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. But in that case it is necessary for the Cabinet to adopt some other policy, and it will be for Lord Palmerston to consider whether he can be responsible for that policy. It is necessary for me, who am the organ of Government in regard to foreign affairs, to ascertain what that policy is. I was no party to the draft agreed upon by the Cabinet, nor could I have signed a despatch in the terms of that draft. I was therefore at liberty to propose another draft, which I did. It is true that I consented to omit all mention of the fleet, as it was thought such a mention would be offensive to Austria. But that omission was not to prevent my informing our own ambassador at Vienna, in a despatch marked most confidential, of the conversation of Lord Palmerston with Count Apponyi, which I conceived was sanctioned by the great majority of the Cabinet. I think Lord Palmerston's communication must either be confirmed or disavowed by the Cabinet, and then, if the members of the Cabinet wish to “keep for themselves perfect liberty of action, to be free to act how and when we like, but to avoid committing themselves to any threat (?) of definite action (or rather to any definite action), particularly action of an isolated character, Lord Palmerston's language must be distinctly repudiated. Of course I shall not be a party to such repudiation. But, in the event of the Austrian fleet going into the Baltic, the event must not find the Cabinet unprepared. They must make up their minds one way or another.—Yours truly, RUSSELL.
The Cabinet, fortunately for its own comfort, obtained a short breathing space. Four days after Lord Russell's letter, an armistice was concluded, and a respite was thus obtained for deliberation. It was soon evident that the time had passed for talking about the Treaty of London and the integrity of Denmark which it had secured. No European power was ready to risk anything for this object. It was in vain that Lord Russell strove to make the best terms he could for Denmark. The belligerents were unable to arrive at any clear understanding on the future boundary of Germany and Denmark. Germany, as Lord Russell put it in a private note to Lord Cowley, would not stir an inch further; Denmark stuck on the banks of the Schlei. The London conference had visibly failed, and the war was resumed.
When the failure of the conference was evident, Lord Russell again made an effort to ascertain whether the decision of the Emperor to abstain from all active interference was final. But he found that, though the Emperor was ready to watch with favour the armed intervention of England, and would not, as Lord Cowley thought, have disliked the spectacle of this country involved in a formidable war, he was not equally prepared to embark France in a campaign. Towards the end of June, however, his views seemed somewhat shaken. On the 24th of that month Lord Cowley had a conversation with M. Rouher, who he supposed both knew and spoke the Emperor's mind. M. Rouher said, so Lord Cowley wrote—
England need be under no apprehension, whatever may be the line of conduct decided upon in the present phase of the Danish question, that the Emperor will take part against her. Not only would it be in opposition to his sentiments to do so, but equally against his interests, since he is convinced that England is invulnerable. Neither does Rouher think that the Emperor will stir so long as our operations, should any be undertaken, are confined to naval demonstrations only. . . . But, if England sends troops and disembarks them, then the Emperor will think that she is really in earnest, and, Rouher is convinced, will himself take the field. It would not, however, be the Danish cause which would occupy the attention of the Emperor. The liberation of Venetia would be his first object, something on the Rhine perhaps his second. On this latter point Rouher said that there was much less eagerness in the Emperor's mind than people were inclined to believe. His Majesty doubted very much whether there was any desire on the part of the Rhenish Provinces for annexation to France; and, although, if the Emperor engaged in war against Germany, it might be necessary for him to ensure some benefit to France, he (Rouher) was convinced that his Majesty's demands would be very moderate (peu de chose).
The report of this conversation could not but effect a material change in British policy. Thenceforward Lord Russell believed that the armed intervention of England would bring France into the field; but he had the best reason for fearing that the war, which would then commence, would not be a campaign for the liberation of Denmark, but an operation which would throw the whole Continent into a crucible to be melted down and recast at pleasure. Success in such a war might be even more fatal than defeat; and it became consequently in the highest degree impolitic for this country to move at all. On the resumption of hostilities, therefore, Denmark found herself alone. Beaten to her knees, she had no alternative but submission; and she had to consent to the disruption on which her formidable antagonists insisted as the price of peace. Lord Russell himself announced the failure of the conference on June 27 in a speech in which he traced at some length the history of the dispute and of the negotiation. He added— I conceive that in honour we are in no way engaged to take part in the present war. Although it has been stated to the contrary on the part of Denmark more than once, there has been at no time any pledge given on the part of this country or [of] her Majesty’s Government promising material assistance to Denmark in this contest. Three times her Majesty's Government during the period I have held the seals of the Foreign Office have endeavoured to induce Denmark to accept propositions which we regarded as favourable to her interests . . . My Lords, I do not blame Denmark for the course she has thought fit to pursue. She has a right . . . she has an undoubted right, to refuse dur propositions; but we on our side have also a right to take into consideration the duty, honour, and interests of this country, and not to make that duty, that honour, and those interests, subordinate to interests of any foreign power whatever. This explanation did not perhaps satisfy either the Opposition or the public. Resolutions censuring the conduct of the Ministry were proposed in both Houses. The motion in the Lords, which afforded Lord Russell another opportunity of restating his case, was carried against the Government by a majority of nine. The motion in the Commons was rejected by a majority twice as large, or of eighteen. On the day of this division Lord Russell wrote to Lord Cowley, the
British Minister at Paris—
they had better keep on good terms with us and not expect the Tories to walk into my room. I trust the Danes and Germans will now make peace, leaving the Danes free from German interference, and giving the Germans over to German rule. This is the only way to a permanent settlement. If the Germans try to bully the Danes in their own country there will be another revolution hereafter. I am very glad wé have not given in to the temptation of a war between France and Germany. The French, if they get an inch, will certainly take an ell.—Yours truly, RUSSELL.
The transaction which has been briefly related in this chapter is one of the most complicated matters recorded in history. The facts are so involved, the merits of the dispute are so confused, that it is difficult to make them intelligible or to pronounce a confident opinion upon them. During the earlier phases of the dispute, Lord Russell, satisfied that neither party to the quarrel was free from blame, had endeavoured to induce each of them partially to give way. Later in 1863 he had urged Denmark to repeal the Ordinance of March and the Constitution of November; he had desired Germany to separate the question of Holstein from the question of Schleswig; to be satisfied with redressing a German grievance and to cease to intervene in a Scandinavian kingdom. Later still, when armies were moving, and the operations of war were superseding the despatches of diplomacy, he had endeavoured, notwithstanding the reluctance of the Court and the opposition of some of his colleagues, to obtain adequate support. But, while in February 1864 he hesitated to embark single-handed in a contest with the two great powers of Central Europe, in July 1864 he refused the help which he could then have procured at the price at which alone he could have obtained it. Even the partition of Denmark seemed preferable to a war which would have involved the Continent from the Baltic to the Adriatic, and have perhaps shifted every landmark in the map of Europe. The price of success was so high that he preferred to incur the penalty of failure. The absorption of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany was a lesser evil than the incorporation of the Rhenish Provinces in France. The conduct of this negotiation, however, did not tend to maintain the reputation which Lord Russell had previously secured from the success of his Italian policy. Those who judged by the event, without measuring the difficulties to be overcome, saw that the Minister who had done so much to promote Italian unity had failed to preserve the integrity of Denmark; while, for the second time in his life, Lord Russell was precluded by his duty from stating the real causes of his failure. Just as, after the conference at Vienna, he could not proclaim that he abandoned his own proposal because Napoleon thought that its adoption would cost him his throne, so after the London conference he could not assert that he gave up war for Denmark because he found that it would involve the whole of Europe in a conflagration.
On both occasions men who were imperfectly informed found fault with Lord Russell. A writer, who had no special source of information, but who had watched his struggles for Italy with satisfaction, perhaps more truly appreciated his character. Mr. Hamilton Aide wrote—
TO ONE ASPERSED.
Rise, noble heart, and speak!