HC Deb 06 May 1864 vol 175 cc156-67

said, he rose to put Questions connected with the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The subject was one in which a deep interest necessarily was felt by the people of this country, and a strong desire was expressed to obtain explanations leading to a right understanding of the merits of the conflict, and the course which England ought to pursue. It had been alleged that the States of Holstein formally thanked the King of Denmark when the change was made in the order of succession to that Duchy. The fact was that the States of Holstein never did express any opinion of the kind, for the question had never been submitted to them. Holstein was a constitutional country, and the change ought never to have been made without obtaining the assent of the representatives of the Staaten. The Staatscalender, the Royal organ in Denmark, gave information on this subject; and in it were laid down the functions of the States of Holstein and Schleswig. It said— With regard to those affairs which fall under the official direction of our Ministry in the Duchy of Schleswig, no changes in legislation, with the exception of laws merely provisional, shall be made, without the assent previously obtained of the Provincial Estates of the Duchy, and in the arrangements respecting them the vote of the Provincial Assembly shall be expressly stated. With regard to the affairs of Holstein, which fall under the official direction of our Ministry in the Duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg, no changes in the legislation shall take place unless sanctioned by a previous vote of the Provincial Estates of the Duchy. And in the arrangements respecting them the vote of the Provincial Assembly shall be expressly stated. When the new Constitution was submitted to the States, they were expressly pre- cluded from discussing the first six paragraphs; and when the States of Holstein proceeded to consider the rest of the Constitution, they decided by forty to five that they should protest that those paragraphs had no validity, because they had not been submitted to them. That the States had a right to be consulted was evident both from the extract he had read and also from the promise of the King of Denmark, that all parts of his dominions should enjoy equal rights and privileges. Holstein and Sehleswig were constitutional States. Their laws could not be changed without the assent of the representatives of the people, and because this change was effected without their assent the present horrid war was raging. Schleswig and Holstein, in ancient years, were united in one common Diet, which in 1460 elected the head of the house of Holstein-Oldenburg, Duke. The Sovereignty was elective till 1616, when the common Diet at Schleswig decided that primogeniture in the male line of succession should be the law of the Duchies, which law was in favour of the Duke of Augustenburg. By the ancient law he should now be their ruler. The King of Denmark promised in 1849–50 that the Duchies should be placed on the same constitutional footing with Denmark in all respects; therefore, in good faith to the subjects of the Duchies, the law altering the succession ought to have been submitted to the States of Holstein and Schleswig. A law which took away a man's birthright without his consent was an act of injustice. Excepting the old Duke Christian none of the Augustenburgs were asked to consent. He received,£340,000 for estates that were worth £600,000, and he at the same time agreed not to interfere with any regulation of the succession which the King of Denmark might by legal means carry into effect, Vattel said that treaties were void that violated the rights of third parties. The alteration in the succession was declared to be law by the arbitrary will of the King of Denmark. The question was discussed in the Diet of Frankfort in 1846, when the rights of the Augustenburgs were acknowledged. It was said that the movement in the Duchies was not spontaneous but prompted by agents from Germany. An hon. Gentleman, whom they all respected, though they did not often agree with his opinions—the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner)—said he believed that but for those agents from Germany, the great bulk of the population in the Duchies would have willingly recognized the King of Denmark. He was surprised to hear the hon. Member make that assertion. There was certainly a despatch from Sir Andrew Buchanan to Earl Russell, in which it was stated he had been informed that there was good reason to believe "that not less than 2,000 agents of the National Verein had been sent into the Duchy to agitate and excite the people. A system of terror also prevailed, which few persons were able to resist." [Cries of "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members cried "Hear," which showed that they believed the statement. Now what he wanted to know was, on whose authority that had been stated. He believed it to be entirely untrue—absolutely, utterly, and totally untrue. Would any British agent declare that he believed 2,000 agents were sent from Germany in order to excite the people in the Duchies against the King of Denmark? He demanded the authority on which that statement was made. Lord Russell, in writing to Lord Cowley, used similar language. He said— It was not till numerous democratic agents of the German National Verein swarmed into the Holstein villages that the rural population showed any indisposition to the Government of the King of Denmark. Even now the inhabitants of the villages show little inclination voluntarily to swell the democratic flood of German invasion. The noble Lord sitting in Downing Street could not have known that, and he wanted to know the name of the agent who told him so. Mr. Grosvenor was sent for the express purpose of ascertaining the opinions of the inhabitants of Schleswig and Holstein, and what did that gentleman say? Mr. Grosvenor said that, although the agitation might be suppressed by the superior forces of the Great Powers, and Schleswig and Holstein might continue under the rule of Denmark, yet no satisfactory solution of the question could be obtained by those means, and the agitation would never cease until the people of Schleswig and Holstein were freed from the yoke of Denmark; and yet the people of this country were told that there was no spontaneous movement in the Duchies, notwithstanding the evidence furnished by our diplomatic agents, who were responsible for their statements. The evidence of Mr. Consul Ward and Vice Consul Rainals was in the same direction. It was also true that Her Majesty's Government had been incessantly urging the Govern- ment of Denmark to perform their promises to the Duchies, and yet what was now the state of affairs? Instead of compelling Denmark to fulfil those promises, it was doubtful whether we were not about to go to war in favour of Denmark, because she had not performed them. That appeared to him to be a curious non sequitur. If courage and endurance were alone to be the test, if our sympathies were to be enlisted on the side of the Power that showed the greatest endurance and most wonderful self-devotion, he should certainly say that we ought to support the Danes. But that was not the principle upon which we should be governed at that moment; he should be in favour of going to war in favour of Denmark. But this country ought only to go to war for a cause that was just. If we were to take part with the oppressed, we should have to take part with the German population of the Duchies, who had been abominably oppressed. He did not object to the Eider-Dane party, but he did object to the mode in which they sought to obtain their ends. He also sympathized with the brave Danish army and the self-devotion they had displayed, but he thought that great responsibility rested upon the Danish Government, who consigned those gallant soldiers to death, in a cause in which she was the original transgressor, and in order to conciliate the mob of Copenhagen. It was not even for the advantage of Denmark that the provinces, which had suffered so much from her oppressive rule, should remain under her Government. There were instances of countries which, after losing portions of their territory, had nevertheless increased in population—as in the case of Saxony, Belgium, and Holland. He would impress upon the House that the only proper course to adopt would be to refer the settlement of the question to the inhabitants of the Duchies themselves, who should be invited to express their opinions upon it in a proper and constitutional manner. He should conclude by asking the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to state to the House— Whether he has reason to believe that the States of Holstein formally thanked the King of Denmark for what he had done in altering the succession; and, if so, on what authority he entertains that belief? Whether the intimation, in Despatches 709 and 784, that the movement in the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in favour of separation from Denmark was not spontaneous, rests on the authority of any agents of the British Government; and if he will lay upon the table any Documents or Despatches on these subjects? And, to move an Address for Copy of the Answers received from the Governments to whom invitations were addressed to attend the Conference now sitting in London?


said, he wished to obtain from the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs some further information, his desire for which was prompted by a feeling less Teutonic than that which animated the hon. Baronet the Member for Buckingham (Sir Harry Verney). That hon. Baronet referred to the spontaneity of the movement in Schleswig and Holstein; but the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary in replying ought to take into consideration not only what he heard from British agents, but what was proved from the undoubted circumstances of the case. Immediately contiguous to the Duchies was a German population of 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 all anxious for annexation. He would not do the Danish Government in Schleswig the injustice of comparing it with the English rule in Ireland when the penal code was in force; but since that code had been abolished, and nothing but the remembrance of it remained to excite disaffection, what would have been our position if Ireland had been placed between France and England? Although the power of England bore a much larger proportion to that of France than Denmark bore to Germany, would any one, under the circumstances supposed, have maintained that a movement in Ireland against English rule was spontaneous? The hon. Baronet declined to trust unnamed British agents, but would be believe such persons as Count von Bismark and M. Rechberg? The British Minister, writing on the 5th of December, said that M. von Bismark told him that— Money was also collecting throughout Germany for the Prince of Augustenburg; and, while offices had been opened in Hamburg and in several other States, to raise men for his Highness's service, arms, uniforms, and accoutrements were preparing for their use. Free corps might, therefore, soon enter Holstein and proclaim his Highness as Duke of Schleswig-Holstein. M. de Bismark did not doubt that the King of Denmark might be able to maintain his authority against any opposition which might thus be offered to it; but if his Majesty were obliged to employ force, many of the Schleswig-Holstein sympathizers who would fall in any conflict which might take place between them and his Majesty's troops might be lawless adventurers, but others might be enthusiastic young men, whose death would increase the excitement now prevailing in Germany to a degree which it would be impossible for the Governments to resist. Thus M. von Bismark was of opinion that, but for those German sympathizers, some of whom were lawless and some enthusiastic, the King of Denmark might have maintained his authority even in Holstein Yet, in the face of that statement, the hon. Baronet wondered upon what authority the English Government had conceived the notion that the movement had been stimulated from without. So, again, as to Schleswig, Lord Bloomfield, on the 18th of February, wrote as follows: Count Rechberg assured me also, that as far as he could judge of public opinion from the various reports that had reached the Imperial Government, there appeared to exist great indifference in the Duchy of Schleswig generally, as to the Prince in whose hands the governing power should be placed. In fact, said His Excellency, if it were not for the activity displayed by the agents of some of the small German Powers, little would be heard on the subject of the Duke of Augustenburg; but the instant an agitating agent, following in the rear of the advancing army, contrived to get two or three insignificant people together to join in the cry for the Prince of Augustenburg, it was immediately telegraphed to all parts of Germany that the Prince had been proclaimed. His Excellency added that these reports were totally untrue as representing an expression of the feelings of the mass of the population, who did not care for, and had certainly not evinced any partiality for, the Duke of Augustenburg. In the face of those statements the House was told that the movement was spontaneous. He (Sir Francis Goldsmid) did not regard the present as being the occasion for going into the charges of broken faith which had been made against Denmark, and would, therefore, merely express his belief that those charges were unfounded. There was only one topic more to which he desired to advert. If the sympathy expressed by Germany for the people of Schleswig Holstein were real, it deserved their respect; but if, on the contrary, that sympathy were merely adopted as a pretence for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, it must be viewed on all sides with mistrust and aversion. Now, the true motives of a people were sometimes, perhaps, to be discovered rather in I popular songs than in state-papers. And it was therefore worth while to observe; that the favourite German song on this subject began with the words, "Schleswig; Holstein, sea-girt land!" What had its being sea-girt to do with the matter? An oppressed nationality did not deserve aid more if it were maritime than if it were inland. But it might be a much more profitable business to help it if its territory contained a port which was coveted by the sympathizers. Considering, too, what Austria had done in Hungary, in Venetia, and in Galicia, considering the part which Prussia had taken last year with reference to the Poles, and considering the opinion expressed last December by Hew Von Bismark, that there would never be any peace between Germany and Denmark so long as Denmark permitted, the continuance of democratic institutions, he (Sir Francis Goldsmid) could feel no sympathy, and he believed the House would feel none, with any pretended desire of those who were now attacking Denmark for the promotion of liberty.


said, he did not believe, if he might judge from the tenour of the House, that hon. Members were desirous of a long speech upon the subject, especially as a more solemn discussion was now going on upon that very important affair. He would, therefore, confine himself to the questions asked by his hon. and gallant Friend. He must, however, observe, that the doctrine laid down by the hon. Baronet, that the fact of a kingdom being as populous after its dismemberment as it was before was an excuse for its dismemberment, was most extraordinary, and one which he did not believe would be generally accepted. His hon. Friend had not accurately quoted the words he had made use of on the occasion of a former debate upon this subject. He had no doubt that his hon. Friend would remember that he was pointing out how dangerous it was for the House in discussing questions involving, as they did, the most comprehensive principles of International Law, to come to a hasty decision upon those questions, and that those matters had been discussed by some of the most celebrated legists of Europe. He also mentioned the powers of the States of Schleswig and Holstein. Those States were constitutional Parliaments, which, according to some, having the power of giving an opinion, and exercising an influence, upon any change in the succession, while others maintained that the only questions which they could claim to discuss were connected with matters of mere local interest. His hon. Friend had assumed that evening, what he regarded as very doubtful, the power of the States to discuss a change in the succession. He would remind his hon. Friend that the question was surrounded by too many difficulties to allow of its being decided by a mere ipse dixit. He (Mr. Layard) had said that others had asserted that the States had not only discussed the question, but had virtually returned thanks to the late King of Denmark for the settlement of the succession. That statement was made upon the authority of a report of the Holstein States on the modification of the Constitution which was adopted by the Assembly, dated December, 1853, and printed in the Holsteinische Stönde Zeitung. It contains the following words:— The welfare of the people, the preservation or the loss of the greatest earthly benefits, not only for us, but also for the coming generations, depends upon a proper arrangement of the mutual relations between the different territories which now are united under the sceptre of His Majesty the King, and which also shall remain united as long as it pleases Providence, in accordance with an order of succession which has been fixed by our present Sovereign, with the assent of the great European Powers. That Report had not been communicated officially to Her Majesty's Government, and he could not, therefore, lay it upon the table of the House, but he believed it to be authentic. His hon. Friend next proceeded to say that he was inaccurate in stating that the Diet did not object to the change in the succession. What he did say was, that up to the time of the death of the late King the question of the succession had not been made an element in the discussions which were then being carried on by that body in reference to the two Duchies; but that, on the contrary, when Earl Russell made his proposal of December, 1862, that proposal was accepted by all the German Powers and the Diet as one that was perfectly satisfactory. If Denmark had accepted that proposal, that difficult and important question would have been settled. That statement he now repeated. His hon. Friend had next asked upon what ground the statement was made that the expression of feeling in the two Duchies in favour of the Duke of Augustenburg was not a spontaneous one. The very despatch by Sir Andrew Buchanan, quoted by the hon. Baronet as an authority for his statement, that the expression of feeling was spontaneous, proved that it was brought about by the agents of the National Verein. The Report also of Mr. Consul Rainals, which had been quoted by his hon. Friend, would not bear him out in the opinion which he had founded upon it, as the following extract would show:— First, I would state that I never once heard His Majesty the King of Denmark spoken of but with respect and affection, while I did hear expressions to the effect that if he possessed the power he had the will to make his subjects happy and content. I met with but very few persons who admitted that they desired separation from the kingdom of Denmark or union with Prussia or Germany, and these few were confined to strong partisans of the nobility (ritterschaft) and large landed proprietors; but so well are they aware that the population of the country do not share their sentiments, that they only communicated them when warm in argument and by mistake. The nobility and landed gentry formerly held Court and diplomatic appointments from Denmark, from which they are now excluded, and entertain, perhaps, hopes of being similarly employed if union with Germany could be effected. But these two classes have, nevertheless, by their intelligence, wealth, and connections abroad, a very considerable direct and indirect influence on the German population of the Duchy, which they use with the ostensible purpose of securing justice to the people and an union of the two Duchies. The wish for a legislative and administrative union with Holstein was generally expressed among the intelligent persons of the populations in the towns, but only to a small extent among those inhabiting the country districts, and neither party desired separation from Denmark, and much less union with Germany, or that Schleswig should become a member of the Germanic Confederation. I did not fail to observe that the opinions of many persons were influenced by a particular party hostile to the present organization of the Danish monarchy, and in this I was confirmed by partisans of the union with Holstein, who admitted the influence alluded to, but confessed they had become the followers of the party only as a means of obtaining release from the vexatious system of the ultra-Danish party. They further admitted that their leaders, the nobility (ritterschaft), and large landed proprietors, are not looked upon as their true friends, as they support the privileges of certain classes, and are adverse to the introduction of liberal institutions. He would not deny that the Duchies had certain grievances against the Danish Government, nor had Her Majesty's Government ever maintained that Denmark had fulfilled all her promises. His hon. Friend, however, went on to say that because Denmark had not done so it was our duty not to take her part; but he could not acknowledge the justice of that argument. After Denmark offered, though late, to fulfil her promises, the casus belli was removed; and therefore for Austria and Prussia to have then gone to war with her was a great injustice. Mr. Grosvenor, a young man of intelligence, was not sent to report upon the feelings of the people of the Duchies; and if the hon. and gallant Member would look at the papers he would find that Sir Andrew Buchanan warned them against taking Mr. Grosvenor's opinion on that point. Mr. Grosvenor was sent to Holstein for a specific purpose. It had been stated that the Commissioners of the Diet, instead of doing that which they pledged themselves to do on com- mencing Federal execution — namely, to administer the Duchy in the name of the Duke of Holstein, had exceeded their powers, and proceeded to establish the authority of the Duke of Augustenburg. That statement was denied in Germany, and Mr. Grosvenor went to ascertain whether the arms of the King of Denmark had been pulled down, whether the authorities appointed by the King had been removed, and whether the Duke of Angustenburg had been virtually installed as ruler of the Duchy? These facts Mr. Grosvenor proved, but nothing more, and therefore, as far as the feelings of the population were concerned, he was no authority whatever. From all the information he (Mr. Layard) received it was a matter of public notoriety, that there was in Schleswig certainly no general desire on the part of the people to elect the Duke of Augustenburg as their Prince, or to separate themselves from Denmark. That was his impression, and he believed it was the impression of all who had taken the trouble to inquire into the matter. In; conclusion, he would only add that the object of Her Majesty's Government was to restore peace; that he trusted that object would be attained, and felt sure the House would not create any fresh difficulties in the way of its attainment.


said, that before the House passed from that Question he desired to enter a protest with respect to those Danish debates. The hon. Baronet the Member for Buckingham (Sir Harry Verney) had spoken more than once on that subject, and they frequently had these Danish debates interpolated, as it were, in their discussions, when strong statements were made by the hon. Baronet and other hon. Members, advocates of the; same cause. Now the enormous majority of that House sympathized with Denmark in that matter. But the Members of that; majority had shown themselves anxious not to mar any chances that might exist of the restoration of that peace which they all desired by obtruding themselves with unnecessary vehemence in the debates that had taken place. He feared, however, that that reticence and forbearance on their part had been misunderstood out of doors. The hon. Baronet and the other partizans of Germany in that House, who might be counted upon one's fingers, had, he believed, with great ingenuity and skill, by showing themselves repeatedly, and on every possible occasion and in every possi- ble guise, contrived to give the public out of doors the impression—the false and delusive impression—that there was a German party in the House of Commons. It was not his intention to enter into the arguments of the hon. Baronet or into what the hon. Baronet called his facts—it was not his intention, either, to enter into those feelings which led hon. Gentlemen to sympathize with faithless and treacherous de-spoilers, which feelings happily were rare among Englishmen. But he would only say this, that he trusted that no one out of doors would entertain the impression that because they did not contradict the statements—the wild and chimerical statements made with regard both to historical and present facts, the House, therefore, admitted them. Discussions upon that subject could not be fairly taken until the negotiations had been concluded, and until that House was placed by the failure—if failure it should unfortunately prove—of the Executive to bring that matter to a satisfactory termination, in a position to express its opinion on these unhappy transactions without thereby exposing to additional dangers those with whose miseries and unjust sufferings it most heartily sympathized.


said, he rejoiced exceedingly that the noble Lord had elicited the true feeling of the House. As he had been personally alluded to by the hon. Baronet the Member for Buckingham (Sir Harry Verney), he trusted the hon. Baronet was now satisfied that when he spoke his opinion plainly he had some grounds for it. The hon. Baronet the Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid) had referred to foreign agitators who had disturbed the internal peace of Holstein and Schleswig. Not so very long ago Canada was invaded by sympathizers from the United States, just as the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein had been; but the conduct of the Government of the United States on that occasion ought to be remembered for ever with gratitude by this country. They lent no countenance to that system of sympathizing or filibustering. On the contrary, in spite of the feeling of a portion of their own people, they acted loyally towards us and enabled us in every way to repress that unjustifiable aggression upon Canada. The reprehensible conduct of Germany towards Denmark in the present instance was in striking contrast to the honourable conduct of the United States in that instance. He rejoiced to see at this moment a feeling which was truly natural exhibited towards Denmark, for it was no question of Schleswig or Holstein now. The whole of Jutland was now occupied, and the invaders were levying contributions on its inhabitants, and taking hostages in default of their payment. The question had come to this, that were it not for the sea, on which England had once some power, the State of Denmark would, he firmly believed, be swept from the category of nations—a fate from which he trusted England would see that gallant people saved.


said, he wished to explain that he had not expressed any approval of the conduct of Austria and Prussia, who had betrayed the Schleswig-Holsteiners in 1851–2, but had spoken of the German inhabitants of the Duchies.