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The Austro-Prussian War

A.D. 1866

Charles A. Fyffe

This conflict, called also the Seven Weeks' War, was productive of results not to be measured by the duration of the struggle in the field - the total exclusion of Austria from political control in Germany, and the rise of Prussia to a position of primacy among the German States. The annexation of Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia, as a consequence of the war, not only aggrandized that kingdom, but made an important change in the relations of the duchies so annexed.

The "Schleswig-Holstein question" was the cause of the war-that and the ancient rivalry between Austria and Prussia. The Schleswig-Holstein question is one of the most complicated matters in modern history. The two duchies had been long united under a single duke. When ducal heirs failed, Denmark undertook the government of both duchies, which were "never to be separated." Schleswig was a vassal State of Denmark, and Holstein of Germany. When in 1846 the duchies demanded local independence, Denmark attempted to absorb them, and German troops were sent to their assistance. Denmark secured a provisional triumph, and adhered to her purpose of incorporating the duchies with her own territory. In 1864 Schleswig and Holstein were occupied by the allied forces of Austria and Prussia, and the "Danish War" ensued, in which the duchies were quickly wrested from Denmark to be disposed of by the other two Powers. This war furnished a notable example of the fact that royal alliances no longer control the fate of nations. Only the year before the Prince of Wales had wedded the Crown Princess of Denmark, yet Denmark was robbed of territory with no protest from England.

For many years Austria had been dominant in Germany and had subjected Prussia to her will. On the accession of William 1, in j861, Prussia began to assert her independence, and this new policy was aggressively pursued by Count Otto von Bismarck, the King's minister. He strengthened the army, and directed his schemes against Austria. It had been agreed that Prussia should govern Schleswig, while Holstein was to be ruled by Austria. Bismarck accused Austria of violating this agreement, and, after various moves by both sides, warlike preparations were begun. In April, 1866, a treaty of alliance was signed between Prussia and Italy, while several German States took the part of Austria.

ON March 16, 1866, the Austrian Government announced that it should refer the affairs of Schleswig-Holstein to the Federal Diet. This was a clear departure from the terms of the Convention of Gastein [A treaty concluded between Austria and Prussia at Wildbad Gastein, August 14, 1865, by which the duchies conquered from Denmark were disposed of. -ED.], and from the agreement made between Austria and Prussia before entering into the Danish War in 1864 that the Schleswig-Holstein question should be settled by the two Powers independently of the German Federation. King William was deeply moved by such a breach of good faith; tears filled his eyes when he spoke of the conduct of the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph; and though pacific influences were still active around him, he now began to fall in more cordially with the warlike policy of his minister. The question at issue between Prussia and Austria expanded from the mere disposal of the duchies to the reconstitution of the federal system of Germany. In a note laid before the Governments of all the minor States, Bismarck declared that the time had come when Germany must receive a new and more effective organization, and inquired how far Prussia could count on the support of allies if it should be attacked by Austria or forced into war. Immediately after this reopening of the whole problem of federal reform in Germany the draft of the treaty with Italy was brought to its final shape by Bismarck and the Italian envoy, and sent to the Ministry at Florence for its approval.

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