The Danish Armistice

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 7 September 1848

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 7, p. 411;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 97, September 8, 1848
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung
Keywords : Denmark, Armistice, Germany, War

On August 26, 1848, an armistice for the term of seven months was signed between Denmark and Prussia in the Swedish city of Malmö. The armistice provided for a cease-fire between Prussia and Denmark, replacement of the provisional authorities in Schleswig by a new Government to be formed by the two contracting parties (the representatives of the Danish monarchy predominant), separation of the troops of Schleswig and Holstein, and other onerous terms for the national liberation movement in the duchies. The revolutionary-democratic reforms which had been introduced were now virtually eliminated. Though the Prussian ruling circles had waged the war against Denmark in the name of the German Confederation, they sacrificed all-German interests to dynastic and counter-revolutionary considerations when they concluded the armistice. They were also prompted by the desire to avoid complications with Russia and Britain, which supported Denmark. Nonetheless, as Engels foresaw, on September 16, the Frankfurt National Assembly approved by a majority vote the armistice concluded in Malmö.

Cologne, September 7.

“What will become of Germany if she is no longer led by Prussia, if Prussia’s armies no longer protect Germany’s honour, if Prussia’s strength and influence as a great power perish in the fanciful might of an imaginary German Central Authority!”

Thus boasts the Prussian party, the party of the heroes “with God for King and Fatherland”, [from Frederick William III’s decree on the formation of an army reserve, 1813] the counter-revolutionary knighthood of Further Pomerania and the Uckermark.

Well, Prussia has led, Prussia has protected Germany’s honour, in Schleswig-Holstein.

And what was the result? After a series of easy, inglorious victories over a weak enemy, after a warfare which was paralysed by the most pusillanimous diplomacy, after the most disgraceful retreats before a beaten army, finally, an armistice which is so dishonourable for Germany that even a Prussian general [Wrangel] found reason not to sign it.

The hostilities and negotiations began anew. The Imperial Regent [Archduke John of Austria] authorised the Prussian Government to conclude an armistice. This authorisation had not been countersigned by any of the Imperial Ministers and it did not therefore possess any validity whatsoever. It recognised the first armistice, but with the following modifications: 1. Even before the conclusion of the armistice, the members of the new Government of Schleswig-Holstein “are to be agreed upon in such a manner that the permanency and the salutary effectiveness of the new Government appear safeguarded”. 2. All the laws and decrees of the Provisional Government issued before the conclusion of the armistice are to retain full validity. 3. All the troops that remain behind in Schleswig-Holstein are to remain under the command of the German commander-in-chief.

If one compares this directive with the stipulations of the first Prussian-Danish project, then its purpose becomes quite evident. It certainly does not secure all that victorious Germany could have demanded, but by making quite a few concessions for form’s sake, it saves many matters in effect.

The first stipulation was intended to guarantee that within the new Government the Schleswig-Holstein (German) influence would retain predominance over the Danish. And what does Prussia do? It agrees that Karl Moltke, the head of the Danish party in Schleswig-Holstein, becomes the head of the new Government and that Denmark obtains three votes in the Government against two for Schleswig-Holstein.

The second stipulation was supposed to accomplish the recognition although not of the Provisional Government itself which had been recognised by the Federal Diet, but of its activity up to now. Its decisions were to be maintained. And what does Prussia do? Under the pretext that Denmark, too, will drop its illusory decisions issued from Copenhagen for the duchies, and which never acquired even the shadow of legal force except upon the Island of Alsen, under this pretext, counter-revolutionary Prussia agrees to nullify all decisions of the Provisional Government.

The third stipulation finally was to bring about the provisional recognition of the unity of the duchies and their incorporation into Germany. By placing all troops remaining in Schleswig and Holstein under the German commander-in-chief, it was supposed to thwart the attempt of the Danes to smuggle the Schleswigers serving in the Danish army back into Schleswig. And Prussia? Prussia agrees to separate the Schleswig troops from the Holstein troops, to remove them from the supreme command of the German general and to put them simply at the disposal of the new Government which is 3/5th Danish.

Besides, Prussia was only authorised to conclude an armistice of three months (Article 1 of the original draft) but concluded one of seven months on its own authority, i.e. it granted a truce to the Danes during the winter months when the chief weapon of the Danes, their fleet, became useless for a blockade of the German and Schleswig coasts and during a time when the cold would have enabled the Germans to cross the ice of the Little Belt, to conquer Finland and to limit Denmark to Zealand.

In short, Prussia has spurned its authority in respect of all three points. And then why not? After all, it had not been countersigned! And did not Herr Camphausen, the Prussian envoy to the Central Authority, state point-blank in his communication of September 2 to “His Excellency"(!!) Herr Heckscher that on the basis of that authority the Prussian Government

“Considered itself empowered to negotiate without any restrictions"?

But that is not all. The Imperial Regent sends “his” Under-Secretary of State Max Gagern to Berlin and from there to Schleswig in order to supervise the negotiations. He sends along with him an authorisation which once again is not countersigned. Herr Gagern — we do not know how he was treated in Berlin — arrives in the duchies. The Prussian negotiators are in Malmö. He is not told anything. The ratifications are exchanged in Lübeck, Herr Gagern is informed that this has taken place and that he can now calmly go home again. Naturally there is nothing left to do for the unfortunate Gagern with his not countersigned authorisation but to return to Frankfurt and to bemoan the shabby role which he has played.

Thus the glorious armistice was born which ties the Germans’ hands during the most favourable time for war, which dissolves the revolutionary Government and democratic Constituent Assembly of Schleswig-Holstein, which destroys all decrees of this Government — a Government that the Federal Diet had recognised — which delivers the duchies to a Danish Government led by the hated Moltke, which pulls the Schleswig troops out of their regiments, withdraws them from the German supreme command and delivers them up to the Danish Government that may dissolve them at its discretion, which forces the German troops to withdraw from Königsau to Hanover and Mecklenburg and which delivers Lauenburg into the hands of the old reactionary Danish Government. [This trick was accomplished in the following way: the old Government was dissolved. Thereupon Denmark re-elected the first, Prussia the second and both of them together the third member of the old Government — Note by Engels]

Not just Schleswig-Holstein, but all Germany, with the exception of old parts of Prussia, is enraged about this ignominious armistice.

The Imperial Government, to be sure, trembled at first upon being informed about it by Herr Camphausen but in the end it shouldered the responsibility for it after all. What else could it have done? Herr Camphausen seems to have threatened and official Prussia is still a power for the cowardly counter-revolutionary Imperial Government. But now it was the turn of the National Assembly. Its approval was necessary, and edifying as this Assembly is, “His Excellency” Herr Heckscher was nevertheless ashamed to come forward with this official document. He read it aloud to the accompaniment of a thousand bows and the most humble pleas for calm and moderation. The result was a general outburst. Even the Right Centre, indeed a part of the Right and Herr Dahlmann himself flew into the most violent fit of anger. The committees were ordered to report within 24 hours. In view of this report, it was decided to discontinue immediately the retreat of the troops. No decision has yet been taken concerning the armistice itself.

The National Assembly for once has finally passed an energetic resolution even though the Government declared that it would resign, if the resolution is carried. This resolution is not the cancellation but a breach of the armistice. In the duchies it will create not only excitement but open opposition to the execution of the armistice and to the new Government and it will bring about new complications.

But we have little hope that the Assembly will repudiate the armistice. Herr Radowitz only needs to obtain nine votes from the Centre and he has a majority. And should he not be able to do that during the few days when the matter rests?

If the Assembly decides to uphold the armistice, we shall have the proclamation of a republic and civil war in Schleswig-Holstein, the subjugation of the Central Authority by Prussia, the universal contempt of all Europe for the Central Authority and the Assembly and yet just enough complications as will suffice to crush any future Imperial Government under unsolvable difficulties.

If it decides to discard the armistice, we shall have another European war, a rupture between Prussia and Germany, new revolutions, the disintegration of Prussia and the genuine unification of Germany. The Assembly should not let itself be intimidated: at least two-thirds of Prussia supports Germany.

But will the representatives of the bourgeoisie at Frankfurt not rather swallow any insult and will they not rather place themselves under Prussian servitude than risk a European revolutionary war and expose themselves to new storms which would endanger their own class rule in Germany?

We believe that they will. Their cowardly bourgeois nature is too powerful. We do not have enough confidence in the Frankfurt Assembly to believe that it will redeem in Schleswig-Holstein Germany’s honour which it has already sacrificed in Poland.