The Prussian army, within a few days of the declaration of war against Austria, overcame the resistance offered by the small German States which had thrown in their lot with the latter and advanced into Bohemia, where the Austrians under Marshal Von Benedek, a Hungarian Imperialist, were assembled. Simultaneously the Italians attacked the Austrian army in Italy, and the Italian fleet sailed into the Adriatic. The Austrian army in Italy and the Austrian fleet in the Adriatic proved, however, too much for the Italians. The Archduke Albrecht defeated the Italian army at Custozza, and the Austrian fleet under Tegethoff disposed of Italy’s navy at Lissa. But these were the only victories Austria achieved. On the 3rd of July the Prussian army utterly defeated Benedek in the Battle of Sadowa, and compelled the Austrians to flee across the Elbe, leaving 40,000 men and 160 cannons behind them. The victors immediately occupied Prague, the capital of Bohemia.
The occupation of Prague opened the road to Vienna, and the Prussians prepared to march on the Austrian capital. In this desperate strait, the Austrian Emperor purchased peace from Italy by retroceding Venice, and the Austrian army which had been engaged there under the Archduke Albrecht hastened back to defend Vienna. Francis Josef then sent to Pesth for Deak, and Deak on arriving at midnight in Vienna was received by the Emperor, pale and haggard, in the palace. “What am I to do now, Deak?” the monarch asked of his opponent. Deak’s laconic reply is celebrated in Austrian history, “Make peace, and restore Hungary her rights.” “If I restore Hungary her Constitution now, will Hungary help me to carry on the war?” the Emperor inquired. The reply of Deak exhibits the fearless and uncompromising character of the great Magyar. It was in one word, “No.” He would not make the restoration of his country’s rights a matter of barter. The Emperor turned sadly away and Deak left the palace. He had not gone six hours when Francis Josef issued a piteous appeal for help in his dire extremity to the people whom he had for years dragooned and cajoled. This is a translation of the Emperor’s last effort to hoodwink the Hungarian people into acting against their own national interests:
To My Faithful People of Hungary.
The hand of Providence weighs heavily upon us. In the conflict into which I have been drawn, not voluntarily, but through the force of circumstances, every human calculation has been frustrated, save only the confidence I have placed in the heroic bravery of my valiant army. The more grievous are the heavy losses by which the ranks of those brave men have been smitten; and my paternal heart feel the bitterness of that grief with all the families affected. To put an end to the unequal contest – to gain time and opportunity to fill up the voids occasioned by the campaign, and to concentrate my forces against the hostile troops occupying the northern portion of my Empire, I have consented with great sacrifices, to negotiations for an armistice with Italy.
I now turn confidently to the faithful people of my Kingdom of Hungary, and to that readiness to make sacrifices so repeatedly displayed in trying times.
The united exertions of my entire Empire must be set in motion that the conclusion of the wished-for peace may be secured upon fair conditions.
It is my profound belief that the warlike sons of Hungary, actuated by the feeling of hereditary fidelity, will voluntarily hasten under my banners, to the assistance of their kindred, and for the protection of their country, also immediately threatened by the events of the war.
Rally, therefore, in force to the defence of the invaded Empire! Be worthy sons of your valiant forefathers, whose heroic deeds gained never-ending laurels for the glory of the Hungarian name.
The Austrian Emperor’s “profound belief” that “the warlike sons of Hungary,” whom Austria had so long and so cruelly oppressed, were willing to fight to perpetuate the power that enslaved them, was quite unfounded. The Hungarians possessed both spirit and intelligence, and openly rejoiced in the success of the Prussians. The only Hungarians who voluntarily rallied to the fight were the Hungarian exiles, who formed a legion under General Klapka and proffered their services to Prussia, “to help in the overthrow of the accursed Austrian tyranny.” The Prussians, having completed their arrangements, marched on Vienna, and on the 20th July their outposts were in sight of the Austrian capital. Realising that all hope of succour from his “faithful Hungarian subjects” was gone, the Emperor begged the Prussians to grant him aa armistice with a view to making peace proposals. Owing to the attitude of France, which had become alarmed at the rapid success of the Prussian arms and considered the dismemberment of the Austrian Empire would seriously affect its position, the Prussians reluctantly conceded the armistice. They did not feel themselves strong enough at the time to face France allied with Austria. Four years later they wreaked a bloody revenge on Napoleon III. for his intervention. Four days after the granting of the armistice the Austrians accepted the conditions imposed by the victors, and in the following month the treaty of peace was definitively signed at Prague. By the Peace of Prague Austria surrendered the- hegemony of the German Empire and gave up her rights as a member of the Germanic Confederation. She agreed to pay Prussia a war indemnity of forty million thalers, and to permit portion of her territory to be occupied by Prussian troops until the money had been paid. She consented to Prussia joining a new Germanic Confederation and assuming the headship of it, and annexing the North German States of which heretofore she had been the suzerain power. In Italy she gave up all her possessions save Trieste, and thus after thirty-two days’ war she was hurled from the position she had held for centuries in Europe. On the 1st of June, 1866, Austria was at the head of all Teutondom – on the 1st of August she was at the tail. And on the morrow of the signing of the Peace of Prague the humbled tyranny found itself face to face with the country it had oppressed, as England oppresses Ireland, demanding reparation for the wrongs that had been done and full restoration of the rights that had been stolen away; and almost as impotent to resist the demands of Hungary in 1866 as England was to resist the demands of Ireland in 1782, when, returning beaten from America, she found herself confronted in Ireland by 200,000 armed and disciplined men, who, unfortunately for their descendants, were led not by a farseeing and steadfast statesman like Francis Deak, but by an eloquent and emotional orator, Henry Grattan.