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and re-assessed the land, and preached equality before the law. The nobles had been exempt from taxation; Joseph abolished the exemption. They were furious and rebelled. On the other hand, the peasants, encouraged by his liberal views, broke out in bloody insurrection against the nobles.
In May, 1788, when he applied to the Hungarian Diet for money for his Turkish wars it was refused. At last, when on the point of death, Joseph repealed for Hungary all his reforms, except the abolition of serfdom and some other edicts made in favour of the peasants. On February 24, 1790, he died.
At Joseph's death the Netherlands had declared independence, Hungary was in active rebellion, and Austria in a ferment over the new Land Tax.
Great Britain, when Austria joined with France, had drawn off from her and was uniting with Holland and Sweden and Prussia, which, under Frederick William, the successor of Frederick II., was the hereditary enemy of Austria. The state of affairs both within the Empire and in Europe looked very unfavourable to Leopold II., the brother of Joseph, who succeeded him. His good sense and moderation saved the situation. While preparing for war he approached Frederick William of Prussia with proposals for peace, also negotiating with Great Britain, while he pushed his war against the Turks and moved armies to meet the Prussians. After a series of diplomatic marches and counter-marches, in which the bits of territory to be cut off and exchanged, were offered, withdrawn and compromised, a campaign, in the course of which Kaunitz and Hertzberg, the aged ministers of Maria Theresa and Frederick II., retired to make way for men who were more in sympathy with the new conditions of the world, the foreign affairs of the Empire were accommodated and peace was restored.
It was high time for peace abroad, for even the most absolute sovereigns, hindered by their position from acquiring a true knowledge of affairs, were beginning to hear the noise of the waves and the madness of the people, the roaring of the anarchic spirit with which they must contend. Even now they found it very hard to put aside their territorial disputes with each other and unite in a settled policy towards the problem of social reform. The absolute ruler, when his commands are
questioned, has no resort but force to crush the discontent or sulky surrender; he is not inclined to argue with men who dispute his righteous plans for their well-being. The first impulse is to use force; it is the easiest way, so long as the force is there and the money. If concessions are made, they come, not as the result of agreement, but as the free gift of the ruler to his subjects for which he expects gratitude. He has no need to consult their wishes or to negotiate with them.
But these younger men, brought up in doctrines of absolute authority, could not fail to be affected by the new conceptions which were invading every corner of European thought. As a consequence, the striking feature of their actions was the want of decision, of continuity of purpose, the contradictory policies, the violent swing given to events by the reactions of authority. When they use force they do not use force enough or quick enough or with sufficient decision. Nor do they act together. There are still the hatreds of history to separate them from common advance. The rulers who hold to absolute authority, turning their backs on the new growth, Prussia, Russia and Turkey, stand aside at the moments when common action might have saved Europe from catastrophe. The spirit which causes indecision leads sometimes to a disingenuous construction of the pledges given on which agreement has been made with the disputing peoples, weakening the moral force behind the physical force.
Leopold in principle abandoned Joseph's liberal ideas; he handed education back to the Church and gave back, with some moderate changes, the local government. A new land tax, being one of the causes of political discontent, he suspended and, finally abolishing it, returned to the old system. The greatest danger for the moment appeared to come from Hungary. Other parts of the Empire were quiet, but the great Hungarian nobles refused to be pacified. They were a very proud, isolated aristocracy, who had been overridden by Joseph violating all their provincial dignities and local customs. He had made the most uncalled-for changes, among other things replacing Hungarian and Latin as the official language by German, and, refusing the Hungarian coronation, had carried off the sacred regalia to Vienna. The nobles addressed Leopold about the social compact and government originating with the people, as if they had been French or American demagogues, and reminded Leopold of the violence by which the Belgians had obtained their privileges. They proposed, at his coronation, to present a new inaugural act limiting very closely the authority of the Crown, which Leopold refused. He overawed them by forces gathered in Moravia and Bohemia and by the Illyrians who were Greek Catholics, while he brought back the regalia, accepted coronation, and showed a conciliatory spirit in meeting their wishes in all ways. He insisted on toleration for the Greek Catholics, but barely touched the questions incurred in feudal despotism.
The real danger point was the Netherlands. Here, besides the opposition to Joseph's Edict of Toleration for Protestants, there was a party, assisted by Dutch revolutionaries and by the intrigues of the French Jacobins, who were averse to any peaceful settlement. Leopold, in March, 1790, offered to restore the provincial privileges, to accept the Joyeuse Entrée and give back the ecclesiastical rights. The rebels would not consider this, but prepared for war, as did Leopold. But war waged by Austria in the Netherlands by land was nearly as distant as war waged by Britain in America. Leopold asked for the mediation of the maritime powers and Prussia. On August 5, 1790, a convention was held at Reichenbach to settle territorial disputes between the powers. These were ended by a treaty at Szistova in August, 1791, Austria and Prussia drawing closer together in the time of stress. At Reichenbach Leopold agreed to restore to the Netherlands their ancient Constitution under the guarantee of Great Britain, Holland and Prussia, and further, not to employ force until conciliation had failed. It must have been a humiliating moment for the Emperor. In September a Congress was opened at the Hague. Leopold offered to the Belgians a general amnesty, and that the political situation should return to the conditions existing before Joseph's reforms.
The time for acceptance of these terms was fixed by the Congress at Leopold's suggestion as November 21. The alternative was war.
With the example of the French at their elbow, the Netherland provinces were slow and unwilling to trust the distant Emperor. They proposed further negotiation, while, as usual in all
revolutions, the people split into moderates and extremists, the moderates wishing for a compromise while the extremists made overtures to the French and tried to make the mediating powers acknowledge their Republic. This Prussia was willing to do, but Great Britain and Holland declined.
A request for extension of the time was made, the Belgians claiming that the constitution offered to them differed from that guaranteed at Reichenbach. But their request was shortly refused by the Austrian commander who marched into the country and subdued it. Then the allied powers put pressure on Leopold and a new conference was held at which Count Mercy, Leopold's representative, gave way and agreed to place all matters as they were at the time of the inauguration of Charles VI. But Leopold refused to ratify this concession, holding to the terms offered at the Hague, and he refused any further interference of the allied powers. Taking violent measures by arrests of deputies, he prepared to hold the Netherlands by force. Whatever were his motives in this shift, whether he hoped for a counter revolution in France, or was unwilling to tie himself to Great Britain and Holland, or feared the example, his rule of force succeeded for a time, though the discontents occasioned by distrust of his word continued. But when war broke out between Austria and France, in the place of a loyal and contented people in the Netherlands, and allies who would have stood by him in war, the Austrians have to fight France alone in Flanders with a rebellious population behind him. It is time to turn to France.
vi. Louis XVI. of France, 1774–93.—The difficulties which confronted the other rulers of Europe at this time were as nothing compared to those which faced Louis XVI. when, at the age of twenty, he ascended the throne of France in 1774. The evils to be surmounted were so great as to demand more than common powers of heart and mind combined with great knowledge. Every part of the social and political systems of life in Europe was in need of urgent reform and in France far more than in the rest of Europe. The rulers in all countries had to combat the restless discontent and dangerous doctrines affecting men's minds, discontent rendered dangerous in a country like France chiefly by the want of proper instruction to enable the masses to distinguish between real facts and the
gloss put upon them by the agitators. Throughout the whole course of the French Revolution fear and distrust, arising from want of knowledge, led to misconstruction of every harmless act. The actions of the king and queen, of their ministers, of foreign powers, of the moderate advisers, were throughout distorted by those to whose interest it was that trouble should be created, and the lies were believed by the unlettered multitude, of whom very few could read. Arthur Young finds everywhere an absolute belief in a story that the Queen is conspiring with the Comte d'Artois to blow up the Assembly, and crush the people. In view of the condition of the world no time could be lost in thoroughly reforming every part of the machinery of state.
The European population had an excuse for their discontent, which was utterly wanting to the agitators of self-governing Massachusetts. Excluded from any share in political affairs, they were tempted to form theories concerning facts of which they were ignorant. They began to compare the conditions of their own country with others, a dangerous interest, whether the comparison was with England or Holland or the States of the Netherlands, or even with Spain. The thinking men who have knowledge are forming theories of comparative law and philosophy, like Montesquieu ; general theories on natural features of the universe and other facts, like Marmontel, Diderot and Buffon; and destructive criticism of spiritual authority, like Voltaire. All the system of the universe is being remade in theory without any reference to realities, to past history or to present facts, by experiment as opposed to authority. Nature was to be explored and to be put in the place of God.
Such theories would have done little damage, had time and means been allowed to carry out extensive changes and reform the evils which existed. The king and queen were both earnest well-wishers to their people, working steadily from the first for improvement on the broadest lines, setting a good example, urging it upon others and helping the poor. Their example was followed by many of the nobles and great churchmen. The events of the Revolution were so terrible, the mistakes made so great, the examples of evil so many, that attention has been drawn from the great efforts made by the king and