Littell's Living Age/Volume 162/Issue 2091/The Destiny of Holland

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WE are not very fond of prophetic politics, the drift of events being constantly deflected by unexpected accidents; but it is sometimes necessary to notice possibilities still more or less in the air. it is said, and said in especial at great length by a diplomatist whose ideas are published in the Times, that many of the governments of Europe — and especially those governments which are influenced by dynastic feelings — are greatly preoccupied with the situation in Holland, which is growing curiously like the situation in Denmark before King Frederick died. In Holland, as in Denmark, there is fear of the extinction of the dynasty. Little hope is now entertained of the recovery of the Prince of Orange — a man, it is said, of the type with which great families end; and his father, though still alive, is an elderly man of sixty-seven, in uncertain health, and threatened, according to the telegrams, with a dangerous disease. “Carlsbad” and “renal complaint” are words in conjunction which are full of significance to doctors. He has no other children, except a very young daughter, and no male collaterals; and while the Constitution of Holland does not provide for a female succession, the custom of the German Empire definitely prohibits it. Holland will, therefore, de jure, lose Luxemburg and Limburg, — just as England, or rather her kings, lost Hanover, and as Denmark was held by German jurists to have lost Schleswig-Holstein. Under these circumstances, the succession to the throne of the Netherlands might become a question of the most serious moment. The Dutch, who have an intense feeling of nationality, and have carefully cultivated a knowledge of their history, would almost certainly, if left to themselves, modify their Constitution, and proclaim the king’s little daughter, as a princess of the direct stem of Orange, queen of the Netherlands, with a regency to direct her steps, and, possibly, it is rumored, an English bridegroom. Their right to do this if they please is by European custom indefeasible, and any interference with it would be as great an act of aggression as if we had invaded France on behalf of Charles X., or to suppress the republic when proposed by M. Thiers. The smaller States of Europe are, however, no longer completely free, except when protected by alliances, and the great powers will more or less claim a right to interfere. Holland, as it stands, is a treaty-made power, and the States interested in the treaties may claim — and we fear will claim — a veto upon any departure from the accepted law. The German Federal Council has, moreover, legal standing-ground as regards Luxemburg and Limburg, the sovereignty of which either vests in the representative of the ancient house of Nassau, or, if his claims are considered barred by his action in 1866, as are those of the house of Hanover to the Brunswick succession, in the Federal Council itself, that is, practically in the German Empire. That body will have a much better right to dispose of the duchies than the Diet had to dispose of Schleswig-Holstein. Prince Bismarck is pretty certain not to forego the advantage which this situation gives him; and he may even demand that if Luxemburg and Limburg are to remain appanages, or if the Constitution is to be modified, Holland shall enter the Empire, say, on Bavarian terms. This arrangement would seat Germany at once on the open Atlantic, with a fleet which it would be easy to make large, with the mastery of the Eastern Archipelago, with a direct influence on China, and with a connection — which we see the German emperor did not forget in his interview of Sunday with the Boers — with the whole of South Africa. On the other hand, France has always professed to see danger in the strategical position of Luxemburg, which Napoleon III. offered to buy, and might declare, if it were convenient, that with a German prince in Holland the independence of Belgium would be in perpetual peril. Finally, the interest of Great Britain in the matter hardly needs discussion. With a first-class power at Flushing, the English would, at all events, think themselves menaced; and a wave of apprehension rising rapidly into anger would undoubtedly pass over the land. The fact that England faced Cherbourg for ages without any loss of equanimity would be lost sight of in the fear that the new German ports might be so many additional dangers, and in the dread inspired by the perfect organization of the German army. There would be risk of a great European war; and in the presence of such a calamity France might come to an agreement which would leave no little States extant in western Europe. The Continent, for English purposes, would consist only of great powers, while a new and very terrible power would be firmly established in Asiatic waters.

We do not think any such situation fairly probable. In the first place, the house of Orange is not extinct yet, and, in spite of Dutch apprehensions it may never be; and while it lasts Holland is fairly safe. Her people will not enter the empire voluntarily, and Germany would not commence a war of pure aggression. The people do not want the consequent suffering, and the princes do not want the “solidification” which might follow a successful campaign. In the second place, there is no clear evidence that even if the failure of the Netherlands dynasty gave them a pretext for interference, or negotiations about Luxernburg roused popular passion, either the German chancellor or the German people desire to conquer Holland. They have not, since the peace of 1870, betrayed aggressive tendencies. They have eaten neither German Austria nor German Russia, but have endeavored, with apparent sincerity, to keep the peace. They would hardly care to trust their fleet to a disaffected population, or to add to their troubles a people who for years, possibly for centuries, would consider their independence violently brought to an end. The desire for colonies, though undoubtedly strong with a section of the German people, is believed not to be shared by their statesmen, who are very well aware that dependencies are seldom profitable, and are most averse to increasing the permanent and unavoidable calls upon the treasury and the army. It has been the policy of the Hohenzollerns to avoid such complications, and to seek trade outlets rather in eastern Europe than in Asiatic possessions. When the French army was going to Mexico, Prussia might have seized any South American territory she liked. Prince Bismarck’s profound content with M. Ferry’s conquests shows that he does not measure national strength by “colonies;” and he knows that liability to foreign service is a terrible strain both upon the willingness and the discipline of a conscript army. The French organization breaks down under it; and M. Ferry is already trying the system which we were obliged to abandon, that of forming a separate army for Asiatic and African service. Prince Bismarck does not desire a war with France, with Russia looking on; while a compromise with France must involve the sacrifice of Belgium, and would secure a great addition alike to her population and her wealth. Statesmen think of the future, and Prince Bismarck would not look forward the more happily because France had a new and potent reason for desiring possession of the Rhine. Nations live a long while; and Germany, with Holland within her boundaries sullen and dissatisfied, and France looking steadily across the Rhine, would not be so independent of external influences, or so fearless of the rise of a military genius outside her borders, as she is now. She would be even more dependent upon the friendship of Austria, and her security requires that Austria should rather depend on her.

Still we do not wonder that the situation in Holland creates some secret anxiety among politicians. It is a most unfortunate thing for a country not ready to declare itself a republic that its dynasty should come to an end; more unfortunate still when that dynasty reigns not by prescription, but in virtue of treaties not a century old; most unfortunate of all when the country is too weak to be independent of foreign influence. If the princess Victoria had died, and Germany had been able to declare for the Duke of Cumberland, and France had supported the Duke of Cambridge, we should have had trouble here; and the position of Holland might conceivably be far worse than that. We could in the last resort have declared a republic, and defied invasion; but that is precisely what Holland cannot do. She could cut the dykes, but without great allies she would be powerless; and what allies could she hope for who would attack Germany, Austria, and France in combination? The possible alarms Continental diplomatists almost as much as the probable; and they have a motive for alarm beyond those which affect the public. We take it to be an axiom characteristic of the whole class that they never quite trust the dynasties, never believe that royal persons will willingly forego territory, and never doubt that the dynasties are contending quite as much as the statesmen, and are even hungrier for aggrandisement. Kings are greedy, they say, and they do not like to hear of thrones without tenants, or provinces without fully recognized proprietors. We trust that this time their fears are groundless, and believe, for the reasons we have given, that they are; but it is vain to deny that should the throne of Holland become vacant, Europe will have reason for a few days to await a German decision with some awe. If it were the decision of 1864, the world might be in flames.