Engels in the New-York Tribune 1861

German Movements

Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, February 12, 1861;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

The year 1861, it appears, has not yet troubles enough to bear. We have our Secessionist Revolution in America; there is the Rebellion in China ; the advance of Russia in Eastern and Central Asia; the Eastern question, with its corollaries of the French occupation of Syria and the Suez Canal; the breaking up of Austria, with Hungary in almost open insurrection; the siege of Gaëta, and Garibaldi’s promise of liberating Venice on the first of March; and last, but not least, the attempt to restore Marshal MacMahon to his ancestral throne of Ireland. But all this is not enough. We are now promised, besides, a fourth Schleswig-Holstein campaign.

The King of Denmark, in 1851, voluntarily entered into certain obligations to Prussia and Austria with regard to Schleswig. He promised that the Duchy should not be incorporated with Denmark; that its Representative Assembly should remain distinct from that of Denmark; and that both the German and Danish nationalities in Schleswig should receive equal protection. Beside this, so far as regards Holstein, the rights of its Representative Assembly were expressly guaranteed. Upon these conditions, the federal troops which had occupied Holstein were withdrawn.

The Danish Government executed its promises in a most evasive way. In Schleswig, the southern half is exclusively German; in the northern half, all the towns are German, while the country people speak a corrupted Danish dialect, and the written language, from time immemorial, has almost everywhere been German. By the consent of the population, a process of Germanization has been going on there for centuries; so much so that, with the exception of the most northerly border districts, even that portion of the peasantry who speak a Danish dialect (which is, however, so far distant from the written Danish as to be easily intelligible to the German inhabitants of the South), understand the written High German better than the written Danish language. After 1851, the Government divided the country into a Danish, a German, and a mixed district. In the German district, German; in the Danish district, Danish was to be the exclusive official language of the Government, the courts of law, the pulpit, and the schools. In the mixed districts, both languages were to be equally admissible. This looks fair enough, but the truth is that, in establishing the Danish district, the written Danish language was forced upon a population the great majority of whom did not even understand it, and only desired to be governed, tried, educated, christened, and married in the German language. However, the Government now opened a regular crusade for the weeding out of all traces of Germanism from the district, forbidding even private tuition in families in any other than the Danish language; and sought at the same time, by more indirect means, in the mixed district to give the Danish language the preponderance. The opposition created by these measures was very violent, and an attempt was made to put it down by a series of petty acts of tyranny. In the small town of Eckernförde, for instance, about $4,000 fines were at once inflicted for the crime of unlawfully petitioning the Representative Assembly; and all the parties fined were, as convicts, declared to be deprived of their right of voting. Still, the population and the Assembly persisted and now persist in their opposition.

In Holstein, the Danish Government found it impossible to make the Representative Assembly vote any taxes unless they granted concessions in a political and national sense. This they would not do; neither would they do without the revenues of the Duchy. In order, therefore, to manufacture some legal ground on which to levy them, they convoked a Council of the Kingdom, an assembly without any representative character, but supposed to represent Denmark proper, Schleswig-Holstein, and Lauenburg. Although the Holsteiners refused to attend, this body voted the taxes for the whole monarchy, and, based upon this vote, the Government assessed the taxes to be paid in Holstein. Thus Holstein, which was to be an independent and separate Duchy, was deprived of all political independence, and made subject to an Assembly preeminently Danish.

These are the grounds on which the German press, for five or six years past, have called on the German Governments to employ coercive measures against Denmark. The grounds, in themselves, are certainly good. But the German press — that press which was allowed to exist during the reactionary period after 1849 — merely used Schleswig-Holstein as a means of popularity. It was indeed very cheap to hold forth in high indignation against the Danes, when the Governments of Germany allowed it — those Governments which at home tried to emulate Denmark in petty tyranny. War against Denmark was the cry when the Crimean war broke out. War against Denmark again, when Louis Napoleon invaded Austrian Italy. Now, then, they will have it all their own way. The new era in Prussia, hitherto so coy when called upon by the liberal press, in this instance chimes in with it. The new King of Prussia proclaims to the world that he must bring this old complaint to a settlement; the decrepit Diet at Frankfort puts all its clumsy machinery in motion for the salvation of German nationality, and the liberal press-triumphs? No such thing. The liberal press, now at once put to the test, eats its words, cries out, Caution! discovers that Germany has no fleet wherewith to fight the ships of a naval power, and, especially in Prussia, shows all the symptoms of cowardice. What a few months ago was an urgent patriotic duty, is now all of a sudden an Austrian intrigue, which Prussia is warned not to give way to.

That the German Governments, in their sudden enthusiasm for the cause of Schleswig-Holstein, are in the least sincere, is, of course, out of the question. As the Danish Dagbladet says:

“We all know that it is one of the old tricks of the German Governments to take up the Schleswig-Holstein question as soon as they feel themselves to be in want of a little popularity, and to cover their own manifold sins by drawing bills upon the fanaticism against Denmark.”

This has been decidedly the case in Saxony, and to a certain extent it is now the case in Prussia. But in Prussia the sudden starting of this question also signifies, evidently, an alliance with Austria. The Prussian Government behold Austria breaking to pieces from within, while she is menaced from without by a war with Italy. It certainly is not the interest of the Prussian Government to see Austria annihilated. At the same time, the Italian war, to which Louis Napoleon would not long remain an impartial spectator, would scarcely again come off without touching the territory of the German Confederation, in which case Prussia is bound to interfere. Then the war with France on the Rhine would certainly be combined with a Danish war on the Eider; and while the Prussian Government cannot afford to have Austria broken down, why wait till Austria is again defeated? Why not engage in the quarrel of Schleswig-Holstein, and thereby interest in the war all North Germany which would not fight for the defence of Venetia? If this be the reasoning of the Prussian Government, it is logical enough, but it was quite as logical in 1859, before Austria was weakened by Magenta and Solferino and by her internal convulsions. Why was it not then acted upon?

It is not at all certain that this great war will come off next Spring. But if it does come off, although neither party deserves any sympathy, it must have this result, that whichsoever be beaten in the beginning, there will be a revolution. If Louis Napoleon be defeated, his throne is sure to fall; and if the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria be worsted, they will have to give way before a German revolution.