Peace and reform: the attempts of the Meinl group to preserve the Habsburg Monarchy, 1917-1918
Straka, Donald Eugene
Rath, R. John
Master of Arts
When Emperor Francis Joseph died in November, 1916, the new monarch Charles I ascended the throne to find the Austro-Hungarian empire in serious danger. Foodstuffs and raw materials were in short supply, dissident nationalities were clamoring for reform or outright secession, Germany was taking an overbearing attitude toward her ally, and a military victory appeared distant at best. Although Emperor Charles was untrained for the task before him and was often unable to decide on a firm course, he had a sincere desire to help his peoples. This desire encouraged the activities of Julius Meinl, Joseph Redlich, and Heinrich Lammasch. These men were loyal monarchists and believed that the only way to save the Habsburg empire was to make peace with the Entente and to reform the monarchy along more liberal lines. During the two years of Charles’ reign, they attempted to achieve their goals in several ways. Besides speeches in parliament or before private meetings, the first opportunity for the members of the Meinl group to achieve their aims came in the summer of 1917. Emperor Charles was looking for a new minister president to initiate peace and reform and considered both Lammasch and Redlich for the post. However, Lammasch refused the office and Redlich, although he accepted, was not appointed because of opposition from Germany. When this chance for political power was missed, the Meinl group was forced to turn to more unofficial efforts to attain their ends. In the winter of 1917-1918, Meinl and Lammasch conducted conversations with Allied contacts in Switzerland about prospects for peace. The discussions of both men produced certain effects in Allied countries, particularly the United States. President Wilson was especially interested in Lammasch's proposal since it indicated a chance for a separate Austrian peace. However, at this time Emperor Charles was hoping once again for a military victory and did not support the peace activities of the Meinl group. The emperor was influenced in his decision by his foreign minister Count Ottokar Czernin. Charles was committed to a militant course that within a few months produced ruinous results. In the fall of 1918, while the Habsburg armies disintegrated at the front, the Czechs and the South Slavs prepared to leave the monarchy. The emperor, desiring a peaceful transition to the new states and hopeful of retaining some unity in central Europe, appointed Lammasch as the head of the last imperial government, the ministry of liquidation. Lammasch held office for two weeks and his presence did ease the dissolution of the empire. The efforts of the Meinl group to save the monarchy ended in failure when the Austrian republic was declared on November 12, 1918.