But it was said that the interpretation which Count Nesselrode placed upon this note made it impossible for Turkey to accede to it. I very much doubt whether Count Nesselrode placed any meaning upon it which it did not fairly warrant, and it is impossible to say whether he really differed at all from the actual intentions of the four Ambassadors at Vienna. But I can easily understand the course taken by the Russian Minister. It was this:—seeing the note was rejected by the Turk, and considering that its previous acceptance by Russia was some concession from the original demand, he issued a circular, giving such an explanation or interpretation of the Vienna note as might enable him to get back to his original position, and might save Russia from being committed and damaged by the concession, which, for the sake of peace, she had made. This circular, however, could make no real difference in the note itself; and notwithstanding this circular, whatever the note really meant, it would have been just as binding upon Russia as any other note will be that may be drawn up and agreed to at the end of the war. Although, however, this note was considered inadmissible, negotiations were continued; and at the Conference at Olmutz, at which the Earl of Westmoreland was present, the Emperor of Russia himself expressed his willingness to accept the Vienna note—not in the sense that Count Nesselrode had placed upon it, but in that which the Ambassadors at Vienna declared to be its real meaning, and with such a clause as they should attach to it, defining its real meaning.
It is impossible from this fairly to doubt the sincerity of the desire for peace manifested by the Emperor of Russia. He would accept the note prepared by the Conference at Vienna, sanctioned by the Cabinets in London and Paris, and according to the interpretation put upon it by those by whom it had been prepared—such interpretation to be defined in a clause, to be by them attached to the original note. But in the precise week in which these negotiations were proceeding apparently to a favourable conclusion, the Turkish Council, consisting of a large number of dignitaries of the Turkish Empire—not one of whom, however, represented the Christian majority of the population of Turkey, but inspired by the fanaticism and desperation of the old Mahomedan party— assembled; and, fearful that peace would be established, and that they would lose the great opportunity of dragging England and France into a war with their ancient enemy the Emperor of Russia, they came to a sudden resolution in favour of war; and in the very week in which Russia agreed to the Vienna note in the sense of the Vienna Conference, the Turks declared war against Russia,—the Turkish forces crossed the Danube, and began the war, involving England in an inglorious and costly struggle, from which this Government and a succeeding Government may fail to extricate us.
I differ very much from those Gentlemen who condemn the Government for the tardy nature of their proceedings. I never said or thought that the Government was not honestly anxious for peace; but I believe, and indeed I know, that at an early period they committed themselves and the country to a policy which left the issue of peace or war in other hands than their own—namely, in the hands of the Turks, the very last hands in which I am willing to trust the interests and the future of this country. In my opinion, the original blunder was committed when the Turks were advised to resist and not to concede; and the second blunder was made when the Turks were supported in their rejection of the Vienna note; for the moment the four Powers admitted that their recommendation was not necessarily to be accepted by the Porte, they put themselves entirely into the hands of the Turk, and might be dragged into any depth of confusion and war in which that respectable individual might wish to involve them.
The course taken by Turkey in beginning the war was against the strong advice of her allies; but, notwithstanding this, the moment the step was taken, they turned round again, as in the case of the Vienna note, and justified and defended her in the course she had adopted, in defiance of the remonstrances they had urged against it. In his speech to-night, the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) has occupied some time in showing that Turkey was fully justified in declaring war. I should say nothing against that view, if Turkey were fighting on her own resources; but I maintain that, if she is in alliance with England and France, the opinions of those Powers should at least have been heard, and that, in case of her refusal to listen to their counsel, they would have been justified in saying to her, 'If you persist in taking your own course, we cannot be involved in the difficulties to which it may give rise, but must leave you to take the consequences of your own acts.' But this was not said, and the result is, that we are dragged into a war by the madness of the Turk, which, but for the fatal blunders we have committed, we might have avoided.
There have been three plans for dealing with this Turkish question, advocated by as many parties in this country. The first finds favour with two or three Gentlemen who usually sit on the bench below me—with a considerable number out of doors—and with a portion of the public press. These persons were anxious to have gone to war during last summer. They seem actuated by a frantic and bitter hostility to Russia, and, without considering the calamities in which they might involve this country, they have sought to urge it into a great war, as they imagined, on behalf of European freedom, and in order to cripple the resources of Russia. I need hardly say that I have not a particle of sympathy with that party, or with that policy. I think nothing can be more unwise than that party, and nothing more atrocious than their policy. But there was another course recommended, and which the Government has followed. War delayed, but still certain—arrangements made which placed the issue of war in other hands than in those of the Government of this country—that is the policy which the Government has pursued, and in my opinion it is fatal to Turkey, and disastrous to England. There is a third course, and which I should have, and indeed have all along recommended—that war should have been avoided by the acceptance on the part of Turkey either of the last note of Prince Menchikoff, or of the Vienna note; or, if Turkey would not consent to either, that then she should have been allowed to enter into the war alone, and England and France—supposing they had taken, and continued to take, the same view of the interests of Western Europe which they have hitherto taken—might have stood aloof until the time when there appeared some evident danger of the war being settled on terms destructive of the balance of power; and then they might have come in, and have insisted on a different settlement. I would either have allowed or compelled Turkey to yield, or would have insisted on her carrying on the war alone.
The question is, whether the advantages both to Turkey and England of avoiding war altogether, would have been less than those which are likely to arise from the policy which the Government has pursued? Now, if the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton is right in saying that Turkey is a growing Power, and that she has elements of strength which unlearned persons like myself know nothing about; surely no immediate, or sensible, or permanent mischief could have arisen to her from the acceptance of the Vienna note, which all the distinguished persons who agreed to it have declared to be perfectly consistent with her honour and independence. If she has been growing stronger and stronger of late years, surely she would have grown still stronger in the future, and there might have been a reasonable expectation that, whatever disadvantages she might have suffered for a time from that note, her growing strength would have enabled her to overcome them, while the peace of Europe might have been preserved. But suppose that Turkey is not a growing Power, but that the Ottoman rule in Europe is tottering to its fall, I come to the conclusion that, whatever advantages were afforded to the Christian population of Turkey would have enabled them to grow more rapidly in numbers, in industry, in wealth, in intelligence, and in political power; and that, as they thus increased in influence, they would have become more able, in case any accident, which might not be far distant, occurred, to supplant the Mahomedan rule, and to establish themselves in Constantinople as a Christian State, which, I think, every man who hears me will admit is infinitely more to be desired than that the Mahomedan power should be permanently sustained by the bayonets of France and the fleets of England. Europe would thus have been at peace; for I do not think even the most bitter enemies of Russia believe that the Emperor of Russia intended last year, if the Vienna note or Prince Menchikoff's last and most moderate proposition had been accepted, to have marched on Constantinople. Indeed, he had pledged himself in the most distinct manner to withdraw his troops at once from the Principalities, if the Vienna note were accepted; and therefore in that case Turkey would have been delivered from the presence of the foe; peace would for a time have been secured to Europe; and the whole matter would have drifted on to its natural solution—which is, that the Mahomedan power in Europe should eventually succumb to the growing power of the Christian population of the Turkish territories.
The noble Lord the Member for London, and his colleague the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, when they speak of the aggrandisement of Russia relatively to the rest of Europe, always speak of the 'balance of power' a term which it is not easy to define. It is a hackneyed term—a phrase to which it is difficult to attach any definite meaning. I wish the noble Lord would explain what is meant by the balance of power. In 1791, the whole Whig party repudiated the proposition that Turkey had anything to do with the balance of power. Mr. Burke, in 1791, when speaking on that subject, used the following language:—
'He had never heard it said before, that the Turkish Empire was ever considered as any part of the balance of power in Europe. They had nothing to do with European policy; they considered themselves as wholly Asiatic. What had these worse than savages to do with the Powers of Europe, but to spread war, destruction, and pestilence among them? The Ministry and the policy which would give these people any weight in Europe, would deserve all the bans and curses of posterity. All that was holy in religion, all that was moral and humane, demanded an abhorrence of everything which tended to extend the power of that cruel and wasteful Empire. Any Christian Power was to be preferred to these destructive savages.'
Mr. Whitbread, on the same occasion, said:—
'Suppose the Empress at Constantinople, and the Turks expelled from the European provinces, would any unprejudiced man contend that by such an event mankind would not be largely benefited? Would any man contend that the expulsion of a race of beings whose abominable tyranny proscribed the arts, and literature, and everything that was good, and great, and amiable, would not conduce to the prosperity and happiness of the world? He was convinced it would. This was an event with which the paltry consideration of the nice adjustment of the balance in Europe was not to be put in competition, although he was a friend to that balance on broad and liberal principles. He abhorred the wretched policy which could entertain a wish that the most luxuriant part of the earth should remain desolate and miserable that a particular system might be maintained.'
And Mr. Fox, when speaking of Mr. Pitt's system, said—and be it remembered that nobody is so great an authority with the noble Lord the Member for London as Mr. Fox, whose words I am now about to quote:—
'His (Mr. Pitt's) defensive system was wicked and absurd—that every country which appeared, from whatever cause, to be growing great, should be attacked; that all the Powers of Europe should be confined to the same precise situation in which this defensive system found them.... Her (Russia's) extent of territory, scanty revenue, and thin population made her power by no means formidable to us—a Power whom we could neither attack nor be attacked by; and this was the Power against which we were going to war. Overturning the Ottoman Empire he conceived to be an argument of no weight. The event was not probable; and if it should happen, it was more likely to be of advantage than injurious to us.'
It will probably be said, that these were opinions held by Gentlemen who sat on that side of the House, and who were ready to advocate any course that might serve to damage the Ministers of the day. I should be sorry to think so, especially of a man whose public character is so much to be admired as that of Mr. Fox; but I will come to a much later period, and produce authority of a very similar kind. Many hon. Members now in the House recollect the late Lord Holland, and they all know his sagacity and what his authority was with the party with which he was connected. What did he say? Why, so late as the year 1828, when this question was mooted in the House of Lords, he said:—
'No, my Lords, I hope I shall never see—God forbid I ever should see—for the proposition would be scouted from one end of England to another any preparations or any attempt to defend this our "ancient ally" from the attacks of its enemies. There was no arrangement made in that treaty for preserving the crumbling and hateful, or, as Mr. Burke called it, that wasteful and disgusting Empire of the Turks, from dismemberment and destruction; and none of the Powers who were parties to that treaty will ever, I hope, save the falling Empire of Turkey from ruin.'
I hope it will not be supposed that I am animated by any hostility to Turkey, in quoting sentiments and language such as this, for I have as much sympathy with what is just towards that country as any other man can have; but the question is, not what is just to Turkey, but what is just to this country, and what this House, as the depositary of the power of this country, has a right to do with regard to this most dangerous question. I am, therefore, at liberty to quote from the statesmen of 1791 and 1828, the political fathers and authorities of the noble Lord the Member for London, and to say, that if I hold opinions different from those held by the Government, I am, at least, not singular in those opinions, for I can quote great names and high authorities in support of the course I am taking.
This 'balance of power' is in reality the hinge on which the whole question turns. But if that is so important as to be worth a sanguinary war, why did you not go to war with France when she seized upon Algiers? That was a portion of Turkey not quite so distinct, it is true, as are the Danubian Principalities; but still Turkey had sovereign rights over Algiers. When, therefore, France seized on a large portion of the northern coast of Africa, might it not have been said that such an act tended to convert the Mediterranean into a French lake,—that Algiers lay next to Tunis, and that, having conquered Tunis, there would remain only Tripoli between France and Alexandria, and that the 'balance of power' was being destroyed by the aggrandisement of France? All this might have been said, and the Government might easily have plunged the country into war on that question. But happily the Government of that day had the good sense not to resist, and the result had not been disadvantageous to Europe; this country had not suffered from the seizure of Algiers, and England and France had continued at peace.
Take another case—the case of the United States. The United States waged war with Mexico—a war with a weaker State—in my opinion, an unjust and unnecessary war. If I had been a citizen of the American Republic, I should have condemned that war; but might it not have been as justly argued that, if we allowed the aggressive attacks of the United States upon Mexico, her insatiable appetite would soon be turned towards the north—towards the dependencies of this Empire—and that the magnificent colonies of the Canadas would soon fall a prey to the assaults of their rapacious neighbour? But such arguments were not used, and it was not thought necessary to involve this country in a war for the support of Mexico, although the Power that was attacking that country lay adjacent to our own dominions.
If this phrase of the 'balance of power' is to be always an argument for war, the pretence for war will never be wanting, and peace can never be secure. Let any one compare the power of this country with that of Austria now, and forty years ago. Will any one say that England, compared with Austria, is now three times as powerful as she was thirty or forty years ago? Austria has a divided people, bankrupt finances, and her credit is so low that she cannot borrow a shilling out of her own territories; England has a united people, national wealth rapidly increasing, and a mechanical and productive power to which that of Austria is as nothing. Might not Austria complain that we have disturbed the 'balance of power' because we are growing so much stronger from better government, from the greater union of our people, from the wealth that is created by the hard labour and skill of our population, and from the wonderful development of the mechanical resources of the kingdom, which is seen on every side? If this phrase of the 'balance of power' the meaning of which nobody can exactly make out, is to be brought in on every occasion to stimulate this country to war, there is an end to all hope of permanent peace.
There is, indeed, a question of a 'balance of power' which this country might regard, if our statesmen had a little less of those narrow views which they sometimes arrogantly impute to me and to those who think with me. If they could get beyond those old notions which belong to the traditions of Europe, and cast their eyes as far westward as they are now looking eastward, they might there see a power growing up in its gigantic proportions, which will teach us before very long where the true 'balance of power' is to be found. This struggle may indeed begin with Russia, but it may end with half the States of Europe; for Austria and Prussia are just as likely to join with Russia as with England and France, and probably much more so; and we know not how long alliances which now appear very secure, may remain so; for the circumstances in which the Government has involved us are of the most critical character, and we stand upon a mine which may explode any day. Give us seven years of this infatuated struggle upon which we are now entering, and let the United States remain at peace during that period, and who shall say what will then be the relative positions of the two nations? Have you read the Reports of your own Commissioners to the New York Exhibition? Do you comprehend what is the progress of that country, as exhibited in its tonnage, and exports, and imports, and manufactures, and in the development of all its resources, and the means of transit? There has been nothing like it hitherto under the sun. The United States may profit to a large extent by the calamities which will befall us; whilst we, under the miserable and lunatic idea that we are about to set the worn-out Turkish Empire on its legs, and permanently to sustain it against the aggressions of Russia, are entangled in a war. Our trade will decay and diminish—our people, suffering and discontented, as in all former periods of war, will emigrate in increasing numbers to a country whose wise policy is to keep itself free from the entanglement of European politics—to a country with which rests the great question, whether England shall, for any long time, retain that which she professes to value so highly—her great superiority in industry and at sea.
This whole notion of the 'balance of power' is a mischievous delusion which has come down to us from past times; we ought to drive it from our minds, and to consider the solemn question of peace or war on more clear, more definite, and on far higher principles than any that are involved in the phrase the 'balance of power.' What is it the Government propose to do? Let us examine their policy as described in the message from the Crown, and in the Address which has been moved to-night. As I understand it, we are asked to go to war to maintain the 'integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire'—to curb the aggressive power of Russia—and to defend the interests of this country.
These are the three great objects to which the efforts and resources of this country are to be directed. The noble Lord the Member for London is, I think, the author of the phrase 'the integrity and independence' of Turkey. If I am not mistaken, he pledged himself to this more than a year ago, when he was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in a letter to somebody at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in answer to an Address from certain enthusiasts in that town, who exhorted the Government to step in for the support of the Ottoman Empire. But what is the condition of that Empire at this moment? I have already described to the House what it would have been if my policy had been adopted—if the thrice-modified note of Prince Menchikoff had been accepted, or if the Vienna note had been assented to by the Porte. But what is it now under the protection of the noble Lord and his Colleagues? At the present moment there are no less than three foreign armies on Turkish soil: there are 100,000 Russian troops in Bulgaria; there are armies from England and France approaching the Dardanelles, to entrench themselves on Turkish territory, and to return nobody knows when. All this can hardly contribute to the 'independence' of any country. But more than this: there are insurrections springing up in almost every Turkish province, and insurrections which must, from the nature of the Turkish Government, widely extend; and it is impossible to describe the anarchy which must prevail, inasmuch as the control heretofore exercised by the Government to keep the peace is now gone, by the withdrawal of its troops to the banks of the Danube; and the licence and demoralization engendered by ages of bad government will be altogether unchecked. In addition to these complicated horrors, there are 200,000 men under arms; the state of their finances is already past recovery; and the allies of Turkey are making demands upon her far beyond anything that was required by Russia herself. Can anything be more destructive of the 'integrity and independence' of Turkey than the policy of the noble Lord?
I have seen only this day a letter in the Times from its Correspondent at Constantinople, which states that Lord Stratford de Redcliffe and one of the Pashas of the Porte had spent a whole night in the attempt to arrange concessions which her allies had required on behalf of the Christian population of Turkey. The Christians are to be allowed to hold landed property; the capitation tax is to be abolished—for they are actually contending for the abolition of that which the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) says is a positive benefit to those upon whom it is imposed; and the evidence of Christians is to be admitted into courts of justice. But the Times' Correspondent asks, what is the use of a decree at Constantinople, which will have no effect in the provinces?— for the judges are Turks of the old school, and they will have little sympathy with a change under which a Christian in a court of justice is made equal with his master the Turk. This Correspondent describes what Turkey really wants—not three foreign armies on her soil, nor any other thing which our Government is about to give her, but 'a pure executive, a better financial administration, and sensible laws;' and it must be admitted that the true wants of the country are not likely soon to be supplied.
Now, so far as regards Turkey herself, and the 'integrity and independence' of that Empire, I put it seriously to the House—do you believe, that if the Government and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe had advised Turkey to accept the last note of Prince Menchikoff, a note so little different from the others, offered before and since, that it was impossible to discover in what the distinction consisted; or if the Government had insisted on Turkey accepting, as the condition of their co-operation, the Vienna note, either as at first proposed by the Conference, or with the explanatory definitions with which the Emperor of Russia at Olmutz offered to accept it, that they would have injured the 'integrity and independence' of Turkey? Nay, I will not insult you by asking whether, under such circumstances, that 'integrity and independence' would not have been a thousand times more secure than it is at this hour? If that be true, then the 'balance of power' theory has been entirely overthrown by the policy of the Government, for no one will argue that Turkey will come out of her present difficulties more able to cope with the power of Russia than she was before. With her finances hopelessly exhausted, will she ever again be able to raise an army of 200,000 men? But there are men, and I suspect there are statesmen, in this country, and men in office, too, who believe that Turkey will not be Turkey at the end of this war—that she cannot come out of it an Ottoman Power—that such a convulsion has been created, that while we are ready to contend with half the world to support the 'integrity and independence' of the Ottoman Empire, there will shortly be no Ottoman Empire to take the benefit of the enormous sacrifices we are about to make.
But we are undertaking to repress and to curb Russian aggression. These are catching words; they have been amplified in newspapers, and have passed from mouth to mouth, and have served to blind the eyes of multitudes wholly ignorant of the details of this question. If Turkey has been in danger from the side of Russia heretofore, will she not be in far greater danger when the war is over? Russia is always there. You do not propose to dismember Russia, or to blot out her name from the map, and her history from the records of Europe. Russia will be always there—always powerful, always watchful, and actuated by the same motives of ambition, either of influence or of territory, which are supposed to have moved her in past times. What, then, do you propose to do? and how is Turkey to be secured? Will you make a treaty with Russia, and force conditions upon her? But if so, what security have you that one treaty will be more binding than another? It is easy to find or make a reason for breaking a treaty, when it is the interest of a country to break it.
I recollect reading a statement made by the illustrious Washington, when it was proposed to land a French army in North America, to assist the colonies in overthrowing the yoke of this country. Washington was afraid of them—he did not know whether these allies once landed might not be as difficult to get rid of as the English troops he was endeavouring to expel; for, said he, 'whatever may be the convention entered into, my experience teaches me that nations and Governments rarely abide by conventions or treaties longer than it is their interest to do so.' So you may make a treaty with Russia; but if Russia is still powerful and ambitious—as she certainly will be—and if Turkey is exhausted and enfeebled by the war—as she certainly will be—then I want to know what guarantee you have, the moment the resources of Russia have recovered from the utmost degree of humiliation and exhaustion to which you may succeed in reducing her, that she will not again insist on terms with Turkey infinitely more perilous than those you have ruined Turkey by urging her to refuse? It is a delusion to suppose you can dismember Russia—that you can blot her from the map of Europe—that you can take guarantees from her, as some seem to imagine, as easily as you take bail from an offender, who would otherwise go to prison for three months. England and France cannot do this with a stroke of the pen, and the sword will equally fail if the attempt be made.
But I come now to another point. How are the interests of England involved in this question? This is, after all, the great matter which we, the representatives of the people of England, have to consider. It is not a question of sympathy with any other State. I have sympathy with Turkey; I have sympathy with the serfs of Russia; I have sympathy with the people of Hungary, whose envoy the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton refused to see, and the overthrow of whose struggle for freedom by the armies of Russia he needlessly justified in this House; I have sympathy with the Italians, subjects of Austria, Naples, and the Pope; I have sympathy with the three millions of slaves in the United States; but it is not on a question of sympathy that I dare involve this country, or any country, in a war which must cost an incalculable amount of treasure and of blood. It is not my duty to make this country the knight-errant of the human race, and to take upon herself the protection of the thousand millions of human beings who have been permitted by the Creator of all things to people this planet.
I hope no one will assume that I would invite—that is the phrase which has been used—the aggressions of Russia. If I were a Russian, speaking in a Russian Parliament, I should denounce any aggression upon Turkey, as I now blame the policy of our own Government; and I greatly fear I should find myself in a minority, as I now find myself in a minority on this question. But it has never yet been explained how the interests of this country are involved in the present dispute. We are not going to fight for tariffs, or for markets for our exports. In 1791, Mr. Grey argued that, as our imports from Russia exceeded 1,000,000l. sterling, it was not desirable that we should go to war with a country trading with us to that amount. In 1853, Russia exported to this country at least 14,000,000l. sterling, and that fact affords no proof of the increasing barbarism of Russia, or of any disregard of her own interests as respects the development of her resources. What has passed in this House since the opening of the present session? We had a large surplus revenue, and our Chancellor of the Exchequer is an ambitious Chancellor. I have no hope in any statesman who has no ambition; he can have no great object before him, and his career will be unmarked by any distinguished services to his country.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer entered office, doubtless he hoped, by great services to his country, to build up a reputation such as a man may labour for and live for. Every man in this House, even those most opposed to him, acknowledged the remarkable capacity which he displayed during the last session, and the country has set its seal to this—that his financial measures, in the remission and readjustment of taxation, were worthy of the approbation of the great body of the people. The right hon. Gentleman has been blamed for his speech at Manchester, not for making the speech, but because it differed from the tone of the speech made by the noble Lord, his colleague in office, at Greenock. I observed that difference. There can be no doubt that there has been, and that there is now, a great difference of opinion in the Cabinet on this Eastern question. It could not be otherwise; and Government has gone on from one step to another; they have drifted—to use the happy expression of Lord Clarendon to describe what is so truly unhappy—they have drifted from a state of peace to a state of war; and to no Member of the Government could this state of things be more distressing than to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for it dashed from him the hopes he entertained that session after session, as trade extended and the public revenue increased, he would find himself the beneficent dispenser of blessings to the poor, and indeed to all classes of the people of this kingdom. Where is the surplus now? No man dare even ask for it, or for any portion of it.
Here is my right hon. Friend and Colleague, who is resolved on the abolition of the newspaper stamp. I can hardly imagine a more important question than that, if it be desirable for the people to be instructed in their social and political obligations; and yet my right hon. Friend has scarcely the courage to ask for the abolition of that odious tax. I believe, indeed, that my right hon. Friend has a plan to submit to the Chancellor by which the abolition of the stamp may be accomplished without sacrifice to the Exchequer, but that I will not go into at present. But this year's surplus is gone, and next year's surplus is gone with it; and you have already passed a Bill to double the income- tax. And it is a mistake to suppose that you will obtain double the sum by simply doubling the tax. Many persons make an average of their incomes, and make a return accordingly. The average will not be sustained at the bidding of Parliament; and profits that were considerable last year, will henceforth show a great diminution, or will have vanished altogether. I mention this for the benefit of the country gentlemen, because it is plain that real property, lands and houses, must bear the burden of this war; for I will undertake to say, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will prefer to leave that bench, and will take his seat in some other quarter of the House, rather than retrace the steps which Sir Robert Peel took in 1842. He is not the promoter of this war; his speeches have shown that he is anxious for peace, and that he hoped to be a Minister who might dispense blessings by the remission of taxes to the people; and I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman will consent to be made the instrument to reimpose upon the country the Excise duties which have been repealed, or the Import duties which in past times inflicted such enormous injury upon trade. The property-tax is the lever, or the weapon, with which the proprietors of lands and houses in this kingdom will have to support the 'integrity and independence' of the Ottoman Empire. Gentlemen, I congratulate you, that every man of you has a Turk upon his shoulders.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) spoke of our 'triumphant position'—the position in which the Government has placed us by pledging this country to support the Turks. I see nothing like a triumph in the fact, that in addition to our many duties to our own country, we have accepted the defence of twenty millions or more of the people of Turkey, on whose behalf, but, I believe, not for their benefit, we are about to sacrifice the blood and treasure of England. But there are other penalties and other considerations. I will say little about the Reform Bill, because, as the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) is aware, I do not regard it as an unmixed blessing. But I think even hon. Gentlemen opposite will admit that it would be well if the representation of the people in this House were in a more satisfactory state, and that it is unfortunate that we are not permitted, calmly and with mutual good feeling, to consider the question, undisturbed by the thunder of artillery and undismayed by the disasters which are inseparable from a state of war.
With regard to trade, I can speak with some authority as to the state of things in Lancashire. The Russian trade is not only at an end, but it is made an offence against the law to deal with any of our customers in Russia. The German trade is most injuriously affected by the uncertainty which prevails on the continent of Europe. The Levant trade, a very important branch, is almost extinguished in the present state of affairs in Greece, Turkey in Europe, and Syria. All property in trade is diminishing in value, whilst its burdens are increasing. The funds have fallen in value to the amount of about 120,000,000l. sterling, and railway property is quoted at about 80,000,000l. less than was the case a year ago. I do not pretend to ask the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) to put these losses, these great destructions of property, against the satisfaction he feels at the 'triumphant position' at which we have arrived. He may content himself with the dream that we are supporting the 'integrity and independence' of Turkey, though I doubt whether bringing three foreign armies on her soil, raising insurrections in her provinces, and hopelessly exhausting her finances, is a rational mode of maintaining her as an independent Power.
But we are sending out 30,000 troops to Turkey, and in that number are not included the men serving on board the fleets. Here are 30,000 lives! There is a thrill of horror sometimes when a single life is lost, and we sigh at the loss of a friend, or of a casual acquaintance! But here we are in danger of losing—and I give the opinions of military men and not my own merely—10,000, or it may be 20,000 lives, that may be sacrificed in this struggle. I have never pretended to any sympathy for the military profession—but I have sympathy for my fellow-men and fellow- countrymen, where-ever they may be. I have heard very melancholy accounts of the scenes which have been witnessed in the separations from families occasioned by this expedition to the East. But it will be said, and probably the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton will say, that it is a just war, a glorious war, and that I am full of morbid sentimentality, and have introduced topics not worthy to be mentioned in Parliament. But these are matters affecting the happiness of the homes of England, and we, who are the representatives and guardians of those homes, when the grand question of war is before us, should know at least that we have a case—that success is probable—and that an object is attainable, which may be commensurate with the cost of war.
There is another point which gives me some anxiety. You are boasting of an alliance with France. Alliances are dangerous things. It is an alliance with Turkey that has drawn us into this war. I would not advise alliances with any nation, but I would cultivate friendship with all nations. I would have no alliance that might drag us into measures which it is neither our duty nor our interest to undertake. By our present alliance with Turkey, Turkey cannot make peace without the consent of England and France; and by this boasted alliance with France we may find ourselves involved in great difficulties at some future period of these transactions.
I have endeavoured to look at the whole of this question, and I declare, after studying the correspondence which has been laid on the table— knowing what I know of Russia and of Turkey—seeing what I see of Austria and of Prussia—feeling the enormous perils to which this country is now exposed, I am amazed at the course which the Government have pursued, and I am horrified at the results to which their policy must inevitably tend. I do not say this in any spirit of hostility to the Government. I have never been hostile to them. I have once or twice felt it my duty to speak, with some degree of sharpness, of particular Members of the Administration, but I suspect that in private they would admit that my censure was merited. But I have never entertained a party hostility to the Government. I know something of the difficulties they have had to encounter, and I have no doubt that, in taking office, they acted in as patriotic a spirit as is generally expected from Members of this House. So long as their course was one which I could support, or even excuse, they have had my support. But this is not an ordinary question; it is not a question of reforming the University of Oxford, or of abolishing 'ministers' money' in Ireland; the matter now before us affects the character, the policy, and the vital interests of the Empire; and when I think the Government have committed a grievous—it may be a fatal error—I am bound to tell them so.
I am told indeed that the war is popular, and that it is foolish and eccentric to oppose it. I doubt if the war is very popular in this House. But as to what is, or has been popular, I may ask, what was more popular than the American war? There were persons lately living in Manchester who had seen the recruiting party going through the principal streets of that city, accompanied by the parochial clergy in full canonicals, exhorting the people to enlist to put down the rebels in the American colonies. Where is now the popularity of that disastrous and disgraceful war, and who is the man to defend it? But if hon. Members will turn to the correspondence between George III and Lord North, on the subject of that war, they will find that the King's chief argument for continuing the war was, that it would be dishonourable in him to make peace so long as the war was popular with the people. Again, what war could be more popular than the French war? Has not the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) said, not long ago, in this House, that peace was rendered difficult if not impossible by the conduct of the English press in 1803? For myself, I do not trouble myself whether my conduct in Parliament is popular or not. I care only that it shall be wise and just as regards the permanent interests of my country, and I despise from the bottom of my heart the man who speaks a word in favour of this war, or of any war which he believes might have been avoided, merely because the press and a portion of the people urge the Government to enter into it.
I recollect a passage of a distinguished French writer and statesman which bears strongly upon our present position: he says,—
'The country which can comprehend and act upon the lessons which God has given it in the past events of its history, is secure in the most imminent crises of its fate.'
The past events of our history have taught me that the intervention of this country in European wars is not only unnecessary, but calamitous; that we have rarely come out of such intervention having succeeded in the objects we fought for; that a debt of 800,000,000l. sterling has been incurred by the policy which the noble Lord approves, apparently for no other reason than that it dates from the time of William III; and that, not debt alone has been incurred, but that we have left Europe at least as much in chains as before a single effort was made by us to rescue her from tyranny. I believe, if this country, seventy years ago, had adopted the principle of nonintervention in every case where her interests were not directly and obviously assailed, that she would have been saved from much of the pauperism and brutal crimes by which our Government and people have alike been disgraced. This country might have been a garden, every dwelling might have been of marble, and every person who treads its soil might have been sufficiently educated. We should indeed have had less of military glory. We might have had neither Trafalgar nor Waterloo; but we should have set the high example of a Christian nation, free in its institutions, courteous and just in its conduct towards all foreign States, and resting its policy on the unchangeable foundation of Christian morality.
* * * * *
ENLISTMENT OF FOREIGNERS BILL.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, DECEMBER 22, 1854. From Hansard. At this hour of the night I shall not make a speech; but I wish to say a few things in answer to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, who has very strangely misapprehended—I am not allowed to say 'misrepresented'—what fell from my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding. The noble Lord began by saying that my hon. Friend had charged the Government with making war in something of a propagandist spirit in favour of nationalities throughout the Continent; but that was the exact contrary of what my hon. Friend did say. What he said was, that that portion of the people of this country who had clamoured for war, and whose opinion formed the basis whereupon the Government grounded their plea for the popularity of the war, were in favour of the setting up of nationalities; but my hon. Friend showed that the Government had no such object, and the war no such tendency. The next misrepresentation was, that my hon. Friend had spoken in favour of the status quo; but there is not the shadow of a shade of truth in that statement. What my hon. Friend said was precisely the contrary; but the noble Lord, arguing from his own misapprehension of my hon. Friend's meaning, went on then to show that it would not do to establish a peace on the status quo terms, thus knocking down a position which nobody had set up. The noble Lord was also guilty of another mistake with reference to an observation of my hon. Friend as to the character and position of the Turks. We have referred over and over again to a monstrous statement made by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton as to the improvement of the Turks—a statement which is contradicted by all facts. Tonight, with a disingenuousness which I should be ashamed to use in argument—[Cries of 'Oh!']—it is very well for hon. Gentlemen who come down to cheer a Minister to cry 'Oh!' but is it a fact, or is it not? Is there a man who hears me who does not know perfectly well, when the noble Lord said that the Turks had improved within the last twenty years more than any other nation in Europe, that the statement referred not to the Christians, whose rights and interests we were defending, but to the character of the Mahometan population? But to-night, with a disingenuousness which I could not condescend to be guilty of, the noble Lord has assumed that the statement referred to the condition of the Christian population.
The real question was, as every hon. Gentleman knows, What was the condition of the Mahometan? and there is not a Gentleman in this House who is not aware that the Mahometan portion of the population of the Turkish Empire is in a decaying and dying condition, and that the two great Empires which have undertaken to set it on its legs again will find it about the most difficult task in which they ever were engaged. What do your own officers say? Here is an extract from a letter which appeared in the papers the other day:—
They ought to set these rascally Turks to mend them [the roads], which might easily be done, as under the clay there is plenty of capital stone. They are, I am sorry to say, bringing more of these brutes into the Crimea, which makes more mouths to feed, without being of any use.
I have seen a private letter, too, from an able and distinguished officer in the Crimea, who says—
'Half of us do not know what we are fighting for, and the other half only pray that we may not be fighting for the Turks.'
The only sign of improvement which has been manifested that I know of is, that on a great emergency, when their Empire, under the advice of Her Majesty's Government, and that of their Ambassador, was placed in a situation of great peril, the Turks managed to make an expiring effort, and to get up an army which the Government, so far as I can hear, has since permitted to be almost destroyed.
Another sign of improvement is, perhaps, that they have begun to wear trowsers; but as to their commerce, their industry, or their revenue, nothing can be in a worse condition. You have now two Empires attempting to set the Turkish Empire up again; and it is said that a third great Empire is also about to engage in the task. The Turk wants to borrow money, but he cannot borrow it to-day in the London market at less than from eight to nine per cent. Russia, on the other hand, is an Empire against which three great Empires, if Turkey can be counted one still, are now combined, and it is said that a fourth great Empire will soon join the ranks of its enemies. But Russian funds at this moment are very little lower than the stock of the London and North-Western Railway. You have engaged to set this Turkish Empire up again—a task in which everybody knows you must fail—and you have persuaded the Turk to enter into a contest, one of the very first proceedings in which has forced him to mortgage to the English capitalist a very large portion—and the securest portion, too, of his revenues—namely, that which he derives from Egypt, amounting in fact, in a fiscal and financial point of view, to an actual dismemberment of the Turkish Empire, by a separation of Egypt from it. Why is it that the noble Lord has tonight come forward as the defender of the Greeks? Is it that
he has discovered, when this war is over, that Turkey, which he has undertaken to protect, the Empire which he is to defend and sustain against the Emperor of Russia, will have been smothered under his affectionate embrace? or, to quote the powerful language of the Times, when the Vienna note was refused, that whatever else may be the result of the war in which Turkey has plunged Europe, this one thing is certain, that at its conclusion there may be no Turkish Empire to talk about?
The noble Lord quoted a letter which I wrote some time ago, and which, like others who have discussed it, he found it not easy to answer. In that letter I referred to Don Pacifico's case; and I am sure that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton will remember a despatch which he received through Baron Brunnow, from Count Nesselrode, on that subject,— a despatch which I think the House will forgive my reading to it on the present occasion, as it gives 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 to 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.'
If there had been no more temper—no more sense—no more unity in the negotiations which took place with regard to this matter, in all probability we might have had a war about it. It was a case in which Russia might have gone to war with this country, if she had been so minded. But Russia did not do that. Fortunately, the negotiations that ensued settled that question without bringing that disaster upon Europe. But the noble Lord again misinterpreted my hon. Friend (Mr. Cobden). I appeal to every Gentleman who heard my hon. Friend's speech whether the drift of it was not this—that in this quarrel, Prussia, and certainly Austria, had a nearer and stronger interest than England, and that he could not understand why the terms which Austria might consider fair and safe for herself and for Turkey, might not be accepted with honour by this country and by France? Now, I am prepared to show that, from the beginning of this dispute, there is not a single thing which Austria wished to do in the course of the negotiations, or even which France wished to do, that the Government of the noble Lord did not systematically refuse its assent to, and that the noble Lord's Government is alone responsible for the failure in every particular point which took place in these negotiations. I will not trouble the House by going into the history of these negotiations now, further than just to state two facts, which will not take more than a few sentences. The noble Lord referred to the note which Russia wanted Turkey to sign, known as the Menchikoff note; but the noble Lord knows as well as I do, that when the French Ambassador, M. De la Cour, went to Constantinople, or whilst he was at Constantinople, he received express instructions from the Emperor of the French not to take upon himself the responsibility of inciting the Sultan to reject that note, ['No.'] I know this is the fact, because it is stated in Lord Cowley's despatch to the noble Lord.
I am expressing no opinion on the propriety of what was here done; I simply state the fact: and it was through the interference of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe—acting, I presume, in accordance with instructions from our Cabinet, and promising the intervention of the fleets—that the rejection of that note was secured. The next fact I have to mention is this. When in September, last year, the last propositions were drawn up by Counts Buol and Nesselrode, and offered at Olmuetz by the Emperor, as a final settlement of the question, although Austria and Prussia were in favour of those propositions; though Lord Westmoreland himself said (I do not quote his exact words, but their substance) that they were of such a nature as might be received; thus indicating his favourable opinion of them; and though, likewise, the Emperor of the French himself declared that they guarded all the points in which England and France were concerned (for this was stated by Count Walewski when he said that the Emperor was prepared to order his Ambassador at Constantinople to sign them along with the other Ambassadors, and to offer them to the Porte in exchange for the Vienna note), nevertheless, the Earl of Clarendon wrote, not in a very statesmanlike manner in such an emergency, but in almost a contemptuous tone, that our Government would not, upon any consideration, have anything further to do with the Vienna note. The rejection, first of the amended Menchikoff note, and then of the Olmuetz note, was a policy adopted solely by the Government of this country, and only concurred in, but not recommended, by the French Government and the other Governments of Europe. Whether this policy was right or wrong, there can be no doubt of the fact; and I am prepared to stake my reputation for accuracy and for a knowledge of the English language on this interpretation of the documents which have been laid before us. That being so, on what pretence could we expect that Austria should go to war in company with us for objects far beyond what she thought satisfactory at the beginning? or why should we ask the Emperor of the French to go to war for objects which he did not contemplate, and to insist on conditions which, in the month of September of last year, he thought wholly unnecessary?
But one fact more I hope the House will allow me to state. There is a despatch in existence which was never produced to the people of this country, but which made its first appearance in a St. Petersburg newspaper, and was afterwards published in the Paris journals—a despatch in which the Emperor of the French, or his Minister, urged the Russian Government to accept the Vienna note on the express ground—I give the exact words—that 'its general sense differed in nothing from the sense of the original propositions of Prince Menchikoff.' Why, Sir, can there be dissimulation more extraordinary—can there be guilt more conclusive than that this Government should act as it did, after it had recommended the Emperor of Russia to accept the Vienna note? For the noble Lord has told us, over and over again, that the Government of England concurred in all the steps taken by the French Government. The House will allow me to read the very words of the despatch, for, after all, this is no very small matter. I have an English translation, but the French original is underneath, and any hon. Gentleman who chooses may see it. The despatch is from M. Drouyn de Lhuys, the French Foreign Minister, who states:—
'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 Menchikoff, 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 farther 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 Menchikoff.'
The French words are:—
'Que son sens general ne differe en rien du sens du projet presente par M. le Prince Menchikoff.'
It then goes on:—
'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 [that is, in accepting it] will preserve all the signification which the Cabinet of St. Petersburg wishes to give it; and His Majesty the Emperor Nicholas will appear to them always as the powerful and respected protector of their religious faith.'
This despatch was written, recommending la note Francaise; which is the basis of, and is in reality and substance the same thing with, the Vienna note; but, up to this moment, neither the Government of France nor the Government of which the noble Lord is a Member has for an instant denied the justice—I do not say the extent or degree—but the justice of the claim made on the part of the Russian Government against the Turks; and now they turn round upon their own note and tell you that there was a different construction put upon it. Was there any construction put upon it, which was different from the recommendation here made and the argument used by the French Government? No; and the whole of that statement is a statement that is delusive, and if I were not in this House I would characterize it by a harsher epithet. I say now what I stated in March last, and what I have since said and written to the country, that you are making war against the Government which accepted your own terms of peace; and I state this now only for the purpose of urging upon the House and upon the Government that you are bound at least, after making war for many months, to exact no further terms from the State with which you are at war, than such as will give that security which at first you believed to be necessary; and that if you carry on a war for vengeance—if you carry on a war for conquest—if you carry on a war for purposes of Government at home, as many wars have been carried on in past times, I say you will be guilty of a heinous crime, alike in the eyes of God and of man.
One other remark perhaps the House will permit me to make. The noble Lord spoke very confidently to-night; and a very considerable portion of his speech—hoping, as I do, for the restoration of peace at some time or another—was to me not very satisfactory. I think that he would only be acting a more statesmanlike part if, in his speeches, he were at least to abstain from those trifling but still irritating charges which he is constantly making against the Russian Government. I can conceive one nation going to war with another nation; but why should the noble Lord say, 'The Sovereign of that State does not allow Bibles to be circulated—he suppressed this thing here, and he put down something else there'? What did one of the noble Lord's present colleagues say of the Government of our ally? Did he not thank God that his despotism could not suppress or gag our newspaper press, and declare that the people of France were subject to the worst tyranny in Europe? These statements from a Minister—from one who has been Prime Minister, and who, for aught I know, may be again Prime Minister—show a littleness that I did not expect from a statesman of this country, whose fate and whose interests hang on every word the noble Lord utters, and when the fate of thousands, aye, and of tens of thousands, may depend on whether the noble Lord should make one false step in the position in which he is now placed.
And when terrible calamities were coming upon your army, where was this Government? One Minister was in Scotland, another at the sea-side, and for six weeks no meeting of the Cabinet took place. I do not note when Cabinets are held—I sometimes observe that they sit for four or five hours at a time, and then I think something is wrong—but for six weeks, or two months, it is said no meeting of the Ministers was held. The noble Lord President was making a small speech on a great subject somewhere in Cumberland. At Bedford he descanted on the fate of empires, forgetting that there was nothing so likely to destroy an empire as unnecessary wars. At Bristol he was advocating a new History of England, which, if impartially written, I know not how the noble Lord's policy for the last few months will show to posterity. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton undertook a more difficult task—a labour left unaccomplished by Voltaire—and, when he addressed the Hampshire peasantry, in one short sentence he overturned the New Testament and destroyed the foundations of the Christian religion.
Now, Sir, I have only to speak on one more point. My hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding, in what he said about the condition of the English army in the Crimea, I believe expressed only that which all in this House feel, and which, I trust, every person in this country capable of thinking feels. When I look at Gentlemen on that bench, and consider all their policy has brought about within the last twelve months, I scarcely dare trust myself to speak of them, either in or out of their presence. We all know what we have lost in this House. Here, sitting near me, very often sat the Member for Frome (Colonel Boyle). I met him a short time before he went out, at Mr. Westerton's, the bookseller, near Hyde Park Corner. I asked him whether he was going out? He answered, he was afraid he was; not afraid in the sense of personal fear—he knew not that; but he said, with a look and a tone I shall never forget, 'It is no light matter for a man who has a wife and five little children.' The stormy Euxine is his grave; his wife is a widow, his children fatherless. On the other side of the House sat a Member, with whom I was not acquainted, who has lost his life, and another of whom I knew something (Colonel Blair). Who is there that does not recollect his frank, amiable, and manly countenance? I doubt whether there were any men on either side of the House who were more capable of fixing the goodwill and affection of those with whom they were associated. Well, but the place that knew them shall know them no more for ever.
I have specified only two; but there are a hundred officers who have been killed in battle, or who have died of their wounds; forty have died of disease; and more than two hundred others have been wounded more or less severely. This has been a terribly destructive war to officers. They have been, as one would have expected them to be, the first in valour as the first in place; they have suffered more in proportion to their numbers than the commonest soldiers in the ranks. This has spread sorrow over the whole country. I was in the House of Lords when the vote of thanks was moved. In the gallery were many ladies, three-fourths of whom were dressed in the deepest mourning. Is this nothing? And in every village, cottages are to be found into which sorrow has entered, and, as I believe, through the policy of the Ministry, which might have been avoided. No one supposes that the Government wished to spread the pall of sorrow over the land; but this we had a right to expect, that they would at least show becoming gravity in discussing a subject the appalling consequences of which may come home to individuals and to the nation. I recollect when Sir Robert Peel addressed the House on a dispute which threatened hostilities with the United States,—I recollect the gravity of his countenance, the solemnity of his tone, his whole demeanour showing that he felt in his soul the responsibility that rested on him.
I have seen this, and I have seen the present Ministry. There was the buffoonery at the Reform Club. Was that becoming a matter of this grave nature? Has there been a solemnity of manner in the speeches heard in connection with this war—and have Ministers shown themselves statesmen and Christian men when speaking on a subject of this nature? It is very easy for the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton to rise and say that I am against war under all circumstances; and that if an enemy were to land on our shores, I should make a calculation as to whether it would be cheaper to take him in or keep him out, and that my opinion on this question is not to be considered either by Parliament or the country. I am not afraid of discussing the war with the noble Lord on his own principles. I understand the Blue Books as well as he; and, leaving out all fantastic and visionary notions about what will become of us if something is not done to destroy or to cripple Russia, I say—and I say it with as much confidence as I ever said anything in my life—that the war cannot be justified out of these documents; and that impartial history will teach this to posterity if we do not comprehend it now.
I am not; nor did I ever pretend to be, a statesman; and that character is so tainted and so equivocal in our day, that I am not sure that a pure and honourable ambition would aspire to it. I have not enjoyed for thirty years, like these noble Lords, the honours and emoluments of office. I have not set my sails to every passing breeze. I am a plain and simple citizen, sent here by one of the foremost constituencies of the Empire, representing feebly, perhaps, but honestly, I dare aver, the opinions of very many, and the true interests of all those who have sent me here. Let it not be said that I am alone in my condemnation of this war, and of this incapable and guilty Administration. And, even if I were alone, if mine were a solitary voice, raised amid the din of arms and the clamours of a venal press, I should have the consolation I have to-night—and which I trust will be mine to the last moment of my existence—the priceless consolation that no word of mine has tended to promote the squandering of my country's treasure or the spilling of one single drop of my country's blood.
* * * * *
NEGOTIATIONS AT VIENNA.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, FEBRUARY 23, 1855.
[On February 22 Lord Palmerston announced in the House of Commons that Mr. Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Sidney Herbert, the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Cardwell, the President of the Board of Trade, and Sir James Graham, the First Lord of the Admiralty, had resigned the offices which they had accepted a fortnight before. The ground of this secession was the impression entertained by the above-named personages that the Committee of Inquiry moved for by Mr. Roebuck was equivalent to a vote of censure on them, as they had formed part of the Government of Lord Aberdeen, whose conduct of the Russian war was impugned by the appointment of the Committee. The places vacated by these secessions were filled up on February 28.]
I am one of those forming the majority of the House, I suspect, who are disposed to look upon our present position as one of more than ordinary gravity. I am one, also, of those, not probably constituting so great a majority of the House, who regret extremely the circumstances which have obliged the right hon. Gentlemen who are now upon this bench to secede from the Government of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton. I do not take upon me for a moment to condemn them; because I think, if there be anything in which a man must judge for himself, it is whether he should take office if it be offered to him, whether he should secede from office, whether he should serve under a particular leader, or engage in the service of the Crown, or retain office in a particular emergency. In such cases I think that the decision must be left to his own conscience and his own judgment; and I should be the last person to condemn any one for the decision to which he might come. I think, however, that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is one which the House cannot have listened to without being convinced that he and his retiring Colleagues have been moved to the course which they have taken by a deliberate judgment upon this question, which, whether it be right or wrong, is fully explained, and is honest to the House and to the country.
Now, Sir, I said that I regretted their secession, because I am one of those who do not wish to see the Government of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton overthrown. The House knows well, and nobody knows better than the noble Lord, that I have never been one of his ardent and enthusiastic supporters. I have often disapproved of his policy both at home and abroad; but I hope that I do not bear to him, as I can honestly say that I do not bear to any man in this House—for from all I have received unnumbered courtesies—any feeling that takes even the tinge of a personal animosity; and even if I did, at a moment so grave as this, no feeling of a personal character whatever should prevent me from doing that which I think now, of all times, we are called upon to do—that which we honestly and conscientiously believe to be for the permanent interests of the country. We are in this position, that for a month past, at least, there has been a chaos in the regions of the Administration. Nothing can be more embarrassing—I had almost said nothing can be more humiliating—than the position which we offer to the country; and I am afraid that the knowledge of our position is not confined to the limits of these islands.
It will be admitted that we want a Government; that if the country is to be saved from the breakers which now surround it, there must be a Government; and it devolves upon the House of Commons to rise to the gravity of the occasion, and to support any man who is conscious of his responsibility, and who is honestly offering and endeavouring to deliver the country from the embarrassment in which we now find it. We are at war, and I shall not say one single sentence with regard to the policy of the war or its origin, and I know not that I shall say a single sentence with regard to the conduct of it; but the fact is that we are at war with the greatest military Power, probably, of the world, and that we are carrying on our operations at a distance of 3,000 miles from home, and in the neighbourhood of the strongest fortifications of that great military Empire. I will not stop to criticise—though it really invites me—the fact that some who have told us that we were in danger from the aggressions of that Empire, at the same time told us that that Empire was powerless for aggression, and also that it was impregnable to attack. By some means, however, the public have been alarmed as if that aggressive power were unbounded, and they have been induced to undertake an expedition, as if the invasion of an impregnable country were a matter of holiday-making rather than of war.
But we are now in a peculiar position with regard to that war; for, if I am not mistaken—and I think I gathered as much from the language of the right hon. Gentleman—at this very moment terms have been agreed upon— agreed upon by the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen; consented to by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton when he was in that Cabinet; and ratified and confirmed by him upon the formation of his own Government—and that those terms are now specifically known and understood; and that they have been offered to the Government with which this country is at war, and in conjunction with France and Austria—one, certainly, and the other supposed to be, an ally of this country. Now, those terms consist of four propositions, which I shall neither describe nor discuss, because they are known to the House; but three of them are not matters of dispute; and with regard to the other, I think that the noble Lord the Member for the City of London stated, upon a recent occasion, that it was involved in this proposition—that the preponderant power of Russia in the Black Sea should cease, and that Russia had accepted it with that interpretation. Therefore, whatever difference arises is merely as to the mode in which that 'preponderant power' shall be understood or made to cease. Now, there are some Gentlemen not far from me—there are men who write in the public press—there are thousands of persons in the United Kingdom at this moment—and I learn with astonishment and dismay that there are persons even in that grave assembly which we are not allowed to specify by a name in this House— who have entertained dreams—impracticable theories—expectations of vast European and Asiatic changes, of revived nationalities, and of a new map of Europe, if not of the world, as a result or an object of this war. And it is from those Gentlemen that we hear continually, addressed to the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, language which I cannot well understand. They call upon him to act, to carry on the war with vigour, and to prosecute enterprises which neither his Government nor any other Government has ever seriously entertained; but I would appeal to those Gentlemen whether it does not become us—regarding the true interests and the true honour of the country—if our Government have offered terms of peace to Russia, not to draw back from those terms, not to cause any unnecessary delay, not to adopt any subterfuge to prevent those terms being accepted, not to attempt shuffles of any kind, not to endeavour to insist upon harder terms, and thus make the approach of peace even still more distant than it is at present?
Whatever may be said about the honour of the country in any other relation involved in this affair, this, at least, I expect every man who hears me to admit—that if terms of peace have been offered they have been offered in good faith, and shall be in honour and good faith adhered to; so that if, unfortunately for Europe and humanity, there should be any failure at Vienna, no man should point to the English Government and to the authorities and rulers of this Christian country, and say that we have prolonged the war and the infinite calamities of which it is the cause.
I have said that I was anxious that the Government of the noble Lord should not be overthrown. Will the House allow me to say why I am so? The noble Lord at the head of the Government has long been a great authority with many persons in this country upon foreign policy. His late colleague, and present envoy to Vienna, has long been a great authority with a large portion of the people of this country upon almost all political questions. With the exception of that unhappy selection of an ambassador at Constantinople, I hold that there are no men in this country more truly responsible for our present position in this war than the noble Lord who now fills the highest office in the State and the noble Lord who is now, I trust, rapidly approaching the scene of his labours in Vienna. I do not say this now to throw blame upon those noble Lords, because their policy, which I hold to be wrong, they, without doubt, as firmly believe to be right; but I am only stating facts. It has been their policy that they have entered into war for certain objects, and I am sure that neither the noble Lord at the head of the Government nor his late colleague the noble Lord the Member for London will shrink from the responsibility which attaches to them. Well, Sir, now we have those noble Lords in a position which is, in my humble opinion, favourable to the termination of the troubles which exist. I think that the noble Lord at the head of the Government himself would have more influence in stilling whatever may exist of clamour in this country than any other Member of this House. I think, also, that the noble Lord the Member for London would not have undertaken the mission to Vienna if he had not entertained some strong belief that, by so doing, he might bring the war to an end. Nobody gains reputation by a failure in negotiation, and as that noble Lord is well acquainted with the whole question from beginning to end, I entertain a hope—I will not say a sanguine hope—that the result of that mission to Vienna will be to bring about a peace, to extricate this country from some of those difficulties inseparable from a state of war.
There is one subject upon which I should like to put a question to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. I shall not say one word here about the state of the army in the Crimea, or one word about its numbers or its condition. Every Member of this House, every inhabitant of this country, has been sufficiently harrowed with details regarding it. To my solemn belief, thousands—nay, scores of thousands of persons—have retired to rest, night after night, whose slumbers have been disturbed or whose dreams have been based upon the sufferings and agonies of our soldiers in the Crimea. I should like to ask the noble Lord at the head of the Government—although I am not sure if he will feel that he can or ought to answer the question—whether the noble Lord the Member for London has power, after discussions have commenced, and as soon as there shall be established good grounds for believing that the negotiations for peace will prove successful, to enter into any armistice? ['No! no!']
I know not, Sir, who it is that says 'No, no,' but I should like to see any man get up and say that the destruction of 200,000 human lives lost on all sides during the course of this unhappy conflict is not a sufficient sacrifice. You are not pretending to conquer territory—you are not pretending to hold fortified or unfortified towns; you have offered terms of peace which, as I understand them, I do not say are not moderate; and breathes there a man in this House or in this country whose appetite for blood is so insatiable that, even when terms of peace have been offered and accepted, he pines for that assault in which of Russian, Turk, French and English, as sure as one man dies, 20,000 corpses will strew the streets of Sebastopol? I say I should like to ask the noble Lord—and I am sure that he will feel, and that this House will feel, that I am speaking in no unfriendly manner towards the Government of which he is at the head—I should like to know, and I venture to hope that it is so, if the noble Lord the Member for London has power, at the earliest stage of these proceedings at Vienna, at which it can properly be done—and I should think that it might properly be done at a very early stage—to adopt a course by which all further waste of human life may be put an end to, and further animosity between three great nations be, as far as possible, prevented?
I appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government and to this House; I am not now complaining of the war—I am not now complaining of the terms of peace, nor, indeed, of anything that has been done—but I wish to suggest to this House what, I believe, thousands and tens of thousands of the most educated and of the most Christian portion of the people of this country are feeling upon this subject, although, indeed, in the midst of a certain clamour in the country, they do not give public expression to their feelings. Your country is not in an advantageous state at this moment; from one end of the kingdom to the other there is a general collapse of industry. Those Members of this House not intimately acquainted with the trade and commerce of the country do not fully comprehend our position as to the diminution of employment and the lessening of wages. An increase in the cost of living is finding its way to the homes and hearts of a vast number of the labouring population.
At the same time there is growing up—and, notwithstanding what some hon. Members of this House may think of me, no man regrets it more than I do—a bitter and angry feeling against that class which has for a long period conducted the public affairs of this country. I like political changes when such changes are made as the result, not of passion, but of deliberation and reason. Changes so made are safe, but changes made under the influence of violent exaggeration, or of the violent passions of public meetings, are not changes usually approved by this House or advantageous to the country. I cannot but notice, in speaking to Gentlemen who sit on either side of this House, or in speaking to any one I meet between this House and any of those localities we frequent when this House is up—I cannot, I say, but notice that an uneasy feeling exists as to the news which may arrive by the very next mail from the East. I do not suppose that your troops are to be beaten in actual conflict with the foe, or that they will be driven into the sea; but I am certain that many homes in England in which there now exists a fond hope that the distant one may return—many such homes may be rendered desolate when the next mail shall arrive. The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings. There is no one, as when the first-born were slain of old, to sprinkle with blood the lintel and the two sideposts of our doors, that he may spare and pass on; he takes his victims from the castle of the noble, the mansion of the wealthy, and the cottage of the poor and the lowly, and it is on behalf of all these classes that I make this solemn appeal.
I tell the noble Lord, that if he be ready honestly and frankly to endeavour, by the negotiations about to be opened at Vienna, to put an end to this war, no word of mine, no vote of mine, will be given to shake his power for one single moment, or to change his position in this House. I am sure that the noble Lord is not inaccessible to appeals made to him from honest motives and with no unfriendly feeling. The noble Lord has been for more than forty years a Member of this House. Before I was born, he sat upon the Treasury bench, and he has spent his life in the service of his country. He is no longer young, and his life has extended almost to the term allotted to man. I would ask, I would entreat the noble Lord to take a course which, when he looks back upon his whole political career—whatever he may therein find to be pleased with, whatever to regret—cannot but be a source of gratification to him. By adopting that course he would have the satisfaction of reflecting that, having obtained the object of his laudable ambition— having become the foremost subject of the Crown, the director of, it may be, the destinies of his country, and the presiding genius in her councils—he had achieved a still higher and nobler ambition: that he had returned the sword to the scabbard—that at his word torrents of blood had ceased to flow—that he had restored tranquillity to Europe, and saved this country from the indescribable calamities of war.
* * * * *
ON THE PROSECUTION OF THE RUSSIAN WAR.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JUNE 7, 1855.
[On May 22 Mr. Disraeli moved, 'That this House cannot adjourn for the Recess without expressing its dissatisfaction with the ambiguous language and uncertain conduct of Her Majesty's Government in reference to the great question of peace or war, and that, under these circumstances, the House feels it a duty to declare that it will continue to give every support to Her Majesty in the prosecution of the war, until Her Majesty shall, in conjunction with her allies, obtain for the country a safe and honourable peace.' This was met by an amendment from Sir Francis Baring, 'That this House, having seen with regret that the Conferences at Vienna have not led to a termination of hostilities, feels it to be a duty to declare that it will continue to give every support to Her Majesty in the prosecution of the war until Her Majesty shall, in conjunction with her allies, obtain for this country a safe and honourable peace.' Mr. Disraeli's resolution was rejected by 319 votes to 219. Sir F. Baring's motion having become substantive, was met by an amendment of Mr. Lowe, to the effect, 'That this House having seen with regret, owing to the refusal of Russia to restrict the strength of her navy in the Black Sea, that the Conferences at Vienna have not led to a termination of hostilities, feels it to be a duty to declare that the means of coming to an agreement on the third basis of negotiation being by that refusal exhausted, it will continue,' &c. Mr. Lowe's amendment was negatived and Sir F. Baring's motion carried without a division on June 8.]
Last year, when the declaration of war was brought down to the House, I took the opportunity of addressing the House in opposition to the policy of the Government of that day. I was told I was too late; and it has been also said repeatedly in this debate that those who take the views which I take are too late on this occasion. It seems to be one of the consequences of the, I would say, irresponsible system of diplomacy in this country with regard to foreign affairs, that we are never allowed to discuss a mischief when it is growing, but only when it is completed, and when no remedy can be applied. And now we are at liberty to discuss the conduct of the Government in the Conferences at Vienna; and, though we were repeatedly told from the Treasury bench that it might be injurious to the public service to discuss what was going on till the affair was concluded, I suspect the House has come to the conclusion that we have been pursuing our true duty to the country in the debate that has taken place.
We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) for having placed his notice on the table of the House, and not less to my right hon. Friend and Colleague that he, before the recess, moved the adjournment of the debate. I am satisfied myself that the people of this country have no intention to go wrong either in home or foreign affairs, and it requires only that questions of this nature should be frequently discussed by the intelligent men of which this House is composed to set before them the true state of affairs, and to bring them to a wise opinion with regard to the policy which is being pursued. Now, we are not discussing the policy of the war—that is, of the origin of the war. If we were, I should lay claim to some degree of foresight in the opinion which I expressed a year ago, for there seems to be a general feeling that the sacrifices that have already been made are somewhat greater than the results that have been obtained. I am anxious, in the observations I may have to address to the House, to impress my opinions on them, if it be possible to do so, and to lay before my countrymen out of the House that which I believe involves their true interests with regard to this question. It is necessary, therefore, to have a basis for our discussion—to fix what were the objects of the war—to ascertain, if that be possible, whether those objects have been secured and accomplished—and whether there can be anything in prospect which we are likely to gain that will justify the Government and the House in proceeding further with the war.
Now, in my observations I am not about to carry on this discussion with the Gentlemen below me, who are interested in a question which is not the question before the House. They are interested in some vast, and, as it seems to me, imaginary scheme that would involve Europe in protracted and widely-extended hostilities; and I think that, so far as the House is concerned in discussing the question with the Government, these Gentlemen are almost, if not altogether, out of court. It appears to me, if they were logical in their course, finding that the objects of the Government and the objects of the Government of France were entirely different from those which they have at heart, and believing, as they do, that the objects of the allied Governments are not worth a war, that they ought rather to join us on this bench, and, instead of there being one Peace bench in the House, there would be two Peace benches, and the Peace party would clearly gain a considerable accession of strength. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies has stated over and over again—and, amid the confusion of statements which he and his Colleagues have made, I think he will not find fault if I assume that the object of the war is simply the security of the Turkish territory from the grasp of Russia, and probably from the grasp of any other Power—the noble Lord has stated that he apprehends that if Russia were to extend her empire by the possession of Turkey, it would give her a power that would be unsafe with regard to the other nations of Europe. When the noble Lord speaks in that vague, and, if I were not speaking of a man so eminent, I should say, absurd language of the liberties of Europe and the civilization of the world, I should say he means by that merely those great objects, so far as they can be conserved by the conservation of the Turkish territory.
The noble Lord tells us—we are now getting out of some of the mystifications—that he has no kind of sympathy that would lead him into war for the oppressed nationalities of Europe. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) a few nights ago turned the cold shoulder to the people of Hungary. He said he thought there could be no greater calamity to Europe than that Hungary should be separated from the Austrian Empire. Well, then, we have got rid of Hungary; and, next, the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell) tells us it is quite a mistake to suppose that he ever intended to go to war for Poland. In fact, he stated—what will be very disheartening to hon. Gentlemen below me—that he never supposed we were going to war for such a Quixotic object; that the case of Poland is one that is hopeless, and therefore it would be madness in England and France—not indiscretion—not a doubtful undertaking—but positive madness in England and France to take any part in promoting resistance in that country.
Having now got rid of Hungary and Poland, we only require that some Member of the Cabinet should get up later in the evening—and that I have no doubt will be the case—to state that it is utterly impossible for this country to involve itself in hostilities with a view to the regeneration of any part of Italy. The noble Lord the Member for London tells us we are not going to war for the sake of conquest; and that, I think, is a matter which ought to be kept in mind by hon. Gentlemen who are urging the Government on to a prolonged war. He stated on Tuesday night, 'Be it always remembered that we are seeking no object of our own;'—it would be a very odd thing if we were to go to war for the objects of somebody else—'that we are seeking no object of our own; that when peace is concluded we shall not have acquired one ell of new territory, or secured any advantage whatever for ourselves. It is for Turkey and the general system of Europe that we are struggling.' In fact, the whole matter always resolves itself into some general mystification, and at this moment we are, every man of us, almost entirely in the dark as to what are the ultimate objects of the war.
One other point that I ought to mention is the question of crippling and humbling Russia. I am, of course, willing to admit that when people go to war they are not expected to be very nice in their treatment of each other, and, if the taking of Sebastopol be an object of those who are in favour of the war, to take Sebastopol they will inflict any injury they can upon Russia. But the noble Lord told us last year that he still intended to leave Russia a great empire. I thought that exceedingly considerate of the noble Lord, and I understand—I think it has been stated in the public papers—that it is considered at St. Petersburg a great condescension on the part of so eminent a statesman. Well, then, if we are not going to war for nationalities, nor for conquest, nor for any such crippling of Russia as would be effected by her dismemberment, we come to this simple question—in the condition in which Turkey has long existed, what are the means by which the security of Turkey can be best guaranteed? No man asserts that the security of Turkey can be absolute, but that it must be partial and conditional. As it is well to have high authority for these statements, I have here an extract from a speech made by Lord Clarendon a few nights ago on the Resolution moved by Lord Grey. The noble Lord then stated:—
'My noble Friend says, and says truly, that the attainment of all this would offer no security to Turkey. The value of a treaty must always depend upon the spirit in which it is agreed to, and the good faith with which it is entered into. No treaty can make a weak Power like Turkey perfectly safe against a powerful neighbour immediately in contact with her, if that neighbour is determined to act the aggressive towards her.'—[3 Hansard, cxxxviii. 1152.]
Thus Lord Clarendon admits, what is perfectly obvious to the common sense of all who have heard anything of Russia or Turkey, except from the lips of the Prime Minister, that what we are seeking to obtain is not an absolute security for Turkey, but a conditional security, such as her circumstances, her population, her government, and geographical position render attainable by her friends and allies. We have now been fourteen months at war, and two Cabinets—the Cabinets of Lord Aberdeen and of the present First Minister—I might say four Cabinets, for the Cabinets of France and Austria must have agreed to the same thing—have agreed to certain terms, and have offered them to Russia. They have been accepted as the basis of negotiations, conferences have been opened, and certain proceedings towards a settlement have taken place; and now I should like to know whether the terms which were offered were offered in earnest. Judging of the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen by the conduct of some of its Members, and especially of Lord Aberdeen himself, I am certain that they were sincere in the terms they offered. But the Times newspaper, which now in its many changes has become the organ and great stimulant of the present Cabinet, expresses its astonishment that any person should think that peace was intended by the Conferences at Vienna. The Times states that the object of the Conferences was not to bring about a peace, but to shame Austria into becoming a faithful and warlike ally.
Now, when the noble Lord the Member for London was sent to Vienna to negotiate, I confess I was one of those who formed the opinion that the noble Lord, amid the many eccentricities of his career, would not have undertaken that mission unless he himself had been honest with regard to the terms to be offered, and anxious, if possible, to consolidate a peace. There were, however, certain persons—malicious people, of course—who found out that it would be convenient to the First Minister to have the noble Lord at a distance, at least for a time. But I never adopted that idea. I did not believe that the noble Lord's journey to Vienna, with a retinue that required him to occupy no less than thirty- two rooms in one hotel, would have been undertaken unless the noble Lord considered that the object was a reality, on which the interests of the country and of Europe depended. I think he would have been the last man in the country to lend himself to such a miserable hoax as going to Vienna, not to make peace, but to shame Austria into becoming a faithful and warlike ally. I assume, therefore, that terms were sincerely offered, and that those terms gave guarantees which were sufficient, and a security which was as ample as the circumstances admitted for the integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire. It is from that starting-point that I would discuss this question.
There are hon. Members in this House who think that even if those terms were obtained they would still be in no degree a compensation for the enormous sacrifices which the country has made. I happen to hold the same opinion, and it was with that conviction that I protested against going into the war. Indeed, I think that the argument I used a year ago, that nothing to be obtained in the war could at all approach a compensation for the enormous sacrifices the country would be called upon to make, has been greatly strengthened. Well, Sir, the terms offered are called 'bases:' from which one understands, not that they are everything, but that they are something capable of what diplomatists call 'development.' I recollect a question asked of a child at school, in one of those lessons called 'object lessons,' 'What is the basis of a batter pudding?' It was obvious that flour was the basis, but the eggs and the butter and the rest were developments and additions. But if the bases are capable of development, so I take it for granted that the meaning of negotiation is not the offering of an ultimatum, but the word involves to every man's sense the probability of concession— butter, it may be—but concession of one sort or another.