty-four years, has been twice considered by different Governments; and when I remind the House that on its consideration by the Cabinet of Lord Grey in 1831, the individual who filled the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and who, of course, greatly guided the opinion of his colleagues on such a question, was the noble lord the present First Minister of the Crown; and when I also remind the House that the British plenipotentiary at the Conference of Vienna in 1855, on whose responsibility in a great degree the decision then come to was arrived at, is the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I think that England, when the great difficulties of last year with respect to Poland occurred, had a right to congratulate herself that, in a situation of such gravity, and at an emergency when a mistake might produce incalculable evils, her fortunes were regulated not only by two statesmen of such great ability and experience, but by statesmen who, on this subject, possessed peculiar advantages, who had thoroughly entered into the question, who knew all its issues, all the contingencies that might possibly arise in its management, and who on the two previous occasions on which it had been submitted to the consideration of England, had been the guiding Ministers to determine her to a wise course of action.

Now, I must observe that what is called the Polish question occupies a different position in France from that which it occupies in England. I will not admit that, in deep sympathy with the Poles, the French are superior to the English people. I believe I am only stating accurately the feelings of this country when I say, that among men of all classes there is no modern event which is looked back to with more regret than the partition of Poland. It is universally acknowledged by them to be one of the darkest pages of the history of the eighteenth century. But in France the Polish question is not a question which merely interests the sentiments of the millions. It is a political question, and a political question of the very highest importance—a question which interests Ministers, and Cabinets, and princes. Well, the ruler of France, a sagacious prince and a lover of peace, as the Secretary of State has just informed us, was of course perfectly alive to the grave issues involved in what is called the Polish question. But the Emperor knew perfectly well that England had already had opportunities of considering it in the completest manner, and had arrived at a settled conclusion with regard to it. Therefore, with characteristic caution, he exercised great reserve, and held out little encouragement to the representatives of the Polish people. He knew well that in 1855 he himself, our ally—and with us a conquering ally—had urged this question on the English Government, and that, under the most favourable circumstances for the restoration of Poland, we had adhered to our traditional policy, neither to go to war nor to interfere. Therefore, the French Government exhibited a wise reserve on the subject.

But after a short time, what must have been the astonishment of the Emperor of the French when he found the English Government embracing the cause of Poland with extraordinary ardour! The noble lord the Secretary of State and the noble lord the First Minister, but especially the former, announced the policy as if it were a policy new to the consideration of statesmen, and likely to lead to immense results. He absolutely served a notice to quit on the Emperor of Russia. He sent a copy of this dispatch to all the Courts of Europe which were signatories to the Treaty of Vienna, and invited them to follow his example. From the King of Portugal down to the King of Sweden there was not a signatory of that treaty who was not, as it were, clattering at the palace gates of St. Petersburg, and calling the Czar to account respecting the affairs of Poland. For three months Europe generally believed that there was to be a war on a great scale, of which the restoration of Poland was to be one of the main objects. Is it at all remarkable that the French Government and the French people, cautious as they were before, should have responded to such invitations and such stimulating proposals? We know how the noble lord fooled them, to the top of their bent. The House recollects the six propositions to which the attention of the Emperor of Russia was called in the most peremptory manner. The House recollects the closing scene, when it was arranged that the ambassadors of France, Austria, and England, should on the very same day appear at the hotel of the Minister of Russia, and present notes ending with three identical paragraphs, to show the agreement of the Powers. An impression pervaded Europe that there was to be a general war, and that England, France, and Austria were united to restore Poland.

The House remembers the end of all this—it remembers the reply of the Russian Minister, couched in a tone of haughty sarcasm and of indignation that deigned to be ironical. There was then but one step to take, according to the views of the French Government, and that was action. They appealed to that England which had itself thus set the example of agitation on the subject; and England, wisely as I think, recurred to her traditionary policy, the Government confessing that it was a momentary indiscretion which had animated her councils for three or four months; that they never meant anything more than words; and a month afterwards, I believe, they sent to St. Petersburg an obscure dispatch, which may be described as an apology. But this did not alter the position of the French Government and the French Emperor. The Emperor had been induced by us to hold out promises which he could not fulfil. He was placed in a false position both to the people of Poland and the people of France; and therefore, Sir, I am not surprised that when the noble lord the Secretary of State, a little alarmed by the progress of affairs in Germany, thought it discreet to reconnoitre his position on September 17, he should have been received at Paris with coldness, and, ultimately, that his dispatch should have been answered in this manner.

I fear that I may weary the House with my narrative, but I will not abuse the privilege of reading extracts, which is generally very foreign to my desire. Yet, on a question of this kind it is better to have the documents, and not lay oneself open to the charge of garbling. Mr. Grey, writing to Lord Russell on September 18, 1863, says:

The second mode of proceeding suggested by your lordship, namely, ‘to remind Austria, Russia, and the German Diet, that any acts on their part tending to weaken the integrity and independence of Denmark would be at variance with the treaty of May 8, 1852,’ would be in a great measure analogous to the course pursued by Great Britain and France in the Polish question. He had no inclination (and he frankly avowed that he should so speak to the Emperor) to place France in the same position with reference to Germany as she had been placed in with regard to Russia. The formal notes addressed by the three Powers to Russia had received an answer which literally meant nothing, and the position in which those three great Powers were now placed was anything but dignified; and if England and France were to address such a reminder a that proposed to Austria, Prussia, and the German Confederation, they must be prepared to go further, and to adopt their course of action more in accordance with the dignity of two great Powers than they were now doing in the Polish question…. Unless Her Majesty’s Government was prepared to go further, if necessary, than the mere presentation of a note, and the receipt of an evasive reply, he was sure the Emperor would not consent to adopt your lordship’s suggestion. (No, 2, 131.)

Well, Sir, that was an intimation to the noble lord with respect to the change in the relations between England and France that was significant; I think it was one that the noble lord should have duly weighed—and when he remembered the position which this country occupied with regard to Denmark—that it was a position under the treaty which did not bind us to interfere more than France, itself—conscious, at the same time, that any co-operation from Russia in the same cause could hardly be counted upon—I should have said that a prudent Government would have well considered that position, and that they would not have taken any course which committed them too strongly to any decided line of action. But so far as I can judge from the correspondence before us, that was not the tone taken by Her Majesty’s Government; because here we have extracts from the correspondence of the Secretary of State to the Swedish Minister, to the Diet at Frankfort, and a most important dispatch to Lord Bloomfield: all in the fortnight that elapsed after the receipt of the dispatch of Mr. Grey that notified the change in the feeling of the French Government. It is highly instructive that we should know what effect that produced in the system and policy of Her Majesty’s Government. Immediately—almost the day after the receipt of that dispatch—the Secretary of State wrote to the Swedish Minister:

Her Majesty’s Government set the highest value on the independence and integrity of Denmark…. Her Majesty’s Government will be ready to remind Austria and Prussia of their treaty obligations to respect the integrity and independence of Denmark. (No. 2, 137-8.)

Then on September 29—that is, only nine or ten days after the receipt of the French dispatch—we have this most important dispatch, which I shall read at some little length. It is at p. 136, and is really addressed to the Diet. The Secretary of State says:

Her Majesty’s Government, by the Treaty of London of May 8, 1852, is bound to respect the integrity and independence of Denmark. The Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia have taken the same engagement. Her Majesty could not see with indifference a military occupation of Holstein, which is only to cease on terms injuriously affecting the constitution of the whole Danish monarchy. Her Majesty’s Government could not recognize this military occupation as a legitimate exercise of the powers of the Confederation, or admit that it could properly be called a federal execution. Her Majesty’s Government could not be indifferent to the bearing of such an act upon Denmark and European interest. Her Majesty’s Government therefore earnestly entreats the German Diet to pause and to submit the questions in dispute between Germany and Denmark to the mediation of other Powers unconcerned in the controversy, but deeply concerned in the maintenance of the peace of Europe and the independence of Denmark. (No. 2, 145.)

My object in reading this dispatch is to show that, after the indication of the change of feeling on the part of France, the policy—the sincere policy—of the Government was not modified. The Secretary of State writes thus on September 30, to Lord Bloomfield at Vienna:

Her Majesty’s Government trusts that no act of federal execution to which Austria may be a party, and no act of war against Denmark on the ground of the affairs of Schleswig, will be allowed to clash with this primary and essential treaty obligation. Her Majesty’s Government, indeed, entertain a full confidence that the Government of Austria is as deeply impressed as Her Majesty’s Government with the conviction that the independence and integrity of Denmark form an essential element in the balance of power in Europe. (No. 3, 147.)

Now, this takes us to the end of September; and I think the House up to this time tolerably clearly understands the course of the correspondence. Nothing of any importance happened in October that requires me to pause and consider it. We arrive, then, at the month of November, and now approach very important and critical affairs. The month of November was remarkable for the occurrence of two great events which completely changed the character and immensely affected the aspect of the whole relations between Denmark and Germany; and which produced consequences which none of us may see the end of. Early in November the Emperor of the French proposed a European Congress. His position was such—as he himself has described it, there can be no indelicacy in saying so—his position had become painful from various causes, but mainly from the manner in which he had misapprehended the conduct of the English Government with regard to Poland. He saw great troubles about to occur in Europe; he wished to anticipate their settlement; he felt himself in a false position with respect to his own subjects, because he had experienced a great diplomatic discomfiture; but he was desirous—and there is no doubt of the sincerity of the declaration—he was desirous of still taking a course which should restore and retain the cordial understanding with this country. He proposed, then, a general Congress.

Well, when Parliament met on February 4, I had to make certain observations on the general condition of affairs, and I gave my opinion as to the propriety of Her Majesty’s Government refusing to be a party to that Congress. Generally speaking, I think that a Congress should not precede action. If you wish any happy and permanent result from a Congress, it should rather follow the great efforts of nations; and when they are somewhat exhausted, give them the opportunity of an honourable settlement. Sir, I did not think it my duty to conceal my opinion, Her Majesty’s Government having admitted that they had felt it their duty to refuse a proposition of that character. I should have felt that I was wanting in that ingenuousness and fair play in politics which I hope, whoever sits on that bench or this, we shall always pursue, if, when the true interests of the country are concerned, agreeing as I did with the Government, I did not express frankly that opinion. But, Sir, I am bound to say that had I been aware of what has been communicated to us by the papers on the table—had I been aware, when I spoke on February 4, that only a week before Parliament met, that only a week before we were assured by a Speech from the Throne that Her Majesty was continuing to carry on negotiations in the interest of peace—that Her Majesty’s Government had made a proposition to France which must inevitably have produced, if accepted, a great European war, I should have given my approbation in terms much more qualified.

But, Sir, whatever difference of opinion there might be as to the propriety or impropriety of Her Majesty’s Government acceding to the Congress, I think there were not then—I am sure there are not now—two opinions as to the mode and manner in which that refusal was conveyed. Sir, when the noble lord vindicated that curt and, as I conceive, most offensive reply, he dilated the other night on the straightforwardness of British Ministers, and said that, by whatever else their language might be characterized, it was distinguished by candour and clearness, and that even where it might be charged with being coarse, it at least conveyed a determinate meaning. Well, Sir, I wish that if our diplomatic language is characterized by clearness and straightforwardness, some of that spirit had distinguished the dispatches and declarations addressed by the noble lord to the Court of Denmark. It is a great pity that we did not have a little of that rude frankness when the fortunes of that ancient kingdom were at stake.

But, Sir, another event of which I must now remind the House happened about that time. In November the King of Denmark died. The death of the King of Denmark entirely changed the character of the question between Germany and Denmark. The question was a federal question before, as the noble lord, from the dispatches I have read, was perfectly aware; but by the death of the King of Denmark it became an international question, because the controversy of the King of Denmark was with the Diet of Germany, which had not recognized the change in the lex regia, or the changes in the succession to the various dominions of the King. It was, therefore, an international question of magnitude and of a menacing character. Under these circumstances, when the question became European, when the difficulties were immensely magnified and multiplied—the offer of a Congress having been made on November 5, and not refused until the 27th, the King of Denmark having died on the 16th—it was, I say, with the complete knowledge of the increased risk and of the increased dimensions of the interests at stake, that the noble lord sent that answer to the invitation of the Emperor of the French. I say, Sir, that at this moment it became the Government of England seriously to consider their position. With the offer of the Congress and with the death of the King of Denmark—with these two remarkable events before the noble lord’s eyes, it is my duty to remind the House of the manner in which the noble lord the Secretary of State addressed the European Powers. Neither of these great events seems to have induced the noble lord to modify his tone. On November 19, the King having just died, the Secretary of State writes to Sir Alexander Malet, our Minister to the Diet, to remind him that all the Powers of Europe had agreed to the treaty of 1852. On the 20th he writes a letter of menace to the German Powers, saying that Her Majesty’s Government expect, as a matter of course, that all the Powers will recognize the succession of the King of Denmark as heir of all the states which, according to the Treaty of London, were united under the sceptre of the late King. And on the 23rd, four days before he refused the invitation to the Congress, he writes to Lord Bloomfield:

Her Majesty’s Government would have no right to interfere on behalf of Denmark if the troops of the Confederation should enter Holstein on federal grounds. But if execution were enforced on international grounds, the Powers who signed the treaty of 1852 would have a right to interfere. (No. 3, 230.)

To Sir Augustus Paget, our Minister at Copenhagen, on November 30—the House will recollect that this was after he had refused the Congress, after the King had died, and after the question had become an international one—he writes announcing his refusal of the Congress and proposing the sole mediation of England. Then he writes to Sir Alexander Malet in the same month, that Her Majesty’s Government can only leave to Germany the sole responsibility of raising a war in Europe, which the Diet seemed bent on making.

This is the tone which the Government adopted, after the consideration, as we are bound to believe, which the question demanded, after having incurred the responsibility of refusing the Congress offered by the Emperor of the French, after the death of the King of Denmark, after the question had been changed from a federal to an international one—such, I repeat, is the tone they took up, and in which they sent their menacing messages to every Court in Germany. I say that at the death of the King of Denmark it behooved Her Majesty’s Ministers, instead of adopting such a course, maturely to consider their position in relation to the events which had occurred. There were two courses open to Her Majesty’s Government, both intelligible, both honourable. It was open to them, after the death of the King of Denmark, to have acted as France had resolved under the same circumstances to act—France, who occupies, we are told, a position in reference to these matters so dignified and satisfactory that it has received the compliments even of a baffled Minister. That course was frankly announced shortly afterwards to the English Minister by the Minister of France in Denmark. On November 19 General Fleury said to Lord Wodehouse at Copenhagen:

That his own instructions from the Emperor were, not to take part in any negotiations here, but to tell the Danish Government explicitly that if Denmark became involved in a war with Germany, France would not come to her assistance.

If England had adopted that course it would have been intelligible and honourable. We were not bound by the treaty of 1852 to go to the assistance of Denmark if she became involved in a war with Germany. No one pretends that we were. As a matter of high policy, much as we may regret any disturbance in the territorial limits of Europe, being a country the policy of which is a policy of tranquillity and peace, there were no adequate considerations which could have justified England in entering into an extensive European war, without allies, to prevent a war between Denmark and Germany. That was, I say, an honourable and intelligible course.

There was another course equally intelligible and equally honourable. Though I am bound to say that the course which I should have recommended the country to take would have been to adopt the same position as that of France, yet, if the Government really entertained the views with respect to the balance of power which have been expressed occasionally in the House by the noble lord, and in a literary form by the Secretary of State—from which I may say I disagree, because they appear to me to be founded on the obsolete tradition of an antiquated system, and because I think that the elements from which we ought to form an opinion as to the distribution of the power of the world must be collected from a much more extensive area, and must be formed of larger and more varied elements: but let that pass: yet, I say, if Her Majesty’s Government were of opinion that the balance of power were endangered by a quarrel between Germany and Denmark, they were justified in giving their advice to Denmark, in threatening Germany, and in taking the general management of the affairs of Denmark; but they were bound, if a war did take place between Germany and Denmark, to support Denmark. Instead of that, they invented a process of conduct which I hope is not easily exampled in the history of this country, and which I can only describe in one sentence—it consisted of menaces never accomplished and promises never fulfilled.

With all these difficulties they never hesitate in their tone. At least, let us do them this justice—there never were, in semblance, more determined Ministers. They seemed at least to rejoice in the phantom of a proud courage. But what do they do? They send a special envoy to Denmark, who was to enforce their policy and arrange everything. Formally the special envoy was sent to congratulate the King on his accession to the throne of Denmark, and all the other Powers did the same; but in reality the mission of Lord Wodehouse was for greater objects than that, and his instructions are before us in full. Without wearying the House by reading the whole of those instructions, I will read one paragraph, which is the last, and which is, as it were, a summary of the whole. They were written at the end of December. Recollect, this is the policy of the Government after refusing the Congress, and after the death of the King of Denmark, which had therefore incurred a still deeper responsibility, and which, we must suppose, had deeply considered all the issues involved. This is the cream of the instructions given by the Government to Lord Wodehouse:

The result to be arrived at is the fulfilment of the treaty of May 8, 1852, and of the engagements entered into by Prussia and Austria and Denmark in 1851-2. (No. 3, 353.)

Lord Wodehouse could not possibly be at fault as to what he was to do when he arrived at his destination. His was, no doubt, a significant appointment. He was a statesman of some experience; he had held a subordinate but important position in the administration of our foreign affairs; he had been a Minister at a northern Court; he had recently distinguished himself in Parliament by a speech on the question of Germany and Denmark, in which he took a decidedly dangerous view. Lord Wodehouse received clear instructions as to what he was to do. But, at the same time, what was the conduct of the Secretary of State? While Lord Wodehouse was repairing to his post, did the Secretary of State in the least falter in his tone? It was about this time that the great diplomatic reprimand was sent to Sir Alexander Malet for having talked of the ‘protocol’ of 1852 instead of the ‘treaty’. This was the time that instructions were sent out that if anybody had the hardihood to mention the ‘protocol’ of 1852 he was immediately to be stopped. However elevated his position might be, even if it were M. Bismarck himself, he was to be pulled up directly, in the full flow of his eloquence; note was to be taken of this great diplomatic lapsus, and the Minister was to telegraph instantly home to his Government how he had carried out his instructions in this respect. On December 17, the noble lord wrote to Sir Andrew Buchanan, our ambassador at Berlin:

Let it suffice at present for Her Majesty’s Government to declare that they would consider any departure from the treaty of succession of 1852, by Powers who signed or acceded to that treaty, as entirely inconsistent with good faith. (No. 3, 383.)

Similar dispatches were sent to Wurtemberg, Hanover, and Saxony. On December 23 the noble earl wrote to Sir Andrew Buchanan:

If the overthrow of the dynasty now reigning in Denmark is sought by Germany, the most serious consequences may ensue. (No. 3, 411.)

I want to know what honourable members mean by cheering the words I have just quoted. If you wish to convey even to a little Power that if it does a certain thing you will go to war with it, you take care not to announce your intention in an offensive manner; because, were you to do so, probably, even the smallest Power in Europe would not yield. And certainly if you wish to tell a great Power in Europe what may be eventually the consequences if it should adopt a different line from that which you desire, you would not abruptly declare that if it declined to accede to your wish you would declare war. Why, there are no dispatches on record in the world—there is no record in any Foreign Office of language of this kind. The question is, what interpretation can be put on these threats. The Secretary of State writes again on December 25 to Sir Andrew Buchanan, stating that:

Any precipitate action on the part of the German Confederation may lead to consequences fatal to the peace of Europe, and may involve Germany, in particular, in difficulties of the most serious nature. (No. 4, 414.)

On December 26 the Secretary of State writes to Sir Alexander Malet, and sends him a copy of the treaty of 1852, in order that he might communicate it to the Diet. Now, that is the state of affairs after the King of Denmark’s death; after he had been perfectly acquainted with the policy of France; after he had been frankly told that the French Emperor had explicitly informed Denmark that if she got involved in war with Germany, France would not come to her assistance. Now the words ‘if she went to war’ might have been interpreted in two ways; because she might get into war without any fault of her own, and Germany might be the aggressor: but there could be no mistake in regard to the words ‘if she became involved in war’. Neither Denmark nor England could make any mistake in regard to the policy of France, which the Secretary of State now says was a magnanimous policy.

Notwithstanding these threats, notwithstanding these repeated menaces, and notwithstanding every effort made by Her Majesty’s Government to prevent it, federal execution took place, as it was intended to take place. One day after the most menacing epistle which I have ever read—the day after the copy of the treaty of 1852 had been solemnly placed before the Diet by Sir Alexander Malet—on December 27, federal execution took place. At any rate, I do not think that is evidence of the just influence of England in the councils of Germany.

What was the course of Her Majesty’s Government at this critical conjuncture? Why, Sir, they went again to France. After all that had happened their only expedient was to go and supplicate France. I will read the letter. [Mr. Layard: Hear, hear!] The honourable gentleman seems to triumph in the recollection of mistakes and disappointments. I will give him the date, but I should think it must really be seared upon his conscience. December 27 is the date of federal execution: and Her Majesty’s Government must have been in a state of complete panic, because on the 28th they made application to France, which is answered in a few hours by Lord Cowley: ‘I said Her Majesty’s Government were most sincerely anxious to—–‘ (laughter). I wish really to be candid, not to misrepresent anything, and to put the case before the House without garbling any of the dispatches.—’I said that Her Majesty’s Government were most sincerely anxious to act with the Imperial Government in this question.’ No doubt they were. I am vindicating your conduct. I believe in your sincerity throughout. It is only your intense incapacity that I denounce. The passage in the dispatch is Shakespearian; it is one of those dramatic descriptions which only a masterly pen could accomplish. Lord Cowley went on:

Her Majesty’s Government felt that if the two Powers could agree, war might be avoided; otherwise the danger of war was imminent. M. Drouyn de Lhuys said he partook this opinion; but as his Excellency made no further observation, I remarked it would be a grievous thing if the difference of opinion which had arisen upon the merits of a general Congress were to produce an estrangement which would leave each Government to pursue its own course. I hoped that this would not be the case. Her Majesty’s Government would do all in their power to avoid it. I presumed I might give them the assurance that the Imperial Government were not decided to reject the notion of a Conference. (No. 4, 444.)

Well, Sir, this received a curt and unsatisfactory reply. Nothing could be obtained from the plaintive appeal of Lord Cowley. Well, what did Her Majesty’s Government do? Having received information that the threat of federal execution had been fulfilled, having appealed to France, and been treated in the manner I have described, what did the Government do? Why, the Secretary of State, within twenty-four hours afterwards, penned the fiercest dispatch he had ever yet written. It is dated December 31, 1863, and it is addressed to Sir Andrew Buchanan:

Her Majesty’s Government do not hold that war would relieve Prussia from the obligations of the treaty of 1852. The King of Denmark would by that treaty be entitled still to be acknowledged as the sovereign of all the dominions of the late King of Denmark. He has been so entitled from the time of the death of the late King. A war of conquest undertaken by Germany avowedly for the purpose of adding some parts of the Danish dominions to the territory of the German Confederation might, if successful, alter the state of succession contemplated by the Treaty of London, and give to Germany a title by conquest to parts of the dominions of the King of Denmark. The prospect of such an accession may no doubt be a temptation to those who think it can be accomplished; but Her Majesty’s Government cannot believe that Prussia will depart from the straight line of good faith in order to assist in carrying such a project into effect. (No. 4, 445.)

You cheer as if it were a surprising thing that the Secretary of State should have written a single sentence of common sense. These are important state documents, and I hope Her Majesty’s Government are not so fallen that there is not a Minister among them who is able to write a dispatch—I do not say a bad dispatch, but a very important one. I wish to call attention to its importance:

If German nationality in Holstein, and particularly in Schleswig, were

made the ground of the dismemberment of Denmark, Polish nationality in the Duchy of Posen would be a ground equally strong for the dismemberment of Prussia. It appears to Her Majesty’s Government that the safest course for Prussia to pursue is to act with good faith and honour and to stand by and fulfil her treaty engagements. By such a course she will command the sympathy of Europe; by a contrary course she will draw down upon herself the universal condemnation of all disinterested men. By this course alone war in Europe can be with certaint