EFFECT OF THE TREATIES OF 1870 ON
THE QUINTUPLE GUARANTEE
The abrogating effect of
"changed conditions" on the Quintuple guarantee has received no more
formal recognition than by the fact of the conclusion of the two treaties of
It is a matter of history that, at that time, the
Quintuple Treaty had but recently been exhumed, in connection with the
Luxembourg Question. In the debate on the Luxembourg Neutralization Treaty, on June
14, 1867, in the House of
Commons, Mr. Goschen was able to make the significant
statement that the Quintuple Treaty
been so entirely forgotten by English statesmen that even the noble Lord [Lord
Stanley, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs] himself said he had been
unaware of its existence."1
No doubt Belgium, at the time of the Luxembourg Question, was a
neutralized country, this
Parliamentary Debates, 3d ser., 187, page 1924.
EFFECT OF THE TREATIES OF 1870 147
status being professed by her and generally recognized by the countries of Europe. But there is a great difference—and I wish to specially emphasize this
difference!—between the actual condition of Belgium's perpetual neutrality and a
guarantee of such a condition by the Great Powers. As for the
guarantee assumed in this respect under the Quintuple Treaty, the above
quotation makes it perfectly clear that, before the Luxembourg Crisis of 1867,
it was to the British Government, to all intents and purposes, a dead letter—otherwise
the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could not have been
"unaware of its existence." The events of 1867 brought the rusty
Quintuple guarantee again into the lime-light of European politics, England finding it greatly to her advantage to give that
guarantee a sort of renaissance. Nevertheless, when shortly afterwards, in
1870, the neutrality of Belgium was in actual danger, Mr. Gladstone's
Government fully realized that it could not reply on that guarantee, and
therefore secured the observance of Belgium's neutrality by two new and
separate treaties with France and with Prussia.
The Belgian Government
contends that Belgium's neutrality, resting on the treaties of 1839, had been
"confirmed" by the treaties of 1870, implying that, thereby, also the
Quintuple guarantee had been revived.
148 THE NEUTRALITY OF BELGIUM
The treaties of 1870 are so worded that this
contention seems at first sight not illogical. In their preambles it is stated
that "without impairing or invalidating the conditions of the said
Quintuple Treaty, (they) shall be subsidiary and accessory to it."
Moreover, in the second parts of Articles III, it is expressly stipulated that, upon the time
of their expiration, "the independence and neutrality of Belgium will, so
far as the High Contracting Parties are respectively concerned, continue to
rest as heretofore on Article I of the Quintuple Treaty of the 19th of April
1839." The treaties of 1870 thus give the impression that they were only
an inter-mezzo sinfonico in an otherwise quite
assured state of treaty conditions.
The question is, however,
whether, from the viewpoint of international law, such an arrangement of Great Britain with France, on the one side, and with Prussia, on the other side, was of any legal consequence.
Although the governments of those three countries were doubtless at liberty to
agree upon what they liked, they had not necessarily the power to make their
agreement binding as far as it concerned the validity of a treaty concluded
between different parties.
It was an essential
feature of the Quintuple Treaty that its provisions were placed under the
guarantee not of any two or three, but of all the
EFFECT OF THE
TREATIES OF 1870 149
then Great Powers. This is fully borne out by the events of 1833, when Holland was forced to conclude a provisory treaty with England and France which was acceded to by Belgium. Holland, then, was ready to sign the stipulations of the
Twenty-Four Articles concerning the severance of Belgium from the Netherlands, which the five Great Powers had already agreed
upon among themselves in October, 1831, and which Belgium had signed in the subsequent month. Thus there
was no obvious reason why the definite settlement between Holland and Belgium should not take place immediately, under the
auspices of England and France. Yet these two countries considered it absolutely essential that the
other Great Powers, Austria, Prussia and Russia, should co-operate in the final
treaty, and made special promises to that effect to Holland.1 In the
light of the considerations prevailing at that time, it seems perfectly evident
that the common guarantee which the five Great Powers assumed in the Quintuple
Treaty was by each of the contracting parties only assumed under the condition
that all the four others should, likewise, assume it. Wherefore the common
guarantee became, necessarily, non-existent upon the withdrawal or exclusion of
one of the five contracting guarantors.
my mind, the conclusion of the treaties of
1 See page 53.
150 THE NEUTRALITY OF BELGIUM
1870 is in itself the strongest possible
affirmation that England did not then consider the treaties of 1839 as binding their signatories
to uphold the Belgian neutrality. But, even if she should have considered the
guarantee established by those treaties as still formally valid, by the
conclusion of the treaties of 1870, despite the declarations to the contrary,
the original guarantee became necessarily extinct, because the five-fold
treaty-bond of 1839 on which it rested was destroyed and replaced by two
separate and entirely new treaty-bonds. Concerning the guarantee of the
Quintuple Treaty, the contracting parties of the treaties of 1870 had not the
authority to stipulate anything. Only the joint declaration of all the
original signatories could have re-established that guarantee, upon the
expiration of the treaties of 1870!
There are no signs lacking that the British
Government was fully conscious of this, wherefore it made an attempt to save
the situation. It was doubtless for this reason that it did not conclude the
new treaty with the North German Confederation, which, in connection with the
South-German Allies, waged the war against France, but with Prussia, as one of the original signatories of the
Quintuple Treaty. And it was for the same reason that it addressed an
invitation to Austria and Russia to join in the negotiations of the treaties with
EFFECT OF THE TREATIES OF
France and Prussia, which, according to Mr. Gladstone's statement in
Parliament, was "favorably" received by the Cabinets of Vienna and
St. Petersburg,1 but not acted upon. In those two quarters, England got the mitten!
In Parliament, the British
Government was severely criticised for the conclusion
of the new treaties. A few pertinent criticisms which not only indicate the
attitude of prominent British parliamentarians toward the new treaties but at
the same time reveal striking ideas held in England forty-five years ago with
regard to the obligations of the guarantors of the now canonized Quintuple
Treaty, may not be out of place.
In the House of Lords, the
Duke of Cleveland commented on the negotiations for the conclusion of the new
treaties in the following manner:
"I thought with
others it was desirable that the Government should make it known that it was
their express de-termination to maintain the Treaty of 1839, which is still
binding on this and other countries. But in my opinion it is desirable to have
some instrument defining our obligations with more distinctness than the Treaty
of 1839, as doubts have more than once been entertained as to the precise
nature of these obligations, and we shall be thrown back upon that treaty
when the term of the present treaty expires. Some doubt may in future arise as
to the mode in which the treaty is really operative, and I should have
preferred some instrument of a permanent character, re-
1 Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, 3d ser.,
203, page, 1701.
152 THE NEUTRALITY OF BELGIUM
specting which no doubt could arise—a
treaty entered into by the same
Powers, including the belligerents."1
Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe
strongly blamed the Government for concluding the new treaties,2 and Lord Cairns, in reference to this
transaction, said prophetically:
"I will not say more than that I
greatly fear there are at this part of the case seeds of difficulty which
possibly may lead other Powers to take a different view of the obligations of
1839 than they would otherwise have done."3
In the House of Commons, Mr. Osborne called the
new treaties (which, by the way, were always spoken of as one treaty, concluded
with two different parties), "the most extraordinary instrument in the
whole history of diplomacy."
With striking logic he said: "This treaty
is entirely superfluous if the Treaty of 1839 is worth anything at all," and
most significantly pointed out: "In
the eyes of Austria and Russia, that Treaty of 1839 is entirely superseded by
Mr. Rylands called it,
very outspokenly, "a foolish treaty," and regretted that
"in the secret recesses of the Foreign Office, treaties should be hatched
by which the Government bound not only
1 Hansard, 3d ser., 203, page 1762.
2 Ibid., page 1760.
3 Ibid., page 1753.
4 Ibid., page 1777.
EFFECT OF THE TREATIES OF 1870 153
this but future generations under circumstances which, he feared, might at a
future date, result in some great and terrible disaster."1
Lawson made the following comment: "It was true we entered into a treaty
but there were a variety of opinions as to the extent
to which we were bound by it; and
that we were only bound collectively, and not separately, to interfere in the
affairs of Belgium."2
It is very significant
that the Prime-Minister, Mr. Gladstone, though dwelling at considerable length
on the necessity of concluding the treaties with France and Prussia from the standpoint of British interest, had not
one word to say in reply to the contention that they would irrevocably destroy
the obligations of the powers under the Quintuple Treaty!
As I have stated above,
the fact that England considered the conclusion of the treaties of 1870 necessary is, to my
mind, the strongest possible proof that she did not consider the treaties of
1839, though possibly valid in theory, as binding in practical politics. Under
no circumstances can they be considered as having reinstated and revived the
Quintuple guarantee. What in that respect has been agreed upon between England and France, as
1 Hansard, 3d ser., 203, page 1743.
2 Ibid., page 1753.
NEUTRALITY OF BELGIUM
well as between England and Prussia, can at best be considered as two common Declarations
that, after the expiration of the treaties of 1870, the status of the Belgian
neutrality should be considered between them, as "heretofore!"