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By all accounts, the presidential election of 1848 was a landslide. Vlado Nikolić won almost three quarters of the Electoral College vote, and gained convincing victories in the vast majority of states. Hungary provided the only effective resistance to Nikolić’s bid, where his plans to alter the constitution came across badly with an electorate left tired from the Revolution. The bigger issues of the election were to erupt in the two states that plumped for the Reactionary von Salzburg: in Venice, Salzburg’s promise of reclaiming her former colonies in the Adriatic played to the nostalgia of a Republic twice annexed by foreign Empires; in Austria, von Salzburg’s personal militia, formally entitled the ‘Austrian National Militia Union’, became demonized as the ‘Royal Guard’ causing a constitutional crisis the day before the election. The conflict between Venezia and Croatia quickly became known as the Dalmatian Question. Both sides claimed the legal right to administer the province based on the former’s historical ties with the region and the latter’s cultural ties with its people. On 3rd December, von Salzburg’s declaration in support of the Venetians reignited an issue that had lain largely dormant since the dissolution of the Republic of Venice by Napoleon. Riots in Venice pushed the issue, but ultimately little was achieved through the Federal authorities. On 10th December and at the behest of the President, the Joint Council for the Future of Dalmatia was established to mediate between the two states. Both legislatures agreed a solution needed to be found and negotiations began, and a draft proposal was created whereby the province was to be administered by a bi-partisan body. Unfortunately for the states involved, a combination of the opposition of one or other of the state legislatures to each new draft and the stalemate that persisted in the Joint Council well into 1849 gradually led to the erosion of this body and the creation of a de facto autonomous state; the extent of the change in the politics of the region is evidenced by the fact that in the two years it took before the Joint Council dissolved itself in a mire of indecision, the Dalmatian Assembly had already began approving its own budgets and had replaced the roles of Co-Commissioners with a First Minister elected directly by the people.
To Venice’s north, in the towns and cities of Austria, the situation was far tenser. A new militia raised by the presidential candidate, von Salzburg, in the days before the election, provocatively known as the ‘Royal Guard’, caused mass fears of a counter-revolution, even prompting a general mobilisation to be declared in Bohemia, before the parliament in Prague was chastised by its neighbours and backed down. Elsewhere, the response was somewhat more measured, with six states, led by Hungary, bringing legal cases against von Salzburg. Later enquiries set up by congress found little evidence to suggest that von Salzburg ever did wish to commit treason, though accusations of vote rigging levelled against the ‘Royal Guard’ were assessed to be true. (Von Salzburg gained the state by just 589 votes; the issue was that though, 809,654 ballots were cast, there were less than 800,000 eligible to vote in the state.) His innocence or otherwise was ultimately irrelevant as his death came only the day after his electoral humiliation. His defeat in mortal combat was witnessed by the vast majority of members of Congress, but in his death he became a martyr for the Royalist cause. Prince Franz Joseph was later reported to have cited von Salzburg’s death as “the beginning of the terror in Austria”, though with his death, so too came a quelling of the counter-revolutionary spirit of those who were members of the Militia. The duel took place in the Hofburg Palace Gardens, hence the leafy surroundings, and it is known that the fight took some time and the audience grew gradually over the course of the proceedings; however, it remains unclear as to the accuracy of the drawing beyond this - for example, von Salzburg (labelled on the reverse as the figure on the right) is depicted as far younger than he would have been at the time. The ‘Royal Guard’ debacle is today widely regarded as having little or no impact on the development of the Federation as a unified entity, despite its seeming importance at the time. Its most lasting legacy was arguably, through the clashes between Republicans and Royalists it inspired on the streets of Vienna, to cause the Government to flee to the city of Linz, where Nicolic was inaugerated, starting a long tradition of evacuating the capital. Domestically, Nikolić’s first year in power was a disaster, as the once keen reformer became ever more bogged down in a system that resisted change. His initial plans for racial equality, largely focussed on the Peoples of the Federation Act, 1848, quickly fell of the rails as it failed to gain a simple majority in the Assembly (let alone the super majority it would require were it not to be instantly shot down by the Supreme Court) before his political reforms followed suit, with the North again blocking constitutional change.
He did have some successes; for example, the foundation of the state owned Danubian Railway and Train Company in January 1849 and the subsequent construction of the first long distance railway in the country connecting Vienna with Budapest. With the line’s official opening in May 1850, further investment was put into the company to allow it to extend its network into mare states. Growth during this period was, however, inspired far more by the states, such as Austria who invested heavily in the reconstruction of Vienna, and private enterprise, including the foundation of a solid industrial base, when the Moravia Steel and Manufactured Goods Company, among many others, was established in Southern Bohemia. It was in foreign relations, however, that Nikolić had the biggest issues. As many, not least von Salzburg, had predicted, the monarchies of Europe had little time for a great republic sitting on their borders. To the South, the Ottoman Turks were overjoyed that, in the words of Sultan Abdülmecid I, “the strength of the Empire has left them [the Danubians]. They are just a bickering group of cowards who shall be made ready to accept our [Ottoman] hegemony.” To the West, Britain and France were at best ignorant of the Federations plight. To the North, Berlin was host to one of the worst governmental conflicts in its history, where the Kaiser could not wait to “crush the republican scum”, but the Landtag proposed instead a mutual defence pact with its Southern Neighbour. Crucially for the Federation, the Landtag controlled the money and the Kaiser was soon put to heel. The Prusso-Danubian Defence Treaty, better known as the Dual Alliance, was signed by an all too enthusiastic President and a rather reluctant Kaiser on 29th May 1850.
To the East lay the Federation’s biggest threat. Russia. Having stayed out of the revolution, the Tsar is often said to have felt responsible for the Republic’s successful foundation. Preyed upon by a young, charismatic and rather dashing young man (who also happened to be the rightful heir to the Austrian Empire), Moscow increasingly turned her back on the young Federation. Nikolić’s attempts to have Franz Joseph extradited back to Vienna were to no avail as were the attempts of his Foreign Minister to negotiate an alliance. Indeed, the Tsars determination to see what he regarded as a rebel state put back in the hands of monarch meant relations went the other way. By the signing of the Dual Alliance, no official channels of communication existed between the two capitals, with the Federal diplomatic contingent in Moscow having been deported the previous year, followed quickly after by the withdrawal of the Russian Ambassador to Vienna. All information about the situation in the Russian capital was therefore either suspect, after having been routed through foreign embassies, or very slow to arrive.
It was in this light that the issue of Krakow once more raised its ugly head. In the time between failure of the Krakow Act and August 1850, everyone save the city herself had accepted that the Russians were going to be a major part of Krakovian politics. In August 1850, however, it became clear just how opposed much of the city was to Moscow, as the mayoral elections there became an international issue. The death of incumbent Mayor, Jan Kowalski, precipitated a bitter contest between the nominee of the Krakovian Liberal League, Piotr Nowak, and his counter-part from the Conservative Association of Krakow. Nowak won, accruing a staggering 87% of the votes, and despite the contest primarily focussing on other issues, Russia took Nowak’s foreign policy pledge to align with the Federation and apply for statehood as a direct threat to Russian interests in the region. This was in spite of the fact that a pro-Austria or pro-Federation clause had been in the KLL’s manifesto for its entire existence and there is no proof to suggest that the issue would seriously have been raised had Russia not reacted as dramatically as it did. Russian troops marched into Krakow at first light on 22nd August with no prior declaration of war. The city fell with minimal resistance and, though Nowak’s government was forced to flee over the border into Galicia, little physical damage was done to the city and it was peacefully incorporated into Russia’s other Polish possessions.
The news took 48 hours to filter back to Vienna, by which time the city was well and truly lost. The question therefore remained: would the Federation stand back and allow Russia to invade and occupy a sovereign state or would the Federation honour its alliance with the tiny city state? Would the peoples of the Danube go to war?