October 25 1814: Containing Russia

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On October 25 1814, Lord Castlereagh writes to the Duke of Wellington, from Vienna, setting out his thinking that is increasingly directed at containing Russia.

My dear Lord—The events of the few last days, coupled with your letter of the 8th, have rendered me apprehensive that any decisive efl’ort to abate the Russian demands may be defeated by the counteracting exertions of France on the Saxon point. It has occurred to me that you might keep down any rising temper at the Tuileries by throwing before M. de Blacas the possible consequences to which a hostile interference, such as he appears to countenance on the part of France, might lead.

You will perceive, from my several despatches, that the difference in principle between M. Talleyrand and me is chiefly that I wish to direct my main efforts to secure an equilibrium in Europe; to which object, as far as principle will permit, I wish to make all local points subordinate. M. Talleyrand appears to me, on the contrary, more intent upon particular points of influence than upon the general balance to be established ; and his efforts upon the Neapolitan and Saxon questions are frequently made at the expense of the more important question of Poland, without essentially serving either of those interests upon which he is most intent.

I was, from the outset, aware of the extreme difficulty of making Prussia a useful ally in the present discussions, connected closely as she has been with Russia; but it appeared to me that, notwithstanding the King’s liaison with the Emperor, it ought not to be despaired of, under the known sentiments of the Prussian Cabinet, more especially as it was diflicult to found a satisfactory system of balance in Europe, unless Prussia could be induced to take a part.

Two alternatives alone presented themselves for consideration—a union of the two great German Powers, supported by Great Britain, and thus combining the minor States of Germany, together with Holland, in an intermediary system between Russia and France—or a union of Austria, France, and the southern States against the northern Powers, with Russia and Prussia in close alliance.

It would have been to he wished that the arrangements upon a peace could have been effected,in Europe without giving rise to any combination whatever of this nature, and that, at the end of so long a struggle, the several Powers might have enjoyed some repose, without forming calculations that always augment the risks of war; but the tone and conduct of Russia have disappointed this hope, and forced upon us fresh considerations.

In weighing the conveniences and inconveniences of the latter of these alternatives, the objections appeared to me strongly to preponderate, and especially as affecting our interests. Necessity might dictate such a system, but not choice. It appeared, in the first instance, diflicult to cement, on account of the fundamental jealousy existing between Austria and France, especially upon the point of Italian preponderance. If adopted in order to control Russian power, and, with this view, should it be supported by Great Britain, it rendered Holland and the Low Countries dependant on France for their support, instead of having Prussia and the northern States of Germany as their natural protectors. It presented the further inconvenience, in case of war, of exposing all the recent cessions by France to re-occupation by French armies, as the seat of war might happen to present itself.

These considerations were sufficiently weighty to induce me to be of opinion that, however pure the intentions of the King of France were, and however friendly, we ought not to risk so much upon French connexion, and that it was wiser to preserve, as far as possible, the good-will of France, whilst we laboured to unite Germany for its own preservation against Russia.

I was induced to prefer this course, first, as affording the best chance, if Prussia could be brought forward, of averting the Polish danger without a war; and, secondly, if we failed in this object, as opposing the best barrier to further encroachments on the part of Russia, whilst it afforded that natural cover to our interests on the side of Flanders, without leaving them at the mercy of a combination formed somewhat out of the natural course of political interest.

I have troubled you with this outline of the policy upon which I have been acting here, that you may use your own discretion, as occasions arise, of preparing and reconciling the mind of the French Government to a concert between the two limitrophe Powers against Russian encroachment and dictation. You will find their minds (at least Prince Talleyrand’s is) very averse to Russia, and impatient of the notion of any union between Austria and Prussia; yet, while they most inconsistently object to such a union, they admit that it is the only mode in which Prussia can be kept within due bounds.

If France were a feeble and menaced Power, she might well feel jealous of such a German alliance; but, as her direct interests are out of all danger, it is unreasonable that she should impede the sole means that remain to Germany of preserving its independence, in order either to indulge a sentiment towards the King of Saxony, or to create a French party amongst the minor States. France need never dread a German league: it is in its nature inoffensive, and there is no reason to fear that the union between Austria and Prussia will be such as to endanger the liberties of other States. Until the determination of Austria and Prussia is more fully established, I have to beg your grace will make your reasoning general, and not admit that any negociation is in progress.

CASTLEREAGH

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