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13 THE NEW ERA LATE in the Fifties the reaction began to show signs of political exhaustion. In Austria the tortuous policy followed by the government during the Crimean \Var alienated Russia without winning the support of France. While the Slavs of the empire would not forget that for a few short months in r848 they had been free, the Magyars continued to maintain a stubborn resistance against the centralizing policy of the Hofburg. Worst of ail, the expenditures incurred through the mobilization of the army and the expansion of the bureaucracy strained the treasury to the breaking point, precipitating an acute financial crisis which weakened the fabric of Habsburg absolutism. For the time being the authorities were still able to hide civic discontent and economic enfeeblement behind a show of aggressive confidence, but with the first serious reverse the mask of bravura was bound to falL In Prussia the last years of the reign of Frederick William IV revealed only weakness in foreign policy and stagnation in domestic affairs. At the international conference in Paris in 1856 Manteuffel sat as an unwanted and almost uninvited guest, and a year later he was forced to seek the mediation of the Great Powers in the dispute with Switzerland over Hohenzollern rights in Neuchatel. The loyal conservatives in the legislature continued to support the cabinet, more convinced than ever that the proof of political wisdom was a refusal to compromise with changing conditions. Yet the social monarchism of the reaction had lost its sense of mission, and there was a profound malaise behind royalist avowals which could still be heard in parliament and in the press. Unable to accept the new, unwilling to abandon the old, legitimism clung to power with a stubbornness born of secret pamc. [ 238 ] THE NEW ERA The lesser governments of Germany found this state of affairs a source of secret satisfaction. What did it matter to them that the interests of the German Confederation were ignored in the councils of Europe, as long as difficulties in Berlin and Vienna enhanced their own importance by enabling them to fish in troubled waters? In I850 they supported Schwarzenberg against Radowitz's plan for a new national union. In I 855 they supported Manteuffel against Buol's proposal for a mobilization of the federal army. In 1856 they agreed with Otto von Bismarck that a further restriction of representative institutions in Germany was inadvisable. In I857 they agreed with Johann von Rechberg that a reinforced Austrian garrison should help defend the fortress of Rastatt. It was the heyday of bureaucratic intriguers expert in playing both ends against the middle, the heyday of second-rate statesmen from second-rate states like Ludwig von der Pfordten of Bavaria, Friedrich von Beust of Saxony, Wilhelm von Meysenburg of Baden, and Reinhard von Dalwigk of HesseDarmstadt . The tragic illness of Frederick William IV was the first augury of a new age. For the unhappy king of Prussia the time had always been out of joint. Liberal agitation, revolutionary upheaval, aristocratic reaction, constitutions, parliaments , reforms, restorations-it was all too much for the morbidly contemplative man whom history had forced into a life of action. The cares of state disturbed him, frightened him, depressed him, and finally destroyed him. After suffering a stroke which left him mentally incapacitated in the fall of I 857, he spent the remaining years of his life in a twilight world of melancholy brooding. Prince William assumed the functions of the crown, although at first the ministry hesitated to formalize a transfer of power to the heir apparent who had more than once expressed his antipathy for the extremism of the camarilla. The further postponement of a regency became impossible, however, after a year had passed without an im- [ 239 ] PART THREE: REACTION provement in the condition of the ruler. On October 7, 1858, the queen herself presented to him the document assigning the royal prerogative to his brother. After reading it without a word, he signed; his head sank, and bursting into tears he stumbled out of the room. The establishment of the regency meant the end of the reaction. No sooner had Prince William become master of the state in his own right, than he carried out a drastic purge of those most closely associated with the previous regime. An inbred suspicion of the abstract and the theoretical turned him against the overzealous royalism fostered by his predecessor . Westphalen, Raumer, the Gerlachs, Stahl, KleistRetzow , even the faithful Manteuffel...


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