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from Napoleon. The Emperor, himself a carbonaro in his youth, was heir both to the revolutionary principles of 1848 and to the Napoleonic legend, which, so artfully fabricated at St. Helena, had by now convinced the nephew that the uncle had held nationality in special veneration. Spurred on by this idealism as well as by the historic French antagonism to Austrian control of the Italian Peninsula, Napoleon in 1859 had gone to the aid of the Italian patriots.
By the Preliminaries of Villafranca, signed July 11, 1859, the war with Austria came to an untimely end with the freedom of Lombardy as the only fruit of the struggle. By the Preliminaries Austria ceded Lombardy to France with the understanding that it be handed over to Sardinia. Napoleon endeavored to write into the agreement the phrase "according to the votes of the population.” 1 Francis Joseph, with characteristic fidelity to the Hapsburg theory of the State and, with the subtle instinct of a despotic sovereign, fully understanding the significance of the phrase, refused, saying that "he was unable to attach any importance to the will of the people," and Napoleon consented to renounce the proposed formula.?
Napoleon's devotion to Italian unity had been weakened by fear of opposition at home, not only from the clericals but from those upholding the traditional French policy of a weak Germany and a weak Italy. The Preliminaries of Villafranca liberated Lombardy, but the Emperor had consented to abandon the other Italian peoples once more to their alien dukes, though without providing for the method of forcing their return on their unwilling subjects. The Italians were determined to thwart the provisions of Villafranca. Napoleon's support having been lost to them, the British Cabinet now came forward as their champion. With the support of Palmerston as Prime Minister and Russell as Foreign Secretary, the Italians of the duchies and of Romagna made a second attempt to overthrow the recurring principle of legitimacy and to settle the Italian question by popular consultation, this time through assemblies especially elected and by a limited franchise. Russell, seeing in the method the only hope of a solution of the problem which was threatening the peace of Europe, insisted on no disposal of the duchies before their unbiased opinion had been given. To this proposal the response of the Powers varied. Austria replied that while England looked to populations, Austria looked to governments and could not recognize in established monarchies the principle of popular elections, a disapproval in
1 Whether this was intended to refer to the vote of 1848 or to a future vote is obscure. The latter interpretation is the one generally given.
2 Le Assemblee del risorgimento, vol. 1, p. cxxxvi; Guido Fusinato, Le mutazioni territoriali, p. 99.
3 British Parliamentary. Papers, Affairs of Italy , pp. 19 and 34.
which Prussia sincerely concurred.1 Napoleon, however, unable to deny the force of a title based on popular vote, chose to hold the method and circumstances of the vote indecisive and to base on that argument his continued opposition to a union. To meet this opposition, Russell proposed to Cavour that fresh assemblies be elected. Napoleon, helpless before this continued appeal to the principle on which his own throne rested, was forced to agree, but with the stipulation that the vote should be by plebiscite. To this Cavour and the Governors of Tuscany and Emilia eagerly assented, as making the result more incontestable, and Russell agreed on the ground that it was a question for each country to regulate for itself. Plebiscites were accordingly taken in Tuscany and Emilia. The importance attached by Cavour to the plebiscites and his confidence in the method may be gathered from a letter written by him on the day of the voting: “If, as I hope, this last proof is decisive," he wrote, we shall have written a marvelous page in the history
Prussia and Russia, while disputing the juridical value of universal suffrage, can not cast a doubt upon the immense value of the fact this day accomplished. The dukes, the archdukes, the grand dukes, will be found buried under the pile of ballots deposited in the electoral urns of Tuscany and Emilia.” 2 From this time on Cavour made the plebiscitary method the cornerstone of his policy, and the plebiscites of Sicily and Naples, Umbria and the Marches, followed swiftly and decisively. Cavour's choice of method has been justified. The political effectiveness of a title based on popular will, and its superiority over any based on treaty rights or inheritance, can never be more clearly shown than in the case of Italy.
We now come to the plebiscites which in subsequent discussions of the method have been made the touchstone of its value. Napoleon had exacted the cession of Savoy and Nice as payment for his acquiescence in the annexation of Tuscany and Emilia. Unable to refuse Napoleon's demand, Cavour wished to protect himself from attack by writing into the treaty a clause providing for consultation of the inhabitants. On this he insisted in spite of the reluctance of Napoleon who was becoming cool in his support of the method on account of the bad impression made on the Northern Powers by the events in Italy. 3
1 The British representative at the Prussian Court wrote that Baron Schleinitz admitted that the method offered a practical solution in Central Italy but “makes no concealment of his disapproval of the principle of appealing to the people of the Italian duchies ... and I may add that Prussia would disapprove still more of the course about to be pursued if it were based on universal suffrage.” British Parliamentary Papers, Affairs of Italy [2636),
2 Documents, post, p. 523. 3 Russia, of all the Powers, presented an attitude of acquiescence to the Savoy cession on condition that, whatever Piedmont did, France must not base her claim on a plebiscite. Cf. William R. Thayer, The Life and Times of Cavour, vol. 2, p. 211, quoting from Ollivier, pp. 399–401.
It would be a courageous person who would venture to assert, considering the reputation of these plebiscites, that they were fair; and it would be a credulous person who could accept the mass of repeated assertions, unsupported by facts, without some scepticism. The primary error of later historians has been to confuse the two plebiscites and to treat them as one. Scanty as are the specific charges of any value against the vote of Nice, they must be considered far more weighty than those regarding the vote of Savoy which was admittedly French in race, in language and, at the time, in political sentiment. It is not necessary to account for the vote by moral pressure or the military force which, on examination, proves not to have been present. The recent events in Italy had caused in Savoy, French in culture, a fear of the predominance of the Italian element in the Sardinian monarchy which had suddenly become an Italian kingdom. To this fear was added dislike of the anti-clerical attitude of Cavour and the Italian liberals who had captured the Sardinian parliament in the recent elections. Further, the intelligent French offers of commercial development, four years shorter military service, and the removal of custom barriers, must have been potent factors. European apprehension of Napoleon who thus regained the Swiss passes, the personal feeling of Garibaldi who never forgave the loss of Nice, his birthplace, and the disregard of Swiss claims to the neutralized portions of Savoy, were probably the cause of the exaggerated charges, and the charges were greatly aided by the amusing but frivolous attacks of Lawrence Oliphant who bestowed on propaganda and exhortation all the condemnation due to fraud and corruption. Although there is no doubt that the head officials used their position to urge union, some scepticism regarding the other points of criticism seems justified by the fact that in spite of an option clause in the treaty there appears to have been only a negligible emigration; that in 1870, when the two territories might have safely revolted from France, they were, on the contrary, devoted in their loyalty; and that as far as can be discovered, there has not been an irredentist party in Savoy, Italy, or Nice.
Although the governments of Austria, Russia, and Prussia were all absolutely opposed to the Italian independence which had just been erected through popular consultation and Great Britain was especially hostile to the cession of Savoy and Nice so accomplished, the principle was so firmly established by 1863 that it was again and even more definitely written into an international protocol signed by these four Powers which, by the Treaty of Paris, had been set up as guarantors of the Ionian Islands. This protocol was signed on August 1, 1863. In it the acquiescence of the protecting Powers is given to the expressed intention of Great Britain to allow the union of the Islands to Greece if the Ionian assembly should choose such union rather than the continuance of the British protectorate. The new assembly, specially elected on the question, voted unanimously for union, and the desire was solemnly granted in another treaty between the same Powers on November 14, and in a treaty with Greece as cosignatory on March 29, 1864. In all these treaties the vote of the islands is stated as the primary condition of the abrogation of the Vienna arrangement and the union with Greece. However greatly the desire to balance the growing Slav strength to the north, or to reward the Greeks for their recent choice of a sovereign may have contributed to this act, until then unparalleled in history, the choice of method is undoubtedly due to the perception of its value by the British Cabinet, and especially by Lord John Russell.
The most interesting international discussion of the method of the plebiscite, and the one most significant to-day, is that by the eight Powers gathered in the Conference of London which met in the spring of 1864 with the object of converting the temporary cessation of hostilities between Denmark and the Germanic Powers into a permanent peace. The point at issue was again the disposition of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, a matter which had supposedly been settled, after 1848, by various treaties regarding the succession in the duchies. Denmark and the neutrals desired that these provisions be restored. Prussia, the Confederation and Austria were determined against it. Perceiving after a lengthy and futile discussion that restoration of the treaty provisions was hopeless, Earl Russell, as spokesman for the neutral powers, proposed that recognition be made of the national aspirations of the two races in Schleswig by a division of the duchy along a frontier which he indicated, no further disposition of the southern part or of Holstein to be made without the consent of the inhabitants “ duly consulted.” To such a division Denmark and the Germanic Powers agreed in principle, but could reach no agreement on the line of demarcation, each proposing a line which would include many of the alien race, the German delegates claiming the whole of the mixed district and the Danish delegates claiming that and even more.
The Germanic delegates, however, insisted on an unexpected development of the original proposal. It had been the British proposition that the vote should be taken only in those districts to be separated from the Danish crown, namely, in Holstein and the southern districts of Schleswig, in order to ascertain their wish as to their future ruler. Bismarck now resorted to a plan originally proposed to him by Napoleon 1 and instructed the Prussian plenipotentiary to insist that the vote be taken also in the part of Schleswig to be separated from the rest of the duchies. "Guided by the conviction that the Conference should be aware of the wish of the people whose future they were deliberating,” Count von Bernstorff, at the order of his government, asked “ that the inhabitants of Schleswig should be consulted on the subject of the disposition to be adopted in their regard, and that the fate of these populations should not be decided without their wishes having been previously consulted.” 1 This plan of a vote in Northern Schleswig was not pleasing to Denmark as it offered an opportunity to the people to vote against their own ruler, nor was it pleasing to the neutral Powers to whom the preservation of the Danish monarchy was an essential to the Balance of Power. The Germanic delegates being insistent, however, the French plenipotentiary, de la Tour d'Auvergne, then suggested a compromise. His plan was to limit the vote to the district bounded on the north by the line proposed by Prussia and on the south by the line insisted on by Denmark, the vote to be taken by communes under the eyes of delegates of the eight Powers, all military forces having been withdrawn. This, he said, presented a method
1 Heinrich von Sybel, The Founding of the German Empire by William I, vol. 3, pp. 318 and 341–351, gives extracts from the correspondence between Bismarck and Drouyn de Lhuys, the French Foreign Minister, on this subject.
which would allow, in the definitive drawing of the frontier line, the giving of the most exact consideration possible to each nationality.” 2 This solution at once gained the support of the delegates of the Germanic Confederation and Prussia, as well as those of all the other Powers excepting Russia and Austria who were still true to the principle of legitimacy of the Vienna Congress. The Russian representative, Brunnow, protested eloquently against the indignity of leaving to a vote of peasants a question which the diplomatists of Europe had been summoned to London to settle and said that he should be forsaking the principles which served to regulate the policy of the Emperor were he to admit the appeal which the plenipotentiaries of Prussia proposed to make to the population of Schleswig. On the utter refusal of Denmark to consider any other frontier than the one originally proposed by Russell the conference was forced to abandon the solution and, the period of the armistice having expired, the conference adjourned and the war went on to its conclusion so disastrous for Denmark.
The statement is sometimes made that the Conference of London repudiated the method of the plebiscite. Such a conclusion might well be drawn from the adroit summing up of the discussion by the Russian plenipotentiary. Examination of the text of the protocols shows, however, that although Russia definitely repudiated any appeal to a vote, and Austria refused absolutely to support any vote except of the Estates, the plenipotentiaries of Denmark, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Prussia and the Germanic Confederation all accepted the general principle of a plebiscite, and that, although there was definite objection by Denmark and the neutrals to the Prussian proposal of
1 Conference of London, Protocol No. 10, Documents, post, p. 913. 2 Protocol No. 11, Documents, post, p. 928.