- 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.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JUNE 12, 1849.
[In the year 1849, the revolutionary or reforming spirit, which had agitated Europe for a year before, was either repressed by violence, or had grown languid by reaction, Among the events, however, which excited the feelings of the English people strongly, was the armed intervention of Russia in the affairs of Hungary, and in support of the despotism of Austria. There is little doubt that the indignation which was roused in England at this act of the Emperor Nicholas, gave strength, a few years subsequently, to the feeling which prompted the Crimean War. Mr. Cobden on both occasions pleaded for the adoption of a principle of non-intervention. On the present, his motion, which ran, ‘That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to direct her Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to enter into communications with Foreign Powers, inviting them to concur in Treaties, binding the respective parties, in the event of any future misunderstanding, which cannot be arranged by amicable negotiation, to refer the matter in dispute to the decision of arbitrators,’ was rejected by moving the previous question. Majority, 97 (176-79).]
I do not remember rising to address the House on any occasion when I felt more desirous to be indulged with its attention; because, representing as I do a very numerous body out of this House, who take a deep interest in the question, I feel regret on their account, as well as for the cause I have in hand, that there should be so much misapprehension in the House in reference to the motion I am about to make. What has just fallen from the hon. Member for Bucks (Mr. Disraeli) is a proof of this misconception; for he would not have presumed to sneer at a motion before it was made, unless he had conceived that there was something so unreasonable and preposterous about it, that it ought to be condemned before it was heard. I have heard that hon. Gentleman indulge in a sneer before, on many occasions; but they have been ex post facto sneers. I have never until now heard him sneer at a matter by anticipation. He has grounded that sneer on an observation drawn forth by a subject which was calculated above all others to move the milk of human kindness in our bosoms. How it was possible for an hon. Member, in reference to the answer returned by the American President to Lady Franklin's letter, to indulge in a sneer of that kind, I cannot understand; unless it be that the hon. Gentleman is incapable of anything but sneering. I accept those acts of the American and Russian Governments as proofs that we live in altered times. As the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. W.E. Gladstone) has well observed; at no former period of the world's history has there been an instance of foreign Governments sending out, at their expense, to seek for scientific adventurers, unconnected with their own community. Accepting this as a proof that we live in different times from those that are past, I think there is nothing unreasonable in our seeking to take another step towards consolidating the peace of nations, and securing us against the recurrence of the greatest calamity that can afflict mankind.
I stand here the humble representative of two distinct bodies, both of some importance in the community. In the first place, I represent on this occasion, and for this specific motion alone, that influential body of Christians who repudiate war in any case, whether offensive or defensive; I also represent that numerous portion of the middle classes of this country, with the great bulk of the working classes, who have an abhorence of war, greater than at any former period of our history, and who desire that we should take some new precautions, and, if possible, obtain some guarantees, against the recurrence of war in future. Those two classes have found in the motion which I am about to submit a common ground—and I rejoice at it—on which they can unite without compromising their principles, on one side or the other. It is not necessary that any one in this House, or out of it, who accedes to this motion, should be of opinion that we are not justified, under any circumstances, in resorting to war, even in self-defence. It is only necessary that you should be agreed that war is a great calamity, which it is desirable we should avoid if possible. If you feel that the plan proposed is calculated to attain the object sought, you may vote for it without compromising yourselves on the extreme principle of defensive war. I assume that every one in this House would only sanction war, in case it was imperatively demanded on our part, in defence of our honour, or our just interests. I take it that every one here would repudiate war, unless it were called for by such motives. I assume, moreover, that there is not a man in this House who would not repudiate war, if those objects—the just interests and honour of the country—could be preserved by any other means. My object is to see if we cannot devise some better method than war for attaining those ends; and my plan is, simply and solely, that we should resort to that mode of settling disputes in communities, which individuals resort to in private life. I only want you to go one step farther, to carry out in another instance the principle which you recognise in other cases—that the intercourse between communities is nothing more than the intercourse of individuals in the aggregate. I want to know why there may not be an agreement between this country and France, or between this country and America, by which the nations should respectively bind themselves, in case of any misunderstanding arising which could not be settled by mutual representation or diplomacy, to refer the dispute to the decision of arbitrators. By arbitrators I do not mean necessarily crowned heads, or neutral states; though we have examples where disputes have been referred to crowned heads, and where their arbitrament has been eminently successful. There is a case where the United States and France referred a dispute to England; a case in which England and the United States referred a dispute to Russia; one in which the United States and Mexico referred a question to Prussia, and one in which the United States and England referred a case to the King of the Netherlands. These cases were all eminently successful. If one failed in its immediate object, there is no instance in which a war has followed after such a reference. But I do not confine myself to the plan of referring disputes to neutral Powers. I see the difficulty of two independent states, like England and France, doing so, as one might prefer a republic for the arbitrator, and the other a monarchy. I should prefer to see these disputes referred to individuals, whether designated commissioners, or plenipotentiaries, or arbitrators, appointed from one country to meet men appointed from another country to inquire into the matter and decide upon it; or, if they cannot do so, to have the power of calling in an umpire, as is done in all arbitrations. I propose that these individuals should have absolute power to dispose of the question submitted to them.
I want to show that I am practical on this occasion, and, therefore, I will cite some cases in which this method of arranging difficulties has already been resorted to. In 1794 we had a Treaty with America, for the settlement of certain British claims on the American Government. Those claims were referred to four commissioners, two appointed on each side, with the proviso that they should elect unanimously, an arbitrator; in case they should not agree in the choice of an arbitrator, it was provided that the representatives of each country should put the names of certain arbitrators into an urn, one to be drawn out by lot; and this arbitrator and the four commissioners decided by a majority all the cases brought before them. Again, in the Treaty of 1814 with the United States, provision was made for settling most important matters, precisely in the way I now propose. Provision was made for settling the boundary between the United States and Canada, for some thousands of miles; also for defining the right to certain islands lying on the coast; and for settling the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. The plan was this: each country named a commissioner; the commissioners were to endeavour to agree on these disputed points; and the matters on which they could not agree were referred to some neutral state. All the matters referred to them—and most important they were—were arranged by mutual conference and mutual concessions, except the question of the Maine boundary, which was accordingly referred to the king of the Netherlands. Afterwards, exception was taken to his decision by the United States; the matter remained open till the time of Lord Ashburton's mission; and it was finally settled by him. But in no case has any such reference ever been followed by war. In 1818 there was a Convention with America, for settling the claims made by that country for captured negroes during the war. It was agreed to refer that matter to the Emperor of Russia; and he decided in favour of the principle of compensation. He was then appealed to by both the Governments to define a mode by which this compensation should be adjudged; and his plan was this: he said, ‘Let each party name a commissioner and an arbitrator; let the commissioners meet, and, if they can agree, well and good; if not, let the names of the arbitrators be put into an urn, and one drawn out by lot; and that arbitrator and the two commissioners shall decide the question by a majority.’ This method was adopted, and compensation to the extent of 1,200,000 dollars was given, without any difficulty. Hence, it appears that what I propose is no novelty, no innovation; it has been practised, and practised with success; I only want you to carry the principle a little farther, and resort to it, in anticipation, as a mode of arranging all quarrels.
For this reason, I propose an address to the Crown, praying that Her Majesty will instruct her Foreign Secretary to propose to foreign Powers to enter into treaties, providing that, in case of any future misunderstanding, which cannot be settled by amicable negotiation, an arbitration, such as I have described, shall be resorted to. There is no difficulty in fixing the means of arbitration, and providing the details; for arbitration is so much used in private life, and is, indeed, made parts of so many statutes and Acts of Parliament, that there is no difficulty whatever in carrying out the plan, provided you are agreed as to the policy of doing so. Now, I shall be met with this objection—I have heard it already—and I know there are Members of this House who purpose to vote against the motion on this ground: they say, ‘What is the use of a treaty of this sort, between France and England, for instance; the parties would not observe the treaty; it would be a piece of waste paper; they would go to war, as before, in spite of any treaty.’ It would be a sufficient answer to this objection to say, ‘What is the use of any treaty? What is the use of the Foreign Office? What is the use of your diplomacy?’ You might shut up the one and cashier the other. I maintain, that a treaty binding two countries to refer their disputes to arbitration, is just as likely to be observed as any other treaty. Nay, I question very much whether it is not more likely to be observed; because, I think there is no object which other countries will be less likely to seek than that of having a war with a country so powerful as England. Therefore, if any provision were made by which you might honourably avoid a war, that provision would be as gladly sought by your opponents as by yourselves. But I deny that, as a rule, treaties are violated; as a rule, they are respected and observed. I do not find that wars, generally, arise out of the violation of any specific treaty—they more commonly arise out of accidental collisions; and, as a rule, treaties are observed by powerful States against the weak, just as well as by weak States against the powerful. I, therefore, see no difficulty specially applying to a treaty of this kind, greater than exists with other treaties. There would be this advantage, at all events, in having a treaty binding another country to refer all disputes to arbitration. If that country did not fulfil its engagement, it would enter into war with the brand of infamy stamped upon its banners. It could not proclaim to the world that it was engaged in a just and necessary war. On the contrary, all the world would point to that nation as violating a treaty, by going to war with a country with whom they had engaged to enter into arbitration. I anticipate another objection which I have heard made: they say, ‘You cannot entrust the great interests of England to individuals or commissioners.’ That difficulty springs out of the assumption, that the quarrels with foreign countries are about questions involving the whole existence of the empire. On the contrary, whenever these quarrels take place, it is generally upon the most minute and absurd pretexts—so trivial that it is almost impossible, on looking back for the last hundred years, to tell precisely what any war was about. I heard the other day of a boy going to see a model of the battle of Waterloo, and when he asked what the battle was about, neither the old soldier who had charge of the exhibition, nor any one in the room, could answer the question. I may quote the remark made the other night by the noble Lord (J. Russell) at the head of the Government—that the last two wars were unnecessary—in which I quite agree with him.
But, to return to the point whether or not commissioners might be entrusted with the grave matters which form the subjects of dispute between nations, I would draw the attention of the House to the fact, that already you do virtually entrust these matters to individuals. Treaties of peace, made after war, are entrusted to individuals to negotiate and carry out. Take the case of Lord Castlereagh, representing the British power at the Congress of Vienna. He had full power to bind this country to the Treaty of Vienna. When, on the 20th of March, 1815, Mr. Whitbread brought on the subject of the Treaty, with the view of censuring his conduct and that of the Government, Lord Castlereagh distinctly told the House, ‘I did not wait for instructions at Vienna; I never allowed the machine of the Congress to stand still for want of my concurrence on important matters; I took upon myself the responsibility of acting; and if the interests and honour of England have been sacrificed, I stand here alone responsible.’ I want to know, whether as good men as Lord Castlereagh could not be found to settle these matters before, as after, a twenty years' war? Why not depute to a plenipotentiary the same powers before a conflict as you give him after? For these matters can only be settled by empowering individuals to act for you; and let the Government instruct them as they will, a discretionary power, after all, must be left, when they are to bind the country towards other States. Take the case of Lord Ashburton, settling the Maine boundary question in America. He had the power to bind this country to anything he set his hand to. No doubt he had his instructions from the Government, but he presents his credentials to the American Government, and is received by them as authorised to bind this country to anything he agrees to do. All I want is, that this should be done before, and not after, engaging in a war—done to avert the war, rather than to make up the difference after the parties are exhausted by the conflict.
Probably I shall be told that there are signs of a pacific tendency on the part of the Government and the country; it will be said that we are carrying out a pacific policy, and that there is no necessity for passing any resolution to impose on the Government the obligation of giving us this guarantee. But I do not see that this is in process of being done. I do not see any proof, in the last five or six years, that the Government has been increasing in its confidence of peace being preserved, or gaining security for its preservation. In the last ten years we have increased our armed forces by 60,000; in the army, navy, and ordnance, the expenditure has been augmented sixty to seventy per cent. From 1836, down to last year, there is no proof of the Government having any confidence in the duration of peace, or possessing increased security against war. I think the inference is quite the contrary. In the committees on which I have been sitting, I have seen an amount of preparation for war which has astounded me; and I dare say other honourable Gentlemen would share my alarm at the state of things. But I confess, when I have looked into what we are doing in the way of provision of warlike stores, means of aggression, and preparations for defence against some foreign enemy, I have been astonished at the warlike expenditure that is going on. What will honourable Gentlemen think when they know that we have 170,000 barrels of gunpowder in store? Besides that, we have sixty-five millions of ball-cartridges made up ready for use. (Hear, hear, and a laugh, from the Protectionist benches.) The public will not laugh when they read what I say. They will not join the honourable Members for counties opposite in laughing at this statement. We have 50,000 pieces of cannon in store, besides those afloat, and in arsenals, and garrisons, and batteries. There are 5,000,000 of cannon-balls and shells in the stores, and 1,200,000 sand-bags, ready for use whenever they are needed. There is a provision equal to three or four years' consumption of these articles in the height of the French war. You have, in barrelled gunpowder alone, a supply equal to nearly three years' consumption of that article in the height of the French war, and equal to fifteen years' consumption at the present rate, to say nothing of the sixty-five millions of ball-cartridges. Does this look as if the Government thought we had made any great way in the preservation of peace? Is it the part of a country, assured of peace, to make all this provision against war? You have spent, in the last five or six years, on an average, twice as much in fortifications, in steam-basins, in docks, in barracks, in means of aggressive and defensive warfare, as at any period since the peace; and my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), who has looked much longer and deeper into those subjects than I have, believes it is more than was spent in the same time for those objects during the war. Since 1836 you have doubled the expenditure of the ordnance department. It is in that department that the great increase takes place; because, in the progress of mechanical invention, and the improvements made in the science of projectiles, it is found that the artillery and engineer corps are the arms of the service on which the fate of battles mainly depends.
So, again, in the case of steam-basins. A great discovery came to the aid of civilisation—the discovery of Fulton—which he and others probably hoped would be made contributory to the unalloyed improvement and happiness of mankind. What has been the effect in our case? We commenced the construction of a steam-navy. I do not say whether it was necessary or not, but I want you to try and make it in some degree unnecessary in future. The Government continued to increase the steam-navy, until we had as much money spent in steam vessels of war as we had invested in our merchant-steamers. I made this statement last year; I repeat it advisedly, as capable of the strictest proof. It was then received with incredulity and surprise by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir C. Wood); some facts which I showed him afterwards rather staggered him, and I am now prepared to prove that when I stated the fact last year, it was strictly true that we had invested in steam-vessels of war a larger amount than the whole cost of our mercantile steam marine; that we had expended far more in steam-basins and docks for repair of those vessels than was invested in the private docks and yards, for building and repairing private steamers.
What are we to deduce from these facts? That instead of making the progress of civilisation subservient to the welfare of mankind—instead of making the arts of civilisation available for increasing the enjoyments of life—you are constantly bringing these improvements in science to bear upon the deadly contrivances of war, and thus are making the arts of peace and the discoveries of science contribute to the barbarism of the age. But will anybody presume to answer me by the declaration that we want no further guarantee for the preservation of peace? Will any one tell me that I am not strictly justified and warranted in trying, at all events, to bring to bear the opinion of this House, of the country, and of the civilised world, upon some better mode of preserving peace than that which imposes upon us almost all the burdens which war formerly used to entail? We are now spending every year on our armaments more than we spent annually, in the seven years' war, in the middle of the last century. Therefore, far from being deterred by sneers, I join most heartily and contentedly with those worthy men out of the House, who are inspired by higher motives than I can hope to bring to bear on this occasion, and which I could not probably so rightly urge as I do those which come within your province; I join most heartily in sharing the odium, the ridicule, the calumny, and the derision, which some are attempting to cast upon those advocates of peace and of reduced armaments.
But I wish to know where this system is to end. I have sat on the army, navy, and ordnance committees, and I see no limit to the increase of our armaments under the existing system. Unless you can adopt some such plan as I propose, unless you can approach foreign countries in a conciliatory spirit, and offer to them some kind of assurance that you do not wish to attack them, and receive the assurance that you are not going to be assailed by them, I see no necessary or logical end to the increase of our establishments. For the progress of scientific knowledge will lead to a constant increase of expenditure. There is no limit but the limit of taxation, and that, I believe, you have nearly reached. I shall probably be told that my plan would not suit all cases. I think it would suit all cases a great deal better than the plan which is now resorted to. At all events, arbitration is more rational, just, and humane than the resort to the sword. In the one case, you make men what they are never allowed to be in private life—the judge in their own case; you make them judge, jury, and executioner. In the other case, you refer the dispute to impartial individuals, selected for their intelligence and general capabilities. In any case, and under any circumstances, I do not see why my plan should not have the advantage over that now adopted. If I am opposed by supposititious cases, and told that my plan would not apply to such, I take my stand upon past experience, and will show you numerous instances where it would have applied. Nay, I am prepared to show that all the unavoidable quarrels we have had during the last twenty-years—I mean those which could not have been avoided by any conduct on the part of our Government—all these might have been more fitly settled by arbitration than in any other way; and I will appeal to the right bon. Gentlemen on both sides of this House, who have filled the highest offices of Government, when such disputes have arisen, whether they would not have felt relieved from harassing responsibilities, had they had this principle of arbitration to rely on, in these cases.
Take the case of 1837, when a dispute arose with Russia, about the confiscation of a ship in the Black Sea, called the Vixen. The noble Lord, the Member for Tiverton, was then Foreign Secretary. He knows very well that this vessel was sent to the Black Sea by a certain party, with a particular object; the thing was entirely got up. I was in Constantinople at the time, and knew the whole history of it. That vessel was freighted and sent to the coast of Circassia, for the very purpose of embroiling us with Russia; and immediately she was seized, there was a party in this country ready to raise an excitement against the noble Lord, for submitting to the arrogant spoliation of the Russian Government. Had we then had an arbitration treaty with Russia, would not that have been the best possible resource for the noble Lord in that case, and have enabled him to escape the party attacks made upon him in this country? That question, which, after all, did not involve an amount of property exceeding 2,000l. or 3,000l., might have been settled by a petty jury of twelve honest tradesmen, quite as well as by the noble Lord at the Foreign Office.
Will any one, for a moment, tell me that the disputes about the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick, and the misunderstanding respecting Oregon, might not have been settled by arbitration? I prefer the appointment of commissioners to that of crowned heads—because I would have men who are most competent to judge of the subject in dispute. For instance, this was a geographical question: why should not the two ablest geographers of this country have met those of the United States, assuming them otherwise qualified by moral character and general attainments, and have been authorised to call in an umpire, if necessary? Supposing the case to have been left to the decision of such an umpire as Baron Humboldt, for example; would he not have decided far more correctly than any war would be likely to do? I know that the Oregon question caused the liveliest apprehensions to those who were engaged on both sides, in this dispute, in 1846. I am aware that Mr. M'Lane, the American Minister, felt the greatest solicitude, and manifested the deepest anxiety on the arrival of every packet, and I know how anxious he was that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) should remain in office till the question was settled. I know what he felt, and what every Minister in a similar position must feel, on such occasions. The great difficulty was lest party spirit and popular excitement should arise on either side of the water, to hinder and perplex the efforts of those who were interested in its settlement. It is to remove that difficulty in future—to prevent the interposition of bad passions and popular prejudices in these disputes—that I desire to have provision made, beforehand, for the settlement of any quarrel that may arise by arbitration.
There was another case, in 1841, the danger from which was, in my mind, the most imminent of all—I mean the case of Mr. M'Leod, who had been taken and imprisoned by the State of New York, and tried for his life, for having, as he himself avowed, taken part in the burning of the Caroline, in which an American citizen lost his life. Our Government claimed to have this question decided between the general Government of the United States and themselves. But the Government of the United States said that they had not the power to remove the case out of the New York Court, and that they could not prevent the State of New York proceeding in the matter. We all know the excitement which took place on that occasion. There was great irritation in America, and great excitement in this country. Now, if Mr. M'Leod had been executed, what would the consequence have been in this country? Why, the old cry of our honour being involved would have been raised. [An hon. Member: ‘Certainly.'’] An hon. Member says, ‘Certainly.’ But what means would you take to vindicate your honour? You would go to war, and, for the one life that had been taken away, you would sacrifice the lives of thousands, nay, perhaps, tens of thousands. But would all this sacrifice of human life restore the life of the man on whose account you were fighting? Would it not be much wiser if, instead of resorting to war,—which is nothing but wholesale murder, if war can be avoided,—you had recourse to arbitration, by which, indeed, you could as little restore the individual to life, as by the employment of all your military forces, but by which you might obtain a provision for his widow and family, and which, be it remarked, is no part of the object of those who engage in wars?
Now, there is another case, upon which I call the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Peel) as a witness into court—the case of Mr. Pritchard, a missionary, and the consul of this country at Tahiti, who had been put under arrest by the French admiral. When this news first arrived in this country, from a distance of 12,000 or 14,000 miles, the press, both here and in France, sounded the tocsin, and national prejudices and hatreds were invoked on both sides. The French Minister, M. Guizot, was told that he was going to succumb to the dictation of England; and in this country, it was said that the honour of England was sacrificed to the insolence of France. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel), then at the head of affairs, rose in his place in this House, and declared that the insult offered was one of the grossest outrages ever committed, and was inflicted in the grossest manner. That added to the difficulty of dealing with the question in the proper manner. M. Guizot and Lord Aberdeen also complained of the conduct of the press of both countries, which exasperated the national animosity on that occasion, and rendered it more difficult to settle the question amicably. I now ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he would not have felt consoled and happy, in 1844, if a treaty of arbitration had existed between this country and France, by which this miserable and trumpery question might have been at once withdrawn from the arena of national controversy, and placed under the adjudication of a commission set apart for that purpose?
I may be told that none of these instances had led to or terminated in war. That is true. But they led to an enormous amount of expenditure; and, what is worse, to lasting hate between nations. I have no hesitation in saying that these disputes have cost this country 30,000,000l. sterling. They not only led to expenditure in preparation for war at the time, but they occasioned a permanent increase in your establishments, as I have shown you on a former occasion, and you are now paying every year for the increase of these establishments which was then made.
Now, I would ask, in the face of these facts, where is the argument you can use against the reasonable proposition which I now put forward? I may be told that, even if you make treaties of this kind, you cannot enforce the award. I admit it. I am no party to the plan which some advocate—no doubt with the best intentions—of having a Congress of nations, with a code of laws—a supreme court of appeal, with an army to support its decisions. I am no party to any such plan. I believe it might lead to more armed interference than takes place at present. The hon. Gentleman opposite, who is to move an amendment to my motion (Mr. Urquhart), has evidently mistaken my object. The hon. Gentleman is exceedingly attentive in tacking on amendments to other persons' motions. My justification for alluding to him, on the present occasion, is, that he has founded his amendment on a misapprehension of what my motion is. He has evidently conceived the idea that I have a grand project for putting the whole world under some court of justice. I have no such plan in view at all; and, therefore, neither the hon. Gentleman, nor any other person, will answer my arguments, if he has prepared a speech assuming that I contemplate anything of the kind. I have no plan for compelling the fulfilment of treaties of arbitration. I have no idea of enforcing treaties in any other way than that now resorted to. I do not, myself, advocate an appeal to arms; but that which follows the violation of a treaty, under the present system, may follow the violation of a treaty of arbitration, if adopted. What I say, however, is, if you make a treaty with another country, binding it to refer any dispute to arbitration, and if that country violates that treaty, when the dispute arises, then you will place it in a worse position before the world—you will place it in so infamous a position, that I doubt if any country would enter into war on such bad grounds as that country must occupy.
I may be told that this is not the time to bring forward such a motion. I never knew a good motion brought forward in a bad season. But it may be said, that the time is badly chosen, because there are wars on the Continent now. I quite disagree to that. Is there anything in those wars so inviting, that we should hesitate before we take precautions against their recurrence? I should have thought, on the contrary, that what is taking place on the Continent is the very reason why we should take every precaution now. There were none of these wars, with the exception of that between Schleswig and Denmark, to which international treaties would apply; because they are all either civil wars, or wars of insurrection, and rebellion. This war between Schleswig and Denmark was an instance of the very insignificant means by which you could produce widespread mischief in this commercial age. Is there a case where the principle of arbitration, in the persons of first-rate historians or jurists, could be adopted with more advantage than in the case of Schleswig and Denmark? It is difficult to see how the dispute is ever to be settled by going to war, for one party being stronger by land, and the other by sea, there may be no end of the conflict. But see what mischief this dispute has occasioned to others. The blockade of the Elbe, the great artery of the north of Europe, has shut out their supplies, not from Schleswig, but from Germany. It has interrupted the commerce of not merely a small Danish province, but the whole world. The people of Schleswig, who have comparatively no manufactures, are not punished, but your fellow-citizens in Manchester, your miners in North-umberland, and the wine-growers of the Gironde are punished. Mischief is done all over the world by this petty quarrel, which could be more properly settled by arbitration than by any other means. Let not people turn this matter into ridicule by saying that I want to make arbitration treaties with everybody—even Bornean pirates. Hon. Gentlemen may create a laugh by coupling together a Bornean pirate and a member of the Society of Friends. But I do not want to make treaties with Bornean pirates or the inhabitants of Timbuctoo. I shall be quite satisfied, as a beginning, if I see the noble Lord, or any one filling his place, trying to negotiate an arbitration treaty with the United States, or with France. But I should like to bind ourselves to the same principle with the weakest and smallest States. I should be as willing to see it done with Tuscany, Belgium, or Holland, as with France or America, because I am anxious to prove to the world that we are prepared to submit our misunderstandings, in all cases, to a purer and more just arbitrament than that of brute force. Whilst I do not agree with those who are in favour of a Congress of nations, I do think that if the larger and more civilised Powers were to enter into treaties of this kind, their decisions would become precedents, and you would in this way, in the course of time, establish a kind of common law amongst nations, which would save the time and trouble of arbitration in each individual case.
I do not anticipate any sudden or great change in the character of mankind, nor do I expect a complete extinction of those passions which form part of our nature. But I do not think there is anything very irrational in expecting that nations may see that the present system of settling disputes is barbarous, demoralising, and unjust; that it wars against the best interests of society, and that it ought to give place to a mode more consonant with the dictates of reason and humanity. I do not see anything in the present state of European society to prevent us from discussing this matter, and hoping that it may be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. I have abstained from dwelling on those topics which may excite the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have not entered into the horrors of war, or the manifold evils to which it gives rise. I will, on the present occasion, content myself with the description of it by Jeremy Bentham, who calls it ‘mischief on the largest scale.’ I will leave these topics, and that mode of handling the question, to others who may discuss the matter, either here or elsewhere. I have stated clearly, explicitly, and in a matter-of-fact manner, what my object is, in order that it may not be misunderstood. I have shown examples in which this plan has been adopted. All I want is, that we should enter into mutual engagements with other countries, binding ourselves and them, in all future cases of dispute which cannot be otherwise arranged, to refer the matter to arbitration. No possible harm can arise from the failure of my plan. The worst that can be said of it is, that it will not effect its object—that of averting war. We shall then remain in that unsatisfactory state in which we now find ourselves. I put it to any person having a desire to avert war, whether, when he sees that the adoption of this plan can do no harm, it is not just and wise to try whether it may not effect good. As it is likely to have that effect in the opinion of nearly 200,000 petitioners to this House—as that is the opinion declared by 150 public meetings in this country—as it is the opinion expressed by members of several town councils who calmly discussed this matter in their large boroughs—as it is the opinion of so many of your reflecting and intelligent fellow-citizens—will you refuse to them, under the circumstances I have stated, this, the only mode that has been propounded, of affording a guarantee against war, which we all equally deprecate?
LONDON, OCTOBER 8, 1849.
[The Austrian Government had in the autumn of 1849 advertised in the London papers for subscriptions to a loan of 71,000,000 florins (7,100,000l.). The loan was rendered necessary in consequence of the condition in which the Austrian finances had been placed by the Hungarian revolt, and the measures adopted to put it down. Mr. Cobden called public attention to the facts, and at a meeting at the London Tavern made the following Speech on this resolution:—'That the Government of Austria, having proposed to raise a loan in foreign countries, capitalists and men of business are thereby invited to investigate the financial position of the said Government, and the probability of its repaying the loan thus proposed to be contracted; and that it is the opinion of this meeting that no valid security is tendered, or can be offered, in the present state of the Austrian Government, which would justify prudent men in taking any part of the said loan.']
It has been my privilege to address my fellow-countrymen probably as often, and in as great a variety of places, as any man now living; but I will say, with unfeigned confidence, that there never was an occasion when I stood before my countrymen on more solid and firm grounds of justice, of humanity, and of sound political economy, than I do at this moment. Objections have been taken to the course I have pursued in this matter, on the ground that I am not adhering to sound principles of political economy. I suppose it was thought that this was the most vulnerable point on which one who had said so much on the subject of Free Trade could be assailed. I will begin, then, with that which the enemy considers his strong ground of attack; and I say, that as I have gone through the length and breadth of this country, with Adam Smith in my hand, to advocate the principles of Free Trade, so I can stand here, supported by the same great authority, to denounce—not merely for its inherent waste of national wealth, not only because it anticipates income and consumes capital, but also on the ground of injustice to posterity, in entailing upon the heirs of this generation a debt which it has no right to call upon them to pay—the loans we have this day met to consider. But, whilst I come here to denounce as unjust, to expose as wasteful, and to demonstrate to be impolitic, the system of lending money for the purposes for which Austria comes to borrow, I confine myself to this. I do not purpose to recommend that we should go to Parliament for a law to prohibit men from lending money, if it be their wish to do so. All I say is, that I come here to try, in a humble way, to do that which I have done for Free Trade—to popularise to the people of this country, and of the Continent, those arguments with which Adam Smith, David Hume, Ricardo, and every man who has written on this subject, have demonstrated the funding system to be injurious to mankind, and unjust in principle. I come here to try to show to our fellow-countrymen, that they will act upon a wrong principle, and do injury to society, by lending the proceeds of their hard and industrious labour to the Austrian Government, to be expended in that bottomless gulf of waste—armies and standing armaments. I come here to show the impolicy, on general principles, of taking such a course. But in this particular instance I am not going to confine myself to the general principle. I appeal to every individual who thinks of lending money to the Austrian Government, to pause before he does so; because he is going to intrust his money to a Power that has thrice committed an act of bankruptcy. [An observation was here made by an individual which led to cries of ‘Turn him out,’ and some confusion ensued.] Mr. Cobden proceeded:—Turn nobody out. If he be a man who has subscribed to this loan, he can only have paid ten per cent. as a deposit, and, if you will only keep him here, before I have done I will satisfy him that it will be for his interest to forfeit the deposit. I will satisfy him that it will be to his interest to forfeit his ten per cent. and to pay no more.
But to resume. I say that the Austrian Government has three times committed acts of bankruptcy, under circumstances of great and scandalous injustice, for, while personal interests—Imperial interests—have been well taken care of, the general public—the subscribers to the loans—have been basely sacrificed. Now, what has been the progress of Austrian finance since the great war? When the Austrian Government come to us to borrow money, the least they can do is, through their agents, Messrs. Hope and Co., to give us a bonâ fide, detailed, and candid debtor and creditor statement of their accounts; but we have no such statement from that Government. In the absence of such a detailed and official statement, then, we are bound to have recourse to the best private authorities we can find. I will take a work of standard reputation, which was published in 1840, under the title of ‘Austria and its Future,’ a work well known to be from the pen of Baron Andrian, who, last year, ably filled the office of Ambassador from the Central German Power to the British Court, and a work of standard authority on such matters. After a precisely detailed statement of all the various shuffling manœuvres—borrowing, loaning, lotteries, and every possible device—with which the Austrian Government had been mystifying its finance for twenty-five years—from 1815 to 1840—the author sums up by saying that, from 1815 down to 1840, a period of profound peace, the Austrian Government has doubled its debt in nominal value, but quadrupled its debt in real amount, and has increased the interest for which it is liable tenfold. The same work was republished, in 1846, by the same author, with an additional volume; and the author tells us that, at that time, not one word had been said to disprove his statements respecting Austrian finance. He adds, that since the period when his book was first published, 8,000,000l. more have been added to the national debt of Austria; and it therefore comes to this—that from 1815 to 1847 the Austrian Government, during a period of profound peace, without a foreign war on its hands during the whole of that time, has gone on, every year, spending more than its income, and constantly adding to the amount of its national debt. Then, in 1848, whilst Austria had from 300,000 to 400,000men under arms—the produce of all this wasteful expenditure—came that revolutionary epidemic, which passed over the Continent, and the Government of Austria fell like a house of cards, notwithstanding the bayonets by which it was supported, and, from that time to this, the Austrian empire has been in a state of complete anarchy and disorder. Vienna, Pesth, Venice, Milan, Prague—every capital of the empire but Inspruck—have been bombarded by the forces of the Austrian Government, or have been in a state of siege; we have seen the Bank suspending specie payments, the Government prohibiting the exportation of the precious metals, to prevent the foreign creditor from being honestly paid his due; and during all this anarchy and confusion, both political and financial, the Austrian Government has expended, at least, double the amount of its annual income. I should be afraid to state what I have heard persons of good authority say is the amount of the floating debt, now standing over, in the Austrian empire; but I am within the mark when I say, that there is at least 20,000,000l. sterling held over in Austria as the result of the last eighteen months' social, political, and financial anarchy. And it is to enable the Austrian Government to redeem a part of that enormous floating debt that they now have the audacity—for I cannot call it by any other name—to come before the people of Western Europe, and ask the honest Dutchman, the industrious Englishman, the painstaking, saving Swiss, or Frenchman—they do not care who it is—out of their hard earnings, to lend them money—that is, to throw it into a bottomless pit of waste and extravagance.
Now, I ask you, if an individual has committed acts of bankruptcy three times, is he not very likely to commit such an act again, if it answers his purpose? Well, the Austrian Government has every motive to declare itself bankrupt again, because it is utterly impossible that, in any other way, they can recover from their financial embarrassment. They never can pay their debt. They may now borrow 7,000,000l. sterling, as a means of paying off a fraction of the debt they have already incurred, and that 7,000,000l. they are asking for on rather humiliating terms; but I warn all men, whether in this country or abroad, that this is only the beginning of borrowing, on the part of the Austrian Government. If their finances are to be retrieved by borrowing, this is but a drop in the ocean to what they must borrow afterwards; and you must bear in mind, that they who lend their money first will be swamped and sacrificed to those who lend afterwards, and with whom the Government will have to submit to harder bargains. When I state these facts, I do not mention them for the information of Messrs. Hope and Co., or any other large banking company, in London, Amsterdam, Antwerp, or Vienna. I perfectly understand, though not a farthing of this Austrian loan should be repaid—though the Government shall never redeem a farthing of it—that it may still be a very profitable thing to those agents and bankers, who raise the money through their connections and customers. I hold in my hand the advertisement put forth by the Austrian Government in our papers, and this is my justification for coming here to-day. We have not met to talk over Austrian finances and affairs, to uncover their sore places, and to tell all these hard truths, without having been invited to it. Here is an advertisement, put into our papers, at the expense, I suppose, of the Austrian Government, inviting everybody to subscribe to the loan. The advertisers are so accommodating, that, in order that nobody may be excluded, they say that bonds will be issued for sums as low as 100 florins, or 10l. It is said that the pith of a lady's letter is to be found in the postscript, and I entreat the attention of all persons, whether here, in Holland, or in Germany—(for I am not merely speaking to a few of my countrymen in this room, but what I say will be read in Holland, in Germany, and in France)—to the last line of this advertisement. It runs thus:—'Any subscriber to a higher amount than 25,000 florins, that is, 2,500l., or any person who collects subscriptions to an amount surpassing that sum, will receive a commission of ¼ per cent. on the amount of the payments made.' Now, I ask you, if any shopkeeper or huckster in London put an advertisement outside his window,—'Anybody who brings a customer to my shop, who may purchase 5s worth of potatoes or vegetables, shall have a commission of 2d. on that amount,' would you not pass by on the other side, and take especial care to have no dealings at his shop? Would you not naturally say to yourselves, ‘If that man sold a good article, if he was true to his word in his dealings, if he never cheated anybody, if he had not committed foul acts of bankruptcy, or, probably, of robbery, he would not be under the necessity of offering bribes to obtain customers?’
I wish you, and those small capitalists who are invited to put their 10l. into this raffle, where there are no prizes, to bear in mind, that we do not think that our meeting will convert any of those bankers, or agents, or brokers, whether in Amsterdam or Vienna, who have been called on to find out unwary people, and get them to subscribe their 25,000 florins. We never expected to convert them, or to meet them on this platform. We expect that all those organs of the press, which are under the influence of these parties,—and they are not a few,—we expect that they will not meet what I now say by argument, but they will do what they are bid to do and to say, and will abuse me well. [Here a person exclaimed that ‘there were 10,000 people outside, who wanted to get in.'’] Mr. Cobden continued:—I am glad to hear that there are so many assembled outside, but they must be content with reading in the newspapers to-morrow what we are now saying. It is to those small capitalists, of whom I was speaking,—the unwary, the incautious, and the uninformed class,—that I wish to speak the voice of warning; and, if they will listen to me, I will give them the opportunity of testing the opinion of the great capitalists, with respect to this loan. Messrs. Hope and Co., of Amsterdam, the agents for the loan, have offered it on such terms as, if carried out, would pay 5l. 14s. per cent. interest. Now, I would advise some canny Dutchman to go to the counting-house of Messrs. Hope and Co., and say this to them,—'You have offered to me to take part in a loan, by which I shall get 5l. 14s. interest per cent.; that is, nearly twice as much interest as we get in Amsterdam, in an ordinary way; I should be content with 4 per cent. interest, if it were secure; I propose to take 1,000l. of your loan; and I will be content to receive 4 per cent. interest and give you the remaining 1l. 14s., if you will endorse my bond, as a guarantee for the payment.' No, no; the firm are not likely to be caught in that way, you may depend upon it. I was talking the other day to a gentleman in Lombard-street—one of the most experienced, sagacious, and able men in that quarter, which is not renowned for gullible people—and I asked him for his opinion upon this loan. Bear in mind, he is a man more consulted by the Government, and Committees of the House of Commons, on such matters, than any one else on the east of Temple-bar. He replied, ‘I do not believe that 200,000l. will be raised in all Lombard-street, and certainly not one shilling's worth will be taken to hold.’ No, the capitalists will not take it to hold. If they subscribe, they will take the scrip at 10 per cent. deposit, in the hope of transferring it, at a premium, to some one, who will lose his money, not being so well informed of the valueless character of the security. It is on that class that the loss will fall. I knew myself, many years ago, when resident in the City, a man who worked as a porter, on weekly wages—his family and himself being reduced to that state that they had no other earthly dependence—and yet, that man had Spanish bonds, to the nominal amount of more than 2,000l. in his pocket, which he had purchased when in better circumstances. They were not worth more than waste paper; but I never heard that the great houses that contracted that loan were ruined by it. No, it passed through their hands, and came into the hands of poor men, like this porter, who had no experience and knowledge in such matters; and it is to protect such poor men that I now utter the voice of warning.
Now, I ask, when it is known that every word I say is strictly within moderation, and the bounds of truth,—when there is not a man in Lombard-street but would endorse every word I utter as to the valueless character of this loan,—is it not something hateful, humiliating, and disgusting, that we have leading organs of the press which lend their influence, not to throw a shield over the unwary and innocent, but to serve the purpose of those who have cunning and ability to protect themselves? They do not come out—that is why I blame them—in their leading articles, and tell the people, with the authority of their own pen, that Austria is trustworthy—that this loan is a good investment. No; they do not do anything of the kind; but they do their work in the best way they can,—by inuendo, by indirect influence, and by trying all they can to traduce the men who come forward and tell the truth in this matter. When I take up a public question of this sort, and find, instead of my arguments being refuted, that I am personally attacked, I consider it the triumph of my cause. But the fact is, that these are not the only parties that look with disfavour on this meeting to-day. I have no hesitation in saying that there is not a Government in Europe that is not frowning upon this meeting. It is not merely Austria that disapproves of the meeting. I do not believe that our Government likes it. I say so much, because I see that the organs of the press, especially under the influence of the Government, and one, in particular, established as the advocate, par excellence, of the sound principles of political economy, enounced by Adam Smith, are forward in condemning this meeting. I consider this as the germ of a great movement, which will lay bare the pretensions of every Government that comes before the world for a loan; and will show the bankrupt state—if it be bankrupt—of the exchequer of their country; and will hold up to execration the objects for which men attempt to obtain such loans.
I consider this almost as much a Russian as an Austrian loan. I do not separate the two countries. You remember when I spoke before, in this place, strongly on the subject of the Russian finances. I come here now to repeat every word I then uttered. I claim no great merit for myself in presuming to understand more properly the state of Russian finances than many others. It is from accident that I have had opportunities—and few men, probably not six men in England, have had my opportunities—of investigating and ascertaining, upon the best and safest authority, on the spot, where alone you can properly understand the matter, what actually is the state of the resources of Russia; and I say, again, that the Russian Government, in the matter of finance, is nothing more nor less than a gigantic imposture. There are men in Western Europe who know what I say to be true, and yet lend themselves to spread an opposite delusion. You have seen in the newspapers, that the Government of Russia have taken 2,000,000l. of this Austrian loan, and that the Russian Government was going to subscribe to the Pope's loan, and going to lend the Archduke of Tuscany a round sum. This is systematically done. These paragraphs are put into the papers by men employed by that cunning Government, to throw dust in the eyes of people. That Government last year spent more than its income, and this year its deficit is enormous. Russia has not paid the expenses of the Hungarian campaign; it has made forced contributions, taking the taxes in advance, in the territories through which the troops moved, and has given Treasury receipts; and at this moment the Russian Government has no alternative but to increase its paper money, and begin an act of bankruptcy again, or to come to Western Europe for a loan. When she comes here, let her well understand that we will be here also.
It is not on mere economical grounds, or on grounds of self-interest alone, that I oppose these loans; I come here to oppose the very principle on which they are founded. What is this money wanted for? Austria, with her barbarous consort, has been engaged in a cruel and remorseless war; and the Austrian Government comes now, and stretches forth its bloodstained hand to honest Dutchmen and Englishmen, and asks them to furnish the price of the devastation which has been committed. For there is little difference whether the money subscribed to this loan be furnished a little before or after. The money has been raised for the war by forced contributions and compulsory loans, for which Treasury receipts have been given, in the confident expectation that this loan would be raised to pay them off. I consider that this is on principle most unjust and indefensible. Happily, by the ordinance of Divine Providence, war is in its nature self-destroying; and if a country engaged in hostilities were left to itself, war must have a speedy termination. But this system of foreign loans for warlike purposes, by which England, Holland, Germany, and France are invited to pay for the arms, clothing, and food of the belligerents, is a system calculated almost to perpetuate the horrors of war; and they who lend money for these purposes are destitute of any one excuse, by which men try to justify to their own consciences the resort to the sword. They cannot plead patriotism, self-defence, or even anger, or the lust of military glory. No; but they sit down coolly to calculate the chances to themselves of profit or loss, in a game in which the lives of human beings are at stake. They have not even the pleasure—the savage and brutal gratification, which ancient and pagan people had, when they paid for a seat in the amphitheatre, to witness the bloody combats of gladiators in the arena.
I wish, in conclusion, that it should be borne in mind by capitalists everywhere, that these are times when it behoves them to remember that property has its duties as well as its rights: I exhort the friends of peace, and advocates of disarmament, throughout the civilised world, to exert themselves to spread a sounder morality on this question of war loans, and to impress upon the capitalists of the world, that they who forget their duties are running the risk of endangering their rights.
LONDON, JANUARY 18, 1850.
[The Russian Government was attempting, at the beginning of the year 1850, to negotiate a loan, ostensibly for the construction of a railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow. There was reason to believe that the true object of this financial operation was to cover the deficit occasioned in the Russian finances by its armed intervention in Hungary. A meeting was called at the London Tavern to protest against this loan, and Mr. Cobden moved the first resolution at the meeting in the following words:—'That the Government of Russia having proposed to raise in this country a loan of five millions and a half, professedly for the purpose of completing a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow, but really to replenish the Imperial exchequer, exhausted by the expenses of the war in Hungary, this meeting is of opinion that to lend money to the Emperor of Russia for such an object would virtually be to sanction the deeds of violence and blood committed by him in Hungary, and to furnish him with the temptation and the means for carrying on future schemes of aggression and conquest.']
I congratulate the Peace Society and the friends of peace in this country, that the Emperor of Russia has been obliged—unconsciously been obliged, as we must as a matter of courtesy suppose—to affix his name to a document which is not true, in order to obtain a loan of five and a half millions in this country. I say that that document which has been signed by the Emperor of Russia contains an untruth. I know it to be untrue, and it is known to everybody in St. Petersburg to be untrue. But I accept the untruth as the highest tribute that could possibly be paid to the moral power of the Peace party in this country.
I was saying that the pretence put forth by the Emperor of Russia, that he requires this money to complete the railroad from Moscow to St. Petersburg, is unfounded in truth. I was at St. Petersburg about two years ago, and at that time the rolling stock of that railway was furnished. They had then one hundred locomotives; and I travelled on a portion of the line by means of one of them. They had one thousand waggons and carriages; and I was told all the iron was upon the ground and paid for, but that some part of the embankments remained unfinished; and looking at the martial tendencies of the Emperor of Russia, I do not think it likely that those embankments will be completed for ten years to come, at least; for judging from his conduct hitherto, we must expect that he will continue to spend his money as fast as he gets it, like a great overgrown colossal baby, on his soldiers rather than on those substantial improvements which alone can add to the civilisation, the power, and the happiness of his country.
But why do I argue this point? Nobody believes that the money is wanted by Russia for the railroads. I take it that everybody assumes to the contrary. But I will convict the Russian Government of falsehood in this respect from their own ukase. They say they want the money within six months. Whoever heard of five and a half millions being required for making a railroad in six months? Some of you here, unhappily, no doubt, have had some experience in railway calls, but did you ever know them come from any one board of directors so thick and fast as they are to come from the Emperor of Russia? 20l. two days after allotment, 10l. on the 15th of February, 10l. on the 15th of March, 10l. on the 15th of April, 10l. on the 15th of May, and 10l. on the 15th of June, and the remainder on the 15th of July next! Why, here are railway calls for one railway alone at the rate of nearly one million a month, and that in a country where, up to the month of March, no work can be done in the way of forming embankments, and consequently this money is wanted for the purpose of being expended in excavating and embanking in the months of April, May, June, and July. I really pity the mendicant Czar who is obliged to come to us with such a story. Is it not humiliating? And then, after putting forward this pretence that the money is wanted for a railroad, after beginning his imperial ukase by saying what was not the truth—I must in courtesy presume that he did not know that it was not the truth—he winds up at last (as though doubting whether or not he would be believed) in the fifth paragraph by promising that the account of the sums derived from this loan shall be kept as the former loans raised for this same railroad were kept—distinct from all other items of the State revenue and expenditure. He wants here to open the door if possible even wide enough for the most scrupulous Quaker to subscribe to his loan. He tells you not only that the money is not wanted for war or for paying soldiers, but that it is entirely for the construction of the railroad, and as a proof that it is so, he says he will give separate accounts of the manner in which it is expended. If he does so, all I can say is, that it is what he never did before.
I have been subjected to the reiterated charge that I am not consistent with my own principles, the principles of Free Trade, when I come here to denounce this loan, and people have asked—'Why won't you let us lend our money in the dearest market, and borrow in the cheapest? Why not have free trade in money as well as in everything else?' I have no objection to people investing their money, if they like to do so, but I claim the right, as a free man in a free country, to meet my fellow-citizens in public assembly like the present, to try and warn the unwary against being deceived by those agents and moneymongers in the city of London who will endeavour to palm off their bad securities on us if they can. If they can succeed in spite of our warning, and I am not going to coerce them or to dictate to them, we shall have done our duty in giving this warning in time; and those who do not follow our advice now will, perhaps, by-and-by, wish they had done so. That, however, is their business, not mine.
It is asked of me this morning by a leading journal, whether I oppose this loan on the ground of its immorality or on the ground of its being unsafe? I say I oppose it on both grounds; for, in my opinion, whatever is immoral is unsafe. But, apart altogether from these grounds of its inherent immorality and insecurity, I stand here as a citizen of this country and as a citizen of the world, to denounce the whole character of this transaction as injurious to the best interests of society. I will take first the politico-economical view of the question, because it is supposed that on this question I am particularly weak in that direction. Now, I take my stand on one of the strongest grounds in stating that Adam Smith and other great authorities on political economy are opposed to the very principle of such loans. What is this money wanted for? It is to be wasted. It is to go to defray the expense of maintaining standing armies, or to pay the expenses of the atrocious war in Hungary. Then what does it amount to? It is so much capital abstracted from England and handed over to another country to be wasted; it alienates from the labouring population of this country a part of the means by which it is employed, and by which it is to live. I say that every loan advanced to a foreign Power to be expended in armaments, or for carrying on war with other countries, is as much money wasted and destroyed for all the purposes of reproduction as if it were carried out into the middle of the Atlantic and there sunk in the sea. And I make no distinction whether the interest be paid or not—for if it be paid by the Emperor of Russia, it is not paid out of the proceeds of the capital lent—it is not paid by the capital itself being invested in reproductive employment—but it is extorted from the labour, the industry, and the wretchedness of his people, who have to pay the interest of that capital which has not only not been employed in reproductive labour, or even thrown into the ocean, but far worse, in obstructing industry, in devastating fair and fruitful lands, and in suppressing freedom. I say, then, I stand here as a political economist to denounce every transaction such as this as injurious to every class of the community, from the highest to the lowest, because it stops employment, impedes industry, and withdraws from us the very sources of profitable labour. Therefore, I say, it must injure every one more or less, from the Government itself down to the humblest mechanic or farm labourer who depends on his weekly wages for his subsistence. But I stand here also to denounce this loan as a politician, as a member of society, and as a taxpayer. For what is the object of this loan? It is to enable the Emperor of Russia to maintain an enormous standing army; and what is the consequence? Why, that every other country in Europe is obliged to keep up an enormous armament also. What say the statesmen of France? They say, ‘We are obliged to keep 500,000 armed men because Russia keeps 800,000;’ and we are here in England accustomed to cite the hostile position of Russia, as a reason why we keep our enormous fleet. I should not be surprised if, in the very next session, when I bring forward a motion asking to reduce our armaments, you find, what I have before found, this very example of the Russian fleet cited as a reason why we cannot reduce our navy.
What has been very recently the attitude and position of Russia as regards this country? Have we not had our fleet—a fleet maintained in the Mediterranean at an enormous expense, by you the taxpayers of this country—have we not had it sailing to the Dardanelles; and have we not had constant talk of a collision between Russia and this country on the subject of Turkey? Why, it is the acknowledged and traditional policy of this country—I do not say a word as to the wisdom of that policy—that we are to defend Turkey against all comers, and to maintain, at all hazards, the integrity of that empire against the aggressions of foreign Powers. When we speak of foreign Powers, we mean only Russia; and it is the common talk with every one who knows anything of Continental affairs, that in the spring Russia means to attack Turkey in her Danubian provinces, in which case the taxpayers of this country may be called upon to equip fleets, which Russia will combat with the means borrowed from yourselves.
We read in the history of Holland, that on one occasion when a Dutch town was besieged, its merchants sold sulphur to the enemy with which to make gunpowder to fire on themselves. When we read this we look on the Dutch as a mercenary people, who had no idea of patriotism or national dignity; yet what shall we say of England, if we have to record that, in the year 1850, there were found men in London ready to endorse the desperate wickedness of Russia by lending her money to continue the career of violence she has hitherto maintained? I oppose this loan then on grounds totally apart from the abstract principles of morality or any consideration as to the nature of the security offered. I, as a politician, a citizen, and a taxpayer, have, in common with you all, a right to protest against transactions of this kind whencesoever they come, or by whomsoever contracted. But I denounce also the morality of this loan. We have latterly had a strange doctrine, half hinted, half expressed, but not very confidently broached, that you must not question what a man does with his money; that you must only inquire how much per cent. is to be obtained, and that if the interest be five instead of four per cent. that is quite sufficient to sanctify the transaction. That is the doctrine I hear put forth in the name of my fellow-citizens. If it be really their doctrine, I can only say that the Emperor of Russia has given them credit for a much higher standard of morality than they possess. He was afraid to avow his real objects. He was obliged by his council to tell a fib, by asking the citizens of London to lend him money for railway purposes, instead of war. He did not know his men, he took too high an estimate of their morality, for they now propose unblushingly to lend him money, simply because he proposes to give them five per cent. interest instead of four.
Now, what is this money wanted for? Simply and solely to make up the arrears caused by the exhaustion of the Hungarian war. I am not in the habit of boasting at public meetings of what I may have done on former occasions, but if I were a boaster I should exult that the assertions I made on-this spot in June last, and which have been subjected to so much sarcasm from foes and friends—I should, I say, feel some exultation that this poverty-stricken Czar has been obliged to come forward and verify every word I then said. What has become of the two millions we are told the Emperor had subscribed to the Austrian loan? What has become of the 500,000l. he was going to advance to the Pope, or the half-million he was going to bestow in his generosity on the Grand Duke of Tuscany? Oh, he ought to pay his scribes well in Western Europe, who have told so many lies for him. He ought to pay them well, seeing that they have been subjected to this full refutation of all they have said on his behalf at the hands of the Czar himself. If I had been employed to write up the wealth, power, and riches of a man who six months after was obliged to come before the citizens of London and sign his name to such a humiliating document as this imperial ukase, I should expect to be exceedingly well paid for the loss of character I had sustained.
Well, I stand here to repeat the very words I uttered twice on this platform at times when few would believeme. I say that the Russian Government in matters of finance has been for years—successfully, until now the bubble has burst—the most gigantic imposture in Europe. I use the words, as I do every word I say at a public meeting, advisedly. I have used them before, and, after due investigation, I come here to repeat them. I say that this money is wanted for the purpose of sustaining the ambition, the sanguinary brutality of a despot, who has all the tastes of Peter the Great, and all the lust of conquest of Louis XIV., without the genius of the one or the wealth of the other; and who would apply these principles to a great part of Europe, forgetting that this is the nineteenth instead of the seventeenth century; while utterly wanting, not merely the ability which would enable him to play such a part in history, but even the pecuniary means of enjoying the taste he possesses.
What are the real objects of the loan? To make up deficiencies, to pay debts incurred by the Emperor of Russia while inflicting the most wanton injuries on Hungary. I said before that the expenses of that war were not paid, and now I will tell you how it was carried on. The army was moved from the interior, not at the expense of the military chest, for, as I told you, that chest was empty, and could not afford the means for transporting the Russian guards from St. Petersburg to the confines of Hungary. The way the Emperor managed it was this:—He sent out orders to all the landowners and farmers on the line of march, commanding them to deposit at certain points indicated supplies of provisions and forage for the army. When the troops arrived, these provisions were taken possession of by the commissariat, and receipts were given, which receipts were to be received as cash in payment of taxes. So that when the taxes became due, and these receipts were handed in instead of money, it was found that the resources of the country had been all anticipated. The Government, then, has not the necessary means of carrying on its affairs. It is said that three millions sterling of these Treasury notes have been issued, accompanied by a ukase avowing that they had been issued on account of the expenses of the Hungarian war. You will thus see that these supplies have been just so much provisions borrowed from the agriculturists of the country through which the army passed, and that the Government hopes to raise the money to pay for them by coming to England for a loan. And I say that this money, now about to be raised by way of loan, is just as much issued for cutting the throats of unoffending men in Hungary, devastating their villages, and outraging their women, as if it had been lent before a single soldier had begun his march. I say in this case, as I said in the case of Austria, that it makes no difference whether the money be lent a little before or a little after. The operations were based on the expectation of a loan from England, temporary expedients were used pending the realisation of that loan, and therefore, the English capitalists who advance their money will really be the abettors of the crimes and the cruelty of these Continental despots.
Such are the purposes, and not railways, for which this money is wanted; and are we to be told that because the loan will pay five per cent. we are not to inquire into the purposes for which it is raised? I can only say, that if a man has a right to make the most he can of his money without any inquiry as to the means, there was a very worthy man used harshly the other day at the Old Bailey, by being sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment and hard labour for only being the landlord of some infamous house out of which he realised a profit of twenty per cent. It is quite certain that this man may console himself in his confinement by thinking that his conduct was quite consistent with the new code of morality lately introduced into the City. But I do not reckon much on moral restraints. I think more may be done by appealing to motives of self-interest, and showing the risk there is in subscribing to these loans. Who would go and lend money to an irresponsible despot who never publishes any account of his income or expenditure? I was looking through the Almanach de Gotha, thinking I might find in it some traces of the income and expenditure of Russia. There was something more or less on that subject respecting every other state, but when I came to Russia I found these expressions: ‘We are sorry to be altogether without information as to the revenue or expenditure of Russia.’ Now, that is the investment which is considered good in the city of London, simply because the borrower is a thousand miles off. How would a man, whose affairs were in such a state, but living in England, be received if he attempted to borrow money? How would you like it in the case of railways? At present, although you have six-monthly meetings, auditors, secretaries, and the most complete surveillance, yet, by a strange inconsistency, one of the parties most diligent in abetting the Emperor of Russia is as anxiously abetting a Government audit to look after the affairs of the railways. That is my first objection. We do not know what security we are to have for this money, which we know is wasted in unproductive employment. The next objection I make to this investment is, that you are lending money to a sovereign who founds his throne on the most combustible elements in all Europe. It is not irrelevant to the subject, if a sovereign comes here publicly to solicit money from the citizens of London, to say a word as to the prospects of his empire. The Emperor of Russia is the only sovereign in the world who rules over white slaves—twenty millions of serfs, who are bought and sold with the land. Do you think that a safe state of society in the present age? The ideas and principles of freedom have been marching from west to east for centuries, and slavery and serfdom have disappeared before the spirit of the age, until progress was arrested on the confines of Russia. Do you think it will long stop there in these days of the steam-boat, the railway, and the telegraph? On the contrary, you must expect that the serfs of Russia, being men, will prefer freedom to slavery; and that, being ten to one of their masters, they will do in Russia as they have done in every other country in Europe, sooner or later assert their freedom.
What security do you think you will have when the conflagration takes place in Russia, as it most probably will before many years have passed away?—because there never has been a case in which the emancipation of the serfs on a large scale was effected except through the agency of a revolution. What do you expect for your loan in the event of a revolution in Russia? What will the people of Russia say of the men who lent their money to enable the Emperor to maintain his tyranny over his serfs? I say they will. repudiate the debt. And, mind you, this custom of lending money by more refined states to barbarous Governments is a great means of perpetuating their tyranny. It gives them the power of governing in a way which they could not attempt if depending on their own people for the supplies. Go back to your own history—to the time of the Plantagenets, when England obtained her liberties step by step. How? Through the necessities and embarrassments of her kings. One got a loan for one franchise, another redeemed his jewels with another. That was the way in which the people of this country wrung liberty from their sovereigns, time after time, through their necessities; but if our ancient kings could have gone to the more solvent states of Italy, or the merchants of Venice, who stood towards England then pretty much as England stands towards Russia now, and could have borrowed five millions independently of their people, when, think you, would the liberties of the people of England have been secured? Where would have been the liberties of England under such circumstances? And do you not think these things will pervade the minds of the masses in the east of Europe? Will they not ask you by what right you lend your money to any irresponsible despot, to enable him to perpetuate their slavery? What answer can you give them? Why, we got five per cent. for our money!
But there is another difficulty which I wish those who lend money to the Russian Government to bear in mind. We may not be strong enough in this room, although we represent pretty much public opinion out of it; we may not be strong enough, by this expression of opinion, to prevent people lending their money to Russia; but let them well understand that we, the taxpayers of England, who are no parties to the loan, will be no parties to the collection of their debts. Hitherto, there has been a sort of vague notion that if Governments fail in paying their debts to the English creditors, the powers of our Government may be brought to bear to enforce payment. There has been some correspondence between parties so interested and Lord Palmerston, and the noble Lord, although declining to interfere, yet reserved to himself the power of interfering if he thought proper. Now, I tell those who lend their money to the Russian Government, with an idea that they can make our Government the collector of their debts, that we have sufficient power to prevent them making our foreign Minister a bumbailiff. I warn those who lend their money to these bankrupt Governments, whether in Europe or elsewhere, that we have the power—we, the taxpayers of this country—to prevent our Government sending, at the instance of these loan-mongers, ships of war or even diplomatists to demand their money. On the contrary, I believe from my heart, that if the time should come—and most assuredly many in this room will live to see it, when not one farthing of this Russian loan will be paid—I believe that the enlightened opinion of this country will exult in the loss of the money, not from ill-will to the unfortunate people who hold the bonds, but from a belief that it is a righteous retribution, and that it will operate as a warning to prevent similar transactions in future. Are not these important points for consideration? Will any one deny that we have the power of preventing the Government putting the taxpayers to expense in collecting these loans? Will it not make an important change in the prospects of these loan-mongers, when it is known to the world that the taxpayers of England separate themselves altogether from the speculators in such matters?
There is another uncertainty which I wish to point out to the holders of these loans. Nobody can deny that there is a change of opinion on the whole subject of these foreign loans; nobody can deny that we have put their promoters on the defensive, and that on the grounds of political economy, expediency, and justice, they are gradually losing ground in public opinion. That is the work of six months. We have only begun our work. But is it not very clear, that as this opinion goes on gathering strength, and as the raising of loans becomes more difficult in this country, it will diminish the chances of the payment of the interest of loans already effected? Let it be once known that there will be no more loans, and we shall soon have repudiation all over the world. Since the peace of 1815, the Governments of Europe have borrowed more money than they have paid interest to their creditors. That is to say, the kind and agreeable British public have been lending money out of one pocket, and receiving it back in interest in the other. But let them once see that there is no more chance of getting your cash, and you will see that a very slight chance remains of your dividends. But I do not come here with the idea of warning any of those capitalists who take this loan as agents, or the speculators who write for it. We all understand how that is done now. A certain house engages—I'll let you behind the scenes a little. A certain house undertakes to be the contractor. As soon as the contractor has settled his terms—and they do not always tell you the whole of the terms—he sends out circulars to his friends; that is, those speculators whose names he has in his books, and who are accustomed to put down their names for a certain amount of these loans. These brokers, bankers, and speculators are all invited to put down their names as subscribers to the loan. They send in their names for 50,000l., 30,000l., or 20,000l. And why? Because they expect to be able to redistribute these sums to their customers, their clients, and their acquaintances, at a profit—not with the view of holding the stock themselves. I venture to say, that not five per cent. of the loan which will be subscribed for up to Monday next will be taken by parties who really intend to hold it as a permanent investment.
I came down this morning from the west end of the town in an omnibus, sitting opposite to a gentleman. As we were riding along he looked out of the window and saw a placard with the words, ‘Great meeting on the Russian loan.’ He said to me, ‘Mr. Cobden is going to have a meeting, I believe.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I believe he is.’ ‘It's very odd,’ he observed, ‘that he should presume to dictate to capitalists as to how they should lay out their money.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘if he attempts to dictate, it is rather hard. But I suppose he allows you to do as you like.’ ‘But,’ said he, ‘he holds public meetings to denounce this loan; yet I should not wonder if he would be very glad himself to have 20,000l. of it.’ I said, ‘Have you taken any yourself?’ He replied, ‘I have—50,000l., and I intend to pay it all up.’ I then said to him, ‘Would you like to leave that property to your children?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t intend to keep it more than two years at the outside, and I hope to get a couple per cent. profit upon it.'
Now it is with that view that that gentleman is going to pay up his calls—that is, if he thinks of doing so. That is not the ordinary case; they generally pay up one call, and then sell the stock at any profit which they can get upon it; and the loss of holding these securities—I said it before, and I repeat it now—the loss falls upon individuals who were totally unconnected with the taking of the loan—tradesmen retired from business, widows and orphans, trustees and others who invest money in what they regard as a permanent security, in order to obtain the interest upon it. Well, now, I declare most solemnly, after looking into this subject of Russia, as I have done for the last eighteen years, that I would not give 25l. per cent. for the Russian Five per Cent. Stock, which is being dealt in to-day by the bulls and bears at 107—I would not take 100l. worth of it at that price for permanent investment, and with the view of leaving it as a part of the dependence of my children. We do not profess to come here to advise those brokers and capitalists who originally take these loans; we know that they always make money, even when other people lose. I ask you to go back to the loans which have been contracted—for instance, by the house of Messrs. Baring and Co. I ask you to inquire for yourselves how some of the loans which have been taken by that house have turned out in relation to the interests of those who have ultimately become the depositories of the bonds. The contractors did not perhaps lose by them; but I get letters daily from persons who have had Spanish bonds, Guatemala bonds, Portuguese bonds, and the rest, describing the sorrowings and sufferings which they have experienced as the result of having been entrapped into purchasing such bonds.
I say, then, that in coming here to denounce this transaction, we do so in the interest of the unwary; we do so to guard against these transactions, men who have not had the same opportunity as some of us have had of investigating this matter. And if we can by this means place an obstacle in the way of these warlike and despotic sovereigns, when they are coming to raise money from the civilised industry of this country, in order that it may be expended in barbarous waste in Russia and other countries, I say that we shall have done society good service. I ask only for just so much confidence in what I say as I am entitled to in consequence of what I asserted before with regard to the state of the Russian finances. Take nothing for granted in reference to Russia. Systematic fraud and deception, and lying and misrepresentation, are the policy of the Government of that country. A great part of the very money which is now about to be loaned in this country will, I have no doubt, be spent in espionage in Constantinople—in bribing employeés and functionaries there, and in bribing a portion of the press in Germany and in France. [Cheers, and loud cries of the ‘Times,’ followed by hissing.] We cannot believe that any of the press of England would be bribed. [Laughter, and renewed cries of the ‘Times,’ amidst which were heard the words ‘Morning Post.'’] To be sure, some of our newspapers have been doing the work of despotism rather heartily. And now they seem disposed to play the part of vampires or ghouls. They are worse than vampires and ghouls. How shall we describe those indescribable monsters who, when their foes have fallen, when they are gone into exile, when they are separated from their wives and children, when they are starving in the streets,—brought down to the begging of their bread in the midst of winter,—how, I ask, shall we describe the wretches who are then base enough to traduce the character of such men? I spoke of ghouls and vampires. They prey upon the corpse of the material body: we have had no monster as yet which lived by destroying the character of a fallen foe.
Now, Gentlemen, this money will be spent, I say, in bribing the Continental press—in paying for an insurrection in Paris, no matter whether it be a red republican or a legitimist insurrection, so that it causes confusion and violence—ay, in paying somebody to create confusion in this room, if they durst. Talk of red republicanism being anarchical! There is nothing in the world so anarchical as the despotism of St. Petersburg. Let it not be concluded, from what I say of the Russian Government, that we have here fallen into the great delusion which prevails in this country on the subject of the character of the Russian people. I have had before to correct some misapprehensions with regard to the finances and resources of Russia. There is nothing in reference to which there is so almost universal a misapprehension as exists with regard to the character of the great mass of the Russian people. In the first place, we have them represented to us as a collection of barbarous and discontented hordes, who are anxious to quit their country, and to pour, like an avalanche, on Western Europe. There is no greater delusion in the world than the supposition that the population of Russia have any desire to leave their native land. There is not a people in the world who are prouder of their country than are the Russians of theirs. There is not a people in the world who are less disposed to cross their frontiers to commit an act of depredation or spoliation, much less who would leave their country to become permanent settlers in another land. I speak now of the national character. Nor are the Russians a warlike people. There is no greater delusion than the supposition that we have to deal with the Russians as a warlike people. Why, the army is so unpopular, that when the Russian peasant is torn from his village by the conscription, there is a procession in the village, of which the priest is the leader, which resembles a funeral ceremony. When I was at St. Petersburg, an English merchant described to me a striking scene, in order to illustrate the repugnance of the Russian people to enter the army. He said that he entered a street in St. Petersburg where a surgeon was examining the conscripts, in order to ascertain whether or not they were fit for the service. Some conscripts had entered a house. They were there denuded and examined, in order that it might be seen whether they were fit to be admitted into the army. One of the men was declared to be unfit for the service; and so great was his excitement, that in the frenzy of his delirium and joy, he actually rushed from the house into the street in the state of nudity in which he had been examined. Well, now, I say the character of the Russian people is a gentle character. They have a great regard for human life. They are, indeed, as slaves, addicted to slavish vices; they lie, they pilfer, and they are too apt to get drunk, or at least to indulge in the use of intoxicating liquors. But great crimes—the crimes of murder and violence—are rare in Russia; and I wish it to be distinctly understood, that in dealing with the Emperor Nicholas we will not allow it to be said that we stand here to menace or affront a population of sixty millions of people.
But what will be the grievance of this people as against you? It is you who enable the Government to maintain its enormous army; it is you who enable the Emperor to keep up a navy for which he drags twenty or thirty thousand of his vassals from their villages, placing them for six months in the year in barracks in order that they may, for three summer months, sail on board his ships in the Baltic and the Black Sea, to the great amusement of British and American sailors. The Russians have even a greater horror of the sea service than they have of the land service. They are dragged from their villages to be put into ships of war, and imprisoned in barracks at Cronstadt, and all because you lend the Emperor of Russia money to enable him to do this. Once withdraw these loans, and from that moment the whole policy of the Emperor of Russia, as well as of the Emperor of Austria, will be changed. Russia would no longer be able to menace Turkey—Russia would no longer be able to send its army into Hungary—Russia would no longer be able to hire these spies and journals in Western Europe; and the Emperor, not having the means of coercion placed in his hands by foreign aid, would be obliged to conciliate his people, in order to govern them securely.
I would, in conclusion, exhort those who may read what I am saying, to consider well before they invest one farthing of their money in a security based upon the life of an individual like this, one who does not belong to a long-lived family, and whose son may be utterly unfitted to cope with the difficulties which await him, when the present Czar dies. In thus lending your money, you place it upon a volcano. You may rise any morning and find that the vast empire has been torn asunder, that a spirit of violence and insubordination is spreading throughout its serf population. Come it will—it may come on any day. This boasted Emperor of Russia, of whose energy and talents we hear so much, is doing the most likely thing which a man could do to precipitate and render inevitable such a convulsion as I speak of. Instead of conciliating the nobles, he is holding them with the tight hand of despotism—he is pretending to give emancipation to the serfs only to disappoint their hopes; and, instead of employing the energies and resources of the empire in preparing for the greatest evil which could hang over any country, namely, that which arises from the possession of twenty millions of serfs, he is increasing his expenditure, embarrassing his finances, enlarging his army and navy, trying to keep the whole of Europe in a state of perturbation. and making enemies to himself of every civilised people on the face of the earth.
I ask all who may read what I say not to be daunted by what they are told is said in the City, by the statement that everybody is laughing at them—that everybody is laughing at Mr. Cobden's letter. They said that everybody was laughing at my letter about the Austrian loan. We were told then, in reference to the Austrian loan, as we are told now with regard to the Russian, that it was all taken before we met. Well, now, I was calculating this morning, before I came here, what is the present state of the account of those who took the Austrian loan. I am very happy to say that that loan has remained principally in the hands of the first subscribers; that it is the great bankers, the great brokers, the great speculators who had been really caught in this case; and for that very reason, and no other, you will never hear of another Austrian loan. Now, what is the present state of the account of those speculators? I find, by a very short calculation which I made this morning, that at the present rate on the Exchange, they have had a loss on that loan up to this day of 145,000l. So I think the laugh is on the other side of the face—and it is only the beginning of the laugh. We ask, therefore, everybody who has a conscience which is proof against one per cent.—on the ground of morality, on the ground of political economy, on political grounds, and on the ground of personal safety and security, we ask every one to ponder when he reads what has been said to-day—we ask all to do their utmost to discredit this most nefarious attempt on their credulity and their pockets.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JUNE 28, 1850.
[On June 24, Mr. Roebuck made the following motion:—' That the principles which have hitherto regulated the Foreign Policy of Her Majesty's Government are such as were required to preserve untarnished the honour and dignity of this country, and at all times best calculated to maintain peace between this country and the various nations of the world.' The motion was carried by 46. (310 to 246.) The motion was in answer to a censure on Lord Palmerston's Administration carried on Lord Stanley's (the late Lord Derby's) motion in the House of Lords. The occasion of the censure was the support given by Lord Palmerston to one Pacifico, a Jew, who claimed to be a British subject, and pretended to have suffered great losses in a riot at Athens.]
It was my wish to have done to-night, what I have frequently done before—to have given a silent vote; finding, as I do, that nearly all the arguments on both sides have been stated by other Members much better than I could state them; but I have been referred to, in common with several other Gentlemen on this side of the House, as likely to take a course different from our neighbours on this occasion, and I therefore think it necessary to say a few words.
First, I am anxious that, so far as I am concerned, the question should be put on its legitimate issue, and that it may not be still suggested that I am here for the purpose of indulging in a personal opposition; I trust that, at all events, I may be exempted from any such charge. In the next place, I wish it to be understood, so far as I am concerned, that there is nothing in this case which involves any plot, conspiracy, or cabal of any kind whatever. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) is the author of this motion; do you accuse him of being in any plot, conspiracy, or cabal? He has taken the initiative in the matter, and those who participate in the discussion merely comment upon the resolution so submitted to them by the hon. and learned Member. Lastly, I hope I may be exempted, at all events, from the sweeping charge made against Members who do not support this motion—that they are in the interest of despotism all over the world.
I have heard from several Gentlemen around me, some of whom I do not think extremely democratic, whom I have by no means found always supporting extreme Liberalism, very considerable intolerance towards those who do not take the same view with themselves in relation to the Government on this occasion. I will ask those Gentlemen, do they think me an ally of Russia or of Austria? Do they think I have shown less sympathy for the Hungarians or Italians than they have,—that I have less cosmopolitan sympathies than they? If, then, they admit me to be as liberal as themselves, surely they may allow me the freedom of taking the view my conscience dictates in a matter which has nothing on earth to do with constitutionalism or despotism.
As I understand it, the first thing before us is the conduct of our Government in Greece, though the hon. Member for Sheffield has widened that question, by the wording of his resolution, so as to cover the whole foreign policy of our Government. But as to the conduct of our Government in Greece, why, if this subject had been set before us in February, or even in March, within a few weeks after we had heard that fifteen British vessels of war had assembled in the Bay of Salamis to blockade the coast of a friendly Power, there would scarcely have been any difficulty in approaching the subject in a calm and dispassionate way, apart from all the extraneous matter with which it has been now encumbered. Really, when those who oppose this motion are offhand charged with plot, conspiracy, and cabal, I am tempted to ask whether there has not been some little plot, conspiracy, and cabal to get up an artificial excitement in the country on the subject. Yes, I have seen placards and circulars; I am not speaking without knowledge. However, the question is, what was the conduct of our Government in relation to the affairs of Greece? I have not brought my blue books down with me, and I shall not read a single line to you; but as there is much mystification on the subject, and as I wish to deal fairly with all, I will state the case in a few words, so that no one may take exception to it.
In the first place, Mr. Finlay, a Scotch gentleman, settles in Greece twenty years ago, taking up his residence at Athens, not as a merchant, not to promote British commerce in that quarter of the world, but as a denizen of Greece. He purchases land in Athens and the neighbourhood; I have seen the land, and I saw the much-discussed palace, just as it was rising from this land. Land was bought on speculation, not only in Athens but in the neighbourhood. Mr. Finlay thus became interested in the prosperity of Athens. The court of Greece and its Government were at this time established at Nauplia; it was desired by the proprietors and inhabitants of Athens that the Government should resume its ancient and classic seat, by removing to Athens. The landed proprietors of Athens, deeply interested in again making it the metropolis of Greece, instead of allowing it to remain what it was, little better than a village of huts, all signed an engagement with the commune or municipality of Athens to furnish land for erecting public buildings upon, the price fixed being equivalent to about 3¼d. to 3½d. per square yard. I do not intend to go through all the correspondence on the subject of Mr. Finlay's claim; I merely want to bring the matter to the point on which you must all agree. Mr. Finlay was one of more than one hundred persons who thus sold land to the Greek Government; that is admitted by all parties in the correspondence. Among these proprietors who sold their land for palaces and public buildings were several foreigners, and among these foreigners were two whom Sir E. Lyons, in his first letter to Lord Aberdeen, speaks of as fellow-sufferers with Mr. Finlay—Mr. Hill, the agent of the Episcopalian Society of America, and the Russian Consul-General.
These are facts that nobody denies. I do not desire to go into any controversy, but simply to draw the attention of the House and of the country to the fact, that all the other proprietors of these lands, without exception, agreed to the terms, and accepted the terms, that were offered by the commissioners appointed by the municipality for that purpose. ['No.'] Does the hon. and learned Member for Southampton, with his blue-book before him, mean to say that the fact is not stated in that blue-book as I have given it? ['No,' from Mr. Cockburn.] Why, it is stated there expressly. ['No.'] Will the hon. and learned Member tell me that Mr. Hill and the Russian Consul-General accepted the money, or that they did not stand in the same position with Mr. Finlay? I know Mr. Hill; it is an honour to any one to be acquainted with him; for, as it is well stated by Sir E. Lyons, in that first letter of his to which I have referred, there is no one to whom the rising generation of Greeks is more indebted than to Mr. Hill and his family. Mr. Finlay refused to take the money which the bulk of the other proprietors accepted; a long controversy ensued, and the result was the approach of our ships of war to the Bay of Salamis. I have not stated anything so far that any one can deny.
Now we come to M. Pacifico. M. Pacifico had his house outrageously attacked; that no one can deny; he sends in his bill to the Government, and, with that bill in our hands, our ships of war enter the Piræus. I blushed with indignation when I read the inventory of M. Pacifico. It is no matter of surprise that hon. Members have deprecated any allusion to the details of that bill, as if the whole of this question was not a question of details. ['No, no.'] Why, with the exception of the apology required for the insult to Fantome, all the rest is a matter of money. ['No, no.'] I beg pardon; I say all the rest is a matter of money, and your exclamations only show how you are acting in this case upon blind passion and party spirit. M. Pacifico sends in his bill to the Government; he charges for a bedstead 150l., he charges for the sheets 30l., he charges for the pillow-case 10l., for two coverlids 25l. This inventory is so deeply disgraceful to all concerned in it, that, first, you tried to evade the question, by saying the case was not one for nisi prius details, and then you turned round, and said that Pacifico brought all this furniture to Athens, to sell it to the King of Greece. But if we go into the bill for the personal apparel, the every-day working apparel of M. Pacifico and his family, we find there just the same sort of thing; it is all in unison with the 150l. bedstead. Why, there is a gold watch with appendages put down at 50l. for one of the items. When I first read the account, I thought the whole thing was a mistake, and that in writing out the bill, pounds sterling had been put down instead of drachmas, for I am pretty sure that in every case drachmas instead of pounds would have much more nearly represented the real value of the articles.
Next comes the case of the six Ionian boats at Salcina, and their demand for 235l.—for I will not enter into details; then the case of the four Ionians, who charged the Greek authorities with having outraged them, and thumbscrewed them, and taken their boats, two to Patras, and two to Pyrgos. The Greek authorities controvert the statement of our Consul upon this subject, and the correspondence altogether puzzles us as to who is right and who wrong; but the noble Lord, nothing doubting, settles the matter in a few lines, by ordering that the four complainants shall be paid 20l. each by the Greek Government.
Then comes the Fantome case. A British ship of war is lying off Patras; a boat goes on shore at nine o'clock at night, when it is dark; the coxswain lands a midshipman, not at the usual place of disembarkation, but on the beach; the midshipman goes to see his father, a boy preceding him with a lantern; on his return he is taken into custody by two officials and conveyed to the station, in default of giving a satisfactory account of himself; the Greeks, bear you in mind, not speaking one word of English, nor the Englishman one word of Greek. Now, suppose a Frenchman landing in the same way from abroad, by night, near Brighton, not at the ordinary landing-place but on the beach, and observed by preventive officers, neither party understanding one word of the other's language, and mutual explanation being consequently impossible. Why, the blockademen would at once put the landing party down for a French smuggler, and would take him into custody and convey him to the station where, an interpreter being procured, the explanation deficient would be supplied, and the arrested person be dismissed with all proper apology. This was precisely what was done to the midshipman. As soon as an interpreter was found, and it was ascertained who the Englishman was, he was at once liberated, and respectfully conveyed to his ship.
There you have the statement of all our grievances against Greece. ['No, no.'] I will not go into the merits of them; say the Greeks were wrong, or we were wrong, just as you please; but admit they were wrong, and what I want to know is, whether the wrong was not one that might have been readily settled by other means than by sending fifteen ships of war into the Bay of Salamis? I know I take a very vulgar, mercenary view of the matter, but I repeat my question,—Was there no other way to settle the question than by this immense array of force? It is quite evident that the only reason why this entire matter was not settled before, was the bad spirit that existed between our representative and the Government of Greece. I do not speak disparagingly of Sir Edmund Lyons; any other functionary under the same circumstances could scarcely have been so long there, any more than at Madrid or elsewhere, without getting mixed up with the local politics in the same way that Sir E. Lyons was. That was the origin and reason why it was found that for six or nine months there were no letters addressed by the noble Lord to Sir E. Lyons, and why there had been no adjustment of these petty differences until it was necessary to send fifteen ships of war to Athens.
Now, is there not something wrong at the bottom of this? Is there not something that requires to be mended? Is it worth while to have an Ambassador there with 5,000l. a year embroiling you with the Government, and begetting bad blood and animosity? Why, I would rather have no one but a Consul there, whose duty it should be to look after your commerce, and who should be told, ‘Never go to Athens at all, for, if you mix yourself up with political matters, somebody else shall be appointed in your place.’ If you would do this, you would avoid the absurdity of having to employ fifteen vessels of war to collect a debt of 6,000l. But everybody said that something else was meant besides obtaining redress for injuries to British subjects in Greece. I believe there was something in the background that I have not heard. It is said that the noble Viscount intended this demonstration at Athens as a menace to Russia. But I say, how does this answer its purpose as a demonstration against Russia? The moment the Court of Russia hear of the demonstration, I find that they send a remonstrance against the Government of this country—a remonstrance couched in language I never expected to hear from a semi-barbarous country like Russia to this: read, I ask you, the extraordinary language used by Count Nesselrode to Lord Palmerston, and then read the answer of the latter, and see how different is the tone adopted by him to a country which is powerful compared with what he makes use of to one that is weak.
Well, then, I ask again, what was the advantage of this demonstration, when the only result of it is a hectoring epistle from Count Nesselrode, to which the noble Viscount sent a very meek and lamb-like reply? The reason why I abhor the policy of injustice and aggression—for I call it injustice and aggression to send ships of war against a weak country to enforce demands which might have been amicably settled—is, that you place yourselves in such a position that you are obliged to submit to language like this from the Russian Court. And why are you obliged to submit to it? Because you are weak, and weak only on account of committing an injustice, and of being conscious of having done so; for otherwise, so far from this country being in a condition to be bullied by Russia, such are the advantages you possess in the knowledge and use of mechanical science and in the advanced state of the arts over Russia, that if you behaved with dignity to small states, she would not venture even to look at you, far less to use such language towards you.
I have asked, why was not this affair settled by other means than by ships of war? I now come to a part of the policy and conduct of the Foreign Office altogether irreconcilable with the notions of those hon. Gentlemen who did me the honour, to the number of eighty, of voting for my motion in favour of international arbitration. It is quite clear, it is said, that the noble Viscount did not resort to arbitration. My charge against him is, that he did resort to arbitration after having made use, in the first place, of fifteen ships of war. No sooner was the demonstration known, than an envoy arrives from France with tenders of mediation. And now, I must say, I have read with feelings nearly akin to contempt for diplomacy, the accounts of what took place between the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office and M. Drouyn de Lhuys—I have read the French accounts and the accounts in the blue-books, and must confess I have felt the most sovereign contempt for diplomacy. M. Drouyn de Lhuys came over in the most loyal spirit, as I believe, to offer to settle this beggarly affair of a few thousand pounds with Greece. He told the noble Lord frankly, as a proof of his sincerity, and he has repeated it in a letter to Lord Normanby, that it would be useful to the French Government to be allowed to settle it, or, to use a common American phrase, that it would give them ‘political capital’ in France. How did the noble Lord receive the approaches of M. Drouyn de Lhuys? Was it in the way any man of business, accustomed to the management of affairs, would have done? Did he say, ‘We are much obliged to you; this affair of a few thousands has been a long time standing over,—take it and settle it, and we shall be very much obliged to the Government of France?’ Would not that have been the rational and reasonable way of meeting him? Instead of this, what does the noble Viscount say? He higgles with M. Drouyn de Lhuys over the different words to be used,—over ‘good offices,’ ‘mediation,’ and ‘arbitration.’ I declare that both in French and English it fairly puzzles one to make anything out of it; but it appears, by the accounts, that the noble Lord insists he won't take ‘arbitration'’—it must be ‘good offices.’ M. Drouyn de Lhuys, in the French account of what took place, given by him to General Lahitte, describes himself to have entreated the noble Lord to extend a little the powers of the negotiators—to yield to an arbitration, and not to go determinedly on in the affair. But no; the noble Viscount was determined to have what he demanded; and all he would require of France was to persuade Greece to give what he asked. Baron Gros went out to Athens crippled by these conditions, but he set to work at once with Mr. Wyse. I think it is evident Baron Gros had the most earnest desire to settle the matter. Indeed, his character as a diplomatist was largely involved in his success in arranging it, and he went to work evidently disposed to surmount every possible difficulty; but when he came to the case of Pacifico, and heard from all he conversed with in Athens the real facts of the case—when, to use a vulgar phrase, he found it out, and discovered it was an atrocious attempt at swindling, he could not swallow it. What was going on at the very same time in London? At this very same moment commence the ‘good offices’ between the noble Lord and M. Drouyn de Lhuys. So he has two negotiations going, one at Athens and the other at London, and all to settle this paltry affair of a few thousand pounds. It ended as might be expected—a little delay on the part of a courier, some mistake or delay in not putting a letter into the letter-bag in time for the night's post, and the whole affair was broken off in London before they in Athens could know what was doing. The negotiations were thrown aside—our ships were ordered to do their worst—Greece submitted—and you got your money. What follows? The French Government, irritated by your conduct, withdraws its Minister,— and now comes the quarrel I have with the noble Lord—now comes my case against him for not accepting arbitration in the first instance. Actually, after your ships of war had extorted the money from Greece, and a large part of it was already placed in bank, the noble Viscount consented, in the most humiliating way,—for I consider the communications received from Lord Normanby most humiliating,—to accept what he had before refused, and you have now returned to this state, that by France withdrawing its ambassador you are obliged to do away all you have done by means of your fifteen ships of war. And you have agreed to substitute the Convention of London for the terms you obtained by your fleet at Athens. Yes; have you not agreed to give up the money lodged in the Bank for payment? What do you call that? Your ships of war extort money from Greece; the French Government tells you, ‘Give that money back; you must take the terms of the Convention of London.’ We yield, and so the matter ends. But it is not yet ended.
And here is my complaint against the noble Lord. It seems as if the system at the Foreign Office is calculated to breed and perpetuate quarrels. First, you submit to rebuke from Russia, and next you are humiliated before France—the two countries, some of our very knowing people say, we intended to terrify by our demonstration against Greece; but the question is not yet settled. There are three arbitrators appointed to settle the question of Pacifico's claim against the Court of Athens. As my hon. Friends near me, who voted for my motion, will see, they have been obliged to resort to my plan of arbitration, and the matter, after all the display of force, is still left open, and requires three arbitrators to decide it. I cannot imagine a more complete triumph of the principle I advocated last year than the details of this proceeding. Why, here are hon. Gentlemen behind me groaning. I am not surprised at it, for they really must be groaning at the thought of their own inconsistency. For what are we called on to vote?—that this matter has been most ably, justly, and dexterously managed. But I do not think it is finished at all; for, independently of three arbitrators and of ‘their good offices,’ mind you, there is a very ominous little legacy left to us in the despatch of Lord Normanby in the probability of Greece quarrelling with us again. For my own part, seeing theu nfortunate result of ‘good offices,’ I should not wonder if we had another quarrel with France for the exercise of her ‘good offices’ also. But it is said that there is, beside, some cause of quarrel with Russia, on account of vessels seized in the Levant and in the Greek ports, and M. Brunow has fairly given us notice he may have reclamations to make for the value of the property which fell into our hands, and for the loss we occasioned, and I should not be surprised if you had another blue-book very soon, containing correspondence with respect to seizures by the Russians; and all this has arisen because the Foreign Office would not submit this pettifogging business to arbitration. France would have been proud to be your arbitrator; you refused her. Then came the Convention, and at last comes an arbitration on the whole matter; only you submit on the most humiliating terms to conditions you had before refused.
Now, let us take in two sums what the actual result has been, so far as we have gone, in obtaining what we demanded. Our whole claim on the Greek Government was 33,000l. The whole amount we have actually received is 6,400l.; so that, as we stand at present, we appear before the nations of the world as having made a demand for 33,000l., and as having, up to the present moment, received only 6,400l.; and that will show, in the face of the world, what the extent of your injustice was in comparison with the justice of your claims. And, looking to the claims of M. Pacifico, and to the opinions of Baron Gros respecting them, I declare to you most solemnly my firm belief is, that if the people of England understood the merits of this question, and if they had read, as I have done, the contents of the blue-books and of the inventory,—such is the opinion I have of the generosity and justice of my countrymen, that, in spite of the galvanic effort to make this a party question, they would be so disgusted, that they would raise a subscription to pay back the Greek Government the money it has given you. In the next place, beside a vote of approbation on account of this Greek affair, we are asked to identify ourselves with the general foreign policy of the Government since their accession to office.
Now, I say I should be the most inconsistent being on the face of the earth if I gave such a vote. Not many years ago, I had to denounce, at a public meeting I called in Manchester, the conduct of the noble Lord in the case of Syria; and I remember afterwards denouncing his proceedings in Portugal also. I moved in this House for a return of any vessels of war belonging to us, which were at the time lying in the Tagus, in reference to that business. I protested, too, at a public meeting, and before a most enthusiastic audience, on the noble Lord's conduct in the affairs of Sicily; and I am now called on to vote my approbation of the proceedings of the Foreign Office during the existence of the present Administration. Why, I say if I did so, and gave that vote, I think my mouth ought to be closed on any questions of economy, entrenchment, or possibility of reducing our establishments for ever, because I am quite sure, if this system is to continue, and if you are to send fifteen ships of war to collect debts of 6,400l., you not only cannot reduce your establishments, but you have not establishments, enough. There has been a great deal said during the debate about foreign intervention, but this is a principle which I thought was acknowleged and admitted by all parties. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have never, since the time of the Reform Bill, thought of anything so absurd as obtaining popularity by the peculiar characteristic of being the interferers in the affairs of other countries. I cannot say there is as much wisdom on this side of the House, for there seems to me a disposition here to take merit to the party, because it has for its principle to interfere in the affairs of other nations. That was not the doctrine of Lord Grey. I remember the speech of the noble Lord in 1830. Nothing electrified the country more than that exposition of his principles. He spoke of the wars of Mr. Pitt and of his successors—of the 800,000,000l. of expenditure incurred in those wars; and he pledged himself to the country that peace, non-intervention, and retrenchment, should be the watchwords of the Whig party.
I ask the country fairly to decide whether the tone and language of the speakers on this side of the House, on this night, and in the course of this debate, have been in harmony and unison with that sentiment of Lord Grey? Why, what has been the language of the hon. and learned Member for Southampton (Mr. Cockburn), and for which he has been cheered to the echo? One-half of the Treasury benches were left empty, while hon. Members ran one after another, tumbling over each other in their haste to shake hands with the hon. and learned Member. Well, what did the hon. and learned Member say? I pass over his sneer against the men of peace and men of cotton, because we must allow gentlemen of the long robe some latitude, and allow them to forget the arena in which they are displaying their powers; but what would Lord Grey have said to the doctrine of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that we have no prospect of peace with the countries of Europe till they have adopted constitutional Governments? What sort of constitutional Governments? Is it our own? Why, even if they came so far as this, and suppose they adopt our form of Government, might not hon. Members in the Assembly at Washington get up and say, ‘We will have no peace till we make the world republican?’ The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to have set out with the doctrine, that we ought to interfere with the forms of Government of the nations of Europe, and, judging from the noble Lord's speech, I must say he appears to be no unwilling pupil in that school of policy. If the House of Commons votes its approbation of such sentiments, and the noble Lord acts on them, I think the Foreign Office will have undertaken the reform and constitutionalizing of every country on the face of the earth. But do you think the people of this country, when they get cool, will see the wisdom of carrying out such a course? I claim for myself as much sympathy for foreigners struggling for liberty as any one in this House; but it is not true, as the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) said, that I ever attended a public meeting, and said I was in favour of going to war, and that I made an exception from my general principles in favour of Hungary.
I am glad the hon. and learned Gentleman has stated this, and that I misunderstood him, as it may prevent my being misunderstood in future. I never in public advocated interference with the Government of foreign countries, even in cases where my feelings were most strongly interested in anything relating to their domestic affairs or concerns. When I see that principle violated by others, as in the case of the Russian invasion of Hungary, and when I see a portion of the press of this civilised nation hounding on that semi-barbarous empire, then, believing that this is almost the only country where there is a free platform, and where it cannot be corrupted, as a portion of the press may have been, I shall denounce it, as I denounced the Government of Russia, and, as I stated at the same time, I was ready to denounce our own Government also. But it is a matter of very small importance what my individual opinion may be, when you come to the question, whether the Government of this country shall become the propagandist of their opinions in foreign countries. I maintain this Government has no right to communicate except through the Government of other countries; and that, whether it be a republic, a despotism, or a monarchy, I hold it has no right to interfere with any other form of Government. Mark the effect of your own principle, if you take the opposite ground. If you recognise the principle of intervention in your Government, you must tolerate it in other nations also. With what face could you get up and denounce the Emperor of Russia for invading Hungary, after the doctrine advocated by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cockburn) to-night had been adopted by this country? I say, if you want to benefit nations who are struggling for their freedom, establish as one of the maxims of international law the principle of non-intervention. If you want to give a guarantee for peace, and, as I believe, the surest guarantee for progress and freedom, lay down this principle, and act on it, that no foreign State has a right by force to interfere with the domestic concerns of another State, even to confer a benefit on it, with its own consent. What will you say respecting the conduct of the noble Lord in the case of Switzerland? He joined there in an intervention, though the great majority of the Protestant cantons protested against it, and does the very thing he is seeking to prevent.
But I come back to my principle. Do you want to benefit the Hungarians and Italians? I think I know more of them than most people in this country. I sympathised with them during their manly struggles for freedom, and I have admired and respected them not less in their hour of adversity. I will tell you the sentiments of the leading men of the Hungarians. I have seen them all, and I must say that, much as I admired them during their noble struggle, what I have seen of them in adversity has entitled them, in my belief, to still greater respect, for I never say men—except Englishmen, to whom they bear in many respects a close resemblance—bear adversity with such manly fortitude and dignified self-respect. They have avoided all expressions of sympathy from public meetings, and, loathing the idea of being dependent on the charity of others, have sought, by emigration to America and elsewhere, an opportunity of subsisting by the labour of their own hands. These men say,—'We don't ask you to help us, or to come to our assistance. Establish such a principle as shall provide we shall not be interfered with by others.' And what do the Italians say? They don't want the English to interfere with them, or to help them. ‘Leave us to ourselves,’ they say. ‘Establish the principle that we shall not be interfered with by foreigners.’
I will answer the hon. and learned Gentleman's cheer. He seems to ask, How will you keep out Austria from Italy, and Russia from Hungary? I will give him an illustration of what I mean. Does he remember when Kossuth took refuge in Turkey, and that Austria and the Emperor of Russia demanded him back? I beg him to understand that this illustrious refugee was not saved by any intervention of the Foreign Secretary. Has it not been admitted that the Emperor of Russia gave up his claim before the courier arrived from England? What was it, then, that liberated them? It was the universal outbreak of public opinion and public indignation in Western Europe. And why had public opinion this power? Because this demand for the extradition of political offenders was a violation of the law of nations, which declares that persons who have committed political offences in one State shall find a sanctuary in another, and ought not to be delivered up. If our Government were always to act upon this principle of non-intervention, we should see the law of nations declaring itself as clearly against the invasion of a foreign country as it has spoken out against the extradition of political refugees. Let us begin, and set the example to other nations of this non-intervention. I have no doubt that our example and protest would exercise some influence upon the Governments of Austria and Russia; but what possible moral influence can this country have with those States when the Government goes abroad to interfere with the domestic affairs of other countries.
It is said, however, that the noble Lord (Palmerston) goes abroad as the champion of liberalism and constitutionalism. But I cannot fall into this delusion. I cannot trace the battle that we are taught to believe is going on under the noble Viscount's policy between liberalism and despotism abroad. I do not think that the noble Lord is more democratic than his colleagues, or than the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Peel). I believe the noble Lord is of an active turn of mind—that he likes these protocols and conventions, and that the smaller the subject, the better it suits his taste. I do not find that the noble Lord has taken up any great question of constitutional freedom abroad. Did he ever protest against the invasion of Hungary by Russia? He made a speech against Austria, I remember, on that occasion; but he did not breathe a syllable against Russia. The only allusion he made to Russia was in the nature of an apology, uttered in a sense that seemed to justify the part taken by Russia rather than otherwise. Then it is said, that in Italy the noble Lord endeavours to establish constitutional government and representative institutions. The noble Lord told Lord Minto to go to Italy, not, as he himself declared, to recommend Parliaments or representative assemblies, but merely to advise the Government to adopt administrative reforms. But that was not what the Italian people wanted. They wanted security for their liberties by constitutional reforms, and the adoption of a representative system; and that was what the noble Lord did not recommend should be given to them. I believe the progress of freedom depends more upon the maintenance of peace, the spread of commerce, and the diffusion of education, than upon the labours of Cabinets or Foreign-offices. And if you can prevent those perturbations which have recently taken place abroad in consequence of your foreign policy, and if you will leave other nations in greater tranquillity, those ideas of freedom will continue to progress, and you need not trouble yourselves about them.
On this side of the House, some persons have been menaced with very terrible consequences, and with the adverse opinion of the public, if they do not vote for this resolution. I can only say, that I, like many other hon. Members, sit commonly here and in committee-rooms of this House for twelve hours in the course of the day. Allow two or three hours a-day for the transaction of necessary business at home, and that is not play, but hard work. But why should we sit in this House and undergo this labour, unless to advocate those opinions and convictions which we believe to be true and just? If I have one conviction stronger than another, it is one upon which I made a first public exhibition of myself in print. The principle which I defend is assailed in this motion, and upon it, for fifteen years, my opinion has been again and again recorded. I have never seen reason to change that opinion, but, on the contrary, everything confirms me in my conviction of its truth. If I remain in this seat, I will try to promote the progress of these opinions; and I hope to see the day when the intercourse of nations will exhibit the same changes as those which have taken place in the intercourse of individuals. In private life, we no longer find it necessary to carry arms about us for our protection, as did our forefathers. We have discontinued the practice of duelling, and something should be done to carry the same spirit into the intercourse of nations. In domestic life, physical correction is giving way to moral influence. In schools and in lunatic asylums this principle is successfully adopted, and even the training of the lower animals is found to be better done by means of suasion. Cannot you adopt something of this in the intercourse of nations? Whoever brings forward such measures shall have my support; and if it should happen, as the hon. Member (Mr. Bernal Osborne) has threatened me, that the consequences of my vote will be the loss of my seat in this House, then I say that, next to the satisfaction of having contributed to the advance of one's convictions, is, in my opinion, the satisfaction of having sacrificed something for them.
ROCHDALE, JUNE 26, 1861.
[The following Speech was made by Mr. Cobden before his constituents, after the French Commercial Treaty had been negotiated.]
I appear here in conformity with a time-honoured practice in your borough, which has led your representative annually to come and give an account of his stewardship to you—to afford you an opportunity of conferring with him, and questioning him on any topic relating to his public duty and the interests of his constituency. That custom, I think, was justifiable in your case by the independent and honourable course which you have always followed in the election of your Liberal representatives to Parliament. But I appear here to-night under rather peculiar circumstances; for I have no account to give of my stewardship in Parliament, having been occupied for nearly eighteen months abroad, partly in prosecuting a public duty, and partly in quest of health. I have been, as your worthy Mayor (Mr. J. H. Moore) has stated, engaged in arranging a commercial treaty with France. I have been, as you are aware, honoured with the confidence of our Sovereign, and, aided by colleagues whose services in the matter I would not for a moment appropriate to myself, I have been endeavouring to make such arrangements as shall lead two great countries, peculiarly designed by Providence to confer mutual benefits upon each other, but who, owing to the folly and perhaps wickedness of man, have been for centuries rather seeking to injure and destroy each other, to enter upon new relations. I have been seeking to form arrangements by which these two countries shall be united together in mutual bonds of dependence, and, I hope, of future peace.
It has been truly said by the Mayor, that France has been hitherto as a nation attached to those principles of commercial restriction which we in England have but lately released ourselves from, but which have cost us thirty years of pretty continuous labour, and the services of three or four most eminent statesmen, in order to bring us to our present state of comparative freedom of commerce. The French, on the contrary, have taken hardly a single step in this direction; and it was left for the present Emperor—and he alone had the power—to accomplish that object, and to his Minister of Commerce, who for the last eighteen months has scarcely given himself twenty-four hours of leisure—it was left for them to accomplish in France, in the course of a couple of years, what has taken us in England at least thirty years to effect. I mention this, because I wish—and I have a reason for it, which I will state in a moment—I wish it to be borne in mind what has been the magnitude of the task which the French Government has had to accomplish on this occasion. They had to confront powerful influences which were at the moment entirely unbroken, and they had to attack the whole body of monopoly in France; whereas, if you recollect, in this country our statesmen began by sapping and mining, and by throwing over the smaller interests, in order that they might form a coalition of them against the greater monopolies. Everything has had to be done in France during the last eighteen months. Much remains to be done, I hope much will be accomplished in a short time. I wish you to understand distinctly the magnitude of the task which the French Government has had to accomplish, because thereupon hangs a tale and an argument upon which I shall have a word to say in a moment. There is a peculiarity in the condition of French industry which gives the fair prospect of a reasonable anticipation of a mutual and beneficial intercourse between these two countries. It is a very singular fact that France, which, by its social organisations and by its political maxims, is perhaps one of the most democratic nations in the world—that this people are almost exclusively employed in the manufacture of articles of great luxury and taste, adapted almost exclusively for the consumption of the aristocratic and the rich, whereas England, on the contrary, the most aristocratic people in the world, is almost wholly employed in the manufacture of those articles which conduce to the comfort and the benefit of the great masses of the community. You have here, therefore, two peoples, who, by their distinct geniuses, are admirably suited for a mutual exchange of the products of their industry, and I argue very much, as your Mayor has intimated, in favour of the great advantages which the masses of the French people will derive from the Treaty which has been lately arranged with that country.
The French people—I am speaking of the working people—are, in comparison with the English people, a badly-clothed population. Any one who has travelled in the winter-time from Calais to Dover, cannot fail to have observed the contrast between those blue round frocks which the Frenchmen wear, and the more comfortable, because warmer, woollen and worsted garments which the English workmen at that season of the year possess. It reminds me—the condition of the French population in their clothing now—somewhat of the condition in which this population of England was placed, with regard to food, five-and-twenty years ago, before the Corn-laws were touched. At that time, our population was a badly-fed people,—living, too many of them, upon roots; there were some six or eight million quarters less of corn consumed than ought to have been consumed in this country, and which has been annually consumed since the people were permitted to obtain it. Just as Free Trade has enabled this people to be better fed, so will it enable the French population to buy better clothing, and by precisely the same process by which we have arrived at this result in England; partly because there will be a considerable importation into France of your plain and coarse manufactures, and partly because of the stimulus that will be given to the manufactures of the French themselves—just as your increased supply of corn in this country has come, partly from the importation of the produce of foreign countries, and partly by the important advantages which competition has afforded to your own agriculturists. And we, on one side, will obtain, and have obtained, great benefits from this change. The change on our side is our merit; the change on the other side is the merit of the French Government. What, I confess, as an Englishman, I have been led in this important duty most to consider, is how this matter has benefited you, not by what it will allow you to export, but by what it will allow you to import. This is the way by which I seek to benefit a population, by allowing more of the good things to come in from abroad.
Upon the imports are based the late measures of our Government; and I give the credit for the putting this great final coping-stone upon the edifice of Free trade—I mean so far as the abolition of all protective duties goes—I give the merit to the present Government, and their great Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gladstone). They have abolished the last remaining protective duties in our Tariff. Now, mark what the advantage of this will be to us as a mercantile people—an advantage which has not been sufficiently appreciated, I venture to observe. By removing every duty upon all articles of foreign manufacture, we have made England a free port for manufactured goods, just as we had made it a free port for corn and for raw materials. The consequence is, that all articles of foreign manufacture may be brought to England without let or hindrance. We find a large consumption for them here; and foreigners and colonists coming from Australia, and Canada, and America, may find in our warehouses, not merely all our produce which they want, but Swiss, and German, and French produce, which they may buy here without visiting the Continent to purchase there. This, I consider, is to us, as a mercantile people, an immense advantage, which will be by-and-by fully appreciated, the importance of which, I think, has not yet been altogether anticipated; but, besides this, we are going to import commodities from France which have been hitherto prohibited, and which will not only be to their advantage, but to ours. Take, for instance, the article of wine. We all know that for a century or more, owing to an absurd Treaty which was made with Portugal, this country put a prohibitive duty upon French wines, and the consequence has been that the taste of this country has been perverted, and that which is the best article of its kind in the world has been almost a stranger in this land.
Well, besides the preferential duty which has included French wines, we have laid on such an enormous amount of duty that nothing but wines of the very strongest character, the effect of which could be suddenly felt in the head, were ever thought worth purchasing. When a man had to pay 6d. or 9d. for a glass of wine containing a few thimblefuls, he wanted something which would affect his head for his money; he would not buy the fine, natural, and comparatively weak wines of France, though every other country in the world but England has regarded French wines as the best wines in the world. The English taste has been adulterated, and our people, or those who could afford it, have preferred the narcotic and inflammatory mixture which is called port, or even sherry. A friend of mine lately had the curiosity to look into our national ballads, with the view of finding out and making a collection of drinking songs. He told me he found that all the songs were in honour of French wines—champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux—and they were all old songs, written at the time when our ancestors used and preferred French wine; and that since they were not allowed to obtain those wines, songs in favour of wine have ceased. He drew this conclusion:—That when the people drunk French wines they became merry and sang; but when they took to port and sherry it made them stupid, and they went to sleep.
I don't know that I should like to go so far as a lamented friend of mine, a former Mayor of Bordeaux, who happened to be travelling in England, and paid us a visit in Manchester to a dinner; and when his health had been drunk, he said—'Gentlemen, when I travel I have but one test of civilisation everywhere. I ask, Do the people consume claret?' That is, the wine of Bordeaux. I don't go quite so far as that, but I do say, in whatever point of view you regard it, whether it is as a beneficial exchange with France, enabling you to exchange the products of your industry with the greatest and richest people on the Continent, whether it be in the interests of temperance, or whether it be in the interests of health, it is desirable that the taste of England should have at least the opportunity of going back to that natural channel which our forefathers followed when they had, as we now have, access to French wines at a moderate duty, or at the same duty as on other wines. I am not so sanguine as to expect that a great trade is to grow up between France and England, suddenly, to-morrow, or next year. It will require time; but the door has been opened honestly, with all sincerity; and I have no doubt, after we have had a sufficient time to correct those errors into which our forefathers fell, that this work, like every other in which we have been engaged where restrictions have been removed, will be found favourable to the best interests of this country and of France.
Now, I confess that the work on which I have been engaged would have but small interest for me, if it had not conduced to something different and higher than the mere increase of the beverage of the people of this country. The object which I have sought, and which those who know me will know right well, has been not merely to promote the physical well-being of these two peoples—though that in itself is an object worthy of all care—but my aim and hope have been to promote such a change as shall lead to a better moral and political tone between the two nations. And this brings me to the point to which I said I would refer. Your worthy Mayor has alluded to the immense preparations now making by the Governments of these two countries for warlike operations. Those preparations, so far as the navies of the two countries are concerned, are undoubtedly—nay, avowedly—with the view to mutual attack or defence from those two countries alone. Well, now, we are not ignorant of the fact that the French Government and the French Emperor have been made responsible for this increase in our naval armaments. It is upon that point I want to say a word or two to you as my constituents, and I address myself to this subject with you, because it is one that is peculiarly germane to my first meeting with this constituency after a meeting which you held some eighteen months ago, in which you refused to establish a rifle corps in this town. At the time when that meeting was held I was in Paris, and read the proceedings with considerable interest. It was the only meeting I saw, during a peculiar fervour and violence of agitation in this country, at which such a resolution was arrived at; and, without passing judgment upon the question of volunteers in general—upon which I reserve myself, for I don't know whether I shall have time to say anything on the subject—all I wish to say is this, that, as far as my experience goes, and it has not been small, as you may suppose, in France, as far as the decision of this town was come to on the ground that there was no danger from France which warranted such a preparation, I come here to tell you, in my judgment, you acted with perfect propriety.
Now, I have spoken of the difficulties and the obstacles which the French Government had to encounter in the work in which they had been engaged for the last eighteen months—the total subversion of their commercial system. I ask you, as I ask every reasonable man, is there no presumptive evidence calculated to make you pause before you believe as probable or true what certain Admirals—one of them, I am sorry to say, now no more—say as to the French Government and the French meditating to attack or invade this country, when you find that Government engaged in this most difficult task, the subversion of their commercial system, by throwing open the markets of that country to the manufactures of England, and opening the markets of England to the productions of France? I say, is there not something in this fact to make you pause before you believe on the mere ipse dixit of some not over-wise Admiral, who has never given one fact to prove what he says, that it is the design of the French Emperor to come and invade your shores without cause of quarrel or without grievance assigned? But I don't ask you to rely upon probabilities of things in this matter. I speak to you of facts—facts which have come within my own knowledge—facts which I, perhaps, better than any man in the world, have had the opportunity of knowing and investigating. It is alleged that the French have been for some time making formidable preparations in their naval armaments.
Well, the first question I ask with regard to that is—What has been the proportion of money spent in France upon their naval armaments, and what has been the proportion spent in England for a similar purpose? There has been always between England and France, by a sort of tacit agreement, I may call it, a certain proportion or relation in the amounts expended in their respective armaments. If you take the navies of the two countries for the last century, you will find that, when in a normal state of peace, the French have had a navy little more than half the size of that of England. If you take the expenditure, you will find that the French naval armament has, during all that period, by a sort of tacit arrangement—as I have said—spent rather more than the half of what England has spent upon her navy. Well, then, I will take the ten years that preceded 1858 inclusive. I find that the expenditure of the French has been rather more than the half of what England has spent. I have taken the expenditure up to 1858 only for this reason—that if you take the French estimates you will not arrive at the actual expenditure. I admit that would not be a fair criterion of the amount of money spent in this manner; because they bring forward the estimates for the year, and afterwards there are supplementary votes, which increase the amount. But if you wait for two years, until the definitive balances and records of the French finances have passed through their audit offices, and have been published in what is called ‘Les Règlements Définitifs du Budget,’ then you have as reliable an account as any in the world. I have heard of no political party—and you know that in France party feeling is as bitter, or even more bitter, than in this country—I have never heard any foreigner even, but who would admit, without scruple or observation, that when these definitive budgets are published, they have a creditable and reliable account of their expenditure. I have waited, and I see that down to the last accounts, published up to the year 1858, the French, for ten years previously—during the whole of the reign of this Emperor, and before his accession—have expended little more than half of what has been expended in England.
Well, but in England we have ships of war 20 per cent. cheaper than in France; we have steam-engines 30 per cent. cheaper; we have coals 40 per cent., and we have stores 20 or 30 per cent. cheaper. How is it, then, I ask, if France has expended little more than half what we have in these ten years—how is it, that in the year 1859 you suddenly hear, as though it were an explosion, that France is coming to invade us, and has made undue preparations in her naval armaments; and that we must not be content with nearly doubling our expenditure, and with a large expenditure on our standing forces, but must call upon the people of this country to arm and enrol themselves as volunteers? There must be a reason for this state of things. I speak always with too much respect for the great masses of my countrymen, even when I am confronting what I believe to be their delusions, to think of passing over this subject without offering the best explanation I can to satisfy and assure the public mind upon this question. I believe I can answer the question by stating that there may be facts connected with our navy which will give some colour to these outcries of alarm. The facts are these: The affairs of our Admiralty are most deplorably mismanaged. That will not be denied by any one now that is acquainted with what is going on at head-quarters. We had a Commission sitting last year, under the Queen's sign manual, to inquire into the management of our dockyards. Men of business placed upon that Commission made a tour of the dockyards and arsenals. They examined them. And what do you think was their report? The substance of it is in a dozen lines, and I will read them to you:—
'The Royal Commission appointed last year reports that the control and management of the dockyards are inefficient from the following causes:—First, from the inefficiency of the constitution of the Board of Admiralty; secondly, from the defective organisation of the subordinate departments; thirdly, from the want of a well-defined responsibility; fourthly, from the absence of any means, both now and in times past, of effectually checking expenditure from a want of accurate accounts.'
Now mark; just endeavour as men of business to carry with the full meaning of this verdict by supposing it to apply to a private house of business. First, the constitution of the Board of Admiralty is defective, that is, of the body, the head of the governing body—that means, the masters—don't know their business, and are not properly appointed. Then we have the defective organisation of the subordinate departments—that means, the foremen don't know their business. Then the want of clear and well-defined accounts—that means, that the masters, or those who call themselves masters, if you go and ask them why such a thing is not done, they will tell you that they are not responsible. And then, the fourth defect is that they don't keep reliable accounts, and therefore they don't know how the concern is carried on.
That is the judgment passed upon our Admiralty by a Commission under the Queen's sign-manual issued last year; but at the present moment there is a Committee sitting in the House of Commons, inquiring again into the affairs of the Admiralty, examining the same witnesses and others, and trying to find out the evils of this mal-administration. Well, I have said that the French Government during the ten years ending with 1858, spent a little more than one-half what we spent upon their navy. Then comes the question, what has become of all this money? How have these people managed to waste the enormous sums they have taken and wrung from the pockets of the tax-oppressed people? I will give you one little item from my honourable Friend, who is now the Secretary of the Admiralty, Lord Clarence Paget. Speaking in the spring of 1859—I could give you the exact date—he attacked those who were then in office; and he came into office a few months afterwards in the same capacity. Now, he stated in Parliament, that he had gone carefully over the accounts for the eleven years previous to 1859, and he found five millions sterling voted for the construction of ships of war which could not be accounted for. Now don't let me be misunderstood. Neither Lord Clarence Paget nor myself mean to imply that this money is stolen. The persons we criticise are honourable men as far as personal honour goes. I mean that they are certainly not the men to put the money into their own pockets. I will account for it in other ways, and I am here to account for it to you. The money has been wasted by making things which were useless. When the heads are irresponsible, when the foremen are ignorant, and when there are no accounts that can be relied upon, you may be satisfied how the business must be carried on. I will give you an instance of it, and it will explain this matter. It will explain the whole mystery of what we have in hand. About the year 1850 it was seen and admitted by the naval authorities in both countries that, in consequence of the application of steam for the propelling of ships, the old sailing vessels of the line could no longer be relied upon in case of war. Both France and England at that time came to the conclusion that in future line-of-battle ships must have screw propellers put in them. What was the course pursued by France? France has one Minister of Marine—not a Board, like ours, consisting of gentlemen upon whom it would puzzle even a detective police officer to fix any responsibility. The Emperor and the Minister of Marine are in concert; and they say, as wooden sailing line-of-battle ships will be useless in future, we must cease building them; and they have ceased building them. In England, we went on building line-of-battle ships for sails, and have been building them ever since. The French took their old vessels—their existing vessels—and put screw steam-engines into them, and adapted them for the purposes of war. In England, we went on building and converting, and managing to build new vessels, as fast as we converted the old ones; and the consequence was that France, only having to buy steam-engines to put into their wooden vessels (whilst we were building vessels and buying steamengines), had got her work done in less time, and at less expense, than we have. When it came in view almost immediately afterwards that, in consequence of this proceeding, the French appeared to have at one moment—according to the statement of one of our Admiralty—nearly as many line-of-battle ships with screws as we had, we heard a cry that the French wanted to steal a march upon us, because she had nearly as many steam line-of-battle vessels as we. We never took stock of our line-of-battle steam and sailing vessels combined. If we had, we should have found that we had at that time as many more line-of-battle ships as we had in 1850. That is one of the ways in which this vast sum of money has been uselessly spent.
I will now come to five years later. During the war in the Crimea, it was found that these iron-cased vessels for gun-boats served the purpose admirably of protecting ships of war from those shells and combustible missiles which were the latest inventions for the purposes of war. Immediately that was discovered, the Emperor orders two frigates to be built and covered with iron. We knew what was going on, and the English Admiralty reported upon it. They were in no great hurry in constructing the Gloire. The keel of that vessel was laid down in the summer of 1858, and she was not completed with her armour on till the autumn of 1860. What does our Admiralty do in the mean time? We had one Admiralty after another; and as they succeed each other, you see them go down to Shoeburyness or Portsmouth for the purpose of trying experiments—first inviting Mr. Whitworth to see if he could manufacture a gun sufficiently powerful to send a rifled solid bullet through these iron plates; and at another time calling on Sir William Armstrong to do the same. In this way they continue to amuse themselves. In the mean time, the Minister of Marine and the Emperor said, ‘What we want is something to protect us against the hollow shells which fall very much like hail on our wooden ships.’ It is against these detonating shells that we wish to protect ourselves, and the French Government went on to complete these two vessels of war with iron armour. But there was no reason why these iron vessels should have been launched before ours. We voted the money; we have more iron, and more workmen capable of constructing such vessels, if the Admiralty had chosen to employ them. But there is no responsibility, no one who knows his business, and nothing was done. Then, because the French had their iron ship completed sooner than ours, a cry was raised that the Emperor was coming to invade us.
Now, I have examined this question, and, having taken the pains to inform myself upon it, I have no hesitation in saying that the idea of the French Government ever contemplating rivalling us in our naval force, still less of invading us—I say it from my conscience—I believe is as great a hoax and delusion upon this generation as anything we read of in history since the time of Titus Oates, and indeed, as bad as anything Titus Oates ever said. I have given you the judgment of this Royal Commission upon the Admiralty. Now I will read a few words uttered by Mr. Gladstone in the House of Commons, last year, upon the nature—upon the character—of our administration generally of public works:—
'He had no hesitation in saying that these and other circumstances of a like kind were entirely owing to the lamentable and deplorable state of our whole arrangements with regard to the management of our public works. Vacillation, uncertainty, costliness, extravagance, and all the conflicting vices that could be enumerated were united in our present system. There was a total want of authority to direct and guide when anything was to be done; they had to go from department to department, from the House of Commons to a Committee, from a Committee to a Commission, and from a Commission to a Committee again; so that years passed away, the public were disappointed, and the money of the country was wasted. He believed that such were the evils of the system, that nothing short of a revolutionary reform would ever be sufficient to rectify it.'
Mr. Gladstone was then speaking with reference to the administration of the Public Works in connection with the building of the British Museum. But the greatest of your national manufactures is the navy. Your dockyards are the great Government manufactories; it is there, with their ships and machinery, that the largest amount of your money is spent, and the greatest waste takes place. And, bad as is the Board of Public Works, I believe it is the unanimous opinion of public men of all parties, except the half-dozen who have been in the Admiralty, or the half-dozen now in it, that of all the public departments, that which is the worst managed, the most irresponsible, and where the greatest waste prevails, is the Admiralty.
Now, I do not think it out of place or out of time to talk to you upon this subject—upon this fallacy, with reference to the designs and doings of the French Government and of the French Emperor in particular; for upon that fallacy is based a claim upon the pockets which must be counted by millions sterling per annum. But I speak to you also in the character of your representative, who was placed in a responsible and delicate position with reference to this very question. I was in Paris at the time that all these meetings were convoked to form these rifle corps. I was there with the known object of endeavouring to promote a treaty of commerce between the two countries. I was first in the midst of the negotiations for the basis of the treaty, when there was the greatest excitement, and the greatest anxiety, and the greatest agitation in this country, for the purpose of getting up public demonstrations in favour of the rifle corps, avowedly to protect this country against France. The language held in this country—I can hardly trust myself to characterise it. I remember an account of a meeting in Somersetshire—I don't know that it could have taken place in a more appropriate county—there was a farmer speaking upon this subject, and somebody cried out to him—he was speaking of invasion by the French Emperors—'Suppose they come, what will you charge them for your corn?' And his answer was, ‘They shall pay for it with their blood!’ This was the language, and it is only a sample. It was going on through the country at a time when, I repeat it, not one act had ever been done by the French Government to warrant the supposition of any hostile feeling being meditated towards us, and at the very time when the French Government was about to enter upon a complete revolution in their commercial policy; which, if the French Emperor had such a design as to make an attack upon this country, would have convicted him of the most absolute folly—I was going to say madness—because at the same time that he was disturbing the commercial interests, and setting the ironmasters, the cotton-spinners, and all the great capitalists against him, he was said to be meditating just such an attack upon this country as would have required the support of those very interests to gain his ends. Nay, more, looking at him as an intelligent being—and that is his great characteristic, for he is a remarkably intelligent man—looking at him as an intelligent man, what must we say of his conduct in proposing at the same time to adopt a policy which would knit the two countries in the bonds of commercial dependence in such a way that it would have been difficult to have caused a rupture between them—for war tears asunder most of those sensitive fibres which constitute the body politic when it rends these mutual ties of commercial intercourse—what shall we say of a man who, though arming a few ships, was suspected of contemplating a piratical attack on this country? But supposing that might have been possible; I tell you candidly, that before I took a step in reference to this treaty, I satisfied myself upon these facts, which I am now narrating; and I tell you more, and I would tell to the French Government as I now tell to you, that if I found one fact to justify what had been stated here at that time in public meetings—if I found that the French Government had done anything to disturb that relation which has existed pretty nearly for a century in the proportions of the French and English navies—I should have suspected some sinister design on the part of the French Government, and should have considered myself a traitor to my country if I had allowed the Government of that country, on proof of any sinister intentions, to have made use of me to mislead or hoodwink England by leading me to suppose that my instrumentality was being used for the promotion of commercial intercourse, when I had grounds to believe they were entering upon a policy of war.
I have said that down to the year 1858 inclusive we have the finance accounts, showing what has been the expenditure of France compared with our own upon our navy. As we have not the audited accounts for 1859 and 1860—and I am not going to trust to estimates—I will not speak of the expenditure for these two years. But I can give you another proof that during last year, at the very time we were raising this cry of invasion, and charging the French Government with making undue and unprecedented preparations for an invasion of our shores—that we had last year, and during the whole of last year, a larger naval force, in proportion to that of France, than I have ever known in any normal natural time of peace within the last century. I will not speak of money, but of men. When you take the number of men voted and employed in the navy, you have the clue to all the other expenses of the navy; that is never attempted to be denied by any one who understands anything of these matters. During 1860, the French Government had voted 30,400 men and boys for their navy; and in the same year we had 84,000 men and boys voted for our navy. I will take what I know upon authority, and which will not be disputed by anybody. I will assume that the French navy possessed 34,000 men and boys last year. I will throw in, also, a statement which gives 3,600 more than they actually had, and then taking these 34,000 against our 84,000, it is as near as possible five to two on our part; that instead of half, or a little more than half, which has been the normal state of things, England last year, at the time of all this hubbub, at the time when you were invited to shoulder your muskets to protect your shores, your proportion of armaments by sea was greater than it has been in almost any time of peace that I can find in my researches. I know they tell us that the French have got a number of men in their mercantile marine who are all inscribed on the maritime inscription of France, and that such inscription gives the Government the power to press those men into their service; and you must consider that. Now, I say, take all the able-bodied seamen the French have in their mercantile marine, and add them to the men in the imperial navy, and it will not bring them up to the number we have in our royal navy. I am not one to advocate the reducing of our navy in any degree below that proportion to the French navy which the exigencies of our service require; and, mind what I say, here is just what the French Government would admit as freely as you would. England has four times, at least, the amount of mercantile tonnage to protect at sea that France has, and that surely gives us a legitimate pretension to have a larger navy than France. Besides, this country is an island; we cannot communicate with any part of the world except by sea. France, on the other hand, has a frontier upon land, by which she can communicate with the whole world. We have, I think, unfortunately for ourselves, about a hundred times the amount of territory beyond the seas to protect, as colonies and dependencies, that France has. France has also twice or three times as large an army as England has. All these things give us a right to have a navy somewhat in the proportion to the French navy which we find to have existed if we look back over the past century. Nobody has disputed it. I would be the last person who would ever advocate any undue change in this proportion. On the contrary—I have said it in the House of Commons, and I repeat it to you—if the French Government showed a sinister design to increase their navy to an equality with ours; then, after every explanation to prevent such an absurd waste, I should vote 100 millions sterling rather than allow that navy to be increased to a level with ours—because I should say that any attempt of that sort without any legitimate grounds, would argue some sinister designs upon this country.
I wish, therefore, not to be misinterpreted or misrepresented in what I say. What does the French Government say, in answer to these charges about their designs to invade us? It is curious to remark how they treat them. The French Government do not go and take stock of their navy, and insist that theirs is a small navy in proportion to ours; that would be an amount of forbearance and transparent modesty on the part of the Government towards their own people such as we do not expect in this country. The French Government pocket what we say as to their navy, and only answer, in their public speeches and their Moniteur Officiel, ‘Gentlemen, we spend little more than half what you do upon our navy; and if we have a navy so powerful that you are afraid of our invading you, we must make a great deal better use of our money than you.’
I have dwelt, perhaps, not needlessly long on this subject. It lies at the bottom of more than many simpleminded men understand. But now I leave that question, and I come to ask, how is this to be altered? How is this peaceable reform, amounting to something almost revolutionary, of which Mr. Gladstone speaks—how is it to be accomplished? Why, I tell you candidly it cannot be accomplished by Parliament. If it cannot be accomplished by people out of doors, it won't be accomplished at all. And this brings me to a subject on which I hope to deal when I meet you again expressly for its consideration; but it brings me to a question with regard to the present constitution of our Parliament and our parties. We are brought to a dead lock. I appeal to my friend Mr. Bright, and my friend Mr. Bazley, and to Sir Charles Douglas, and other Members of Parliament, who, I understand, are present, and I say we are brought to a dead lock in the House of Commons. We can do nothing. There is one party in this year, and the other party in the next year, and neither party is inclined to do anything, because they expect next year they may go out and the other party may come in, and so the ‘outs’ and ‘ins’ agree that nothing shall be done. Take the strongest party in the House of Commons, and the chief of that party, if he were to say that an orange shall be on the table in that position, and if the other party were to say that the orange should be there, no one would have power to prevent it. And so you see we are wasting our time and the public time in the House. I speak somewhat disinterestedly, for these reforms are not likely to lead to any very active occupation on my part; but I tell you, who are younger than myself, who wish to make your country worthy of her antecedents, you who are the pith and marrow of the rising generation—I tell you candidly that out of doors—I don't mean the non-electors merely, but I address the electors whose handiwork has brought about this dead lock—that unless they address themselves, by some decided and effective movement out of doors, to the remedying of these evils, your Parliamentary system, and the administration of your dockyards and public works, will be brought into a position which will be a scandal to the representative institutions which you have inherited from your fathers.
When I last had the honour of addressing you here, I spoke upon the subject of reform in Parliament. I had come back from America. I had been two years out of Parliament. I did not know much of what was going on there. I remember when coming to the meeting I spoke to my friend Mr. Bright, who said that in the House of Commons they were about to propose a moderate extension of the franchise, and that he hoped the question would be settled. I thought so too. But if I read the debates in Parliament aright when I was far away, it appears that the question is anything but settled. It seemed to me that parties when in office made a profession of faith for reform in Parliament, and that when they got into Opposition they forgot their pledges; and it seemed to me that then the voting and speaking were directly in opposition to their former professions. We have a Government coming in on this very Reform question, and we have a minister abandoning the question. I don't blame him so much for having actually postponed the question for a year, until he could get the census; I blame him more for the manner in which it was postponed than for the act itself. But now you have the census. You have the returns, at least a portion of them—the great outlines of the census for 1861. They present a battery, an arsenal of facts which ought to be laid hold of by those who really wish to occupy themselves with the future destinies of their country, and ought to be made a ground of agitation—a movement for a complete and thorough reform of our representative system. I don't speak now of merely the extension of the franchise. If you do not get this redistribution of electoral power, you cannot get on. Observe the facts brought out by the census. You have certain counties where your great cities and manufacturing industries are carried on. You see, there, people are growing in wealth and population. You see others, as Lincoln, Cambridge, Suffolk, Buckingham, Dorsetshire, and Wiltshire, counties which are either retrograding in numbers or absolutely stagnant. But when you go into the House of Commons, you find these stagnant agricultural counties, and equally stagnant small agricultural boroughs, twenty or thirty of which have absolutely declined in population during the last ten years—you find the country governed, if it is governed at all, by the representatives of those stagnant counties and decaying rural villages. I cannot say it is governed, because I tell you our Parliamentary system has come to a negation. But if you are to give a fresh impetus to any measures of amelioration in the House of Commons, it must be by giving a new basis to political parties, by making that representation a reality which is now a fiction. Until you place the political parties and Government of this country upon the basis of reality, instead of a fiction, you will continue to have that scandalous waste of our time and resources which you see going on.
I will assume that you have a redistribution of electoral power, so that it is allotted in something like a fair measure to the wealth and population of the country. Well, the first Parliament that was elected—if you had that reform—the first Parliament elected would have a Government, in all probability, which would see for its party, if not for its persons, the chance of a five, or seven, or ten years' lease of power. It would have an Opposition; but that Opposition would not be expected to come in power the day, or week, or year after. Then that party would abandon all these questions of Parliamentary Reform You would have a Government there, and a party there known to be sent up to effect a reformed state of things, and administer the state of things better than in that fashion so eloquently described by Mr. Gladstone. You would, on the other hand, have an Opposition which would not expect to come into office in the next year, but which might hope, by good behaviour, and by doing something to merit the confidence of the country, to come in in the course of a few years, as was the case under the late Sir R. Peel. Thus, it might hope to grow up into a majority of the House of Commons, and possess power. These parties would then be obliged to fall back upon something tangible, solid, and useful to the country. You would place public men, like ourselves here on the platform, in the House of Commons, who go there, I humbly conceive, rather to promote objects which we believe to be beneficial to the country, than with the hope of partaking in the emoluments and honours of official life. You would give us the consciousness of being there to fight some battle, and achieve some object worthy of the energies of men. Oh! I look back with regret sometimes, and feel ashamed of the House of Commons, when I think of the years when I first entered that assembly, when there was a great line of demarcation between two great parties, when there was something at stake and worthy of the intellect, and worth growing older and greyer to accomplish! What is there now to satisfy the ambition of any public man? I have given an outline of the subject, and it will be for younger men in the country, if the country is to prosper, to carry out the details.
Before I sit down, I must say one word which affects our minds and spirits, and which meets us in our daily occupations—I refer to what is passing beyond the Atlantic. My friend, Mr. Bright, and myself, have been called ‘the two Members for the United States.’ We have admired their principles of non-intervention, and of economy in administration, and we have seen within the last two years the practical application of those principles in the affairs of Europe. I will not allude to the lamentable strife in America, further than to say, that I hope the principle of non-intervention will still be practised, notwithstanding the embarkation of two or three thousand soldiers for Canada. Let not our American friends consider this act done suspiciously, or to annoy: it is only in keeping with the system pursued at the Horse Guards, whenever a quarrel is going on.
I have been written to, and requested to allude to the principles of co-operation which are now being tried in this neighbourhood. I am always glad to see anything done—and I think our capitalists here will see their own interest in taking the same view of the question—that tends to bridge over and close up the great gulf which has hitherto separated the two classes of capitalists and labourers. I want both classes to understand the difficulties of their position. I want the labourers to see that capital is nothing but hoarded labour, and that labour is nothing but the seed of capital—that for either to thrive both must prosper; that they cannot do one without the other; and if I said a word at this time, when there are dark clouds on the horizon, I would say it rather in a spirit of caution than in a spirit of incitement. I would advise the labouring men to remember for a moment, when they are seeking to invest their hardearned earnings, and to consider whether there is a safe prospect of obtaining the raw material upon which to apply their machinery at a moderate price, or whether there may not be other circumstances calculated to throw the industry of this country into temporary disorder. For my own part, I confess I take for the future a sanguine view of the prospects of this region, and of Lancashire in general. I think it is possible the present difficulties in America may cause some temporary inconvenience to, and even derangement of, our industry, but I see good in the future coming out of the present state of things I think it will draw attention in all parts of the world, where the raw material of our industry can be produced, to the production of that raw material, and that in future we shall be less dependent upon one region for its supply than we have been. I have long ago come to this conclusion, that humanly speaking, in an industrious and intelligent population like this, it is hardly possible that you can have, for a long time, any great obstacle to that prosperity which does, and which ought to, attend upon hard and persevering labour and ingenuity, such as is manifested in this district. I am, and always have been, very sorry that the most extensive, the most ingenious, and the most useful industry that ever existed on this earth, should have been dependent almost exclusively for the supply of the raw material upon an institution—the institution of slavery—which we must all regard as a very unsafe foundation, and, in fact, to the permanence of which we none of us can, as honest men, wish God-speed.
Gentlemen, I have finished what I had to say. You will hear, and I dare say have heard, a great deal about the reaction which is going on. You will hear it said that everybody is turning Conservative. I think we have been the most Conservative. I think that myself, and my friend Mr. Bright, and many I see about me, who have voted for twenty years for what have been considered very revolutionary measures, have been the great Conservatives of our own age. To those men who say we are losing ground, and the Conservatives are gaining, I ask, What do you mean by Conservatives? What are they? Do they mean the men who would have prevented the repeal of the Corn-laws, or, if they could, would restore them? Do they mean the men who opposed the emancipation of the press, and who, if they could, would re-enact its shackles? If the Conservatives are men who seek for progress, I say we are those men. If they are the men who are stagnant and retrograde, we say experience has taught us that those are the greatest destructives the body politic can contain. I am, therefore, not afraid of the progress, the liberty, and the prosperity of our industry in this country. All I can say is—inform yourselves upon the relations this country bears towards France and other countries. Don't let yourselves be bamboozled and terrified into panic to the neglect of your own domestic duties. Look to the present state of all political parties. Deal with the representation in Parliament, with the view to accomplish such a change as will enable your representative institutions to work, and to continue for you that prosperity which has been growing for so long a time, since the enactment of the Reform Bill.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, AUGUST 1, 1862.
In the very few remarks with which I shall trouble the House, it is not my intention to be the humble imitator of the able and eloquent men who, in this and the other House of Parliament, were formerly accustomed, at the close of our Parliamentary labours, to review the measures of the Session. No doubt there would be a good reason for my not following their example this evening, because I think there will be an absence of any measures to criticise. It is not my intention on this occasion to speak as a Member of any party, or as representing other Members in this House. But I may say, that I know in what I have to state, that I am the exponent of the opinions of many Members of this House, both present and absent; and, though I do not wish to assume the character of a political leader in any form, still, if I had yielded to some of the representations made to me, I should have made some such statement as I am about to make very much earlier in the Session. I repeat, that I do not profess here to be a party leader, and have never in this House cared much for party politics, for I have generally had something to do outside of party; but I am of opinion, that in a free representative community the affairs of public life must be conducted by party. A party is a necessary organisation of public opinion. If a party represents a large amount of public opinion, then the party fills an honourable post, and commands the confidence of its fellow-countrymen; but if a party has no principles, it has been called a faction;—I would call it a nuisance. If a party violates its professed principles, then I think that party should be called an imposture. These are hard words, yet they are precisely the measures which, sooner or later, will be meted out to parties by public opinion; and, late as it now is, it may be well if we, who represent both the majority and minority in this House, should view our position, in order to see how we shall be able to bear the inquest when the day comes, as it will come, for our conduct and our character to be brought into judgment.
Now, with regard to the majority, which I suppose we on this side of the House may call ourselves, I shall take the liberty of reminding the House what have in former times been our professed principles. My hon. Friend evidently is in a doleful key, and does not seem to anticipate much gratification or renown from this investigation. In his case, however, I would make an exception; for, if I were called upon to make such a selection, he is the man I would fix upon as having been at all times, in season and out of season, true and faithful to his principles. What have been the professed principles of the so-called Liberal party? Economy, Non-intervention, Reform. Now, I ask my hon. Friend—and it is almost a pity we cannot talk this matter over in private—if we were to show ourselves on some great fête-day, as ancient guilds and companies used to show themselves, with their banners and insignia floating in the air, and if we were to parade ourselves, with our chief at our head, with a flag bearing the motto, ‘Economy, Retrenchment, and Reform!’ whether we should not cause considerable hilarity? Of these three ancient mottoes of our party, I am inclined to attach the first consideration to the principle of Economy, because the other two may be said to have for their object to attain that end.
Now, how has our party fulfilled its pledges on the principle of Economy? Do my hon. Friends know to what extent they have sinned against the true faith in this respect? Are they aware that this so-called Liberal party, the representatives of Economy, are supporting by far the most extravagant Government which has ever been known in time of peace; that we have signalised ourselves as a party in power by a higher rate of expenditure than has ever been known, except in time of war? I don't mean merely that we have spent more money, because it might have happened that we had grown so much more numerous, and so much richer by lapse of years, that the proportionate amount of the burden on each individual was not greater; but not only have we as a party spent more money absolutely, but we have been more extravagant relatively to the means and numbers of the people. I have a short return here, which throws some light on the subject. I was so struck with it, that I took a copy. It is a return moved for by the hon. Baronet opposite, who has taken so much interest in financial questions (Sir H. Willoughby), and it is called a ‘Return of the Taxation per Head,’ and it gives you the amount paid by each individual of the population at four different periods extending over thirty years. In 1830, the taxation per head was 2l. 4s. 11d.; in 1840, it was 1l. 18s. 2d.;—you had just realised then the benefits of the Reform Bill;—in 1850, it was 2l. 1s. 5d.; and in 1860, it was 2l. 8s. 1d.; so that in this year, during the existence of the present Government, and while this party was in power, the amount of taxation per head was larger than had been known for thirty years, or, indeed, in any year of peace. Not only have we spent more money per head, but our own Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has taken considerable pains to investigate the point, and bring it clearly to our full appreciation, told us, not long ago, that the taxation of the country had increased faster than its wealth, between 1843 and 1859. He told us that our expenditure had increased at a more than duplicate ratio to the increase of the wealth of the country. That is the statement of our own Chancellor of the Exchequer; so that this so-called party of Economy has been the most extravagant Government which has been known by the present generation.
Now, there is another illustration of this which I wish to bring home to my hon. Friends. How has this money been spent—on what has it been spent? I will give you an illustration of the increase that has has taken place during the last four years. I will compare it—I am sorry to have to do it; but we must have the whole truth out and make a clean breast of it—with the expenditure of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I find that in the Estimates for 1862-3, given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget for this year—the army, the militia, navy, fortifications, and packet service—(this last item was included in the Estimates of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, so I give it here to make the comparison fair)—were put down at 29,916,000l. In the Estimates for 1858-9, laid before the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire when he was in office, these same items amounted to 21,610,000l., or 8,360,000l. less than our Estimates for this year. It is certainly wonderful how my hon. Friends can cry ‘Hear, hear!’ with so cheerful a voice. In these Estimates, I have included the 1,200,000l. which has been voted for fortifications this year. It is a convenient thing for noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen to pass the money voted for these fortifications out of sight, because it does not appear in the regular Estimates; but if we are spending 1,200,000l. this year for fortifications, it is clear that that is so much taken from the available resources of the country, and it must fairly come into the expenditure of the year in order to make a comparison. In these four years we have increased the Estimates for these services above those of the party preceding us in office by 8,300,000l.—more than at the rate of 2,000,000l. a year. How has that arisen? On what ground can it be that we have increased these warlike Estimates by 8,000,000l. in these last four years—years of most profound, of most growing and increasing peace, so far as the tendency of affairs between this and neighbouring countries is concerned?
This brings me necessarily to refer to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. One or two of my friends said to me before I began to speak, ‘I hope you won’t be personal,' and I have had a warning to keep my temper. I will promise to be exceedingly good-tempered, and not to be personal more than I am obliged. But the noble Lord in this matter represents himself a policy. I don't mean to absolve other parties who are with him from their responsibility in joining him. I don't mean to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not fairly responsible for the Estimates he brings forward. He may have his motives. He will give and take, probably, and agree to spend more money in one direction one year, if he can get some concessions next year. There must be compromises, no doubt, when fifteen men are working together. But, so far as the primum mobile of this expenditure is concerned, I cannot leave the noble Lord out of the question. He himself will not allow me to let him alone, because he is always first and foremost when anything of this sort is to be proposed or defended. I have no hesitation in saying—and don't let my hon. Friends think I am going to be personal—that I put the whole of this increased expenditure down to the credit of the noble Lord. I don't excuse those who allow him to spend and waste the money of the country, but he is the primum mobile. I tell him now—for it is the best thing to be plain and open, and I say it to his face, for I don't want to go down into the country and say it behind his back—that he has been first and foremost in all the extravagant expenditure of the last twenty years. I have sometimes sat down and tried to settle in my own mind what amount of money the noble Lord has cost this country.
From 1840, dating from that Syrian business which first occasioned a permanent rise in our Estimates—by the way in which, in conjunction with the late Admiral Napier, he constantly stimulated and worried Sir Robert Peel to increased expenditure—taking into account his Chinese wars, his Affghan, his Persian war; his expeditions here, there, and everywhere; his fortification scheme—which I suppose we must now accept with all its consequences of increased military expenditure—the least I can put down the noble Lord to have cost us is 100,000,000l. sterling. Now, with all his merits, I think he is very dear at the price. But how has the noble Lord managed to get this expenditure increased from the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman opposite in 1858 to the Budget of my right hon. Friend below by 8,300,000l.? It has been by a constant and systematic agitation in this country. He has been the greatest agitator I know in favour of expensive establishments. It has always been, either in this House, or at a Lord Mayor's feast, or at a school meeting, or a rifle corps meeting, or a mediæval ceremony, such as the installation of a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at Dover, a cry of danger and invasion from France. It is a very curious and extraordinary thing. The noble Lord and his friends came into office on two grounds—that they would give us a better Reform Bill than hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that they were the party which could always keep us on friendly terms with France. It has ended in their kicking Reform out of existence altogether, and we have had nothing but a cry of invasion from France ever since. This policy of the noble Lord has had two consequences. And when I speak of the noble Lord's policy, I believe he is perfectly sincere, for the longer I live the more I believe in men's sincerity. I believe they often deceive themselves, and often go wrong from culpable ignorance. The noble Lord shall not hear me impute motives, and least of all will I charge him with wilfully and knowingly misrepresenting facts; but the noble Lord's ‘idea'’—he talked of the ‘monomania’ of my hon. friend the Member for Liskeard in opposing his scheme—of the relations between France and England, and the constant agitation he has kept up, have had these two effects.
Now, this is a course which, in the first place, prevents the people of this country from attending to their own affairs, and precludes them from looking narrowly to the observance of a policy of economy in our expenditure. I do not mean to say the noble Lord intended that this should be the case, but there is a passage in a curious work which I have had brought to my recollection, and which is so completely illustrative of the position which the noble Lord occupies in relation to this question, that I cannot refrain from reading it. The passage to which I allude applies immediately and directly to the point under our notice, and although I do not suppose the noble Lord has been plotting and acting in the sense which it describes to attain his ends, yet, by a singular accident, his line of conduct is most whimsically and amusingly portrayed by Archbishop Whately in a treatise entitled, ‘Historical Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte,’ which contains the extract which I am about to record. The work is well known; it was written thirty years ago, and with the view of refuting sceptics by showing that very good arguments might be advanced to prove that no such man as Napoleon Bonaparte had ever existed. This is the passage:—
'Now it must be admitted that Bonaparte was a political bugbear, most convenient to any Administration:—"If you do not adopt our measures, and reject those of our opponents, Bonaparte will be sure to prevail over you; if you do not submit to the Government, at least under our administration, this formidable enemy will take advantage of your insubordination to conquer and enslave you. Pay your taxes cheerfully, or the tremendous Bonaparte will take all from you." Bonaparte, in short, was the burden of every song: his terrible name was the charm which always succeeded in unloosing the purse-strings of the nation.'
Now comes a very apt illustration of the course pursued by the noble Lord:—
'And let us not be too sure, safe as we now think ourselves, that some occasion may not occur for again producing on the stage so useful a personage; it is not merely to naughty children in the nursery that the threat of being "given to Bonaparte" has proved effectual.'
That extract seems to me to completely represent the unconscious state of the noble Lord; and I should like to know what other ground there is for his popularity with the country—for he is said to be a popular Minister. When I come, for instance, to ask a question about the introduction of a particular measure in this House, the answer I receive sometimes is, ‘Nothing can be done while the noble Lord is at the head of the Government;’ but assuming that he is as popular as he is said to be, I cannot imagine any other ground for that popularity than that he is supposed to be the vigilant guardian of the national safety. Now, you see, Archbishop Whately is quite correct; there are a good many ‘naughty children’ behind the Treasury-bench. The noble Lord has been protecting us against danger to the extent of 8,000,000l. sterling, and the reasons given for his policy, though not satisfactory to me, are, it seems, very satisfactory to himself and those around him.
But the noble Lord's fantasy has done more than spend our money and put reform out of the nation's head; it has also prevented an investigation, full and comprehensive, of the management going on in both branches of our public services, especially in the navy. The noble Lord told us that France was going to surpass us in naval power; that she was first building one vessel and then another. All the while, however, it seems to me, the country was not made alive to the mismanagement and waste going on in our dockyards, which might have been sufficiently accounted for without referring it to any aggressive designs on the part of France. We have had lately placed in our hands a very valuable pamphlet on this subject, written by Mr. Scott Russell, than whom there can be no better judge of the nature of ship-building, and the comparative merits of different kinds of vessels. He tells us that we have during the last thirty years spent 30,000,000l. in our dockyards for labour and material in the construction of a class of ships which are now totally useless, there being in our possession only two sea-going vessels which can be said to be really effective. He adds, that he called the attention of the Government to the subject seven years ago; yet there has been no investigation with respect to it, because this House and the public were diverted with the cry of a French invasion.
Now, a series of articles have appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes, written by M. Xavier Raymond, which I would recommend the noble Lord to read. The writer is, perhaps, one of the most competent authorities on the subject of the English and French navies whom, perhaps, you could find. He enters very much into detail with respect to it, and I hold in my hand an extract from one of his articles which I think very appropriate to the point to which I am referring: it is as follows:—
'The British Admiralty are always wanting in foresight; they do not even know what is going on at their very door. France had seven years previously abandoned the construction of sailing vessels, when in 1851 the House of Commons forced a similar policy on the Admiralty. Four years had elapsed since the French Government had determined not to lay down another screw line-of-battle ship, when all of a sudden, though somewhat late, the British Admiralty, discovering that we had nearly as many vessels as themselves, decided upon what the Queen's Speech in 1859 called the reconstruction of the Navy. The moment was, most assuredly, most admirably chosen, seeing that it was notorious to the whole world, that from the year 1855 France had not constructed a screw ship of the line, and that for a year the iron-clad La Gloire was visible under her shed at Toulon. Again, it has been necessary to wait till 1861, another seven years, before the Admiralty, conquered again by the House of Commons, renounced the construction of screw ships of the line. If this be not waste and improvidence, where on earth are they to be found?'
Now, that is the judgment pronounced by an eminent writer thoroughly conversant with the question with which he deals, and it is simply a repetition of what has been said by my hon. Friends the Member for Sunderland, the Member for Glasgow, the Member for Finsbury, and other hon. Gentlemen in this House. Yet, notwithstanding all this, nothing has been done to remedy the evils in our dockyards, of which complaint was made, while the country was constantly amused and stunned with the cry of French ambition and French invasion. I shall make only one other quotation from the writer in the Revue des Deux Mondes, whose name I have mentioned, but I would again entreat the noble Lord to read the whole of his articles during the recess. M. Xavier Raymond says:—
'Whenever the British Admiralty fall into some fresh scrape, when they find themselves left behind by the superior management in the French dockyards, in order to extricate themselves from their dilemma they resort to an expedient which has never failed them, but which is little calculated to promote mutual goodwill between the two countries. It is an exhibition, certainly, of great cleverness, but cleverness of a very odious nature. Instead of candidly admitting their own shortcomings, they raise the charge of ambition against France, accuse her of plots and conspiracies, and agitate the country with groundless alarms of invasion; and while thus obtaining the millions of money necessary to repair their blunders, we have, at the same time, the speeches of Lord Palmerston enunciating the singular theory, that to perpetuate the friendship of those two great nations it is necessary to push to the extreme limits the unproductive expenditure on their armaments.'
This, it appears to me, is a very serious question. I do not believe the country or the House is at all aware of its full and extensive bearing on the circumstance, that we are at present without a fleet.
I shall now, with the permission of the House, read an extract from an American paper, to show what is thought on the subject on the other side of the Atlantic. This is a passage from an article in a late number of the New York Evening Post, in which the writer says:—
'But it may be urged that the French and English fleets would open the ports of the South in spite of our resistance. The answer to this is, that the experience of our civil war has taught us to despise such fleets as the French and English Governments have now on foot, so far as attacks on our seaport towns are concerned. It has taught us to resist them by vessels sheathed in massive plates of iron, mighty engines encased in mail, too heavy for deep-sea navigation, but well adapted to harbour defence, and of power sufficient to crush in pieces and send to the bottom, with their crews, the wooden ships on which England has hitherto prided herself. With these engines we might sink the transport ships bringing the European armies, as soon as they appeared in our waters.'
Now, there is not, I think, an intelligent naval man who will not endorse that doctrine. Admiral Denman, in a pamphlet which has probably been placed in the hands of other hon. Members as well as my own, observes:—
'And, again, with respect to the invulnerable ships in which France has taken and kept the lead, it is equally agreed on all hands, that a fleet built of wood must be certainly destroyed in a conflict with iron-plated ships. A French author scarcely overstates the case when he compares an iron-plated ship among ships of wood to a lion among a flock of sheep.'
[Cheers.] I hear distinguished naval men cheering the sentiment, and therefore I conclude it is unquestioned. If that be so, what becomes of the responsibility of the Government? I see before me one of the greatest merchants in England. Suppose he, or some great wholesale dealer, employs a clerk to manage a large department of his business, as is constantly done, and finds some fine spring morning that department crammed with goods of a perfectly unsaleable character; suppose, moreover, this clerk or superintendent had ample opportunity of knowing what description of goods would be wanting in the market, do you think his employer would allow him to escape without a reprimand under the circumstances, especially if he were to run up to him and say, ‘Oh, we are quite out of the market. Mr. So-and-So has got suitable goods; we have no chance against him?’ Yet this is a parallel to the course which has been pursued by the Government. The Admiralty knew they were without a fleet capable of meeting modern vessels, but instead of coming down to the House, and being filled with remorse at their remissness in the discharge of their duties, they actually bully us, as the noble Lord has repeatedly done. When the noble Lord has said, ‘We are very inferior to France,’ he thinks he has shown quite sufficient ground for asking for 10,000,000l. or 15,000,000l. more in the Estimates, without giving any explanation of the 30,000,000l. which have already been squandered.
The present Government, not confining itself to the money wasted on our armaments, for which we are partly responsible, is laying the ground for future expenses, the magnitude of which no one can know. And here I must warn my hon. Friends round me, that, unless they detach themselves from this policy, they will, as a party, rot out of existence with such a load of odium, that a Liberal party will never be tolerated, and will stink in the nostrils of the people ever afterwards. Look at the vast expenditure for fortifications. Does anybody doubt that that is entirely the work of the noble Lord? Anybody who has sat and seen the votes upon those Estimates must be convinced that the expenditure on fortifications is solely, individually, and personally the act of the noble Lord. It is the price which we pay for—I suppose I may call it—his obstinacy. But we are very much mistaken if we suppose that the expense of those fortifications will end when the bricks and mortar are done with. During the first debate on the subject, I put under the gallery an artillery officer, well known in this House, who filled the highest posts and a front rank in the war in the Crimea. The next day, on returning to the country, he wrote me a letter, in which he said in substance,—'I heard the debate the whole evening, and I cannot see any motive for this fortification scheme, but this. It is not to protect us against a foreign enemy, because, if an enemy landed, these fortifications would be an inconvenience and a danger to us. I can make nothing out of them but this,—they are to be a future excuse for keeping 30,000 more men in the country than in time of peace.' I believe that was also the opinion expressed by a gallant officer opposite. All this is done by the Liberal party. That is what we shall have to be responsible for. Why, our very children will shrink from the imputation of having had fathers belonging to so foolish, so extravagant, and so profligate a body.
Take, again, this affair of China. Hon. Members will recollect what was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he brought forward his Budget, or, if they do not, I will refresh their memories by reading a short extract. The right hon. Gentleman, in his Budget speech on the 3rd of April, 1862, after having put the charge for China at 7,554,000l., adds this remark, ‘which I trust will be the end, strictly speaking, of the charge for the China war.’ We have since that gone headlong into an intervention in that country, the ultimate dimensions of which no one can foretell. It is entirely taken from our control, and what I hear in all directions is, that we shall have China upon our hands just as we have India. The North China Herald, published at Shanghai, tells us so in plain language:—
'We again warn our countrymen whose good fortune it is to dwell in marble halls in their own native sea-girt island, not to fancy we can pause in this work of redemption. … The end may not be very far off; and if any of our readers seek to inquire of us what that end will be, we openly reply, nothing short of the occupation of this rich province by Great Britain. We have no hope of the Imperialists.'
When I saw the vote of the House upon that subject—when I saw that the majority which supported the noble Lord included a great number of the other side of the House, led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, I could not help exclaiming, ‘Where is the Conservatism of this land?’ I do not know a more rash or a more reckless proceeding. It is a matter of course for the noble Lord at the head of the Government; but why should Conservatives lend themselves to such proceedings? Do we not see that in this and every other country public opinion from time to time turns round and judges not parties but the governing classes of the State? The time may arrive, as it does once in every twenty or thirty years, when power is thrown into the hands of the great masses of the people, and who can tell that the people will not judge the governing classes by these proceedings? Here is a country to which your exports for the last seven years have not averaged more than 3 per cent., and for that infinitesimal fraction of business you are meddling with the affairs of 400,000,000 of people! You are going into a country eight times as large as that of France, which is in a state of complete revolution, not merely with one rebellion, because your blue-books tell you there are other rebellions besides the Taepings, which the Imperial Government is quite unable to put down. We have got into this entirely because the noble Lord happens to be at the head of affairs. This is one of the evils arising out of the idiosyncrasy of the noble Lord for this kind of intervention, or what, in vulgar phraseology, I might call ‘filibustering.’ The noble Lord has such a predilection for this kind of sensation policy, that let an admiral or a general commit any act of violence, and he is sure to be backed up by the noble Lord. He acts on that assumption, and he acts wisely, and gets promoted. Let him send home a bulletin of any outrageous act, and I will engage that the noble Lord will back him. In this case of China, the instructions of Earl Russell were most explicit against interfering at all. Your commanders had instructions not to interfere; but when they began these raids and excursions, they knew the noble Lord would back them, and the House, in an incautious moment, and owing very much to the illogical step of the right hon. Member for Cambridge, for whom I have a great respect, and aided by Members opposite, committed us to these rash proceedings.
Who can tell what is the state of our finances at this moment? My right hon. Friend, at the opening of the Session, drew the lines very close. I remember he produced a sensation when he came out with his Budget—'Expenditure, 70,000,000l.; income, 70,000,000l.; surplus, 150,000l.' I believe it was considered very close shaving. But has he got that 150,000l. surplus? He was obliged to assume that the troops in China would come back. They have not come back. It is stated in a report of a committee, that the Estimates are deranged by that proceeding. Our representatives ordered the troops to go to Shanghai, and there they have remained. They have not come home, and that will more than take away the surplus, which I believe lost a little bit in hops and beer licences. Looking to the state of the revenue—looking to what must happen in the next winter—looking to what must happen to affect our prospects—is it not a most rash and lamentable dilemma into which we have rushed under the leadership of the noble Lord in this affair of China? I do not say that I exonerate his colleagues. But when I am dealing with an army, I like to take the General. When I am dealing with a party, and the chief is near me, I speak to him.
Then, again, the exhibition in Canada is just on a par with it. When my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham spoke on that subject, I intended to come and speak too, but in the early spring I was denied the use of my voice. I will say a word or two upon it now. I know that country well. I have been along the frontier from St. Lawrence to Lake Michigan. I know both sides. I know the population. I have been there more than once. That, again, was a sensation policy, on a par with the sensation articles of the New York papers. In November, the noble Lord hears that a vessel has been stopped by an American cruiser. He heard before the middle of December, by the American Minister, that that act was without the instructions or the cognisance of the American Government, and he had full reason to believe that the whole thing would be explained and satisfactorily arranged. Then I will give gentlemen their own way, and say the noble Lord had not full reason to believe that the whole thing would be satisfactorily arranged. It makes no difference in what I am about to state. The frontier of Canada is hermetically closed by ice and snow till the month of March. The noble Lord hurried over 8,000 or 10,000 troops to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and many, to my knowledge, are there still, and have not reached Canada at all. The noble Lord sent supplies and sledges, which all the horses in Canada could not have drawn, but must have been put on the sledges of the country, so that the sooner they were burnt the better. All these hasty, rash proceedings were done before the noble Lord would wait to hear what the answer was from the American Government. If he had waited until the first week in January, he would still have had three months to send out reinforcements before operations on the lakes and rivers which divide Canada from America were possible. Our troops were not wanted in Canada in the depth of winter; they might as well have been at home. To spend a million of money in that way—money which would have solaced the hearts and homes of the famishing people in Lancashire—was a wanton waste of public treasure. It was part of the policy of the noble Lord, which has always been a ‘sensation’ policy, the object being to govern the country by constantly diverting its attention from home affairs to matters abroad.
Such are the grounds upon which I think we, as a party, have no reason to congratulate ourselves upon the close of the present Session. But I want to say a word upon the relation of parties in this House. I say the state of parties in this House—speaking logically, for I do not wish to give offence—is not an honest state of things. The reason is, that the noble Lord is not governing the country with the assistance of his own party. I have no hesitation in telling the noble Lord, that if the party opposite had at any time during the last six weeks or two months brought forward a motion of want of confidence in the Government, there would have been found Members on this side in sufficient numbers to give them an opportunity of carrying that motion. Why have the party opposite not taken that course? I will tell my whole mind to hon. Gentlemen opposite now. I have spoken plainly to my own party; often before I have taken the liberty to speak as plainly to the party opposite, and they have never treated me the worse for it. I will tell them why they do not propose a vote of want of confidence in the noble Lord. It is because large numbers of them have greater confidence in him than they have in their own chief. What said the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) on that occasion when he refused to stand to his guns in the premeditated attack on the Government? The right hon. Gentleman said—I will merely give the substance—the right hon. Gentleman said, that Lord Derby, his friend, had stated publicly and privately to his party, that he did not wish to displace the noble Lord. Have hon. Gentlemen opposite sufficiently appreciated the full bearing of that? What becomes of government by party? To whom is the noble Lord responsible if he is to carry on his Government with the assistance of hon. Gentlemen opposite? I have no hesitation in saying, that the party on the other side are in power without the responsibilities of office. Do you think the country will allow such a state of things to last? I know there are many hon. Gentlemen opposite who have confidence in the noble Lord, because they think he is—I will not say as good a Conservative as any of them, for I regard myself as one of the most conservative politicians of my age—but as good a Tory as any of them. If the noble Lord is not responsible to us as a party, but if hon. Gentlemen opposite keep him in, and enable him to carry measures against the wishes of a considerable section of those who sit on this side, he is and must be a sort of despot as long as that state of things lasts. But do you imagine it will last after it becomes known to the country? It is unnecessary to mince the matter. We meet on equal terms in the library and committee-rooms, and we hear in all directions that the noble Lord pleases many hon. Gentlemen opposite better than their own chief. That is the truth; and the reason is, that he has a greater dislike to reform, and spends more money, than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks.
But don't you think that game is nearly played out? The noble Lord has affected to play a popular part, and he has had what the French call a claqueur in the press, who has done his work very well. Let us try the noble Lord as a Liberal Minister by his acts. How does the noble Lord treat his own party on questions in which many of them take a great and conscientious interest? Take, for instance, the question of the Ballot. I am not going to argue the right or wrong of that question. I look upon it as far more a moral than a political question, and I believe the Conservatives are under as great a delusion about the Ballot as they were about the Corn-laws. If we had the Ballot for five years, they would be as loth to give it up as we should be. Wherever I have seen it in operation, it has thrown an air of morality over the process of voting. There has been an absence of violence, there has been no riot, no drunkenness, no noisy music the whole proceeding has been as quiet and orderly as going to church. How, then, does the noble Lord treat the question of the Ballot? Whenever it is brought on, does he not ostentatiously get up and place himself in the front rank of its opponents, ridiculing and throwing contumely upon the Ballot and those who advocate it? Then there is the question of Church-rates. How has it fared under the leadership of the noble Lord? Seven years ago, we were in a triumphant majority on the Church-rate question. Mark how our majority has dwindled down under the auspices of the noble Lord. First, it came to a tie, when the question had to be decided by the casting-vote of the Speaker, and then there was a majority of one against us. If, when we had a large majority against the Church-rates, we had had a leader such as the party on this side ought to insist on having, that leader would have taken up the question, and have dealt with it in a becoming manner. Take, again, such questions as the Burials Bill, the Marriage Affinity Bill, and the Grammar School Bill. All those measures, in which many hon. Gentlemen on this side take a deep interest, and which touch the consciences of religious bodies returning Liberal Members, are going back under the leadership of the noble Lord. Why is that? It is because the noble Lord is known to be not very much in earnest about any of these things. The consequence is, that the conduct of the whole party becomes slack, and the principles advocated by the party lose ground. What has been the course of the noble Lord in the case of the Poaching Bill? I think hon. Gentlemen opposite had better not press that measure. I cannot sit here until three o'clock in the morning to vote against them, but I would urge them to take the advice of the Nestor of their party, and to drop the Bill. But what is the conduct of the noble Lord on that subject? The Home Secretary opposes the Bill, moving many amendments, and he gives very good reasons for doing so. There have been innumerable divisions by day and night, but have you ever found the noble Lord voting against the Bill? No; he has given one vote, I believe, to help the Bill to be introduced, but he has not given a single vote against it. Why? Because he knows exactly how to please hon. Gentlemen opposite. He says in effect, ‘I do not act along with these low people around me; I sit here, but I am doing your work for you.’ I take another question,—the Thames Embankment. I think there never was so audacious an attempt made to sacrifice the interests of the many to the foolish and blind convenience of the few. How did the noble Lord act in that matter? He wanted delay, spoke about what might be done at some future time, but he did not vote for putting an end to the monstrous assumption at once.
How does all this operate? It operates in two ways to serve the party opposite. In the first place, hon. Gentlemen opposite have their own way in everything; and, in the next place, the Liberal party is being destroyed for the future. The longer we sit here and allow ourselves to be treated with contumely through the questions in which we take an interest, the weaker we shall become, and the oftener we shall be defeated by our opponents on the other side. All this comes entirely from the character and conduct of the noble Lord. I have never taken much part in personal politics or change of parties, but I have considered what alternative we have before us. The game is played out; it can't be repeated next spring. I have had communications from hon. Gentlemen which assure me that cannot be repeated. There are many Members gone, as well as many present, who have too much self-respect to allow such a state of things to continue. I may be asked to face the alternative always put by those who sit behind the Treasury-benches—'Would you like to see the Conservatives in power?' Well, I answer that by saying, rather than continue as we are, I would rather see myself in opposition. Let the Liberal party be in opposition, and then you will have the opportunity of uniting and making your influence felt, because you will have popular support, inasmuch as you will be acting up to your principles; but you are only being demoralised while you allow a Session to expire as this has done. I am not creating this state of things; I am only anticipating by a very few days what would explode in the country whenever Members went before their constituents. Such a state of things, I repeat, cannot be allowed to go on. When I came into this House in 1841, I went into opposition, Sir Robert Peel having then a majority of ninety votes. The five years we then passed in opposition were employed in laying the foundations of a public policy and in moulding public opinion to principles which have been in the ascendant ever since, and which have been identified with an augmentation in the prosperity and wealth of the country more than any other measures which were ever passed before. That was the work of the Opposition; and I believe the same work would go on now, if we sat on the benches opposite. I have no hesitation in saying, if you compare the noble Lord with the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, the right hon. Gentleman would be quite as desirable for the Liberal party to sit on that (the Treasury) bench as the noble Viscount. Let us be in opposition. But if we go on as we have been, where shall we find ourselves in a short time? Where will be our principles, where our party? Look at the Irish Members. I see with great regret what is going on in Ireland. I am afraid I shall by-and-by find myself in alliance with the Orangemen, and we may reach that lowest step of degradation, of going to a general election with the cry of ‘No Popery!’ There is no amount of reaction we may not apprehend, if this state of things goes on. Some seem to think that this state of things is attributable to a Conservative reaction in the country. I believe with the noble Lord the Member for Lynn (Stanley), that it is a delusion to talk of reaction. Whoever may be in power, we cannot go on for two successive Sessions with such an Administration as we have had this Session. Therefore,—facing even that worst alternative, that we have no one to lead us, I say, let us get into opposition, and we shall find ourselves rallied to our principles.
I have spoken thus freely because I thought there was a necessity for it. What I have said (if there be in the words I have used any force of truth and logic) will have influence; if not, the words I have spoken will fall as wind. But, whatever happens, I know I speak in an assembly where there is a spirit of frankness, liberty, and manliness to hear and judge what I have said. I thank the House for the kindness with which they have listened to me.
MANCHESTER, OCTOBER 25, 1862.
[The following Speech was delivered before the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. It is well known that at the conclusion of the Crimean war, an attempt was made by general congress of the great Powers to put down privateering. The American Government agreed to the suggestion, provided the Powers assented to the rule, that unarmed vessels should be no longer liable to capture. But public opinion was not ripe for such a change. After the peace of Paris, however, negotiations having the same end were entered upon again, and Lord Palmerston became quite willing to adopt this reform in international law. But for some reason, which it is not difficult to guess at, President Buchanan's Government dropped these negotiations during the year 1860.]
It is now very nearly twenty-four years ago—on the 20th of December, 1838—that this Chamber met, and after a discussion of two days, which attracted the attention of the whole kingdom, put forth to the world its manifesto in favour of the total repeal of the Corn-laws, and the abolition of all protective duties on manufactured goods. To that proceeding, more than anything else that occurred, may be attributed the struggle which endured so long, which ended in the complete triumph of Free-trade principles in this country, and which will ultimately extend its influence throughout the world. We met then under circumstances of great peril and disaster, in consequence of a failure in the harvest, which inflicted much suffering upon the whole nation. We meet now under circumstances somewhat different, but when I am afraid a still greater calamity threatens your particular district, arising out of the operation of the American commercial blockade. We met, in 1838, to discuss a remedy against famine in the repeal of the Corn-laws; we now meet to devise a remedy for present ills in the consideration of the question of Maritime Laws and Belligerent Rights.
It is deplorable that we are never roused to the consideration of grave errors in legislation until we are suffering under the evils which they entail. It would be well if it were otherwise; but it is useless to quarrel with the constitution of man. We are not mere abstractions; and if the visitation of a calamity such as that which has now befallen us has the effect of leading us to devise a remedy against its recurrence, perhaps that is as much as we have a right to expect from human wisdom and forethought. There are two points of resemblance between the old protective system and that code of maritime law which we are assembled to consider. Both had their origin in barbarous and ignorant ages, and both are so unsuited to the present times, that, if they are once touched in any part, they will crumble to pieces under the hands of the reformer. Upon that account, we ought to be thankful that, in the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris, in 1856, the Plenipotentiaries—I do not know why, for they were not urged at the time to deal with the subject—ventured upon an alteration in the system of international maritime law. You are aware that, at the close of the Crimean war, the Plenipotentiaries, meeting in Congress at Paris, made a most important change in maritime law, as affecting belligerents and neutrals. They decided, that in future, neutral property at sea, during a time of war, should be respected when in an enemy's ship, and that enemy's property should be respected when under a neutral flag; and they also decided that privateering should in future be abolished. These propositions, after being accepted by almost every country in Europe, with the exception, I believe, of Spain, were sent to America, with a request for the adhesion of the American Government. That Government gave in their adhesion to that part of the Declaration which affirmed the rights of neutrals, claiming to have been the first to proclaim those rights; but they also stated, that they preferred to carry out the resolution, which exempted private property from capture by privateers at sea, a little further; and to declare that such property should be exempted from seizure, whether by privateers or by armed Government ships. Now, if this counter-proposal had never been made, I contend that, after the change had been introduced affirming the rights and privileges of neutrals, it would have been the interest of England to follow out the principle to the extent proposed by America. I say so, because an attempt has been made to evade the question by making it appear that the proposal is an American one, and that we are asked to take it at second-hand. But, I repeat, after the Congress of Paris had affirmed the rights and privileges of neutrals, Englishmen had, above all other people in the world, an interest in extending the Declaration so as to include the exemption of private property from capture by armed Government vessels. It has been said that the Americans were not sincere in their proposals, and that their object in submitting a counter-proposition was to evade the fair consideration and acceptance of the Declaration as a whole. Now, it is probably not generally known that the very proposal which the American Government have submitted within the last five years was made by them in the first Treaty with England, after the Declaration of Independence, eighty years ago. It had its origin with that great man, Dr. Franklin, who carried into his diplomacy, as into his philosophy, a high and genial principle of philanthropy. In the Autobiographical Memoirs of Thomas Jefferson, I find the following passage:—
'During the negotiations for peace with the British Commissioner, David Hartley (at the close of the War of Independence), our Commissioners proposed, on the suggestion of Dr. Franklin, to insert an article, exempting from capture, by the public or private armed ships of either belligerent, all merchant-vessels and their cargoes employed merely in carrying on the commerce between nations. It was refused by England, and unwisely, in my opinion. For, in the case of a war with us, their superior commerce places them infinitely more at hazard on the ocean than ours; and as hawks abound in proportion to game, so our privateers would swarm in proportion to the wealth exposed to their prize, while theirs would be few for want of subjects of capture.'
It is not my intention to dwell further upon the question respecting the exemption of private property from capture at sea by armed Government ships. That question has been dealt with in two addresses, issuing from this Chamber and the Chamber of Liverpool, and those addresses, published about two years ago, practically exhaust the subject, leaving me nothing to say upon it. But, as I have already said, the whole system of maritime law, when once touched, crumbles to pieces. When I heard of the intention of the hon. Member for Liverpool to bring before the House the subject of the exemption of private property from capture at sea, I immediately observed that he was mooting a question so intimately connected with that of commercial blockades, that the two could not be kept apart. Mr. Horsfall, who submitted his motion with considerable ability, was disinclined to embrace in his proposal any allusion to the system of commercial blockades; but my experience in the discussion of public affairs teaches me that it is vain to attempt to conceal any part of your subject when it has to go before the public and to be discussed with intelligent adversaries. If there is any part that you intend to leave out, and your opponents see that you consider it a weak point, they are sure to lay hold of it and to press it against you. So it turned out in the debate on Mr. Horsfall's motion. He was told, of course, that if you exempt private property from capture at sea during war, you must also consent to give up the system of commercial blockades. There is no doubt about it. To exempt a cargo of goods from capture when it happens to be on the ocean, but to say that it may be captured when it gets within three miles of a port—or, in other words, to declare that a cargo may be perfectly free to roam the sea, when once out of harbour, but may be captured, if caught, before it gets three miles from land—is to propose that which cannot be practically carried into effect in negotiations or treaties with other countries. In addition, therefore, to the question of the exemption of private property, you have to consider the larger question of commercial blockades. I say it is the larger question, because the capture of private property at sea affects, necessarily, only the merchants and ship-owners of the countries which choose to go to war; whereas a commercial blockade affects neutrals as well, and the mischief is not confined to the merchants and ship-owners, but is extended to the whole manufacturing population; it may involve the loss of subsistence, and even of health and life, to multitudes of people, and may throw the whole social system into disorder. It will thus be seen that the question of commercial blockades is one of greater importance to England than that of the capture of private property at sea—which was the principal reason why I ventured to seek an opportunity of speaking to you to-day.
In discussing the subject of commercial blockades, I must again refer to what has taken place in our relations with America. The American Government were the first to perceive, after they had proposed to Europe to exempt private property from capture at sea, that the proposal involved the question of commercial blockades. It is no merit on the part of the United States that they have been the first to view the question in the light in which it affects neutrals, nor is it a proof of their disinterestedness. I do not mention the fact to their praise or blame. They have been the great neutral Power among nations; they came into existence and acquired an immense trade, while holding themselves aloof from European politics, always acting upon the maxim, from the time of Washington, that they should remain outside the ‘balance of power,’ and everything that could entangle them in European quarrels. Hence it happened that, whenever a war occurred in Europe, it was their commerce, as the commerce of neutrals, which suffered most. They have not shared the enjoyment of the fight, but they have always borne the brunt of the enforcement of the maritime laws affecting neutrals, and therefore they have naturally from the first sought to protect their own legitimate and honest interests by pressing the rights of neutrals in all their negotiations on the subject of international maritime law. It is a curious circumstance, though I wish to guard myself against being supposed to attach undue importance to it, that on the breaking out of the war in Italy, in 1859, between France and Austria, the American Government sent to all their representatives in Europe a despatch on the subject of international maritime law, in which they, for the first time, broached in a practical form to the European Governments the idea of abolishing altogether the system of commercial blockades. That, I say, is a remarkable circumstance, when viewed in the light of subsequent events; because there is no doubt that if, in 1859, the English Government, followed as it would have been by the other Governments of Europe, had accepted cordially and eagerly, as it was our interest to have accepted it, the proposal or suggestion of the American Government, it would have been possible to avoid all that is now happening in Lancashire; and trade, as far as cotton is concerned, would have been free between Liverpool and New Orleans. For you will bear in mind, that, though it may be said that the war in America is but a rebellion or a civil war, the European Powers recognise the blockade of the Southern ports only as the act of a belligerent. It has been distinctly intimated to the United States Government that we do not recognise their municipal right in the matter; and if they were to proclaim, for example, that Charleston was not to be traded with, and did not keep a sufficient force of ships there, we should go on trading with the port just as if nothing had occurred. It is only upon condition that the blockade shall be effectively maintained, as between belligerents, that the European Powers recognise it at all. Hence, there can be no doubt, that if the proposal of the American Government in 1859 had been cordially accepted by England, it would have been welcomed by the rest of Europe, and have prevented the existing state of things in this district—a circumstance which shows the extraordinary and sudden mutations to which the relations of the various human families are exposed. There can be no doubt that in that case the American Government would have been obliged to carry on the war with the Southern States without imposing a commercial blockade; or, if they had attempted to establish such a blockade, in violation of their international engagements, they would have involved themselves in hostilities with the rest of the world—a policy which, of course, no rational Government would ever dream of entering upon. I mention this as a fact which gives great significance to our meeting, and great opportuneness to the discussion of this question; but I do not insist upon it in the way of blame to any one. Diplomatic arrangements, especially when they involve a novelty, are never made in such a way, unless when an amateur diplomatist interferes, as to warrant us to hope that in a year or two so great a change—indeed, a revolution in international maritime law—as the one proposed by the American Government, could have been accomplished. I mention the circumstance, not by way of blame to any one for the past, but to draw a most serious inference from it for the future.
We are now suffering from the operation of a commercial blockade—suffering in a way which could not be matched by any other calamity conceivable in the course of nature, or the revolutions of men. I cannot conceive anything that could have befallen Lancashire so calamitous, so unmanageable, so utterly beyond the power of remedy or the possibility of being guarded against, as that which has happened in the case of the present commercial blockade. You have been trading fifty or sixty years with a region of the earth which, during the whole of that time, has been constantly increasing its production of raw fibre for your use. You have been increasing your investments of capital, training skilled workmen, preparing in every way for the manufacture of that raw material. The cotton was intended for you, not for the people by whom it was grown. You have been making provision for its use, and now all at once this great stream, which has been constantly enlarging for a period of more than half a century, is shut off, and you are deprived of the means on which you have been calculating for the employment and subsistence of your people. Nothing but a commercial blockade could have produced such a sudden and calamitous reverse. It has never been expected. We have had, indeed, our apprehensions of danger, from the fact of our deriving our cotton from one particular country; we have speculated as to the possibility of sterility falling upon a territory so limited in space; and we have also speculated upon the possibility of a negro insurrection, that might destroy that social system upon which we have always regretted that this vast industry is based; but, if you reflect for a moment, you will find that, in the nature of things, neither of those events would have been likely to happen, if left to the operation of natural laws, with the suddenness of the calamity which has now befallen us. The slaves might have become free men; but, generally speaking, when slaves are emancipated, as in the case of the West India Islands, if no foreign element is introduced, the transition from slavery to a state of freedom is accomplished with comparatively little concussion or violence; and it is not likely that from such an event so great and sudden a privation of the raw material of our industry would have arisen. We might have had some perturbation for a few years, lessening production and diminishing your supplies to some extent—a deficiency which would probably have been made up by the rest of the world, which would have been looking on at an event that might have been calculated to impair the powers of that region in the production of cotton. Now, on the contrary, with the 4,000,000 bales of cotton which may exist in the Southern States at Christmas, and with the prevailing uncertainty as to the result of the war, no remedial measure can be applied, inasmuch as people feel a natural disinclination to invest their capital in the production of that article, when the market is threatened with so great a disturbing cause as the sudden release of a vast quantity of cotton in America. Again, as I have said, we might have had to fear sterility in the Southern States of America. We have had blights that have struck particular vegetables. We have had the potato blight, the vine disease, and the mulberry disease, and we have had these visitations of Providence in the form of epidemics—vegetable choleras, as they might be called. It is possible that there might have been some such accidental cause to diminish, for a few years, the production of cotton in America, although hitherto cotton has been singularly exempted from these vicissitudes of nature; but all that might have been guarded against, just as you find you can get silk in China to supplement a failure in France or Italy. Here, on the contrary, is a case which cannot be dealt with; it is unmanageable; it is so grave, so alarming, and presents itself to those who speculate upon what may be the state of things six months hence in such a hideous aspect, that it is apt to beget thoughts of some violent remedy. It is desirable in that frame of mind that we should bear in recollection the facts I have mentioned—viz. that the system of warfare from which we are now suffering so severely is one that we are the chief means of maintaining, in opposition, I believe, to the opinion of the whole mercantile, and indeed civilised world.
With these preliminary remarks, I shall read one short extract from the despatch which, as I have told you, was written on the breaking out of the Italian war by Mr. Cass, then Foreign Minister to the United States Government, and sent to the representatives of the American Government in Europe. An attempt was made in the House of Commons to induce the Government to print and lay that despatch on the table, but the request was refused, on, I think, very insufficient grounds. We have had presented to us lately a large volume of American despatches, which have passed between the Government of Washington and their representatives in all parts of the world, about most of which we have not much concern, and some of which have been rather maliciously printed, because in one case—the case of the Minister at St. Petersburg—the despatch is not creditable to the writer; but the despatch which I hold in my hand, which does refer to an important question deeply affecting our interests, the Government have refused to publish. I have obtained a copy from Washington, where it may be had for a very small sum, and I find that it enters into the subject of international maritime law generally. Apprehending that the war in Italy might extend to other Powers, the American Government, by the hand of Mr. Cass, lay down their views in the following language:—
'The blockade of an enemy's coast, in order to prevent all intercourse with neutrals, even for the most peaceful purpose, is a claim which gains no additional strength by an investigation into the foundation on which it rests, and the evils which have accompanied its exercise call for an efficient remedy. The investment of a place by sea and land, with a view to its reduction, preventing it from receiving supplies of men and material necessary for its defence, is a legitimate mode of prosecuting hostilities, which cannot be objected to so long as war is recognised as an arbiter of national disputes. But the blockade of a coast, or of commercial positions along it, without any regard to ulterior military operations, and with the real design of carrying on a war against trade, and from its very nature against the trade of peaceful and friendly Powers, instead of a war against armed men, is a proceeding which it is difficult to reconcile with reason or the opinions of modern times. To watch every creek, and river, and harbour upon an ocean frontier, in order to seize and confiscate every vessel with its cargo attempting to enter or go out without any direct effect upon the true objects of war, is a mode of conducting hostilities which would find few advocates, if now first presented for consideration.'
That despatch, dated June 27, 1859, was brought under the notice of the House of Commons on the 18th of February, 1861. I was not present at the time, being in Algiers; but questions were put in the House as to the purport of the despatch, and Lord Russell, who was then, as now, Foreign Minister, alluded to the fact of the American Minister in London having read the despatch to him. Lord Russell, in describing the contents of the despatch, which he did very accurately, also, unfortunately for our present position, took occasion to give the reasons why he had entirely objected to the proposals of Mr. Cass. He maintained that it was for our interest that commercial blockades should be maintained, adding that he could not entertain a proposal for putting an end to them; and that it was necessary, as a great maritime Power, that we should preserve for ourselves the same belligerent right. That doctrine, coming from the Foreign Office within the last three years and a half, seems to me to have an important bearing, or ought to have an important bearing, upon our attitude at the present time. In the first place, if the system of commercial blockades be maintained, as our Government insists it should be maintained, as a sort of strategical means of defending ourselves—if we are to submit to it because it is necessary for our national defence and honour—then it becomes a serious question whether the particular interests that are from time to time to become the victims of a system over which they have no control, against which they can make no provision, and to which they can apply no remedy, ought not to be considered as fairly entitled to exemption from the whole burden and cost of such a plan of national defence, just as you would indemnify the outskirts of a town for the demolition of houses, with a view to defence against the power of an investing foe. I know no remedy which the parties immediately suffering can apply to such a state of things as this, if you maintain the system of commercial blockades. But I say, if it is necessary for the maintenance of the national honour to adhere to that system, that the cost ought to be borne by the nation at large, and not by any particular section. That will become a serious question if we go on, as we seem likely to do, in this particular district, suffering from the consequences of this system. But it affects our position in another way, which we can't too carefully bear in mind. Some people say that we must recognise the South, in order to get our cotton. But recognising the South would do nothing towards obtaining the cotton. On the contrary, once recognise the South, and then there is no longer a question of any kind as to the right of the North to blockade its ports. The only question then would be whether the blockade was effective. But what, I fear, is in the hearts of those who are almost bewildered with the calamitous prospect which they think they see before them, is that the recognition of the independence of the South should be followed by some effort to obtain the cotton—in other words, that England and France, or other countries, should go there and obtain the cotton against the will of the party blockading the coast. Well, my own opinion is that, after the statement I have made, after the facts which are on record; if we, when we began to suffer from the application of our doctrines to our own case, were, in the teeth not merely of international law, but of the law of which we are ourselves the chief promoters and maintainers, to resort to violence to procure the cotton, there is no amount of suffering which the American people,—every man and woman of them, supposing them to be the same as their fathers on this side of the water are,—would not endure to resist what in such a case would be regarded as an unmitigated outrage.
But now I will deal with this question generally on its own merits. Is it our interest, the interest of the English nation, to maintain and perpetuate the system of commercial blockades? The particular suggestion of Mr. Cass is this—that in the origin of blockades it was never intended to blockade a whole coast, or to shut out the export and import of articles not contraband of war. Is there, then, any ground for supposing that this country has an interest in maintaining that system by which those blockades are extended to all commercial ports? Mr. Cass argues that it was never intended to be so extended, and he gives cogent facts and reasons in support of his assertion that, in its origin, a blockade meant the investing of fortified places, and their investment by sea and land at the same time. The American Foreign Minister does not object to that; he does not object to your investing their arsenals; he does not say that Portsmouth and Plymouth are not to be liable to investment, but his argument is that the peaceful ports of commerce ought not to be shut up in time of war. And I ask again, what interest have we as a nation in opposing that principle? Why, I think it is easy to show that we, of all people in the world, have the most interest in establishing it. And bear in mind, that I am now arguing this matter only as it affects our interests. I do not come here as a humanitarian or philanthropist, asking my countrymen to give up a system which is advantageous to them, out of homage to the genius of the age, or because we are reaching a millennium; but I ask it because, as an Englishman and as a public man, I have not and never have had any other criterion to guide me, nor any other standard by which to form my opinion, but the interests, the honest interests, of my country, which I believe, with God's blessing, are the interests of all mankind. Understand that I don't beg the question, but I challenge discussion upon its merits, and in the way in which I am now prepared to treat it. Let us ask ourselves with what country it can be advantageous for England to maintain the system of commercial blockades, supposing we were at war with that country.
There are only three nations with which England could possibly have a maritime war of serious dimensions—viz., France, Russia, and the United States. Take France. Why, since the discovery of the locomotive and the rail, merchandise intended for the interior of France, which now under ordinary circumstances goes by way of Marseilles, Havre, and other ports, could find a way to enter by Rotterdam, Hamburg, and very soon also, as the lines of rail are completed, by the ports of Italy and even of Spain, and with little addition to its cost; certainly without such an addition as would form an insuperable bar to the French people obtaining and enjoying foreign commodities. Practically, therefore, a blockade—as an instrument of warfare with France—has lost its force by the introduction of the locomotive and the rail.
Now take Russia. There is no doubt that in regard to that country, from which we import so heavily of raw materials, the principle of commercial blockade might still be applied with considerable force, especially to its southern ports in the Black Sea. Therefore, I ask, if you were at war with Russia, would it be the interest of England to enforce the system of commercial blockade as a means of coercing that country, and putting an end to hostilities? That question is answered by what was done during the Crimean war. That war was declared in March, 1854. France and England had both had deficient harvests, and in France, especially, there was a dearth of food. What was the course then pursued by those countries? Did they instantly avail themselves of the power of blockading the southern ports of Russia? No; though the war was declared in March, 1854, it was not until March, 1855, that the blockade of the commercial ports of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azoff was declared. We purposely left those ports open for a twelvemonth, in order that England and France might get grain from them; and England obtained more than half a million quarters of corn from them to feed our people, while we were at the same time carrying on the destructive operations of the siege of Sebastopol. That is a practical instance in our own day, in which we applied the principle advocated by Mr. Cass, viz., that of besieging a military arsenal, and carrying on simultaneously a peaceful intercourse with the enemy's commercial ports. But how was it in the northern ports of Russia? Bear in mind that of all the exports from Russia, consisting chiefly of raw materials—hemp, flax, linseed, tallow, and grain, England takes far more than one half—in the case of some articles she takes even as much as 70 and 80 per cent. Well, if we were at war with Russia, should we enforce a blockade upon her northern ports? Again, we have an illustration of that in the last war. We professed, it is true, to blockade Cronstadt to prevent the export of raw materials, such as flax and hemp, by sea to England. By that means we merely diverted that traffic through Prussia; and in one year, 1855, we brought from Prussia tallow to the amount of upwards of 1,500,000l. sterling, while in previous years the amount had not been 2,000l. Well, but the Government knew that those articles were coming from the ports of Prussia in the Baltic, and we had a debate on the subject raised in the House of Commons, where a motion was made in regard to this contraband trade, as it was called, in Russian produce. I suppose that some merchants, anticipating that blockade, had entered into large speculations in Manilla hemp and Indian seeds, and they perhaps thought that they would be cheated of their gains, if Russian commodities were allowed to come into this country in that indirect way. The consequence was, that a vigorous appeal was made to the House, and by deputations to the Government, with a view to stop that contraband trade. The Government were challenged, and were in effect told—'If you will not put down the trade thus carried on under your noses—if you do not enforce some test of origin—you had better abolish the system of blockade altogether, because you are only tempting to their ruin those merchants who have gone to Manilla for hemp.' It was about to go very hard with this Prussian trade, when there appeared another party in the field. The Dundee Chamber of Commerce, taking the alarm, met and sent a memorial to the Government, stating that they viewed with apprehension this attempt to keep out Russian hemp—that the district of Forfar, around Dundee, could not exist without that raw material, and earnestly begging the Government, therefore, to offer no impediment to its importation. All this while we were at war with Russia, and paying for an enormous fleet to blockade her ports. The result was that nothing was done, and, as I understand, one or two of the houses connected with the Manilla hemp trade were ruined in consequence.
Turn now to the third case. Suppose we were at war with America. Does anybody believe that, if we had been at war with her last year, we should have gone and blockaded the Southern ports, and prevented cotton from coming into Lancashire? [Cheers and laughter.] Well, but that is the theory upon which Lord Russell acts. And my case is this—that, assuming a theory which we are very careful not to carry out ourselves, we give to the rest of the world the opportunity of carrying it out practically and very severely against us. Nobody supposes that if we were at war with the United States, we should blockade their ports. I will tell you what we should do. We should have a blockading squadron there, and prize-money would flow in great abundance; but you would never attempt hermetically to seal up that territory. The cotton would come out, the rate of insurance would rise, and thus you would get your raw material, but at an increased price. In 1812 and 1813 we were at war with the United States. We then imported a considerable amount of cotton from the Southern States, although it did not, I believe, amount to one-tenth of the present quantity. But at that time the very same incidents occurred in the House of Commons which I have narrated in connection with the more recent case of the Russian war. There was a party in the City of London interested in Brazilian and Indian cotton, just as in 1855 there might have been gentlemen in Bristol interested in Manilla and Indian hemp, and these speculators prompted their Members to move in the House for the absolute exclusion of American cotton. Motions were made to that effect, and Lord Castlereagh, then the leader of the House of Commons, was much embarrassed on the question: indeed, I am not sure whether he was not once placed in a minority upon it. These speculators pressed the Government, saying, ‘You know that this cotton is coming, and yet you take no steps to prevent it; you capture a few cargoes, your seamen get their prize-money, but still this American produce enters England.’ But, again, there came another party into the field. There were petitions from Manchester, Glasgow, Stockport, and the neighbouring towns, praying the Government to do nothing to exclude American cotton; and the consequence was that nothing was done. American cotton, at a time when the quantity we imported was so small, and when our dependence upon it was so much less than it is now, was allowed to come in, and the blockade was practically inoperative. Recollect that half, at least, of all the exports from America come in ordinary times to this country. But our imports from America do not consist solely of cotton. It would be bad enough to keep out the cotton, to stop your spindles, and throw your work-people out of employment. But that is not all. You get an article even more important than your cotton from America—your food. In the last session of Parliament, an hon. Member, himself an extensive miller and corn-dealer, moved for a return of the quantity of grain and flour for human food imported into this country from September of last year to June in the present year. His object was to show what would have been the effect on the supplies of food brought to this kingdom if the apprehension of war, in relation to the Trent affair, had unhappily been realised. Well, his estimate was, that the food imported from America between September of last year and June of this year was equal to the sustenance of between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 of people for a whole twelvemonth, and his remark to me was—I quote his own words—that if that food had not been brought from America, all the money in Lombard-street could not have purchased it elsewhere, because elsewhere it did not exist. Well, I would ask whether, in the case of a war with America, anybody would seriously contemplate our enforcing a blockade in order to keep out those commodities? Nobody dreams that we should. And yet we are maintaining a system which hands over to other States, whenever they choose to go to war, the power of starving our people, or depriving them of the raw material of their industry, merely because our antiquated statesmen, who live and dream in the period of 200 or 300 years ago, don't understand the wants and circumstances of the present age.
I hold in my hand two pamphlets, both attributed, and, I believe, truly, to the pen of functionaries employed in the Board of Trade. They both take the largest and most common-sense and liberal views of this question, thereby adding another proof to that afforded in the case of the Corn-laws, that there has always existed in the atmosphere of that department something conducive to the most enlightened and advanced appreciation of our commercial policy. From one of those pamphlets I will read an extract, in which are mentioned the very names of some of the old authorities on international law, which Lord Russell has been quoting in his despatches to America within the last few months. The writer says:—
'The days of Vattel, Grotius, Puffendorf, and Bynkershoek, are not our days; their doctrines, however applicable to those times, are unfit for these. They may have been suited for an era of war; they are unsuited to an epoch of peace. They advanced doctrines which in their day it was perhaps possible to maintain in some degree; but the condition on which their views were framed are changed, and it would now be as easy to revive the dead creed of Protection as to rule the relations between neutrals and belligerents by the antiquated laws of Oléron, the Costumbres Maritimas of Barcelona, or the once famed Consolato del Mare. It would be as easy to revert in medicine to the doctrines of Galen, and to accept the crude dogmas of Theophilus as the base of modern arts, as to define and govern our international relations by authorities whose dicta have ceased to be in harmony with the feelings of the present time.'
Yet, Gentlemen, it is upon these dogmas that you will continue to be governed, unless you bring some of your practical sense to bear upon the antiquated prepossessions of those who are at the head of affairs. It was so before. We had to fight the battle for Free Trade, in time of peace, with our own governing class; and you will have to fight the battle again for Free Trade, in time of war, with the same class, as the only way of obtaining such a change in maritime law as will put it in harmony with the spirit and the exigencies of our age. Still, we come back to this vague response, ‘Oh! but if you injure yourselves by the system of commercial blockade, you may injure your enemy a great deal more.’ I want to know, in the wide range of the world, what conceivable injury you can do to any people that will equal the mischief which must be inflicted upon this region of Lancashire if the present state of things continues for another six months. For, recollect, that if you blockade the commercial ports of a foreign Power, like America or Russia, you merely prevent them from receiving comparative luxuries into their ports—your manufactured goods, colonial produce, and the like. People can live tolerably well, as they have lived, without these things. But if you inflict a commercial blockade that stops the exports from, as well as the imports into, those countries, while you are only depriving your enemy of comparative luxuries, you are depriving yourselves both of the raw material of the industry by which your people live, and also of the very food necessary for their subsistence. I have thought much upon this subject, and I can conceive of no case in which, while carrying on war with other Powers, you could inflict upon them the same amount of injury as you would inflict upon yourselves by an effective system of blockade; and if the blockade is not to be effective, the whole thing falls to the ground as a mere mischievous delusion. But make it effective, and I repeat, there is no great country with which you could be at war, without inflicting fourfold the injury upon yourselves that you could inflict upon your enemy. Is that a right way to strengthen a belligerent Power—to impair its revenue by curtailing its commerce, to deprive its people of the raw material of their industry, and at the same time to starve them by shutting out their food, thus reducing their physical condition, at the very moment when you want their robust arms and muscular vigour to fight their country's battles? I say, on the contrary, that it is in times of war, above all others, that you ought to have the freest access to the ports of those foreign countries on which you are dependent for your raw materials and your food. I can understand a great manufacturing country like this maintaining a large fleet for the purpose of keeping its doors open for the supply of that food and those raw materials; but by what perversity of reasoning can any statesman be brought to think that it can ever be our interest to employ our fleet to prevent those indispensable commodities from reaching our shores?
There is another point which I do not remember ever seeing discussed, but which is one of very great importance. We should seek to establish it as a principle in the intercourse of nations, that they should not resort to the prohibition of exports as a belligerent act. When I was engaged in arranging the Treaty of Commerce with France, we put in a clause which in its effect interdicted the right of prohibiting the exportation of coal. Now, according to my idea, if our diplomacy is to be carried out in the common-sense interest of these vast communities, we should seek by every means in our power, in the case of war, to prevent belligerent States from stopping the export of articles necessary for the sustenance or the employment of mankind. With the general spread of Free-trade principles—by which I mean nothing but the principle of the division of labour carried over the whole world—one part of the earth must become more and more dependent upon another for the supply of its material and its food. Instead of, as formerly, one county sending its produce to another county, or one nation sending its raw material to another nation, we shall be in the way of having whole continents engaged in raising the raw material required for the manufacturing communities of another hemisphere. It is our interest to prevent, as far as possible, the sudden interruption of such a state of dependence; and, therefore, I would suggest it as a most desirable thing to be done in all cases by our Government, as the ruling and guiding principle of their policy, that they should seek in their negotiations of treaties to bind the parties respectively, not, as a belligerent act, to prevent the exportation of anything, unless we except certain munitions of war, or armaments. I don't think the Government should interfere to prevent the merchant from exporting any article, even if it can be made available for warlike purposes. The Government has nothing to do with mercantile operations; it ought not to undertake the surveillance of commerce at all. Of course it should not allow an enemy to come here and fit out ships or armaments to be used in fighting against us. But I mean, that for all articles of legitimate commerce, there ought to be, as far as possible, freedom in time of war. To what I am urging it may be said, ‘But you won’t get people to observe these international obligations, even if they are entered into.' That remark was made in the House of Commons by a Minister, who, I think, ought not to have uttered such a prediction. Why are any international obligations undertaken unless they are to be observed? We have this guarantee, that the international rules I am now advocating will be respected; that they are not contemplated to be merely an article in a Treaty between any two Powers, but to be fundamental laws regulating the intercourse of nations, and having the assent of the majority of, if not all, the maritime Powers in the world. Let us suppose two countries to be at war, and that one of them has entered into an engagement not to stop the exportation of grain. Well, we will assume the temptation to be so great, that, thinking it can starve its opponent, it would wish to stop this exportation in spite of the Treaty. Why, that would bring down on them instantly the animosity, indeed the hostility, of all the other Powers who were parties to the system. The nation which has been a party to a general system of international law, becomes an outlaw to all nations, if it breaks its engagement towards any one. And in the case on which I am laying great stress—viz. that of commercial blockade, and the prevention of any stoppage of exports in time of war—I don't rely on the honour of the individual nation making it for observing the law; I rely on its being her interest to keep it, because if she were at war with us, and were to break the law, she would not break it as against us alone, but as against the whole world.
I won't attempt to cover the whole ground over which this question would lead me—I mean the question of the reform of international law, with the view of bringing it into harmony with the present state of things. But this I would say, as a guiding rule of our policy, that as we have adopted Free Trade as our principle in time of peace, so ought we to make trade as free as possible also in time of war. Let that be your object; and whenever you find a restriction upon legitimate commerce, whether in war or in peace, be assured that its removal will do more good to England than it can do to any other country on the globe; and for this simple reason—that we have double the commerce of any other country. Then let this manufacturing district, as it has done before, make its voice heard in order that the enlightened principles which are now finally triumphant in time of peace shall also be applied, as far as they possibly can be, in time of war. I have said—and, after all, this is the practical question—that I don't see how the agitation of this matter can be of any service at this moment in securing a supply of cotton from America, by getting rid of the unfortunate state of things which now exists there. But this I will add, that if there were at the head of the Federal Government men of the grasp of mind of a Franklin, a Jefferson, an Adams, or a Washington, I can imagine that they would seek to acquire for their country the glory and the lasting fame of inaugurating, even at the present moment, their own principles—for they are their own principles—of the exemption from blockade of the peaceful ports of a whole continental coast. That would reflect great credit on the men engaged in it, while it would also place on a high moral elevation the nation which achieved it. I can imagine that men of the calibre of those I have named, in the circumstances in which they stand, seeing, and being anxious to prevent, the immense and unmerited evil inflicted not only on the capitalists, but on the labourers not merely of England but throughout the civilised world, and seeing, likewise, national safety in such a course, should desire, if practicable—and on its practicability I offer no opinion—to put an end to this state of things in the interests of humanity. But in making that suggestive and hypothetical remark, which I do without wishing for a moment to imply blame or reproach, this I will say, that the only way in which Europe can approach that question with the United States is on the ground of principle which I have laid down, and not by violating the blockade with the view of obtaining their cotton because we now want it, while still retaining that fanciful advantage of applying the principle of blockade to other Powers at some future time. The only possible ground on which Europe can expect from the American Government a disposition to endeavour to remove this great evil, is by the European Powers engaging for the future to adopt the American principle of exempting all commercial ports from blockade, and confining blockades merely to arsenals and fortified places. I know something of the disposition of foreign Governments in both hemispheres, and I tell you again that England has been the great obstacle to such a benignant change of policy as I have indicated. We are, perhaps, not to be blamed for this; we have but followed in one direction, as America has followed in another, the instincts of national self-interest. For nearly a century, England has believed that she has had an interest in maintaining to the utmost degree the rights of belligerents, just as America has believed, and rightly so, that she had an interest in maintaining the rights of neutrals. But the circumstances are now changed. We profess the principle of non-intervention. We no longer intend, I hope, to fight the battles of every one on the Continent, and to make war like a game of ninepins, setting up and knocking down dynasties, as chance or passion may dictate. We avow the principle of non-intervention, which means neutrality, and we have, therefore, made ourselves the great neutral Power of the world. Two great wars have been carried on within the last ten years. One was the war in Italy between France and Austria, and the other is the still more gigantic war in America. During both, England has remained neutral. Our business, therefore, is to shape our policy according to the light of modern events, and I am convinced, that if we look at the matter calmly and impartially, we shall find that our interests are the same as those of the weakest Power in Christendom, seeing that in adopting Free Trade we have renounced the principle of force and coercion.
Allow me to say, in conclusion, that this question is one that ought to engage the serious attention of gentlemen in this district. Where are the young men who have come into active life since the time when their fathers entered upon the great struggle for Free Trade? What are their thoughts upon this subject? They have inherited an enviable state of prosperity from their fathers. For fifteen years there has hardly been a serious check to business—scarcely a necessity for an anxious day or night on the part of the great body of our manufacturing and trading population. But let not the young men of this district think that the possession of such advantages can be enjoyed without exertion, watchfulness, and a due sense of patriotic duty. We must not stand still, or imagine that we can remain stereotyped, like the Chinese; for, if we ever cease to progress, be assured we shall commence to decline. I would, therefore, exhort the young men, with their great responsibilities and great resources, to take this matter seriously to heart. Something is due, not only to themselves and to those who have gone before them, but likewise to the working population around them, who will expect an effort to be made, if not to put an end to the present state of things, at least to prevent the recurrence of such calamities in future.
ROCHDALE, OCTOBER 29, 1862
[At a public meeting in Rochdale, Mr. Cobden was asked to move the following resolution in favour of Parliamentary and Financial Reform:—'That this meeting views with dismay the enormous public expenditure of the country, which unnecessarily increases the burdens of the people, is subversive of their best interests, and perilous to Constitutional Government. This meeting is also of opinion that a comprehensive measure of Parliamentary Reform, which would secure a more faithful representation of the people, is absolutely essential; and remembering the pledges with regard to Financial and Parliamentary Reform, given by the present Ministry prior to their accession to power, calls upon them to carry out those pledges, or retire from office.' But before he referred to the resolution, he called attention to the relations between Great Britain and the United States.]
Before I address myself to the general subject involved in the resolution which is now before you, I will, with your permission, say a few words upon that subject which is most near to my feelings, as it must be to every one connected with this borough,—I allude to the present state of distress in this district. I should like, if I could, to state something that might contribute towards making the cause of your sufferings better understood, and which might clear up any impressions that may exist with regard to the position or the attitude of this district amongst our fellow-countrymen in other parts of the kingdom. I should like to say a word or two with reference, not only to our own interest in this disaster, but also upon the responsibility and duty arising out of it, which, I think, fall upon all parts of the kingdom.
You are suffering much in the same manner as you would be if England were engaged in a foreign war, and this country were placed in a state of blockade to prevent the ingress of cotton for your mills. That would be a state of things which would be regarded by the whole kingdom as an affair which concerned the whole community. All England, the United Kingdom, would come to your rescue; any necessary amount of expenditure would be incurred in order to rescue you from the danger that assailed you, and to compensate you, indemnify you for the injuries you might have sustained. Well, there is very little difference in principle between such a case and that in which you are now really involved. You are suffering, not from a blockade of Lancashire, you are suffering from a blockade of the Southern ports of the United States; both arise out of a state of war; both arise out of a principle recognised in the conduct of war; and as our Government and this country are assenting parties to such a principle of warfare, and as it is an evil arising out of the war which you cannot provide against, which you cannot remove, and for which you are not responsible,—I say it must involve the same consequences, that your sufferings must be shared, and your case relieved by the efforts of the whole of this community—I mean the whole of the United Kingdom. This principle has been to some extent recognised by the course which has been pursued to a certain extent in other parts of the kingdom. There have been efforts made, and a considerable amount of sympathy manifested, to relieve the distress of this district. I do not measure the amount of assistance to be rendered to you by what has been done: I only say the principle is recognised, and efforts made in all parts of the kingdom to support and cheer you in your sufferings and distress If I could only say one word which would tend to remove that misapprehension which parties might have in other and distant parts of the country, in their efforts of humanity, in looking at your case, I should think my time very well employed on the present occasion. There is no doubt there is much apprehension, particularly in the southern portions of the kingdom, with regard to the state of matters here. I am not surprised at this, because I, who was born in the south, and was an emigrant in this region, and again returned to the south, perhaps may be better acquainted than many of you with the ignorance that prevails in the south of England, and even in London, with reference to the state of society in this district.
Now, an attempt has been made to throw blame upon large numbers of parties who are visited by the great calamity in which you are involved. I would not say one word in defence of the capitalists of Lancashire, because they are very well able to defend themselves, were it not that this misapprehension with regard to their conduct had a tendency to check the sympathy and slacken the charity of our fellow-countrymen elsewhere. I am not going to undertake the defence of this class; but an untrue accusation has been made against that class. Men of all classes have their good and bad individuals; fortunately for the world, the good predominate everywhere. But, with reference to the particular fact with which I wish to deal, I may say there seems to be a general forgetfulness, on the part of those bringing these accusations against the capitalists, that the calamity has fallen both upon the capitalists and the working classes, and if it continues long enough, that it will ruin them both. I will illustrate what I have to say by taking the position of a millowner spinning cotton, and this comparison will be best understood by our fellow-countrymen in the south of England. A millowner who spins cotton is somewhat similar to a flour miller who grinds wheat.
Now, let us suppose a calamity occurred, by which all the wheat millers of the south of England were deprived of the raw material for their mills—that is, wheat—that the mills everywhere had to be shut up; but suppose, in addition, that these mills were liable to be rated for the relief of the poor, and that the cottages generally owned by the millers, where the workpeople lived, were to pay rent, and were to contribute to the poor-rates. Suppose, simultaneously with such a calamity as that, we had received a cry from this part of the country that these corn millers, whose trade was paralysed, ought, in addition, to keep the workpeople who had been thrown out of work. That would be about as reasonable as much that I have read of the accusations brought against owners of mills in this region. I came last week from Scotland by way of Carlisle, Kendal, Lancaster, Preston, Bolton, to Manchester, and I came through a country where there was a succession—I may say a forest—of smokeless chimneys. Why, for all purposes of productive value, the machinery in these mills might just as well have been in the primitive form of iron, in which they were before they were extracted from the mines. They were utterly valueless as property. And we must bear in mind that, though some millowners are rich in floating capital as well as in fixed capital, yet a great bulk of those who own cotton mills in this county are not rich in floating capital. They are rich in bricks, mortar, and machinery, when they can get cotton to make their looms productive.
Now, take your own borough, and what is its position at the present moment? I have got some authentic facts since I have come into Rochdale—facts applicable to the Rochdale relief district. That district contains ninety-five cotton mills employing 14,071 persons; of these there are out of work 10,793, and the remaining 3,278 are not averaging more than two days a week of work. The relief committee are assisting weekly 10,041, who receive no aid from rates; the guardians are relieving weekly 10,000, making a total of 20,041. The number of the destitute is daily increasing. Bear in mind, I am not speaking to you here, so much as I am speaking to my fellow-countrymen elsewhere, who are less acquainted than I could wish them to be with the actual state of this district; and in speaking thus I am speaking in the interests of you, the working men here present, and your families. Now, bear in mind that for all this destitution the whole of the manufacturing capital in this region is liable to be rated. It is not generally known elsewhere that, if the millowner closes his mill, provided that mill be full of machinery, it is still liable to be rated for the relief of the poor. The consequence is that the millowner first loses the whole amount of the interest in his capital, and the depreciation of the capital in suspense. Say his mill is worth 20,000l. and that is a moderate estimate for the average of mills—that is closed, and he immediately loses at the rate of 2,000l. a year, by the loss of interest and depreciation. But, generally, the mill also has a number of cottages attached to it, in which the work-people live. These cottages must cease to pay rent when the workpeople cease to receive wages, but the cottages also continue to be rated to the poor. Take, then, the amount which the millowner, with that small mill worth 20,000l.,—at least the average mill of 20,000l.; take the loss which he is suffering by the loss of interest and depreciation; take also the amount which he is liable to pay for his poor-rate, which may be 5,000l. 01 6,000l. a year; and that millowner, without going to a central committee in Manchester to put down his name for 100l. or 500l., is inevitably, by the very nature of his position, incurring a greater loss by this distress than by any amount contributed by the richest nobleman of this land towards the fund.
It has been said that the millowners and capitalists have not gone to some central meeting, and put down their names for 1,000l., along with some of the bankers and merchants or great landowners who have none of these risks and charges attending their property which I have described. But these millowners and manufacturers are generally scattered and dispersed throughout the country; they have their obligations at their own doors, and they have the apprehension of a very long continuance of this distress which is upon them. I have heard some sagacious men say, since I have been in Manchester,—I hope they have taken a too gloomy view of the situation,—but I have heard some of the longest-headed men with whom I have talked since I have last visited Manchester, say, that they don't believe there will be any more prosperity for the cotton trade for five years to come. I repeat, that I hope they take a too gloomy view of the case; but recollect that, as all is uncertain in the future, and as this fixed property, which constitutes the great wealth of your manufacturers and spinners—this great fixed property in mills and machinery—remains there, always to be rated to the poor, and must be rated to the end, as long as the owner has one shilling of floating capital to pay towards the rates, why, the manufacturer and spinner may well pause and say, ‘We welcome you, noble lords and gentlemen from a distance, who throw in your mite in the relief of this great calamity; but, do what you will, and be as bountiful as you please to be'’—(and I am sure they will be; the country will never fail you)—'yet still the loss and the suffering and distress to this land must be greater to the millowners and manufacturers than to any other class.' I know that I am speaking, here, in the presence of a great majority of working men; and they will not deny the truth of what I say. You have had your own co-operative mills here, and there is intelligence sufficient amongst the operatives of this town to know that in every word I have said I have been speaking the simple truth. But I will not confine myself to the capitalist class. See what the operative is sure to suffer, and the working man is sure to suffer, by this calamity. Take, as an illustration, what is happening at this moment in Rochdale. Again I take the Rochdale relief district, and, from the best information I can get—and I have no doubt it is accurate—I find that the weekly loss by wages, in this district alone, cannot be less than 6,000l. or 6,500l. a week. So that the working class of Rochdale alone, at this moment—and you are only at the beginning of your distress—are losing from their income at the rate of upwards of 300,000l. a year. I have seen it stated that the relief afforded is about 600l. a week. My esteemed friend behind me, Mr. A. H. Heywood, the treasurer of the relief fund, tells me that the contribution which has been made from that fund to the distressed poor of this district is about 600l. a week; and, I am told, that the board of guardians are distributing at the same time 800l. a week of relief to the poor—I won't call them paupers, because we won't allow them to be called that name;—they are the distressed, or they are the blockaded.
Well, now, 600l. a week doled out by the relief committee, and 800l. given by the board of guardians, make the total relief to be 1,400l. a week. Already it is estimated that the working classes of this district have lost 6,500l. a week in wages, and they are getting relief at the rate of 1,400l. a week, so that the working classes of this town are receiving from both those sources—the volunteer relief committee and the board of guardians—only about one-fourth of the income which they can earn by the honest industry of their hands in ordinary times. Great praise has been given to the working class of this district for the fine, the magnanimous, the heroic fortitude which they have displayed on this occasion. Well, I sometimes think that there is something rather invidious in the way in which this compliment is paid to you by some parties. It seems as if they had always been assuming that you are a set of savages, without reason or a sense of justice, and that, whatever befell you, your first impulse was to go and destroy something or somebody in revenge. They must have a very curious idea of the people of this district. It reminds me of an anecdote that I remember:—When the late Dr. Dalton, the eminent philosopher, was presented to King William IV., his Majesty received him with this remark: ‘Well, doctor—well, doctor—are you all quiet at Manchester now?'’—the idea in his Majesty's head being that in Manchester and the neighbourhood the normal state was one of insurrection or violence. Well, but at least the conduct of this district, of its working population, will stand out all the more honourably before the country when it is known under what circumstances you have borne yourselves so manfully as you have. Where is there another class of the community,—I join my right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone heartily in saying that—I am a south countryman, and therefore I shall not share in any praise I give you in this district,—but I don't believe there is any other part of the country where the same number of men would have borne so courageously and manfully the same amount of privation. But still, don't let us make it mere empty compliment—because the people of this country do not care a button for compliments. There is something wanted, and I have no doubt that something more will be had. This is a gigantic evil which has fallen upon this district from no fault of its own, which could not have been foreseen or provided against; and, therefore, the consequences of this great calamity must be borne by the whole country. If they can be borne by voluntary aid from all parts of the kingdom, well; if not, they must be helped by Imperial aid in another form.
But I think, if it is known and fairly understood in all parts of the kingdom what the state of things is, and that a great effort is required, greater than any that has yet been made, I believe that the philanthropy and the generosity of this country will not be found wanting. I would suggest that a systematic plan should be adopted of calling county meetings everywhere by the lord-lieutenants. I have known county meetings called before on much slighter grounds of necessity than this. It is said that there is to be a subscription raised in all the churches. I have no doubt that a large sum will be raised in that way. But it requires that the country should know the necessities of the case, and that the public feeling should not be chilled or distorted by base appeals to their prejudices and their passions. Oh, there is a class of writers in this country,—God knows who they are, who support the vendors of such base commodities; but there is a class of writers in this country who seem to worship success, and to find no pleasure so great as to jump upon anybody, or any class, that they think is down for the moment, and to trample it still lower in the mire. For myself, I have no doubt whatever that all classes in this country will do their duty. I have heard since I have been in Lancashire of heroic acts of benevolence performed not only by men, but by women, who have shown a bright example in their districts in the devotion they have evinced to relieve the distress of those immediately around them. I have no doubt that the amount of generosity and charity that is going on in private far transcends that which is known to the public, and that the best friends of the poor are very often the poor themselves. I have not the least doubt, I say, that this district will do its duty, and that when this cloud passes away—as I hope it may before a distant day—I have no doubt that there will be a record of bright and generous acts—I won't say such as is creditable exclusively to this community—but such as will reflect honour upon our common humanity.
Now, gentlemen, coupled with this question is another upon which I must say a few words. We are placed in this tremendous embarrassment in consequence of the civil war that is going on in America. Don't expect me to be going to venture upon ground which other politicians have trodden, with, I think, doubtful success or advantage to themselves—don't think that I am going to predict what is going to happen in America, or that I am going to set myself up as a judge of the Americans. What I wish to do is to say a few words to throw light upon our relations, as a nation, with the American people. I have no doubt whatever that, if I had been an American, I should have been true to my peace principles, and that I should have been amongst, perhaps, a very small number who had voted against, or raised my protest, in some shape or other, against this civil war in America. There is nothing, in the course of this war, that reconciles me to the brutality and the havoc of such a mode of settling human disputes. But the question we have to ask ourselves is this, what is the position which, as a nation, we ought to take with reference to the Americans in this dispute? That is the question which concerns us. It is no use our arguing as to what is the origin of the war, or any use whatever to advise these disputants. From the moment the first shot is fired, or the first blow is struck, in a dispute, then farewell to all reason and argument; you might as well attempt to reason with mad dogs as with men when they have begun to spill each other's blood in mortal combat. I was so convinced of the fact during the Crimean war, which. you know, I opposed, I was so convinced of the utter uselessness of raising one's voice in opposition to war when it has once begun, that I made up my mind that as long as I was in political life, should a war again break out between England and a great Power, I would never open my mouth upon the subject from the time the first gun was fired until the peace was made, because, when a war is once commenced, it will only be by the exhaustion of one party that a termination will be arrived at. If you look back at our history, what did eloquence, in the persons of Chatham or Burke, do to prevent a war with our first American colonies? What did eloquence, in the persons of Fox and his friends, do to prevent the French revolution, or bring it to a close? And there was a man who at the commencement of the Crimean war, in terms of eloquence, in power, and pathos, and argument equal—in terms, I believe, fit to compare with anything that fell from the lips of Chatham and Burke—I mean your distinguished townsman, my friend Mr. Bright—and what was his success? Why, they burnt him in effigy for his pains.
Well, if we are here powerless as politicians to check a war at home, how useless and unavailing must it be for me to presume to affect in the slightest degree the results of the contest in America! I may say I regret this dreadful and sanguinary war; we all regret it; but to attempt to scold them for fighting, to attempt to argue the case with either, and to reach them with any arguments, while they are standing in mortal combat, a million of them standing in arms and fighting to the death; to think that, by any arguments here, we are to influence or be heard by the combatants engaged on the other side of the Atlantic, is utterly vain. I have travelled twice through almost every free State in America. I know most of the principals engaged in this dreadful contest on both sides. I have kept myself pretty well informed of all that is going on in that country; and yet, though I think I ought to be as well informed on this subject as most of my countrymen—Cabinet Ministers included;—yet, if you were to ask me how this contest is to end, I confess I should find myself totally at a loss to offer an opinion worth the slightest attention on the part of my hearers. But this I will say: If I were put to the torture, and compelled to offer a guess, I should not make the guess which Mr. Gladstone and Earl Russell have made on this subject. I don't believe that, if the war in America is to be brought to a termination, it will be brought to an end by the separation of the South and North. There are great motives at work amongst the large majority of the people in America, which seem to me to drive them to this dreadful contest rather than see their country broken into two. Now, I don't speak of it as having a great interest in it myself. I speak as to a fact. It may seem Utopian; but I don't feel sympathy for a great nation, or for those who desire the greatness of a people by the vast extension of empire. What I like to see is the growth, development, and elevation of the individual man. But we have had great empires at all times—Syria, Persia, and the rest. What trace have they left of the individual man? Nebuchadnezzar, and the countless millions under his sway,—there is no more trace of them than of herds of buffaloes, or flocks of sheep. But look at your little States; look at Greece, with its small territories, some not larger than an English county? Italy, over some of whose States a man on horseback could ride in a day,—they have left traces of individual man, where civilisation has flourished, and humanity been elevated. It may appear Utopian, but we can never expect the individual elevated until a practical and better code of moral law prevails among nations, and until the small States obtain justice at the hands of the great.
But leaving these matters: What are the facts of the present day—what appears to be the paramount instinct amongst the races of men? Certainly not a desire to separate, but a desire to agglomerate, to bring together in greater concentration the different races speaking the same language, and professing the same religion. What do you see going on in Italy,—what stirs now the heart of Germany—that moves Hungary? Is it not wishing to get together? I find in the nations of Europe no instinct pervading the mass of mankind which may lead them to a separation from each other; but that there is a powerful movement all through Europe for the agglomeration of races. But is it not very odd that statesmen here who have a profound sympathy for the movement in Italy in favour of unity, cannot at least appreciate a statesman in looking upon the probabilities and the chances of a civil contest—cannot also duly appreciate the force of that motive in the present contest in America? Three-fourths of the white population are contending against disunion; they are following the instinct which is impelling the Italians, the Germans, and other populations of Europe; and I have no doubt that one great and dominant motive in the minds of three-fourths of the white people in America is this:—They are afraid, if they become disunited, they will be treated as Italy has been treated when she was disunited—that a foreigner will come and set his intrusive foot upon it, and play off one against another to their degradation, and probably subjection. Without pretending to offer an opinion myself, these are powerful motives, and, if they are operating as they appear to operate, it may lead to a much more protracted contest than has been predicted by some of our statesmen.
But the business we really have here as Englishmen is not to speculate upon what the Americans will do, for they will act totally independent of us. Give them your sympathy as a whole; say, ‘Here is a most lamentable calamity that has befallen a great nation in its pride.’ Give them your sympathy. Lament over a great misfortune, but don't attempt to scold and worry them, or dictate to them, or even to predict for them what will happen. But what is our duty towards them in this matter? Well, now, we have talked of strict neutrality. But I wish our statesmen, and particularly our cabinet Ministers, would enforce upon their own tongues a little of that principle of non-intervention which they profess to apply to their diplomacy. We are told very frequently at public meetings that we must recognise the South. Well, but that recognition of the South is always coupled with another object—it is, to obtain the cotton that you want, because, if it was not for the distress brought upon us by the civil war in America, I don't think humanity would induce us to interfere any more than it does in wars going on in other parts of the world.
But, now, let us try to dispel this floating fallacy which is industriously spread over the land,—probably by interested parties. Your recognition of the South would not give you cotton. The recognition of the South, in the minds of parties who use that term, is coupled with something more. There is an idea of going and interfering by force to put an end to that contest, in order that the cotton may be set free. If I were President Lincoln, and found myself rather in difficulty on account of the pressure of taxation, and on account of the discord of parties in the Federal ranks, and if I wanted to see the whole population united as one man, and ready to make me a despot; if I could choose that post, and not only unite every man but every woman in my support,—then I could wish nothing better than that England or France, or both together, should come and attempt to interfere by force in this quarrel. You read now of the elections going on in America. And I look to those elections with the greatest interest, as the only indications to guide me in forming a judgment of the future. You see it stated that in these elections there is some disunion of party. But let the foreigners attempt to interfere in that quarrel, and all old lines of demarcation are effaced for ever. You will have one united population joining together to repel that intrusion. It was so in France, in their great revolutionary war. What begat the union there? What caused the Reign of Terror? What was it that ruined every man who breathed a syllable of dissent from the despotic and bloody Government enthroned in Paris—what was it but the cry of alarm that ‘the foreigner is invading us,’ and the feeling that these were the betrayers of the country, because they were the friends of the foreigner? But your interference would not obtain cotton. Your interference would have, in the present state of armaments, very little effect upon the combatants there. If people were generally better acquainted with the geography of that country and the state of its population, they would see how much we are apt to exaggerate even our power to interfere to produce any result in that contest. The policy to be pursued by the North will be decided by the elections in the great Western States: I mean the great grain-growing region of the Mississippi valley. If the States of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Winconsin, and Minnesota—if those States determine to carry on this war—if they say, ‘We will never make peace and give up the mouth of the Mississippi, which drains our 10,000 miles of navigable waters into the Gulf of Mexico; we will never make peace while that river is in the hands of a foreign Power,'’—why, all the Powers of Europe cannot reach that ‘far West’ to coerce it. It is 1,000 miles inland across the Rocky Mountains, or 1,000 miles up the Mississippi, with all its windings, before you get to that vast region—that region which is rich beyond all the rest of the world besides, peopled by ten or twelve millions of souls, doubling in numbers every few years. It is that region which will be the depository in future of the wealth and numbers of that great Continent; and whatever the decision of that region is, New York, and New England, and Pennsylvania will agree with that decision.
Therefore, watch what the determination of that people is; and if they determine to carry on the war, whatever the hideous proportions of that war may be, and however it may affect your interests, be assured that it is idle to talk—idle as the talk of children—as if it were possible for England to pretend, if it would, to carry on hostilities in the West. And, for my part, I think the language which is used sometimes in certain quarters with regard to the power of this country to go and impose its will upon the population in America, is something almost savouring of the ludicrous. When America had but 2,500,000 people, we found it impossible to enforce our will upon that population; but the progress and tendency of modern armaments are such, that where you have to deal with a rich and civilised people, having the same mechanical appliances as you have, and where that people number fifteen or twenty millions, it is next to impossible for any force to be transported across the Atlantic able to coerce that people. I should wish, therefore, that idea of force—and oh! Englishmen have a terrible tendency to think they can resort to force—should be abandoned on this occasion. The case is utterly unmanageable by force, and interference could only do harm. What good would it do to the population of this country? You would not get your cotton; but if you could, what price would you pay for it? I know something of the way in which money is voted in the House of Commons for warlike armaments, even in time of peace, and I have seen what was done during a year and a half of war. I will venture to say, that it would be cheaper to keep all the population engaged in the cotton manufacture—ay, to keep them upon turtle, champagne, and venison—than to send to America to obtain cotton by force of arms. That would involve you in a war, and six months of that war would cost more money than would be required to maintain this population comfortably for ten years.
No, gentlemen; what we should endeavour to do, as the result of this war, is to put an end to that system of warfare which brings this calamity home to our doors, by making such alterations in the maritime law of nations which affects the rights of belligerents and neutrals, as will render it impossible, in the future, for innocent non-combatants and neutrals here to be made to suffer, as they now do, almost as much as those who are carrying on the war there. Well, if you can, out of this great disaster, make such a reform as will prevent the recurrence of such another, it is, perhaps, all that you can do in the matter. I won't enter into that subject now, because I have entered at some length into it elsewhere, and I shall have to deal with it again in the House of Commons. All I wish to say is this—that it is in the power of England to adopt such a system of maritime law, with the ready assent of all the other Powers, as will prevent the possibility of such a state of things being brought upon us in future. And I will say this, that I doubt the wisdom—I certainly doubt the prudence—of a great body of industrious people allowing themselves to continually live in dependence upon foreign Powers for the supply of food and raw material, knowing that a system of warfare exists by which, at any moment, without notice, without any help on their part or means of prevention, they are liable to have the raw material or the food withdrawn from them—cut off from them suddenly—without any power to resist or hinder it.
Now, that is the only good that I can see that we can do for ourselves in this matter. Yes; there is one other good thing that we might do. We have seen a great country, in the very height of its power, feeling itself almost exempt from the ordinary calamities of older nations,—we have seen that country suddenly prostrated, and become a cause of sorrow rather than of envy or admiration to its friends elsewhere; and what should be the monition to us? Ask ourselves whether there is any great injustice unredressed in this country? Ask if there is any flaw in our institutions in England requiring an adjustment or correction, one that, if not dealt with in time, may lead to a great disaster like that in America? It is not by stroking our beards, and turning up our eyes like the Pharisee, and thanking Heaven we are not as other men are, that we learn; but it is by studying such a calamity as this; by asking ourselves, is there anything in our dealings with Ireland, is there anything in India, is there anything appertaining to the rights and franchises of the great mass of our own population, that requires dealing with? If so, let what has taken place in America be a warning to us, and let us deal with an evil while it is time, and not allow it to find us out in the hour of distress and adversity.
Now, gentlemen, it was impossible to talk to you to-night without dealing with the subject that is uppermost in all our minds. But, before I sit down, I will just say a word or two upon the general subject referred to in the resolution that has been submitted to you. You have been told in the resolution certain things, which, I am sorry to say, I cannot deny; you have been told that the Government have not kept their promises. That is a very common thing. You have been told that they ought either to keep their promises, or retire from office; that would be a very uncommon thing. Certainly they have not kept their promises, if they promised you retrenchment and reform. I was not in England when the new party combination was made, when there was a compact entered into at Willis's Rooms. But I think our friend Alderman Livsey has very properly said—I don't feel sure whether he used the term; if not, I am sure he will excuse me if I attribute it to him—he said that the Radicals were ‘sold’ on that occasion. ['Hear,' from Mr. Ald. Livsey.] You have had, it is true, a very large addition made to the expenditure of this country. But why has it been made? How has it happened? Why, it is nearly all made for the purpose of warlike defences in a time of peace. There is your great item of expense. It has been incurred to protect you against some imaginary danger. Now, what has been the increase of which I speak? In 1835, when, Sir R. Peel and the Duke of Wellington were at the head of the Government, our military and naval armaments cost under twelve millions per annum. Well, now, including the money voted for fortifications, our expenditure last year was nearly three times that,—nearly thirty millions sterling. Why is that? Sir R. Peel and the Duke of Wellington certainly could not be considered rash, unpatriotic men, who had not a full sense of their responsibility as guardians of the honour and safety of this realm. How is it, then, that we require pretty nearly three times as much to defend us now as was required in the time of Sir R. Peel's Government? Why, there is no doubt that it has been in consequence, entirely, I may say, in consequence of the alleged designs of our next door neighbour; and there is no doubt, also—there can be no doubt—that the person who has been prompting all this expenditure, on the ground that we were in danger of an attack from France, has been the present Prime Minister. There is no doubt about that.
Now, I said something about this when I met you twelve months ago here. I was fresh come from France, where I had as good opportunities as anybody had of knowing all about it. I was living eighteen months in France, and everything was open to me or my friends; anybody might go to the dockyard by my applying for an order. I had access to every document, every public paper. I told you this twelve months ago, what I repeat now, that this country had been as much deluded and hoaxed on the subject of the increase of the French navy as ever this country had been hoaxed since the time of Titus Oates. Now, since this last winter, not being able to speak, and not being able to be idle, I employed myself in writing out an exactly detailed account, year by year, of all the expenditure and amount of armaments that were maintained by France and England for their respective navies,—a most elaborate and detailed account, in which I quoted from official authorities at every step; not an anonymous publication, for I published it under my own name. That little work brought heavy indictments against our public men, charging them with the grossest misrepresentation. I stated—I never attribute motives to any man, for there is nothing so unprofitable; and I admit I may have made the statements in ignorance, but—I made the charge against your Prime Minister and others, but against him most prominently, of grossly deluding the public on the subject of the armaments of France, having, first of all, managed to delude himself on the subject. I am not going to give you any of the details or statistics which I brought together in that little publication, but I will give you a summary in two lines. I took great trouble and pains to make out a tabular statement of the amount of money expended in the French and English dockyards from 1835 every year down to 1859, and I took at the same time a tabular statement of the number of seamen maintained each year by the two countries. The result was as I have already broadly stated—that, so far from the present Government of France having increased its preparations of naval force as compared with our own, it was far less, year by year, in proportion to ours, than it had been from the time of Louis Philippe, when Sir R. Peel was in office. I will give a comparison between the first and last years of the two dates. The expenditure for wages in the English and French dockyards, and the number of seamen in the English and French navies, in 1835, when Sir R. Peel and the Duke of Wellington were in power, and in 1859, the year preceding that in which Lord Palmerston proposed his vast scheme of fortifications, was—in 1835: English expenditure in dockyards, 376,377l.; French, 343,032l. In 1859: English expenditure in dockyards, 1,582, 112l.; French, 772,931l.; making the English increase 1,205,735l., and the French, 429,899l.; so that the English outlay within the period was nearly three times as great as the French. The number of seamen—for the comparative power of any two naval countries is known by the number of its seamen—the number of British seamen employed in 1855 was 26,041; in 1859, 72,400; the number of French seamen engaged in the same periods, was 16,628 and 38,470 respectively; showing the French increase to have been less than half that of England.
Now, I have told you that the whole of the opinion of this country upon the subject of the naval preparations of France has originated in the misrepresentations of our present Prime Minister, and this brings us to the very part referred to in the resolution before you. There is no doubt that, when the present Government came into power, one of their great claims to the confidence of the Liberal party was that they should keep on friendly terms with France, since the danger was that the Tories would go to war with France. Well, what has been the course pursued ever since the present Prime Minister came into office? Why, for three years, he has hardly attended a public meeting of any kind, whether it has been social, political, charitable, or anything else, but he has somehow contrived to insinuate in it something of an apprehension of an invasion from France. Promising us peace with France, he has been calling out ‘invasion’ ever since. We ought to advertise, ‘Wanted, a Minister, who, whilst promising, par excellence, to keep the peace with France, shall give the tax-payers of this country some of the advantages of peace.’ The practice of a ruffian that walks your streets is to keep himself from harm by carrying a bludgeon, or perhaps a knife in his pocket. But that is not the mode of preserving peace which respectable people adopt. We want a Minister who, if he has a good understanding with the Government of France, has the skill to employ that good understanding with the Government of France in such a manner as would bring about economy and rational relationships between the two countries by promoting a dimination rather than an increase of forces.
But now, what shall we say of a statesman who, whilst professing to be afraid of an invasion from France, who is constantly telling you that you must be armed—armed, constantly armed and drilled, because you may be attacked any night from the other side of the Channel—but who is, at the very same time, carrying on a most close and intimate system of alliances, even entering into joint expeditions in various parts of the world, and, in fact, going into partnership with a warlike purpose with the very man who at any night might become an invader? Now, I ask you, if you read of Chatham or Sir R. Peel doing such things as that, would they have ever stood out in history as men deserving for one moment the serious esteem of thousands of mankind? Why, it is making statesmanship a joke. It is making a wry face on one side in the way of a laugh, and on the other side it is making a profession of solemnity. It is a mere joke; it is not serious thought. But it is more. If the man is in earnest when he tells you that he apprehends a danger of an invasion at any time from the other side of the Channel, where must be his intelligence, his patriotism, if he enters into partnership with the very man that he is afraid is coming to play him such a clandestine trick as that? If he believes what he says, he ought to avoid all contact with such a man, since he was mistaken in his estimate of the man's character. If he is not serious, why then he still more betrays the country that he rules, because he offers to that man insults; and he is continually giving him and his country an inducement to play that statesman a scurvy trick, and through him the people whom such a statesman drags into an alliance.
Now, I have told you, and I tell it you upon my honour, and could give it you on the most solemn pledge, that I can give it to my countrymen or my constituents—I tell you that there is not a shadow of foundation in fact for all that has been said by the Prime Minister for the last three years upon the subject of an increase of the French navy in relation to our own. For, bear in mind, that cry of invasion would have done nothing unless it had been backed by something more practical and substantial to satisfy the practical English mind. We have been told over and over again—I have heard it myself—that France was making great preparations to equal us as a naval Power. I tell you that there is not the slightest shadow of foundation in fact for such a statement. I have shown you what France spent in her dockyards during the year 1859; that, while we spent in 1859—the year before the fortification scheme (upon which I am going to say a word)—1,582,000l. in our dockyards for wages only, for the wages of artificers, in constructing ships of war, France spent 772,000l., or less than one-half; and as we can build ships so much cheaper than France, that we can send ships to France and pay a duty of twenty per cent. upon them—then, I ask you how could France, having spent less than half for wages in her dockyards, where her artisans are acknowledged to be inferior to ours,—how could France, spending half the money we spent, have been in the way of preparing a fleet to rival or to equal our own? When I was in France, and those statements were constantly made, I confess to you I was ashamed of them as an Englishman—placed there to represent, in a certain sense, the Queen and this great country—I was ashamed of those constant statements that were being made by the Prime Minister of this country to the House of Commons; while the Government of France was lost in bewilderment as to the motives of these repeated assertions. My friend M. Chevallier—who is not only my friend, but also the friend of every man who wishes for progress and the enlightenment and prosperity of mankind—he and I spent many an hour over the statistics of the two countries, trying if we could find a shadow of foundation for the statements that were constantly being made in England with a view to excite you to a jealousy and a fear of the French nation; and we could not find the slightest shadow of a ground for anything that had been said. The Government of France put forward in their organs of the press the most emphatic denial of those statements; but, not merely that, several of our most able practical men in the House of Commons—so astonished and puzzled were they by the constant statements made there by the Prime Minister—actually took the trouble either to go to France themselves, or to send trusty agents. For instance, Mr. Lindsay went to France, and himself consulted the Minister of Marine; Mr. Dalgleish, the Member for Glasgow, who had been appointed on a commission to examine into our dockyards, went to France himself to inquire into the matter; Sir Morton Peto sent a trusted agent, a practical man, who was allowed to go and visit the French dockyards. Others took the same course, and they came back to the House of Commons, and stated their convictions of the utter groundlessness of these statements.
Now, what motive, I ask you, could be sufficient to make a public man like myself come before you and advance these statements, if they were not true? What motive could those Members of Parliament of whom I have been speaking—they were not official men—what motive could they have but the best and most patriotic of motives, in going to France to satisfy themselves of the truth of this matter? Well, then, I say there is not a shadow of foundation for the statements that have been made. I will tell you what there is a truth in,—we have spent money, no doubt, in building useless and antiquated vessels; we went on wasting our money upon sailing vessels long after it was known that nothing but steam-vessels would be of any use; we have gone on squandering our money upon wooden vessels long after it was known that iron would supersede wood. Well, but France has not wasted quite so much as we have. I don't give her or any other Government credit for being quite so economical and so wise as it should be in the matter of its expenditure; but France, not having spent her money quite so foolishly as we generally have, has managed to present something that was going to be done a little earlier than we did; and it was because we had wasted our money in useless constructions that we raised the cry of an invasion from France to cover the misdeeds and defalcations of our own Government. Recollect, I am not now leaving this an open question as to whether France had certain designs upon us. I don't rest my case upon any assumed friendliness on the part of any Government. I am speaking as to matters of fact, and I say that you have been grossly, you have been completely deluded. This country has been misled altogether by the statements that have been made from what should have been the highest authorities upon the subject of the preparations of France.
Well, now, it was under this state of things,—I have told you what the comparative strength of the English and French navies in 1859 was,—that the very year following, Lord Palmerston brought forward his gigantic scheme of fortifications for this country, and that is a subject upon which I wish to say a word or two, because it has in one sense a far more important bearing than any other on our military and naval expenditure. In the session of 1860, the Prime Minister himself brought forward a scheme of fortifications for which he proposed to borrow money. The original scheme embraced vast detached forts in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, going over the South Downs some seven or eight miles—so vast, so extensive, so far inland, that we passed an Act in the House of Commons to abolish an ancient fair, at which cattle were sold on the South Downs, in order that the place might be occupied with these great forts; it embraced a plan for a large fort in the midland counties, on Cannock Chase; and the whole scheme was devised at an estimated cost of about nine or ten millions sterling, but by those who thought upon the subject—I was in Paris while all this was going on—it was said that it would be more likely to reach twenty or thirty millions than nine or ten, if it were ever allowed to begin. In bringing forward that measure for these fortifications, not one word was said in the speech of the Prime Minister respecting our ability to defend ourselves at sea, though our force was double that of France; he assumed that an enemy would land and burn our dockyards, and these fortifications were devised in order to protect our fleets. Why, I always used to think our navy was intended to defend us, and that we had not occasion to build forts to defend our navy. You remember the anecdote told of Nelson, when he had an audience of George III., during the great French war, and during the time when there was a talk of invasion. The King said, in his curious repetitive way, ‘Well, Admiral, well, Admiral, do you think the French will come? do you think the French will come? do you think the French will come?’ ‘Well,’ replied Nelson, ‘I can only answer for it that they will not come by sea.’ Well, we seem to have abandoned altogether that confidence in our navy. I think, after having spent twice as much as the French for making our navy, and paying for twice as many sailors to man our navy, that we are cowards if we are assuming that any enemy is coming to land upon our shores. But, however, this great scheme of fortifications was brought in, and it was passed like everything else is in this House of Commons.
Now, I will tell you what the effect of that will be, and, perhaps, it has not been sufficiently thought of by the country. You are borrowing the money to make these fortifications—borrowing it for thirty years. Mark the insidious process by which you are allowing this grand scheme to be accomplished. If the Government had to ask every year for the money in the Estimates to come out of the taxes, I would engage for it that the 1,200,000l. wanted the last session would not have been voted, because it would have been needful to lay on fresh taxes, and fresh taxes would not have been laid on. But they borrowed the money, and so this expenditure of pretty nearly a million and a quarter is got from a loan. I will tell you what the consequence will be. You are going on building fortifications, which, according to the estimate of Sir Frederick Smith, the Member for Chatham, who opposed this scheme from beginning to end—and he is about the highest authority we have in the House of Commons, for he has been a professor of engineering, and is a man of high and acknowledged talent—according to the estimate of Sir Frederick Smith, those great forts in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth alone will require 30,000 men to man them, and the other forts will require 60,000 or 70,000 more men to man them. Now, once build those forts, and you must have an army to keep them, otherwise you must blow them up again, because nothing can be more unwise, as everybody will see, than to build forts and leave them unprotected, to be taken and occupied by an enemy. I will tell you what this scheme is. I don't say what men's motives are,—I only tell you what the effect of this scheme will be. We are just now getting into a discussion with respect to the policy of keeping an army for the defence of our colonies. Very soon that discussion will ripen—as all discussions in this country are apt in time to do—into a triumph of the true principle, and the colonists, who are much better able to do so than we are, will be left to defend themselves, or, if they call upon us to defend them, will have to contribute towards the expense. We shall be able to withdraw from the Colonies, nobody can tell how many—it may be 20,000—troops. Here you have a plan—I don't attribute motives—but, if the design was to prepare a mode by which the governing class of this country, who, unless they have been very much maligned, would like excuses for keeping up our military establishments, could keep them up—here will be a good excuse furnished them for keeping every man of those troops at home. You will have the fortifications built, and you must have an army to put into them, and that will be just the result of this fortification scheme.
Well, gentlemen, there is no doubt in the world that all this is the work of one man; it is the work of your Prime Minister. I don't question the man's sincerity, but he is under an impression, he is under a delusion, I don't hardly know what to call it, because I wish to observe the proprieties, but he is under the delusion that he is living in about 1808, and, as long as he lives, you will not rescue him from that delusion. I can make every allowance for one in his position for entertaining such delusions, but what must we say of his colleagues? They are silent. The Prime Minister has to start up every moment to defend every detail of the plan of fortifications. If the Minister at War gets up to say a word upon it, it is in such a languid fashion, with such a total absence evidently of all knowledge on the subject, that it savours of the burlesque. Mr. Gladstone has never said one word in support of this grand scheme. I need not say that such men as Mr. Milner Gibson and Mr. Villiers are entirely silent upon it. It is wholly the work of one man, and that is the Prime Minister; and there is not a man in the House of Commons who, behind the scenes, will not admit that it would be impossible to carry out such a scheme as that, if it were not the act of the present Prime Minister. It is opposed more or less in its details, and denounced by every authority. You saw the opposition to it last session, which was not on the part of the so-called peace men; our friend Mr. Bright was not present for a great period of it, but it was opposed by eminent naval and military authorities. It was opposed by Sir Frederick Smith, the hon Member for Chatham, and by Mr. Bernal Osborne. It was such men as these who opposed this scheme, and yet it was carried by the Prime Minister.
Now, I say, what shall be said of his colleagues? What shall be said of the House of Commons? No doubt these great monstrosities and excrescences in our towns, on our plains, and on our heaths, will be ridiculed by future generations, will be looked at and pointed at as Palmerston's follies. Well, there may be an excuse for a Minister verging on four-score, who was brought up in the middle of the wars of the first French Revolution—there may be an excuse for him. But what excuse is there for the manhood and intellect of this country in allowing itself to be dragged into wasteful extravagance and follies like this, and to be made the laughing-stock of nations, to gratify the whim, the mere whim, of a Prime Minister? Are we not become as politicians an enfeebled generation? Look at the speeches that are made everywhere. What is there in them? Is there no taste for anything having good stuff in it,—having, what you call, the weft in it? We seem to have fallen or entered upon our decline, unless some revival or vigorous effort is made to get us out of the terrible trouble in which this district is now involved. How is it that such a state of things as this can exist in Parliament? I'll tell you how it is: we have not an honest state of parties in Parliament. That is the whole thing in a few words. It is a hard truth, but it is the truth, that parties are not on an honest basis in Parliament. You have got a Prime Minister who is at your head, who professes to lead the Liberal party, and—as I have said to his face in the House of Commons—is about the staunchest Tory we have there. The consequence is, that the Tories—particularly the most antiquated and incorrigible Tories—are not the men who intend to be in office; they could not go farther than he does; and so the Tories who sit below the gangway, on the Opposition side, are supporting the present Prime Minister. And why? For a very good reason. He spends far more money to obstruct reform, and that more effectually, than the Tories would, if they were in office. I volunteer my deliberate opinion that he is spending five millions more of the nation's money every year than would be spent if the Tories were in power. We are in this most anomalous position: the High Tories are in power, but not in office. We, the Liberals, are responsible for what is being done, and if we protest against it, our leader calls in the aid of the Opposition, and the Tories enable him to carry his measures in spite of us. There cannot be anything more unfortunate for the country than such a state of parties. There can be nothing so bad in public or private as a man holding a position for which he is not responsible, which is the position the Prime Minister occupies at this moment. He is not responsible to us; he carries on the policy of the Tories, and is supported by them. And there is no remedy for this state of things, that I am aware of, but in the change that shall make the party which is ruling and governing become responsible for the Government.
Now, let us suppose that, instead of our being on the Government side, we were on the Opposition, and let us suppose Mr. Disraeli in power with Lord Derby. You might say it is the practice of the Tory party to spend as much as they can for the military and the naval services. That is true, unless we have very much maligned them all our days. Not that the Tory party has been desirous of engaging in a larger expenditure than the present Ministry has. But bear in mind, that from the moment they got into office other motives came into play. They will make great sacrifices of their own interests in the way of expenditure in order to preserve office, and when they are in power they will immediately begin to carry out works of reform and retrenchment in order to remain there. But, whilst they are in Opposition, as they are now. they are willing enough to see all this extravagance and all this obstruction of reform on the part of a so-called Liberal Government, because it is doing two things: it is giving them an expenditure which they like, while it does not saddle them with the responsibilities of office. But it is doing another thing: it is so damaging the so-called Liberal party, that they know it is only a question of time as to when we shall go out of power, and the more they can tar us with their own brush before we leave, the less we shall have to say in opposition to them when they get there. I don't argue in favour of bringing any party into power, but what I do say is this, that it is dishonouring to us, the so-called Liberals, to sit where we are on the Government side of the House and see everything administered in opposition to, and in downright derision of, our principles. And it must come to this question, ‘Will or can this system go on much longer?’ We have two principles at work in our Cabinet, as there are two principles at work in every individual, and in every body of men—there is the good principle, and there is also the evil principle. During the first two years of this Government's existence, the good principle had some influence and power, and it was manifested in those great and those conclusive reforms of the tariff carried out by Mr. Gladstone, in conjunction with the French Treaty. This was, to a certain extent, the triumph of the good principle in the Cabinet. That occurred in 1861. There was the completion of reform in our tariff, so far as protective duties were concerned, and there was the repeal of the paper duty, both being great and comprehensive measures. But during the last session of Parliament the evil principle of the Cabinet was wholly predominant, and gave us no compensation whatever in the form of good measures.
Now, is that to be continued next session? If it be, well then, I say, it is quite impossible, if the so-called Liberal party be true to itself, that they can continue to give their support to the present Government. It would be betraying the people, the constituents that send us to Parliament. We sit there, and know what is going on. We are behind the scenes, and we see what is vulgarly called in the prize ring ‘a cross’ being fought between the leader of our party and the worst part of the party opposite, by which we are victimised and you are betrayed. But to continue to witness that, and to connive at it, we betray our trust. We must separate ourselves from that state of things if it is to go on any longer. You cannot expect the constituents to fight the battles of reform if they see that their chief who represents them in the House of Commons is in fact handing them over to their enemies. Why, how would M'Clellan's troops fight in the army of the Potomac, if they knew that M'Clellan had a secret understanding with Jefferson Davis and Beauregard? Now that seems to be very much our case, as a Liberal party.
Well, gentlemen, there will be something for us to do next session. We shall see. We shall see whether the good or the evil principle is predominant in the Cabinet, and the proof will be found in the measures of next session. I can only say for myself, that if the next session is to be anything like the last, and I should not be deprived of my vocal powers by the frosts of the winter, you may depend upon it my voice will be raised in protest against such a state of things. And I will do my best to put an end to it. I will not forget the resolution you have passed—that if the Ministry don't carry out their pledges and their principles, the best thing for them will be to go into Opposition.
I have only a word more to say. We are not merely dealing with financial reform. I am of opinion—and the opinion grows every day, in spite of the apparent apathy that is on the surface—I am more and more of opinion that the true solution of our political difficulties—I mean this state of parties—will only be found in reform of Parliament. I hold to that opinion more and more. I don't see what it is to be, or where it is to go to; but this I know, that the longer you wait for reform the more you will have, because these changes always pay great interest for keeping. For my part, I am moderate—people, when they get grey-haired, always get moderate: I should like something done, and done quickly; but of this I am certain, that you can have no great rectification of this state of parties until you have a reform of Parliament, or, at all events, a party in opposition that is honestly advocating a reform of Parliament. We are frequently asked, ‘What would that do?’ I am not fond of predictions; but, as that has been thrown out as a challenge—as they frequently say, ‘What would you get by a reform of Parliament that you don’t get now?'—I will answer that challenge. It is my firm belief that, with a thorough representation of the people of this country, the extravagant expenditure in warlike armaments in time of peace would not be possible. I don't say that the whole people would not go to war sometimes. I should not pretend to say that the English people are altogether certain to keep the peace; but this I do say, that there is something in the self-assurance, and in the dignity, and in the high sense of security which great multitudes of men feel, which would prevent their lending themselves to these delusions, to burden themselves with these enormous expenses, in order to protect themselves against imaginary dangers. The late panics with regard to France never penetrated amongst the mass of the working people—they rested amongst a section of the middle and upper classes. If anybody asks me the question in a spirit of defiance, ‘What could you do with a reform of Parliament that you cannot do now?’ I assure you,—I do not say it as any more than an opinion, though it is my earnest belief, that if you had a thorough representation in Parliament, you could not persuade the people of this country to spend half the money that is now spent under the pretence of protecting them, but which is really spent in order that certain parties may get some sort of benefit out of it. I am very sorry to have detained you so long. ['Go on.'] You know I never give any peroration to my speeches. When I have finished, I sit down.
I have nothing more to say, but to thank you most cordially for this kind and friendly welcome, sincerely hoping that your stout hearts may bear you manfully through your present difficulties, believing, as I do, that our countrymen will come gladly to your rescue, and assuring you, as I do, that wherever I may be, my humble voice and influence shall not be wanting, in any way, to aid you in your present difficulties.
ROCHDALE, NOVEMBER 23, 1864.
[The following was the last Speech which Mr. Cobden made. The allusion in the first paragraph was to the loss which Mr. Bright had just sustained in the death of a son.]
Before I commence the few remarks I have to offer, I must be permitted to join in the expression of my profound sympathy with the language of condolence which you have used towards my esteemed friend, and your absent and bereaved neighbour (Mr. Bright). The feeling that has been shown by thousands here to-night is one that will be felt by millions in all parts of the world. May he take consolation by the consciousness of that deep feeling of sympathy and sorrow with which the knowledge of his bereavement will be followed!
Nor can I allow this occasion to pass without noticing a blank in our ranks upon the platform to-night. I have never attended a public meeting at Rochdale which has not been animated by the presence of our departed friend. You will know to whom I allude—Mr. Alderman Livsey. By his death the most numerous portion of the community of Rochdale has lost an amiable neighbour, and in many cases a powerful protector and advocate. And quite sure I am that all classes and all parties would concur in inscribing this epitaph upon his monument,—'that he was an honest and consistent politician, an earnest and true friend.'
Now, gentlemen, when I see this vast assembly before me—and it is certainly the largest meeting on one floor that I have ever had the honour of attending—my only regret is my inability, I fear, to make the whole audience hear what I would wish to say to them; but if those upon the outside will have patience, and if they will practise some of that principle of non-intervention in the affairs of their neighbours which our friend Mr. Ashworth has just been so eloquently advocating—I mean, with their elbows and their toes—I will endeavour in as short time as possible to make myself heard by those who are present.
It is not much my habit when I come before you, in pursuance of the good custom of a representative paying at least one annual visit to his constituents, to recapitulate what has occurred in the preceding session of Parliament. I have taken it generally for granted that you have been paying attention to what has passed, and that you do not require any retrospective criticism at my hands. But I am disposed to make the last session an exception to my rule, and I will offer a few remarks upon what has passed during that session in order to illustrate and expound that question to which Mr. Ashworth has alluded,—I mean the question of non-intervention, and to show you how, in my opinion, the proceedings of the last session of Parliament have necessarily led to a complete revolution in our foreign policy, and must put an impassable gulf between the old traditions of our Foreign-office and that which I hope to see adopted as the foreign policy of this country.
Now, during the thirty years since I first gave utterance by pen or voice to a sentiment in public, I have always attached the utmost importance to the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of foreigners. I have looked upon it as a fundamental article in the creed of this country, if we would either secure good government at home, or protect ourselves against endless embarrassments and complications abroad. You may remember, the last time I had the honour of addressing you here, I was complaining of the incessant violation of this principle; how I compared the state of a country which is always engaged in looking after the affairs of foreign countries, to what would be the case in Rochdale if your Town Council were engaged in managing the affairs of Leeds or Blackburn instead of attending to their own business.
Well, we met at the last session of Parliament, and the Queen's Speech announced to us impending negotiations respecting the affairs of Sleswig-Holstein. From the opening debate on the Queen's Speech, throughout the whole session of Parliament, down to the end of June, which was practically the close of the session, I may say that, without any exception, the whole business of Parliament, so far as the action of the two great parties who contend for power and place in the House was concerned—the whole attention of the House was given to the question of Sleswig-Holstein. I am not going into the history of that most complicated of all questions further than this: In 1852, by the mischievous activity of our Foreign-office, seven diplomatists were brought round a green table in London to settle the destinies of a million of people in the two provinces of Sleswig and Holstein, without the slightest reference to the wants and wishes or the tendencies or the interests of that people. The preamble of the treaty which was there and then agreed to stated that what those seven diplomatists were going to do was to maintain the integrity of the Danish monarchy, and to sustain the balance of power in Europe. Kings, emperors, princes were represented at that meeting, but the people had not the slightest voice or right in the matter. They settled the treaty, the object of which was to draw closer the bonds between those two provinces and Denmark. The tendency of the great majority of the people of those provinces—about a million of them altogether—was altogether in the direction of Germany. From that time to this year the treaty was followed by constant agitation and discord; two wars have sprung out of it, and it has ended in the treaty being torn to pieces by two of the Governments who were prominent parties to the treaty. That is the history (I don't intend to go further into it), or a summary of the whole proceeding.
Now, during the whole of last session the time of the House of Commons, as I have said, was occupied upon that question. If you will take those volumes of Hansard which give the report of our proceedings in the last Parliament, and turn to the index under the head of Sleswig-Holstein, or under the head of Denmark or Germany, you will find there, page after page, such questions as these put to the Government:—'When will the blue books be laid upon the table?' ‘When will the conference be called together?’ ‘When will the protocols be published?’ and ‘When will the protocols be laid before Parliament?’ In this way the two great parties occupied the whole of the last session, because, when they were not talking upon this subject, they made the want of the papers or the want of the decision of this conference or the protocols an excuse for doing nothing else. Now, we had great debates in the House, and you will find some of the most prominent among our Members of the House of Commons—men, I mean, who wage the great party battles in the House—hardly opening their lips upon anything else but Sleswig-Holstein. And in the House of Lords they were still more animated. I have observed, that if ever there is anything connected with an exciting foreign topic, anything that is likely to lead to an excuse for military or naval expeditions, and public expenditure, the House of Lords becomes more excited than even the House of Commons; but you never see the Lords lose their calmness and self-possession upon any domestic question.
Now, there was one noble Peer, who spoke repeatedly on this question, who seems to me to be peculiarly framed for illustrating the fact, that a man may have great oratorical gifts and be quite destitute of common sense or ordinary judgment. That noble Lord, in the early part of the session, in a speech delivered upon this question, assailed the Queen—he attacked her Majesty for having influenced her Ministers in the interests of Germany. But this country is not a republic. The Queen, so long as she accepts a Prime Minister dictated to her by the House of Commons, has no political power, and, therefore, can have no political responsibility. That our present Sovereign accepts her Prime Minister for that reason, and no other, I think we have pretty good reason to know. But what shall we say of the chivalrous assembly which allowed a person to be assailed in her absence—the only person in the country who is defenceless, and that person a lady; for, with the exception of Lord Russell, who spoke in defence of himself rather than of the Crown, there was no one who rose to rebuke that noble Lord—the man that assailed his Sovereign? Later on in the session, we heard more of the noble Lord, who claims the merit of having involved us in the Crimean war, and who has taken the lead in advocating all our fortifications and every abomination of modern times. Having begun the session by attacking the Sovereign, it was only, perhaps, consistent that he should end it by vituperating the people. He said in July, ‘I appealed to the higher and nobler feelings of Parliament and of the nation, believing, as I did, that a course which was dictated by generosity was also recommended by policy. Others, with more success, appealed to more common things—to love of ease, to love of repose, to love of quiet, but above all to love of money, which has now become the engrossing passion of the people of this country.’ Now, if I were going to call a witness to prove that the English people are in pecuniary affairs so chivalrously generous, almost so foolishly generous, that they can give an annual allowance to an individual who has certainly no moral claim upon them, who would in no other country be recognised to have a legal claim to an allowance which actually amounts to 7,700l. a year for life—the individual I would call as my evidence would be this very peer, the Earl of Ellenborough.
That to which I wish to call the attention of this room, and of those who will see what we are here saying, is what followed at the close of those debates. The newspapers that were in the interest of the Government were harping in favour of war to the last moment in large leading articles. Some announced the very number of the regiments, the names of the colonels, the names of the ships, and the commanders that would be sent to fight this battle for Denmark. In the House of Commons there was a general opinion that there was a great struggle going on in the Cabinet as to whether we should declare war against Germany. At the end of June the Prime Minister announced that he was going to produce the protocols, and to state the decision of the Government upon the question. He gave a week's notice of this intention, and then I witnessed what has convinced me that we have achieved a revolution in our foreign policy. The whippers-in—you know what I mean—those on each side of the House who undertake to take stock of the number and the opinions of their followers—the whippers-in during the week were taking soundings of the inclination of Members of the House of Commons. And then came up from the country such a manifestation of opinion against war, that day after day during that eventful week Member after Member from the largest constituencies went to those who acted for the Government in Parliament and told them distinctly that they would not allow war on any such matters as Sleswig and Holstein. Then came surging up from all the great seats and centres of manufacturing and commercial activity one unanimous veto against war for this matter of Sleswig and Holstein. The conversation that passed in those gossiping purlieus of the House of Commons—the library, the tea-room, the smoking-room, and the rest—was most interesting and striking. ‘Why,’ a man representing a great constituency would be asked,—'How is it that the newspapers are writing for war?' The newspapers write for war, because the newspapers in London that are in the interest of the Government have been giving out in leading articles that there was to be war. But they only express their own opinions, and not the opinions heard on ‘Change. By the end of the week preceding the speech made by the Prime Minister, when he laid the protocols of the Convention upon the table, and gave the decision of the Government upon the policy they would pursue, there came up such an expression and manifestation of opinion, that I was satisfied no Government, whatever the press said, whatever was the opinion in the Cabinet at the time, could get us into war whilst the Parliament was sitting. And when the subsequent debate came on, and I spoke upon the subject, I challenged the House of Commons to tell me if I was speaking incorrectly, when I said there were not five men in the House of Commons who would vote for war on any matter connected with that question. Nobody contradicted me.
Well, but the feeling out of doors in London was one of intense anxiety. I never saw the House of Commons—not even in the time of the Corn-laws—so mobbed by what I remember a Member called a middle-class mob, as it was on the night when Lord Palmerston came to make that final declaration of the decision of the Government on that occasion. It was evident that the middle classes of London thought that the question of peace or war was hanging in the balance, and they seemed rather apprehensive than otherwise that war would be the decision of the Government.
Well, this places the Parliament and the Government—and, to some extent, the nation represented—in a somewhat ignominious position. And the natural solution, in a case like that, in our constitutional form of government, is this,—the nation must find some vicarious sufferer, who shall be made to pay the penalty of this national blunder. The Opposition in the House of Commons is the proper mechanism by which this necessary constitutional process should be carried out. In ancient times, you know, a Minister that had got the country into a mess would have had his head cut off. Now he is decapitated in another way. He is sent away from Downing-Street into the cold shade of the Opposition, on the left-hand side of the Speaker. But on this occasion the Opposition brought forward a motion condemnatory of the Government, which the Opposition had no right to bring forward, because the whole proceedings of Parliament during the session showed that the Opposition was far more to blame for the delusion that had been practised upon the country than the Government itself. The Opposition was constantly stimulating the Government to do something, or making them responsible for not doing something, and putting grave questions to them, keeping their countenances while they did so, and not leading us to suppose it was all a joke; and, therefore, when they had been parties to this waste of the session, on the ground that they thought the Government was responsible for everything done that was being done about Sleswig-Holstein, it was not becoming in them to take the course they did, for they could not very logically or consistently bring forward a motion condemning the Government for what had been done. Mr. Kinglake, who had never been in favour of the proceedings in regard to the Sleswig-Holstein affair, substituted a clause or passage in the resolution, which did not either absolve the Government or condemn them, but it merely expressed the satisfaction that we had escaped war, and there the matter ended.
Well, but now let me tell the solid, substantial manufacturing and commercial capitalists of this country, that this is not a very honourable position in which to be left. The Government was allowed to go on and commit them—commit them as far as a Government can do, in backing up and encouraging a small Power to fight with a big one. It was very much like a man taking a little fellow and backing him for a prize-fight. He ’draws the scratch,' as they say, across where his toe is to come to, and tells him to stand up to the mark, advises him how to train himself, takes him under his charge, and then, just at the moment when he comes to the place, he moves off and leaves him.
Now, that is the position in which we are left as a nation by what was done last session about Sleswig-Holstein. We were caricatured in every country in Europe. I myself saw German and French caricatures immediately after-wards. There was a French caricature representing Britannia with a cotton nightcap on; there was a German caricature representing the British lion running off as hard as ever he could, with a hare running after him. This is not a satisfactory state of things, because I maintain that to a certain extent we deserved all that;—that is, we did deserve it, unless we show that we did not run away on that occasion, just because it did not suit us to fight, and unless we intend to adopt a different principle in our foreign policy, and say that other countries must not expect us to fight, except for our own business.
The manufacturing and commercial interests of the country were in a state of almost unparalleled expansion. They had entered into vast engagements, expecting that they would be realised and fulfilled in a time of peace; both capitalists and labourers felt that if war had arisen just then, it would have produced enormous calamities, such as no nation ought ever to bring upon itself, unless in defence of its own vital interest and honour. But all that ought to have been foreseen and anticipated, if not by your Governments, which are living in the traditions of fifty years ago, by an active-minded public spirit on the part of your people. You cannot separate yourselves from the honour or dishonour of your Government, or from the acts of those Cabinets and legislators whom you allow to act on your behalf and in your name.
I'll tell you what appears to me to be the result of that week's debate on the Sleswig-Holstein question. Both sides felt that they were parties to such a ridiculous fiasco, and were in such an ignominious plight, that as the representatives of this great nation they had so compromised you, that there was a general disposition to take the pledge of non-intervention. But you know when people have got a headache after a debauch, they sometimes take the pledge to be teetotallers for life, but they do not keep it. Now, what I want to do is to prevent a recurrence of that disgraceful proceeding which wasted you the last session of Parliament, and ended by making you as a nation, as far as a Cabinet can make you, ridiculous.
I think we had made some progress, through the general declarations of sentiment in the House of Commons from leading men of all sides. But what did I hear? What do I see? I see the report of a speech made by an honourable and learned Gentleman to a constituency whose good voices and support he is canvassing for the next election—a manufacturing borough that shall be nameless, further than that it is on the banks of the Roche. I read a speech in which this hon. and learned Gentleman, addressing this manufacturing borough, and received with—with immense applause—in which he has a long programme of foreign policy, in pursuance of which, if it is to be carried out and adopted by our manufacturing community, I think we ought to reckon upon being at war every year of our lives; and instead of spending—as we do now, unfortunately—25,000,000l. upon our public services, we ought to begin by spending at least 50,000,000l. Amongst other things this honourable and learned Gentleman proposed we should do is this: we should maintain our armaments on a due scale, in order to prevent France from swallowing up Germany.
Well, now, I can only say, for my part, if the French were to perform such a feat as that, they would suffer so terribly from indigestion, after swallowing those forty millions of uncomfortable Teutons, that I think they would be objects of pity rather than terror ever afterwards. Really, you know, when men aspiring to be statesmen come to talk exactly as if they had taken passages from ‘Baron Munchausen’ or ‘Gulliver's Travels,’ how can we possibly say that we have made any great progress? If such sentiments as those can be applauded in a manufacturing borough on the banks of the Roche, what must we expect to hear in agricultural districts in the neighbourhood of Midhurst?
There has been a speech lately made by my right hon. Friend, Mr. Bouverie, at Kilmarnock, and there seemed to be some baillies, who are generally rather acute folks, on the platform with him, in which he gave utterance to some opinions which rather tended to show that, in spite of what was done in the last session of Parliament, we shall have to do with this foreign policy and this non-intervention just what we did with the Corn question—reiterate and reiterate, and repeat and repeat, until that comes to pass which O'Connell used to say to me, ‘I always go on repeating until I find what I have been saying coming back to me in echoes from other people.’ Now my friend, Mr. Bouverie, talks in favour of a foreign policy which should be founded upon a benevolent, sentimental principle—that is, that we shall do what is right, true, and just to all the world. Well, now, I think, as a corporate body—as a political community—if we can manage to do what is right, and true, and just to each other—if we can manage to carry out that at home, it will be about as much as we can do. I do not think I am responsible for seeing right and truth and justice carried out all over the world, I think, if we had that responsibility, Providence would have invested us with more power than He has. I don't think we can do it, and there's an end of it. But my friend talks as though at some time or other it was the practice in this country to carry out a sentimental policy; and he carried us back, first of all, to the times of Queen Elizabeth. He says that she was a Sovereign who did what was right and true and just, and in the interest of Protestantism, all over the Continent of Europe. Now, I think he could not have made a more unhappy selection than that example he has given; for if ever there was a hard-headed and not a soft-hearted Sovereign it was she; if there ever was a place where there was little of that romantic sentiment of going abroad to do right and justice to other people, I think it was in that Tudor breast of our ‘Good Queen Bess,’ as we call her. Why, when I read Motley's ‘History of the Rise of the Dutch Republic'’—an admirable book which everybody should read—when I read the history of the Netherlands, and when I see how that struggling community, with their whole country desolated by Spanish troops, and every town lighted up daily with the fires of persecution,—when I see the accounts of what passed when the envoys came to Queen Elizabeth and asked for aid, how she is huckstering for money while they are begging for help to their religion,—I declare that, with all my principles of non-intervention, I am almost ashamed of old Queen Bess. And then there were Burleigh, Walsingham, and the rest, who were, if possible, harder and more difficult to deal with than their mistress. Why, they carried out in its unvarnished selfishness a national British policy; they had no other idea of a policy but a national British policy, and they carried it out with a degree of selfishness amounting to downright avarice.
Mr. Bouverie next quotes Chatham. Do you suppose that Chatham was running about the world protecting and looking after other people's affairs? Why, he went abroad in the spirit of a commercial traveller more than any Minister we ever had. Just step into the Guildhall in the metropolis, and read the inscription on the monument erected by the City of London to Lord Chatham. It is stated to be ‘as a recognition'’—I give you the words—'of the benefits which the City of London received by herampleshare in the public prosperity;' and then they go on to describe by what means this great man had made them so prosperous, and they say—I give you again the very words: ‘By conquests made by arms and generosity in every part of the globe, and by commerce for the first time united with and made to flourish by war.’ Well, they were living under another dispensation to ours. At that time, Lord Chatham thought, that by making war upon France and seizing the Canadas, he was bringing custom to the English merchants and manufacturers, and he publicly declared that he made those conquests for the very purpose of giving a monopoly of those conquered markets to Englishmen at home; and he said he would not allow the colonists to manufacture a horseshoe for themselves.
Well, that was the old dispensation, when people believed that the only way to prosper in trade was by establishing a monopoly, and that blood and violence would lead to profit. We know differently. We know that that is no longer necessary, and that it is no longer possible. Now, if I take Chatham's great son; if I take the second Pitt, when he entered upon wars, he immediately began the conquest of colonies. When he entered upon war with France in 1793, and for three or four years afterwards, our navy was employed in little else than seizing colonies, the islands of the West Indies, &c., whether they belonged to France, Holland, or Denmark, or other nations, and he believed by that means he could make war profitable. We know that is no longer possible. We know it, and I thank God we live in a time when it is impossible for Englishmen ever to make a war profitable. Now, what we want in statesmanship is this—that we should understand what are the interests of our days, with our better lights and knowledge, and not be guided by maxims and rules which appertain to a totally different state of things. For no statesman ever was great unless he was carrying out a policy that was suited to the time in which he lived, and in which he wrought up to the highest lights of the age in which he flourished. That is the only way in which a statesman can ever distinguish himself; and I have no hesitation in saying, that any modern statesman who is trusting for fame or for future honour to anything he has been doing in foreign policy for the last twenty or thirty years, is most miserably mistaken, and that he will be forgotten or only remembered as an example to be avoided within two years after his death.
Now, I am going to touch upon a very delicate question. It is not enough that our Government should not interfere in foreign questions; it is not enough that our Government should not lecture and talk to foreign countries about what policy they should pursue. There is something more required. Englishmen, through their public speakers and through their press, must learn to treat foreign questions in a different spirit to what they have done. And they must learn to do it as a point of honour towards foreign countries as well as a matter of self-respect which is due to themselves. You will mislead foreign countries by demonstrations of opinion in this country which are not to be followed by acts. Instead of benefiting a country, instead of benefiting a people abroad, you are very often injuring them with the very best possible intention.
Of all the public men who have been prominently engaged in politics, probably there are none who, so much as my friend Mr. Bright and myself, have always avoided public demonstrations in favour of some nationality or some people abroad. Nothing would have been cheaper from time to time than for us to get immense applause and popularity by going down to the Guildhall or somewhere else, to attend a meeting and make a flaming and declamatory speech about the Poles, or Hungarians, or some people else a thousand miles away. But I have always felt that in doing that we were very likely to do a great deal of harm to the persons with whom we sympathised. I hope that nobody will suppose that my friend Mr. Bright, and myself, and those of the Free-trade school who have acted with us, have less sympathy for other people abroad than these gentlemen who come either to speak at public meetings, or to write in the papers in favour of some foreign nationality. I maintain that a man is best doing his duty at home in striving to extend the sphere of liberty—commercial, literary, political, religious, and in all directions; for if he is working for liberty at home, he is working for the advancement of the principles of liberty all over the world. See what mischief has been done. I have no hesitation in saying—and I speak with the authority of persons who have been parties interested and who have been themselves victims of that which was done in Paris and in London last year upon the subject of Poland, which has led thousands of the generous youth of Poland to premature graves, and sent thousands more into Siberian exile. The manifestations and the instigations in London and Paris incapacitated that unhappy insurrection—if it can be called by the name of an insurrection—in Poland last year. It never had a chance from the beginning. I never like to speak disrespectfully of any movement of the kind—there are always, God knows, plenty to decry those who have failed—but the insurrection never had the slightest chance. The mass of the people never were with it; the insurgents were a few generous enthusiasts, always young men. Out of a population asserted to be many millions, and said to be interested in this revolt, you never saw more, even by the most favourable reports, than 2,000 or 3,000 engaged in some guerilla warfare at a time.
Now, however, I hear from the very best authority, that the class of nobles and proprietors in Poland from whom all the previous efforts at national emancipation have sprung, have been practically ruined, if not exterminated. by this last abortive effort; and they themselves—many of the most intelligent men you see here or in France—tell you it is futile to expect another effort from that same class; that God, in His own good time, may probably bring up a class of peasant proprietors—the serfs are now made peasant proprietors—and at some future time, either from religious impulse or motives of patriotism, that this more numerous class may take the field; but that the class that has always hitherto moved is practically hors de combat. There was a meeting held in the London Guildhall in favour of that insurrection. There were present Members of Parliament and noble Lords; and the Lord Mayor was in the chair. I, who have travelled in those very countries, know what vast and exaggerated ideas are attached to a political meeting held in the London Guildhall, with the Lord Mayor, Members of Parliament, and Peers present. You may say that by a public meeting like that you only meant moral support and moral force; but you cannot persuade the poor people abroad but that other consequences would follow a meeting like that, and that England would give material aid to this revolution. So of Sleswig-Holstein. There is no doubt in the world that England and her Government encouraged that small country of Denmark to hopeless resistance by the false expectation excited from the first that we should go to its help.
But that is not the only mischief we do. The moment another nation appears in the field you excite far more resentment, and you stimulate to far greater efforts, the Government which is engaged in putting down an insurrection. I have no hesitation in saying that the manifestations which came from England and France respecting Poland, did more than anything else could have done to consolidate and unite the power of the Russian empire just at the time when it was in danger of being thrown into discord and confusion by the emancipation of the serfs. Directly France and England began to address their despatches to the Russian Government, the Russian Government made an appeal to their own people, not so much against the Poles, against whom there was no great resentment, but to resist the attempt of the Western Powers to dictate to Russia; and Russia was enabled by that appeal, not only to call out the patriotic efforts of her own people, but to incur expenses in preparing for a war with Poland, such as she never would have ventured on had it not been for the assumption that she might have gone to war with France and England. A friend of mine who was travelling in Russia was told on very good authority that the Russian Government spent three or four millions of money in consequence of what were understood to be threats held out by France and England, and that was of course available to put down the Poles. These are considerations that ought to make the best-intentioned in the world pause before they join in any demonstrations of this kind. You must not only discourage your Government from taking proceedings, but you must do nothing that is calculated either to mislead the people abroad, or to stimulate the Governments abroad to increased efforts against their own populations. Now, you know, if I would only flatter you, instead of talking these home truths, I really believe I might be Prime Minister. If I would get up and say you are the greatest, the wisest, the best, the happiest people in the world, and keep on repeating that, I don't doubt but what I might be Prime Minister. I have seen Prime Ministers made in my experience precisely by that process. But it has always been my custom to talk irrespective of momentary popularity. You know I always get afterwards, with exorbitant and usurious interest, far more than I deserve.
Now, we English people have a peculiar way of dealing with foreign questions. We are the only people in the world that ever make of a foreign topic a matter of passionate, earnest, and internal politics. You never see in France, or in America, or in Germany, newspapers taking up foreign questions, and attacking one another because they are not of the same opinion. But this is the commonest thing in the world in England. I have had a message from some hon. Gentleman, living in this town, to say that he would not vote for me again, because I did not entertain the same opinions that he did about the American war. Well, I said in reply, that I did not profess at all to dictate to other people what opinions they should have upon a matter of such pure abstraction as that, but I wanted to know who made him my political Pope. Now, when we come to have a proper and due opinion of how little we can really do to effect any change abroad, if we act wisely we shall change our tone with regard to foreign policy, and we shall discuss—if we discuss those questions at all, which every-body will do who is intelligent, and lives in an age of electric telegraphs—we shall discuss these questions calmly and temperately, as I intend to do now just for one or two minutes, upon the subject of the American question.
I am exceedingly tolerant with everybody that differs from me about this dreadful civil war in America. I have intimate friends—some of my dearest friends—who differ totally from me on this question. It never drives me from their doors, or prevents my associating with them in just the same way as if our opinions coincided. Nay, more, I have always said that, while I believe there are many who take a sinister view of that question in America, there are, on the other hand, a great many people who have taken up the side of the South because they are the weaker party—because they are the insurgent party; and also because, looking at the map and looking at the extent of the country, they don't believe it possible that the North can succeed in subduing them, and that therefore it is a hopeless struggle, which ought to be put an end to by separation. Well, all that is very fair and reasonable, and ought to be regarded with perfect tolerance; but at the same time I repeat there are parties in this country, and they have not had the sense to conceal their motives, who want to see America humbled. They have not concealed their sentiments, because we had an explosion in the House of Commons. ‘That republican bubble has burst.’ They could not contain themselves when the war broke out.
I'll tell you what my opinion is with regard to Republicanism. I think we may have every advantage in this country with an hereditary monarchy that we might have by electing a president every four or six years. That is my theory. But, at the same time, I see a people raising up a Government upon a standard very far in advance of anything that was ever known in the world,—a people who say, ‘We rule ourselves by pure reason; there shall be no religious establishment to guide us or control us; there shall be no born rank of any kind, but every honour held, every promotion enjoyed, shall spring from the people, and by selection; we maintain that we can govern ourselves without the institution of any hierarchy or privileged body whatever.’ Well, every one will admit that at all events that programme is founded upon an elevated conception of what humanity is capable of. It may be a mistaken estimate,—it may be too soon to form so high an estimate,—it may fail; but don't ask me, who always consult to the best of my ability the interests of the great masses of my kind—don't ask me to wish that it may fail—don't ask me to exult if it seems to fail, because I utterly repudiate the possibility of my partaking in any such sentiment as that.
We have lately seen that country brought into just such a stress and difficulty as we might be thrown into tomorrow. We are governing India. The world never saw such a risk as we run, with 130 or 140 millions near the antipodes, ruling them for the sake of their custom and nothing else. I defy you to show that the nation has any interest whatever in that country, except by the commerce we carry on there. I say that is a perilous adventure, quite unconnected with Free Trade, wholly out of joint with the recent tendency of things, which is in favour of nationality and not of domination. You might have something happen to you there at any time. You might have the same in Ireland.
Is it Conservatism to jump up and exult immediately this great Republic falls into the throes of civil war, from no fault of any one who is now living; but, if you may trace it back to the first cause, rather from the fault of the British nation and the British Court some 150 years ago? I ask, is it Conservatism in this country, or amongst the ruling classes in Europe, that they should have jumped so hastily into a kind of what I must call partisanship with this insurrection? Let us see what it is. Here you have a great political disruption, in which the active parties, who are very able men—I know the leaders on both sides—were aware of what they were doing; they knew the tremendous consequences they were going to entail upon this cotton region, for instance. They meditated a disruption, by which they were going to throw into convulsion this great and populous district; and many a man here present is wearing a paler brow than he would have worn but for this civil war. What, then, do they do to justify themselves in the eyes of foreign States, that our statesmen and the ruling classes on the Continent should spring forward to recognise them immediately as belligerents?
Now, in all other great political convulsions that I remember, the parties who have sought to create a disruption which tends to shake a community, and by that means to cause loss and inconvenience abroad, have always put out, in decent respect to the opinion of the world, a programme of their grievances. Where is it here? Take the case of our civil war, when Cromwell and his party, who, I always think, followed on the heels of much better men, committed then acts of greater violence and greater tyranny than the Stuarts whom they had put down, and left very little trace of good on their own account to posterity. But what was done when Cromwell and his party and the Parliament deposed and decapitated Charles I.—a crime that has been followed by a reaction, as all crimes of blood are, down even to our own time? The Parliament put out a programme of their grievances; they published it in three languages; they circulated it all through Europe, stating to the whole world why they had deposed a king, and why they had established a commonwealth. What happened when James II. fled, and William III was invited over? Read the Declaration of Rights with which the Parliament met William III.; there was on one hand a narrative of the grievances they had against James II.; there was a programme, and a compact of the conditions they required from the succeeding king; there was a justification of what they did. What did the Americans do when they declared their independence in 1776? They put forward a declaration of grievances, and no Englishman can now read it but will admit that they were justified in that rebellion, and in the separation from the mother country. But here you have a civil war of far more gigantic proportions than those I have alluded to—than them all put together; where the parties knew and calculated upon their losses as a means of success—knew they were going to convulse a peaceful district by their insurrection. Have they ever put forth a programme? Have they ever stated a grievance? I know the men, and I know no one more competent to write such a programme than Mr. Jefferson Davis. He could do it as well as Thomas Jefferson did the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But there is none. And why is there none? Because they had but one grievance. They wanted to consolidate, perpetuate, and extend slavery. But, instead of that, what do they constantly say, these eminent men—eminent, I mean, for their intellect—who could so well state their case, if they dared to state the truth? ‘Leave us alone; all we want is to be left alone.’ And that is a reason that the Conservative Governments of Europe, and so large a section of the upper middle-class of England, and almost the whole aristocracy, have accepted as a sufficient ground on which to back this insurrection. How would they have liked it, if, when Essex and Kent had been beaten on the Corn-law question (and we know Essex gave a united and unanimous vote against us), Kent and Essex had chosen to set up themselves as an East Anglia right across the mouth of the Thames, as the secessionists have done by Louisiana across the mouth of the Mississippi, and if, when we asked them why they did it, they should reply, ‘We want to be left alone’? Can any Government be carried on if a portion of the territory, or a section of the people, can at any time secede when beaten at the polls in a peaceful election? I again repeat, where is the Conservatism amongst the governing class of this country? I come to the conclusion that there is more Conservatism amongst the Democracy, after all.
Now, we have heard news from America lately which I confess has struck me as presenting to us one of the most sublime spectacles in the whole history of the world. You have twenty-three or twenty-four millions of people spreading over the territory of some thousands of square miles, exercising on one day the right of suffrage upon a question about which torrents of blood are flowing. You have seen the result of that peaceful election given without as much tumult as I have seen in the dirty little village of Calne, or the little town of Kidderminster. Well, I say that is a thing for humanity to be proud of, and not for any particular party to exult over, or for any party to scowl upon. A people that can do that, have given to the world a spectacle such as never was presented before by any other people. And what have they done? They have decided, mind you, after three years of war, and after every other household almost has lost an inmate or a relative by war. The contest that arose was this: Gen. M'Clellan offers himself as a candidate to put down the war and to restore the Union without making the abolition of slavery a condition of it. On the other side, Abraham Lincoln says, ‘We will put down the war, and we will extirpate slavery.’ And, notwithstanding that the appeal was made to the whole people who have been suffering from this war, they have preferred, in the interest of humanity—for that can no longer be questioned now—you can no longer call it pride, it is the lofty motive of humanity that has induced them to risk the longer continuance of the war rather than allow the degrading institution of slavery to continue. Well, now, let us have no more of the old talk about this not being a war to put down slavery. Everybody now admits, that whatever the issue of this struggle may be, slavery will be abolished by it, and the slaves will be emancipated.
Now, with regard to the issue itself. I told you here two years ago, that I did not believe I should ever live to see two independent States on the Continent of North America. I have repeated it since, and I come to confirm that opinion, but with far more emphasis than I ever expressed before. I do not believe that that country will, in our day, ever be separated, for I consider the geographical difficulties in the way of a separation to be absolutely insuperable. For instance, take the case of the Mississippi River. There are 20,000 miles of navigable waters through that great western region that fall into the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi. In order that the United States might have the mouth of that river in their own keeping,—that they might, so to say, have the key of their own door in their own pocket,—they purchased, with the money of the whole Union, from the first Napoleon, the State of Louisiana for three millions sterling. And now, some two or three hundred thousand who have squatted there—some French, some Spanish, some Irish, some English, some Americans—have taken it into their heads that they will carry off this State of Louisiana, and put the mouth of that great river and the outlet of all these vast tributaries into the hands of a foreign State. I just now illustrated this question by a reference to Essex and Kent, and I say it would be far easier for Essex and Kent to carry off the mouth of the Thames and to set up an East Anglia, than it will be for Louisiana to carry off the mouth of the Mississippi and set itself up as an independent State, and for this reason:—in the case of the Thames there may be a population at some future time, perhaps, of ten millions of people interested in that question in the valley of the Thames, and there will be a few hundred miles of navigable waters; in the case of the Mississippi River, there will be two hundred millions of people, the richest and most prosperous in the world—no doubt of that—living in that Mississippi valley; and therefore it makes it ten times impossible, if the word may be used, that they should ever allow the mouth of the Mississippi River to be blocked. And besides, they can prevent it almost with no expense; a few gunboats patrolling in the Mississippi will keep absolute possession of it; and if they could not in any other way capture Louisiana, why, they might cut the dykes—(as the Dutch did against their enemies the Spaniards)—above New Orleans, and drown the whole State of Louisiana.
Now, I am speaking merely of motives and of forces; I am not speaking my own opinion, not uttering my own wishes in the matter—I am only speaking of what you have to look to when you are estimating the probable future of this struggle. If you think that Mr. Jefferson Davis and his Southern Confederacy would like to have a slave empire merely confined to the cotton States—that he should not be allowed to extend his government across the Mississippi into Texas—why, he would not thank you for anything of the kind. What they are fighting for is to be allowed to carry their slaves not only across the Mississippi into Texas, but into new regions beyond it. And, therefore, when you tell them that they shall not have the Mississippi River, it is giving up the whole question on which their whole cause depends. I say that the chief difficulty, if it had been looked at by our ruling class, by many of those who write in the newspapers, lies in geographical causes, which these writers ought to have considered, for if they had done so they would not have arrived at the conclusion they have as to the success of the Southern cause.
I have spoken of the newspapers. There is a newspaper in London, which, I suppose, is read by almost everybody, and I have marvelled at the ignorance it has displayed on this question. In one leading article, a river of 580 miles internal navigation, to which the largest river in this country is a mere brook or rivulet, was made to run uphill a great number of miles into another river, and then these two rivers united, the waters of which are never blended at all, were made to flow into a third river, into which neither of them pours a drop of water. Now, I think there is a real danger in this ignorance of what I must call for want of a better term the ruling class of this country—in this total ignorance of everything relating to America. These people may get you into a difficulty from their ignorance, which it may cost you much of your national honour to escape from. If I were rich, I really think I would endow a professor's chair at Oxford and Cambridge for teaching modern American geography and modern American history. I will undertake to say—and I speak it advisedly—I will take any undergraduate now at Oxford and Cambridge—there is a map of the United States there—and I will ask this young gentleman to walk up to that map and put his finger upon the city of Chicago, and I will undertake to say that he will not go within a thousand miles of it. And yet Chicago is a city of 150,000 inhabitants, from which from one to two millions of our people are annually fed. These young gentlemen, I allow, know all about the geography of ancient Greece and Egypt.
Now, I shall be pelted with a heap of Greek and Latin quotations for what I am going to say. But I think I have said it before; therefore I think all the severe things they can say to me they have said. When I was at Athens, I sallied out one summer morning to see the far-famed river, the Ilyssus, and, after walking for some hundred yards up what appeared to be the bed of a winter torrent, I came up to a number of Athenian laundresses, and I found they had dammed up this far-famed classic river, and that they were using every drop of water for their linen and such sanitary purposes. I say, why should not the young gentlemen who are taught all about the geography of the Ilyssus know something about the geography of the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Missouri? There has been of late a good deal of talk about the advantages or disadvantages of classical education. I am a great advocate of culture of every kind; and I say, where you can find men who, in addition to profound classical learning, like Professor Goldwin Smith, or Professor Rogers, of Oxford, have a vast knowledge of modern affairs, and who, as well as scholars, are at the same time thinkers,—these are men I acknowledge to have a vast superiority over me, and I bow to those men with reverence for those superior advantages. But to bring young men from college with no knowledge of the country where the great drama of modern political and national life is being worked out—who are totally ignorant of countries like America, but who, for good or for evil, are exercising and will exercise more influence in this country than any other persons,—to take young men, destitute of knowledge about countries like that—their geography, their modern history, their population, and their resources, and to place them in responsible positions in the Government of this country—I say it is imperilling your best interests, and every earnest remonstrance that can be made against such a state of education ought to be made by every public man who values the future welfare of his country.
You all know my opinion with regard to the future of America. I want nothing done to enforce my opinions. I should never even have said so much as I have upon American affairs, if there had not been so much said upon the other side. I wanted to trim the scales, to prevent there being an undue preponderance in favour of the other side. I wanted no intervention, I wanted nothing but neutrality: but if we are to have perfect neutrality on this subject, for Heaven's sake let us try also to have a little temper in the discussion of those questions for which we are, happily, not at all responsible. Take up the newspapers and see them assailing each other, or public men, because they have no particular views on foreign questions. It is sheer childishness, when you come to consider that we are not responsible for the facts.
If any one attacks me for my political opinions on home questions, I recognise his perfect right to do it; the more the better. Every public man's language, and his acts, and policy should be well sifted; but to quarrel with each other about a country over which we can exercise no influence whatever, seems to me the most absurd thing in the world. If we were a nation that never went to war, then as a nation we might with justice, perhaps, complain that America is shedding so much blood; but I am mute, I am silenced when I recollect that I have been protesting against the wars of England ever since I came into public life—war in India, China, Russia, New Zealand, Japan, and all over the world—but I never could succeed in this country in preventing bloodshed. We have a fresh war every year, upon an average, with some country or other, and therefore I am mute. I could not say to America, ‘Why do you carry on this civil war?’ Should I not be subject to the reply, ‘Take the beam out of your own eye before you take the mote out of ours’? I should have some ground for using that language as compared with some other people; but I find those who have been the advocates of all these wars against which I have been protesting are now turning up the whites of their eyes, and exclaiming for all the world as if they had been Quakers from their birth.
Now, gentlemen, I have done with foreign policy, and I have only spoken so much to-night upon these subjects in violation of my usual rule, because I say that last session was an exceptional one; and if I have spoken upon the subject of non-intervention, it is because I wish to have less to say about it in future, and that we may be able to talk upon home affairs without this eternal meddling abroad to distract our attention and prevent our doing anything for our own people. I am happy to give you, from a very orthodox source, what I consider to be very sound doctrine in few words with regard to our foreign policy. The Edinburgh Review of last month thus defines the views of foreign policy which have now been accepted by Parliament, and the majority of the nation, as to our relations with the Continental Powers of Europe, and here are the words of the orthodox Whig reviewer. It is not my language. It was my language some years ago, but I am very glad to disappear altogether now, and place before you the much more influential words of the Edinburgh reviewer:—
'That this country should enter into no official discussion and no public engagements on affairs remotely concerning herself; that she will reserve her power and influence for British purposes; that she will not pronounce an opinion unless she is resolved to support it by action; and that she will throw on other States the whole responsibility of acts affecting themselves more directly than they affect us.'
Now, that is unquestionably a wise and sound doctrine. The only wonder is that ever anybody should have had any opposite opinions to that, and that they should have now to pronounce it for the first time. That is taking the pledge, you know, after the headache in the House of Commons. I must say I am very glad indeed also to have the opportunity of quoting the same orthodox publication on another most important question. The Reviewer speaks of the measures that still require to be carried out in England in our domestic policy, for which course we shall have time, when we give up meddling with everybody's affairs on the face of the earth. Now, here are the Reviewer's own words in speaking of the domestic reforms that await our attention:—
'At home, we have still to apply to land and to labour that freedom which has worked such marvels in the case of capital and commerce.'
Bear in mind, that is not my language about free trade in land. But I say ‘Amen’ to it. If I were five-and-twenty or thirty, instead of, unhappily, twice that number of years, I would take Adam Smith in hand—I would not go beyond him, I would have no politics in it—I would take Adam Smith in hand, and I would have a League for free trade in Land just as we had a League for free trade in Corn. You will find just the same authority in Adam Smith for the one as for the other; and if it were only taken up as it must be taken up to succeed, not as a political, revolutionary, Radical, Chartist notion, but taken up on politico-economic grounds, the agitation would be certain to succeed; and if you can apply free trade to land and to labour too—that is, by getting rid of those abominable restrictions in your parish settlements, and the like—then, I say, the men who do that will have done for England probably more than we have been able to do by making free trade in corn.
Now, all that has to be done. Really, the chief embarrassment one has in meeting one's constituents once a year to talk over so many questions is that you cannot logically follow out any subject but that you are obliged to break off from one to another. As our eloquent friend, unhappily, cannot succeed me, you will excuse me if I take up ten minutes more of your time than I should otherwise have done. Besides the question of Reform in Parliament, which lies at the bottom of most things, there is something for next year which must be done, in the way of our finances; and it will be done very much as a corollary, as already showing the fruits that may be reaped from the adoption of our new foreign policy. You must needs see this reform, if you will only avow the principle that you are not going to fight for anything but your interests and honour—and by honour I mean, not the honour of the barrack-room—for I maintain that the honour of this great Christian country need never, with a wise Government, be dissociated from its interest. But if you will only admit that you will never fight for anything but a direct question of your own honour and interest, I defy you to keep up your present establishment, and spend twenty-five and odd millions a year on your army and navy. There is no pretence for that; and already I see from authoritative quarters that there is to be a reduction next year. I am glad of it; and I am glad of it very much indeed for the sake of Mr. Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Gladstone is the best Chancellor of the Exchequer England ever had,—and I say that, knowing that he has had amongst his predecessors William Pitt. But I am going to say that Mr. Gladstone has been the most extravagant Chancellor of the Exchequer we have ever had. He has been a master in the adjustment of the burdens of the country; that is, he found the weight placed upon the animal in such a way as rendered it the most difficult to carry his burden. It was tied round his knees, it was fastened to his tail, it was hung over his eyes, it blinded him, and impeded him, and lamed him at every step. Now, Mr. Gladstone took the burdens off these limbs, and he placed them most ingeniously over the softest possible pad upon the animal's shoulders. But the beast is carrying the burden still, and carrying a great deal more than it did before all this beautiful process was commenced. We never before had a Government that extracted from the people ten millions of income in a time of peace. People exclaim against the American expenditure. A friend of mine wrote to me the other day, and told me that the Americans were spending two millions of dollars a day; what did I think of it? Well, I said—I think it was rather more, but I took him at his own word—if you take into account the depreciation of the American currency, and at the present rate of exchange, the dollar there being worth 20d., or 2s. here, that was as near as I could possibly calculate the amount Mr. Gladstone in a time of peace was drawing from this country. And, mind you, as long as the English people are given up to that comfortable complacency, that they can go abroad only to find out objects of pity, they will always be persuaded that they are very clever people, and are doing a great deal better than other folks. Why have the Americans astonished everybody? Why have they laughed to scorn the predictions of all your City magnates, all your authorities upon finance, who told them that they could not go on for six months in their war without coming to Europe for a loan? How is it, then, the Americans have so deceived and disappointed the whole of Europe? I'll tell you why. Because the Americans never spent—never allowed their Government to incur a war expenditure in time of peace. That is the whole secret. They were spending from fifteen to seventeen millions sterling per annum for their Government, for a population about our own size, at the time the war broke out; and the saving and accumulation that they were thus making has enabled them to go through this terrific strain. You just take only ten millions of savings for forty years; add ten millions every year to it for compound interest, and at the end you will see what a fabulous amount it will come to. You will hardly be able to calculate the amount. That is just what the Americans were doing. What are you doing here? You are committed to a war expenditure in time of peace, and your people are discontented with the extravagant expenditure, and the consequence is, if you were to go into a war, you would certainly find yourselves comparatively crippled by your previous expenditure.
I hope, therefore, that Mr. Gladstone will be enabled, for the next session, to make a large reduction in the actual expenditure. I do not want any more of this delusion about the reduction or diminution of particular taxes. I want to look at the whole amount of revenue the Government is getting from us. For instance, here is a very customary piece of deception: we are told how many Customs and Excise duties have been abolished, and how many have been reduced, during the last twenty years. Yes; but I look at the whole amount now paid, and I find that, this year, it will be about forty millions sterling more than ever we used to pay before these reductions began. Now, I say, the proper way to look at that is to see how the whole amount of the income from the taxpayer is reduced; and I hope that this next session will not pass without Mr. Gladstone doing justice to himself; because you must bear in mind that Mr. Gladstone has been telling us repeatedly that he considers the expenditure excessive. It is sailing very near the wind indeed for any Minister to attempt to justify himself in saying, ‘I am spending more money than I think I ought to spend; and do you, the people of England, come and try to prevent it.’ But I am constrained to say that Mr. Gladstone, by his immense services in other directions, is the very man who enables the Government to get this money. I am perfectly ready to admit that Mr. Gladstone has, by his skill in dealing with finance, justified himself, up to this time, in remaining in the Cabinet and doing what he has done. But I am sure he will perceive that he has nearly finished his career of manipulating the sources of our taxation. He has removed every protective duty; he has reduced most of the other duties. And though I am by no means prepared to say that other Chancellors of the Exchequer may not do a great deal more in giving us direct instead of indirect taxation, yet, as regards the question of protection, Mr. Gladstone has finished his work; and therefore any further services he must render us must be in the reduction of expenditure—in taxing us less. He must remember, too, what we have heard from the other side. Lord Stanley intimated, you know, not long ago, that he could not see his way to sixty millions of expenditure. I think, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees his opponent on the other side—the most distinguished member of the Opposition—announcing sixty millions, if I were Mr. Gladstone I should hurry back to that amount as fast as I could, for fear of being tripped up by the other side, and I would recommend him to take advice from that quarter. He has declared the present expenditure to be profligate—I think ‘profligate expenditure’ is the term he used—and I know Mr. Disraeli talked of bloated armaments; so that we have the whole thing condemned all round. Mr. Gladstone makes an appeal to the British public. I do not know how the British public can interfere in the arrangement of his Budget in the House of Commons; but, as there is to be a general election next year, I advise him to appeal to the British public at the general election on the question of taxation as the way to give them a chance of expressing their opinion, and I am very much inclined to think that is the only way the British public can interfere in the matter.
But I consider the House of Commons to be a great deal more extravagant than the Government. That is my experience. I once stated it in the House. Since I have been in the House, we have voted upwards of five hundred millions sterling for the army and navy services; and I never saw one item of a single shilling reduced in all that time; though I have constantly known items increased. Last session the Government proposed to save 200,000l. by not calling out the yeomanry; but the country gentlemen went up, and compelled them to give the money. The House of Commons is more extravagant than the Government, and is always urging them to expenditure. But if Mr. Gladstone will invite the British public to speak in the only way in which they can exercise their voices, at the general election, I am quite sure they will support him, and not support any other Government that attempts to oppose him in the reduction of expenditure. What is the obvious remedy for this state of the House of Commons? We all know that the House of Commons wants an infusion of the popular element. I see before me middle-class men, and I see beyond the operatives. Now, you are told, and some of you persuade yourselves, that the middle-class govern the House of Commons. It is a great delusion. The middle class element is very small in the House of Commons, and it is getting less and less. We are becoming more and more a rich man's club. That is just it. What you want is a greater infusion of the popular element, and you cannot have that unless you have an enlargement of the political rights of the people. And I would advise the middle class not to allow this to be dealt with as a working man's question. The middle class themselves are interested in having a reform of Parliament, in order that their influence should be felt there, for it is not much felt there now, I assure you; we are a very small ingredient. The world is not standing still, and you must not stand still. A friend of mine the other day said to me, ‘I will lay a wager that the blacks in America have votes before the English working-man.’ Well, now, I should not like to see that—I don't think that that would be becoming in this country, which has boasted of itself as being in the van of free nations. But of this I am quite sure—and I say it to the middle class here—you cannot with safety exclude the great mass of the working people from a participation in the suffrage; for, recollect, this question never before got into the position it is in now. You have had several successive Governments in their Queen's Speeches recommending a reform of Parliament with the view of increasing the number of votes in this country. But nothing is done, and the mass of the people feel that they are trifled with. There is nothing that breeds such a resentment in the great mass of the people—all history shows it—as a sense of having been betrayed. You will find in all history that the mass of the people are magnanimous and forgiving for everything else but the conviction—sometimes erroneous—of having been betrayed.
The working classes are very significantly silent upon the subject of the suffrage. That is something new; and if they did not move at all, I should say that that was an additional reason to the middle class why they ought to move in the matter; because times and circumstances do come—they always turn up once in twenty or thirty years—when there must be an appeal to the whole mass of the community; when the power of the nation really falls into the hands of the mass of the people, as it always is virtually in their hands, whenever they choose to exercise it. Now, it is not desirable that you should leave the mass of the people with a grievance not a grievance of their own creating, a grievance for which they can convict you upon your own declarations. It is your Government, the middle class, it is your Sovereign, speaking through her Prime Minister, who dictate the public policy; it is they who have told the working people that they ought to have the vote, and who have trifled with them for ten or fifteen years, while nothing is done. I say there is danger in it; and the shape which the controversy is taking is, to my mind, very undesirable; it now takes the broad aspect of a question whether the working classes as a whole should be enfranchised, or whether they should not. But it never presented itself in that way before, because we all know that in olden times, in the times of the guilds, the working classes were represented in many forms. You had boroughs, with scot and lot suffrage; you had in the City of London, for instance, guilds where every man belonging to a certain business had a right to exercise his franchise as a freeman. And do you suppose, now, it is possible that, in an age when the principles of political economy have elevated the working class above the place they ever filled before, and when that elevation is constantly increased by discoveries and the inventions of machinery, that you can permanently exclude the whole mass of the working people from the franchise? You say you must not give them the whole power. Well, they answer, ‘You give us none.’ And I say it is the interest and duty of the ruling class of this country, and of the middle class who are supposed to have power, that it is their interest as soon as possible to solve that question, and that there is danger in allowing it to go on unsolved.
You know, gentlemen, I never perorate; when I have done I leave off, and sit down. On this occasion I most cordially thank you. When I came into this room I confess I felt daunted, for I did not believe I could have talked so as to be heard by this whole assembly; but your kindness and your exceeding indulgence has made the task pleasant to me, and I thank you for the manner in which you have received and listened to me.