Free Trade and Other Fundamental Doctrines of the Manchester School
London: Harper and Brothers
Collected essays and speeches by various writers, including Richard Cobden and John Bright, 1820-1896
Part III, Essay III
III.—ON THE CRIMEAN WAR AND THE
PATRIOTISM OF ITS OPPONENTS
JOHN BRIGHT'S LETTER TO ABSALOM WATKIN
Turkey began the war with Russia in November, 1853. From that time Lord Aberdeen's administration rapidly drifted into war, though the actual declaration of hostilities did not take place until March 27th of the following year. The following letter was written in reply to Mr. Absalom Watkin, of Manchester, who had invited Bright to a meeting about to be held for the Patriotic Fund, and stating that the war with Russia was justified by the authority of Vattel—a writer on international law. In the original edition Bright's letter was headed with the following quotation from Burke:—
'If I had not lived long enough to be little surprised at anything, I should have been in some degree astonished at the continued rage of several gentlemen, who, not satisfied with carrying fire and sword into America, are animated nearly with the same fury against those neighbours of theirs, whose only crime it is, that they have charitably and humanely wished them to entertain more reasonable sentiments, and not always to sacrifice their interest to their passion. All this rage against unresisting dissent convinces me, that at bottom they are far from satisfied they are in the right. For what is it they would have? War? They certainly have at this moment the blessing of something that is very like one; and if the war they enjoy at present be not sufficiently hot and extensive, they may shortly have it as warm and as spreading as their hearts can desire. Is it the force of the kingdom they call for? They have it already; and if they choose to fight the battles in their own person, nobody prevents their setting sail to the scene of war in the next transports....They are continually boasting of unanimity, or calling for it. But before this unanimity can be a matter either of wish or congratulation, we ought to be pretty sure that we are engaged in a rational pursuit. Frenzy does not become a slighter distemper on account of the number of those who may be infected with it. Delusion and weakness produce not one mischief the less, because, they are universal.'—(Burke on the American War, in his letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol.)
Rhyl, North Wales, October 19th.
MY DEAR SIR,—I think, on further consideration, you will perceive that the meeting on Thursday next would be a most improper occasion for a discussion as to the justice of the war. Just or unjust, the war is a fact, and the men whose lives are miserably thrown away in it have clearly a claim upon the country, and especially upon those who, by the expression of opinions favourable to the war, have made themselves responsible for it. I cannot, therefore, for a moment, appear to discourage the liberality of those who believe the war to be just, and whose utmost generosity, in my opinion, will make but a wretched return for the ruin they have brought upon hundreds of families.
With regard to the war itself, I am not surprised at the difference between your opinion and mine, if you decide a question of this nature by an appeal to Vattel. The 'law of nations' is not my law, and at best it is a code full of confusion and contradictions, having its foundation on custom, and not on a higher morality; and on custom which has always been determined by the will of the strongest. It may be a question of some interest whether the first crusade was in accordance with the law and principles of Vattel; but whether the first crusade was just, and whether the policy of the crusades was a wise policy, is a totally different question. I have no doubt that the American War was a just war according to the principles laid down by the writers on the 'law of nations,' and yet no man in his senses in this country will now say that the policy of George III. towards the American colonies was a wise policy, or that war a righteous war. The French War, too, was doubtless just according to the same authorities; for there were fears, and anticipated dangers to be combated, and law and order to be sustained in Europe; and yet few intelligent men now believe the French War to have been either necessary or just. You must excuse me if I refuse altogether to pin my faith upon Vattel. There have been writers on international law, who have attempted to show that private assassination and the poisoning of wells were justifiable in war: and perhaps it would be difficult to demonstrate wherein these horrors differ from some of the practices which are now in vogue. I will not ask you to mould your opinion on these points by such writers, nor shall I submit my judgment to that of Vattel.
The question of this present war is in two parts—first, was it necessary for us to interfere by arms in a dispute between the Russians and the Turks; and secondly, having determined to interfere, under certain circumstances, why was not the whole question terminated when Russia accepted the Vienna note? The seat of war is 3000 miles away from us. We had not been attacked—not even insulted in any way. Two independent Governments had a dispute, and we thrust ourselves into the quarrel. That there was some ground for the dispute is admitted by the four powers in the proposition of the Vienna note. But for the English Minister at Constantinople and the Cabinet at home the dispute would have settled itself, and the last note of Prince Menschikoff would have been accepted, and no human being can point out any material difference between that note and the Vienna note, afterwards agreed upon and recommended by the Governments of England, France, Austria, and Prussia. But our Government would not allow the dispute to be settled. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe held private interviews with the Sultan—did his utmost to alarm him—insisted on his rejection of all terms of accommodation with Russia, and promised him the armed assistance of England if war should arise.
The Turks rejected the Russian note, and the Russians crossed the Pruth, occupying the Principalities as a 'material guarantee.' I do not defend this act of Russia: it has always appeared to me impolitic and immoral; but I think it likely it could be well defended out of Vattel, and it is at least as justifiable as the conduct of Lord John Russell and Lord Palmerston in 1850, when they sent ten or twelve ships of war to the Piræus, menacing the town with a bombardment if the dishonest pecuniary claim made by Don Pacifico were not at once satisfied.
But the passage of the Pruth was declared by England and France and Turkey not to be a casus belli. Negotiations were commenced at Vienna, and the celebrated Vienna note was drawn up. This note had its origin in Paris, was agreed to by the Conference at Vienna, ratified and approved by the Cabinets of Paris and London, and pronounced by all these authorities to be such as would satisfy the honour of Russia, and at the same time be compatible with the 'independence and integrity' of Turkey and the honour of the Sultan. Russia accepted this note at once,—accepted it, I believe, by telegraph, even before the precise words of it had been received in St. Petersburg. Everybody thought the question now settled; a Cabinet Minister assured me we should never hear another word about it; 'the whole thing is at an end,' he said, and so it appeared for a moment. But the Turk refused the note which had been drawn up by his own arbitrators, and which Russia had accepted. And what did the Ministers say then, and what did their organ, the Times, say? They said it was merely a difference about words; it was a pity the Turk made any difficulty, but it would soon be settled. But it was not settled, and why not? It is said that the Russian Government put an improper construction on the Vienna note. But it is unfortunate for those who say this, that the Turk placed precisely the same construction upon it; and further, it is upon record that the French Government advised the Russian Government to accept it, on the ground that 'its general sense differed in nothing from the sense of the proposition of Prince Menschikoff.' It is, however, easy to see why the Russian Government should, when the Turks refused the award of their own arbitrators, restate its original claim, that it might not be damaged by whatever concession it had made in accepting the award; and this is evidently the explanation of the document issued by Count Nesselrode, and about which so much has been said. But, after this, the Emperor of Russia spoke to Lord Westmoreland on the subject at Olmutz, and expressed his readiness to accept the Vienna note, with any clause which the Conference might add to it, explaining and restricting its meaning; and he urged that this should be done at once, as he was anxious that his troops should recross the Pruth before winter. It was in this very week that the Turks summoned a grand council, and, contrary to the advice of England and France, determined on a declaration of war.
Now, observe the course taken by our Government. They agreed to the Vienna note; not fewer than five members of this Cabinet have filled the office of Foreign Secretary, and therefore may be supposed capable of comprehending its meaning: it was a note drawn up by the friends of Turkey, and by arbitrators self-constituted on behalf of Turkey; they urged its acceptance on the Russian Government, and the Russian Government accepted it; there was then a dispute about its precise meaning, and Russia agreed, and even proposed that the arbitrators at Vienna should amend it, by explaining it, and limiting its meaning, so that no question of its intention should henceforth exist. But, the Turks having rejected it, our Government turned round, and declared the Vienna note, their own note, entirely inadmissible, and defended the conduct of the Turks in having rejected it. The Turks declared war, against the advice of the English and French Governments—so, at least, it appears from the blue-books; but the moment war was declared by Turkey, our Government openly applauded it. England, then, was committed to the war. She had promised armed assistance to Turkey—a country without government, and whose administration was at the mercy of contending factions; and incapable of fixing a policy for herself, she allowed herself to be dragged on by the current of events at Constantinople. She 'drifted,' as Lord Clarendon said, exactly describing his own position, into the war, apparently without rudder and without compass.
The whole policy of our Government in this matter is marked with an imbecility perhaps without example. I will not say they intended a war from the first, though there are not wanting many evidences that war was the object of at least a section of the Cabinet. A distinguished member of the House of Commons said to a friend of mine, immediately after the accession of the present Government to office, 'You have a war ministry, and you will have a war.' But I leave this question to point out the disgraceful feebleness of the Cabinet, if I am to absolve them from the guilt of having sought occasion for war. They promised the Turk armed assistance on conditions, or without conditions. They, in concert with France, Austria, and Prussia, took the original dispute out of the hands of Russia and Turkey, and formed themselves into a court of arbitration in the interests of Turkey; they made an award, which they declared to be safe and honourable for both parties; this award was accepted by Russia and rejected by Turkey; and they then turned round upon their own award, declared it to be 'totally inadmissible,' and made war upon the very country whose Government, at their suggestion and urgent recommendation, had frankly accepted it. At this moment England is engaged in a murderous warfare with Russia, although the Russian Government accepted her own terms of peace, and has been willing to accept them in the sense of England's own interpretation of them ever since they were offered; and at the same time England is allied with Turkey, whose Government rejected the award of England, and who entered into the war in opposition to the advice of England. Surely, when the Vienna note was accepted by Russia, the Turks should have been prevented from going to war, or should have been allowed to go to war at their own risk.
I have said nothing here of the fact that all these troubles have sprung out of the demands made by France upon the Turkish Government, and urged in language more insulting than any which has been shown to have been used by Prince Menschikoff. I have said nothing of the diplomatic war which has been raging for many years past in Constantinople, and in which England has been behind no other power in attempting to subject the Porte to foreign influences. I have said nothing of the abundant evidences there is that we are not only at war with Russia, but with all the Christian population of the Turkish empire, and that we are building up our Eastern Policy on a false foundation—namely, on the perpetual maintenance of the most immoral and filthy of all despotisms over one of the fairest portions of the earth which it has desolated, and over a population it has degraded but has not been able to destroy. I have said nothing of the wretched delusion that we are fighting for civilization in supporting the Turk against the Russian and against the subject Christian population of Turkey. I have said nothing about our pretended sacrifices for freedom in this war, in which one great and now dominant ally is a monarch who, last in Europe, struck down a free constitution, and dispersed by military violence a national Representative Assembly.
My doctrine would have been non-intervention in this case. The danger of the Russian power was a phantom; the necessity of permanently upholding the Mahometan rule in Europe is an absurdity. Our love for civilization, when we subject the Greeks and Christians to the Turks, is a sham; and our sacrifices for freedom, when working out the behests of the Emperor of the French and coaxing Austria to help us, is a pitiful imposture. The evils of non-intervention were remote and vague, and could neither be weighed nor described in any accurate terms. The good we can judge something of already, by estimating the cost of a contrary policy. And what is that cost? War in the north and south of Europe, threatening to involve every country of Europe. Many, perhaps fifty, millions sterling, in the course of expenditure by this country alone, to be raised from the taxes of a people whose extrication from ignorance and poverty can only be hoped for from the continuance of peace. The disturbance of trade throughout the world, the derangement of monetary affairs, and difficulties and ruin to thousands of families. Another year of high prices of food, notwithstanding a full harvest in England, chiefly because war interferes with imports, and we have declared our principal foreign food growers to be our enemies. The loss of human life to an enormous extent. Many thousands of our own countrymen have already perished of pestilence and in the field; and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of English families will be plunged into sorrow, as a part of the penalty to be paid for the folly of the nation and its rulers.
When the time comes for the 'inquisition for blood,' who shall answer for these things? You have read the tidings from the Crimea; you have, perhaps, shuddered at the slaughter; you remember the terrific picture—I speak not of the battle, and the charge, and the tumultuous excitement of the conflict, but of the field after the battle—Russians in their frenzy or their terror, shooting Englishmen who would have offered them water to quench their agony of thirst; Englishmen, in crowds, rifling the pockets of the men they had slain or wounded, taking their few shillings or roubles, and discovering among the plunder of the stiffening corpses images of the 'Virgin and the Child.' You have read this, and your imagination has followed the fearful details. This is war—every crime which human nature can commit or imagine, every horror it can perpetrate or suffer; and this it is which our Christian Government recklessly plunges into, and which so many of our countrymen at this moment think it patriotic to applaud! You must excuse me if I cannot go with you. I will have no part in this terrible crime. My hands shall be unstained with the blood which is being shed. The necessity of maintaining themselves in office may influence an administration; delusions may mislead a people; Vattel may afford you a law and a defence; but no respect for men who form a Government, no regard I have for 'going with the stream,' and no fear of being deemed wanting in patriotism, shall influence me in favour of a policy which, in my conscience, I believe to be as criminal before God as it is destructive of the true interest of my country.
I have only to ask you to forgive me for writing so long a letter. You have forced it from me, and I would not have written it did I not so much appreciate your sincerity and your good intentions towards me.
Believe me to be, very sincerely yours,
ABSALOM WATKIN, Esq., Manchester.
Notes for this chapter
All who have been, in any way, concerned in these negotiations on behalf of England, acknowledge this. Thus, Colonel Rose, who was Chargé d'Affairs
at Constantinople, in Lord Stratford de Redcliffe's absence, in a despatch to Lord John Russell, dated March 7th, 1853, detailing a conversation he had just held with M. D'Ozeroff, the Russian Ambassador, represents himself to have said, 'that certainly the Ottoman Minister had been to blame in the matter of the Holy Places, but that he had been coerced.'—Blue Book,
part i. p. 87.
Again, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, writing to the Earl of Clarendon from 'Constantinople, April 9th, 1853,' says:—'Your Lordship will perceive that the Russian Ambassador does not object, by his demands, to such privileges as are known to have been obtained latterly by France, in favour of the Latins, and that his principal aim is to fix and secure the present state of possession and usage by that kind of formal and explicit agreement, which may preclude all further pretensions on the side of France, and make the Porte directly responsible to Russia for any future innovation respecting the Holy Places. This is fair and reasonable enough in the view of an impartial observer.'—Blue Book, part i. p. 127.
Again, in a despatch, dated May 22nd, 1853, he says:—'It is but justice to admit that Russia had something to complain of in the affair of the Holy Places; nor can it be denied, that much remains to be done for the welfare and security of the Christian population in Turkey.'—Blue Book, part i. p. 235.
Lord John Russell, in a despatch to Sir G. H. Seymour, dated 'Foreign Office, February 9th, 1854,' says:—'The more the Turkish Government adopts the rules of impartial law and equal administration, the less will the Emperor of Russia find it necessary to apply that exceptional protection which his Imperial Majesty has found so burthen-some and inconvenient, THOUGH NO DOUBT PRESCRIBED BY DUTY, AND SANCTIONED BY TREATY.' His Lordship at the same time volunteered the following character of the Emperor of Russia and his policy:—'Upon the whole, her Majesty's Government are persuaded that NO COURSE OF POLICY CAN BE ADOPTED MORE WISE, MORE DISINTERESTED, MORE BENEFICIAL TO EUROPE, THAN THAT WHICH HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY HAS SO LONG FOLLOWED, and which will render his name more illustrious than that of the most famous Sovereigns who have sought immortality by unprovoked conquest and ephemeral glory.'—Eastern Papers, part v. p. 8.
The Earl of Clarendon, in a letter to Sir G. H. Seymour, dated 'Foreign Office, April 5th, 1853,' says:—'Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe was instructed to bear in mind that her Majesty's Government, without professing to give an opinion on the subject, were not insensible to the superior claims of Russia, both as respected the treaty obligations of Turkey, and the loss of moral influence that the Emperor would sustain throughout his dominions, if, in the position occupied by his Imperial Majesty, with reference to the Greek Church, he was to yield any privileges it had hitherto enjoyed to the Latin Church, of which the Emperor of the French claimed to be the protector.'—Eastern Papers, part v. p. 22.
To this may be added the testimony of one who, though not diplomatically engaged in the negotiations, is a competent and impartial witness, as he was on the spot during the very crisis of these transactions, viz. the Earl of Carlisle. Stating his belief that justice was on the side of the Turks, he adds:—'In giving this opinion, I do not so much allude to the actual propositions of Prince Menschikoff, for which in the outset some plausible and; even some substantial grounds might be alleged; on the contrary, I do not think it well for any Christian State to leave its co-religionists to the uncovenanted forbearance of Mussulman rulers.'—Diary in Turkish and Greek Waters, p. 181.
While the proposal of Prince Menschikoff, which had been several times modified to meet the views of the Porte, was still before it, Lord Stratford writing to the Earl of Clarendon, on May 19th, 1853, says:—'On comparing notes with M. de la Cour, I found him under an impression that the Turkish Ministers were disposed to shrink from encountering the consequences of Prince Menschikoff's retirement in displeasure' (Blue Book, part i. p. 177)—that is, in other words, disposed to accept the note proposed by the Russian Plenipotentiary. But in a despatch written the very next day, May 20th, he describes the means he had employed to prevent their yielding to that disposition:—'In one of my preceding numbers I mentioned that I had seen the Sultan in private. The interview took place yesterday morning. Rifaat Pasha accompanied me to the Sultan's apartment, and then withdrew. Reminding the Sultan of the disposition he had shown to receive my counsels, I said that I had hitherto confided them to his ministers, not wishing to trespass personally on his Majesty's indulgence without necessity. I added that in the present critical juncture of affairs the case might be different, and his Majesty might like to know what I thought from my own lips. I then endeavoured to give him a just idea of the degree of danger to which his Empire was exposed....I concluded by apprising his Majesty of what I had reserved for his private ear, in order that his ministers might take their decision without any bias from without, namely, that in the event of imminent danger I was instructed to request the Commander of her Majesty's forces in the Mediterranean to hold his squadron in readiness.'—Blue Book, part i. p. 213.
The following is an extract from a despatch sent by Count Nesselrode to Baron Brunnow, in February, 1850, giving the Russian Government's estimation of that act of 'material guarantee,' on the part of England:—'It remains to be seen whether Great Britain, abusing the advantages which are afforded her by her immense maritime superiority, intends henceforth to pursue an isolated policy, without caring for those engagements which bind her to the other cabinets; whether she intends to disengage herself from every obligation, as well as from all community of action, and to authorize all great powers, on every fitting opportunity, to recognize towards the weak no other rule but their own will, no other right but their own physical strength. Your Excellency will please to read this despatch to Lord Palmerston, and to give him a copy of it.' But Russia did not go to war with England on account of this aggression on the rights and territories of an independent power.
The Earl of Westmoreland writes to Lord Clarendon, under date of Vienna, July 25th, 1853:—'Count Buol stated that the note which had been proposed by M. Drouyn de Lhuys appeared to him to be the best foundation upon which we could proceed in the formation of the new one.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 19.
The Earl of Clarendon writes to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe from the 'Foreign Office, August 2nd, 1853. Her Majesty's Government have, in preference to all other plans, adhered to this project of note as the means best calculated to effect a speedy and satisfactory solution of the differences. They consider that it fully guards the principle for which throughout we have been contending, and that it may therefore with perfect safety be signed by the Porte;
and they further hope that your Excellency, before the receipt of this despatch, will have found no difficulty in procuring the assent of the Turkish Government to a project which the Allies of the Sultan unanimously concur in recommending for his adoption.'—Blue Book,
part ii. p. 27.
Lord Cowley, writing to Lord Clarendon from Paris, August 4th, 1853, says:—'M. Drouyn de Lhuys has profited by the passage of Mr. Tucker, returning by the Caradoc, to write to M. de la Cour, explaining why the French Government preferred the note which had been agreed to at Vienna, to that sent by Reschid Pasha from Constantinople, and instructing him to use all his influence with the Porte to obtain its assent to the project recommended by the Four Powers. I have had an opportunity of conversing with the Turkish Ambassador, and I was glad to find that his Excellency has written in the same sense to his Government.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 37.
Sir G. H. Seymour, in a despatch to the Earl of Clarendon, dated 'St. Petersburg, August 5th, 1853,' says:—'It is my agreeable duty to acquaint your Lordship, that upon waiting upon the Chancellor this morning, he stated that he had the satisfaction of informing me, that the Emperor had signified his acceptance (acceptation pure et simple
) of the project de note
which had been received from Vienna, and a copy of which was dispatched on the 24th ultimo, from Vienna to Constantinople. Intelligence of the Emperor's decision will be sent off to-morrow to Baron Brunnow, and has already been conveyed by telegraph to Vienna.'—Blue Book,
part ii. p. 43.
Count Nesselrode conveys the acceptance, in the following language, in a despatch, dated 'St. Petersburg, August 6th, 1853,' and addressed to Baron Meyendorff:—'You are aware, M. le Baron, of our august master's very sincere desire to put an end, so far as depends on him, to the anxieties felt in Europe, perhaps with a certain degree of exaggeration, in regard to our present difference with Turkey. His Majesty accordingly directs you, M. le Baron, to declare to the Ministry of the Emperor Francis Joseph, and also to your colleagues of France, England, and Prussia, that for our part we accept in its present shape the last draft of note framed at Vienna.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 46.
Sir J. H. Seymour, in a letter to Lord Clarendon, dated 'St. Petersburg, August 12th, 1853,' reporting a conversation he had just held with Count Nesselrode, says:—'The Chancellor resumed: "Now," he said, "about the delays which we are said to be desirous of interposing. The note which is intended to settle affairs reaches us on a Tuesday; on the following day our acceptance of it, without the slightest alteration, is sent off by telegraph as far as Warsaw, and from thence by a field-jager to Vienna, where it arrives on Saturday; we subscribe, without hesitation, to the slight changes made in the note at London and Paris, and the acknowledgment of our acquiescence reaches us again on the following Tuesday—a rapidity of communication of which there has been hitherto no example."'—Blue Book,
part ii. p. 50.
Again, Count Nesselrode, in a note to Baron Meyendorff, dated 'St. Petersburg, September 7th, 1853,' says:—'On the mere receipt of the first draft of note agreed upon at Vienna, and even before we knew if it would be approved at London and Paris, we announced by telegraph our adhesion to it. The draft, as finally agreed upon, was sent to us at a later period, and although it had been modified in a sense which we could not mistake, nevertheless we did not on that account retract our adhesion or raise the slightest difficulty.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 101.
Lord Stratford de Redcliffe writes to the Earl of Clarendon from Therapia, August 13th, 1853:—'At an early hour this morning I waited on Reshid Pasha, and communicated to him the substance of your instructions relative to the project de note,
already received from Vienna. I called his attention to the strong and earnest manner in which that paper was recommended to the acceptance of the Porte, not only by her Majesty's Government, but also by the Cabinets of Austria, France, and Prussia. I reminded him of the intelligence which had arrived from St. Petersburg the day before by telegraph, purporting that the Emperor of Russia had signified his readiness to accept the same note.'—Blue Book,
part iv. p. 69.
The next communication from Lord Stratford to the Earl of Clarendon, dated 'Therapia, August 14th, 1853,' is this:—'The project de note transmitted from Vienna, was laid before the Council to-day by Reshid Pasha. All the Ministers were present to the number of seventeen, including the Sheik nl Islam. The majority of the Council declared it to be their firm intention to reject the new proposal, even if amendments were introduced.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 71.
And though they were afterwards induced somewhat to modify this very peremptory proceeding, yet the adoption of such a course shows the temper which prevailed in Turkey.
Lord Cowley writes to Lord Clarendon from 'Paris, September 2nd, 1853. M. Drouyn de Lhuys stated to me yesterday, that upon the receipt of the intelligence from Constantinople, that the Porte had refused to accept the Vienna note, he had addressed a short despatch to M. de la Cour,...to express the disappointment with which the Emperor had learned the little attention paid by the Sultan's Ministers to the advice of his Majesty's Allies, and
to prescribe to M. de la Cour, to use all his efforts to induce the Porte to rescind its present decision.'—Blue Book,
part iv. p. 87.
On the 10th September, 1853, Lord Clarendon writes a long despatch to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, examining the modifications proposed in the Vienna note by the Porte, and then adds:—'In conclusion, I have to observe, that these last conditions were not made in the note sent to Vienna, and which, without them, the Porte was prepared to sign as a final settlement of the question. There is, consequently, some reason to apprehend that they have since been brought forward, under the conviction that they could not be complied with; and should this unfortunately be the case, it will verify the prediction of your Excellency made as long ago as the 16th of July, that there would soon be more to apprehend from the rashness, than from the timidity of Turkish Ministers; and it will soon confirm the opinion lately communicated to Her Majesty's Government, and which they gather also, from the tone of your Excellency's despatches, namely—that the feeling of the Turkish Government is a desire for war, founded on the conviction that France and England must still perforce side with Turkey, and that the war will, therefore, be a successful one for the Sultan, and obtain for him guarantees for the future, which will materially strengthen his tottering power.'—Blue Book, part iv. p. 95.
The Times of September 17th, 1853, says:—'The obligations of the crisis are manifestly reciprocal. If Europe has its duties towards Turkey, Turkey has its duties towards Europe. If Europe owes protection to the Ottoman empire, that empire owes consideration to the peace of Europe. Either the Turks are competent to maintain their own rights or they are not. If they are, the whole of this discussion is eminently gratuitous, and Admiral Dundas may as well bring the fleet home from Besika Bay. If they are not, they must rely on the succour of others, and it is as clear as reason can make it that this succour must be accepted, not on their own terms, but on the terms of those who lend it. The Porte cannot pretend to combine the advantages of independence and protection. If it goes to war on its own decision and its own responsibility, it may commence hostilities at discretion; but, if it goes to war with British ships and French soldiers, it can have no right to wrest the initiative from the hands of England and France. The four Powers have publicly acknowledged their desire and their obligation to protect the independence of Turkey, but it is perfectly preposterous to demand that when the object can be attained by pacific negotiations they should select, in preference, the process of a war, which would infallibly be terrible for humanity, and might possibly be ruinous to themselves. Such a policy would be destructive even to the very empire under protection. What would be the results of a general war no living being could venture to conjecture; but, if there is any one point certain, it is this—THAT AT ITS CLOSE THERE WOULD BE NO TURKEY IN EUROPE.'
The Vienna note was avowedly founded upon, and was indeed substantially the same as the French note, previously submitted to Russia, and which had been approved by the British Government; for the Earl of Clarendon writing to the Earl of Westmoreland, July 25th, 1853, in reference to the proposal of Count Buol to frame the Vienna note, says:—'We approve of the mode of proceeding, but can give no positive sanction until we know in what manner it differs from the French note to which we have already agreed.'—Blue Book,
part ii. p. I.
Now M. Drouyn de Lhuys, who was the original framer of the note, ought surely to be assumed to know in what sense it was intended to be understood. Well, this Minister, in writing to St. Petersburg to urge the acceptance of his note, says:—'That which the Cabinet of St. Petersburg ought to desire is an act of the Porte, which testifies that it has taken into serious consideration the mission of Prince Menschikoff, and that it renders homage to the sympathies which an identity of religion inspires in the Emperor Nicholas for all Christians of the Eastern rite.' And further on:—'They (the French Government) submit it to the Cabinet of St. Petersburg, with the hope that it will find that its GENERAL SENSE DIFFERS IN NOTHING FROM THE SENSE OF THE PROPOSITION PRESENTED BY PRINCE MENSCHIKOFF, and that it gives it satisfaction on all the essential points of its demands. The slight variation in the form of it will not be observed by the masses of the people, either in Russia or in Turkey. To their eyes the step taken by the Porte will preserve all the signification which the Cabinet of St. Petersburg wishes to give to it; and his Majesty the Emperor Nicholas will appear to them always as the powerful and respected protector of their religious faith.'—Cited in Count Nesselrode's Memorandum of March 2nd, 1854, as published in the Journal des Debats.
It is impossible that anything can be more explicit than this. How can the English and French Governments pretend that Russia interpreted the note in a sense different from what they intended, when it is expressly stated that it was presented 'in the hope that its general sense differed in nothing from the proposition of Prince Menschikoff,' and that it was designed to preserve in the eyes of the people, 'all the signification which the Cabinet of St. Petersburg wishes to give to it'?
Lord Westmoreland, writing from Olmutz, September 28th, 1853, to Lord Clarendon, says:—'That his Majesty (the Emperor of Russia) had authorized Count Nesselrode to confer with Count Buol as to the adoption of any proposal by which a still further guarantee might be offered to the Porte,
that he would maintain inviolate the assurances he had given; that he sought no new right, no further extension of power; and that he looked to nothing but the maintenance of treaties and the status quo
in religious matters. His Majesty had directed Count Nesselrode to report for his approval, any recommendation which, in furtherance of his object, he might, in conjunction with Count Buol, consider it advisable to adopt.'
And further on in the same despatch, Lord Westmoreland says:—'His Majesty the Emperor Nicholas, previous to his departure from Olmutz, which took place this evening, was pleased, on taking leave of me, to refer to the decision he had taken with reference to this measure, and to assure me that he had thus endeavoured, by allowing his former declarations to be strengthened by repetition, to give an additional proof of his desire to meet every legitimate wish which was expressed to him by those Powers.'
The following note 'explaining and restricting' the meaning of the Vienna note was accordingly adopted:—
'In recommending unanimously to the Porte to adopt the draft of note drawn up at Vienna, the Courts of Austria, France, England, and Prussia are convinced that that document by no means prejudices the sovereign rights and dignity of his Majesty the Sultan.
That conviction is founded on the positive assurances which the Cabinet of St. Petersburg has given in regard to the intentions by which his Majesty the Emperor of Russia is animated in requiring a general guarantee of the religious immunities granted by the Sultans to the Greek Church within their empire.
It results from these assurances that in requiring, in virtue of the principles laid down in the treaty of Kainardji, that the Greek religion and clergy should continue to enjoy their spiritual privileges under the protection of their sovereign the Sultan, the Emperor demands nothing contrary to the independence and the rights of the Sultan, nothing which implies an intention to interfere in the internal affairs of the Ottoman empire.
What the Emperor of Russia desires, is the strict maintenance of the religious status quo of his religion, that is to say, an entire equality of rights and immunities between the Greek Church and the other Christian communities, subjects of the Porte; consequently, the enjoyment by the Greek Church of the advantages already granted to those communities. He has no intention of resuscitating the privileges of the Greek Church which have fallen into disuse by the effect of time or administrative changes, but he requires that the Sultan should allow it to share in all the advantages which he shall hereafter grant to other Christian rites.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 129.
Lord Westmoreland, in transmitting this proposal to the English Government, adds:—'It is not believed that it ought to be considered in any way a condition onerous to the Porte, or unfitting for it to grant.' Now, let it be distinctly remarked, that not only Austria and Prussia, but France approved this proposal, and it was rejected at the instance of our Government alone. Lord Cowley, writing from Paris, October 4th, 1854, says to the Earl of Clarendon:—'I saw M. Drouyn de Lhuys later in the day.... He then said that the Emperor was inclined to view the proposed declaration favourably; that His Majesty thought that it guarded the points on which the French and English Governments had the most insisted.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 131.
Again, Lord Clarendon writes on October 7th, 1853, to Lord Cowley to this effect:—'On the 4th instant, Count Walewski informed me that the assurances as to the intentions of Russia contained in Count Buol's project of note, appeared satisfactory to the French Government, who were prepared with the concurrence of her Majesty's Government, to agree to the signature of that note by the Four Representatives in Constantinople, and that it should be offered to the Porte in exchange for the note originally sent from Vienna.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 140.
But our Government peremptorily rejected the proposal. 'Lord Clarendon writes to Lord A. Loftus, requesting him to state to Baron Manteuffel, that it is quite impossible for her Majesty's Government now, under any circumstances or conditions whatever, to recommend the adoption of the Vienna note to the Porte.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 132.
This allusion to the withdrawal of the troops before winter seems to have had reference to the Vienna, and not the Olmutz note, for we find the Earl of Westmoreland, writing from Vienna, September 14th, 1853, says:—'Count Buol stated that Baron Meyendorff had received a second despatch from Count Nesselrode, expressing the great disappointment felt by the Emperor of Russia at the modification of the original note by the Porte, and his regret at the consequent delay in the execution of the order which had already been prepared for commencing the evacuation of the Principalities, and which would have taken place immediately upon the Emperor's receiving the assurance that that note had been adopted by the Porte and would be presented to him. Count Nesselrode declares in this despatch that this measure will be still carried out, if the Emperor should receive a satisfactory assurance from the Sultan in time for the evacuation to take place during the month of October; later in the year it would not be possible to move the troops.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 106.
Lord Stratford de Redcliffe writes under date of Constantinople, September 26th, 1853:—'The Turkish Council has given its decision in favour of war.... The efforts of the Four Representatives to obtain a pacific solution were fruitless, as well as those which I made this morning, subsequently to the arrival in the course of the night of your despatches forwarded by the Triton.'—Blue Book,
part ii. p. 130.
Again, M. Drouyn de Lhuys, in a despatch to Count Walewski, dated Paris, October 4th, 1853, writes:—'Whilst the Russian army is approaching the Danube, the Porte, notwithstanding the unanimous efforts of the Representatives of France, of Austria, of Great Britain, and of Prussia, and without being yet acquainted with the new interpretation which Count Nesselrode has given to the note put forth by the Conference, has persisted for the second time, in its resolution, and declared, that this note, in its original terms, was for ever inadmissible. The Divan has unanimously devolved on the Sultan the duty of declaring war,'—Blue Book, part ii, p. 136.
upon war, not only against the advice, but against the almost agonizing entreaties, of the Western Powers, and especially of the English Government. Nothing is more manifest from the latter parts of these Blue Books, than that the Turks felt that they were absolute masters of the situation—that they could safely spurn all efforts at conciliation, because England and France had placed themselves in such a position that, according to the language of Lord Clarendon, 'they must perforce side with Turkey.' Thus Lord Stratford, on the 20th of September, represents himself as 'imploring'
Reshid Pacha, at least to suspend (Blue Book,
part ii. p. 149) the declaration of war for a short time; and on the 1st October, this same Reshid Pacha, after declaring that the Turkish Government had, in spite of the 'imploring' entreaty of our Ambassador, 'determined upon going to war,' instructs the Turkish Ambassador in London in these cool words:—'The Imperial Government, under existing circumstances, reckons upon the moral and material support of England and France; and it is to that object that the language which you have to hold at London should be directed.'—Blue Book,
part ii. p. 151. It is clear, also, that Lord Clarendon and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe felt, that they had placed England helplessly in the power of the Turks, and it would be almost ludicrous, but for the painful consequences involved, to see the eager and impotent efforts made by them both, when it was too late, to lay the spirit they had raised at Constantinople.
Lord Clarendon, writing October 24th, 1853, says:—'It is my duty to inform your Excellency, that her Majesty's Government observe with regret that due attention has not been paid by the Turkish Government to the advice tendered by your Excellency, with a sincere regard for the Sultan's own interests, and when, with no other motive than that of preserving peace without detriment to the honour and independence of the Sultan, you desired that the declaration of war and the commencement of hostilities, should be delayed, until all attempts at negotiation should have proved unsuccessful. And what is the explanation? Why, that the French and English had gone too far, and could not retreat, for Lord Cowley in trying to persuade M. Drouyn de Lhuys, that the Olmutz note, which the French Emperor was willing to accept, ought to be rejected, says very signficantly, "I asked M. Drouyn de Lhuys whether the Emperor had considered...the position in which the two Governments would find themselves, if, with their fleets before Constantinople, they pressed the acceptance of the Vienna note (i.e. with the Olmutz addition) upon the Porte, and the Porte persisted in her refusal, and war was the consequence?"'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 131. So again, Lord Stratford, writing on November 17th, 1853, after telling Lord Clarendon, that 'a new proposition' presented by himself and the French Ambassador to the Porte, had no chance of acceptance, 'even in a modified shape,' adds:—'I have hitherto exerted my almost solitary efforts in favour of peace under every conceivable disadvantage, including even that which results in Turkish estimation, from the presence of the allied squadrons in these waters.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 271. Writing later on the same day, he says:—'Your Lordship may be assured that I omitted nothing which my instructions, my recollections, or my reflection could suggest, in order to make an impression on his (Reshid Pacha's) mind. I lament to say that all my efforts were unavailing.... I did, however, the only thing which remained for me to do at the moment. I took my leave with evident marks of disappointment and dissatisfaction, expressing in strong terms my apprehension, that the Pacha would one day have reason to look back with painful regret on the issue of our interview.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 281.
Lord Stratford next tries the Sultan himself, in presenting to him 'Vice-Admiral Dundas and the officers under his command.' The result he describes in the following language:—'After the officers had retired, I saw the Sultan in private, and availed myself of the opportunity...to press the arguments I had already employed in favour of peace. Whatever impression I may have made on his Majesty's mind—and his manner encouraged some hope in that respect, especially on the score of humanity, and of the approach of winter—his language was in complete accordance with that of his minister.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 288. And when at length the importunities and reproaches of the Western Powers extorted from the Porte a reluctant promise to suspend the commencement of hostilities, for a few days, that promise was broken. Lord Clarendon writing to Lord Stratford, November 8th, 1853, says:—'Her Majesty's Government entirely approve the proceedings adopted by your Excellency, as reported in your despatch of the 21st ultimo, for preventing the commencement of hostilities, and they much regret that the promise you obtained to that effect should not have been acted upon. Her Majesty's Government are anxious to receive the explanation upon this subject, which your Excellency has doubtless demanded from the Porte.'—Blue Book, part ii. p. 219.
Lord Clarendon, in his letter of instructions to Lord Stratford, when returning to Constantinople, says:—'The accumulated grievances of foreign nations, which the Porte is unable or unwilling to redress, the mal-administration of its own affairs, and the increasing weakness of the executive power in Turkey,
have caused the allies of the Porte latterly to assume a tone alike novel and alarming, and which, if persevered in, may lead to a general revolt among the Christian subjects of the Porte, and prove fatal to the independence and integrity of the empire....
'Your Excellency's long residence at the Porte, and intimate knowledge of the affairs of Turkey, will enable you to point out those reforms and improvements which the Sultan, under his present difficulties, may have the means of carrying into effect, and in what manner the Porte may best establish a system of administration calculated to afford reasonable security for the development of its commercial measures and the maintenance of its independence, recognized by the great Christian Powers on presumption of its proving a reality, and a stable bond of peace in their respective relations with the Porte, and generally through the Levant. Nor will you disguise from the Sultan and his Ministers that perseverance in their present course must end in alienating the sympathies of the British nation, and making it impossible for Her Majesty's Government to shelter them from the impending danger, or to overlook the exigencies of Christendom exposed to the natural consequences of their unwise policy and reckless mal-administration.'—Blue Book, part i. pp. 81, 82.
Lord Stratford writing to M. E. Pisani, from Therapia, June 22nd, 1853, says:—'You will communicate to Reshid Pacha the several extracts of consular reports from Scutari, Monastir, and Prevesa, annexed to this instruction. You will observe that they relate in part to those acts of disorder, injustice, and corruption, sometimes of a very atrocious kind, which I have frequently brought by your means to the knowledge of the Ottoman Porte. It is with extreme disappointment and pain, that I observe the continuance of evils which affect so deeply the welfare of the empire, and which assume a deeper character of importance in the present critical state of the Porte's relations with Russia.'—Blue Book, part i. p. 383.
Again, on July 4th, he writes:—'I have frequently had occasion of late, and indeed for some years back, to bring to the knowledge of the Porte, such atrocious instances of cruelty, rapine, and murder, as I have found, with extreme concern, in the Consular reports, exhibiting generally the disturbed and misgoverned condition of Roumelia, and calling loudly for redress from the Imperial Government. The character of these disorderly and brutal outrages may be said with truth, to be in general, that of Mussulman fanaticism, excited by cupidity and hatred against the Sultan's Christian subjects.... The more pressing and obvious wants are these; the correction, by means of explanation and control, of that fanatical and licentious spirit which now influences the Mussulman population; some special means for the protection of the loyal and peaceably disposed, whether Mussulman or Rayah, an efficient responsibility on the part of the local governors and magistrates towards the Supreme Government; a more regular and judicious exercise of authority in the collection of supplies, and the direction of persons acting in concert with the army; relief for the labouring and rural classes, etc.'—Blue Book, part i. pp. 383, 384. That is, in other words, 'the pressing and obvious wants,' included almost everything necessary to constitute an organized government.
Colonel Rose, writing to the Earl of Malmesbury, November 20th, 1852, says:—'M. de Lavelette (the French Ambassador at Constantinople) has induced the Porte to address to him a note, which nullifies the status quo
established by the Firman to the Greeks, and states that nothing can be done by the Porte affecting the treaty of 1740, without the consent of France. The French Government have expressed their approbation of this note.' He is represented as 'announcing the extreme measures he would take should the Porte leave any engagements to him unfulfilled.' 'He has,' it is added, 'more than once, talked of the appearance in that case, of a French fleet off Jaffa; and once he alluded to a French occupation of Jerusalem, when, he said, we shall have all the sanctuaries!'—Blue Book,
part i. p. 49.
Lord John Russell, in a despatch to Lord Cowley, dated Foreign Office, January 28th, 1853, says:—'But her Majesty's Government cannot avoid perceiving that the Ambassador of France at Constantinople was the first to distrust the status quo in which the matter rested, and if report is to be believed, the French Ambassador was the first to speak of having recourse to force, and to threaten the intervention of a French fleet, to enforce the demands of his country.'—Blue Book, part i. p. 67.
Many illustrations of this might be given, but we restrict ourselves to one, which seems to be an almost exact counterpart of that for which Russia is now so vehemently condemned. In 1841, our own Government united with the King of Prussia, in making certain demands of the Porte on behalf of the Protestants in Turkey. Lord Palmerston on July 26th, 1841, thus wrote to Lord Ponsonby, then our Ambassador at Constantinople:—'I have to acquaint your Excellency, that the Government of her Majesty adopts with great earnestness the plan proposed by the King of Prussia, as detailed in the enclosed paper, for affording to European Protestants encouragement to settle and purchase land in the Turkish dominions, and for securing to Protestants, whether native subjects of the Porte
or foreigners who have settled in Turkey, securities, and protection similar to those which Christians of other denominations enjoy'
—(the very samething that the Czar asked for the Greeks). The first instalment of this demand was for permission to build a protestant church at Jerusalem. This was refused by the Ottoman Court. Lord Ponsonby writes to Lord Aberdeen thus: 'I had a final interview with Rifaat Pasha this day, at which I renewed all the arguments in support of the demand for permission to build a church at Jerusalem. The Pasha will send me an official note on the 9th, containing his reply to what I have said on the subject, and containing the refusal of the demand.
The Ottoman ministers are not personally averse to what has been asked, but they are overruled by the fears of the Ulemas in the council, having Sheik Al Islam at their head. I spoke strongly to Rifaat and pointed out the risk the Porte incurred of giving offence to her Majesty's Government, by denying to them that which they had granted to others,
and told him that he was in error when he denied our right; and I claimed it, not only on the ground set forth in my official note, but specifically on the right of the most ancient of our customs. I maintained that we have a right, founded on treaty, that all the privileges, of every kind, granted to the French, should be considered as belonging equally to us,
and that to refuse them would possibly be considered an insult. His Excellency Rifaat Pasha said it was no insult. I replied, that, unfortunately, it did not depend on the opinion of his Excellency, and that her Majesty's Government might think it an insult.'
In a letter afterwards addressed by Lord Ponsonby to Rifaat Pasha, he clenches the matter with the following very significant threat:—'IT REMAINS FOR YOUR EXCELLENCY TO CONSIDER WHAT MAY BE THE CONSEQUENCES OF A VIOLATION BY THE SUBLIME PORTE OF ITS TREATIES WITH GREAT BRITAIN,'—Blue Book,
Correspondence respecting the Condition of Protestants in Turkey, 1841-51, pp. 5-8.
The Porte yielded, of course; but if it had not, does any man doubt that England would have made some naval demonstration by way of 'material guarantee' for the accomplishment of her wish?
'There never has been a great State whose power for external aggression has been more overrated than Russia. She may be impregnable within her own boundaries, BUT SHE IS NEARLY POWERLESS FOR ANY PURPOSE OF OFFENCE.'—Lord Palmerston in the House of Commons last session.
'The people—the many-handed, many-mouthed people—will apparently have to pay this same year 37 per cent. more for their bread than they did last year. Perhaps the most striking way of putting it, is to remind the working classes that every man, woman, and child is supposed to consume, one with another, a quarter of wheat a year; so that the head of a family of five persons will find that his year's bread will cost £7 10s.
more than last year.... There is no deficiency which the Black Sea could not easily supply. But there is the difficulty. Wheat that would fetch 70s.
here, is only worth 20s.
in ports affected by our blockade. The operations of war are of first necessity; and, hard as it may seem to deprive the poor corn grower of his price, unreasonable as it may seem to deprive the British workman of cheap bread, still, if the blockade is necessary for the reduction of the foe, there is no help for it.'—Times.
Part IV, Essay I
End of Notes
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