While the Reichsrath, transferred to Kremsier, was discussing "fundamental rights" and the difficult question of how to reconcile the theoretical unity with the actual dualism of the empire, the knot was being cut by the sword on the plains of Hungary. The Hungarian retreat after the bloody battle of Kapolna (February 26-27, 1849) was followed by the dissolution of the Kremsier assembly, and a proclamation in which the emperor announced his intention of granting a constitution to the whole monarchy "one and indivisible." On the 4th of March the constitution was published; but it proved all but as distasteful to Czechs and Croats as to the Magyars, and the speedy successes of the Hungarian arms made it, for the while, a dead letter. It needed the intervention of the emperor Nicholas, in the loftiest spirit of the Holy Alliance, before even an experimental unity of the Habsburg dominions could be established (see Hungary: History).
The capitulation of Világos, which ended the Hungarian insurrection, gave Schwarzenberg a free hand for completing the work of restoring the status quo ante and the influence of Austria in Germany. The account of the process by which this was accomplished belongs to the history of Germany (q.v.). Here it will suffice to say that the terms of the Convention of Olmütz (September 29, 1850) seemed at the time a complete triumph for Austria over Prussia. As a matter of fact, however, the convention was, in the words of Count Beust, "not a Prussian humiliation, but an Austrian weakness." It was in the power of Austria to crush Prussia and to put an end to the dual influence in the Confederation which experience had proved to be unworkable; she preferred to re-establish a discredited system, and to leave to Prussia time and opportunity to gather strength for the inevitable conflict.
In 1851 Austria had apparently triumphed over all its Triumph of Austria. difficulties. The revolutionary movements had been suppressed, the attempt of Prussia to assume the leadership in Germany defeated, the old Federal Diet of 1815 had been restored. Vienna again became the centre of a despotic government the objects of which were to Germanize the Magyars and Slavs, to check all agitation for a constitution, and to suppress all attempts to secure a free press. For some ten years the Austrian dominion groaned under one of the worst possible forms of autocratic government. The failure of the Habsburg emperor to perpetuate this despotic régime was due (1) to the Crimean War, (2) to the establishment of Italian unity, and (3) to the successful assertion by Prussia of its claim to the leadership in Germany. The disputes which resulted in the Crimean War revealed the fact that "gratitude" plays but a small part in international affairs. In the minds of Austrian statesmen the question of the free navigation of the Danube, which would have been imperilled by a Russian occupation of the Principalities, outweighed their sense of obligation to Russia, on which the emperor Nicholas had rashly relied.
That Austria at first took no active part in the war was due, not to any sentimental weakness, but to the refusal of Prussia to go along with her and to the fear of a Sardinian attack on her Italian provinces. But, on the withdrawal of the Russian forces from the Principalities, these were occupied by Austrian troops, and on the 2nd of December 1854, a treaty of alliance was signed at Vienna, between Great Britain, Austria and France, by which Austria undertook to occupy Moldavia and Walachia during the continuance of the war and "to defend the frontier of the said principalities against any return of the Russian forces." By Article III., in the event of war between Russia and Austria the alliance both offensive and defensive was to be made effective (Hertslet, No. 252). With the progressive disasters of the Russian arms, however, Austria grew bolder, and it was the ultimatum delivered by her to the emperor Alexander II. in December 1855, that forced Russia to come to terms (Treaty of Paris, March 30, 1856).
Though, however, Austria by her diplomatic attitude had secured, without striking a blow, the settlement in her sense of the Eastern Question, she emerged from the contest without allies and without friends. The "Holy Alliance" of the three autocratic northern powers, recemented at Münchengrätz in 1833, which had gained for Austria the decisive intervention of the tsar in 1849, had been hopelessly shattered by her attitude during the Crimean War. Russia, justly offended, drew closer her ties with Prussia, where Bismarck was already hatching the plans which were to mature in 1866; and, if the attitude of Napoleon in the Polish question prevented any revival of the alliance of Tilsit, the goodwill of Russia was assured for France in the coming struggle with Austria in Italy. Already the isolation of Austria had been conspicuous in the congress of Paris, where Cavour, the Sardinian plenipotentiary, laid bare before assembled Europe the scandal of her rule in Italy. It was emphasized during the campaign of 1859, when Sardinia, in alliance with France, laid the foundations of united Italy. The threat of Prussian intervention, which determined the provisions of the armistice of Villafranca, was due, not to love of Austria, but to fear of the undue aggrandizement of France. The campaign of 1859, and the diplomatic events that led up to it, are dealt with elsewhere (see Italy, Italian Wars, Napoleon III., Cavour). The results to Austria were two-fold. Externally, she lost all her Italian possessions except Venice; internally, her failure led to the necessity of conciliating public opinion by constitutional concessions.
The proclamation on the 26th of February 1861 of the new constitution for the whole monarchy, elaborated by Anton von Schmerling, though far from satisfying the national aspirations of the races within the empire, at least gave Austria a temporary popularity in Germany; the liberalism of the Habsburg monarchy was favourably contrasted with the "reactionary" policy of Prussia, where Bismarck was defying the majority of the diet in his determination to build up the military power of Prussia. The meeting of the princes summoned to Frankfort by the emperor Francis Joseph, in 1863, revealed the ascendancy of Austria among the smaller states of the Confederation; but it revealed also the impossibility of any consolidation of the Confederation without the co-operation of Prussia, which stood outside. Bismarck had long since decided that the matter could only be settled by the exclusion of Austria altogether, and that the means to this end were not discussion, but "Blood and Iron." The issue was forced by the developments of the tangled Schleswig-Holstein Question (q.v.), which led to the definitive breach between the two great German powers, to the campaign of 1866, and the collapse of Austria on the field of Koniggratz (July 3. See Seven Weeks' War).