the danish war—last speeches in parliament—correspondence.
Æt. 60.It was truly said by a Member of the House of Commons at the time, that if the Session of 1864 were remembered at all twenty years afterwards, it would only be remembered for the answer which it gave to the question, Shall or shall not England take part in the struggle between Germany and Denmark? This entitles it to a notable place in any account of Cobden. The answer that was then given was as remarkable a triumph for Cobden’s principles, as the result of the Don Pacifico debate had been a victory for Lord Palmerston fourteen years before. The great wave of Nationality which was the moving force in Europe for so many years after the storm of 1848, now swept into Schleswig-Holstein, and brought Danes and Germans into violent collision. We may here content ourselves with Cobden’s own account of what he justly called that most complicated of all questions. “In 1852,” he said, “by the mischievous activity of our Foreign Office, seven diplomatists were brought round a green table in London to settle the destinies of a million of people in the two provinces of Schleswig and Holstein, without the slightest reference to the wants and wishes or the tendencies or the interests of that people. The preamble of the treaty which was there and then agreed to stated that what those seven diplomatists were going to do was to maintain the integrity of the Danish monarchy,1864.
Æt. 60. and to sustain the balance of power in Europe. Kings, Emperors, Princes were represented at that meeting, but the people had not the slightest voice or right in the matter. They settled the treaty, the object of which was to draw closer the bonds between those two provinces and Denmark. The tendency of the great majority of the people of those provinces—about a million of them altogether—was altogether in the direction of Germany. From that time to this year the treaty was followed by constant agitation and discord; two wars have sprung out of it, and it has ended in the treaty being torn to pieces by two of the Governments who were prominent parties to the treaty.”
The question was whether England should go to the aid of the weak Power against the two strong ones. Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell were in favour of vigorous intervention both before the war broke out, and after the failure of the London Conference. They undoubtedly encouraged Denmark to resist. They were held back by colleagues, against whose timidity the two veterans bitterly murmured to one another. When the London Conference. broke up, there was a universal apprehension that the active party in the Cabinet would still carry the day, and that Great Britain would find herself committed without an ally to the terrible peril of a war with Germany.
“At the end of June,” as Cobden described it, “the Prime Minister announced that he was going to produce the protocols, and to state the decision of the Government upon the question. He gave a week’s notice of this intention, and then I witnessed what has convinced me that we have achieved a revolution in our foreign policy. The whippers-in—you know what I mean—those on each side of the House 1864.
Æt. 60.who undertake to take stock of the number and the opinions of their followers—the whippers-in during the week were taking soundings of the inclination of Members of the House of Commons. And then came up from the country such a manifestation of opinion against war, that day after day during that eventful week Member after Member from the largest constituencies went to those who acted for the Government in Parliament, and told them distinctly that they would not allow war on any such matters as Schleswig and Holstein. Then came surging up from all the great seats and centres of manufacturing and commercial activity one unanimous veto upon war for this matter of Schleswig and Holstein.” The result was that when Lord Palmerston came down to the House on that memorable afternoon of the 27th of June, it was to make the profoundly satisfactory, but profoundly humiliating announcement, that there was to be no war. They had ascertained, he said, that France declined to take any active part in support of Denmark. They had ascertained that Russia would take no part. The whole brunt of the effort requisite for dislodging the German troops would fall upon this country alone. Under these circumstances, they had not though it consistent with their duty to advise the Sovereign to undertake the task. Lord Palmerston wound up his statement by menaces of great things to be done by the Government if Prussia and Austria went a step further in certain possible directions. These curiously hollow and ill-timed threats were received with loud shouts of derision, and Mr. Disraeli had the whole House with him when he denounced them as spiritless and senseless. He had the House with him when he went on to say that judging from the past, he would prefer that the affairs of the country should be conducted on the principles of the Member for Rochdale and the Member for Birming ham. In that case the consequences might be the same, but1864.
Æt. 60. the position of England would be more consistent and more dignified. At least these two gentlemen would threaten nobody; at least they would not have told Denmark that if she were attacked she would not find herself alone; at least they would not have exasperated Germany by declaiming in the full Parliament of England against the “aggravated outrages” of her policy; at least they would not have lured Denmark on by delusive counsels and fallacious hopes.
When in course of time Mr. Disraeli moved a vote of censure, Cobden did not let the opportunity slip. The inherent strength of his position made his speech even more free than usual from bitterness or personality. It was felt that the humiliating breakdown of the Foreign Office, and the meddling and impotent diplomacy of which Lord Palmerston was now the traditional representative, was a complete justification of the great principles of non-intervention as he had preached them for a whole generation. For the last time, as it was destined to be, he pressed home the old arguments for taking all reasonable and possible precautions for avoiding continental quarrels. “Our country,” he said, “requires peace. Some people think it is very degrading, very base, that an Englishman should speak of his country as requiring peace, and as being entitled to enjoy its blessings; and if we allude to our enormous commercial and industrial engagements as a reason why we should avoid these petty embroilments, we are told that we are selfish and grovelling in our politics. But I say we were very wrong to take such measures as were calculated to extend our commerce, unless we were prepared to use prudential precautions to keep our varied manufacturing and mercantile operations free from the mischiefs of unnecessary war. You have in this country engagements of the most extensive and complicated kind. You have extended your operations 1864.
Æt. 60.during the last twenty-five years to such a degree, that you are now actually exporting three times as much as you did twenty-five years ago—that is, your foreign commerce, and the manufactures on which it depends, have grown in a quarter of a century twice as much as they grew in a thousand years before.”—(July 5.)
Lord Robert Cecil, who followed him in the debate, observed caustically that though Cobden was about to support the Government against the vote of censure, his enthusiasm for them was not very warm. The Member for Rochdale, he said, was about as good a friend of Her Majesty’s Government, as Her Majesty’s Government had been of the kingdom of Denmark; there was, however, the remarkable difference between the two cases, that whereas the Government gave to Denmark abundance of good words but no material aid, the honourable member was about to give the Government all his material aid, while he accompanied it with a full dose of what certainly could not be called fair words. When the division was taken, the Government won by a majority of eighteen, but Lord Palmerston must have felt that the policy of Free Trade had, among many other changes which it had wrought, finally taken the supreme control of peace and war out of the hands of the old territorial oligarchy.
Cobden made two other elaborate speeches in the course of the session. One was introductory of a series of resolutions on a subject on which he had long entertained strong views, the great extension of Government manufacturing establishments. In this, as in his views on the greater subject of Free Trade, Cobden was able to quote the illustrious authority of Burke in favour of the principle which he was now advocating, that the Government should not be allowed to manufacture for itself any article which could be obtained from private producers in a competitive market. The other important speech had been made1864.
Æt. 60. earlier in the session, and carried his views of foreign policy into a field where their application was becoming, and has remained, more urgently necessary than it was even in the sphere of continental Europe. He moved a resolution to the effect that the policy of non-intervention by force of arms in the internal political affairs of foreign countries, which we profess to observe in Europe and America, should also be observed in our intercourse with the Empire of China. What gave special point to the resolution was the fact that at this time we were in danger of repeating the same violence and the same impolicy which had worked such confusion in China, in forcing intercourse upon the people of Japan. Now, as on many occasions before, Cobden showed his sense of the danger that the cry for new markets might become as mischievous as the old cry for extended dominion. The enormous expansion of manufacturing industry had made some of the commercial class as ready to use violence in opening fresh fields for the sake of gain, as the aristocracy had ever been to use it in satisfying their national pride or military ambition. cobden’s demonstration of the perils which lie before us on this side, and he was not ashamed to consider moral as well as material perils, still remains as apt and as timely as it was in his own day.
Cobden wrote his longest letters at this time to Mr. Sumner and M. Chevalier. He protested, as we see, against the early tendencies of his American friend, to imitate the worst faults of the worst kind of European diplomacy; and to his French friend he put a question as to what might happen in 1870, which subsequent events made curiously significant.
Æt. 60.Character of President Lincoln
“Jan. 7. (To Mr. Sumner.)—You will soon begin to busy yourselves with the task of President-making. I hope you will re-elect Mr. Lincoln. He is rising in reputation in Europe apart from the success of the North. He possesses great moral qualities, which in the long-run tell more on the fortunes of the world in these days than mere intellect. I always though his want of enlarged experience was a disadvantage to him. But he knows his own countrymen evidently, and that is the main point. And being a stranger to the rest of the world, he has the less temptation to embark in foreign controversies or quarrels. Nothing shows his solid sense more than the pertinacity with which he avoids all outside complications. His truthful elevation of character, and his somewhat stolid placidity of nature, put it quite beyond the power of other governments to fasten a quarrel on him, and inspire the fullest confidence in those who are committing themselves to the side of the North. I say all this on the assumption, that he has irrevocable committed himself to ‘abolition’ as the result of the war. Any compromise on that question would cover your cause with external infamy, and render the sanguinary civil war with which you have desolated he North and South, a useless butchery.”
The American War
“Midhurst, Aug. 18, 1864. (To Mr. Sumner.)—I still look forward with unabated confidence to the triumph of the North. But I begin to speculate on the effect which the failure of Grant’s campaign may have on your politics. Sometimes I speculate on the possibility of your imitating the course which political parties often follow here, and that your Democrats, who appear to be for peace, may come into power, and carry out even more successfully than your party could do the policy of war and abolition of slavery. Like Peel in his course on1864.
Æt. 60. Free Trade and Catholic Emancipation, they would have the advantage of being sure of the support of the honest advocates of the policy they adopted, even although they were nominally in the ranks of their political opponents. What I most dread is your falling into political confusion in the North! That would be a severe blow to the principle of self-government everywhere.”
Garibaldi’s Visit to London
“May 3, 1864. (To M. Chevalier.)—I thought you were now sufficiently acquainted with England not to attach undue importance to the Garibaldi affair, in so far as our ministers are concerned. They of course were only acting a political part in order to catch a little of the popularity which for the moment surrounded the Italian hero. You do not of course suppose that Palmerston entertains any views in common with Garibaldi. It would be difficult indeed to show that he has any views at all beyond the wish to hold office by flattering the popular passions of the hour. The people were quite sincere in the homage they offered to the Italian. They believe in his honesty and disinterestedness, and they know him to be a good fighter! There is a certain antique picturesqueness about the man too which attracts 1864.
Æt. 60.the sight-loving multitude. But there are perhaps other reasons why the middle classes share the enthusiasm of the populace. They believe him to be an enemy of the Pope, and you know what ardent Protestants we are! The Dukes and Duchesses took possession of Garibaldi to keep him out of the hands of the democrats, and when they had finished fêting him, they sent him straight home to Caprera in a Duke’s yacht. It was expected that he would make a tour in the north of England, and all arrangements had been made to receive him in Manchester, Newcastle, and other place. But it was feared by his aristocratic acquaintances in London that if he went to the provinces he might be talking too revolutionarily and so he was persuaded to go away home, greatly to the disgust of the country democrats, who consider themselves ‘done.’ All this is merely the play of our political game, in which the so-called statesmen and ministers of the Crown do not act a very dignified part. The affairs of the Conference are not very promising. It seems that we are to be thankful that France and England are not on better terms. Last autumn France was apparently willing to go to war with Russia for Poland, and England declined. Now England seems to be desirous of going to war with Germany for Denmark, and France declines! So we have preserved peace in consequence of the suspension of the entente cordiale.“
Free Trade in France
“27, Victoria Street, Westminster, June 27. (To M. Chevalier.)—I ought to have written to you more promptly, to thank you for the very kind invitation conveyed in your last letter. Be assured that it would give my wife and me very great pleasure to come and pay Madame Chevalier and you a long family visit in the Hérault. I am, however, afraid it will not be in my power to avail myself of your friendly offer of hospitality. In the present state of my health I1864.
Æt. 60. am obliged to look forward to the possibility of being compelled to go abroad in the winter. You know that the climate of England from May to October is the finest in the world, and gives no excuse for the invalid to leave home. I must therefore remain with my family in the summer, in the fear that my health may compel me to go to the south in the winter. I should be delighted to have the opportunity of passing a few weeks with you. Among other matters we could talk over the progress of Free Trade in France. I confess I am not satisfied that you do not continue to make further reforms, if only to guard against reaction in those already made. Time is passing. It is now four years since we arranged your tariff. Are you sure that in 1870 you will be so completely under the Free Trade régime as to prevent the government of that day (God knows what it may be) from going back to protection after the Anglo-French Treaty expires.
“We are in a critical political situation here. It is not easy to say what will happen in a week or two in the House. The Whigs are in a very sorry plight. But the Tories are so stupid that they seem hardly capable of profiting by the blunders of their opponents. The Opposition is to meet to-morrow at Lord Derby’s, to consider the next step. It they move a resolution implying censure on the Government for not having gone to war, they will not be supported by a majority of the House, for both sides are very much opposed to war in behalf of the Danes. I have been much struck with this pacific sentiment in both parties. It is quite different from what it was previous to the Crimean War.”
Tone of English Politics
“Midhurst, Nov. 5. (To M. Chevalier.)—I am glad to hear that you and Madame Chevalier are returning in good health 1864.
Æt. 60.to Paris. It is a long time since we exchanged letters. But I have been vegetating here ever since the close of the Session of Parliament, and have had no news to communicate to distant friends. I have not yet made up my mind whether I shall leave home for a more sunny region this winter. It will depend on my health and the temperature of our English winter. I do not contemplate in any case going to Africa. It may be necessary for me to go to Southern Europe. But I confess I have a great repugnance to making a journey of a thousand miles merely on an errand of health.
“I have received the Débats with its article on the Metric system. We have made a first step; but when I think with what Chinese slowness we march in the path of reform, it makes me despair of living to see this useful change carried into effect.
“Our politics are very stagnant. How could they be otherwise?...But there is one great change amounting to a revolution which has been accomplished in our foreign policy. After the fiasco of last Session on the Danish question, our Foreign Office will never again attempt to involve us in any European entanglements for the Balance of Power, or for any dynastic purpose. Henceforth we shall observe an absolute abstention from continental politics. Non-intervention is the policy of all future governments in this country. So let the Grand Turk take care of himself, for we shall never fight his battle again. Until the American war is at an end we shall not recover our natural tone of politics in this country. I am still convinced the South will have to succumb. The geographical difficulties of separation have always appeared to me to be insurmountable. The mouth of the Mississippi alone is enough to prevent Jeff Davis from establishing his slave empire. It would be easier to establish an ‘East Anglia’ by the secession of Kept and Essex at the mouth of the1864.
Æt. 60. Thames, than to set up an independent State in Louisiana. It is not a question ever to be discussed. It is an impossibility. Have you not like myself been astonished at the financial resources of the North? I have just seen a pamphlet recently published in Washington by Mr. Blodget on the financial and industrial resources of the Union. I have been astounded by the facts and figures it gives from Government returns, railway traffics, &c., showing the almost incredible and fabulous increase of every kind of production in the Northern States during the last three years of war. It is quite clear that America stands on a different footing from the old world, and that its powers, whether in peace or war, are to be measured by a different standard. In comparing their powers of endurance or recovery, we must consider the one to be a man of twenty-five and the other of sixty....”
“Sept. 3. (To Henry Ashworth, Esq.)—The great fallacy that runs through Roundell Palmer’s arguments is in the assumption that ‘International Law’ is a fixed and immutable code like the Ten Commandments, and that it would be wrong in us now to set up any new precedents or innovations. Now the whole of what is called International Maritime Law is mere precedents, generally emanating from our own Courts, and then adopted by the Americans in times and circumstances quite different from the present.
“We agreed to a fundamental change in the bases of the Maritime Code at the Congress of Paris after the Crimean War in 1856, and the great error has been that we did not seize the opportunity of the American war to still further relax the old system in the interests of non-combatants at sea. Instead of which Roundell Palmer, who is a lawyer 1864.
Æt. 60.and not a statesman, has been put forward as the exponent of British policy, and he has laid down principles which will tell fearfully against us at a future time.... The declaration of Paris in 1856 against privateering becomes a mere pretentious hoax, when we see that ships such as the ‘Georgia’ and ‘Tallahassee’ are recognized as ships of war, merely because they carry a bit of paper called a ‘Commission’ instead of one called a ‘Letter of Marque.’ It is most important that you should disabuse our ship-owners of their delusion that this declaration against privateering will be of any benefit to them after such precedents as we are now establishing in the event of our being at war.”
The Law of Blockade
“Sept. 9. (To Henry Ashworth, Esq.)—The Blockade Laws are about as rascally an invention as the old Corn Laws. Suppose Tom Sayers lived in a street, and on the opposite side lived a shopkeeper with whom he has been in the habit of dealing. Tom quarrels with his shopkeeper and forthwith sends him a challenge to fight, which is accepted. Tom, being a powerful man, sends word to each and every house-holder in the street that he is going to fight the shopkeeper, and that until he has finished fighting no person in the street must have any dealings with the shopkeeper. ‘We have nothing to do with your quarrel,’ say the inhabitants, ‘and you have no right to right to stop our dealings with the shopkeeper.’
“The argument is just as good on a large scale as on a small one—for fifty millions as for one person. The various governments of England have been the chief and almost only supporters of the blockade laws, and no nation on earth will be so much injured by them, not to say a word of their injustice. The sooner the blockade laws follow the Corn and Navigation laws the better it will be for all nations, and1864.
Æt. 60. for England in particular.”
The Danish War
“July 1. (To Mr. Ashworth.)— .... The House of Commons is remarkably pacific. I have been much struck with the all but universal feeling among members on both sides against going to war on this Danish question. I really don’t believe there are fifty men in the House, who, if their votes were to decide the question, would vote for war. It is the more remarkable inasmuch as the press had been very war-like, and full of threats and braggadocio. There was a section of the Cabinet quite ready to do anything for popularity. But the whipper-in carried such a report of the tone of the House, as to decide the Government to do nothing.
“I attribute this remarkable change in the temper of the House since the Crimean war to the enormous amount of material interests at stake.
“We are exporting now at the rate of 160,000,000l. a year, threefold our trade twenty years ago. This must have given an immense force to the Conservative peace principle of the country. The House of Commons represents the wealth of the country though not its numbers, and I have no doubt the members hear from all the great seats of our commercial ship-owning and manufacturing industries that the busy prosperous people there wish to be at peace. This is one of the effects which we advocates of Free Trade always predicted and desired as the consequence of extended commercial operations. But the manner in which the principle is now operating is most remarkable.....”
“July 26. (To Mr. Ashworth.)— .... I am glad you liked my last speeches. One has more and more the painful impression that it is after all mere barren talk. I do not see how any material improvement in public affairs is possible, so long as 1864.
Æt. 60.this old man at the head can contrive to use all parties for his own ends. With Gladstone and Gibson for his colleagues, and with a tacit connivance from a section of the Tories, there can be no honesty in our party life and little chance for ridding ourselves of the incubus, excepting with the aid of Time, which I suppose will enforce a superannuation upon the old gentleman some day.
“It would have given me very great enjoyment to have visited you at your Highland box, but I go quietly among my children at Dunford during the fine weather, for I always feel under the liability of being induced to leave home for a southern clime in the winter. During the Session I see little of my young people, and I really think it is as healthful as it is pleasant to relax after the turmoil of the House and the clubs among the minds of children. I remember hearing Wakley say in the House when O’Connell first showed symptoms of giving way, that if he would withdraw from politics and live with his grand-children, he might last for ten years. But he died in a twelvemosnth.”