Front Page Titles (by Subject) 80.: England's Danger through the Suppression of Her Maritime Power 5 AUGUST, 1867 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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80.: England’s Danger through the Suppression of Her Maritime Power 5 AUGUST, 1867 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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England’s Danger through the Suppression of Her Maritime Power
Views of Mr. John Stuart Mill on England’s Danger through the Suppression of Her Maritime Power. Speech Delivered at the House of Commons, August 5, 1867 (London: Diplomatic Review Office, 1874). This version is identified as “From the revised copy communicated by Mr. John Stuart Mill to the Diplomatic Review of February 5, 1868” (p. 2). In PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 189, cols. 876–84. Reported in The Times, 6 August, p. 7, from which some variants and responses are taken. The report in the St. Stephen’s Chronicle, Vol. IV, pp. 796–800, has been used as a check. For other comments by him on the issues, see CW, Vol. XVI, pp. 1199, and 1315. Mill was speaking on the motion to go into Committee of Supply.
i rise, sir, to ask the attention of the House to a subject more germane to the business of a Committee of Supply, than most of those which the Motion to go into committee gives occasion for bringing before the House. The immense burthen of our naval and military expenditure would of itself give ample reason for reconsidering the position in which this country has been placed by the abandonment of its maritime rights eleven years ago.1 Of these eleven nearly ten have been years of profound peace, in which international commerce, which we had always believed to be our truest guarantee against war, has increased to an extent previously unexampled; while the doctrines and practice of free trade have been spreading through the different countries of Europe, and those protectionist theories which have so often made commerce a provocative to war instead of a deterrent from it, have lost their hold on all the leading minds of the Continent. Yet, during this period, we have been engaged, not as might have been expected, in diminishing, but in enormously increasing our naval and military establishments, until our total expenses exceed by about twenty millions a year, not what economists like Mr. Hume used to maintain that they ought to be,2 but what they actually have been in the life of the present generation. Why has this happened? What has been our inducement for maintaining those “bloated armaments”?3 To protect ourselves against the bloated armaments of our European neighbours. Other Powers, as much perhaps for internal as for external purposes, are keeping up gigantic and ruinous military establishments, the existence of which we justly feel to be a danger to us. But why is it a danger? What obliges us, an insular people, to measure our necessities by the wild extravagances of the military rulers of the Continent?—extravagances which, let us do as we will, we cannot compete with; for if our wealth is equal to the effort, the numbers of our population are not. Why, then, do we find ourselves engaging deeper a in this bmeanb rivalry? Because we have put away the natural weapon of a maritime nation, because we have abandoned the right recognised by international law, and legitimated, as much as the consent of nations can legitimate anything, of warring against the commerce of our enemies. We have made this sacrifice, receiving a merely nominal equivalent. We have given up our main defence; but the other Powers who are parties to the transaction have not given up theirs; they have divested themselves not of their special means of warfare, but of ours; they have with a good grace, consented not to use the weapons in which they are inferior, but to confine themselves to those in which the advantage is on their side. The greatest naval Power after ourselves4 has been far too wise to join in so unequal a compact. Unless by resuming our natural and indispensable weapon we place ourselves again on an equality with our possible enemies, we shall be burthened with these enormous establishments and these onerous budgets for a permanency; and, in spite of it all, we shall be for ever in danger, for ever in alarm, cowed before any Power, or combination of Powers, capable of invading any part of our widely-spread possessions. We shall be condemned to see, what we have seen, and worse than we have yet seen, great international iniquities perpetrated before our eyes, and our expressions of deprecation, even of reprobation, passed over with civil, or scarcely civil contempt—(hear, hear)—until our most patriotic advisers feel obliged to recommend to us, as the only rule for our conduct, that which despots prescribe to their subjects, “Hold your peace. Keep your moral disapprobation within your own breasts: for as you cannot back it by the only argument which the wicked and the oppressor can cputc , you only bring yourselves and your just indignation into contempt.” Thus it will be while we abstain from that which once made a war with England a formidable thing, even to the united strength of all Europe. Sir, I venture to call the renunciation of the right of seizing enemy’s property at sea a national blunder. Happily it is not an irretrievable one. The Declaration of 1856 is not a Treaty, dit has never been ratifiedd . The authority on which it was entered into was but the private letter of a Minister.5 It is not a permanent engagement between nations, it is but a joint declaration of present intention; binding us, I admit, until we finally withdraw from it; for a nation is bound by all things done in its name, unless by a national act it disowns them. Why did not the Parliament and people of the country protest at the time? Some of them did; among the rest several of the most important members of the present Government.6eThe bulk of the Liberal party acquiesced silently or approvingly; and therein, I confess, we showed less knowledge of the subject, less understanding of the situation, than the Conservative Leaders.e (Hear, hear.) There is much to be said in excuse for us. Nearly the whole world shared fin ourf error. The world was fresh from the recent triumph of free trade, fresh from the great Exhibition of 1851, which was to unite all nations, and inaugurate the universal gsubstitutiong of commerce for war. The first enthusiastic days of peace congresses had scarcely passed; the short episode of the Crimean war had not shaken the belief that great European wars were drawing to a close. We were mistaken; but the light which led us astray was light from heaven.7 (Cheers.) We have since had opportunities of learning a sadder wisdom. We had not then seen wars of conquest and annexation renewed on a great scale, and fresh wars of the kind continually impending over Europe; we had not seen the Continental Powers outvying one another in converting all the flower of their youth into standing armies, ready at any moment to draw the sword, not only in defence, but in aggression. We had not seen what is to my mind a still more warning sight. Some twenty years ago a great French thinker, by way of showing how alien a thing war is to the modern spirit, remarked that though destruction is incomparably the easiest of the works to which human ingenuity applies itself, the science and art of destruction had remained greatly in arrear of the arts of production, and might almost be said to have been passed over by the inventive genius of later generations.8 What would this philosopher see now? He would see inventive genius, with all the lights of modern science, and all the resources of modern hindustryh , girding itself to the work of destruction as its principal task, and bringing forth every year more and more terrific engines for blasting hosts of human beings into atoms, together with the defences by which they vainly seek to shelter themselves. While this work is going on all around us, is there nothing for us to do but to exhaust our invention and our finances in striving to provide ourselves with engines still more destructive—engines which other nations will instantly adopt, when their superiority has been proved, unless they in the meanwhile contrive for themselves others yet more murderous? Sir, we have a better resource; to shake off the chains which we have forged for ourselves, and resume that natural weapon which has been the main bulwark of our power and safety in past national emergencies, and without which neither ironclads nor fortified harbours will suffice for our security in those which may be yet to come. Sir, great almost beyond calculation as are the British interests depending on this issue, it is on no narrow grounds of ipurelyi British patriotism that I now raise it. I should be ashamed to claim anything for my country which I believed to be a damage and an injury to the common interests of civilisation and of mankind. I will not even urge, though the feelings of the élite of Europe would bear me out if I did, that the safety, and even the power of England, are valuable to the freedom of the world, and therefore to the greatest and most permanent interests of every civilised people. No, Sir; my argument shall not have even a tinge of nationality about it. It is on the broadest cosmopolitan and humanitarian principles that I rest the case. I maintain it to be for the general interest of the world, if there is to be fighting, that every Power should fight with its natural weapons, and with its best strength, that so there may be the greatest possible division of force, and no one Power may be able to jdisturbj the world, nor any two or three Powers to divide it among them. Above all it is for the interests of the world that the naval Powers should not be weakened, for whatever is taken from them is given to the great military Powers, and it is from these alone that the freedom and independence of nations has anything to fear. Naval power is as essentially defensive as military is aggressive. It is by armies, not by fleets, that wars of conquest can be carried on; and naval Powers, both in ancient and in modern times, have ever been the cradle and the home of liberty. Take away the naval Powers of the world at this moment, and where would be the main defence of the minor European States? Two or three military monarchies could, in a few years, parcel out all Europe, and everything else on this side of the Atlantic, among them; and after they had done so, would probably desolate the earth by fighting for a re-division. Happily, the naval Powers exist, and long may they exist; but short will be the duration of their existence if they disarm themselves of their most powerful weapon; if they leave the entire navies of their enemies free to convey troops to their shores, being no longer required to protect the enemy’s commerce; if they, who can be invaded, but who cannot successfully invade, abandon the chief means they possess of doing their enemies substantial damage, and wearying them of the war. There is another consideration of vital importance to the subject. Those who approve of the Declaration of Paris mostly think that we ought to go still further; that private property at sea (except contraband of war) should be exempt from seizure in all cases, not only in the ships of neutral but in those of the belligerent nations. This doctrine was maintained with ability and earnestness in this House during the last session of Parliament,9 and it will probably be brought forward again, for there is great force in the arguments on which it rests. Suppose that we were at war with any Power which is a party to the Declaration of Paris: if our cargoes would be safe in neutral bottoms, kbut unsafe in our own,k then, if the war was of any duration, our whole import and export trade would pass to the neutral flags—(hear, hear)—most of our merchant shipping would be thrown out of employment, and would be sold to neutral countries, as happened to so much of the shipping of the United States from the pressure of two or three—it might almost be said of a single cruiser. Our sailors would naturally follow our ships, and it is by no means certain we should regain them even after the war was over. Where would then be your naval reserve? Where your means of recruiting the royal navy? A protracted war on such terms must end in national disaster. It will thus become an actual necessity for us to take the second step, and obtain the exemption of all private property at sea from the contingencies of war. But are we sure that we shall be able to do so? Our own consent is not all that is required. Will other Powers, having got us at this disadvantage, consent to relieve us from it? And if they would, what a spectacle should we then behold? Nations at war with nations, but their merchants and shipowners at peace; our own merchants driving a roaring trade with the enemies whose resources we were endeavouring to cripple, and contributing, perhaps, a great part of their revenue. Some persons think that this would be a great improvement, that it would be a gain to humanity if war were confined to what they call a duel between Governments—(hear, hear)—a strange gain to humanity if the merchants, manufacturers, and agriculturists of the world lost nothing by a state of war, and had no pecuniary interest in preventing it except the increase of their taxes—a motive which never yet kept a prosperous people out of war—a burthen which such a people is often but too ready to take upon itself for mere excitement, much more from the smallest motive of national self-assertion or desire of aggrandisement. How war is to be humanised by shooting at men’s bodies instead of taking their property, I confess surprises me. (Hear, hear, and a laugh.) lThe result of such a system would be that the merchants, the manufacturers, and even agriculturists would have nothing to lose by a state of war, and therefore would have no motive to abstain from it except an increase of taxation, a burden which people were often only too ready to inflict upon themselves from the smallest motive of national self-assertion.l The result would be, that as long as the taxpayers were willing, or could be compelled by their Governments to pay the cost of the game, nations would go on massacring one another until the carnage was stopped by sheer impossibility of getting any more soldiers to enlist, or of enforcing a conscription. That would be the amount of gain to humanity. Those fine notions of making war by deputy may go down for a while, so long as a nation fancies itself safe from invasion; but let an enemy ever touch our shores, and I think we should regret that we had not, by making war on his imports and exports, kept him at a distance from our hearths—that we had not mpreparedm to defend ourselves by our cruisers rather than by our rifle volunteers. Many who do not like to secede from the Declaration of Paris are quite aware of its dangersn; but they think that the evil is irreparably done, and that we cannot withdraw from it, for fear of embroiling ourselvesn with France and America. Sir, if the Declaration of Paris has brought us to such a pass that we can neither stand still nor move, our national independence is as good as gone; our being yoked to the car of some great military potentate is a mere question of time. But this oapprehendedo danger from France and America seems to me to have little reality in it. France, though a great military, is also a naval Power, and is historically identified almost as much as ourselves with what is called the Right of Search.10 She has always asserted it for herself, except when she has waived it during a particular war by express engagement with some particular country. The first Napoleon, it is true, while carrying on the war against British commerce to extremities never before practised or justified, thought it suited his purpose of the moment to declaim pompously against what he called our tyranny of the seas.11pBut the interests of France in this matter are greatly changed. The immunity of neutral bottoms could be of service to her, if at all, only if her enemy were England or the United States, and even then the benefit would not be without alloy; but if the calamity should occur, of a war between France and any other great Power, it is more likely that her antagonistqwillqbe either Germany or Russia, and against either of these the right of seizure would be so important to France, would be so powerful a weapon in her hands, that she could not dispense with it for herself.p The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary must think so; for, in the important correspondence which has gained for him the distinguished honour of averting a European war (hear, hear), the noble Lord urged upon the Prussian Government the certain extinction of the maritime commerce of Germany in case of a war with France, exactly as if the Declaration of Paris had never existed.12 (Hear.) As for America, she is not even a party to the Declaration of Paris; and I greatly doubt if she ever will be. She is herself one of the great Powers of the sea, and in case of war the destruction of her enemy’s commerce will be her most potent weapon. Many are misled by vague and inaccurate notions of the American war of 1812. It is asserted far too positively that the war was provoked by our stoppage of the neutral navigation. People forget that the United States had a far more serious quarrel with us through our unjustifiable pretension to impress American citizens on board American ships, when they were, or even were falsely said to be, natives of any British possession—(hear, hear)—a pretension which we did not even renounce at the peace, but which it is earnestly to be hoped we shall never revive; if we were wise, we should even come forward unasked and surrender it. Such a grievance is quite sufficient to account for the war, even had there been no other subject of quarrel. But there was another equally independent of the right now under consideration—our paper blockades, which were a new practice, not authorised, as the Right of Search was so fully authorised, by the law and practice of nations. I believe it will be found, by examining the diplomatic correspondence of the time,13 that our differences with America about the Right of Search were capable of being made up, and would almost rcertainlyr have been made up, but for those additional grievances. Before I conclude I am obliged to speak of a notion which I am afraid is rather common among us, but which I am almost ashamed to mention—that, dangerous as is the position we should be placed in by adhering to the Declaration of Paris, it is of no practical consequence, because if war comes the Declaration is sure to be treated as waste paper. Sir, I should indeed be humiliated in my feelings as an Englishman if I thought that these were the maxims by which my countrymen were content to guide themselves, or on which they would allow their rulers to act. (Hear, hear.) No, Sir; let us either disown this obligation or fulfil it. (Cheers.) Let us disclaim it like honest men in the face of the world, openly and on principle, and not hypocritically profess one doctrine up to the very moment when an immediate interest would be promoted by exchanging it for another. If England should choose that moment for announcing a change of opinion, she would justify the most prejudiced of her foreign revilers in the accusation which they are sin the habits of bringing against her of national selfishness and perfidy. It is not when the emergency has come, but before it comes, that we have to form our resolution on this most momentous subject, and not only to form our resolution but to declare it. And I implore every honourable member, and especially those who have now or may have hereafter a share in the direction of public affairs, to consider these things well before they commit themselves any deeper than they may be already committed, to persistence in a course to which they are so likely to repent that they ever, even by their silence, allowed themselves to be committed at all. (Cheers.)
[1 ]See the “Declaration of Paris,” an agreement amongst Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia, and Turkey, printed as “Declaration Respecting Maritime Law” (16 Apr., 1856), PP, 1856, LXI, 153–8.
[2 ]Joseph Hume (1777–1855), radical politician and advocate of financial retrenchment; see, e.g., his Speech on Spain—Report on the Address (5 Feb., 1836), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 31, col. 127.
[3 ]Disraeli, Speech on the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill (8 May, 1862), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 166, col. 1426.
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[4 ]The United States of America.
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[5 ]Lord Clarendon drafted the principles in a letter to Lord Palmerston of 6 April, 1856; the letter was circulated to Cabinet, but was not published, and there was no official approval.
[6 ]Most notably the Prime Minister, Lord Derby, Speech on the Treaty of Paris (22 May, 1856), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 142, cols. 521–39.
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[7 ]Robert Burns (1759–96), The Vision (1786), Duan Second, xviii, in Works, new ed., 2 pts. (London: Tegg, et al., 1824), Vol. II, p. 56.
[8 ]Mill probably has in mind Auguste Comte (1798–1857): cf. Cours de philosophie positive, 6 vols. (Paris: Bachelier, 1830–42), Vol. IV (1839), pp. 569–70 (Leçon 51).
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[9 ]E.g., by William Henry Gregory (1817–92), M.P. for Galway County, Speech on International Maritime Law (2 Mar., 1866), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 181, cols. 1407–20, and in the same debate by McCullagh Torrens, cols. 1433–7, Charles Buxton, cols. 1437–43, and Samuel Laing, cols. 1448–55.
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[10 ]The much disputed view that a belligerent had the right to stop all vessels in international waters to search for enemy goods or contraband.
[11 ]Décret impérial (17 Dec., 1807), Gazette Nationale, ou Le Moniteur Universel, 25 Dec., 1807, p. 1387.
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[12 ]See especially Stanley’s letter to Lord Loftus (17 Apr., 1867), in “Correspondence Respecting the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg,” PP, 1867, LXXIV, 457.
[13 ]See “Papers, Presented to the House of Commons, Relating to the Correspondence with America, on Certain Orders in Council” (1 Feb., 1809), PP, 1809, IX, 375–430.
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