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- The Duel Between France and Germany - 2/13 -


Therefore am I right, when I call the existing combat between France and Germany a Duel. I beg you to believe that I do this with no idle purpose of illustration or criticism, but because I would prepare the way for a proper comprehension of the remedy to be applied. How can this terrible controversy be adjusted? I see no practical method, which shall reconcile the sensibilities of France with the guaranties due to Germany, short of a radical change in the War System itself. That Security for the Future which Germany may justly exact can be obtained in no way so well as by the disarmament of France, to be followed naturally by the disarmament of other nations, and the substitution of some peaceful tribunal for the existing Trial by Battle. Any dismemberment, or curtailment of territory, will be poor and inadequate; for it will leave behind a perpetual sting. Something better must be done.


Never in history has so great a calamity descended so suddenly upon the Human Family, unless we except the earthquake toppling down cities and submersing a whole coast in a single night. But how small all that has ensued from any such convulsion, compared with the desolation and destruction already produced by this war! From the first murmur to the outbreak was a brief moment of time, as between the flash of lightning and the bursting of the thunder.

At the beginning of July there was peace without suspicion of interruption. The Legislative Body had just discussed a proposition for the reduction of the annual Army Contingent. At Berlin the Parliament was not in session. Count Bismarck was at his country home in Pomerania, the King enjoying himself at Ems. How sudden and unexpected the change will appear from an illustrative circumstance. M. Prevost-Paradol, of rare talent and unhappy destiny, newly appointed Minister to the United States, embarked at Havre on the 1st of July, and reached Washington on the morning of the 14th of July. He assured me that when he left France there was no talk or thought of war. During his brief summer voyage the whole startling event had begun and culminated. Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen being invited to become candidate for the throne of Spain, France promptly sent her defiance to Prussia, followed a few days later by formal Declaration of War. The Minister was oppressed by the grave tidings coming upon him so unprepared, and sought relief in self- slaughter, being the first victim of the war. Everything moved with a rapidity borrowed from the new forces supplied by human invention, and the Gates of War swung wide open.


A few incidents exhibit this movement. It was on the 30th of June, while discussing the proposed reduction of the Army, that Emile Ollivier, the Prime-Minister, said openly: "The Government has no kind of disquietude; at no epoch has the maintenance of peace been more assured; on whatever side you look, you see no irritating question under discussion." [Footnote: Journal Officiel du Soir, 3 Juillet 1870.] In the same debate, Gamier-Pages, the consistent Republican, and now a member of the Provisional Government, after asking, "Why these armaments?" cried out: "Disarm, without waiting for others: this is practical. Let the people be relieved from the taxes which crush them, and from the heaviest of all, the tax of blood." [Footnote: Journal Official du Soir, 2 Juillet 1870.] The candidature of Prince Leopold seems to have become known at Paris on the 5th of July. On the next day the Duc de Gramont, of a family famous in scandalous history, Minister of Foreign Affairs, hurries to the tribune with defiance on his lips. After declaring for the Cabinet that no foreign power could be suffered, by placing one of its princes on the throne of Charles the Fifth, to derange the balance of power in Europe, and put in peril the interests and the honor of France, he concludes by saying, in ominous words: "Strong in your support, Gentlemen, and in that of the nation, we shall know how to do our duty without hesitation and without weakness." [Footnote: Ibid., 8 Juillet.]

This defiance was followed by what is called in the report, "general and prolonged movement,--repeated applause"; and here was the first stage in the duel. Its character was recognized at once in the Chamber. Gamier-Pages exclaimed, in words worthy of memory: "It is dynastic questions which trouble the peace of Europe. The people have only reason to love and aid each other." [Footnote: Ibid.] Though short, better than many long speeches. Cremieux, an associate in the Provisional Government of 1848, insisted that the utterance of the Minister was "a menace of war"; and Emmanuel Arago, son of the great Republican astronomer and mathematician, said that the Minister "had declared war." [Footnote: Ibid.]

These patriotic representatives were not mistaken. The speech made peace difficult, if not impossible. It was a challenge to Prussia.


Europe watched with dismay as the gauntlet was thus rudely flung down, while on this side of the Atlantic, where France and Germany commingle in the enjoyment of our equal citizenship, the interest was intense. Morning and evening the telegraph made us all partakers of the hopes and fears agitating the world. Too soon it was apparent that the exigence of France would not be satisfied, while already her preparations for war were undisguised. At all the naval stations, from Toulon to Cherbourg, the greatest activity prevailed. Marshal MacMahon was recalled from Algeria, and transports were made ready to bring back the troops from that colony.

Meanwhile the candidature of Prince Leopold was renounced by him. But this was not enough. The King of Prussia was asked to promise that it should in no event ever be renewed,--which he declined to do, reserving to himself the liberty of consulting circumstances. This requirement was the more offensive, inasmuch as it was addressed exclusively to Prussia, while nothing was said to Spain, the principal in the business. Then ensued an incident proper for comedy, if it had not become the declared cause of tragedy. The French Ambassador, Count Benedetti, who, on intelligence of the candidature, had followed the King to Ems, his favorite watering- place, and there in successive interviews pressed him to order its withdrawal, now, on its voluntary renunciation, proceeding to urge the new demand, and after an extended conversation, and notwithstanding its decided refusal, seeking, nevertheless, another audience the same day on this subject, his Majesty, with perfect politeness, sent him word by an adjutant in attendance, that he had no other answer to make than the one already given: and this refusal to receive the Ambassador was promptly communicated by telegraph, for the information especially of the different German governments. [Footnote: Bismarck to Bernstorff, July 19, 1870, with Inclosures: Parliamentary Papers, 1870, Vol. LXX.,--Franco-Prussian War, No. 3, pp. 5-8. Gerolt to Fish, August 11, 1870, with Inclosures: Executive Documents, 41st Cong. 3d Sess., H. of R., Vol. I. No. 1, Part 1,--Foreign Relations, pp. 219-221. The reader will notice that the copy of the Telegram in this latter volume is the paper on p. 221, with the erroneous heading, "_Count Bismarck to Baron Gerolt._"]


These simple facts, insufficient for the slightest quarrel, intolerable in the pettiness of the issue disclosed, and monstrous as reason for war between two civilized nations, became the welcome pretext. Swiftly, and with ill-disguised alacrity, the French Cabinet took the next step in the duel. On the 15th of July the Prime-Minister read from the tribune a manifesto setting forth the griefs of France,--being, first, the refusal of the Prussian King to promise for the future, and, secondly, his refusal to receive the French Ambassador, with the communication of this refusal, as was alleged, "officially to the Cabinets of Europe," which was a mistaken allegation: [Footnote: Bismarck to Bernstorff, July 18, and to Gerolt, July 19, 1870: Parliamentary Papers and Executive Documents, Inclosures, _ubi supra._] and the paper concludes by announcing that since the preceding day the Government had called in the reserves, and that they would immediately take the measures necessary to secure the interests, the safety, and the honor of France. [Footnote: Journal Officiel du Soir, 17 Juillet 1870.] This was war.

Some there were who saw the fearful calamity, the ghastly crime, then and there initiated. The scene that ensued belongs to this painful record. The paper announcing war was followed by prolonged applause. The Prime-Minister added soon after in debate, that he accepted the responsibility with "a light heart." [Footnote: "De ce jour commence pour les ministres mes collegues, et pour moi, une grande responsibilite. ["Oui!" _gauche_.] Nous l'acceptons, le coeur leger."] Not all were in this mood. Esquiros, the Republican, cried from his seat, in momentous words, "You have a light heart, and the blood of nations is about to flow!" To the apology of the Prime-Minister, "that in the discharge of a duty the heart is not troubled," Jules Favre, the Republican leader, of acknowledged moderation and ability, flashed forth, "When the discharge of this duty involves the slaughter of two nations, one may well have the heart troubled!" Beyond these declarations, giving utterance to the natural sentiments of humanity, was the positive objection, most forcibly presented by Thiers, so famous in the Chamber and in literature, "that the satisfaction due to France had been accorded her---that Prussia had expiated by a check the grave fault she had committed,"--that France had prevailed in substance, and all that remained was "a question of form," "a question of susceptibility," "questions of etiquette." The experienced statesman asked for the dispatches. Then came a confession. The Prime-Minister replied, that he had "nothing to communicate,--that, in the true sense of the term, there had been no dispatches,--that there were only verbal communications gathered up in reports, which, according to

The Duel Between France and Germany - 2/13

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