- Russian War. I. House of Commons, December 22, 1854.
- Russian War. II. House of Commons, June 5, 1855.
- Russian War. III. Manchester, March 18, 1857.
- American War. I. House of Commons, April 24, 1863.
- American War. II. Rochdale, November 24, 1863.
- China War. House of Commons, February 26, 1857.
- Foreign Policy. I. House of Commons, June 12, 1849.
- Foreign Policy. II. London, October 8, 1849.
- Foreign Policy. III. London, January 18, 1850.
- Foreign Policy. IV. House of Commons, June 28, 1850.
- Foreign Policy. V. Rochdale, June 26, 1861.
- Foreign Policy. VI. House of Commons, August 1, 1862.
- Foreign Policy. VII. Manchester, October 25, 1862.
- Foreign Policy. VIII. Rochdale, October 29, 1862
- Foreign Policy. IX. Rochdale, November 23, 1864.
- India. House of Commons, June 27, 1853.
- Peace. I. Wrexham, November 14, 1850.
- Peace. II. Manchester, January 27, 1853.
- Policy of the Whig Government. Manchester, January 23, 1851.
- Parliamentary Reform. I. House of Commons, July 6, 1848.
- Parliamentary Reform. II. London, November 26, 1849.
- Parliamentary Reform. III. Manchester, December 4,1851.
- Parliamentary Reform. IV. Rochdale, August 17, 1859.
- Parliamentary Reform. V. Rochdale, August 18, 1859.
- Education. I. Manchester, January 22, 1851
- Education. II. House of Commons, May 22, 1851.
- Education. III. Manchester, December 1, 1851.
- Education. IV. Barnsley, October 25, 1853.
MANCHESTER, MARCH 18, 1857.
[On March 3, 1857, the House of Commons affirmed, by a majority of 14 (263 to 249). Mr. Cobden's resolution on the conduct of the China war. This was treated by Lord Palmerston as a vote of want of confidence, and an appeal was made to the country. No time was lost in summoning a new Parliament, and no pains spared to inflame the public mind against those who had challenged Lord Palmerston's policy. The sitting Members in Manchester had been Mr. Bright and Mr. Milner Gibson. Their re-election was opposed by Sir John Potter and Mr. Turner, and was opposed successfully. As Mr. Bright was suffering from illness, Mr. Cobden advocated his cause before the Manchester electors, in the following Speech, which deals chiefly with the policy of Lord Palmerston in the Russian war.]
I appear before you on this occasion as the humble representative of my friend, Mr. Bright, and in his name I thank you in the outset for the kind reception with which you have greeted the mention of his name, and I thank you also for the all but unanimous vote with which you have announced his candidature at this election.
Now, I appear before you on the present occasion under circumstances which I certainly never expected to encounter again. I have, on former occasions, found my name prominently associated with measures in the House of Commons and in the country, that have led to dissolutions of Parliament, and to the fall of Ministries. That was when I was connected with those movements in which our object was to cause dissolutions of Parliament and destructions of Ministries. For three times, I believe, Parliament has been dissolved, the fact arising out of questions with which my name was prominently associated. But I certainly never did expect to see again a dissolution with which I should be associated. Now, what are the circumstances under which this has arisen? You have heard something about the China war. I am not going into the details of that war again. I only want just to lay before you, in the briefest possible form, the circumstances in which the country has been placed with reference to that question. On the assembling of Parliament, we found ourselves engaged in two wars,—the one with an empire of 350,000,000 of people, with a territory about eight times as great as that of France, and about ten times the population; the other was with Persia, one of the most ancient empires of the world. Parliament and the people had had no voice in declaring these wars; troops were moving from India to Bushire, troops were moving from Ceylon to Hongkong, and war was going on at our expense, and you had no voice in declaring that war. On the assembling of Parliament, a demand was made from the Ministry for information respecting the Persian war. The answer we got was, that it would be contrary (it is the stereotyped answer), that it would be prejudicial, to the interests of the country that any papers should be given referring to the origin of the Persian war. But I found on the table of the House of Commons all the papers having reference to the Chinese war. Now, it is a very rare thing indeed that we are so fortunate as to find such a record of what is going on in our name and behalf. But I found the papers all in order, and everything that could be had to give an account of the origin of the Chinese war. I read those papers, as I was in duty bound to do. The conclusion I came to I stated in my place in the House of Commons, and I am not going to repeat the arguments now. But what I want to ask here is, what I asked in London the other day, was it anything contrary to my duty as a Member of Parliament, and as a representative of the people, that I should read those papers, and express an opinion, and call for an opinion of the House with reference to proceedings which were involving this country in daily expense, and which might undoubtedly incur a vast expense, both of blood and treasure?
Well, I read the papers; and, coming to the conviction that the origin of this war was a blunder and a crime, I framed a resolution, which I showed to my right hon. Friend here, and asked him if he would like to second it; and, without consulting any other human being, I put that motion on the table of the House of Commons, and it lay there for a fortnight before my turn came for bringing on the motion. Singular to say—for it is an unusual thing—not one word of that resolution, nor one syllable, was altered to accommodate the mind of any Member of the House of Commons.
Well, I am told—and we hear it daily repeated in the columns of some of the London papers, whose audacity of assertions certainly sometimes astounds me even, though I am habituated to the perusal of the Times newspaper; but there is still every day the reiterated falsehood, as if the people had not yet had enough of it, that this was a motion brought forward in a factious spirit, and with a coalition of parties, in order, forsooth, that we might overturn the Government, and get possession of their places.
Well, now, there is a great question involved in this, which I think the people of this country ought to take very much to heart. Do you want the Members of the House of Commons to look after your rights, and watch the expenditure, and to guard you from getting into needless and expensive wars? ['Yes.'] Well, but you are not going the right way to work about it, if what I hear in your newspapers is going to be verified in the course of a fortnight in the election; for I am told that those Members who joined in that vigilant care of your interests, and voted according to the evidence before us on the question of that war, are all to be ostracised,—sent into private life,—and that you are going to send up there men—to do what? to look after your interests? No; to go and do the humble, dirty work of the Minister of the hour. In fact, that you are going to constitute Lord Palmerston the despotic ruler of this country. ['No, no.'] Well, but if he is not checked by Parliament,—if, the moment Parliament does check him, he dissolves Parliament, and, instead of sending up men who are independent enough to assert their and your rights, you send up mere creatures of his will, what is that but investing him with the powers of a despot! Ay, and let me tell you that it is a despotism of the clumsiest, most expensive, and at the same time most irresponsible kind on the face of the earth; because you surround the Minister with the sham appearance of a representative form of Government; you cannot get at him while he has got a Parliament beneath whose shield he can shelter himself; and if you do not do your duties in your elections in sending men up to the House of Commons who will vigilantly watch the Minister of the day, then, I say, you are in a worse plight, because governed in a more irresponsible way, than if you were under the King of Prussia or the Emperor of the French.
But who is Lord Palmerston, that we are to invest him with this power? Who is he? ['A traitor.'] No, I will say nothing worse of him here than I have said to his face in Parliament; but, when I want to know what a man is, I ask, What has he done? There is no other test like that. That was Napoleon's question always, if anybody talked to him about somebody being a great man,—What has he done? Well, now, Lord Palmerston has been fifty years in Parliament—['Fifty-two']; fifty-two years in Parliament. Well he has belonged, I believe, to every Government excepting one during those fifty years. I remember the Times newspaper, which spent about fifteen years in trying to blacken his reputation, and is now polishing him up every day, once said, when it had said everything else that was gross, vile, and vituperative about him, that he had been ‘boots’ to every Administration for thirty years. Now I beg you to understand that this is the language of the Times, and not mine. But with what has his name been associated? ['Peterloo.'] Yes, Peterloo. I remember, that on this very spot of ground, when the people were cut down and trampled upon by the yeomanry cavalry, Lord Palmerston was one of the Government, and voted in favour of that outrage.
Well, but what has he done since?—because men may have been, in the early part of their career, by circumstances, like Sir Robert Peel, put into a certain groove, and hardly answerable for the course they were obliged to run. But what has he done since that he had been able to take his own choice? What does he propose now to do? He was a member of the Reform Ministry in 1831; he left his old party, and joined the Whigs as a Reformer. But was he one of those who put forward the cause of Reform, or was he there as a drag-chain? I have seen to-day a speech, which has been sent to me, delivered by Sir James Graham, at Carlisle. He says:—'I and Lord John Russell are the only two Cabinet Ministers remaining alive who formed the Government which brought in the Reform Bill of 1831;' and he says, ‘We had Lord Palmerston amongst us; but I very soon found out that he was not very much disposed for the work that we were engaged in.’ In December, 1853,—that is, little more than three years ago,—he belonged to the Ministry of Lord Aberdeen. Now, Lord Aberdeen was, I considered, a very liberal man; but we were all deluded with the idea that Lord Palmerston was the great champion of democracy, and Lord Aberdeen was always the friend of despotism;—I was not taken in by that, but a good many people were.
Well, but what did Lord Palmerston do in December, 1853, when Lord Aberdeen's Government was preparing a new Reform Bill, to be brought in in the session of 1854? Lord Palmerston left Lord Aberdeen's government because he objected to that modicum of Reform that was then proposed; that bill, bearing on its back the names of Lord John Russell and Sir James Graham—certainly not two very rash or democratic Reformers—that bill, which proposed to give a 10l. franchise to the counties, and a slightly reduced franchise to the boroughs, so slightly reduced that some of my friends thought it would rather operate as a restriction in some boroughs than an extension; that bill was too much for Lord Palmerston to swallow; and he left Lord Aberdeen's Cabinet avowedly because he objected to that bill. Well, what has he done since? What has he done this very session? Why, he has opposed everything that can bear the mere semblance of Reform. He voted against Locke King's motion for a 10l. county franchise, which formed part of the bill of 1854; he has opposed even the 40s. freehold franchise for Scotland, if you may believe the Lord-Advocate of Scotland (Mr. Moncreiff), who is in the Ministry, for he has gone down there and announced that.
Now, will you tell me on what ground I am to be called upon to surrender my independence and freedom of thought and action to the will of a Ministry such as this? Why, what do you propose to get by such a process? It appears to me it is about the most audacious attempt upon your credulity that ever was practised in this country, to think of raising the cry at an election in favour of one man,—for there is no other cry attempted on the hustings,—and for that man to be the leader of the Liberal party, without having one Liberal tenet in his profession of faith.
When I read of men that I have hitherto considered to be earnest Reformers,—when I have read their speeches and addresses, in which they have said, ‘I am for the ballot; I am for the extension of the suffrage; I am for shortening Parliaments; I am against church-rates; and I will give my hearty support to Lord Palmerston's Government,’—my natural question is, ‘Are these men idiots, or are they dishonest? because, if you attempt to carry out a business in private life, you do not go to a man that you know is directly opposed, in his view, to what you wish to accomplish, and put yourself under his guidance. Lord Palmerston is not content with a mere passive resistance to what you desire as Reformers. He lends an active opposition,—he votes and speaks against every measure of Reform that is brought into the House of Commons. [Cheers.] Well, and what is it for? Because we are told that Lord Palmerston is a great friend of freedom abroad.
Well now, go and ask those men in this country who represent freedom abroad;—ask Kossuth. I will tell you what happened within my knowledge; it is no breach of confidence to say it. When that illustrious Hungarian was expected in England, after his imprisonment in Turkey, my lamented friend, Lord Dudley Stuart—whose devotion to the cause of these foreign refugees was as unbounded as it was sincere—went down to Southampton to meet Kossuth, and receive him on his arrival. Having to wait a day or two there, and being in the neighbourhood of Broadlands, where Lord Palmerston lives, he went and saw the noble Lord, and received from him a request to bring Kossuth over (on his arrival at Southampton) to Broadlands, to see him. I remember receiving a letter from Lord Dudley Stuart, announcing to me this piece of intelligence with the greatest glee. He was delighted at the opportunity of taking Kossuth over to see Lord Palmerston; and, as soon at he arrived, he announced to him the pleasing invitation. To his astonishment, he found Kossuth would not accept it. He would not go near Lord Palmerston; and I have got a letter from Lord Dudley Stuart, asking me to use all my influence with Kossuth to induce him to go and call upon Lord Palmerston. He would not do it; and my answer to Lord Dudley Stuart was this:—’You may depend upon it, Kossuth knows a great deal more about Lord Palmerston than you do.' I could not go into the particulars now, but they are all familiar to me.
Every transaction of Lord Palmerston's foreign policy is known to me; I defy any human being to show an instance where anybody on the face of the earth has been happier or freer in consequence of Lord Palmerston's foreign policy. He endorsed the invasion of Rome by the French. We have it in the blue-books. He was the first, in red-hot haste, to congratulate the present Emperor of the French after his usurpation, when the blood was still flowing in the streets of Paris. He refused to see an envoy sent from the Hungarians, because, he said, he could treat with nobody but the Austrian Government. He treated the Italians in the same way. Are these facts, or are they not? ['Yes, yes.'] Nobody denies them. Do you think, then. it is consistent with common sense that the man who has no love for liberty or progress at home should have any love of the kind to export to foreign countries? Do you not think that liberalism, like liberality, like progress, like charity, should begin at home?
Well, which other title does he present to our confidence, that the people of this country should be called upon by the impudence of three or four metropolitan journals, who have reasons best known to themselves, which I hope will be exposed some day, to lie down upon their bellies in the dust before this man? What has he done? We are told that he carried the Russian war to a triumphant conclusion.
Now, I will tell you what he did in that war. Lord Palmerston was a member of the Government which declared the war. If he be the man of talent, with the powers of administration which we are told he has,—if he be a man of this towering genius, that we are all suddenly called upon to discover at the age of seventy-three,—was he not likely, at least, three or four years ago, to have had a share of that energy, so that he might have imprinted a portion of his policy upon the Government during the time he was one of them? He was responsible for every blunder, just as much as any member of the Government. And what is the Cabinet now? Why, a majority of the Cabinet now was the majority of the Cabinet then. Lord Palmerston was not called upon to make a new Cabinet in order to carry on the war; certain members of the Cabinet—a minority—seceded from it, and left the majority, of whom Lord Palmerston was at the head. That majority is quite as responsible for everything that occurred during the early progress of the war, as they can claim to be entitled to any merit for any improvement in the conduct of the war when that minority seceded. But did Lord Palmerston ever himself lend his word to this imposture that is practised in his name? No; to do him justice, his toadies practise the imposture, but he has told us, manfully and in a straightforward way, that he did not share in the delusion himself. For what has he done? When Lord Aberdeen seceded from the Government, Lord Palmerston told Sir James Graham and the rest of the friends of Lord Aberdeen who remained in the Government, that he would carry on the Government and the war upon precisely the same principles that they had been carried on by Lord Aberdeen; that there should be no change in his foreign policy; and that he would only ask the same terms of peace as Lord Aberdeen would have been content with. That was not only mentioned privately in the course of their discussions with themselves, but it came out in the House of Commons. Did Lord Palmerston himself ever come before us to complain of anything that had been done in the early conduct of the war whilst he was a member of the Cabinet? No; on the contrary, he defended everything.
When Mr. Roebuck brought forward his motion for inquiring into the scenes going on before Sebastopol, to try and hunt out, if he could, the cause of the ruin and disaster that had befallen our army, did Lord Palmerston get up in his place in the House, and say, ‘Here are admitted evils, I grant to the honourable and learned Gentleman, fair subjects for inquiry?’ No; he stood by things as they were,—defended everything, and resisted an inquiry by the Committee. But, what is more, after the Commitee was appointed, and had sat and inquired into the proceedings at Sebastopol, when Mr. Roebuck brought forward a motion in the House of Commons, consequent on the inquiry, did Lord Palmerston assist him? No; he voted against him again.
What has he done besides? After sending out a couple of men,—able and competent men, Sir John M'Neill and Colonel Tulloch,—and after they had brought home a report, certainly as able and, I believe, as conscientious as was ever made by public men,—what did Lord Palmerston do? Did he back up his own commissioners? No. He would have done, if it had been Smith, Jones, or Robinson that had been concerned; but they were Lords and Earls who were in question; and what did he do? He appointed a commission of military men to inquire into the conduct of the commissioners! And then, when public opinion rises to demand some improvement upon this state of things, what does he do? He insults these distinguished men by sending them a present each of a thousand pounds, which they sent back again—just the amount that was paid some time ago to a policeman for having captured a celebrated political criminal.
Now, this is the sort of man that we are called upon all at once to fall down and worship! Why, I say the brazen image shall have no worship from me. But I want to ask these people that are here in Manchester, and I want you to put the question to them—I will first take Mr. Aspinall Turner. [Groans.] No, no, no; we will deal with him with reason, and not with clamour. I want to put something before you that you may probably have the opportunity of asking them. The great complaint against us on the part of these gentlemen is, that we are too independent of this Minister. Now, ask them this question: What would they have had us do in the case of that vote the other night, that was designed to do justice to Colonel Tulloch and Sir John M'Neill? I was in the House of Commons, waiting for the division, and certainly should have voted against the Government; but Lord Palmerston, seeing which way the wind blew, after having spoken against the motion, got up and said, ‘I won’t divide the House upon it.' Now, I want to know how Mr. Aspinall Turner would have voted on that occasion? Would he have considered it very factious if he had joined the Member for Devonshire, who sits on the other side of the House, in voting against the Government? Why, I see this Mr. Turner's name, as President of the Commercial Association, signed to a memorial, in which he states the whole of the facts I am stating, and says that Lord Palmerston has not only failed to do justice to these eminent officers who went out to make the inquiry, but has also given encouragement and promotion to the very men who are proved to have been culpable and neglectful. Now, I must say I think Mr. Aspinall Turner is looking very much like a ‘conspirator’ in this matter,—he is guilty of a ‘coalition’ with somebody to turn out a Minister. Well, what are we to do under these circumstances? Are we to follow this Minister, or to follow the dictates of our own judgments and consciences?
Now, I hear it said that we have been a thorn in the side of three Governments. We are told that three or four of us have been a thorn in the side of Lord Aberdeen, Lord John Russell, and now of Lord Palmerston. I can only say this,—if Manchester should send up the two gentlemen that are now candidates in opposition to my honourable and right honourable Friends, they wont be thorns in the side of any Government.
Well, but what do you want done in Parliament? Do you send up men to Parliament just to be told off into one lobby or the other, according as the whipper-in of the Treasury decides? I suppose you want your Members to do something better than follow the bidding of the Treasury whip. Do you think there is much danger now of your catching Members of Parliament likely to be too independent? I can assure you, you will find it just the contrary. And if the threats now held out should be carried into effect,—if you should, unhappily for yourselves, lose those two Members you have got, I will venture to say it will be long before you will have to complain that the new ones will be too independent when they get into Parliament. Why, it is the very thing of all others most difficult to find in London—independence. Only cast your memories back; how few men have we got permanently to join us in our attempt, even, to stand against a Government! Four or five, or six or eight, or ten. I could count them all on my ten fingers, who remained resolute and determined to maintain an independent course. And why? Because the temptations, blandishments, and seductions practised on Members of Parliament are very well known to those engaged in that House. Do you think I was not tempted, like everybody else? I have had my cards, my dinner cards, as large as that (exhibiting a half-sheet of paper), and from Lord Palmerston, too.
When I went up to Parliament in 1841, it would have been much easier and more pleasant to many minds, and a much more agreeable life, if I had at once fallen into the track, and, instead of instituting an independent resistance to Government when I chose, I had joined the governing class, and become one of their humble servants. But the very first day I went into Parliament, in 1841, when the lines of party were still visible, when there was a great gulf between the two great parties on the two sides of the House—when Sir Robert Peel had his 390 or 400 men, and Lord John Russell his 270 or 280 men—the very first time I got up and spoke as the Member for Stockport, I declared I came there to do something—to repeal the Corn-laws, and I would know neither Whig nor Tory until that work was done.
Well, now, suppose I had pursued another course—suppose I had allied myself to the Whig party, which was then the most Liberal, and which had then adopted what was considered to be an advanced position at that time, an 8s. fixed duty,—suppose I had joined that party, as I might have done, and depended upon them, and not upon an abstract principle, for the success of our agitation, do you think we should ever have got the total and immediate repeal? No; it would not have been possible; because we should have told Sir Robert Peel and the party opposite, ‘We are not going to take it from you at all; it is a party question—a Whig question, and we are going to take the repeal of the Corn-laws in no other way.’ But when Sir Robert Peel and the party opposite saw we were in earnest, and did not make a party question of our principle, he did the work for us, which the Whigs never could have done. Are we not to pursue the same course again? Am I, because I find Mr. Disraeli and Sir John Pakington coming round to principles I have been advocating—am I, at the moment which offers a fair chance of success to my opinion, to say, ‘No, I will not join you; that would be conspiracy—that would be a coalition?’
Well, now, what is it, after all, that the so-much-abused Manchester School wants? Why, they say we want to abolish all our standing armies and navies, and leave you, like so many Quakers, at the mercy of the whole world. Any man who has lived in public life, as I have, must know that it is quite useless to contradict any falsehood or calumny, because it comes up again next day just as rife as ever. There is the Times newspaper always ready to repeat it, and the grosser the better. Have I not, in the House of Commons, advocated the expenditure of 10,000,000l. on our protection? and that is pretty nearly as much as the Americans spend for civil and military purposes and everything put together. It may be a question whether it will be 10,000,000l. or 15,000,000l. The Duke of Wellington managed to make a sum under 12,000,000l. do. But they tell us that I want to deprive you of your defences against your enemies. Why, what has been my argument for the last seven years on this question? You cannot have a reduction of taxation unless you have a reduction of your military and naval establishments; and you cannot have a reduction of your military and naval establishments if you allow a Minister to be constantly involving you in wars or in dangers of wars.
Well, now, what do I hear every night in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords? Lord Derby, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Disraeli have used almost the identical language which I have used seven or eight years ago. Here is my programme, ‘Non-intervention;’ here is my programme, ‘Diminished expenditure in your armaments, and diminished taxation if you follow that policy.’ But am I, when I see this policy, which seems to be advocated and very rapidly adopted by the whole Conservative party in the House of Commons, am I then immediately to turn from the course I took seven years ago and say, ‘If you offer to reduce the establishments 2,000,000l. a year, you only want to make a factious opposition to the Government?’ I want such factious opposition.
Now, I want you to bear in mind, though you have got Free Trade, you are interested in getting something else, and you will find something else. I speak to young men, to young men in shops and warehouses, foremen in places of business, who want some day to have the chance of being masters. I want the operative who is qualifying himself to be a freeman, and who hopes some day to be a capitalist, to have the chance that he may carry out his views and see the career before him. This was the feeling I had seven or eight years ago, when we launched our assault upon the protective system. But there is a great deal more to do, if you will make this country a place to live in, and for your children to thrive in, and give a chance to every man, as I should like to see, of rising in the world, becoming the head of a family, and finding employment for his labour, and supply him with all the advantages of capital if he sets up to be a master. How is this to be done, but by widening the circle of business operations, and by diminishing the pressure of your taxation?
Now, what do we see in London? Twenty or thirty thousand unemployed workmen. Why are they unemployed? You don't find that the newspapers connect cause and effect. They are unemployed because capital is scarce; they are unemployed because money is worth 6 or 7 per cent. at the banks. Who will lay out his money in building houses, to pay him at the rate of 6, or 7, or 8 per cent., if he can get that percentage for the money he puts into the banks? Consequently there is no money being invested in buildings, because you have now such a high rate of interest. And why is there such a high rate of interest? Because the floating capital of this country has, during the last two or three years, been wasted in sudden and extraordinary expenses. But you don't see your newspapers, that were bawling for the war, honestly tell the people in London that the reason they are suffering want of employment is, that this floating capital, which is always a limited quantity in the country—the floating capital which sets all your fixed capital in motion—has been exhausted, wasted, by the course that has been pursued. It may have been necessary or not, I am not now going into that question; but, I say, let cause and effect be connected, don't let the people be deluded.
They tell these poor people in London they may emigrate; but I say it is downright quackery to talk of relieving the country of 20,000 or 30,000 people by means of emigration. Moreover, if we remain at peace, and keep our Ministry in order, during the next two or three years, there will not be enough builders and joiners for the work that will have to be done. It is downright quackery, and insulting your understanding, to say you must make people emigrate, as a means of relieving you of such a large surplus population. It is all moonshine.
Now, I say, if you are to have a progressive development of your trade, you must pursue a policy favourable to it. You must enable your Government to reduce taxation, and especially that taxation which presses on the labouring and on the middle classes—I mean the taxation that is laid in an indirect form upon your articles of consumption. The more you remove these taxes, the more your trade will expand, the more your population may increase and flourish, and the happier will be the condition of the country.
But you have come now to a dead stand-still; and this is one of my great complaints against this Government. It is the most incompetent Government in matters of finance that we have had since that of Sir Robert Peel. Here you are, laying on increased taxes on your tea and sugar—here you are, at this moment, to gratify the people who have cried out against a 16d. income-tax, taking off 9d. from the tax. And it is perfectly certain, as Mr. Gladstone says, that the Government have not the means before them to do it honestly; and next year, unless you have a reduction of expenditure, there must be an increase of taxation. I appeal to my right hon. Friend here (Mr. Gibson), who has looked into the matter as well as myself, whether it is not inevitable. And, in two years from that time, if you do not reduce your expenditure, you will have a deficit of something like 10,000,000l. But how to make it up? Your present Prime Minister, who lives from hand to mouth in his political career—who has never cared for the morrow so that he can keep on for today—he is pursuing a most ruinous course of finance; and, if you had called out for the whole 16d. being taken off, instead of the 9d. he would still have let it go, and left it to somebody else to find out how to make up the deficiency next year.
And not only that, but look at your Indian finances—Nobody looks at them; you have put his screen before your faces, so that you are hidden from India, and India is hidden from you. And so your Government sits down in London, and writes out to that country, in order to send one army to the Persian Gulf, and another to Hongkong; and that the Indian Treasury must pay for it, or the half of it. They have no voice in the matter out there. And how stand your Indian finances? Deficit on deficit every year—deficit last year, and the year before that—a constantly accumulating deficit. And what has been done to meet it? They tried for a loan some time ago, at 4½ per cent., but could not get the money. Then they have tried to realise it in India, at 5 per cent.; but could not get the money. And the last advices are, that you cannot get the money. But, as Sir Robert Peel told us in the House of Commons, on some occasion, you are as much responsible for the finances of India as you are for the finances in Downing Street; and, if you allow things to go on in this reckless way, by which you become embarrassed at home and embarrassed abroad, the time of reckoning will overtake you, as it does overtake all spendthrifts, and there will be an evil day for you and your children, sooner or later.
Now, is it to be considered unreasonable that we have joined Mr. Gladstone in his motions? I voted for his motion that there should be a reduction of the expenditure, and Mr. Disraeli also voted with him. Were we, then, to go into the other lobby, because we found Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli voting with us on that occasion? I believe they were right. I believe that they both took a most philosophical and able view of our finances; and what I want you to consider is, whether you think the men who take the independent course which I have suggested, whether you think they are men who ought to be denounced here, by interested and jealous individuals, because they have had the manliness to do their duty?
I come now, for a moment, to the conduct of my right hon. Friend here, and to the conduct of my honourable Friend whom I represent here on this occasion. I have lived with Mr. Bright in the most transparent intimacy of mind that two human beings ever enjoyed together. I don't believe there is a view, I don't believe there is a thought, I don't believe there is one aspiration in the minds of either of us that the other is not acquainted with. I don't know that there is anything that I have sought to do which Mr. Bright would not do in my place, or anything that he aims at which I would not accomplish if I had the power. Knowing him, then, I stand here, in all humility, as his representative; for what I have long cherished in my friend Mr. Bright is this, that I have seen in him an ability and an eloquence to which I have had no pretensions, because I am not gifted with the natural eloquence with which he is endowed; and that I have had the fond consolation of hoping that Mr. Bright, being seven or eight years younger than myself, will be advocating principles—and advocating them successfully—when I shall no longer be on the scene of duty. With those feelings, I naturally take the deepest interest in the decision of this election. I feel humiliated—I feel disgusted to see the daily personal attacks—the diatribes that are made against this man—with his health impaired for the moment,—his health impaired, too, in that organ which excites feelings of awe and of the utmost commiseration for him on the part of all right-minded men. Yes; whilst this man is not able to use those great intellectual powers with which God has gifted him—whilst their full activity is suspended for the day—the vermin of your Manchester press, the ghouls of the Guardian, are preying upon this splendid being, and trying to make a martyr of him in the midst of his sufferings!
Well, now, what are the motives with which these men are actuated? Are they public motives? Why don't they allege one public ground for their hostility? Where is the public ground—where is the one fact—what have they to allege against this man? No; it is vile, dirty, nasty, fireside jealousy.
I will deal very candidly with you, men of Manchester, in this respect. I say you have not the character, or the fame, or the destinies of John Bright in your hands; but I will tell you this, that your own character and reputation are at stake. Your character and reputation with the country, and with the world at large, are at stake in the conduct which you pursue on this occasion. One who has served you so faithfully and so assiduously—even to the partial destruction of his own health—who is no longer able to appear before you,—why, the manhood that is in you must all rebel against the cowardly assaults that are made upon him. But I believe the hostility is a personal one. I believe it is confined to a select few. They may, perhaps, make dupes of others; and, unless you be watchful, they may make dupes of some of you.
But what are the alleged faults of this man—what have you to say against him? I told you before that you must go to the House of Commons for his character—to either side of the House of Commons—and I will venture to say you will hear but one opinion of him from Whig, Tory, or Radical. I will tell you what I heard one of the oldest and most sagacious men in the House of Commons say: that he did not believe there was any man in the House, with the exception of Mr. Bright and Mr. Gladstone, who ever changed votes by their eloquence. Now, that is a great tribute to pay to men; because although we, many of us, may probably convince people by our arguments, we do not convert them and make them change their votes,—it requires logic and reasoning power; but it requires something else—it requires those transcendent powers of eloquence which your representatives possess.
Now, as to my friend here, who sits beside me (Mr. Gibson), he was not of my selection; he was selected in the parlour of my late revered friend, Sir Thomas Potter, and I was at the time not a very enthusiastic supporter of the right hon. Gentleman. He was brought here, and, as I always went with those good men who at that time took the lead—Sir Thomas Potter, Mr. Kershaw, Mr. Callender, and others—I joined them, and fought the battle, and we won it for them. But this I will say of him, that though he sometimes has an arch look, and sometimes seems as if he were almost quizzing you, and you fancy that there is a little twist of sarcasm about him in all he says and all he looks, yet this I will say of him, that there is an earnestness in his character which I every day more and more appreciate, and which I did not when I first saw him—as many others may not, when they first see him—give him credit for.
Well, now, how has my right hon. Friend employed himself? He might have gone into office, and was in office. He is a man bred in fashionable life—he has not the same excuse that I have for keeping out of that sort of company. If he had allowed himself to be absorbed in the aristocratic circles of London—nobody can doubt, who sees him, that he would have been an ornament to those circles. He might have led a very happy life there; and, being Member for Manchester, they would have been, I dare say, very proud of him. And then there would have been none of this opposition now set up against him. But he has taken an independent course. He has worked in favour of great questions—great questions affecting the interests of the people. There is one question which he carried—I will almost give him credit for carrying it single-handed—and that is the question of the newspaper stamp. He carried that, and the repeal of the advertisement duty; he carried them by his dexterity and ability in debate; by his exquisite tactics, by his knowledge of the forms of the House, and by accepting the assistance of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. Now he has incurred the hostility—[cries of ‘The Guardian'’]—ay, and not only of the Guardian; we have had black marks put opposite our names from more papers than the Guardian.
I remember the first time I spoke in public after returning home from a temporary absence on the Continent, in 1847. It was at a dinner party in London, at which I took the chair; and I took the opportunity of launching this question of the press, and saying that the newspaper press of England was not free, and that this was a thing which the Reformers of the country ought to set about—to emancipate it. Well, I got a most vicious article next day from the Times newspaper for that, and the Times has followed us both with a very ample store of venom ever since. But now, these are the very men, men like my right hon. Friend, who undertook these great questions, and braved the hostility of interested parties, that the rank and file of their constituents ought to support, and protect from the vengeance threatened against them.
I am told there is a complaint made of these gentlemen by my friend Mr. Alderman Neild, of whom I always wish to speak with respect, as an old friend of mine, and who thinks they do not pay sufficient attention to private bills in London. My opinion is that there is a good deal too much made of that. The fact is, the less you have to go to London for private bills the better. You want the bill carried in Parliament, the thing is done by the House of Commons; and, let me tell you, when you want a man who has influence in that House, to assist you in obtaining a bill, you must go to just such a man as my right hon. Friend, or Mr. Bright—men who have force in the House, who have the ability to make themselves felt when they speak in that House. I tell you that those men who are independent in that House, who have the power of speaking so as to command the attention of the House, will do more for you by what they say in half-a-dozen words, than an hour's talk will do for you from one of those toadies who are always known to be at the beck and call of the Government.
But I am told that this Manchester School, as it is called, do not pay sufficient attention to the interests of Manchester. Now, I think we have done as much for Manchester as anybody. Have you not got your daily newspapers now? But for my right hon. Friend you might have had to be content with news three days old. Have you not got an addition to your register of 4,000 names now? Who was it that got those 4,000 names added to your register by having the clause inserted in favour of the compound householders? It was Mr. Bright. No man of less energy or influence than he could have done it, because it is a thing repugnant to the governing class in the House of Commons to have any addition to the register at all. I ask those 4,000 men how they are going to vote? I don't say to those men, ‘You are not to exercise your vote, or your power, independent of Mr. Bright or anybody else;’ but this I say, ‘Shame upon you if, having got the franchise for yourselves by a man who advocates the extension of the franchise to others, you give the power vested in you to the hands of somebody else, who will refuse the franchise to those who have not got it.’
Well, but now, this Manchester School, and their getting the Corn-laws repealed, and Free Trade established, by which the trade of this country has pretty nearly doubled during the last twelve years—I say, who has benefited so much as Manchester by that? But if you come to your own local affairs—I tell these gentlemen who are setting themselves up, and swelling about as aldermen, and say we are people who have not attended to the interests of Manchester—I tell them they owe everything to us, even their dignity. If I were to take the watch out of the pocket of my friend in the chair there, and read the inscription upon it, it would show that it was given to him by a number of us, who associated together to get a charter of incorporation for Manchester.
And our friend here (Mr. G. Wilson), who, from the time he was a boy of eighteen years of age, and was working day and night as a secretary on Poulett Thompson's committee—who has worked on all the questions carried through the town of Manchester ever since, and gone through all the drudgery for it in getting the charter of incorporation; and during the constant labour of seven years, for the repeal of the Corn-laws; and who is working now—and, it seems, working too much, for these gentlemen;—this is the man, they say, who does nothing for Manchester—who does not look after the local affairs of Manchester.
Let me speak of my friend Mr. Alderman Neild—I shall not do so in any spirit of egotism now, because I may, without vanity, say that it does not at all add to my fame with regard to this transaction in Manchester; but it so happened that, on one unlucky day for the lord of the manor of this place, his steward summoned me, along with ten or twelve other gentlemen, to elect a boroughreeve and constables for Manchester. I was taken into some dingy, cobwebbed, murky hole, and sat down with those gentlemen to elect a boroughreeve and constables for Manchester. After we had finished our business we were entitled, I think, to a leaden ticket, for some soup or a dinner. I said immediately, ‘Well, what in the world does all this mean? Can it be that Manchester'’—for I was not an old inhabitant of the town—'is it that in this great town of Manchester we are still living under the feudal system? Does Sir Oswald Moseley, living up in Derbyshire, send his mandate down here, for us to come into this dingy hole to elect a government for Manchester, and then go and get a ticket for soup at his expense? Why, now,' I said, ‘I will put an end to this thing.’ And it so happened that just at that moment my friend, Mr. Neild, was trying to get some amendment to the Act of Parliament by which the affairs of the police were carried on in this borough. But my friend Mr. Neild went to work in that, as he went to work in everything—it was by a little bit of compromise and concession. He went to the party who were already in possession of the power of the town, and asked them to cooperate; and they got some unworthy people to come to their meeting and upset the benches, and make a great confusion, and the whole meeting was destroyed; and, in fact, Mr. Neild was very much discomfited. Well, I wrote to Mr. Neild, and, if he does me the honour to preserve anything that I write to him, he has the note now. I said, ‘If you will do this thing in the way that I intend to do it, and you will join with me, I will undertake to say that we will get a charter of incorporation for Manchester.’ Mr. Neild—who had tried, what is a common thing with these gentlemen, something that will please everybody, but pleases nobody—came to me, like an honest, excellent, true-hearted man, as he is, and he says, ‘I have tried my way, and it does not answer; I will go with you; all I stipulate is, that you will not take any course but what is consistent with morality and honour, and I will join you in any way you choose in order to put an end to this state of things.’ We were three years at that work; and at one time he was 1,200l. out of pocket, and I was between 700l. and 800l. deficient, but we got the charter.
I ask these new-fledged aldermen—not the worthy and true-hearted men we see on this platform—I ask these men who are running about and saying that we will attend to nothing but the great national questions—I ask them, Are there in Manchester any men who have left their impress upon the town of Manchester more than the four men who are stigmatised by these people as never paying any attention to local matters?
I am going to Huddersfield to-morrow. If my voice does not fail me, I should like to come back and have one more great meeting in this hall—but it must be on one condition, and that is, that the gentlemen here set to work. Our late friend, Sir Thomas Potter, if he had been living, would have been amongst us; and he never allowed a meeting to go off without his famous and memorable words, ‘Work, work, work.’ With these words, I wish to dismiss you.
I tell you, here is a combination, I call it a conspiracy—a foul conspiracy, to upset two of the ablest men in the House of Commons. One of them is absent, and therefore it is no flattery to say it of him, that, if the House of Commons had the power of returning three men to be Members of their body, I have not the least hesitation in saying that one of these men, if he was not in Parliament, would be John Bright. Now, he is well known to you, and my friend Mr. Gibson is known to you as a great worker in the good cause.
You are asked to dismiss these men without a cause. I tell you that it is you, and not they, who are upon your trials. You may dismiss them, but if you do you will never have them back again, for they will not be out of Parliament a month. And what will you have in the place of them? I will avoid personalities. I have only dealt with Lord Palmerston as a person because he has been put forward as a policy. He is the only policy put forward on which the elections are to turn. I am obliged to deal with the man as a policy.
But now, as to your two candidates. There is Mr. Lowe. See him, and hear him, before you choose him. You have had one specimen of ministerial oratory on this platform, and I want you to hear more of these ‘right honourable’ and ‘honourable’ members of the aristocracy. Let them come and talk to you, and you will then know better how to appreciate the men you have got. Hear Mr. Lowe. I have heard him, and I will say this—and in saying it I shall be borne out by any impartial man in the House of Commons—that, considering that he had some reputation for ability when he was at Oxford, and as a writer in the Times, he is the most conspicuous failure in the House of Commons. Then there is my friend Sir John Potter. I will say nothing upon this subject except this: I am sorry to see him in opposition to his old friends.
But this I say of the two candidates who are rivals for the representation of your city, that if you want to exchange your present talented Members—if you want to lose the proud distinction you have attained—send them; but if you want still to show yourself to the world as having two Members able to grapple with other men in that great arena of intellectual gladiatorship, the House of Commons,—if you want still to show to the world, as you have done already, that Manchester, at all events, is something, then keep your present Members. But, on the other hand, if you think you have had fame and distinction enough, and want to fall into utter insignificance, and to hear a shout of scorn and indignation at the result of your election, then return the two men you are asked to send in the place of your present representatives.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, APRIL 24, 1863.
[The Alexandra was a three-masted wooden vessel, which was seized by the Commissioners of Customs at Liverpool, on the ground that it was being equipped contrary to the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act. The case which arose out of the seizure formed the subject of a trial in the Exchequer before Chief Baron Pollock, on June 22, and ended in a verdict for the defendants.]
The legal points that have been discussed in connection with this question are, undoubtedly, of the greatest importance; but I apprehend that no one will expect that any conclusive result will arise from this passage of arms between Gentlemen learned in the law in this House upon a question which is, I believe, now pending before the Law Courts. When the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) gave notice of his motion, I had no idea he could have contemplated any such result, or that he could have wished this question to be confined to the mere technical aspect which has been sought to be given to it. I think a larger and more important question is before us. It is not merely the vessel (the Alexandra) now under consideration, that public report charges with being intended to commit a breach of the Statute Law. It is said there are many vessels now building with the same object in view, and I apprehend that this is a proper time in the interests of this country—in the interests of this country, and no other country—to offer a few remarks upon this subject. I expressly speak of the interests of this country, because we are constantly met by phrases such as, ‘You are consulting American interests;'’—'You are neglecting the honour of this country.' I wish to consider British interests in my observations on the Foreign Enlistment Act, and I will consider no other interest; and I maintain, at the outset, there is no other country in the world that has a quarter—I say deliberately a quarter—of the interest in upholding the system of international law, of which the Foreign Enlistment Act is the basis.
Now, the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) has to-night—as was done by the hon. and learned Solicitor-General (Sir W. Atherton) on a former occasion—mixed up another question which has tended to bewilder and confuse the public mind here and out of doors, and the world over, as to two questions which are totally distinct. The hon. Member opposite has referred—and the greater part of his speech was made up of that subject—to the practice of buying and selling and exporting arms and munitions of war. I am sorry that topic was touched upon, both now and on a former occasion, when I was not present, though I have read the proceedings. There is no law in this country that prohibits the buying and selling or manufacturing or exporting arms and munitions of war. It has been truly said by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier), and by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General (Sir W. Atherton), that there is no country that has furnished such high authorities upon that subject as America itself. From the time of Jefferson, who, in that admirable passage read by the hon. Member for Plymouth, exhausted the whole argument in a few lines, down to the present time, every great authority in that country has clearly and distinctly laid down, that a Government is not responsible for the dealings of its subjects in the munitions of war. They carry on such a traffic at their own risk, and, if they attempt to run a blockade, the Government is not responsible, and their act never ought to be made the subject of diplomatic communication or complaint. I am astonished that Mr. Adams and Mr. Seward should have mixed that question up in their correspondence with that of equipments for war. I will not say I was astonished at Mr. Seward, because he writes so much, that he is in danger of writing on every subject, and on every side of a subject; but I am astonished that Mr. Adams should have mixed this question up with what is really a vital question—that of furnishing and equipping ships of war. There is only one reason why I am not sorry Mr. Adams has touched upon that subject. He has alluded to large and systematic operations being carried on in this country for sending munitions of war to blockaded ports. That involves the risk of being seized by the cruisers of the Federal States; and, as the only mode of punishing those who violate the blockade is in the hands of those who are maintaining the blockade (and we know the blockade is violated systematically—we know there are joint-stock companies to do it)—as the only authority that can punish the guilty parties, by the confiscation of their property, is the Federal Government, through the Prize Courts; and as the only police that can seize them are the Federal cruisers, it is well the country should know what is going on; because, if in the crowd of steamers sent out now, for the first time, to carry on our commerce with the West Indies—though a few years ago we were obliged to pay 250,000l. a year for a line of steamers to carry our letters there—if, I say, in that crowd of steamers, one or two innocent vessels should be detained by the blockading squadron, I think Mr. Adams has so far done good in showing that their Government is entitled to some forbearance from us if those one or two innocent vessels should suffer with the guilty. I am not going into the question of the blockade now. I promise that I will deal with that question separately another time, and I shall be just as ready to meet your arguments on English grounds then as I am on the question now before us.
Now, coming to the real and only question before us—the infringement of our own Foreign Enlistment Act—what are the grounds upon which I desire to see the Government exercise the greatest vigilance in preventing the violation of that law? I say, first, it is because we, of all other countries, have the most at stake in seeing that law observed. How do I hope ever to see the Government supported—how do I hope to see public opinion sanction the vigilant observance of that law, but by making it clear to this House and to the country, that the Americans have a claim upon us for the due observance of that law, inasmuch as they have themselves at all times exercised a fair reciprocity towards us when we have had occasion to appeal to them, when we have been in their present position? I am glad to hear hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite say, ‘No, no.’ I like to hear an opponent say ‘No,’ if he will listen to me. And when he has listened, I challenge him, in all the records of our State papers, to show an instance, in our diplomatic correspondence, of a despatch having been written complaining of any unredressed grievance under the Foreign Enlistment Act of the United States. Now, what has been the conduct of the American Government with reference to this system of legislation? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth stated truly, that all the legislation that has taken place in America upon the question of foreign enlistment has been at the instance, and in behalf, I may say, of European Governments; and I will add, that in a majority of cases, it has been at the instance and for the benefit of England. I will take the first Act, passed in 1794. I am not going to dwell on historical subjects, or to repeat the familiar history of Mr. Genet, and his proceedings in 1793; but the passing of that Act so remarkably illustrates the good faith of the American people, that it cannot be passed over without notice. The United States had then been ten years an independent nation, owing its independence mainly to the assistance given by France. In the course of these ten years France had gone through a revolution; it had become a sister Republic; and it sent out an envoy to America, claiming assistance, and for the right of fitting out cruisers in American ports. It was against England, the old enemy of both, that it sought this advantage. What was the conduct of America under these circumstances, the most trying that could be imagined? Why, we know that it required all the moral power of Washington to enforce this law. Not the law of America, for in 1793 the United States had no enlistment law; but they put themselves under the common law of England, or what may be called international law, and they gave us all the protection which they now ask us to give them. In 1794, they passed a Foreign Enlistment Act, and at whose instance? I will not weary you with long extracts, or historical references of my own; I will give you what was said by an English statesman, whose views will probably be heard with some respect on the other side. Mr. Canning, speaking of the passing of our Foreign Enlistment Bill, in 1819, said:—
'In 1794, this country complained of various breaches of neutrality committed on the part of citizens of the United States of America. What was the conduct of that nation in consequence? Did it resent the complaint as an infringement of its independence? Did it refuse to take such steps as would insure the immediate observance of neutrality? Neither. In 1794, immediately after the application from the British Government, the Legislature of the United States passed an Act, prohibiting, under heavy penalties, the engagement of American citizens in the armies of any belligerent Power.'
That was not merely an Act to prevent enlistment, it was a Foreign Enlistment Act, embracing our own provisions with reference to ships of war. That was the opinion of Mr. Canning.
I come now to the next case, in which the Americans carried out and enforced, in its entirety, the principle of neutrality, under the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act in the year 1818. At that time, the Spanish American Republics were in revolt against the mother country. We generally sympathise with everybody's rebels but our own. Mr. Canning and Lord Castlereagh brought into this House, in 1819, a Foreign Enlistment Bill, which was intended to make provision for the more faithful observance of our neutrality towards the Spanish colonies. This Bill met with great resistance from the Whig party; and, among others, it was opposed by Sir James Macintosh. I will read an extract from the speech of Lord Castlereagh, whom hon. Gentlemen opposite—even those below the gangway—will probably deem an authority. Lord Castlereagh, speaking on that Bill on the 13th of May, and using the mode of argument that would tell effectually with his Whig opponents, said:—
'It was a little too much in the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir James Macintosh) to censure the Government of this country, as being hostile to the South Americans and partial to Spain, while we had delayed doing what another Government, which he would allow to be free and popular, had done long ago. He would ask him, had the United States done nothing to prevent their citizens from assisting the South Americans? They had enacted two laws on the subject, nearly of the same tendency as that now proposed.
Now, I beg to remind the House, that not only is it true, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth says, that the American Government has passed its Foreign Enlistment Acts at the instance of European countries, but there is this remarkable fact also to be borne in mind, as proving the good faith of that Government and people, that they have passed those Acts in direct opposition to the sympathies and even to the supposed interests, of the country. In every one of the three cases to which I have to refer, they went against the national sympathies, and it required all the influence of the leading and authoritative politicians of the United States to carry the law against the popular feelings of the country. But now I come to the strongest case of all. I am going to bring as a witness a person who is present—the noble Lord (Palmerston) at the head of the Government. In 1837, as most of us are old enough to remember, a rebellion broke out in Canada, and when this House met in January, 1838, we were in a state of great apprehension with reference to the state of affairs on the North American Continent. Our apprehensions arose, not so much with respect to the rebellion in our own colonies, as on account of what was passing on the frontier of the United States. Great excitement prevailed among the border population, which sympathised strongly with the rebels; and the danger we felt was, that that state of things might lead to a collision with the United States. Soon after the meeting of the House, Sir Robert Inglis, interpreting the general anxiety of the country, rose and asked the noble Lord, who is now at the head of the Government, but who was then Foreign Minister, if he had any objection to state what were at that moment the relations between Mr. Fox, our representative at Washington, and the Government of the United States. Lord Palmerston replied, that fortunately he was able to give exact information, as he had received a despatch from Mr. Fox the day before; from which I infer, that the noble Lord and Sir Robert Inglis had agreed beforehand that this important question was to be put. The noble Lord went on to describe the state of excitement and dangerous agitation prevailing on the frontiers of Canada; how the rebels had taken possession of a place called Navy Island; how they had flocked there, and been joined by citizens of the United States, and how arms had been furnished to them; and how there existed, in fact, a most dangerous state of excitement. The noble Lord further said, that the Governor of Canada, Sir Francis Head, had sent a despatch to Mr. Fox, at Washington, complaining of this most unfortunate and menacing state of affairs; and now I will read the continuance of the noble Lord's speech with reference to the conduct of the American Government on that occasion:—
'Mr. Fox immediately communicated these facts to the President of the United States, and received in reply a most friendly communication. In the first instance, he had a verbal communication from Mr. Forsyth, the United States' Foreign Secretary, containing an expression of sentiments such as might be expected from the friendly spirit of the United States' Government, and the high sense of honour by which that country has been actuated in its dealings with foreign countries. On the 5th ult. Mr. Fox received a note from Mr. Forsyth, in which was a passage to this effect:—"That all the constitutional Powers vested in the Executive would be exercised to maintain the supremacy of those laws which had been passed to fulfil the obligations of the United States towards all nations which should unfortunately be engaged in foreign or domestic warfare." In addition to this assurance, that all the powers now vested in the central Government should be used to preserve neutrality, the President, on the 5th, sent down a special Message to Congress, stating, that though the laws as they stood were quite sufficient to punish an infraction of the neutrality, they were not sufficient to prevent it, and asking Congress to give the Executive further power for that purpose. Upon the receipt of this communication, a short discussion, in which many of the leading men, including Mr. Clay, Mr. Calhoun, and others of high character, participated, took place in Congress, an without exception, all who spoke expressed sentiments of a most friendly disposition towards this country; stating a strong opinion that the laws should be enforced, and that if, as they stood, they were insufficient, stronger powers should be given to the Executive.'
Now, let us pause to do justice to those great men, Mr. Clay, Mr. Calhoun, and others, who brought their great influence to bear at a time of immense excitement and dangerous animosity, and who threw their temporary popularity to the wind, in order that they might—as every man of public influence ought to do—make themselves the depository of the influence which they possessed for their country's advantage. I am going to put an hypothetical case. Let us suppose, that instead of the friendly answer which the American Government returned, the President had replied to Mr. Fox in these terms: ‘I hope the people and Government of the United States will believe that we are doing our best in every case to execute the law, but they must not imagine that any cry which may be raised will induce us to come down to Congress with a proposal to alter the law. If this cry is raised for the purpose of driving the President's Government to do something which may be contrary to the dignity of the country, in the way of altering our laws, for the purpose of pleasing another Government, then all I can say is, that such a course is not likely to accomplish its purpose.’ Now, with the simple alteration of the words ‘United Kingdom’ for ‘the United States,’ ‘this House’ for ‘Congress,’ and ‘Her Majesty's Government’ for ‘the President's Government,’ we have exactly the language which was used by the noble Lord three weeks ago.
I wish now to draw your attention to what was done in consequence of that promise of the American Government. Why, notwithstanding that the Foreign Enlistment Act, as it stood, was much more stringent than ours, and gave greater powers than ours now does, they passed a supplementary Act for the year, which gave such powers to the Government that one would hardly believe that such arbitrary powers would have been given to the Government of the United States. I hear cries of ‘Hear, hear!’ of a rather doubtful tone from the other side; but let hon. Gentlemen remember that that Act was passed twenty-five years ago, and nobody then said that the Americans were fond of submitting to tyranny. By this temporary Act, which received the assent of the President on the 10th of March, 1838, it was enacted—
'That the several collectors, naval officers, surveyors, inspectors of customs, marshals and deputy-marshals of the United States, and every other officer who may be empowered for the purpose by the President of the United States, are hereby respectively authorised and required to seize and detain any vessel which may be provided or prepared for any military expedition or enterprise against the territories or dominions of any foreign Prince or Power,' &c.
It gives them power to seize a vessel without any proof—an absolute power to seize on suspicion, and detain any vessel for ten days, during which time they may gather evidence on the matter. If there was no proof the vessel was then to be released; but she was liable to be seized again if any new case should arise. To carry out this arbitrary and temporary Act, the whole powers of the militia and the volunteers of the country were placed at the disposal of these officers. That affords the third instance of the mode in which the American Government has legislated for the benefit of European States. But there is a fourth case, which affords another example, which occurred on the occasion of the Crimean war. On the breaking out of the war with Russia, in 1854, we sent a communication to the American Government, and a duplicate of it was sent from the French Government. We asked the American Government—
'In the spirit of just reciprocity to give orders that no privateer under Russian colours shall be equipped, or victualled, or admitted with its prizes in the ports of the United States, and also that the citizens of the United States shall rigorously abstain from taking part in armaments of this nature, or in any other measure opposed to the duties of a strict neutrality.'
I will not now refer to the conduct pursued by the American Government in reference to the ship that was about half built for the Russian Government in America, and the building of which was suspended. I heard some person whisper, that the building of that vessel was suspended because the Russian Government could not find the money to finish it; but will any one believe that, when it is known that the Russian Government were at the time spending millions a week at Sebastopol? The vessel was not finished until three years after the war with Russia. There was another vessel, called the Maury, which was suspected of being intended for the Russian Government, and was stopped under circumstances which showed a great deal more activity and vigilance than we have exhibited in the case of the Alabama. What I want to deduce from all these facts is this:—First, that the American Government have, from the very formation of their Union, shown a willingness to observe, maintain, and enforce a strict neutrality in reference to the wars which have frequently taken place amongst European States. Next, that they have done it under circumstances of the utmost difficulty. It is easy enough to maintain neutrality when you have no feeling the other way to contend with. They did it in spite of their sympathies, and in opposition to their wishes. There can be no doubt, that in the case of the Canadian rebellion, there was a strong feeling amongst the mass of the American people that a successful rebellion in Canada would have led to the annexation of Canada to the United States. There is no doubt that the strongest national yearnings were enlisted on the side of the Canadians; and I want to call the attention of the House to the fact, that, in spite of these temptations to go wrong, the United States have uniformly gone right on this question. We may have had other grounds of complaint—I think, for instance, that in regard to our enlistments in America, they persisted in their resentment against us in a manner that partook of unfriendly severity, if not of direct hostility; but in the matter of their Foreign Enlistment Acts, I repeat again, and let no one answer me with a vague statement of what he has heard somewhere or other—I challenge any one to show me in all our diplomatic correspondence a despatch which complains of an unredressed grievance under those Acts.
I have mentioned these circumstances in the hope that they may become generally known, and in order that they may bring the sentiments of this House, and the public opinion of this country, to a temper which shall incline us to act by the United States as they have acted by us. If the motives which I have appealed to in this statement of facts will not have that effect, then I do not know that I ought to spend another minute in trying to bring any other motives to bear upon the minds of my countrymen. I do not intend to appeal to your fears, that would be out of the question; but I will not sit down without saying a word or two with reference to the interest we have in the question. If gratitude for the past observance of an honourable neutrality is not sufficient, let us look at what will be the consequence of pursuing another course. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General, in a speech from which I may not quote, as it was delivered in a previous debate this session, and which he has published as a pamphlet, laid it down, that we have only to deal with municipal law, and that the Foreign Enlistment Act was passed at our own will and pleasure, and that we may repeal it in like manner at our own pleasure. The Solicitor-General laid it down broadly, that the Foreign Enlistment Act was simply a measure of municipal law, which we might repeal at our own will and pleasure. Now, I join issue with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I say we are bound as distinctly to the United States by the rules of honourable reciprocity in this case as if treaty engagements existed. We have gone to the Americans, begging them not to allow their citizens to molest us; begging them not to allow privateers to be fitted out; and when it is clear that there has been no violation of their law, we are, I contend, bound to observe the same honourable neutrality. The hon. and learned Gentleman says, that if we choose to allow both parties to come and buy ships of war here, no infringement of our neutral position would, as a consequence, take place. That may be an abstract legal truth; but what must we say of a statesman who stands up in the House of Commons and gives expression to such a dictum as that, to be quoted hereafter in Washington? I am not going to discuss points of law with the hon. and learned Gentleman; that would be an act of presumption on my part; and we may possibly observe neutrality either by abstaining from assisting either party in the contest, or by rendering assistance to both. Is that, however, let me ask, a state of things which we ought to covet?
I should like to know from hon. Gentlemen opposite what would be our fate if any of those numerous wars in which we have been engaged, and to the recurrence of which we are liable, if this doctrine were carried fully into effect? If, for instance, the little dark cloud which threatened a rupture with Brazil, had burst upon our heads, America would, according to the theory of the hon. and learned Gentleman, be entitled not only to build ships for us, but might fit out vessels for the Brazilian Government, to cruise in the name of that Government and with the commission of the Brazilian Emperor, against our commerce. But I will not rest my argument merely on the ground that this is a thing which might possibly happen, if we were to adopt the line of policy to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has, as I think, so unwisely referred. Can we, I would ask, look for the maintenance of the law relative to foreign enlistment in America or elsewhere, unless we ourselves set the example of good faith? You have not only in America, but in France, a most stringent law on this subject. I wrote to a friend in France to ascertain what was the mode of proceeding there, in order to prevent vessels slipping from their ports, as the Alabama had done from ours; and I was told, that they required no Foreign Enlistment Act for the purpose. By a penal code, which I believe all the nations of the Continent imitate more or less, any citizen of France, who, without the consent of the Government, commits an act of hostility against a Foreign Power, by which the country incurs the risk of war, is liable to transportation. The law further provides, that anybody who fits out a ship of war, or does any hostile act, owing to which an enemy inflicts reprisals on a French citizen, will likewise be held subject to the same penalty. This, you may say, is very severe; but then you want reciprocity with that country. The French do not ask you to pass a law in accordance with their model; but what both France and America will require is this—that you will, in the event of war, as far as lies in your power, prevent privateers from going out and preying upon their commerce. You may choose any way you please to do it; but surely you have too much common sense to imagine that you can induce America to abstain from such a system in the future, unless you observe the laws of a fair reciprocity in her regard.
Now, is there, let me ask, no way in which you can prevent ships of war from sailing from your ports, threatening, as they do, the commerce of a friendly country, all of them built in England, manned from England, armed and equipped from England, that were never intended for any destination, but are roaming the seas without any fixed goal, and marking their track by fire and devastation? That is the question to which you have to address yourselves; and, unless you are prepared to set your face against this system, the Foreign Enlistment Act will be, as the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth said, a dead letter; and if it be made a dead letter here, most assuredly the same state of things will result elsewhere.
Who, then, I should like to know, has the most to lose by the adoption of this system? I will show, by giving some figures, which tell us how large a proportion of the property afloat on salt water belongs to British capitalists. The lowest estimate I have heard formed of the value of this property, as entered through the insurance offices in the City and other quarters, shows that we have upon an average 100,000,000l. to 120,000,000l. sterling worth of the property of British capitalists on the seas. Rest assured, no other country has 30,000,000l. worth, and that you have as much property at stake upon the ocean as all the rest of the world put together. You have, moreover, 10,000,000 people in these islands to feed upon food brought from foreign countries. You get three-fourths of the tea and four-fifths of the silk from China; more than one-half of the tallow and hemp from Russia; there is more cotton, more wheat, more Indian corn, brought to us than to any other country. You, who are so powerful here, and can set the world at defiance in your island home, are, the moment a war of reprisals is made on your commerce, the most vulnerable. The hon. Gentleman who says ‘No,’ does not understand the position of the commerce of England. But be that as it may, is there, I would ask, nothing we can do to show our good faith in this matter? Is it not derogatory that we should have any one in this country, and especially in this House, claiming to be educated and reflective, who would for a moment consent to put himself on the side of those who are committing those acts against the law of the country and its future welfare? I want public opinion to be ranged on the side of law in this as well as in every other matter. Is there any person who wishes to give his sanction to an offence against the law of the country? Every person engaged in the building of ships of war, under the circumstances to which I have referred, subjects himself to penal consequences—to fine and imprisonment. Is there any person who will encourage such a practice as that? Is there nothing we can do to show that we wish to put it down? The case of the Alabama is one that is, perhaps, clearer than the case of the Florida, or the Japan. The last-mentioned vessel was, however, one not only built here for the Confederate Government, but manned by Englishmen surreptitiously conveyed on board the ship. The Alabama, it was said, escaped from our port under the pretence of going on a trip of pleasure, and it was stated in one of the despatches that orders were issued to have the vessel stopped at Nassau. If she was to be stopped at Nassau, why was she not stopped elsewhere? That vessel has been paying visits to our ports in other islands, and has been received with something like favour and consideration. There is a legal difficulty, I know, raised—that you cannot stop a vessel after her first voyage; but my answer is, that the Alabama has never made a voyage at all; she has been cruising about, and has no home. Why do you not forbid the reentry of those vessels into your ports, that left them, manned by a majority of English sailors, in violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act? Would any person have a right to complain of that? Proclaim the vessels that thus steal away from your ports outlaws, so far as your ports are concerned. If you were to do what I suggest, other countries would follow your example, and put an end to those clandestine proceedings by making them unprofitable.
It is our duty, in reference to the obligations of the past—it is our duty, in reference to the stake we have in future, to put an end to the present state of things. The whole system of the Foreign Enlistment Act is, I may add, only two hundred years old. The ancients did not know the meaning of the word ‘neutrality,’ as we know it at the present day. In the middle ages, people were hardly aware of such a thing as neutrality; the first Foreign Enlistment Act is hardly two hundred years old, and since that time that system of legislation has grown up. It has been a code of legislation that has gradually grown up, and is now looked to by the nations to assist in keeping the peace, and preventing the catastrophe of a general war. Shall we be the first to roll back the tide of civilisation, and thus practically go back to barbarism and the middle ages, by virtually repealing this international code, by which we preserve the rights and interests of neutrality? I cannot but think that this House and the country, when they reflect on the facts of the case, will consider, that if they in any way lend their sanction to such a retrograde policy they would be unworthy of themselves, and would be guilty of a great crime against humanity.