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The Franco-Prussian War


The Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871) was a conflict between France and Prussia, ostensibly over a contested succession to the Spanish throne. Emperor Napoleon III declared war on 16 July 1870, confident of victory. But the French were quickly defeated by a superior, better mobilised German army, who rapidly overran northern France and laid siege to Paris. Blaming Napoleon III for defeat, the French government declared the Third Republic on 4 September 1870. Paris fell on 28 January 1871, leading to the short-lived revolutionary Paris Commune. The Treaty of Frankfurt (10 May 1871) gave most of Alsace and parts of Lorraine to Germany.

As with the previous Schleswig-Holstein conflict, Matthew was firmly on the side of Germany, and at odds with the prevailing view that these conflicts were signs of an expansionist and aggressive Germany that was upsetting the balance of power in Europe. Matthew wrote several letters to the local press between 11 October 1870 and 27 January 1871, defending Germany’s actions. As with his letters on the Schleswig-Holstein conflict, he attempted to get some of his letters (including one rejected by the Times) published as a pamphlet, but this time he was unable to find a publisher willing to do so. The Matthew Saga (unpublished family history by Wulf Gerdts) reproduces a letter from “Trübner & Co.‚ Literary Agency” dated 9 September 1870, which thanks Matthew for his letters dated 25 August and 3 September but declines to publish his material: “When the war is concluded there is no doubt the Times would be glad to publish them or there would be more chance then of getting a sale for them in a separate pamphlet form”.

In retrospect, Matthew was on the wrong side of history. The patriotic fervour generated by Prussian military success led to the unification of the northern and southern states of Germany in November 1870, setting Europe on a course that would ultimately lead to the First World War.

“German Honesty, ‘Fair Play,’ and Schleswig-Holstein”. Glasgow Herald, 27 August 1870, p.3 col.6-8 (pdf image)
“A German Liberal”, apparently responding to a previous letter by someone signing themselves “Fair Play”, briefly mentions and quotes Patrick Matthew, who for some reason is referred to as “W. Patrick Matthew”. Here the “Duchies” refer to Schleswig-Holstein, and the “neighbouring nation” is Denmark.

Every impartial person, then, who places justice above casual predilections or dislikes, and above the consideration of the size of States, cannot help admitting that Prussia, as the representative of Germany, did a good and righteous act in restoring the Duchies to the common Fatherland; and against the ever gentle “Fair Play,” who calls the Germans for that a “lawless horde, fresh from the commission of a great public crime, and with their hands still red of the blood of a defenceless People,” let me quote the words of your countryman, W. Patrick Matthew:– “To have permitted the enslavement of the Duchies by a neighbouring nation, who, as a claimant, had only the right of force and usurpation, would have branded the German people with lasting infamy.”

Matthew (1870-10-11): Dundee Advertiser, 11 October 1870
A brief letter arguing that the people of Alsace and Lorraine are German by race and language, and so by rights should be part of Germany.

Matthew (1870-10-18): Dundee Advertiser, 18 October 1870
Matthew paints the French as aggressive war-mongers and the Germans as “long suffering and slow to anger” with a “strong disposition to peaceful industry, to ‘live and let live’”.

Matthew (1870-11-03): Dundee Advertiser, 3 November 1870
Matthew goes even further than the previous letter, describing the French as “quite apart from justice, morality, humanity; as if the knowledge of good and evil in her case had been lost”, and guilty of “demoniac possession of restless, reckless ambition; cupidity of the property of others; and fighting propensities”.

Matthew (1871-01-10): “The Disastrous War”. Dundee Courier, 10 January 1871
Matthew responds to a previous editorial in the Dundee Courier, which had objected to German aggression in France. Matthew describes the French as “ravenously bent upon German plunder and German territory”, and the Germans as “peace-loving”. Matthew concludes: “France has long been the political volcano of Europe, and will continue so if not strongly curbed”. In their response at the end, the editors stand by their claims of German “abuse of power” in occupied France.

Matthew (1871-01-20): “France and Denmark – Mr Ellice, M.P.”. Dundee Advertiser, 20 January 1871
Matthew lambasts Mr Ellice, Member of Parliament for Fifeshire, for suggesting that Bismark was guilty of a “policy of plunder”, first in Denmark (the 1864 Schleswig-Holstein conflict) and then in France. He also provides some interesting personal details, including the fact that he was in Holstein during the First Schleswig War of 1848-1852.

Matthew (1871-01-27): “The French Aggressive War and Mr Ellice, M.P.”. Dundee Advertiser, 27 January 1871
Matthew, still seething at the remarks made by Mr Ellice M. P. (see previous letter), continues on his theme that it is the French and not the Germans who are the aggressors and plunderers in the Franco-Prussian War.

“Patrick Matthew and the Schleswig-Holstein Question”. Dundee Advertiser, 20 February 1871, p.3 col.3 (pdf image)
A brief item (reproduced in full below) noting that a pro-Schleswig-Holstein except from Matthew’s recent letter had been quoted approvingly in the German Correspondent.

PATRICK MATTHEW AND THE SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN QUESTION.— The German Correspondent quotes the greater part of the letter by Mr Matthew which was recently published by the Dundee Advertiser in reply to Mr Ellice M.P., on this subject, and remarks:— “As, we believe, no political question is worse understood in England, or has been more thoroughly misrepresented by the anti-German English press than this same Schleswig-Holstein question, we reproduce with much pleasure the most important portion of a letter written by one well adapted, by his nationality and his knowledge of the country, to speak on the subject with impartiality and en connaissance de cause.”

Matthew (1871-03-07): “France, Germany, and Europe”. The Scotsman, 7 March 1871
Matthew argues once again that France is the aggressor and Germany is the victim in the Franco-Prussian War.

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