- 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.
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.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JUNE 27, 1853.
[On June 3, 1853, Sir Charles Wood introduced his India Bill. Lord Stanley moved an Amendment, the object of which was to delay the measure, but this Amendment was rejected by 182 votes: 322 to 140 Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright were in the minority.]
I do not know whether I should have deemed it necessary to address the House myself but for the circumstance of my having served upon the Committee appointed to inquire into the Government of our Indian territories; but, before troubling the House with the few remarks which I feel bound to make, I should wish to offer an observation on the question which has just been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Hindley). With regard to the conduct of that Committee, allusion had been made to its proceedings during the last Parliament, and it is allowable to speak of that Parliament as one would speak of the Long Parliament, without offence to the House, since it has passed away and is now matter of history. Now, I feel bound to say, that during that Parliament the conduct of that Committee was not such as to entitle it to be cited as an authority, or to inspire any very great degree of confidence in its action.
That Committee was appointed to inquire into the important question of the Government of India, and it was divided into eight heads. The first was the question as to the machinery by which the Government of India was carried on. Upon that head the Committee examined eighteen witnesses, every one of whom had been officially in the employment of the Court of Directors or of the Board of Control, or had been in some manner connected with one or other of those services; and, after the examination of those persons, the Committee came to a kind of qualified Resolution approving the conduct of the Government of India. In my opinion, at a future period, if some dusky agitator on the banks of the Ganges should want to find a grievance in the conduct of the British Legislature towards the Hindoo population, he would cite the fact which I have just mentioned, and he would find it potent to raise the indignation of the population, for a more unfair proceeding was never perpetrated by any tribunal calling itself impartial. I will mention, as requested by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that in that Committee there were two Members who voted against that Resolution.
But, before the Committee in the present Parliament has proceeded to the extent of half their inquiry, it is announced to the House that the Government measure on the subject is prepared. Now, I will confess that from the time that this announcement was made, I have myself never attended that Committee, for although I always try, when serving upon any Committee, to be as assiduous as any member of it, yet I consider that from the moment the Government has taken up this question it has passed from the hands of the Committee. I see no good that we can do in collecting facts and information for the Government of India, seeing that they are generally obtained from persons who come from India, or who have been employed there, and who are more accessible to the Indian authorities. It is my opinion that the whole case is prejudged, and that a verdict has been brought in without going through the preliminaries of a trial; and I must decline, except under the express order of this House, to attend that Committee for the future, or in any way to sanction such a course of proceeding.
The question at issue now is—whether the subject shall be postponed; and, if it be decided that such is to be the course pursued, I will willingly return to my duties in the Committee, and give my constant attention to the inquiry, which should, I must say, be one of considerable importance in deciding the question. The House is now called upon to decide whether the present Bill shall pass, or whether the subject shall be postponed for two years, leaving the Government of India, in the interim, just as it is at present. I wish to state now, once for all, that I do not consider it a party question. The hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley) complains that I and my friends have taken too material a view of the question, as affecting the interests of Lancashire and the other manufacturing districts. Now, if that were true, it cannot be said that we have taken up the question in a party spirit; but, as far as I am acquainted with the feelings of the people of Lancashire and Yorkshire, I believe they are generally in favour of postponement.
In my opinion, the subject is one which calls for further inquiry, more particularly as regards the Home Government of India. The problem to solve is, whether a single or a double government would be most advantageous; and, in considering that point, I am met by this difficulty—that I cannot see that the present form of government is a double government at all. I have endeavoured to find out what are the powers of the East India Directory, which entitle them to be called a Government, and I have looked through the Charter Act to see what controlling power is bestowed upon them, and, with the exception of the disposal of the patronage, there is no power granted to them by Act of Parliament. The Act leaves the whole controlling power to the Board of Commissioners for managing the affairs of India. I, therefore, look upon the Court of Directors, not as a Government, but as nothing besides a screen, behind which the real Government is hid. It is because I wish to get rid of that screen, and that the real Government may stand before the House and the world in its proper character, and take upon its shoulders the responsibility of the misgovernment of India—if there be any—that I want to have this matter simplified, and to do away with the double government, that is, to bring into office the real Government of India.
There has been much misapprehension with regard to this double government. Till the last year or two, I do not believe that anybody understood it at all. Lord Hardinge spoke of it as a mystery, and said it was looked upon as a mystery in India; and he mentioned the instance of an officer of rank in India, who had written an indignant letter to the President of the Board of Control in reference to a communication of the Secret Committee of the Court of Directors, expressing his amazement at the conduct of that Committee; and he was only restrained from sending it by Lord Hardinge telling him that the Secret Committee of the Board of Directors was the President of the Board of Control himself. Many persons whose opinions on the affairs of India are most authoritative, in reality do not know what the double government really is. Mr. Marshman, the conductor of the Friend of India, a strong advocate of ‘things as they are,’ when fairly probed and pushed on the subject, shows that he, who was instructing them all, and sending pamphlets to all the Members of the Legislature, has very little fundamental knowledge of what this Government is. Part of the evidence given by this gentleman is so illustrative of this, that I hope the House will permit me to read an extract:—
'In seeking to acquaint yourself with the form of Government for India, you would resort exclusively to the Act of Parliament under which the present Government of India is constituted?—Yes.
'Do you find that by this Act of Parliament any discretionary powers are vested in the Court of Directors, except with reference to the disposal of the patronage?—I should think they are responsible to the Board of Control.
'Admitting that the Court of Directors have no uncontrolled power in the Government of India, how can you make them responsible either to Parliament or to the people of India?—It was the intention of the Act to confer certain powers upon them, and to give a control over the exercise of those powers to the Board of Control.
'You admit that, unless a party has power entrusted to it, it cannot be responsible for the exercise of its power?—No; I can, therefore, only say that they are responsible for the exercise of all the powers given to them in that Act.
'You say still that this Act was intended to vest a certain power in the East India Company?—There must have been some object in view in creating the present Government of the East India Company.
'You say you believe that the intention of Parliament was to give certain powers to the East India Company; having admitted that no such powers exist, except in the disposal of patronage, you would admit that, if Parliament had such an object, it has failed to accomplish it?—That very much depends upon the working of the system Although Parliament may have exempted nothing from the control of the Board of Control, yet it is certain that the Court of Directors were intended to be a body employed in the administration of the affairs of India.
'To the extent of the disposal of patronage?—Not merely to the extent of the disposal of patronage, because the patronage of the Court of Directors consists only in appointment to service, and not in appointment to office. The great patronage lies in the hands of the Governor-General and the Governors of the various Presidencies. All the patronage which the Court has to dispose of is the appointment to writerships and cadetships.
'Will you explain to the Committee what power the Court of Directors have under this Charter Act beyond the disposal of patronage?—I cannot exactly speak to that, because I have not seen the interior working of the system of either the Court of Directors or the Board of Control.
'I only wish for an answer founded upon this Act of Parliament for the government of India?—All I can say is, if this Act of Parliament was intended to give them no power whatever except the disposal of patronage, it could not be considered an Act for vesting the administration of affairs in the hands of the East India Company.'
This great oracle of the East India Company himself admits that, if there is no power vested in the Court of Directors but that of the patronage, there is really no government vested in them at all. Now, all this mystery is productive of the greatest evils. You have been simplifying the procedure, and getting rid of fictitious forms, in your own Courts of Law recently. You have banished John Doe and Richard Roe from your Courts; but here you still have John Doe and Richard Roe in the Government of India. Then what is the advantage of such a system? Is it for the benefit either of the people of England or of India? On this subject I would refer to the evidence of a gentleman, the most remarkable for ability among all the able men who have been brought before the Committee by the Court of Directors, who has filled very high offices in India—I mean Mr. Halliday. This gentleman—speaking in the face of the Court of Directors—in the very presence of his employers and masters—having stated that the Charter, giving a twenty years' lease to the East India Company, was considered by the natives of India as farming them out, was subjected, on account of the use of this word ‘farming,’ to a great deal of cross-examination:—
'You used the expression "farming the Government;" do you believe the people of India think the Government of India is farmed to the Company in the same sense that the taxes were farmed at the period you allude to?—They use precisely the same word in speaking of the renewal of the Charter. They will talk with you as to the probability of the "jarch" or "farm" being renewed; and, as far as I know, they have no other term to express it.
'Is not that merely through the infirmity of their language; have they any word which signifies "delegation"?—They may have; I speak of the fact, and their use of the term carries with it a corresponding idea.
'How would you translate "delegation" into Hindostanee; might not "jarch" be a fair translation of that term?—It would rather signify "farm" or "lease."
'You said that, in fact, the Government was that of the Crown, and that the natives, as they become more enlightened, will more and more understand it to be so?—It is the case.
'As they become more and more enlightened, will not the mischief which you consider arises from their notion of a farm disappear of itself?—It may be in that sense, no doubt, and does; and yet there arises a proportionate weakness to the Government from their seeing that the body held up as their apparent governors are not their real governors. Without wishing to speak irreverently, it has somewhat the appearance of a sham.'
Mr. Halliday, in my opinion, disposed of the whole question as regarded the interests of India, and of this country also, if we wish to govern India cheaply and beneficially. He said,—
'If you were to change the system, and to govern India in the name of the Crown, you would immensely add to the reverence which the people of India would have for your Government, and increase the stability of your Empire in the Eastern world.'
Mr. Marshman himself, though he did not speak of carrying on the Government of India under the Crown, distinctly and repeatedly laid it down that the Government of India should be carried on in one office; that the President of the Board of Control, or whoever was the responsible Minister of India, should sit in the same room with those who constitute the Council, (now the Court of Directors in Leadenhall-street,) and should communicate with them orally, instead of by correspondence, as at present.
But what are the evils of this delusive form of Government? The first and greatest of all is this, that public opinion is diverted from the subject; that enlightened public opinion is not brought to bear on Indian questions, which would be the case if India were governed in the name of the Crown, in just the same way as the Colonies have been. It might be answered, that if India were governed as the Colonies have been, it would be governed badly; but if any good has arisen from our government of the Colonies, it has come from enlightened public opinion, emanating from this country, and chiefly brought to bear on our Colonial Minister in this House. If there be any hope for the amelioration of India, it must come from the same source; and I want the Indian Government to have such a tangible, visible form, that the public opinion of this country may be able to reach it, and that there may be no mask or screen before it as now. With an enlightened public opinion brought to bear more directly on the affairs of India, there will be a better chance of avoiding that source of all fiscal embarrassment, constant wars, and constant annexation of territory. In other parts of the world, no Minister of the Crown would take credit for offering to annex territory anywhere. On the west coast of Africa, it might not be less profitable to extend our territory than in Burmah; yet a Resolution of a Committee of this House, many years ago, forbad the extension of our territories in tropical countries. When an adventurous gentleman, Sir James Brooke, went out and took possession of some territory on the coast of Borneo, the enlightened Government of Sir Robert Peel and his colleagues resolutely resisted all attempts to induce them to occupy any territory there. Recently, when it was announced in this House that orders had been given to the admiral on that station that on no account should any fresh territory be acquired, the announcement was received with loud cheering. We had arrived at a point when public opinion in this House and the country would prevent any such thing; and I believe the leading statesmen on both sides would resolutely set themselves against any extension of our territory in tropical countries.
Then how is it that this goes on constantly in India, to the loss and dilapidation of its finances? With a declaration in the journals of this House, and in an Act of Parliament never repealed, that the honour and interest of this country were concerned in not extending its territory in the East, these continual annexations still go on in India. Why do these things happen? It is because at the present time all the authority in these matters is left virtually in the hands of the Governor-General of India. I say virtually, because I believe they rest, in point of law, with the President of the Board of Control. Nothing can be more conclusive than the distinctness of the avowal of Lord Broughton, that he was responsible for the war in Affghanistan; and the declaration of Lord Ellenborough, that when he was President of that Board, he knew that he governed India. I am, therefore, astonished, when I hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Herries) state, that neither he nor his predecessors in office were responsible for the wars in India, but that the Governor-General is responsible for them.
When there exist such differences of opinion on such an important question—a question which involves not only the fate of India but of England—is it not high time to come to some definite understanding on the subject? Is it not right, when such differences of opinion exist between men of the highest authority, that there should be a little delay, in order that we may all come to an understanding on so vital a point? Practically, I believe that these things are carried on in India, where the Governor-General is surrounded by an atmosphere of a warlike tendency—where the mere rumour of war is received with favour by all who constitute public opinion in that country. Even Lord Dalhousie himself has so far given in to this spirit as to make a declaration, that—
'In the exercise of a wise and sound policy, the British Government is bound not to put aside such rightful opportunities of acquiring territory or revenue as may from time to time present themselves.'
Yet this is said in the teeth of an Act of Parliament which declares that it is contrary to sound policy to annex any more territory to our dominions in the East. And this declaration of Lord Dalhousie came out before the declaration of the President of the United States, General Pierce, who made a qualified statement that the United States would annex territory by every just and lawful means. We can be very censorious when we hear of such a declaration being made by the President of another State, but we do not attach the same importance to what is said by Lord Dalhousie. How is this? If Lord Dalhousie had been in any responsible position in this House, or had stood in the character of a Colonial Minister, he could have been asked for an explanation, and might have been reminded that such declarations are not in accordance with the views and interests of the nation. It is, however, my firm belief, that nothing will awaken the people of this country to a proper sense of their responsibility and peril in the East, but a due appreciation of the state and prospects of the revenue of that country. There can be no doubt that in India the extension of our territories is popular among the servants of the Company. In one of the most influential organs of the Indian Government it is stated,—
'Every one out of England is now ready to acknowledge that the whole of Asia, from the Indus to the Sea of Ochotzk, is destined to become the patrimony of that race which the Normans thought, six centuries ago, they had finally crushed, but which now stands at the head of European civilisation. We are placed, it is said, by the mysterious but unmistakable designs of Providence, in command of Asia; and the people of England must not lay the flattering unction to their souls, that they can escape from the responsibility of this lofty and important position, by simply denouncing the means by which England has attained it.'
When asked if Calcutta was a good central station for the metropolis of India, Mr. Marshman, the proprietor of the above newspaper, stated to the Committee that—
'It may not be at present, but it will be a good central station when we extend our dominion eastward.'
This shows the projects which the most influential men in India have in view.
I will now refer to the Secret Committee of the India House. I should like to have the cross-examination of every Member of that House, and to ask them what they do know of this Secret Committee. It is composed of three gentlemen from the Board of Directors, to whom all the communications from the Board of Control are made. It is in the power of the President of the Board of Control to sit down and write an order to annex China, and send that order to these three Gentlemen, who form what is called the Secret Committee at the India House; and they are obliged to send the order to India, for prosecution by the Governor-General. They may altogether disapprove of the order, but nevertheless they are compelled to send it to India. Mr. Melvill, Secretary to the East India Company, stated, that in all cases of declaration of war, it is within the power of the Board of Control to act through the Secret Committee, without the concurrence of the Court of Directors—that orders may be sent out by the President of the Board, through the Secret Committee, to annex the Burman or Chinese Empire to India, without the English people knowing anything about the order. The Court of Directors cannot know it. On the question being asked,—
'How are the English people to know it, if the Court of Directors do not know it?' his reply was—'Till it comes back from India, till it is a fait accompli, or the result of the orders is ascertained, they cannot know it.'
Now, what is the practical effect of this state of things? The Court of Directors are often attacked for not making railways and works of irrigation; and I think they deserve the charges brought against them, so long as they submit to the humiliation of their present condition. How can they be expected to make railways and other public works, when they cannot prevent the President of the Board of Control, or the Governor-General, at any time wasting the substance in war which should be applied to these improvements? Suppose that some of the twenty-four Directors should sit down, having 4,000,000l. surplus, which the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Mangles) spoke of, and a surplus of 2,000,000l. a year besides, for the purpose of devising plans of railways, and other works for India? Suppose that they have the maps and plans before them, and that they have called in the assistance of such able engineers as Mr. Locke and Mr. Stephenson? At that very time a letter may come from the office of the President of the Board of Control requiring them to send out an order to Lord Dalhousie to fit out an expedition to Rangoon for the conquest of Burmah; and when that is done, then adieu to the railways and the fabulous 4,000,000l. which the hon. Member for Guildford speaks of. But the most ridiculous part of the matter is, that the gentlemen of the Secret Committee, looking over these surveys, plans, and maps, and knowing the orders sent from the Board of Control, must be perfectly aware that all this is a mere waste of time; and yet they dare not tell their own colleagues, and they must remain in complete ignorance till they learn how the matter stands, by the arrival of the Indian mail. Under such circumstances, they do not deserve the name of a Government.
And what can be the motive for inducing these twenty-four gentlemen to endure being taunted with the evils of a system under which they are held to be responsible, and yet are not trusted with power? The reward which they receive for submitting to this humiliation is the patronage of India, and this is another evil arising from the system of double government. Now, it is one of the evils of this system, that the patronage is in a great many instances given to Europeans, where it ought to be given to natives. But as the Court of Directors are paid by patronage and not by stipends, they, of course, dispose of that patronage to their friends in this country. I want to see a large number of natives brought into the employment of the Government. (Hear.) Yes; but the same thing was promised in 1833, and it was contemplated in the Act of Parliament, but it was never carried out, and it never will be, as long as the patronage is disposed of in its present form. But if we get rid of the double government, and make the Minister for India responsible for the government of India, then public opinion in this country will be brought to bear upon him, and he will be invited to distribute more of his patronage amongst the natives, because the people of this country will not endure that the vast patronage of India shall be in the hands of the Minister of the Crown for distributing amongst his political supporters here.
I have been particularly struck with the overwhelming evidence which is given as to the fitness of the natives of India for high offices and employments. Nothing comes out clearer before the Committee than this—that the natives are well fitted to hold the higher class of offices. It was stated that ninety-seven per cent. of the judicial cases were disposed of by them. But they are employed to do the humblest work, at low and insufficient salaries. I wish to see some of the offices, which are now filled by Europeans, at salaries from 2,000l. to 3,000l. a year, filled by natives at half that stipend, which will be as much to them as double the amount to the Europeans who receive it. All the great authorities in Indian matters, Munro, Metcalfe, Malcolm, and Elphinstone, advocate the distribution of patronage to the natives. I was greatly struck with the answer of Sir G. Clerk to a question on this point. He says, that the natives are perfectly competent to decide cases and settle differences. Mr. Halliday also gave evidence to the same effect. But the only way of ensuring the employment of natives in the higher offices is to take away the patronage from the Court of Directors.
I will now call the attention of the House to a point of considerable importance, which was strikingly illustrated by the facts attending the commencement of the Burmese war in which we are now engaged. It is another fact, which is a proof of the precipitancy with which the measure has been brought forward, and I believe it has not been noticed before in the course of the debate. I wish to refer to the state of the relations between the vessels of war in the Indian waters and the Government of India; and, in illustration of what I mean, I beg leave to state what has taken place on the breaking out of this war. In the month of July, 1851, a small British vessel arrived at Rangoon, the captain of which was charged with throwing a pilot overboard, and robbing him of 500 rupees. The case was brought before the Governor of Rangoon; and, after undergoing a great many hardships, the captain was mulcted in the amount of rupees. A month after this, another English vessel arrived, having on board two coolies from the Mauritius, who secreted themselves in the vessel when she left. On their arrival, they said that the captain had murdered one of the crew during the voyage. The captain was tried for this, and he was mulcted also. An application was made to the Governor-General for redress, and a demand was made on the Burmese authorities to the amount of 1,900l. for money extorted, for demurrage of the vessels, and other injuries inflicted. The Governor-General ordered an investigation of the case, and he awarded 920l. as sufficient. At this time there was lying in the Hooghly a vessel of war commanded by Commodore Lambert, and the Governor-General thought that the presence of this vessel afforded a good opportunity for obtaining redress. The House should understand that there was no other case to be redressed than these two; that the parties in them were British subjects, and that the Governor of Rangoon did not adjudicate between Burmese subjects and British subjects. Commodore Lambert was furnished with very precise instructions indeed. He was first to make inquiry as to the validity of the original claim, and, if he found that it was well founded, he was to apply to the Governor of Rangoon for redress; and, in case of a refusal on his part, he was furnished with a letter from the Governor-General to the King of Ava, to be sent up by him to the capital; and he was then to proceed to the Persian Gulf, for which place he was under orders. He was told not to commit any act of hostility, if redress was refused, till he had heard again from the Governor-General. These were very proper and precise instructions. On the arrival of the Commodore at Rangoon, he was met by boats filled with British subjects, who complained of the conduct of the Governor of Rangoon. If the House wishes for an amusing description of the British subjects of Rangoon, I would recommend them to read Lord Ellenborough's sketch of them in a speech which he delivered in the House of Lords. Rangoon is, it appears, the Alsatia of Asia, and is filled by all the abandoned characters whom the other parts of India are too hot to hold. Commodore Lambert received the complaints of all these people; and he sent off the letter to the King of Ava at once, which he was instructed to send only in case redress was refused; and he made no inquiry with respect to the original cause of the dispute, and the validity of the claims put forward. He also sent a letter from himself to the Prime Minister of the King of Ava, and demanded an answer in thirty-five days. The post took from ten to twelve days to go to Ava, and at the end of twenty-six days an answer came back from the King to the Governor-General, and to Commodore Lambert from the Prime Minister. It was announced that the Governor of Rangoon was dismissed, and that a new Governor was appointed, who would be prepared to look into the matter in dispute, and adjust it. Commodore Lambert sent off the King of Ava's letter to the Governor-General, with one from himself, stating that he had no doubt the King of Ava and his Government meant to deal fairly by them. Meantime, the new Governor of Rangoon came down in great state, and Commodore Lambert sent three officers on shore with a letter to him. The letter was sent at twelve o'clock in the day, and when they arrived at the house they were refused admittance, on the plea that the Governor was asleep. It was specifically stated that the officers were kept waiting a quarter of an hour in the sun. At the end of that quarter of an hour they returned to the ship, and, without waiting a minute longer, Commodore Lambert, notwithstanding that he had himself declared that he had no doubt justice would be done, ordered the port to be blockaded, having first directed the British residents to come on board. During the night, he seized the only vessel belonging to the King of Ava, which he towed out to sea.
This brings me to the point to which I am desirous of calling the attention of the House. Lord Dalhousie had no power to give orders to Commodore Lambert in that station; he could merely request and solicit the co-operation of the commanders of the Queen's forces, just as we might solicit the co-operation of a friendly foreign Power. See what the effect of this system is. If Commodore Lambert had been sent out with orders from the First Lord of the Admiralty, he would not have dared to deviate from them in the slightest respect, much less to commence a war. Owing, however, to the anomalous system existing in India, Commodore Lambert felt at liberty to act on his own responsibility; and hence the Burmese war. Why has not this blot been hit upon by the framers of the present Bill? Can there be a stronger proof of the undue precipitancy with which the Government measure has been introduced than this—that it leaves the great defect which I have pointed out—a defect leading to results of immense gravity—uncured? The Government cannot plead ignorance; they cannot allege that their attention had not been directed to the matter. On the 25th of March, Lord Ellenborough referred to the subject in the House of Lords; and on that occasion Lord Broughton, who had just left office, stated that he had received an official communication from Lord Dalhousie relative to the anomalous character of the relations subsisting between the Governor-General and the Queen's commanders, and expressing a hope that the evil would be corrected in the forthcoming Charter Act. But there is nothing on this important subject in the present Bill; and is not this another ground for delay till we have obtained further information?
I have now to say a few words on the subject of the finances of India; and, in speaking on this subject, I cannot separate the finances of India from those of England. If the finances of the Indian Government receive any severe and irreparable check, will not the resources of England be called upon to meet the emergency, and to supply the deficiency? Three times during the present century the Court of Directors has called on the House of Commons to enable them to get rid of the difficulties which pressed upon them. And do you suppose, that if such a case were to occur again, that England would refuse her aid? Why, the point of honour, if there were no other reason, would compel us to do so. Do you not hear it said, that your Indian Empire is concerned in keeping the Russians out of Constantinople, which is, by the way, 6,000 miles distant from Calcutta; and if we are raising outworks at a distance of 6,000 miles, let no man say that the finances of England are not concerned in the financial condition of India. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Mangles), referring to this subject on Friday night, spoke in a tone that rather surprised me; he taxed those who opposed the measure with a readiness to swallow anything, and twitted my hon. Friend (Mr. Bright) with saying that the debt of India, contracted since the last Charter Act, was 20,000,000l. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mangles) said it was only 9,000,000l. There has, he said, been 13,000,000l. increase of debt, but that there was 4,000,000l. of reserve in the Exchequer. I will quote the evidence of Mr. Melvill, who signed all the papers that have come before the Committee on this point. Mr. Melvill, being asked what the amount of the debt was, says:—'The amount of the debt is over 20,000,000l.' After this answer of Mr. Melvill, what becomes of the statement of the hon. Member for Guildford? But I must say that there is a very great difference in the opinions and statements of Indian authorities. The evidence of Mr. Prinsep was different from that of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mangles); that of the hon. Gentleman was different from the opinion of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir J. Hogg); that of Mr. Melvill was different from all of them, and Mr. Melvill was sometimes of a different opinion from his own papers. I want to give you an opportunity of making up your minds on this subject, and of correcting the statements that come before you, for you are to judge of the financial results of your management of India.
The honourable Baronet the Member for Honiton stated the deficiency at 15,344,000l.; but he has not taken into the account, as he was bound to do, the sum realised by the commercial assets of the Company. Three or four years subsequently to the renewal of the Charter, in 1833, the Company's assets, consisting of ships, stock, &c., were sold, and realised 12,661,000l. What people want in taking stock, is to know how much richer or poorer they are as compared with the last time of striking the balance; and yet these gentlemen kept out of view a sum of upwards of 12,000,000l., which they have consumed, exhausted, and spent; and they say that there is only a deficiency of 15,344,000l., when, in fact, there is a deficiency of 28,000,000l., as compared with the former period. The hon. Member for Guildford shakes his head; but I appeal to the House whether those who are entrusted with the affairs of the East India Company, and who cannot take stock in a way to satisfy any Commissioner of Bankruptcy in the case of the humblest retail trader, are entitled to manage the vast concerns with which they are now entrusted? The amount, then, of defalcation, in the last nineteen or twenty years, has been 28,000,000l.; and, if things are to go on in the same way for the next twenty years, we should have a debt very nearly approaching 100,000,000l. But the worst part of the case is, that whereas in former instances, when this question has been discussed, there was something very bad indeed in the present and the past, yet the House was always told that there was something in the future to be appealed to which would compensate for all previous calamities; but now it is a remarkable circumstance, that, while there is nothing satisfactory in the past, still less is there anything consolatory in the prospects for the future. The hon. Member for Honiton has told the House, that, with respect to one essential item of Indian revenue—that of opium—he considers it in peril. That hon. Gentleman does not seem to see how he is changing his tone, and assuming two characters in the course of his speech, when dealing with the future and the past. The hon. Gentleman, while answering in an indignant tone the remarks of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), said, with a view of showing that the ‘Constitution had worked well,’ that—
'The gross revenue has increased nearly 9,000,000l., yet many taxes have been entirely abolished and others reduced. Is it not astounding, when the Indian revenue has increased to such an amount, to hear declamation about the misery, the destitution, and the poverty of the country? The debt shows an increase of 15,344,000l.; but what is this compared with the increase which I have shown to have taken place in the revenue? The revenue has increased in an infinitely greater proportion, so that the increase of the debt is perfectly immaterial.'
Now, what would a person think of a steward who came before him with an account of the condition of his estate, and told him that the debt had increased so much, but, as the rents had increased so much more, it did not signify how the debt had increased? Yet the steward might have said that he had spent the money in improving the estate, in erecting buildings, and making roads. The Directors of the India Company, however, do not tell the House that they have increased irrigation, or the facilities of communication in India. All this money has been wasted, and is gone, and the people have no compensation for it. The hon. Member for Honiton argues, that it is of no consequence how the India Company got into debt, so long as they have increased the revenue thirty per cent. Is it, then, to such financiers that the fate of India and of England—for the interests of both are connected—is to be entrusted? But, after giving this glowing description, the hon. Member for Honiton took the other side, when he had another purpose to serve; and then he endeavoured to show that, after all, the state of the Indian finances was not such as to encourage Parliament to assume the possession of them on the part of the Crown. The hon. Gentleman said that—
'The cultivation of opium was, he believed, about to be legalised in China; and, if that were so, it would have a considerable effect upon the finances of India, and the House ought, under such circumstances, to hesitate before assigning India entirely to the Crown with its liabilities and its debts.'
And then he turned round and said,—
'Will you, with the Burmese war at hand, and with the prospect of losing the opium revenue, take upon yourselves all the responsibilities involved in governing India?'
I am sorry to find the right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Wood) falling into the same tone:—
'Seeing,' he said, ‘into what a debt the East India Company has fallen, do you think it would be a pleasant thing for me to announce to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he would have this deficit to provide for in his financial scheme?’
Was there ever anything more utterly indefensible than such a position as that? If we allow the right hon. Gentleman to have another lease, on the plea that the finances have been brought into such a state that it is not desirable for us to assume the management for ourselves, what inducement do we hold out to him to do better in future? I think this House must be very shallow indeed, and the country greatly wanting in that sagacity for which it has credit, if they allowed themselves to be deluded by such a plea as this. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Mangles), in the course of his remarks, took the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) to task on the subject of the Punjaub and its expenses. The hon. Member stated, in the jaunty style to which I have alluded, that the acquisition of the Punjaub had not increased our expenses, because the troops there have been pushed forward from the frontier, and, therefore, constitute no addition to our expenditure. I will again quote on this subject from the East India Company's own authority, the statement made by Mr. Kaye in his ‘History of the Administration of the East India Company.’ Mr. Kaye said,—
'The Punjaub is not yet remunerative. Some little time must elapse before the revenues of the country can be made to exceed the cost of its productive and administrative establishments. The estimated amount of revenue for 1851-2 is 130 lacs of rupees, with about four lacs of additional receipts in the shape of proceeds of confiscated Sikh property and refunded charges. The total expenditure is estimated at about 120 lacs of rupees This leaves only a surplus of fourteen lacs for the maintenance of the regular troops posted in the Punjaub; and, as a large reduction of the army might have been, indeed would have been, effected but for the annexation of the Sikh States, it cannot be argued that the military expenditure is not fairly chargeable to the province. It is true, of course, that the possession of the Punjaub has enabled us to withdraw a considerable body of troops from the line of country which constituted our old frontier, and that a deduction on this score of frontier defence must be made from the gross charges of the regular military establishments employed beyond the Sutlej. Still, the cost of the regular troops fairly chargeable to the Punjaub absorbs the estimated surplus, and leaves a balance against the newly-acquired States.
Mr. Kaye says, there would have been a large reduction of the army, if it had not been for the occupation of the Punjaub. In 1835, the number of troops, European and native, was 184,700; in 1851, according to the last return, it was 289,500, being an increase of upwards of 100,000. What was this increase for, unless it were that the new acquisitions required an augmentation of force? During the same period, the European force was increased from 30,800 to 49,000 men; the ground of this particular increase being, that the Sikhs, being a northern nation, could only be kept in awe by Europeans.
Now, if I could treat this question as many persons do; if I could believe that the East India Company is a reality; if I believed that they could transfer India to the management of some other body, and that England would be no more responsible; that we could have the trade of India, and be under no obligations in reference either to its good government or its future financial state, I should not be the person to come forward and seek a disturbance of that arrangement. Other people may not share in my opinion; but I am under the impression that, so far as the future is concerned, we cannot leave a more perilous possession to our children than that which we shall leave them in the constantly-increasing territory of India. The English race can never become indigenous in India; we must govern it, if we govern it at all, by means of a succession of transient visits; and I do not think it is for the interest of the English people, any more than of the people of India, that we should govern permanently 100,000,000 people, 12,000 miles off. I see no benefit which can arise to the mass of the English people from their connection with India, except that which may arise from honest trade; I do not see how the millions of this country are to share in the patronage of India, or to derive any advantage from it, except through the medium of trade; and therefore, I say emphatically, that if you can show me that the East India Company is the reality which many persons suppose it to be, I shall not be the party to wish to withdraw their responsible trust and to place it again in the hands of a Minister of the British Crown. But when I see that this vast territory is now being governed under a fiction, that the Government is not a real one, but one which one of the most able and faithful servants of the Company has declared to be a sham, I say, ‘Do not let the people of this country delude themselves with the idea that they can escape the responsibility by putting the Government behind a screen.’ I wish therefore to look this question fairly in the face; I wish to bring the people of this country face to face with the difficulties and dangers with which I think it is beset. Let it no longer be thought that a few gentlemen meeting in Leadenhall-street can screen the people of England from the responsibility with which they have invested themselves with regard to India. Since the granting of the last Charter, more territory has been gained by conquest than within any similar period before, and the acquisition of territory has been constantly accompanied with a proportionate increase of debt. We have annexed Sattara, and our own blue-books prove that it is governed at a loss; we have annexed Scinde, and our own books prove that it, too, is governed at a loss; we have annexed Pegu, and our own authorities said that this annexation also will involve a loss. All these losses must press on the more fertile provinces of Bengal, which are constantly being drained of their resources to make good the deficit. Let me not be told, by-and-by, that the annexation of Pegu and Burmah will be beneficial. What said Lord Dalhousie? He said in his despatch—and the declaration should not be forgotten—that he looked upon the annexation of Pegu as an evil second only to that of war itself; and if we should be obliged to annex Burmah, then farewell to all prospect of amelioration in Indian affairs. Well, then, believing that if this fiction be destroyed—if this mystery be exterminated—the germ of a better state of things in reference to this question will begin to grow; and believing that as yet we are profoundly ignorant of what was wanted for India, I shall vote for the Amendment, that we should wait for two years; and I hope sincerely that the House will agree to it.
WREXHAM, NOVEMBER 14, 1850.
[The following was a Speech made at a great meeting in Wales, held under the auspices of the Peace Society.]
Of all the memorable meetings I have ever attended in the United Kingdom, I do not think there has been any which, in some respects, is more significant and surprising than that which I have the honour of addressing. The present would be a large assembly in any town, upon any subject; but when I remember the size of Wrexham, and when I remember that the large assembly before me is not admitted within the precincts of this building without payment, and that a tolerably large payment, I think this part of the United Kingdom must contain a very great number of persons who are, at all events, ready to avail themselves of the opportunity of hearing discussed the subject now submitted to their consideration.
I have heard my own name mentioned here several times, and received with more kindness and partiality than I could possibly have expected to attract from such a meeting. But it is my happiness to be half Welsh, and that the better half. Though I never before had the honour of addressing a Welsh audience, I am happy that my first meeting with you should be on a question second in importance to none that can be brought before you. We have met this night to talk about peace and the Peace Congress; and let me once for all say, that when I came here to talk of peace, I did not mean to treat it as an abstraction. I came here as a practical man, to talk, not simply on the question of peace and war, but to treat another question which is of hardly less importance—the enormous and burdensome standing armaments which it is the practice of modern Governments to sustain in time of peace. For I confess to you, what I have before avowed again and again, that I have never felt any alarm about any war in which England should necessarily be concerned. I am quite sure it will be our own fault if we enter into any war, for there is no danger of anybody coming to molest us. Still, I find that we are placed in a state of things hardly different from that of actual war, being, indeed, subject to the burden of war in time of peace.
I am not ashamed to avow that I have approached this question not altogether and exclusively from that point of view from which Mr. Richard has surveyed it. I have been brought to the discussion of the question from another consideration. In dealing with the practical affairs of the country, and especially as a politician and Member of Parliament, whose duty it is to study and control the finances of the country, I have come to my conclusion, apart from those high convictions which Mr. Richard and Mr. Sturge have avowed, and in which I concur, though in their presence I am not the proper person to dilate upon them. I gather my conclusion as one desiring to see that the country is governed with economy, and the people are not burdened with ruinous taxation; that there is a necessity for the people of this country to unite in supporting the principles of peace, as the only means of improving their temporal condition.
Now, I say that I deal with this question as a practical man. I have lately been travelling in the rural parts of Wales, and I find that there is a considerable amount of inconvenience among the rural population, among the farming world, who complain of low prices, and the weight of tithe-rent and taxation. We shall have those questions to talk over next session. The whole question of taxation will then come up. Government and Parliament will then have to deal with a Budget of pretty nearly 50,000,000l. a year, and they will have to vote money to meet this enormous outlay out of funds raised by taxation on the people. Now, while the great mass of the people are in the enjoyment of a large amount of comfort, probably never exceeded in the centres of industry in former times, I do not conceal that there is also another great mass of the population, and not the least important in a political point of view, who are suffering considerable pecuniary uneasiness; and therefore there will be next session a pressure on Parliament for a remission of taxation. Now, it is in order to be able to deal constitutionally and honestly, and not to take the Government or the country by surprise on any vote, that I now wish to record my opinions, and to prove that no sensible remission of taxation can be made, unless the country comes to the principles of the Peace Society, or at all events, goes some length towards its objects, and determines to make a very large reduction in the military establishments.
Will any one, then, dare to say that I am making a Utopia of this Peace question, and that I am not a practical man? Can there be any doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, viewing his position in his retirement and during the recess, must have directed his mind to this question, and that he finds dangers and difficulties impending over him in the enormous amount of taxation he is compelled to demand? There is a Budget of nearly 50,000,000l. to vote next session, and has it never entered the minds of Gentlemen present to analyse what it was composed of? In the first place, we have to provide 28,000,000l. in round numbers out of the taxation, to meet the interest of the funded and floating debt—that debt of nearly 800,000,000l. having been almost every farthing contracted in former wars. Deducting those 28,000,000l., there are left 22,000,000l., about 6,500,000l. of which (I still speak in round numbers) are alone required to carry on the civil government, including the expenses of the courts of law, of diplomacy, consular establishments, official salaries, and everything necessary to cover the charge of civil government. After that, we have to vote about 15,500,000l. (I speak of what was done last year) for the expenses of the army, navy, and ordnance; so that out of 22,000,000l. required of you to pay the current expenditure of the State, more than two-thirds are required for military expenses—for these two-thirds, taken from the taxation of the people, are spent on red-coats, blue-jackets, and their appurtenances—and one-third covers all the other expenses. I cannot but think that I should deserve to be scouted if, talking to the people of financial reform, I advocate the principle of Free Trade, that is, of subjecting all classes to the rivalry of the foreigner, and declare that I wish to see the burden of taxation reduced, and yet conceal from you the fact, that out of our current expenditure about two-thirds go to the army, navy, and ordnance.
I therefore declare, that if you wish any remission of the taxation which falls upon the homes of the people of England and Wales, you can only find it by reducing the great military establishments, and diminishing the money paid to fighting men in time of peace. No doubt the next session of Parliament will open amidst great clamour for the reduction of a great number of taxes; but we cannot reduce taxation unless we reduce expenditure. If the expenditure is kept up, we must have taxes to pay for it; and therefore taxation can only be reduced by coming to a resolution that we will in some way curtail the expenditure. But how am I, as an individual Member of Parliament, to deal with these questions? Motions were frequently brought forward to repeal obnoxious taxes—such as the window-tax, the taxes on knowledge; and one motion last session was to repeal the tax on attorneys, who, we are told, were very oppressed individuals. One hon. Member wanted half the duty on malt taken off; and another, with more reason, wished to repeal half the duty on tea. These motions are submitted, one after the other, to the House of Commons, which is then called on to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ upon them: but I cannot vote for taking off taxes that have been rendered necessary by the expenditure which has been voted, and I have said, ‘Meet a reduction of taxes by a reduction of expenditure.’ But having acted in this way, I have now no hesitation in declaring in these meetings, that if the Government does not do that which the country is told by the organs of military men they are not going to do, if it makes no reduction in military establishments, then, under these circumstances, I shall vote for taking off taxes, and see whether it is possible to pay for the military establishments without money. This, I own, is a clumsy way, and does not recommend itself to my reason; and I would rather go to work as in private matters, and rationally discuss what we can reduce in our expenditure, before taking off taxation; but if I find an unfair, unreasonable resistance to what I believe to be a fair and rational proposition for some reduction, I must adopt the course I have referred to.
I am not liable to the charge of advocating the total and immediate abolition of all our war establishments; but, after such meetings as the present, and after the declarations which I have openly made for many years, I feel I shall be perfectly free next session, with clean hands, and with full consistency and honesty, to vote for the removal of taxation, and leave the Government to cut the coat according to the cloth. I have no doubt that in the volume written by Sir F. Head, the author of ‘Bubbles from the Brunnen of Nassau,’ which has been referred to, we may find some statements which run counter to our principles and reasonings. But I dare say these ‘bubbles’ are just as substantial as the facts in the volume; for there is something in the antecedents of Sir F. Head, and his conduct in Canada, which does not recommend him to me as a good authority in this affair of our finances. But no doubt I shall be told that we are in great danger from other countries keeping up large military establishments and coming to attack us. Now, the answer I give to that is, that I would rather run the risk of France coming to attack us than keep up the present establishments in this country. I have done with reasoning on that subject. I would rather cut down the expenditure for military establishments to 10,000,000l. and run every danger from France, or any other quarter, than risk the danger of attempting to keep up the present standard of taxation and expenditure.
I call those men who write in this way cowards. I am not accustomed to pay fulsome compliments to the English, by telling them that they are superior to all the world; but this I can say, that they do not deserve the name of cowards. The men who write these books must be cowards; for I know nothing so preposterous as talking of a number of Frenchmen coming and taking possession of London. Who is afraid of them? I believe there never was an instance known in the history of the world of as many as 50,000 men in military array being transported across salt water within twelve months. Napoleon, on going to Egypt, had not so many; and France, with twelve months' preparation, could not transport across the sea 50,000 men, with all the appliances and muniments of war. It never has been, and I do not believe that it could be, done in twelve months. But I repeat, that I would run any risk, and not listen to those who would frighten me. I must, however, say that I am not one, because I advocate the reduction of armaments, who would plead guilty to the charge of being a coward, or who would submit to injustice. Many people suppose, that because I do not advocate bullying every nation on the face of the earth, that, therefore, I would necessarily submit to any one who might do me an injury. That is not the character of the Peace Society, nor of the members of the Society of Friends, who constitute the main force of the Peace Association. Read history, and see what great courage had been shown by the Society of Friends, and whether they did not extort from cruel and intolerant Governments toleration before any other sect, not by buckling on armour, but by knowing how to suffer, and by defeating through passive resistance those who attempted to do them injustice and wrong. And I say that those people on the Continent, who have a righteous cause, and wrongs to redress, would do well to imitate the calm endurance and patient long-suffering of the members of the Society of Friends. I know more than one community on the Continent to which this attitude might be adopted—Lombardy has been mentioned—in which was situated that town of Brescia, where were perpetrated those enormities by Haynau, and referred to by Mr. Richard. The population of that country consists of Italians; and men, women, and children all joined in opposition and hatred to the Austrian rule. But what chance had they in conflict with an enemy who possessed all the fortresses and muniments of war? How would it be if the Lombards folded their arms, and profited by the example of the members of the Society of Friends? Might they not by passive resistance alone set at nought the power of the strongest Government in Europe? Let me not be told that I am advocating injustice, and a supine acquiescence to wrong; for I have observed, that those who take up arms to contend against tyranny are not generally remarkable for having any success in the process, and I have a suspicion that the people on the Continent will ultimately find better means of emancipating themselves from their wrongs than by fighting and soldiering, which too often prove disastrous to the cause of liberty.
The best way for us, as Englishmen, to deal with the question, is as politicians, and more particularly as looking at facts from a financial point of view. Everybody can see, and everybody admits, that the course pursued on the Continent cannot be continued for five years longer by any Government. Everybody admits that Austria is bankrupt. When some time ago I went to the London Tavern, and spoke against the Austrian loan, and denounced the Austrians as bankrupts, there was an attempt to oppose my views; but everybody now admits that their bankruptcy is inevitable. Well, let us take France, Prussia, and Russia; and they too, through their enormous military establishments, are hastening to bankruptcy and revolution. And it is by peace meetings, by peace congresses at Frankfort and elsewhere,—it is by such means alone that attention is awakened to the danger of such a course; and by such means alone,—by public meetings, and agitation, and public discussion, is any great reform effected in the affairs of the world.
But when we call attention to these evils, we do not leave them without suggesting practical remedies. We say to the Governments of the world, ‘Cannot you find some other way of settling your disputes, and for guaranteeing peace, than by an array of enormous armaments? Cannot you recognise between Governments the principle of submitting your disputes to the arbitration of a neutral party?’ In France and England, and other countries, instead of keeping up those gigantic forces in time of peace, cannot the Governments of the world in 1850 devise some other means of providing something like a guarantee for the continuance of peace? There is no present quarrel between France and England—no tender question, and no claim that ought to interrupt the professions of eternal peace and concord which are made by both parties. Yet we are told that something might arise which would cause a war; and, therefore, the country must prepare for war. But the contingency of a dispute arising might be prepared for by other means than war; and we, the advocates of peace, say, Let the Governments refer their disputes to the arbitration of some impartial umpire. I ask Governments to do in the case of a nation what we always do in the case of individuals. If a Frenchman living in London commits a crime, the law—and Englishmen may be proud of it—allows him to claim to be tried by a jury, half of whom are foreigners. Now, all I want is, that the nations of England and France, and other countries, should carry the same principle into operation, and that when they have a dispute—when they charge a country, as Greece had been, of being in debt to another, and when that country denies the justice of the claim (and in the case of Greece subsequent events prove she is right), then let the matter be referred to arbitrators, instead of sending out a dozen ships of war, and saying, if another nation does not take our account of the matter, we will compel them. Let two arbitrators, one for each nation disputing, be appointed; and if the two cannot agree, let them appoint an umpire to settle the dispute according to reason and the facts of the case. Thus would be avoided the recourse now had to enormous forces. Is there anything so Utopian in this? The Peace Congress came to a resolution to recommend the nations of the world to enter on a system of disarmament. I have referred to this topic again and again, and I have learned that the only way to instruct men is to do with them as with children, and to repeat the lesson.
We have a Treaty with the United States, according to which only a certain number of ships of war are to be maintained by each nation on the limitary lakes—only one on each lake. Now, what has been the consequence? Why, from the moment of the existence of that treaty, both parties have totally disregarded the maintenance of the force altogether, and there is not at the present moment more than one crazy English hulk on all these lakes, and I do not believe that the Americans have one at all! This occurred from the moment our country showed that she had no desire to run with America that race of national rivalry which Sir F. Head would persuade England to run with France, fitting out a new fleet at Portsmouth, to be followed by an increased French fleet at Cherbourg, and by an augmentation, I suppose, of 100,000 men to the military force of each nation. If England enters with an honest spirit into a treaty with France, similar to that which exists with America, it would, if accepted, be advantageous to the interests of both countries; and if we have not got a Minister for Foreign Affairs who understands his business, and would enter into such an arrangement, then let the English people, who understand their business, advertise for a Foreign Minister, who, instead of following old courses, shall be alive to the spirit of the age, who shall be deemed worthy to have lived in the age of electric telegraphs, railways, and steamboats. It would simplify our foreign policy, if we entered into arrangements with other countries, binding ourselves by previous treaties, in case of dispute and hot blood, not to have recourse to war or violence, but to submit to arbitration. If I could only get the people of England and Wales to feel alive to this question, and to deal with the scorners of the peacemen as they deserved—with that contempt which Englishmen are sure, in the long run, to throw on such offenders,—if I could only get these views implanted into the minds of the people, it would not be long before we should have another Sir Robert Peel to carry them out.
I cannot mention the name of Sir Robert Peel without expressing my deep regret, not for the fame of that statesman,—for, probably, under all the circumstances, he could not have died at a moment more favourable for his fame,—but for the sake of his country. There are many reasons why we should regret that we have lost such a man at such a time. I cannot be expected, of course, to endorse the acts of Sir R. Peel's long political career. Sir R. Peel was in early life placed, before, probably, he had the choice of his own career, in a wrong political groove; but that such a man, after forty years' training in an adverse political school, should at the end of that time have taken the course he did, entitling himself, as he had done, by the last act of his political life, to the lasting veneration of his countrymen, makes me firmly hope that England has great future benefits to expect from the wise counsels of that great statesman. On those questions on which I am now addressing you, and which are agitated by the Peace Congress, I watched Sir R. Peel's course during the last three years, and, as my friends know, predicted that Sir R. Peel was preparing gradually to do for his country what he had done on another question, only secondary in importance to that advocated by the Peace Congress. It was in 1851 that Sir R. Peel was the first to recommend that agitation in which the Peace party and I are now engaged. That statesman then referred to the numerous standing armies, to the danger caused thereby to the finances, and to the consequent risk of revolutions incurred by the Governments of Europe; and he said that those Governments ought to endeavour to come to terms on the basis of a mutual reduction of the military establishments; and he declared, emphatically, that he hoped the Governments would take that course; or, if not, he hoped the different communities of Europe would so spread their opinions as to force their Governments to adopt that plan. I have frequently referred to that declaration as being a direct incentive to the course which is adopted at peace meetings; and I claim for the peace meetings the sanction and approval—nay, I claim for them the origination of the most practical statesman that ever lived.
But this is not all. In the House of Commons, on the 12th of March, 1850, Sir R. Peel spoke as I will presently read; and I well remember the feeling of surprise, not unmingled with a feeling of dissatisfaction, which pervaded that peculiar assembly when the words were delivered. I remember, when they were finished, that half-a-dozen of the Members sitting round me, congratulated me on having again got Sir R. Peel's assistance for a movement in favour of reducing expenditure. The words of Sir Robert Peel, to which I now allude, were these:—
'For what was said about the comparative lightness of taxation I care nothing, for there are many taxes pressing on the energies of the country and diminishing the comforts of the humbler classes; and their repeal, if it could be effected with good faith and public security, will be of inestimable advantage to the nation. Nay, more; I will say, that in time of peace, you must, if you mean to retrench, incur some risks. If in time of peace you must have all the garrisons of our colonial possessions in a state of complete efficiency—if you must have all our fortifications kept in a state of perfect repair,—I venture to say that no amount of annual expenditure will be sufficient; and if you adopted the opinions of military men, who say that they would throw upon you the whole responsibility in the event of a war breaking out, and some of our valuable possessions being lost, you would overwhelm this country with taxes in time of peace. The Government ought to feel assured that the House of Commons would support them if they incurred some responsibility with respect to our distant colonial possessions by running a risk for the purpose of effecting a saving. Bellum para, si pacem velis, is a maxim generally received, as if it were impossible to contest it; yet a maxim that admits of more contradiction, or should be accepted with greater reserve, never fell from the lips of man.'
When Sir R. Peel delivered those words, discrediting the authority of military men, he spoke in an assembly and especially from a side of the House where the military spirit was dominant; and he must have felt those sentiments strongly, or he never could have delivered them in such an assembly and in such an atmosphere. And orators should not forget that statesman's advice, when in after-dinner speeches they propose ‘the Army and Navy,’ and declare that to have peace it was necessary to be prepared for war. That was not Sir R. Peel's opinion; and yet I dare say that many of the men who utter the sentiment about being prepared for war would have shouted for Sir R. Peel, and would subscribe for a monument to him.
I remember, not long ago, a speech delivered by a sheriff of London at the sheriffs' inaugural dinner. I do not remember the sheriff's name; in fact, very few persons ever remember the names of the sheriffs of London, and as the gentleman I allude to happened to be sheriff and alderman of the City of London,—a very corrupt corporation,—it is not to be wondered at that his name has escaped my recollection, though it has been inserted in the columns of that very best champion of peace—Punch, which ought to be seen on the table of every one, both in wealthy drawing-rooms and humble cottages. This gentleman hiccuped out a great deal of incoherent nonsense about Cobden, and also said that he was in favour of armaments to preserve peace, and called the principles of the Peace Society ‘Utopian,’ for that is the standard word. Now, what has the Corporation of London lately done? I must say I had not supposed they possessed so much wit—I had not given them credit for having a joke in their whole body. Why, they have changed their programme of that great children's raree-show on Lord Mayor's-day, and, instead of exhibiting men in armour, they provide in their stead a figure emblematical of Peace, followed by representations of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. No doubt that was intended as a sly vote of censure on this talkative alderman and sheriff; but it was too bad that, after eating his dinner, they should have gone away and served him such a scurvy trick as that. It was said that the peace which the Peace Society was aiming at, and the reduction of armaments, was Utopian and quite impracticable; but, somehow or other, I find that everybody comes before the public with the pretence of being a lover of peace, and endeavours to point out facts in the world with the view of showing that we were going to arrive at peace. But if it is said, ‘Then let us gather these facts together; let us make use of the railways, and visit different parts, as Paris and Frankfort had been visited, and let us invite people to talk over the question of peace, and see if it cannot be forwarded,’ then these people turn round, denounce and ridicule the peacemen, and affect a great deal of scorn for their reasonings, while they very probably desire peace in their hearts a great deal less than they pretend.
There is a large portion of the community which does not want peace. War is the profession of some men, and war, therefore, is the only means for their occupation and promotion in their profession. 15,000,000l. sterling are spent on military establishments. That is a considerable sum of money spent upon classes who are not very likely to be favourable to peace. Read the United Service and the Army and Navy Gazette. Do you think that these publications are intended to promote peace? Do they not seek the opportunity of exciting jealousies,—pointing to the ships of war of foreign countries, and saying, ‘There are more guns there, and, therefore, we must have more’? Do they not endeavour to produce that rivalry of establishments and armaments which is always tending of necessity to hostile feelings and hostile acts? Again, there is a large portion of the continental community which is similarly situated to the portion of which I have just spoken in this country. Four millions of men—the flower of Europe—from twenty to thirty-three years of age, are under arms, living in idleness. There are often no men in the country parts; the women are doing their farm work, and toiling up to their knees in manure, and amidst muck and dirt, at the age of thirty and forty. They may be constantly seen thus employed, tanned and haggard, and looking hardly like the fair sex. They do this, in order that the muscle and strength of the country should be clothed in military coats, and should carry muskets on their shoulders—a scandal to a civilised and Christian age. Thus there is a large body of men who do not desire peace. I do not believe that peace is their object. I do not know why they entered the army if they did not want war. This is their employment, and they must be idle if they have not war; and, therefore, it is not unfair to argue that they are not altogether favourable to peace, whatever they may say; and consequently I do not believe that all those men who use these cant phrases about peace care for it.
I have endeavoured to show that I have a practical object in view, and that the members of the Peace Society have some sanction from practical men for what is sought after by this Society. What do other men propose—those most opposed to the Peace Society? Do they say that the system which we are opposing will last for ever? Why, every man admits that it cannot last five years. Is there any person prepared to reverse this system of enormous expenditure and ruinous establishments—of waste, bankruptcy, and ultimate revolution? The conduct which the Governments are pursuing is calculated to shake the faith of the mass of the people in the very existence of Government—marching and countermarching troops—and all for mere parade and the exhibition of armed men. It seems to me as if there ought to have been a battle long ago on the Continent, and then, I think, there would have been more chance that this turmoil would have been put an end to. For what purpose does this marching and countermarching of troops serve, unless the secret and covert design of bringing the system into disrepute? And it is coming into disrepute. And if we could only prevent the Governments from ‘raising the wind’ (as Mr. Richard said), we should put an end to it.
I now come to another point of our Peace doctrine, and that is, that we want to prevent people lending money to those bankrupt Governments in order that they may keep soldiers. I said, last August twelvemonths, that the Russian Government, about whose rich and ample resources so much was then uttered, could not make the campaign in Hungary without coming to London or Amsterdam for a loan. I was laughed at; but the campaign was hardly over before a loan was applied for, under the pretence that it was wanted for a railway. I denounced that loan as an Imperial falsehood. I do not mean to say that the Emperor knew so when he signed the decree, but the Emperor knows that to be the case now, and he ought to repudiate it. It was raised to pay for the atrocities perpetrated in the Hungarian war, not from the savings of Barings or Rothschilds, for they are not the people who lent the money, but from the small capitalists in England, who have small savings, and who wish to get five instead of four per cent. They lent that money, by which they as much cut the throats of the Hungarians and devastated their villages as if they had gone there and done it with their own hands. I was asked whether I, as a Free-trader, was consistent with my principles when I denounced this use of money? I was told that a man had a right to lend his money without inquiring what it was wanted for. But if he knew it was wanted for a vile purpose, had he the right of so lending it? I put this question to a City man:—'Somebody asks you to lend money to build houses with, and you know it is wanted for the purpose of building infamous houses, would you be justified in lending the money?' He replied, ‘I would.’ I rejoined, ‘Then I am not going to argue with you—you are a man for the police magistrate to look after; for if you would lend money to build infamous houses, you would very likely keep one yourself, if you could get ten per cent. by it.’ I say that no man has a right to lend money if he knows it is to be applied to the cutting of throats. The whole of this system of enormous armaments is built on the system of lending money; and thereby there are concentrated into one generation those evils of war, which would not have been suffered except successive generations were called upon to pay for them.
The system is indefensible, both on the principles of humanity and political economy; and I believe the time will come—it is coming (for I have heard the principle broached in high intellectual places)—when future generations will raise the question whether they shall be held responsible for debts incurred, often for keeping their own country in slavery, and also for foreign wars, in which they can have no possible interest.
We have all heard of the disturbances in Sleswig-Holstein; and I join both with Mr. Sturge and Mr. Richard in the expression of opinion that our Government is heavily responsible for having meddled in that affair in the way in which it did, and in joining France, Russia, and Denmark in a hostile demonstration against Sleswig-Holstein. We have no business to do so; and I could corroborate every word used by the preceding speakers to the effect, that it had left a feeling of deep alienation among the whole Protestant community of Germany. I do not use that term with a view of instituting an invidious comparison in respect to the Roman Catholics; but the Protestant part of Germany is the most constitutional; it is the part which has been, and most naturally, in sympathy with England; but, in consequence of that proceeding of our Foreign Minister, deep, lasting, if not ineradicable feelings of alienation and indignation have been produced against the Government and people of this country.
But the point to which I wish to refer is this,—Last year these two parties (the Danes and Sleswig-Holsteiners) were in collision, and then there ensued a suspension of arms. In the interval, Denmark raised a loan of 800,000l. That money was spent in preparation for bloody conflicts; and, if it could not have been raised from the English or Dutch, I firmly believe that, from the destitution of the resources of Denmark, peace must necessarily have ensued, and those hostilities, which have caused so much devastation within the last few months, could not have been renewed. So with respect to Russia. We heard of the Emperor dictating to Germany at Warsaw. I believe that the cost of the visits between Petersburg and Warsaw has been defrayed out of the money raised from the English; and if that money had not been raised—if those 5,000,000l. had not been lent out—if English capitalists had folded their arms, or better still, had closed their purse-strings—if, too, they had lent no money for perpetrating atrocities in Hungary, and had declared that henceforth no assistance need be expected from them for wars and deeds of violence, then those armaments must have been reduced, and instead of the Czar, in consequence of being full of money, riding backwards and forwards from one city to another, he would have been kept at home, minding the affairs of his own country and not those of Germany, and we should have been saved this turmoil which will very likely be made an excuse next session for not reducing the army of this country.
Before I sit down, let us prepare for what will be said of this meeting. We shall be called enthusiasts and Utopians, who think the millennium is coming. Now, as the gentlemen who use these phrases are very much at a loss for something new, I will say, once for all, that I am not dreaming of the millennium. I believe that long after my time iron will be used to make the spear, as well as the pruning-hook and the ploughshare. I do not think the coming year is to produce any sudden change in the existing practice, or that the millennium will be absolutely realised in my time; but I think, if the principles of the Peace Society are true, we are engaged in a work in which conscience, and, I believe, Heaven itself, will find cause for approbation. In that course, therefore, I shall persevere, in spite of sneers and sarcasms. I believe we shall not have long to wait before we shall find from our opponents admissions that they are wrong and we right. I have seen some such things before from the same quarters on another question; and I expect to hear the same things again, Those parties tell us that we must look to Free Trade and to other causes to accelerate the era of Peace—those parties who opposed Free Trade. But when I advocated Free Trade, do you suppose that I did not see its relation to the present question, or that I advocated Free Trade merely because it would give us a little more occupation in this or that pursuit? No; I believed Free Trade would have the tendency to unite mankind in the bonds of peace, and it was that, more than any pecuniary consideration, which sustained and actuated me, as my friends know, in that struggle. And it is because I want to see Free Trade, in its noblest and most humane aspect, have full scope in this world, that I wish to absolve myself from all responsibility for the miseries caused by violence and aggression, and too often perpetrated under the plea of benefiting trade. I may at least be allowed to speak, if not with authority, yet certainly without the imputation of trespassing on ground which I may not reasonably be supposed to understand as well as most people, and to say, when I hear those who advocate warlike establishments or large armaments for the purpose of encouraging our trade in distant parts of the world, that I have no sympathy with them, and that they never shall have my support in carrying out such measures. We have nothing to hope from measures of violence in aid of the promotion of commerce with other countries.
Away with all attempts to coerce any nation, whether civilised or barbarous, by ships of war, into the adoption of those principles of Free Trade, which we ourselves only adopted when we became convinced by the process of reason and argument that they were for our own interest. If we send ships to enforce by treaties this extension of trade, we shall be doing more harm than good to the cause we pretend to aid. Such a policy is calculated to react on the people, by imposing on them great burdens, in order to support those armaments by which it is endeavoured to force our views on other nations. I shall have something to say on another occasion about China and Borneo. I will give some facts, and, before long, I will adopt the most effectual mode which I can, and show the people of this country that they are mistaken, in a pecuniary point of view, when they think that they enforce their interests by ships of war or troops. Therefore, as a Free-trader, I oppose every attempt to enforce a trade with other countries by violence or coercion.
I never thanked the Foreign Minister who came with a Treaty of Commerce from China, or Borneo, or St. Domingo, or Russia, binding them to extend their commerce with this country, and to relax their restrictions, should that Treaty be obtained either by force, chicanery, or fraud; for, depend on it, a policy so enforced will react, and we shall never make progress in the principles which we advocate until we leave it to other countries to take the course they believe to be best for their own interest, after calm consideration, and until they have seen by the example England had set, that the Free Trade adopted by her was beneficial to her own interests.
Therefore, on high religious grounds, and on Free-trade grounds, I support the gentlemen who are devoting themselves to the cause of Peace. I think myself that I have done very little in this matter, and I am ashamed when I find myself singled out for obloquy, which I do not deserve, in relation to this cause. I am not ashamed of the title of the "Champion of Peace,"—I only wish I deserved it. I thank the gentlemen who have taken up this cause on all these grounds. I know that they consider no sacrifice too great in order to carry out their conscientious convictions. I thank them for it, and for the opportunity they have afforded me in addressing this meeting, and at the meetings at Frankfort and other places, to address all the countries of Europe, and I entreat them to go on. They are the sons of parents who fought the battle of Catholic Emancipation—(applause)—I meant to have said Slave Emancipation, but the cheer needs not to be recalled, for they were the friends of liberty of every kind, whether to the white man or to the black. Let them not be discouraged by sneers, but let them go on unfalteringly, and, as on the Slave Question, they will bequeath this struggle from father to son until as glorious a result will be accomplished as any yet recorded on the page of History.