Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
[On March 15, 1855, an attempt was made to restore peace, by assembling the representatives of the principal European Powers in Vienna, with a view to finding a basis for negotiations. It was believed that the prospects of peace were brighter since the death of the Emperor Nicholas (March 2). The chief object of the Conference was to limit the naval force of Russia in the Black Sea. But to this Prince Gortschakoff, who represented Russia, would not agree, and the negotiations broke down. The Conference sat till April 26, and the dissolution of the Conference was announced on June 5. The house was engaged in debating two resolutions: one of Sir Thomas Baring, which merely regretted the failure of the Vienna negotiations; and another, of Mr. Lowe, which averred that the refusal of Russia to restrict her naval force in the Black Sea, had exhausted the means of suspending hostilities by negotiation. The former motion was agreed to.]
I consider that the announcement which the noble Lord at the head of the Government has just made, ought not to prevent this House from discussing the important subject now before it; for, whatever may be the result of the division here, certainly there is no other topic which now so much engrosses public attention out of doors. The minority of Members of this House who wish to raise this question, and who belong to what is called the Peace party, have been stigmatised as enemies of their country, and traitors to the cause in which it is engaged. Why, my impulsive friend the Member for Lambeth (Mr. Wilkinson), and others who followed him, if they had at all read the recent history of this country, would have been ashamed of the charges they have made, because of their very triteness, and because they have at former periods been levelled at men of undoubted patriotism, who were totally undeserving of these reproaches. We know, for example, that it was attributed to Burke, that he had caused the American War, and that distinguished man complained feelingly of having been denounced as an American. We know also that the great Chatham himself did not escape that imputation; and I need not tell the occupants of the Treasury-bench that their illustrious chief in former days, Charles Fox, was ridiculed and denounced in every way as having been the hireling tool of France. In one of Gilray's inimitable caricatures, Fox is represented as standing on the edge of Dover cliffs, with a lantern in his hand, signalling to the French to come over and invade us; and, indeed, we read in Horner's 'Memoirs,' that it was seriously discussed whether Fox was not actually in the pay of France. Therefore I say that hon. Gentlemen who have no facts or imagination of their own on which to base their arguments, ought really to be ashamed to reproduce absurd and calumnious partisan accusations of this kind in such a debate.
I claim the same standing-ground, in discussing this question of peace or war, as any other hon. Gentleman. I will deal with it as a politician, strictly on the principles of policy and expediency; and I am prepared to assume that wars may be inevitable and necessary, although I do not admit that all wars are so. We, therefore, who took exception to the commencement of this war on grounds of policy, are not to be classed by individual Members of this House with those who are necessarily opposed to all wars whatever. That is but a device to represent a section of this House as advocates of notions so utopian that they must be entirely shut out of the arena of modern politics, and their arguments systematically denied that fair hearing to which all shades of opinion are fairly entitled, no matter from what quarter they may emanate. I say, that we have all one common object in view—we all seek the interest of our country; and the only basis on which this debate should be conducted is that of the honest and just interests of England.
Now, the House of Commons is a body that has to deal with nothing but the honest interests of England; and I likewise assert that the honest and just interests of this country, and of her inhabitants, are the just and honest interests of the whole world. As individuals, we may act philanthropically to all the world, and as Christians we may wish well to all, and only desire to have power in order to inflict chastisement on the wrong-doer, and to raise up the down-trodden wherever they may be placed; but I maintain that we do not come here to lay taxes on the people for the purpose of carrying out schemes of universal benevolence, or to enforce the behests of the Almighty in every part of the globe. We are a body with limited powers and duties, and we must confine ourselves to guarding the just interests of this empire. We ought, therefore, to cast to the winds all the declamatory balderdash and verbiage that we have heard from the Treasurybench as to our fighting for the liberty and independence of the entire world. You do not seriously mean to fight for anything of the kind; and, when you come to examine the grave political discussions of the Vienna Conferences, you find that the statesmen and noble Lords who worked us into this war, and whipped and lashed the country into a warlike temper by exciting appeals to its enthusiasm, have no real intention to satisfy the expectations which their own public declarations have created. I say, we are dealing with a question affecting the interests of the realm, and one which may be discussed without any declamatory appeals to passion from any part of the House.
I now wish to refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southwark (Sir W. Molesworth). If there be a right honourable or honourable Gentleman in this House whose opinions I have a right to say I understand, it is the right hon. Baronet. I say most deliberately—and he cannot contradict me—that never in this world was there a speech delivered by any honourable Gentleman so utterly at variance with all previous declarations of opinion as that delivered by the right honourable Gentleman last night. Does the right hon. Gentleman remember a jeu-d'esprit of the poet Moore, when dealing, in 1833, with the Whig occupants of those (the Treasury) benches, shortly after they had emerged from a long penance in the dreary wilderness of Opposition, and when the Whigs showed themselves to be Tories when in office? Does he remember the jeu-d'esprit?—why, I think he and I have laughed over it, when we have been talking over the sudden conversions of right honourable Gentlemen. The poet illustrated the matter by a story of an Irishman who went over to the West Indies, and, before landing, heard some of the blacks speaking tolerably bad English, whereupon, mistaking them for his own countrymen, he exclaimed, 'What! black and curly already?' Now, we have all seen metamorphoses upon those benches—how colours have changed, and features become deformed, when men came under the influence of the Treasury atmosphere; but I must say that never, to my knowledge, have I seen a change in which there has been so deep a black and so stiff a curl. I confess I should very much like to make the right hon. Gentleman read that admirable speech which he delivered, not merely on the great Pacifico debate, when he denounced an intermeddling policy on the part of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, but also the speech which he made in Yorkshire at the time of the threatened rupture with France upon the Syrian question. I wish the right hon. Gentleman could be forced to read to the House the speech he made in the open air to the people of Leeds about going to war for the Mahomedan race, and for the maintenance of its ascendancy in European Turkey. I should like to see the right hon. Gentleman just stand at the table, and to hear him read aloud that speech.
I will now come to the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. The right hon. Gentleman says, the question is now, whether the Government did right in refusing to make peace on the terms proposed by Russia? Now, that, I assert, is not the whole question. The real question which is involved in the debate, and which the House has to decide, is, whether the plan proposed by the Government was the best and only one that could be desired, and whether the difference between the plan submitted by Russia and that proposed by our Government was such as warranted a recommencement of the war. What is the difference between those propositions? It is the Government of this country that we have to deal with, and shall have to deal with in future. They must be held responsible for the war; they will reap all the glory, if it be successful, and on them must rest the responsibility should it be, unhappily, unsuccessful. What, then, I ask, is the difference between the propositions of the Government and those of Russia? The difference is this—whether Russia shall keep four ships of the line, four frigates, and a proportional number of smaller vessels in the Black Sea; or whether all navies of the world shall have free access to the Black Sea, and Russia be left, like any other country, to have as many ships as she pleases. I will not go over the ground so ably traversed by my right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson), but upon the question of the limitation of force I wish to make one remark. You offer to allow Russia to have four ships of the line, four frigates, and a proportion of smaller vessels. Now, I have been told by a nautical man, fully competent to give an opinion upon such a subject, that if Russia had accepted your terms, had burnt or sunk all her old 74's, and greentimber built ships, and had sent to the United States for four line-of-battle ships of the largest size, fitted with screws, mounting 130 guns of the largest calibre, and for four frigates of that elastic character which the Americans give to their frigates, carrying some 70 or 80 guns of the heaviest calibre, and all those vessels fitted with screws, she would then have possessed a far better and much more powerful navy than ever she had before in the Black Sea. Such a navy would have been more than a match for double the number of ships such as Russia now has in that sea. If that be the case, what injury will you inflict upon Russia—what diminution of naval power will you enforce—what great reduction of force are you going to demand for the protection of Turkey?
I know I may be told, 'Then why did not Russia accede to those terms?' Russia resisted that plan as a point of honour, and not as a question of force; she rejected it on principle. The right hon. Gentleman says, 'If you allow Russia to have free action in the Black Sea, and you are to have free access yourself, then you will be obliged to keep up a large navy and a large peace establishment always to watch Russia.' But suppose Russia had signed her name to a piece of parchment, would you have such implicit faith in her as to reduce your forces to a peace establishment? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, who, in his inflammatory harangue last night, told us we were to have a six years' war, whether, if the large sums expended in a six years' war were put out at interest, the yearly return would not be more than sufficient to provide a sufficient force to watch Russia in time of peace? No one supposes for a moment that, if you had come to terms with Russia, you were going at once to reduce your war establishment. You will not believe anything which Russia promises. You say, 'It is of no use taking the guarantee of Russia; we must insist on her diminishing the number of her ships in the Black Sea.' And if she did promise to diminish the number, you would not trust her—and, with your present views, properly so.
But when you undertake to maintain the independence of Turkey, you have a task upon your hands which is not to be performed without great expense. It cannot be done without great armaments constantly on the watch over Turkey. You have bound yourselves to the task of maintaining a tottering empire which cannot support itself, and such a task cannot be accomplished without a vast expenditure. You likewise ask for securities. Now I ask the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell), to hear what the great model of the Whigs in Opposition said upon that subject. Mr. Fox, when the Tories of his day were urging, as the noble Lord is now urging against Russia, that we must have security against future aggressions of France, said:—
'Security! You have security; the only security that you can ever expect to get. It is the present interest of France to make peace. She will keep it, if it be her interest. Such is the state of nations; and you have nothing but your own vigilance for your security.'
That rule still holds good, and will hold good so long as the world lasts in its present character. I maintain that, whatever parties there be in this House, whether for peace or war, if the majority of this House acknowledges as a duty or a matter of interest or policy, to maintain Turkey against the encroachments of Russia, they can never expect to have a small peace establishment; and, I will say honestly, if we recognise as parts of our policy the sending of armed bodies of land forces to the Continent, into the midst of great standing armies, and into countries where the conscription prevails, I should be a hypocrite if I ever said we could expect to continue what has been the maxim of this country—the maintenance of a moderate peace establishment. If that is to be our recognised policy, we must keep up a large standing army, and place ourselves to some extent on a par with Austria, France, and Russia ; and, if we attempt to interfere in Continental politics without such preparations, then, I say, the country is only preparing a most ignominious and ridiculous exposure of weakness.
Is the right hon. Gentleman—who has been equalled by no one in his vituperation of the Emperor of Russia and the Russian Government—aware, as a Cabinet Minister, that the Government has made this country a party to a binding engagement with Russia, to a treaty binding ourselves, in conjunction with Russia, to interfere in the affairs of Wallachia and Moldavia? You, who said last night Russia was without shame, and attributed to her every vile principle, I ask, as a Member of the Cabinet, are you aware that a treaty has already been signed and concluded, so far as can be at present, in which this country binds itself, in conjunction with Russia, Austria, France, and Turkey, to be the guardian of Wallachia and Moldavia ; to act with Russia in interfering by force of arms, and, in fact, forming a tribunal which virtually will constitute the Government of Wallachia and Moldavia? I repeat, that by the first protocol, you have bound yourself, in partnership with Russia, to be virtually the governors of Wallachia and Moldavia. I will show you what engagements you entered into with that Government which it suits you for the moment to denounce, because, within forty-eight hours, the newspapers had brought you the news of some imaginary triumph, but which you would slaver with your praise to-morrow, if it suited your purpose. The 7th Article of the first protocol says:—
'In the event of the internal tranquillity of the said Principalities being compromised, no armed intervention shall take place in their territories without being or becoming the subject of agreement between the high contracting parties.
'The Courts engage not to afford protection in the Principalities to foreigners, whose proceedings might be prejudicial either to the tranquillity of those countries, or to the interests of neighbouring States. Disapproving such proceedings, they engage reciprocally to take into serious consideration the representations which may be made on this subject by the Powers, or even by the local authorities.'
So that if the Governor of Bucharest makes a report of some local émeute, you are bound, in conjunction with Russia, to interfere. But what is the conclusion of the protocol? I blushed when I read it, and I believe there are other hon. Gentlemen who share my feelings:—
'On its side, the Sublime Porte will enjoin on the Principalities not to tolerate in their territory foreigners such as above described, nor'—and this is the gist of the article—'to allow the local inhabitants to meddle with matters dangerous to the tranquillity of their own country, or of neighbouring States.'
And the name of 'John Russell' is put at the foot of this protocol, the object of which is to prevent the inhabitants from interfering in matters which may be dangerous to the tranquillity of their own country. Mark the child and champion of revolution when he breathes the air of Vienna. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) cheers these sentiments; he cheers my denunciations of these arrangements; but has my hon. Friend pursued that bold, consistent, and manly course upon this question, which I think, with his declared opinions, he ought to have taken? It is well known that the sympathies of my hon. Friend were in favour of this war, because he believed it would be advantageous to the independence or the good government of such States as Wallachia, Moldavia, and Servia. But has my hon. Friend so little sagacity as not to see that all this waste of blood and treasure has had very different objects? And why has my hon. Friend, seeing what is the tendency of the war—seeing, from these protocols, what is to be its conclusion—not denounced it, since he has declared that a war with such objects as the Government had in view would be a wicked war?
Before the outbreak of the war, I was applied to by some illustrious men, and requested not to oppose it, because, as I was hopefully told, it was likely to tend to the emancipation of the down-trodden communities on the Continent. I gave my opinion upon the subject in writing, more than eighteen months ago, and I would not now change a word of it. I warned those distinguished persons, that if they expected that a war originating in diplomacy, as this war has originated, carried on by enormous regular armies, as this war has been carried on, and having a direction and a purpose given to it by the men who are now at the head of our Government and of the Continental Governments, could by any possibility satisfy their aspirations, they would deceive themselves. I said, my only fear was, that the war would have just the opposite result; that it would strengthen the despotisms they wished to check, and depress still lower the communities they wished to serve. That is the tendency, that is the inevitable destiny of this war. But to revert to my right hon. Friend (Sir W. Molesworth), and his charges against Russia and the Russian Government. I am not here to defend the Russian Government; no one can be more opposed than I am to the policy of Russian despotism; but I must say, I think it is unjustifiable, I had almost said scandalous, for a Member of a Cabinet which has been a party to these confidential, and, as I think, most unworthy engagements, in conjunction with the Russian Government, to get up in this House, and speak of the Russian Government and people as my right hon. Friend spoke of them last night. But this game of see-saw in argument has not been confined to him alone; it has been the characteristic of every Member of the Government. There has been a constant change of tone and argument to suit the momentary impulses of passion out of doors, and of the press. At times, so obvious is the effect produced by a few leading articles, that I could almost imagine, if I were living in another country where constitutional government was carried on with less decorum than in this country, that some secrets had oozed out from some Member of the Cabinet, or from the wife of some Member of the Cabinet, to the editor of a newspaper, to the effect that there were disagreements in the Cabinet; that there was a peace party and a war party; that the war party was less numerous but more active than the peace party, and that the peace party required sometimes to be whipped into capitulation; and I could imagine the newspaper then dealing out a few blows in the shape of leading articles, from day to day, until the peace party had changed its tone, and given way to the war party. So complete a change of language have we seen, that I can almost imagine the case to have happened even here, which I have supposed possible in another country.
What has been the language of the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell)? At the Conferences he was as amiable, polite, and agreeable as it is his natural wont to be to those with whom he associates in private. But immediately upon his return to England and to the House of Commons, he falls back into his old strain, just as if he had never been to Vienna, and talks of Russia having established great fortifications upon the German frontier, and in the Baltic, and of the system of corruption, intimidation, and intrigue carried on by her in the German Courts. Have the noble Lord's logical faculties been so impaired at Vienna, that he does not see that the obvious reply to him is: which of the Four Points was to rectify these evils—which of them was to put a stop to the erection of fortifications in the Baltic, or to prevent Russia from interfering with the German Courts? There is surely no guarantee against the rebuilding of Bomarsund, or for the security of the Circassians. The independence, freedom, and civilisation of the world, seem to be entirely forgotten by the noble Lord when he goes to Vienna, for he then drops down to the sole miserable expedient of limiting the Russian fleet. If we go into another place, what is the language held by Lord Clarendon? I felt great astonishment at the speech that noble Lord made the other night; I suppose it was calculated to obtain some object for the moment, but I doubt whether it will attain any permanent object which will be satisfactory to the noble Lord. He talks in the same strain, and denounces Russia as if he had never been a party to these arrangements with regard to Wallachia and Moldavia. Some of the noble Lord's observations with respect to the strength of Sebastopol were, I think, disingenuous; for he asked, why should the Russians have such an immense collection of materials, if it was not intended for some great aggression? But the noble Lord could not be ignorant that the great strength of Sebastopol had been created since our army appeared before it, and that ammunition and provisions have been arriving in convoys of from 500 to, as Lord Raglan has himself stated, 2,000 carts at a time. To talk in such a strain immediately after the Conferences, was not worthy of the audience the noble Lord addressed, and hardly complimentary to the English public. The noble Lord the Member for London also alluded to Germany in a way which will hardly be looked upon in that country as a proof of his good sense or wisdom. He talked of the corruption of the German Courts, and of the manner in which they were interfered with and controlled by the Russian Government; but, from what we are informed by the newspapers is going on in Germany, I fancy we are much mistaken as to the tendency of public opinion, if we suppose there is any difference of views between the people and the Governments of Germany with regard to the war. I am told, and I have taken some pains to inquire—it is our duty to take pains in such a matter—that there is no party in Germany which wants to join in this war. There may be many who are well-wishers to our cause, and others whose sympathies are with Russia; but I am informed, and I believe correctly, that there is no party in Germany who wishes to break the peace, and enter into hostilities with Russia in the present quarrel. And if you reflect for a moment upon the past history of Germany, in relation to France and Russia, you will see reason why in their traditions there should be no feelings of dread and hostility to Russia. The past recollections of Germany are indeed favourable rather than otherwise to Russia, and hostile to France. It may be thought the wrong moment to say it, but I hold that upon this question, and upon all other questions, we should speak in this House without reserve, as if our debates were not published; and I say it is very well known that the feeling in Prussia and the north of Germany is one of dread of France. This feeling may have arisen in part from the long sufferings and dreadful sacrifices made by the people of Prussia and Northern Germany in the great revolutionary war with France, but it also arises in part from the circumstance that France is contiguous to the Rhenish provinces of Prussia, and it has been thought that she entertains rather envious feelings towards them. But, whatever may be the cause, there is in every cottage of Prussia a recollection rather favourable to Russia than hostile, as compared with France. There is, indeed, hanging in almost every cottage in Prussia some memorial of the atrocities and sufferings caused by the French in the last war, while the traditions with regard to Russia are, that she helped to emancipate them from the rule of Napoleon. This may show why Germany is not so anxious to enter into hostilities with Russia. There is another reason. You forget that in this war you have never committed yourselves to any principle which shall be a permanent safeguard against Russia. You have invited Germany to enter into war with Russia, her next-door neighbour, and a powerful neighbour, for your purposes; but you have given Germany no security that Russia, at the close of the war, will not retaliate upon that Power. And now it may be said, since the result of the Conferences is known, that you have gone to Vienna, and, after talking so boldly about fighting the battle of Germany, of Europe, and of the whole civilised world, you have dropped your pretensions, and do not say a word about giving security to any part of the Continent of Europe.
I was talking, the other day, to a gentleman in this country, a Prussian, who has more right to speak in the name of his countrymen than any man here. He said, 'I confess I think you Englishmen are unreasonable, and a little arrogant. You expect us to go to war with Russia—we, a nation of 16,000,000 or 17,000,000, against a nation of 60,000,000. But you do not take into account, that when you are tired of the war you can withdraw and occupy an impregnable position, while we are always at the door of this vast empire; and yet you try to hound us into this war, and to force us into it, without allowing us a voice in the matter. Your conduct is that of a man who tries to drive a dog to make an attack upon a bull.' Well, if we look back upon the course we have pursued, is there not something that warrants this opinion?
I warn the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, that, in dealing with Germany, he has to do with an educated people, every man of whom reads his newspaper, and where the middle classes are so educated that you may buy bread in the Latin language, it you do not know German. Is it not, then, rather arrogant and unreasonable, when the noble Lord in this House denounces the whole German people as having been corrupted by Russia? I say that, if the English people had the conscription, as they have in Prussia, so that when war was declared every man in the country would be liable to be called out, and every horse and cart might be taken for the purposes of the army, we should be more chary how we called out for war. Our pot-house politicians would not then be calling out for war with Russia, but we should have a Government who would take a more moderate tone than this does, for it would require those sacrifices that bring home the miseries of war to the people.
I have said from the first, and I said it long before you sent a man from these shores, 'If you make war upon Russia, vindicate your rights or avenge your wrongs with your own strong arm, the navy; but do not send a man to the Continent or Turkey in the capacity of a land force. Do not send an army over the backs of the whole population of central Europe, where you have 1,000,000 men with bayonets in their hands, who stand between you and the gigantic Power that you are opposed to, and affect to dread.' I say that you ought to have occupied the same ground that Austria and Prussia took; and if you had done so, instead of rushing into war—driven into it, I admit, by the populace and the press—you would have been right, for you have it proved now that Austria and Germany would have averted these evils that you dread, for Austria and Prussia would have made it a casus belli, if Russia had crossed the Balkan. And why, I want to know, were you not content to remain in England, in your island home, your inaccesible fortress, sending your fleet into the Black Sea, if you chose, and telling Austria and Germany, 'Here is a great danger; here is a mighty Power that threatens to engulph this fair Europe; if you take your part for its protection, our fleet shall help you, and we will take care that no harm shall come to Turkey by sea, but not a soldier shall move from England until you put yourself in motion for the defence of Turkey?'
Why, Sir, will any one now say that this would not have been a wise policy? But then it is said, that if we had done this, the Russians would have been in Constantinople. No, they would not; for this is my whole argument—and I am coming to it—that Austria and Southern Germany have more interest in keeping the Russians from Constantinople than we have. I have heard and read in Hansard, that every leading statesman in this or the other House of Parliament, within the last eighteen months, has declared that Austria and Germany are more interested in this question than we are. It has been stated by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston); it has been asserted by the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell); it has been stated by Lord Clarendon; it has been asserted by Earl Derby; it has been alleged by Lord Lyndhurst. In fact, there is not a leading mind in either House of Parliament who has not told us that Austria and Germany have a greater interest in this war than we have. Well, then, in the name of common sense, why did not we, who were infinitely safer from this alleged great danger, wait until those, who had a greater interest than we had, chose to move with us? Why should we go from our position of security, if these pusillanimous empires would not step in? I know it has been said, that we are fighting the battle of civilisation. Yes, we are fighting the battle of civilisation with 30,000 or 40,000 men; and I believe we have never had more than 30,000 men in the Crimea at any one time.
I see it stated by the Times correspondent, who re-states what he has before asserted, that we have lost half our army because we had not sufficient men to do duty in the trenches. But is that the proper function and duty of Englishmen, to fight for Germany, because the Germans are corrupt and will not fight for themselves? Give me rather the doctrine propounded by Prince Gortschakoff at Vienna, and let the blood of Englishmen be for England and the English. Now, I do not say this in disparagement of Austria and Germany. I maintain, on the contrary, that they have taken a more enlightened and calmer view of this question than we have. But the English people, partly stimulated by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London—for he has been the great offender—the English people have clamoured for war, and they would not give time for those combinations to be formed that would have averted the danger, and would have enabled us to take common ground with Austria and Germany.
But now, I say, that we know Austria and Germany will not act with us, are we to go on pursuing the same course? It would most certainly be a curiosity to go through Hansard, during the last eighteen months, and take out the passages in which statesmen have expressed the opinion that Austria was going to join us. The Government put it into the Speech of Her Majesty from the Throne; and, as if that was not sufficient, they have been repeating it in every speech they have made ever since. I cannot even except the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham). The right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), in his celebrated Budget speech, mentioned it as some compensation for the income-tax, and said that while he was speaking it was probable that Austria had actually joined us. It is impossible to read all these extracts to the House; but here is a specimen from the speech of the noble Lord the Member for London, delivered no later than December 22, 1854. The noble Lord said:—
'If, however, Russia should not consent to such very moderate terms as it will be our duty to propose,.... I feel convinced that we shall, before the opening of the next campaign, have the alliance of Austria, both in offensive and defensive operations.'
Now, I ask, are you going to carry on the war upon land? I mean, are you going to commit yourselves to take Sebastopol? Are you about to re-commence the war for an object which you have repudiated? because, although the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury-benches, come here one day and tell us one story, and another day tell us another story (I admit, we, on this bench, have been beguiled by them, but I promise them we will behave better, and be more cautious for the future)—although, I say, we allow this to go on, foreign Governments are not deceived by such double dealing, and it is seen by these protocols, which are published all over the world, that our Government proposed, in the late Conferences, to withdraw from the Crimea, leaving Sebastopol a 'standing menace' as before. That is the proposal made by our own Government. The only difference between us and Russia is the infinitesimal question of the armed ships; and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson), that for the safety of Turkey, the Russian proposal is better than that of the Allies.
Now, everybody knows that we are re-commencing the war with the determination—at least, if we can gather from the language of the noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman what they mean—with the determination to take Sebastopol. But I would ask those upon whom the responsibility for the future rests, whether it is worth the blood and treasure which we must pour out like water in order that we may take Sebastopol (if we take it at all),—if, on the other hand, the capture of the place is to be accompanied by that policy of the Government which, I think, will prevent as much as anything their obtaining any popular support on the Continent, namely, that under no circumstances will they make any change in the existing territorial arrangements of Europe? If that policy is adhered to, there seems to be no other object in taking Sebastopol than knocking about the ears of brave men a certain amount of bricks, mortar, and rubbish—sacrificing an immense amount of human life, in order that we may point to those mounds and say, 'We did it;' although Russia may, after the peace, borrow the money of any banking-house in London, and in three years build it up again stronger than ever.
Now, what is the plan, what the object, of this re-commencement of the war? Is it to reduce the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea? Let us discard passion, and bring this question to the test of our own homely common sense. Let us take, for example, some other country. Suppose it was proposed to reduce the preponderance of the United States of America in the Gulf of Mexico; what would be the train of reasoning, in the absence of all passion, and with the benefits of unclouded intellects? Should we not naturally say, the preponderance of America in the Gulf of Mexico springs from her possessing New Orleans, the great outlet of the commerce of the Southern States, and from her having vast and fertile territories on the banks of the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Ohio, where many millions of industrious men are cultivating the soil, and adding to the internal wealth of that great empire? and would not the conclusion be: this is a natural preponderance, inherent in the very nature of her territory, and her occupation? Now, then, turn your eyes to the Black Sea, and you have precisely the same causes, leading to the same consequences. Why has Russia preponderance in the Black Sea? Because she has fertile provinces, which are cultivated and made productive, and rich and prosperous ports and harbours, where her commerce is carried on. I was speaking lately to a gentleman who knows that country well, and has the largest commercial relations with it of any man in England, and he tells me that he does not believe there is any part of the United States of America which has made such rapid progress in wealth and internal production, since the repeal of our Corn-laws, as those southern provinces of Russia. It was estimated that Russia exported the year before last, from ports in the Black Sea, 5,000,000 quarters of grain of all kinds; and the calculation has been made, that if for the next twenty years those exports went on increasing as they have increased during the last five years, Russia would then be exporting from 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 quarters of grain annually. Believe me, that is the source of Russian preponderance. The country is developing itself. I admit, if you please, it is a youthful barbarism, but it will, doubtless, grow into something better; and, so long as a vast amount of produce is brought into the Black Sea for shipment to the rest of the world—so long as the territory of Russia borders on that sea, with no other neighbour than Turkey—a country wholly unproductive and unimproving, in comparison—all the Powers on earth cannot take away the preponderance of Russia, because it is founded in the inherent nature of things.
What, I again ask, are we fighting for? It has been whispered that we are fighting because it is more the wish of France that we should fight than our own. But are we quite sure that the war now carrying on is not against the wishes of the French people? Gentlemen who have communications with France, and sources of private information, tell me they hear that the war, never looked upon enthusiastically, is regarded with more and more dislike by the French people. What is the wish of the French Government? I know I am about to tread on delicate ground, but I hold it is our duty to speak out in the face of such mighty events, and, as I believe, possible calamities, as are impending over this country. I come, then, to this point: Is it the wish of the French Government that this war should be carried on, or is it ours? It is industriously whispered, that the French dynasty has so much at stake, that it dare not withdraw the army from Sebastopol, on account of the moral effect it would produce on the French people and on the army. My hon. Friend (Mr. Bright) and myself received a communication of some authenticity, as we believed, that the French Government had given an intimation to our Government, that they were willing, if we were, to accept an alternative upon the terms which are the last published proposals in the protocols which have been presented to us. We all know a meeting of what was called the 'party supporting the Government' was summoned not long since at the noble Lord's office in Downing-street. There and then, after the noble Lord had said it was for the purpose of private and confidential communication, and that the newspaper press were not present, he was asked by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) whether what we had heard and believed to be true was founded upon fact—that intimation had come from the French Government to lead our Government to understand that terms similar to those offered at Vienna by M. Drouyn de Lhuys would be accepted, and that a refusal had been given by our Government? The noble Lord refused to answer that inquiry, though he was pressed to do so. I myself pressed him to answer, and, that it may not be supposed I am committing any breach of confidence, I said, if he would answer the question—merely say, No—I should treat it confidentially; but if he allowed me to go out of the room with a confirmed impression of that which I had received from very good sources, I should make no secret of what had passed there.
Now, I say, this is a most serious thing for this country, for this reason: You have now contrived to detach all Germany from you—that is to say, you have no hope of Germany or Austria joining you. It is a matter now decided. You cannot delude yourselves now with the hope that Austria or Germany will take part in this contest. But what will be your fate if, by-and-by, it can be proved that England has been the cause of recommencing this war, contrary to the inclinations of the French Government and the French people? May it not by possibility lead to the very opposite of what we are all hoping from this union between the two countries? May it not lead to further estrangement? and then see in what a responsibility it lands you. If you are more opposed to coming to terms of peace than France is, does it not throw on you the responsibility of doing something very different from what you are now doing towards carrying on the war? Will it not, by-and-by, be found that your force is small, and the French force is great? I do not think this is the proper time to bring up the whole particulars, but I marked two observations on two particular occasions. The hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. H. Baillie) stated that our forces are 40,000 short of the number voted in this House. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) stated last December that our forces were then 20,000 short of the number voted in this House. The hon. Member for Inverness-shire stated that our militia regiments are reduced to mere skeletons, and in Ireland and Scotland are almost disbanded, except the officers. But if this be true—if it be true that you still want 40,000 men to make up the number—may it not be found, by-and-by, that you are urging on this war in blind heedlessness, in the same way as everything has been done by this Government from the beginning, and that you have not looked three months before you to see what may be the consequences of the want of that foresight which the Government ought to have shown? I am speaking of the present moment, when the country is under a state of excitement. But those who have intelligence, and those who have studied the maps of the country, may readily understand and see how much has been made out of a little; and that there has been much said, within the last few days, which it will be found the results do not justify.
I have said that I set no limits to the power of France and England, provided they would put out that power, and exhibit their strength; but I am not quite sure that you are in a better condition in the Crimea now than you were before this recent achievement at Kertch. I once asked a Russian merchant what were the actual means of supply of food derived by Russia, and I did not learn that Kertch was at all relied upon for any great supply to the army in Sebastopol. I was assured that this was the fact; and if so, it may be accepted as a qualification of the great excitement that has been raised in consequence of our late achievements in the Sea of Azoff. A large holder of corn, deposited at Kertch, told me that the Russian Government had informed him that they could not be responsible for the safety of his corn. This was five months ago. Long before the Conferences at Vienna, he gave notice of this to his agents at Kertch, and also at other parts on the coast of the Sea of Azoff. I believe there has been a great deal of exaggeration about this little expedition to the Sea of Azoff; but if there has not been, then greater is the disgrace that attaches to those who had not executed it sooner. I am not sure that this expedition had any higher motive than that of a desire to do something which should gratify the people of this country: for the cry of the people always is, 'Do something.' But my opinion is, that, whenever any individual, whether he be a Minister of State, or a Commander-in-chief, does something merely because he is told by somebody else to do it, that that something, in nine cases out of ten, is wrong. I am not sure that even the expedition to Sebastopol itself had any higher motive than that of a wish to do something that should gratify the wishes of the people. But, at all events, I give it as my opinion, that, while your expedition in the Sea of Azoff has led to the destruction of a vast amount of private property, and while it will add no renown to your name, I believe it will have no better effect on the result of the war than your marauding expedition in the Gulf of Finland last year. I believe that the great sources of relief to the army in Sebastopol are Perekop and Simpheropol. Both those places are fortified as well as Sebastopol, and it is through them that supplies of food are obtained for the Russian army.
Well, then, about the difficulty of transporting food to the Russian army across the steppes to the Crimea, I was talking to a merchant of Odessa on that subject; and he said, that in time of peace thousands of carts and waggons, drawn by bullocks, were employed for conveying articles of commerce over these vast steppes to Odessa, Taganrog, and other ports on the Sea of Azoff; but that the war having suspended all that, the Russian Government would now avail itself of those same means of transportation for conveying supplies from Perekop and Simpheropol to Sebastopol. This has, in fact, been already done.
Now, I ask, is it not better for us that we should view these things in this light, than give ourselves up to the effervescence prevailing out of doors? Is it not better to look calmly at these things, and consider what it is that Russia can really do, than to yield up our feelings to a momentary, and, it may be, a doubtful triumph? But when I said that the power of England and of France united could hardly be resisted by any single power in Europe, or the world, I did not forget that there was one power, a single and a hidden power, by which the mightiest armies may be vanquished—pestilence and disease. I have read an extract from a report of Mr. Spencer, giving an account of a tour in the Crimea, and of the influence of the climate, which had sole reference to the summer season. I never heard of any one necessarily suffering in the winter season. On the contrary, my belief is, that, let a man be well fed, well clothed, and well sheltered, he may live anywhere; and there is no necessity that the constitutions of Englishmen should suffer more in winter in the Crimea than in England. But that is not the case in summer. The best authorities tell you that it is hardly possible for an Englishman in the Crimea, or a foreigner, unless he take every possible precaution, to escape infection in the summer months of July, August, and September. You sin against the law of nature if you go out in the sun in the day, and you equally sin if you go out in the night dews. Such, again, is the effect of the climate, that if you partake of new corn, or of fruit in undue measure, these things will bring on intermittent fever. Now, these precautions our soldiers disregard, as they ever have disregarded, and therefore is it that I dread the months of July, August, and September, for our troops in the Crimea. Has all this been thought of by the Government? Does it not devolve on them to consider these things? Whatever may be the fate of our army in the Crimea this summer, upon them, I say, and upon their shoulders, will rest the responsibility. If they should be fortunate—if pestilence and disease should happily not approach; but a deviation, as it were, in the succession of the climate should take place—then the honour and the glory, such as it may be, will undoubtedly be shared by them, and any successful enterprise of our army will redound to their repute. But if, on the other hand, your army should be destroyed by pestilence and disease, if there should be a repetition of the disasters of the last winter, then your power will be at an end; and be assured that, to effect the destruction of your power, there is nothing short of physical violence that may not happen to you. Nothing can happen but disgrace from the miserable pretences advanced in support of this war. When the Government was showing forth in magniloquent phrases the great objects of the war, well might the people be deluded; but now they know the state of things better, now they know that the war wholly depends upon so trifling a matter as that of allowing ingress and egress of foreign ships into and from the Black Sea. It is on such an infinitesimal point of difference that this war, involving so vast a sacrifice of life, and wealth, and human happiness, depends. Is there not, then, I would ask, something resting upon us as the House of Commons in this matter? Have not hon. Gentlemen noticed the state to which the argument has been brought? Have they not observed to what public opinion has been brought on this subject out of doors? No man seems to know his friend; no man seems to have confidence in public men. One serious difficulty in carrying on this war is the want of an open and frank declaration of opinion on the part of public reputations.
But there are other circumstances that ought to make us reflect. I allude not to the possibility of a bad harvest; but there are possible contingencies which may place this country in a most perilous condition, and that chiefly arising, as I have said, from the utter want of confidence in public men. But how has that want of confidence arisen? My belief is, that it is because public men have been wanting in self-respect. It is because they have too readily yielded up their better judgment to the momentary inspiration or dictation of others. What are we, the Members of this House, set apart for, but to study these high matters—to devote our thoughts to the consideration of questions involving the wellbeing of our countrymen, and to promote to the utmost of our capacity the prosperity of those whose interests are confided to us? It is true, the public out of doors have gone heartily with the Government in this war; but we all know that the public have entertained very erroneous notions as to what was the object of the war, and as to what would be its ultimate effect.
What was the tone of public opinion when the war broke out? Did it not exhibit the grossest arrogance and ignorance of the enemy we had to contend with? Did we—did the country—did the press, speak as if we were going 3,000 miles to invade an empire of 60,000,000 people? I rest my case entirely upon your infatuation in invading Russia with a land force. If you had confined yourselves to naval operations—if you had done that which I believe the House of Commons would have done, if it had acted upon its own judgment—in what a different position you now would have been! There would have been none of this discontent; you would have sent out your ships, the greatest spectacle of a naval armament that ever left your shores; there would have been no misery, no disease, no want of discipline, no disasters there. Your ships rode triumphant upon every sea, and if they had not come back victorious, owing to the enemy keeping behind his fortifications, they would, at least, have presented no spectacle of abject misery and signal distress. It is your attempt to do too much, without knowing what you were about, which has brought this calamity upon you.
Much as I blame Lord Raglan for not making a road, and for mismanagement in carrying on the war, yet I contend that, if you send an army to invade Russia, you must prepare yourselves for inevitable disaster. You may repair that disaster, possibly. It may be so; but when you determine to invade an empire consisting of 60,000,000 of people 3,000 miles off, I say that the thing was undertaken in blind obedience to a cry out of doors, against and over which the statesmen of this country ought to have exercised a counteracting influence and control.
You sent a land force 3,000 miles away to subdue your colonists in America. That force had a population of from 2,500,000 to 3,000,000 to contend with. It was miserably worsted. Mismanagement, no doubt, existed there; but, if there had been no mismanagement, how long, I ask, could that war have endured? We know the history of the invasion of Russia by Napoleon I. He invaded that empire supported by half a million of bayonets, and there was, at all events, this much logic and argument in his proposition, that he said, 'I will strike at the heart of the empire, and will take security for peace in the capital of Russia.' But you are not going to the heart of Russia, with all Europe at your back, as he had; for, with the exception of Spain, he had all Europe at his feet, and all her legions at his side. You know the result. You know the spirit of Russia then. Have you any reason to suppose that Russia now, with the stimulus of that example before her, will show a less stubborn resistance to you than she did to Napoleon I? My firm belief is, that she will not. My belief is, that you have entered upon a task the most arduous and difficult which this nation ever undertook, and that you will have to put forth more than twice the energy, you will have to send more than twice the men, and to spend more than twice the money in one year, than you have yet done, before you will succeed in accomplishing the object you have in view.
Ought we not, then, fairly to tell the people of this country that? Ought we not to check them, rather than to encourage their exaggerations? Suppose you receive unexpected accounts of disasters from the Crimea, of prostrations from cholera, from intermittent fever, or from the plague—for who can tell what may happen? Is it not wise, instead of cheering the Minister, when he tells us that the Conferences are at an end, to endeavour to subdue the spirit of the country—I do not say to subdue its spirit in any righteous cause—but to let the people know fully and frankly what they have before them?
I blame the Government for having behaved falsely and treacherously to the people, and I tell them that there will be a day of reckoning for them in this matter. What said the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, in one of those declamatory harangues with which he occasionally favours the House? He said, 'The people of this country are our reserve force, and we will equip our army from that reserve.' I ask him what he is now doing with that reserve? The noble Lord the Member for London said, at the end of last year, 'We shall have 180,000 or 200,000 Englishmen under arms, and foreign levies to aid them.' Where are the 180,000 or 200,000 Englishmen? I say that there has been the same child's play now, up to the last minute, that there has been from the commencement. All I ask of you is, that you will deal candidly with the public. I have noticed in history, that if ever the mass of the people have become cruel, and revengeful, and unreasoning in their violence to Governments, it is invariably because they have been betrayed and deceived by them. There is nothing by which you will so surely risk the loss of public favour, and entail a great public calamity when your influence is gone, as by attempting to conceal from the people of this country the whole amount of difficulties and dangers which are now impending over you.
It is in this spirit, and because I will not be responsible in the slightest degree for what may happen in this matter, that I wish to speak out on this occasion; and I warn the House of Commons, that there are no institutions of the land which may not be endangered from the reaction which may result from your over-sanguine confidence in what you are undertaking. I have seen a spirit out of doors which is preparing for sudden and strange freaks of revenge, under a sense of bitter mortification and disappointment; I have seen those who have been the first to clamour for war, after the earliest disasters of the campaign, meeting together to denounce those who are the highest in the land as the most responsible; and when I see what has been the line pursued, in the face of what I must believe to be superior knowledge—when I see the way in which, in high places, the passions of the people have been pandered to, and momentary triumph sought at the risk of great future disaster—I must say that I think those who adopt such conduct deserve the retribution which I have spoken of.
There was a meeting recently held in Derby, which was reported in the London papers, and it was one of those meetings which were described as the beginning of an agitation which was to cover the land. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby was present; and what was the tone of that meeting? It was called, mind you, by the inhabitants of Derby, for the purpose of instructing their Members, and the meeting was held up as one which should be imitated throughout the country. It is good and wholesome for us, therefore, to hear what was said upon that occasion. I find the Rev. W. Griffiths speaking there after this fashion:—
'For myself, I say, that whatever measures are proposed, if they are meant for the benefit of the few, and not to promote the interests of the many, I would say, Down with the coronets, if they are to ruin the nation! I have no objection to coronets, ribands, nor to the gewgaws which illumine certain illustrious houses—illustrious by courtesy—provided they will keep all the pleasure and injury of them to themselves; but if we are to be robbed, over-taxed, and have unjust and unequal laws, just because a few coroneted heads choose to have it so, then the time is come when the working men of Great Britain must look the aristocracy in the face, demand the why and the wherefore, and not be content with a shilly-shally answer. One word more. There will be more money wanted ere long—the young Prince will want a wife, and then he will want a marriage settlement. I say, let him get it from his father and mother, who have enough to keep them all. You must begin there. It is no use cutting off twigs, and letting huge branches remain. I, for one, think that one palace is enough for one Sovereign.'
A Mr. Parkinson seconded the resolution, saying that—
'It had been proved, to the satisfaction of the meeting, that they were governed by an aristocratic Government who were incompetent for their work; therefore it was the duty of every man to endeavour to destroy the system under which they had been so misruled.'
Now, I have been considered not to have dealt always very gently with the aristocracy of this country; but I should say to that rev. gentleman, from what I have noticed of these proceedings, that for whatever disasters may happen in this country, there is not one member of the aristocracy, out of the Cabinet, whom I should consider responsible as an individual for these disasters. So far as I am concerned, I will never truckle so low to the popular spirit of the moment as to join in any cry which shall divert the mass of the people from what I believe should be their first thought and consideration, namely, how far they themselves are responsible for the evils which may fall upon the land, and how far they should begin at home before they commence to find fault with others. The first thing that multitudes of men do, when they fall into errors, is to seek for victims, and this ought to be a warning to those who have influence in the land not to stimulate the passions which we have lately seen prevailing in the country, unless they can see some tangible and satisfactory result to arise from the passions they rouse.
That is all my case. If the Russians were besieging Portsmouth, I should not talk about what was to be done; and if I could not work in the field, I would do so in the hospital. I should not then ask for any one to allay the excitement of the people; but I now repeat—and I have repeated it again and again—you have undertaken a war with an empire of 60,000,000 of people 3,000 miles away, and the people of this country, and those who guide them, do not fully appreciate the importance, the magnitude, and the danger of this undertaking; and that is why I have counselled moderation and caution, and why I have made the present long—and, I am afraid, somewhat tedious—appeal to the House.
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