The Political Writings of Richard Cobden

Richard Cobden
Cobden, Richard
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F. W. Chesson, ed.
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London: T. Fisher Unwin
Pub. Date
Collected essays, 1835-1862. First published as a collection in 1867. 4th edition. Includes Preface by Lord Welby; Introductions by Sir Louis Mallet and William Cullen Bryant.
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Volume I, Part II.

Chapter III.


OUR object has not only been to deprecate war as the greatest evil that can befall a people, but to show that we have no interest in maintaining the status quo of Turkey; and, consequently, that the armaments, which, in a time of peace, are maintained, at an enormous cost, for the purpose of making demonstrations in favour of that country, and against Russia, might be reduced, and their expense spared to the taxpayers of the British Empire.


We shall here be encountered with a very general prepossession in favour of our maintaining what is termed a rank amongst the sates of the Continent—which means, not that we should be free from debt, or that our nation should be an example to all others for the wealth, education, and virtues of its people, but that England shall be consulted before any other countries presume to quarrel or fight; and that she shall be ready, and shall be called upon, to take a part in every contention, either as mediator, second, or principal. So prevalent and so little questioned has this egotistical spirit become, that, when an honourable member rises in Parliament, to call upon a minister of the crown to account for some political changes in Spain, Portugal, or Turkey—instead of the question encountering the laughter of the House (as such an inquiry would probably do from the homely representatives who meet to attend to their constituents' affairs at Washington), or the questioner being put down by the functionary, with something after Cain's answer, "Am I the Spaniard's keeper?"—the latter offers grave explanations and excuses, whilst the audience looks on with silent attention, and though every word of our foreign secretary were pregnant with the fate of nations bowing to his sway.


If we go back through the Parliamentary debates of the last few reigns, we shall find this singular feature in our national character—the passion for meddling with the affairs of foreigners—more strikingly prominent in every succeeding session; and, at the breaking out of the French Revolution, the reader is astonished to see that the characters of the leaders of the mobs of Paris, Marseilles, and Lyons, and the conduct of the government of France, became the constant subjects of discussion in the House of Commons, almost to the exclusion of matters of domestic interest—Pitt and Burke on one side, and Fox, Grey, and Sheridan on the other, attacking and defending the champions of the Revolution, with the same ardour as if the British legislature were a responsible tribunal, erected over the whole of Christendom, and endowed with powers to decide without appeal, the destinies of all the potentates and public men of Europe.*49 Unhappily, the same passion had impregnated the minds of the public generally (as it continues to do down to our own day), and the result was, as everybody knows, the Bourbon crusade. But England, in taking upon herself to make war with the spirit of the age, encountered the Fates; and, instead of destroying that infant freedom which, however monstrous and hideous at its birth, was destined to throw off its bloody swathes, and, in spite of the enmity of the world, to dispense the first taste of liberty to Europe—she was herself the nurse that, by her opposition, rocked the French Revolution into vigorous maturity.


Our history during the last century may be called the tragedy of "British intervention in the politics of Europe;" in which princes, diplomatists, peers, and generals, have been the authors and actors—the people the victims; and the moral will be exhibited to the latest posterity in 800 millions of debt.


We have said that our proposal to reduce our armaments will be opposed upon the plea of maintaining a proper attitude, as it is called, amongst the nations of Europe. British intervention in the state policy of the Continent has been usually excused under the two stock pretences of maintaining the balance of power in Europe, and of protecting our commerce; upon which two subjects, as they bear indirectly on the question in hand, we shall next offer a few observations.


The first instance in which we find the "balance of power" alluded to in a king's speech is on the occasion of the last address of William III. to his Parliament, December 31, 1701, where he concludes by saying—"I will only add this—if you do in good earnest desire to see England hold the balance of Europe, it will appear by your right improving the present opportunity." From this period down to almost our time (latterly indeed, the phrase has become, like many other cant terms, nearly obsolete), there will be found, in almost every successive king's speech, a constant recurrence to the "balance of Europe;" by which, we may rest assured, was always meant, however it might be concealed under pretended alarm for the "equilibrium of power" or the "safety of the Continent," the desire to see England "hold the balance." The phrase was found to please the public ear; it implied something of equity; whilst England, holding the balance of Europe in her hand, sounded like filling the office of Justice herself to one half of the globe. Of course such a post of honour could not be maintained, or its dignity asserted, without a proper attendance of guards and officers, and we consequently find that at about this period of our history large standing armies began to be called for; and not only were the supplies solicited by the government from time to time under the plea of preserving the liberties of Europe, but in the annual mutiny bill (the same in form as is now passed every year) the preamble stated, amongst other motives, that the annual army was voted for the purpose of preserving the balance of power in Europe. The "balance of power," then, becomes an important practical subject for investigation. It appeals directly to the business and bosoms of our readers, since it is implicated with an expenditure of more than a dozen millions of money per annum, every farthing of which goes, in the shape of taxation, from the pockets of the public.


Such of our readers as have not investigated this subject will not be a little astonished to find a great discrepancy in the several definitions of what is actually meant by the "balance of power." The theory—for it has never yet been applied to practice—appears, after upwards of a century of acknowledged existence, to be less understood now than ever. Latterly, indeed, many intelligent and practical-minded politicians have thrown the question overboard, along with that of the balance of trade, of which number, without participating in their favoured attributes, we claim to be ranked as one. The balance of power, which has for a hundred years been the burden of kings' speeches, the theme of statesmen, the ground of solemn treaties, and the cause of wars; which has served, down to the very year in which we write, and which will, no doubt, continue to serve for years to come as a pretence for maintaining enormous standing armaments by land and sea, at a cost of many hundreds of millions of treasure—the balance of power is a chimera! It is not a fallacy, a mistake, an imposture, it is an undescribed, indescribable, incomprehensible nothing; mere words, conveying to the mind not ideas, but sounds like those equally barren syllables which our ancestors put together for the purpose of puzzling themselves about words, in the shape of Prester John or the philosopher's stone! We are bound, however, to see what are the best definitions of this theory.


"By this balance," says Vattel, "is to be understood such a disposition of things as that no one potentate or state shall be able absolutely to predominate and prescribe laws to the other."—Law of Nations, b. 3, c. 3, § 47.


"What is usually termed a balance of power," says Gentz, "is that constitution subsisting amongst neighbouring states more or less connected with one another by virtue of which no one among them can injure the independence of essential rights of another without meeting with effectual resistance on some side, and, consequently, exposing itself to danger."—Fragments on the Political Balance, c. 1.


"The grand and distinguishing feature of the balancing system," says Brougham, "is the perpetual attention to foreign affairs which it inculcates, the constant watchfulness over every nation which it prescribes, the subjection in which it places all national passions and antipathies to the fine and delicate view of remote expediency, the unceasing care which it dictates of nations most remotely situated and apparently unconnected with ourselves, the general union which it has effected of all the European powers, obeying certain laws, and actuated in general by a common principle; in fine, the right of mutual inspection universally recognised among civilised states in the rights of public envoys and residents."—Brougham's Colonial Policy, b. 3, § 1.


These are the best definitions we have been able to discover of the system denominated the balance of power. In the first place it must be remarked that, taking any one of these descriptions separately, it is so vague as to impart no knowledge even of the writer's meaning, whilst, if taken together, one confuses and contradicts another, Gentz describing it to be "a constitution subsisting among neighbouring states more or less connected with each other," whilst Brougham defines it as "dictating a care of nations most remotely situated and apparently unconnected with ourselves." Then it would really appear, from the laudatory tone applied to the system by Vattel, who says that it is "such a disposition of things as that no one potentate or state shall be able absolutely to predominate and prescribe laws to the others," as well as from the complacent manner in which Brougham states "the general union which it has effected of all the European powers, obeying certain laws, and actuated in general by a common principle," it would seem from such assurance as these that there was no necessity for that "perpetual attention to foreign affairs," or that "constant watchfulness over every nation," which the latter authority tells us the system "prescribes and inculcates." The only point on which these writers, in common with many other authors and speakers in favour of the balance of power, agree, is in the fundamental delusion that such a system was ever acceded to by the nations of Europe. To judge from the assumption by Brougham of a "general union among all the European powers;" from the allusion made by Gentz to that constitution subsisting among neighbouring states;" or from Vattel's reference to "a disposition of things," &c., one might be justified in inferring that a kind of federal union had existed for the last century throughout Europe in which the several kingdoms had found, like the States of America, uninterrupted peace and prosperity. But we should like to know at what period of history such a compact amongst the nations of the Continent was entered into. Was it previously to the peace of Utrecht? Was it antecedent to the Austrian war of succession? Was it prior to the seven years' war or to the American war? Or did it exist during the French revolutionary wars? Nay, what period of the centuries during which Europe has (with only just sufficient intervals to enable the combatants to recruit their wasted energies) been one vast and continued battle-field, will Lord Brougham fix upon to illustrate the salutary working of that "balancing system" which "places all national passions and antipathies in subjection to the fine and delicate view of remote expediency?"


Again, at what epoch did the nations of the Continent subscribe to that constitution "by virtue of which," according to Gentz, "no one among them can injure the independence or essential rights of another?" Did this constitution exist whilst Britain was spoiling the Dutch at the Cape or in the east? or when she dispossessed France of Canada? or (worse outrage by far) did it exist when England violated the "essential rights" of Spain by taking forcible and felonious possession of a portion of her native soil?*50 Had this constitution been subscribed by Russia, Prussia, and Austria at the moment when they signed the partition of Poland? or by France when she amalgamated with a portion of Switzerland? by Austria at the acquisition of Lombardy? by Russia when dismembering Sweden, Turkey, and Persia? or by Prussia before incorporating Silesia?


So far from any such confederation having ever been, by written, verbal, or implied agreement, entered into by the "European powers, obeying certain laws, and actuated in general by a common principle;" the theory of the balance of power has, we believe, generally been interpreted, by those who, from age to age, have, parrotlike, used the phrase, to be a system invented for the very purpose of supplying the want of such a combination. Regarding it for a moment in this point of view, we should still expect to find that the "balancing system" had, at some period of modern history, been recognised and agreed to by all the Continental states; and that it had created a spirit of mutual concession and guarantee, by which the weaker and more powerful empires were placed upon a footing of equal security, and by which any one potentate or state was absolutely unable "to predominate over the others." But, instead of any such self-denial, we discover that the balance of Europe has merely meant (if it has had a meaning) that which our blunt Dutch king openly avowed as his aim to his parliament—a desire, on the part of the great powers, to "hold the balance of Europe." England has, for nearly a century, held the European scales—not with the blindness of the goddess of justice herself, or with a view to the equilibrium of opposite interests, but with a Cyclopean eye to her own aggrandisement. The same lust of conquest has actuated, up to the measure of their abilities, the other great powers; and, if we find the smaller states still, in the majority of instances, preserving their independent existence, it is owing, not to the watchful guardianship of the "balancing system," but to the limits which nature herself has set to the undue extension of territorial dominion—not only by the physical boundaries of different countries, but in those still more formidable moral impediments to the invader—the unity of language, laws, customs, and traditions; the instinct of patriotism and freedom; the hereditary rights of rulers; and, though last not least, that homage to the restraints of justice which nations and public bodies*51 have in all ages avowed, however they may have found excuses for evading it.


So far, then, as we can understand the subject, the theory of a balance of power is a mere chimera—a creation of the politician's brain—a phantasm, without definite form or tangible existence—a mere conjunction of syllables, forming words which convey sound without meaning. Yet these words have been echoed by the greatest orators and statesmen of England; they gingled successively from the lips of Bolingbroke, Chatham, Pitt, Burke, Fox, Sheridan, Grey, and Brougham—ay, even whilst we were in the act of stripping the maritime nations of the Continent of their colonies, then regarded as the sole source of commercial greatness; whilst we stood sword in hand upon the neck of Spain, or planted our standard on the rock of Malta; and even when England usurped the dominion of the ocean, and attempted to extend the sphere of human despotism over another element, by insolently putting barriers upon that highway of nations—even then the tongues of our orators resounded most loudly with the praises of the "balance of power!"*52 There would be something peculiarly humiliating in connection with this subject, in beholding the greatest minds of successive ages, instead of exercising the faculty of thought, become the mere automata of authority, and retail, with less examination than the haberdasher bestows upon the length, breadth, and quality of his wares, the sentiments bequeathed from former generations of writers and speakers—but that, unhappily, the annals of philosophy and of past religions afford too many examples of the triumph of mere imitativeness over the higher faculties of the human intellect.


We must not, however, pass over the "balance of power" without at least endeavouring to discover the meaning of a phrase which still enters into the preamble of an annual act of Parliament, for raising and maintaining a standing army of ninety thousand men. The theory, according to the historian Robertson, was first invented by the Machiavellian statesmen of Italy during the prosperous era of the Florentine (miscalled) republic; and it was imported into Western Europe in the early part of the sixteenth century, and became "fashionable,' to use the very word of the historian of Charles V., along with many other modes borrowed, about the same time, from that commercial and civilised people. This explanation of its origin does not meet with the concurrence of some other writers; for it is singular, but still consistent with the ignis-fatuus character of the "balance of power," that scarcely two authors agree, either as to the nature or the precise period of invention of the system. Lord Brougham claims for the theory an origin as remote as the time of the Athenians; and Hume describes Demosthenes to have been the first advocate of the "balancing system"—very recommendatory, remembering that ancient history is little else than a calendar of savage wars! There can be little doubt, however, that the idea, by whomsoever or at whatever epoch conceived, sprang from that first instinct of our nature, fear, and originally meant at least some scheme for preventing the dangerous growth of the power of any particular state; that power being always regarded, be it well remembered, as solely the offspring of conquest and aggrandisement: notwithstanding, as we have had occasion to show in a former page of this pamphlet, in the case of England and the United States, that labour, improvements, and discoveries confer the greatest strength upon a people; and that, by these alone, and not by the sword of the conqueror, can nations, in modern and all future times, hope to rise to supreme power and grandeur. And it must be obvious that a system professing to observe a "balance of power"—by which, says Vattel, "no one potentate or state shall be able absolutely to predominate;" or, according to Gentz, "to injure the independence or essential rights of another;" by which, says Brougham, "a perpetual attention to foreign affairs is inculcated, and a constant watchfulness over every nation is prescribed:"—it must be obvious that such a "balancing system"—if it disregards those swiftest strides towards power which are making by nations excelling in mechanical and chemical science, industry, education, morality, and freedom—must be altogether chimerical.


Lord Bacon, indeed, took a broader and more comprehensive view of this question when he wrote, in his essay on empire—"First, for their neighbours, there can no general rule be given (the occasions are so variable) save one, which ever holdeth; which is, that princes do keep due sentinel, that none of their neighbours do overgrow so (by increase of territory, by embracing of trade, by approaches, or the like), as they become more able to annoy them than they were: and this is generally the work of standing councils, to see and to hinder it." This appears to us to be the only sound and correct view of such a principle as is generally understood by the phrase, "the balance of power." It involves, however, such a dereliction of justice, and utter absence of conscientiousness, that subsequent writers upon the subject have not dared to follow out the principle of hindering the growth of trade, and the like (which includes all advance in civilisation); although, to treat it in any other manner than that in which it is handled by this "wisest, greatest, meanest of mankind," is to abandon the whole system to contempt, as unsound, insufficient, and illusory.*53 As for the rule of Lord Bacon; were the great enemy of mankind himself to summon a council, to devise a law of nations which should convert this fair earth, with all its capacity for life, enjoyment, and goodness, into one vast theatre of death and misery, more dismal than his own Pandemonium, the very words of the philosopher would compose that law! It would reduce us even below the level of the brute animals. They do not make war against their own instincts; but this "rule" would, if acted upon universally, plunge us into a war of annihilation with that instinct of progression which is the distinguishing nature of intellectual man. It would forbid all increase in knowledge, which, by the great writer's own authority, is power. It would interdict the growth of morality and freedom, which are power. Were Lord Bacon's "rule" enforced, not only would the uninstructed Russians commence a crusade against our steam-engines and our skilful artisans; the still more barbarous Turk would be called upon to destroy the civilisation and commerce of Petersburg; the savage African would be warranted, nay, compelled to reduce the turbaned Osmanli to his own nakedness and a wigwam; nor would the levelling strife cease until either the "rule" were abrogated, or mankind had been reduced to the only pristine possessions—teeth and nails!*54


The balance of power, then, might in the first place, be very well dismissed as chimera, because no state of things, such as the "disposition," "constitution," or "union" of European powers referred to as the basis of their system, by Vattel, Gentz, and Brougham, ever did exist; and, secondly, the theory could, on other grounds, be discarded as fallacious, since it gives no definition—whether by breadth of territory, number of inhabitants, or extent of wealth—according to which, in balancing the respective powers, each state shall be estimated; whilst, lastly, it would be altogether incomplete and inoperative from neglecting, or refusing to provide against, the silent and peaceful aggrandisements which spring from improvement and labour. Upon these triple grounds, the question of the balance of power might be dismissed from further consideration. We shall, however, assume, merely for the sake of argument, that such an equilibrium existed in complete efficiency; and the first inquiry that suggests itself is—Upon what principle is Turkey made a member of this European system? The Turks, at least, will be admitted by everybody, to form no party to this "union;" nor do they give that "perpetual attention to foreign affairs which it inculcates;" or that "constant watchfulness over every nation which it prescribes." They never read of the balance of power in the Koran; and they live in pious and orthodox ignorance of the authorities for this "fine and delicate" theory; for the names of Bacon, Vattel, and Brougham are nowhere recorded by the prophet! Turkey cannot enter into the political system of Europe; for the Turks are not Europeans. During the nearly four centuries that that people have been encamped upon the finest soil of the Continent, so far from becoming one of the families of Christendom, they have not adopted one European custom. Their habits are still Oriental, as when they first crossed the Bosphorus. They scrupulously exclude their females from the society of the other sex; they wear the Asiatic dress; sit cross-legged, or loll upon couches, using neither chair nor bed; they shave their heads, retaining their beards; and they use their fingers still, in the place of those civilised substitutes, knives and forks. Equally uninfluenced, after nearly four hundred years' contact with Europeans, is the Osmanli's condition by the discoveries and improvements of modern times. A printing press may be said to be unknown in Turkey; or, if one be found at Constantinople, it is in the hands of foreigners. The steam engine, gas, the mariner's compass, paper money, vaccination, canals, the spinning-jenny, and railroads, are mysteries not yet dreamed about by Ottoman philosophers. Literature and science are so far from finding disciples amongst the Turks, that that people have been renowned as twice the destroyers of learning: in the splendid though corrupt remains of Greek literature at Constantinople; and by extinguishing the dawn of experimental philosophy, at the subversion of the Caliphate.


Down to within a few years of the present time, the Turks were viewed only as the scourge of Christian Europe. When, about a century and a half ago, Louis XIV. entered into an alliance with the Sublime Porte, the whole civilised world rang with indignation at the infamous and unnatural combination. And when, more than a century later, on the occasion of the capture of Ockzakow by the Russians, our most powerful minister (Pitt) proposed to forward succours to the aid of Turkey, such was the spirit of opposition manifested by the country, that the armaments already prepared by the Government, under the sanction of a servile majority in the Parliament, were reluctantly countermanded. On that occasion, both Burke and Grey, although advocates of the balancing system, refused to acknowledge that the Turks formed parties to it. "He had never before heard it set forth,"*55 said the former, "that the Turkish empire was considered as a part of the balance of power in Europe; they had nothing to do with European power; they considered themselves as wholly Asiatic. Where was the Turkish resident at our Court, the Court of Prussia, or of Holland? They despised and contemned all Christian princes as infidels, and only wished to subdue and exterminate them and their people. What had these worse than savages to do with the powers of Europe, but to spread war, destruction, and pestilence amongst them? All that was holy in religion, all that was moral and humane, demanded an abhorrence of everything that tended to extend the power of that cruel and wasteful empire. Any Christian power was to be preferred to these destructive savages. He had heard, with horror, that the Emperor had been obliged to give up to this abominable power those charming countries which border upon the Danube to devastation and pestilence." And, at a subsequent debate upon the same question,*56 Mr. Grey (now Earl Grey), who has been a still more zealous champion of the balance of power (having once declared that every peasant in England was deeply interested in its preservation), said, "that England had pursued this object too far would not be denied, when it was considered that, in her progress after it, she had travelled as far as the banks of the Black Sea."


And are the Turks of our own day less cruel or savage, that we should not only admit them within the pale of civilised nations, but impose on our people, for their defence, the burden of enormous armaments? We appeal to Dr. Walsh's late account of the atrocities perpetrated at Constantinople upon the unarmed Greeks, at the revolt of that people; we refer to the horrible massacre of the peaceful and civilised population of Scio! Is this empire less wasteful now than when, forty-five years ago, Burke mourned over those fine provinces which were consigned to devastation and the crescent? We again recur to the description given to us by Walsh, and every other recent traveller, of the desolation that reigns throughout the Turkish dominions; we adduce those ruined cities, those deserted, though still fertile plains, and that population, wasting away in regions where ten times its numbers once found abundance; we point to the deplorable condition of agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and all the arts of life, in a country which comprised the ancient civilised world—to prove the waste of human life, happiness, wealth, and civilisation, that is suffered every year at the hands of this Mahometan Government. Has the pestilence ceased to ravage the Turkish territory? The quarantine now blockades, in a manner, from Christian Europe, Constantinople—standing upon the same latitude as Naples, Oporto, and New York, and chosen by Constantine as the most salubrious spot on earth—a city now the impure nurse and victim of the plague! Does Christianity or public virtue call upon us, in 1836, more than they did in 1791, to arm ourselves in behalf of Turkey? We point to the Koran and those orthodox vices which it inculcates—we refer to the slave trade and to polygamy, abominations which still flourish in that country, under the precept of the impostor of Mecca—to prove that neither religion nor morality can sanction the government of Great Britain in shedding a drop of the blood, or lavishing the treasure of Englishmen for the support of this "cruel," "savage," "wasteful," "devastating," "pestilential," and "infidel" nation, in a conflict with Russia or any other Christian people.


There remains one, and but one, other point from which to view the question of the balance of power, and we may then bid adieu to this monument of the credulity and facility of the human intellect for ever—or, at least, until we happen, perchance, to meet with it in the next year's Mutiny Bill, supplying the "whereas" of an act of parliament, with a pretext for maintaining a standing army of upwards of 90,000 men!


Russia, in possession of Constantinople, say the alarmists, would possess a port open at all seasons; the materials for constructing ships; vast tracts of fertile land, capable of producing cotton, silk, wool, etc.; and she would be placed in a situation of easy access to our shores—all of which would tend to destroy the balance of power, and put in danger the interests of the British commerce, in particular. But New York, a port far more commodious than Constantinople, is open at all seasons; the United States possess materials without end for shipbuilding; their boundless territory of fertile land is adapted for the growth of cotton, silk, wool, etc.; and New York is next door to Liverpool; for—thanks to Providence!—there is no land intervening between the American continent and the shores of this United Kingdom. Yet, we have never heard that the North American continent forms any part of the balance of power! Twenty-four sovereign, free, and independent States, altogether forgotten in a "balancing system, which dictates an increasing care even of nations most remotely situated, and apparently unconnected with ourselves!" We doubt the equilibrium can hardly be maintained. This is not all. There is the entire southern continent, from the Isthmus of Panama to the point of Cape Horn, likewise entirely omitted. Mercy on us, one scale will certainly kick the beam! Twelve separate empires of South America, bounded on one extremity by Mexico, and on the other by Patagonia; and the vast expanse of territory, settled and unsettled, under the dominion of the Government of Washington, and, altogether, comprising one-third of the habitable globe, have been quite forgotten in a balance of power!


Not having been supplied by the authors of the theory with any rule by which to judge of their mode of estimating or weighing the powers of the respective parties to the balancing system, and being equally uninformed as to the qualifications required from those States which aspired to the union, it would be presumptuous to guess upon what principle Turkey is admitted to a connection with England, from which Brazil is excluded; or why, in forming a balance of the civilised powers, the United States are rejected, in order to give room to admit Russia into one of the scales. It cannot be from proximity that Turkey is preferred to the Brazils. A voyage from Rio Janeiro to Liverpool will average about forty days; whilst the time taken in going from England to Constantinople usually reaches double that period. Nor can it arise from a comparison of our commerce with the two countries, which is four times as valuable with the American as the European State. Then a wise and provident regard to the future cannot be the guiding motive, since the prospect is altogether in favour of the trans-Atlantic empire, which embraces within its bounds a territory equalling in extent the whole of Russia in Europe, and forming the finest, and destined in all probability to be, both as respects vegetable and mineral riches, the most productive amongst all the countries in the world. Religion, language, national character, and the plague, all oppose the claim of the Turk to this preference over the Christian rival; and we can only suspend our conjectures, and entreat that some advocate of the "balancing system" will inform the world upon what principle, commercial, social, or political—in short, upon what ground, consistent with common sense—does the foreign secretary involve Great Britain in the barbarian politics of the Ottoman Government, to the manifest risk of future wars, and the present pecuniary sacrifice attending standing armaments; whilst, with another State, with which we are more deeply interested as traders, more identified as men, and from which we are, navally speaking, less distant, no political intercourse is found necessary? The same argument applies, with more or less force, to the other eleven South American States, with each of which our commerce averages probably more in amount than with Turkey; yet, although they are Christian communities, all but universally at peace,*57 and notwithstanding the future influence which they are inevitably destined to exercise over the interests of the entire world—these countries have not been thought worthy of admission into that system of civilised nations which is now agitated from one extremity to the other with the fate of Mahometan Turkey! However impossible it may be to speculate successfully upon the intended operation of a system which, in reality, never existed except in the precincts of the politician's brain, still it must be remembered that, at the time the theory was first invented, it proposed to give to the European powers owning American colonies, a weight proportioned to the extent of those possessions; and the question then arises—which we shall merely propound, and leave in despair, for the solution of such of our readers as may wish to pursue this chimerical inquiry still farther—By what ingenious process was the balance of power preserved, when England, Spain, and Portugal were deprived of their trans-Atlantic territories? Canning, indeed, once talked of "calling into existence a new world, to adjust the balance of the old;" but, as in many other oratorical flourishes of our State-rhetorician, he meant quite a different practical object; in other and more homely language, that statesman proposed to acknowledge the independence of South America—ten years after every private individual of judgment had predicted the freedom of that Continent. To this day those States which once formed so important a part of the balancing system, as appendages to the mother countries, are wanting in the scales of Europe; and by what arts, whether by false weights or the legerdemain of the nation still holding the balance, the equilibrium can be preserved without them, constituting as they do nearly one-third of the terrestrial globe, is a mystery beyond the reach of our powers of divination.


We glanced at the comparative claims of Russia and the United States to be included in this imaginary States-union; a very few words upon this point are all that we shall add to our probably already too extended notice of the "balance of power."


Upon whatever principle the theory under consideration may have been at first devised—whether, according to Gentz, for the purpose of uniting neighbouring States, or, as Brougham asserts, with a view to the union of all the European powers—it is certain that it would have been held fatal to the success of the balancing system for any one power, and that one amongst the most civilised, wealthy, and commercial, to have refused to subscribe to its constitution. Yet the United States (for the number of its inhabitants), the richest, the most commercial, and, for either attack or defence, the most powerful of modern empires; a country which possesses a wider surface of fertile land than Russia could boast even with the accession of Turkey; and, instead of being imprisoned, like Russia, by the Dardanelles and the Sound, owning five thousand miles of coast, washed by two oceans, and open to the whole world; the United States are not parties to the balance of power! Ignorant as we are of the rule of admission to and exclusion from this balancing system, it would be vain to conjecture why Russia should be entitled, not only to be a member of this union, but to engross its exclusive attention, whilst North America is unknown or not recognised as of any weight in the balance of power. It cannot be, on our part, from closer neighbourhood; for Russia, even at Constantinople, would—commercially and navally speaking—be three times as distant*58 as New York from Great Britain. Nor on account of the greater amount of the European commerce transacted by Russia. The commerce of the United States with the countries of Europe is nearly as great in amount as that of the British empire with the Continent; twice as large as the trade of France with the same quarters; and three times that of Russia. It cannot be because of the more important nature of the trade which we carry on with Russia as compared with that with America, since the cotton of the latter gives employment and subsistence to more than a million of our people, and is actually indispensable to our commercial and political existence. Here are cogent reasons why the trans-Atlantic power should form a party to the union of States—why, at least, it should, in place of an empire situated upon the Baltic or Black Sea, be united in political bands with Great Britain. And wherefore is this rich, commercial, and this contiguous country—with a population more entirely enlightened than any besides, and whose improvements and institutions England and all Europe are eager to emulate—an alien to the "balancing system," of which Turkey, Spain, and Persia are members? It would be difficult to find any other satisfactory answer than that which we are able to give as the reason of this exclusion: America, with infinite wisdom, refuses to be a party to the "balance of power."


Washington (who could remember when the national debt of England was under fifty-five millions; who saw it augmented, by the Austrian war of succession, to seventy-eight millions; and again increased, by the seven years' war, to one hundred and forty-six millions; and who lived to behold the first fruits of the French revolutionary wars, with probably a presentiment of the harvest of debt and oppression that was to follow—whose paternal eye looked abroad only with the patriotic hope of finding in the conduct of other nations example or warning for the instruction of his countrymen), seeing the chimerical objects for which England, although an island, plunged into the contentions of the Continent, with no other result to her suffering people but an enduring and increasing debt—bequeathed, as a legacy to his fellow-citizens, the injunction, that they should never be tempted by any inducements or provocations to become parties to the States' system of Europe. And faithfully, zealously, and happily has that testament been obeyed! Down even to our day the feeling and conviction of the people, and consequently of the Government and the authors*59 of the United States, have constantly increased in favour of a policy from which so much wealth, prosperity, and moral greatness have sprung. America, for fifty years at peace, with the exception of two years of defensive war, is a spectacle of the beneficent effects of that policy which may be comprised in the maxim—As little intercourse as possible betwixt the Governments, as much connection as possible between the nations of the world. And when England (without being a republic) shall be governed upon the same principles of regard for the interests of the people, and a like common sense view of the advantages of its position, we shall adopt a similar motto for our policy; and then we shall hear no more mention of that costly chimera, the balance of power.

Notes for this chapter

That this spirit still survives in full vigour may be shown by the motion recently made in the House of Commons by Mr. T. Duncombe, for interceding with the French Government in behalf of the state prisoners at Ham. Prince Polignac and his confederates attempted, by their coup d' état, to deprive France of law, place the whole country in the hands of despots, and reduce it to the monkish ignorance of the middle ages, by giving again to priests and bigots the absolute power over the printing press. In this attempt they failed; but freedom conquered at the cost of hundreds of victims. In England, or any other country but France, those ministers would have suffered death. Yet, after five years of confinement, behold us interfering with the course of justice in an empire with whose internal concerns we are no more entitled to mix than with those of China!

Within a week of this display, a lad was transported from Macclesfield for fourteen years, for stealing a pair of stockings. We recommend this to our facetious Gallic neighbours as a fit opportunity for intervention: the mother should be induced to write her case to M.Odillon Barrot, or some other popular member of the Chamber of Deputies.

The conquests of colonies have been regarded with some complacency because they are merely, in most instances, reprisals for previous depredations by the parent state; but England for fifty years at Gibraltar is a spectacle of brute violence unmitigated by any such excuses. Upon no principle of morality can this unique outrange upon the integrity of an ancient, powerful, and renowned nation, placed at a remote distance from our shores, be justified. The example, if imitated, instead of being shunned, universally, would throw all the nations of the earth into barbarous anarchy, and deprive mankind of the blessings of law, justice, and religion. It is time not only to think, but to speak, of these things in a spirit of honest truth. The people of this country—the middling and working classes—have no interest, as we shall by-and-by have to show, in these acts of unjust aggression and foreign violence. Alas for the cause of morals if they had!
"Mankind, although reprobates in detail, are always moralists in the gross."—Montesquieu.
The phrase was actually adopted by Napoleon! who told O'Meara, at St. Helena, that he refused to permit the Emperor Alexander to occupy the Dardanelles, because, if Russia were in possession of Turkey, the "balance of power" in Europe would be destroyed! Lord Dudley Stuart sees much to admire in this regard for the balance of power by one who had himself been in military occupation of all the principal states of Europe:—"But the profound views of that great man Napoleon, told him not to accede to either the demands or entreaties of Alexander; and, on that occasion, though he had invaded the Turkish empire himself, he saved it by refusing the passage of the Dardanelles to Russia; nay, he saved Europe itself."—Lord Stuart's Speech, February 19.
Lord Bacon's political maxims are full of moral turpitude. "Nobody can," says he, in speaking of kingdoms and estates, "be healthful without exercise—neither natural body nor politic; and certainly to a kingdom or estate, a just and honourable war is the true exercise." Accordingly, just wars are necessary; and as there must be an opposite party to a just war, ergo, unjust wars are necessary! In speaking of kings, he calls them "mortal gods on earth." And, in his chapter on seditions and troubles, he gives many rules for governing and restraining, but not one for instructing the people. We speak of the moral sentiments of this great man distinctly from his intellectual powers.
There appears to be one honourable member of the British legislature, and only one, who is an advocate of this policy. Sir Harry Verney, in speaking after Mr. T. Attwood, upon the subject of Russia (see Mirror of Parliament, 1833, p. 2878) said—"The honourable gentleman has represented Russia as a state sunk in barbarism and ignorance, and hostile to every species of liberty. I would to God that such a description of Russia were correct!!! I believe the reverse to be the fact. I believe there is no power on earth which resorts to such effectual means of propagating her power, civilising her country, promoting commerce, manufactures, the acquirement of useful information, and the propagation of every useful institution, as Russia. Does the honourable gentleman know that at this moment steam-boats navigate the Volga; and that you may travel in all parts of Russia in the same way as you may through the United States? Does the honourable gentleman know that the Emperor of Russia sends abroad agents in whom he can confide, to obtain information relative to improvements and inventions which may be useful to himself? * * * I am quite sure that, if this country would maintain the balance of power, we must oppose the encroachments of Russia."

A Yankee punster would exclaim—"Sir Harry goes the whole hog with Bacon upon the 'balance of power!'"

Yes, Sir Harry is right. He and the noble author of the "Novum Organum" are the only two philosophers who have taken a true and consistent view of the question. We are far, however, from including them both under one rule of inculpation. The honourable member for Buckinghamshire errs, perhaps, intellectually, and not morally. His chief fault, or rather misfortune, is, that he lives in Buckingham. Let him and the Marquis of Chandos go through a course of Adam Smith and the economists, beginning with Harriet Martineau; and they will then be convinced that we cannot profit by the barbarism of another people, or be injured by their progress in civilisation, any more than the British nation can gain by the corn laws.

Burke's Speech, House of Commons, March 29, 1791.—See Hansard's Parliamentary History, vol. xxix., pp. 76, 77.
See Hansard's Parliamentary History, vol. xxix., p. 929.
We add an extract from a letter, dated January 26, 1836, addressed to the author by a friend—a gallant officer, and an enlightened and amiable man, who himself holds an official rank at the British Court from one of the States of South America:—"You, who are so strong an advocate for peace and freedom, will be glad to hear of the tranquillity of America, and that our systems of government are at last working well. Of the thirteen trans-Atlantic republics, ten are now in a perfect state of order and prosperity. The capture of Puerto Cabello from a banditti who are in possession of it will restore that of Venezuela; and the next news from Peru will give us that of the peaceable settlement of its government. Mexico, therefore, will alone remain an exception to this peaceful state; and I am afraid she will long remain so; yet, in spite of the troubles of Mexico, she last year raised from her mines (according to the official report of the Minister of Finance, and without including what was smuggled), thirty millions of dollars, in gold and silver, being three millions more than was ever produced under the most flourishing year of the old Spanish Government. As to the national debts of America, the bonds of the United States were used to be sold by basketfuls, in the first years of their independence, yet they have now paid off the whole. You have about fourteen principal nations in Europe, and you know two or three of them have internal dissensions."
The average time of the passage from New York to Liverpool, by the line of packet ships, is twenty-five days.
Washington Irving has good humouredly satirised this national propensity for foreign politics in the well-known sketch of "John Bull." "He is," says that exquisite writer, "a busy-minded personage, who thinks, not merely for himself and family, but for all the country round, and is most generously disposed to be everybody's champion. He is continually volunteering his services to settle his neighbour's affairs, and takes it in great dudgeon if they engage in any matter of consequence without asking his advice; though he seldom engages in any friendly office of the kind without finishing by getting into a squabble with all parties, and then railing bitterly at their ingratitude. He unluckily took lessons in his youth in the noble science of defence; and having accomplished himself in the use of his limbs and weapons [i.e., standing armies and navies] and become a perfect master at boxing and cudgel play, he has had a troublesome life of it ever since. He cannot hear of a quarrel between the most distant of his neighbours but he begins incontinently to fumble with the head of his cudgel, and consider whether interest or honour does not require that he should meddle in their broils. Indeed he has extended his relations of pride and policy so completely over the whole country [i.e., quadripartite treaties and quintuple alliances] that no event can take place without infringing some of his finely-spun rights and dignities. Couched in his little domain, with those filaments stretching forth in every direction, he is like some choleric, bottle-bellied old spider, who has woven his web over a whole chamber, so that a fly cannot buzz, nor a breeze blow, without startling his repose and causing him to sally forth wrathfully from his den. Though really a good-tempered, good-hearted old fellow at bottom, yet he is singularly fond of being in the midst of contention. It is one of his peculiarities, however, that he only relishes the beginning of an affray; he always goes into a fight with alacrity, but comes out of it grumbling even when victorious; and, though no one fights with more obstinacy to carry a contested point, yet, when the battle is over, and he comes to a reconciliation, he is so much taken up with the mere shaking of hands [Lord Castlereagh at the Treaty of Vienna] that he is apt to let his antagonists pocket all they have been grumbling about. It is not, therefore, fighting that he ought to be so much on his guard against as making friends.... All that I wish is, that John's present troubles may teach him more prudence in future; [nothing of the kind—look at him now, fifteen years after this was written, playing the fool again, ten times worse than ever, in Spain] that he may cease to distress his mind about other people's affairs; that he may give up the fruitless attempt to promote the good of his neighbours, and the peace and happiness of the world, by dint of the cudgel: that he may remain quietly at home; gradually get his house into repair; cultivate his rich estate according to his fancy; husband his income—if he thinks proper; bring his unruly children into order—if he can."—Sketch Book.

Volume I, Part II, Essay IV

End of Notes

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