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Canadian Illustrated News:
Images in the news: 1869-1883

The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871

The War Complications

July 23, 1870
[ Vol. II, No. 4 ]

[ page ] 54 [col. 1 ]

Europe is now on the verge of a contest which promises, from present appearances, to be the most bloody and destructive the world has ever seen. France on the one side, and Prussia, backed by the German Confederation, on the other, are so nearly matched in population, resources and military skill, that it would be a miracle were either of them to triumph, except after a fierce struggle and at the cost of tremendous sacrifices. It is not improbable that a million of men on each side may be led into the field, for though Prussia has numerically the larger army, 1,200,000 against about 1,035,000 French, yet the facilities for increasing the armies are ample on both sides, and the spirit of the populations, if we can credit the telegrams, have risen to war heat. But the struggle can hardly be confined to the two principals. Denmark, still smarting from the recollection of the loss of the Duchies, is supposed to be in close alliance with France and ready to strike a blow at Prussia. The neutrality of Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland may be depended upon, though the violation of Belgian territory by either France or Prussia would undoubtedly draw Great Britain into the war; indeed it is said that Belgium will be garrisoned by British troops. The attitude of Italy is uncertain, though wise statesmanship would counsel strict neutrality on its part, not only because of the obligation it is under to both the contestants, but because it may have to deal with the revolution at home. It is reported that Austria will join France; and if so, Russia, unless intending to make a descent upon Turkey, will very probably side with Prussia. If, however, the other European powers stand aloof, both Russia and England are likely to remain neutral.

And for what is this terrible war, the preparation for which has filled the world with its din? The immediate occasion of the rupture was the offering of the vacant Spanish throne to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern. The negotiation for placing this German Prince upon the throne of Spain was managed so secretly between Prim on the one hand and Bismarck on the other, that the world was unaware of it until the preliminaries had been arranged. France protested energetically against the contemplated step, and appealed to the King of Prussia, as head of the house of Hohenzollern, to prevent it. The King at first declined to interfere, refusing to assume any responsibility in the matter; but as affairs were rapidly assuming a grave aspect, Prince Leopold, on the advice of his father, formally withdrew from the candidature. So far all the great powers were with France and against Prussia, but unfortunately, the matter did not end here. France demanded of Prussia a formal renunciation of all pretension on the part of any German Prince to the Spanish Crown, and this Prussia somewhat indignantly refused; and when the French Ambassador desired an interview with his Prussian Majesty at Ems, the latter positively declined to see him. Further than this, Prussia courteously informed the different powers, except France, that the French Minister had been dismissed. This step, according to the French Premier, M. Ollivier, decided France to abandon negociation [sic] and appeal to the sword.

So much for the immediate occasion of the quarrel. Its real object on the part of France is the "rectification of the Rhenish frontier;" on the part of Prussia it is

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equally certain that it has a strong desire to humble France and extend its own territorial sway. The London Times says "the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine, containing the modern provinces of Moselle, Meurthe, Meuse, Vosges, the upper and lower Rhine, are the real object of the war on the part of Prussia, and in that she has the sympathies of mankind." But we can hardly see why the "sympathies of mankind" should be warmly enlisted for the "recovery" of Alsace which has been under French rule for more than two hundred years, or of Lorraine which fell to the French crown more than a century ago, and to neither of which Prussia can have any claim. But the English paper is undoubtedly right that Prussia had an object for going to war with France, independently of any question relating to the Spanish Crown. That question, was the "straw" deftly handled by Bismarck to tickle Napoleon; and the latter was apparently but too anxious to give the opportunity. Indeed they both sought the quarrel with very little disguise, and it is difficult to say which is the more guilty. Since the close of the war between Austria and Prussia, a struggle between the latter and France has been regarded as among the probabilities; but singularly enough, at the very beginning of the present month there was as little appearance of it as at any previous time. On the 30th of June the French Ministry proposed a considerable reduction in the army, which M. Thiers, who has since condemned the threatened war, then opposed on the ground that it would weaken the moral force of France in Europe. In a few days afterwards the candidature of Leopold for the Spanish Crown was announced, and though on the 14th or 15th he withdrew, yet on the 18th the declaration of war was on its way from Paris to Berlin!

Will the same celerity characterise the war? That will depend in great part upon whether it can be confined to the principals. If it could, and they both come out of it, as they undoubtedly would, thoroughly exhausted, no matter who got the victory, Europe would have some guarantee for a long term of future peace. The designs of Russia are solely directed towards the East, and Russia excepted, Prussia and France are the two powers whose ambitious designs and schemes for their own aggrandizement continually menace the peace of Europe, and impose upon the nations immense burthens of taxation for military purposes. It is desirable that they both should be strong powers, but it would be a misfortune were either of them to gain a very great preponderance over the other. In that case, other nations would undoubtedly be dragged in, and the strife begun between France and Prussia would widen out to the dimensions of a European war; and perhaps even involve this continent, for the people of the United States have wandered away from the simple non intervention policy of their fathers. The bitter feeling manifested in England against France, and the general opinion so freely expressed that there was no just ground of a proclamation of war point to certain unpleasant possibilities. The maintenance of neutrality by Great Britain will be difficult in any case; but should Prussia waver, is it likely that Britain will stand by and see her whipped, believing that the quarrel was unfairly thrust upon her? When Prussia and Austria plundered Denmark of the Duchies, France and England protested against the robbery and allowed it to proceed. They acted on the diplomatic reason that that it was better Denmark should suffer some injustice than that the whole of Europe should be plunged into war. They will both suffer now for that folly. Prussia carried off the whole of the spoil, and the consequence was the Austro-Prussian war. Now we have as a consequence of Prussia's extraordinary success in that war, another war springing from the Prussian ambition fired, and the French jealousy created, thereby. Austria became wise after her defeat. Prussia consolidated her strength and prepared for fresh conquests, and Napoleon, seeing the mistake of allowing Prussia to become so great, was impatient for a pretext to strike her. That having come, it will now be England's interest to see that his success, if any, shall not be too great; otherwise, instead of one murderous and exhausting general war, which would certainly be followed by a long peace, Europe will continue to suffer periodically from a series of great national duels, such as those which have been so frequent within the past twenty years. Had England and France stood manfully by Denmark, and given the two great German powers their deserts, France would not to-day have had occasion to measure swords with Prussia, nor England to look forward to the serious entanglements with which she is now threatened.