Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden

Richard Cobden
Cobden, Richard
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
James E. Thorold Rogers, ed.
First Pub. Date
London: T. Fisher Unwin
Pub. Date
Collected speeches, 1841-1864. First published as a collection in 1870. 3rd edition. Includes biographical "Appreciations" by Goldwin Smith and J. E. Thorold Rogers.
39 of 66

Volume II


[On Dec. 12, the Duke of Newcastle (War Secretary), introduced a Bill, the object of which was to raise a force of 15,000 foreigners, who were to be drilled in this country. The Bill was opposed by the Conservative party, as impolitic and dangerous, but was finally carried, with very little alteration, by 38 votes, on Dec. 22 (163 to 135). Little more than a month after this, the Aberdeen Government resigned, in consequence of an adverse vote of the House of Commons on Mr. Roebuck's motion of Jan. 29.]


If I ask permission to enlarge a little the scope of our discussion, I have, at all events, this excuse, that the subject-matter more technically before the House has been very ably and fully discussed. There is another reason why the question may be viewed in a more general way, as affecting the conduct of the Government in carrying on the war and conducting negotiations, namely, that we have heard several hon. Members publicly declare that they refuse to entertain the matter now before the House on its merits, but persist in voting, in respect to it, contrary to their own opinions, and simply as a question of confidence in the Government. I must say, among all the evils which I attach to a state of war, not the least considerable is, that it has so demoralising a tendency as this on the representative system. We are called on to give votes contrary to our conscience, and to allow those votes to be recorded where the explanation would not often appear to account for them. It was stated the other night, by the noble Lord (John Russell) the Member for the City of London, that proposals for peace had been made on the part of Russia, through Vienna, upon certain bases, which have been pretty frequently before the world under the term of the 'Four Points.' Now, I wish to draw attention to that subject; but, before I do so, let me premise, that I do not intend to say one word with respect to the origin of this unhappy war. I intend to start from the situation in which we now find ourselves, and I think it behoves this House to express an opinion upon that situation.


I avow myself in favour of peace on the terms announced by Her Majesty's Ministers. At all events, hon. Members will see the absolute necessity, if the war is to go on, and if we are to have a war of invasion by land against Russia, of carrying it on in a different spirit and on a different scale from that in which the operations have hitherto been conducted. I think both sides of the House occupy common ground in this respect; for we shall all recognise the propriety and necessity of discussing this important and critical question. Before I offer an opinion on the desirability of concluding peace on these four points, it will be necessary to ask, what was the object contemplated by the war? I merely ask this as a matter of fact, and not with a view of arguing the question. It has been one of my difficulties, in arguing this question out of doors with friends or strangers, that I rarely find any intelligible agreement as to the object of the war. I have met with very respectable and well-educated men, who have told me that the object of the war was to open the Black Sea to all merchant-vessels. That, certainly, could not be the object, for the Black Sea was already as free to all merchant-vessels as the Baltic. I have met with officers who said that the object was to open the Danube, and to allow the ships of all nations to go up that river. The object, certainly, could not be that, for the traffic in the Danube has, during the last twenty years, multiplied nearly tenfold, and the ships of all nations have free access there. I have heard it stated and applauded at public meetings, that we are at war because we have a treaty with the Sultan, binding us to defend the integrity and independence of his empire. I remember that, at a most excited public meeting at Leicester, the first resolution, moved by a very intelligent gentleman, declared that we were bound by the most solemn treaties with the Sultan to defend the integrity and independence of the Turkish empire. Now, Lord Aberdeen has even ostentatiously announced in the House of Lords—for the instruction, I suppose, of such gentlemen as I have referred to—that we had no treaty before the present war binding us to defend the Sultan or his dominions. Another and greater cause of the popularity of the war out of doors has been, no doubt, the idea that it is for the freedom and independence of nations. There has been a strong feeling that Russia has not only absorbed and oppressed certain nationalities, but is the prime agent by which Austria perpetuates her dominion over communities averse to her rule. I should say that this class was fairly represented by my lamented and noble Friend the late Member for Marylebone, from whom I differed entirely in reference to his views on the question of interference with foreign countries, but for whose private virtues and disinterested conduct and boundless generosity I have always entertained the greatest veneration and respect. The late Lord Dudley Stuart for twenty years fairly represented the popular feeling out of doors, which was directed especially against the Emperor of Russia, and the popular sympathies, which were centred mainly on those territories which lie contiguous to the Russian empire. I used sometimes to tell that noble Lord, jocularly, that his sympathies were geographical—that they extended to all countries, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, bordering on Russia—that if the Poles, Hungarians, Moldavians, or Wallachians were in trouble or distress, he was sure to be, in this House, the representative of their wrongs; or if any unhappy individuals from those countries were refugees from oppression in this country, they were sure to go instantly to him for relief and protection. Lord Dudley Stuart represented a great amount of public sympathy in this country with respect to nationalities, as it is termed; but I ask, whether the ground on which the public impression is founded—that we are going to war to aid the Poles, Hungarians, Moldavians, or Wallachians—has not been entirely delusive; and whether it may not be ranked with the other notions about opening the Black Sea, or a treaty with the Sultan, and about the Danube not being free to the flags of all nations?


I ask, whether all these grounds have not been equally delusive? The first three grounds never had an existence at all; and, as to setting up oppressed nationalities, the Government certainly never intended to go to war for that object. To set myself right with those hon. Gentlemen who profess to have great regard for liberty everywhere, I beg to state that I yield to no one in sympathy for those who are struggling for freedom in any part of the world; but I will never sanction an interference which shall go to establish this or that nationality by force of arms, because that invades a principle which I wish to carry out in the other direction—the prevention of all foreign interference with nationalities for the sake of putting them down. Therefore, while I respect the motives of those gentlemen, I cannot act with them. This admission, however, I freely make, that, were it likely to advance the cause of liberty, of constitutional freedom, and national independence, it would be a great inducement to me to acquiesce in the war, or, at all events, I should see in it something like a compensation for the multiplied evils which attend a state of war.


And now we come to what is called the statesman's ground for this war: which is, that it is undertaken to defend the Turkish empire against the encroachments of Russia—as a part of the scheme, in fact, for keeping the several States of Europe within those limits in which they are at present circumscribed. This has been stated as a ground for carrying on the present war with Russia; but, I must say, this view of the case has been very much mixed up with magniloquent phraseology, which has tended greatly to embarrass the question. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London was the first, I think, to commence these magniloquent phrases, in a speech at Greenock about last August twelvemonths, in which he spoke of our duties to mankind, and to the whole world; and he has often talked since of this war as one intended to protect the liberties of all Europe and of the civilised world. I remember, too, the phrases which the noble Lord made use of at a City meeting, where he spoke of our being 'engaged in a just and necessary war, for no immediate advantage, but for the defence of our ancient ally, and for the maintenance of the independence of Europe.' Well, I have a word to say to the noble Lord on that subject. Now, we are placed to the extreme west of a continent, numbering some 200,000,000 inhabitants; and the theory is, that there is great danger from a growing eastern Power, which threatens to overrun the Continent, to inflict upon it another deluge like that of the Goths and Vandals, and to eclipse the light of civilisation in the darkness of barbarism. But, if that theory be correct, does it not behove the people of the Continent to take some part in pushing back that deluge of barbarism? I presume it is not intended that England should be the Anacharsis Clootz of Europe; but that, at all events, if we are to fight for everybody, those, at least, who are in the greatest danger, will join with us in resisting the common enemy. I am convinced, however, that all this declamation about the independence of Europe and the defence of civilisation will by-and-by disappear. I take it for granted, then, that the statesman's object in this war is to defend Turkey against the encroachments of Russia, and so to set a barrier against the aggressive ambition of that great empire. That is the language of the Queen's Speech. But have we not accomplished that object? I would ask, have we not arrived at that point? Have we not effected all that was proposed in the Queen's Speech? Russia is now no longer within the Turkish territory; she has renounced all idea of invading Turkey; and now, as we are told by the noble Lord, there have been put forward certain proposals from Russia, which are to serve as the bases of peace.


What are those proposals? In the first place, there is to be a joint protectorate over the Christians by the five great Powers; there is to be a joint guarantee for the rights and privileges of the Principalities; there is to be a revision of the rule laid down in 1841 with regard to the entrance of ships-of-war into the Bosphorus, and the Danube is to be free to all nations. These are the propositions that are made for peace, as we are told by the noble Lord; and it is competent for us, I think, as a House of Commons, to offer an opinion as to the desirability of a treaty on those terms.


My first reason for urging that we should entertain those proposals is, that we are told that Austria and Prussia have agreed to them. Those two Powers are more interested in this quarrel than England and France can be. Upon that subject I will quote the words of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, uttered in February last. The noble Lord said,—

'We know that Austria and Prussia had an interest in the matter more direct and greater than had either France or England. To Austria and Prussia it is a vital matter—a matter of existence—because, if Russia were either to appropriate any large portion of the Turkish territory, or even to reduce Turkey to the condition of a mere dependent State, it must be manifest to any man who casts a glance over the map of Europe, and who looks at the geographical position of these two Powers with regard to Russia and Turkey, that any considerable accession of power on the part of Russia in that quarter must be fatal to the independence of action of both Austria and Prussia.'


I entirely concur with the noble Lord in his view of the interest which Austria and Prussia have in this quarrel, and what I want to ask is this—Why should we seek greater guarantees and stricter engagements from Russia than those with which Austria and Prussia are content? They lie on the frontier of this great empire, and they have more to fear from its power than we can have; no Russian invasion can touch us until it has passed over them; and is it likely, if we fear, as we say we do, that Western Europe will be overrun by Russian barbarism—is it likely, I say, that since Austria and Prussia will be the first to suffer, they will not be as sensible to that danger as we can be? Ought we not rather to take it as a proof that we have somewhat exaggerated the danger which threatens Western Europe, when we find that Austria and Prussia are not so alarmed at it as we are? They are not greatly concerned about the danger, I think, or else they would join with England and France in a great battle to push it back. If, then, Austria and Prussia are ready to accept these proposals, why should not we be? Do you suppose that, if Russia really meditated an attack upon Germany—that if she had an idea of annexing the smallest portion of German territory, with only 100,000 inhabitants of Teutonic blood, all Germany would not be united as one man to resist her? Is there not a strong national feeling in that Germanic race?—are they not nearly 40,000,000 in number?—are they not the most intelligent, the most instructed, and have they not proved themselves the most patriotic people in Europe? And if they are not dissatisfied, why should we stand out for better conditions, and why should we make greater efforts and greater sacrifices to obtain peace than they? I may be told, that the people and the Government of Germany are not quite in harmony on these points. [Cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen who cheer, ought to be cautious, I think, how they assume that Governments do not represent their people. How would you like the United States to accept that doctrine with regard to this country? But I venture to question the grounds upon which that opinion is formed. I have taken some little pains to ascertain the feeling of the people in Germany on this war, and I believe that if you were to poll the population of Prussia—which is the brain of Germany—whilst nineteen-twentieths would say that in this quarrel England is right and Russia wrong; nay, whilst they would say they wished success to England as against Russia, yet, on the contrary, if you were to poll the same population as to whether they would join England with an army to fight against Russia, I believe, from all I have heard, that nineteen-twentieths would support their King in his present pacific policy.


But I want to know what is the advantage of having the vote of a people like that in your favour, if they are not inclined to join you in action? There is, indeed, a wide distinction between the existence of a certain opinion in the minds of a people and a determination to go to war in support of that opinion. I think we were rather too precipitate in transferring our opinion into acts; that we rushed to arms with too much rapidity; and that if we had abstained from war, continuing to occupy the same ground as Austria and Prussia, the result would have been, that Russia would have left the Principalities, and have crossed the Pruth; and that, without a single shot being fired, you would have accomplished the object for which you have gone to war. But what are the grounds on which we are to continue this war, when the Germans have acquiesced in the proposals of peace which have been made? Is it that war is a luxury? Is it that we are fighting—to use a cant phrase of Mr. Pitt's time—to secure indemnity for the past, and security for the future? Are we to be the Don Quixotes of Europe, to go about fighting for every cause where we find that some one has been wronged? In most quarrels there is generally a little wrong on both sides; and, if we make up our minds always to interfere when any one is being wronged, I do not see always how we are to choose between the two sides. It will not do always to assume that the weaker party is in the right, for little States, like little individuals, are often very quarrelsome, presuming on their weakness, and not unfrequently abusing the forbearance which their weakness procures them. But the question is, on what ground of honour or interest are we to continue to carry on this war, when we may have peace upon conditions which are satisfactory to the great countries of Europe who are near neighbours of this formidable Power? There is neither honour nor interest forfeited, I think, in accepting these terms, because we have already accomplished the object for which it was said this war was begun.


The questions which have since arisen, with regard to Sebastopol, for instance, are mere points of detail, not to be bound up with the original quarrel. I hear many people say, 'We will take Sebastopol, and then we will treat for peace.' I am not going to say that you cannot take Sebastopol—I am not going to argue against the power of England and France. I might admit, for the sake of argument, that you can take Sebastopol. You may occupy ten miles of territory in the Crimea for any time; you may build there a town; you may carry provisions and reinforcements there, for you have the command of the sea; but while you do all this, you will have no peace with Russia. Nobody who knows the history of Russia can think for a moment that you are going permanently to occupy any portion of her territory, and, at the same time, to be at peace with that empire. But admitting your power to do all this, is the object which you seek to accomplish worth the sacrifice which it will cost you? Can anybody doubt that the capture of Sebastopol will cost you a prodigious sacrifice of valuable lives; and, I ask you, is the object to be gained worth that sacrifice? The loss of treasure I will leave out of the question, for that may be replaced, but we can never restore to this country those valuable men who may be sacrificed in fighting the battles of their country—perhaps the most energetic, the bravest, the most devoted body of men that ever left these islands. You may sacrifice them, if you like, but you are bound to consider whether the object will compensate you for that sacrifice.


I will assume that you take Sebastopol; but for what purpose is it that you will take it, for you cannot permanently occupy the Crimea without being in a perpetual state of war with Russia? It is, then, I presume, as a point of honour, that you insist upon taking it, because you have once commenced the siege. The noble Lord, speaking of this fortress, said:—'If Sebastopol, that great stronghold of Russian power, were destroyed, its fall would go far to give that security to Turkey which was the object of the war.' But I utterly deny that Sebastopol is the stronghold of Russian power. It is simply an outward and visible sign of the power of Russia; but, by destroying Sebastopol, you do not by any means destroy that power. You do not destroy or touch Russian power, unless you can permanently occupy some portion of its territory, disorder its industry, or disturb its Government. If you can strike at its capital, if you can deprive it of some of its immense fertile plains, or take possession of those vast rivers which empty themselves into the Black Sea, then, indeed, you strike at Russian power; but, suppose you take Sebastopol, and make peace to-morrow; in ten years, I tell you, the Russian Government will come to London for a loan to build it up again stronger than before. And as for destroying those old green fir ships, you only do the Emperor a service, by giving him an opportunity for building fresh ones.


Is not the celebrated case of Dunkirk exactly in point? In 1713, at the treaty of Utrecht, the French King, under sore necessity, consented to destroy Dunkirk. It had heen built under the direction of Vauban, who had exhausted his genius and the coffers of the State, in making it as strong as science and money could make it. The French King bound himself to demolish it, and the English sent over two Commissioners to see the fortress thrown to the ground, the jetties demolished and cast into the harbour, and a mole or bank built across the channel leading into the port; and you would have thought Dunkirk was destroyed once and for ever. There was a treaty binding the King not to rebuild it, and which on two successive occasions was renewed. Some few years afterwards a storm came and swept away the mole or bank which blocked up the channel, by which accident ingress and egress were restored; and shortly afterwards, a war breaking out between England and Spain, the French Government took advantage of our being engaged elsewhere, and rebuilt the fortifications on the seaside, as the historian tells us, much stronger than before. The fact is recorded, that in the Seven Years' War, about forty years afterwards, Dunkirk, for all purposes of aggression by sea, was more formidable than ever. We had in that case a much stronger motive for destroying Dunkirk than we can ever have in the case of Sebastopol; for in the war which ended in the peace of Utrecht, there were 1,600 English merchant-vessels, valued at 1,250,000l., taken by privateers which came out of Dunkirk.


Then, again, in the middle of the last century, we destroyed Cherbourg, and during the last war we held possession of Toulon; but did we thereby destroy the power of France? If we could have got hold of some of her fertile provinces—if we could have taken possession of her capital, or struck at her vitals, we might have permanently impoverished and diminished her power and resources; but we could not do it by the simple demolition of this or that fortress. So it would be in this case—we might take Sebastopol, and then make peace; but there would be the rankling wound—there would be a venom in the treaty which would determine Russia to take the first opportunity of reconstructing this fortress. There would be storms, too, there, which would destroy whatever mole we might build across the harbour of Sebastopol, for storms in the Black Sea are more frequent, as we know, than in the Channel; but even if Sebastopol were utterly destroyed, there are many places on the coast of the Crimea which might be occupied for a similar purpose.


But then comes the question, Will the destruction of Sebastopol give security to the Turks? The Turkish Empire will only be safe when its internal condition is secure, and you are not securing the internal condition of Turkey while you are at war; on the contrary, I believe you are now doing more to demoralise the Turks and destroy their Government than you could possibly have done in time of peace. If you wish to secure Turkey, you must reform its Government, purify its administration, unite its people, and draw out its resources; and then it will not present the spectacle of misery and poverty that it does now. Why, you yourselves have recognised the existing state of Turkey to be so bad, that you intend to make a treaty which shall bind the Five Powers to a guarantee for the better treatment of the Christians. But have you considered well the extent of the principle in which you are embarking? You contemplate making a treaty by which the Five Powers are to do that together which Russia has hitherto claimed to do herself. What sort of conclusion do you think disinterested and impartial critics—people in the United States, for instance—will draw from such a policy? They must come to the conclusion that we have been rather wrong in our dealings with Russia, if we have gone to war with her to prevent her doing that very thing which we ourselves propose to do, in conjunction with the other Powers. If so much mischief has sprung from the protectorate of one Power, Heaven help the Turks when the protectorate of the Five Powers is inaugurated! But, at this very moment, I understand that a mixed Commission is sitting at Vienna, to serve as a court of appeal for the Danubian Principalities; in fact, that Moldavia and Wallachia are virtually governed by a Commission representing Austria, England, France, and Turkey.


Now, this is the very principle of interference against which I wish to protest. From this I derive a recognition of the exceptional internal condition of Turkey, which, I say, will be your great difficulty upon the restoration of peace. Well, then, would it not be more statesmanlike in the Government, instead of appealing, with clap-trap arguments, to heedless passions out of doors, and telling the people that Turkey has made more progress in the career of regeneration during the last twenty years than any other country under the sun, at once to address themselves to the task before them—the reconstruction of the internal system of that empire? Be sure this is what you will have to do, make peace when you may; for everybody knows that, once you withdraw your support and your agency from her, Turkey must immediately collapse, and sink into a state of anarchy. The fall of Sebastopol would only make the condition of Turkey the worse; and, I repeat, that your real and most serious difficulty will begin when you have to undertake the management of that country's affairs, after you withdraw from it, and when you will have to re-establish her as an independent State. I would not have said a word about the condition of Turkey, but for the statement twice so jauntily made about her social progress by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton. Why, what says the latest traveller in that country on this head? Lord Carlisle, in his recent work, makes the following remarks on the state of the Mahometan population, after describing the improving condition of the Porte's Christian subjects:—

'But when you leave the partial splendours of the capital and the great State establishments, what is it you find over the broad surface of a land which nature and climate have favoured beyond all others, once the home of all art and all civilisation? Look yourself—ask those who live there—deserted villages, uncultivated plains, banditti-haunted mountains, torpid laws, a corrupt administration, a disappearing people.'

Why, the testimony borne by every traveller, from Lamartine downwards, is, that the Mahometan population is perishing—is dying out from its vices, and those vices of a nameless character. In fact, we do not know the true social state of Turkey, because it is indescribable; and Lord Carlisle, in his work, says that he is constrained to avoid referring to it. The other day, Dr. Hadly, who had lately returned from Turkey, where he had a near relation, who had been physician to the Embassy for about thirty-five years, stated in Manchester that his relative told him that the population of Constantinople, into which there is a large influx from the provinces, has considerably diminished during the last twenty years,—a circumstance which he attributes to the indescribable social vices of the Turks. Now, I ask, are you doing anything to promote habits of self-reliance or self-respect among this people by going to war in their behalf? On the contrary, the moment your troops landed at Gallipoli, the activity and energy of the French killed a poor pacha there, who took to his bed, and died from pure distraction of mind; and from that time to this you have done nothing but humiliate and demoralise the Turkish character more than ever. I have here a letter from a friend, describing the conflagration which took place at Varna, in which he says, it was curious to see how our sailors, when they landed to extinguish the fire in the Turkish houses, thrust the poor Turks aside, exactly as if they had been so many infant-school children in England. Another private letter, which I recently received from an officer of high rank in the Crimea, states:—

'We are degrading the Turk as fast as we can; he is now the scavenger of the two armies as far as he can be made so. He won't fight, and his will to work is little better; he won't be trusted again to try the former, and now the latter is all he is allowed to do. When there are entrenchments to be made, or dead to be buried, the Turks do it. They do it as slowly and lazily as they can, but do it they must. This is one way of raising the Turk; it is propping him up on one side, to send him headlong down a deeper precipice on the other.'

That is what you are doing by the process that is now going on in Turkey. I dare say you are obliged to take the whole command into your own hands, because you find no native power—no administrative authority in that country; and you cannot rely on the Turks for anything, If they send an army to the Crimea, the sick are abandoned to the plague or the cholera, and having no commissariat, their soldiers are obliged to beg a crust at the tents of our men. Why, Sir, what an illustration you have in the facts relating to our sick and wounded at Constantinople of the helpless supineness of the Turks! I mention these things, as the whole gist of the Eastern Question lies in the difficulty arising from the prostrate condition of this race. Your troops would not be in this quarter at all, but for the anarchy and barbarism that reign in Turkey.


Well, you have a hospital at Scutari, where there are some thousands of your wounded. They are wounded Englishmen, brought there from the Crimea, where they have gone 3,000 miles from their own home, to fight the battles of the Turks. Would you not naturally expect, that when these miserable and helpless sufferers were brought to the Turkish capital, containing 700,000 souls, those in whose cause they have shed their blood would at once have a friendly and generous care taken of them? Supposing the case had been that these wounded men had been fighting for the cause of Prussia, and that they had been sent from the frontiers of that country to Berlin, which has only half the population of Constantinople, would the ladies of the former capital, do you think, have allowed these poor creatures to have suffered from the want of lint or of nurses? Does not the very fact that you have to send out everything for your wounded, prove either that the Turks despise and detest, and would spit upon you, or that they are so feeble and incompetent as not to have the power of helping you in the hour of your greatest necessity? The people of England have been grossly misled regarding the state of Turkey. I am bound to consider that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton expressed his honest convictions on this point; but certainly the unfortunate ignorance of one in his high position has had a most mischievous effect on the public opinion of this country, for it undoubtedly has been the prevalent impression out of doors, that the Turks are thoroughly capable of regeneration and self-government—that the Mahometan population are fit to be restored to independence, and that we have only to fight their battle against their external enemies in order to enable them to exercise the functions of a great Power. A greater delusion than this, however, I believe, never existed in any civilised State.


Well, if, as I say is the case, the unanimous testimony of every traveller, German, French, English, and American, for the last twenty years, attests the decay and helplessness of the Turks, are you not wasting your treasure and your men's precious lives before Sebastopol, in an enterprise that cannot in the least aid the solution of your real difficulty? If you mean to take the Emperor of Russia eventually into your counsels—for this is the drift of my argument—if you contemplate entering into a quintuple alliance, to which he will be one of the parties, in order to manipulate the shattered remains of Turkey, to reconstitute or revise her internal polity, and maintain her independence, what folly it is to continue fighting against the Power that you are going into partnership with; and how absurd in the extreme it is to continue the siege of Sebastopol, which will never solve the difficulty, but must envenom the State with which you are to share the protectorate, and which is also the nearest neighbour of the Power for which you interpose, and your efforts to reorganise which, even if there be a chance of your accomplishing that object, she has the greatest means of thwarting! Would it not be far better for you to allow this question to be settled by peace, than leave it to the arbitrement of war, which cannot advance its adjustment one inch?


I have already adduced an illustration from the history of this country, as an inducement for your returning to peace. I will mention another. We all remember the war with America, into which we entered in 1812, on the question of the right of search, and other cognate questions relating to the rights of neutrals. Seven years before that war was declared, public opinion and the statesmen of the two countries had been incessantly disputing upon the questions at issue, but nothing could be amicably settled respecting them, and war broke out. After two years of hostilities, however, the negotiators on both sides met again, and fairly arranged the terms of peace. But how did they do this? Why, they agreed in their treaty of peace not to allude to what had been the subject-matter of the dispute which gave rise to the war, and the question of the right of search was never once touched on in that treaty. The peace then made between England and America has now lasted for forty years; and what has been the result? In the mean time, America has grown stronger, and we, perhaps, have grown wiser, though I am not quite so sure of that. We have now gone to war again with a European Power, but we have abandoned those belligerent rights about which we took up the sword in 1812. Peace solved that difficulty, and did more for you than war ever could have done; for, had you insisted at Ghent on the American people recognising your right to search their ships, take their seamen, and seize their goods, they would have been at war with you till this hour, before they would have surrendered these points, and the most frightful calamities might have been entailed on both countries by a protracted struggle.


Now, apply this lesson to the Eastern question. Supposing you agree to terms of peace with Russia, you will have your hands full in attempting to ameliorate the social and political system of Turkey. But who knows what may happen with regard to Russia herself in the way of extricating you from your difficulty? That difficulty, as respects Russia, is no doubt very much of a personal nature. You have to deal with a man of great, but, as I think, misguided energy, whose strong will and indomitable resolution cannot easily be controlled. But the life of a man has its limits; and certainly, the Emperor of Russia, if he survive as many years from this time as the duration of the peace between England and America, will be a most extraordinary phenomenon. You can hardly suppose that you will have a great many years to wait before, in the course of nature, that which constitutes your chief difficulty in the present war may have passed away. It is because you do not sufficiently trust to the influence of the course of events in smoothing down difficulties, but will rush headlong to a resort to arms, which never can solve them, that you involve yourselves in long and ruinous wars. I never was of opinion that you had any reason to dread the aggressions of Russia upon any other State. If you have a weak and disordered empire like Turkey, as it were, next door to another that is more powerful, no doubt that tends to invite encroachments; but you have two chances in your favour—you may either have a feeble or differently-disposed successor acceding to the throne of the present Czar of Russia, or you may be able to establish some kind of authority in Turkey that will be more stable than its present rule. At all events, if you effect a quintuple alliance between yourselves and the other great Powers, you will certainly bind Austria, Prussia, and France to support you in holding Russia to the faithful fulfilment of the proposed treaty relating to the internal condition of Turkey. Why not, then, embrace that alternative, instead of continuing the present war? because, recollect that you have accomplished the object which Her Majesty in her gracious Speech last session stated that she had in view in engaging in this contest. Russia is no longer invading the Turkish territory; you are now rather invading Russia's own dominions, and attacking one of her strongholds at the extremity of her empire, but, as I contend, not assailing the real source of her power. Now, I say you may withdraw from Sebastopol without at all compromising your honour.


By-the-by, I do not understand what is meant, when you say that your honour is staked on your success in any enterprise of this kind. Your honour may be involved in your successfully rescuing Turkey from Russian aggression; but, if you have accomplished that task, you may withdraw your forces from before Sebastopol without being liable to reproach for the sacrifice of your national honour.


I have another ground for trusting that peace would not be again broken, if you terminate hostilities now. I believe that all parties concerned have received such a lesson, that they are not likely soon to rush into war again. I believe that the Emperor of Russia has learnt, from the courage and self-relying force displayed by our troops, that an enlightened, free, and self-governed people is a far more formidable antagonist than he had reckoned upon, and that he will not so confidently advance his semi-barbarous hordes to cope with the active energy and inexhaustible resources of the representatives of Western civilisation. England also has been taught that it is not so easy to carry on war upon land against a State like Russia, and will weigh the matter well in future before she embarks in any such conflict.


I verily believe that all parties want to get out of this war—I believe that this is the feeling of all the Governments concerned; and I consider that you have now the means, if you please, of escaping from your embarrassment, notwithstanding that some Members of our Cabinet, by a most unstatesmanlike proceeding, have succeeded in evoking a spirit of excitement in the country which it will not be very easy to allay. The noble Lord the Member for London, and the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, have, in my opinion, ministered to this excited feeling, and held out expectations which it will be extremely difficult to satisfy.


Now, what do you intend to do if your operations before Sebastopol should fail? The Secretary-at-War tells us that 'Sebastopol must be taken this campaign, or it will not be taken at all.' If you are going to stake all upon this one throw of the dice, I say that it is more than the people of England themselves had calculated upon. But if you have made up your minds that you will have only one campaign against Sebastopol, and that, if it is not taken then, you will abandon it, in that case, surely, there is little that stands between you and the proposals for peace on the terms I have indicated.


I think you will do well to take counsel from the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard), than whom—although I do not always agree with him in opinion—I know nobody on whose authority I would more readily rely in matters of fact relating to the East. That hon. Gentleman tells you that Russia will soon have 200,000 men in the Crimea; and if this be so, and this number is only to be 'the beginning,' I should say, now is the time, of all others, to accept moderate proposals for peace.


Now, mark, I do not say that France and England cannot succeed in what they have undertaken in the Crimea. I do not set any limits to what these two great countries may do, if they persist in fighting this duel with Russia's force of 200,000 men in the Crimea; and, therefore, do not let it be said that I offer any discouragement to my fellow-countrymen; but what I come back to is the question—what are you likely to get that will compensate you for your sacrifice? The hon. Member for Aylesbury also says, that 'the Russians will, next year, overrun Asiatic Turkey, and seize Turkey's richest provinces'—they will probably extend their dominion over Asia Minor down to the sea-coast. The acquisition of these provinces would far more than compensate her for the loss of Sebastopol. I suppose you do not contemplate making war upon the plains in the interior of Russia, but wish to destroy Sebastopol; your success in which I have told you, I believe, will only end in that stronghold being rebuilt, ten years hence or so, from the resources of London capitalists. How, then, will you benefit Turkey—and especially if the prediction is fulfilled regarding Russia's overrunning the greater portion of Asiatic Turkey? I am told, also, that the Turkish army will melt away like snow before another year; and where, then, under all these circumstances, will be the wisdom or advantage in carrying on the war?


I have now, Sir, only one word to add, and that relates to the condition of our army in the Crimea. We are all, I dare say, constantly hearing accounts, from friends out there, of the condition, not only of our own soldiers, but also of the Turks, as well as of the state of the enemy. What I have said about the condition of the Turks will, I am sure, be made as clear as daylight, when the army's letters are published and our officers return home. But as to the state of our own troops, I have in my hand a private letter from a friend in the Crimea, dated the 2nd of December last, in which the writer says,—

'The people of England will shudder when they read of what this army is suffering—and yet they will hardly know one-half of it. I cannot imagine that either pen or pencil can ever depict it in its fearful reality. The line, from the nature of their duties, are greater sufferers than the artillery, although there is not much to choose between them. I am told, by an officer of the former, not likely to exaggerate, that one stormy, wet night, when the tents were blown down, the sick, the wounded, and the dying of his regiment, were struggling in one fearful mass for warmth and shelter.'

Now, if you consult these brave men, and ask them what their wishes are, their first and paramount desire would be to fulfil their duty. They are sent to capture Sebastopol, and their first object would be to take that strong fortress, or perish in the attempt. But, if you were able to look into the hearts of these men, to ascertain what their longing, anxious hope has been, even in the midst of the bloody struggle at Alma or at Inkerman, I believe you would find it has been, that the conflict in which they were engaged might have the effect of sooner restoring them again to their own hearths and homes. Now, I say that the men who have acted so nobly at the bidding of their country are entitled to that country's sympathy and consideration; and if there be no imperative necessity for further prosecuting the operations of the siege, which must—it will, I am sure, be admitted by all, whatever may be the result—be necessarily attended with an immense sacrifice of precious lives—unless, I say, you can show that some paramount object will be gained by contending for the mastery over those forts and ships, you ought to encourage Her Majesty's Government to look with favour upon the propositions which now proceed from the enemy; and then, if we do make mistakes in accepting moderate terms of peace, we shall, at all events, have this consolation, that we are erring on the side of humanity.

39 of 66

Return to top