HotFreeBooks.com
Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, Volume 1
by John Bright
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11
Home - Random Browse

I will not go through all the Four Points, because the attention of the House ought really to be centred upon the third article and the matters connected with it. The House must remember that this article involves two most important subjects—first, the territorial guarantee, which if it were sufficiently secured would be everything the House and the country required from the war—namely, that the territories of Turkey shall never be molested, so long as the treaty shall continue, by any of the great Powers who are parties to such treaty; and, secondly, that the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea shall cease. Now, the territorial guarantee was granted without difficulty. [An hon. Member: 'No.'] Well, no difficulty was made about the territorial guarantee but this:—Prince Gortchakoff said, very wisely, that he would not enter into an absolute pledge to go to war in case of any infraction of the treaty, and the noble Lord who said 'No' will find, when he has examined the question a little more closely, that it does not make the slightest difference as to the actual results of a treaty whether a Power guarantees in the mode proposed by Russia, or in the manner proposed by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, because, when an infraction of a treaty occurs, the power of judging whether any of the Governments who are parties to such treaty should go to war or not, is left with each individual Government. If, for example, France stretched her dominions westward towards Morocco, or eastward towards Tunis or Tripoli, it would, of course, have been the duty, and would have been in the power of Russia, even had she accepted the exact terms proposed by the allies, to judge for herself whether a case had arisen which required her to go to war, or which justified her in doing so.

Such a case arose very lately with reference to Schleswig-Holstein. We were bound, under an ancient treaty, to go to war in the event of the infraction of certain treaties affecting Schleswig-Holstein; but when this case occurred the subject was considered by the Government, the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) being at the time, I believe, Foreign Secretary—who most wisely and properly, not only for this country, but for the interests of Schleswig-Holstein and of Europe, declined to act upon what was represented to be the strict letter of the treaty, and England did not engage in war in consequence of the disputes which then took place. I must say that what seems to me as the most statesmanlike and elevated declaration in the protocols is the statement of Prince Gortchakoff, that the blood of Russia is the property of Russia, and that he will not pledge himself that years hence—it may be even a century hence—the blood of Russia shall be shed in a cause which, when the time arrives, may be one which would be altogether unworthy of such a sacrifice.

With respect to the question of the Christian protectorate, the House will probably recollect that it was represented over and over again by Ministers in this House—it was stated in the speeches of Lord Clarendon in another place—that the proposition of Russia, as conveyed in the Menchikoff note, was intended to transfer the virtual sovereignty of 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 of Ottoman subjects to the Czar. If that were so, the Menchikoff note and all the old protectorate treaties being abolished, surely the House will consider whether the combination of the three propositions—the territorial guarantees, the Christian protectorate, and the Black Sea project—do not give such securities to Turkey as the condition of Turkey will permit. Now the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) showed very clearly the other evening, is in a certain sense a fact which all the negotiations in the world cannot write off. I see that one of the public journals this morning, commenting upon my hon. Friend's speech, says, 'Yes, truly, the commercial preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea is a fact which cannot be denied;' and then proceeds to argue that it does not follow that Russia should have a political and naval preponderance. But I do not know any case in which there is a commercial supremacy in a sea like the Black Sea that is not followed by a preponderance of every other kind. The question now is, however, how is that preponderance to cease?

The noble Lord the Member for the City of London referred the other night to a proposition made by the French Government, but which, I think, does not appear at all distinctly in the protocols, with regard to making the Black Sea a neutral sea. I conceive that was so monstrous a proposition, in the present condition of Europe, that I am surprised it should have been entertained for a moment by any sensible man. I supposed it was found so utterly indefensible that it does not appear as a distinct proposition in the protocols. This proposal of making the Black Sea a neutral sea gave place to another project, and it appears to me very like asking Russia, voluntarily or by compulsion, to perform the operation of amputation upon herself. I maintain that the third article as offered to Russia in December last could not mean what the noble Lord offered to Russia at Vienna, because the cessation of preponderance does not mean the transfer of preponderance, but rather the establishment of an equilibrium—not the destruction of an equilibrium and the establishment of preponderance on the other side.

Some hon. Gentlemen talk as if Russia were a Power which you could take to Bow Street, and bind over before some stipendiary magistrate to keep the peace for six months. Russia is a great Power, as England is, and in treating with her you must consider that the Russian Government has to consult its own dignity, its own interests, and public opinion, just as much at least as the Government of this country. Now, what was the proposition of this third article? The proposal was, that Russia should have eight ships; but what was the proposition with regard to her present antagonists? That Turkey should also have eight ships, that France should have four, and that England should have four; and I believe that in a preceding protocol, which has not been alluded to in this debate, it is proposed that the contracting Powers should have two ships each at the mouth of the Danube, so that if these terms had been agreed upon, Russia would have had eight ships in the Black Sea, while Turkey, France, and England would have had twenty. Now, that is not a mere cessation of a preponderance; it is not the establishment of an equilibrium; it is a transfer of the supremacy of the Black Sea from that country which, if any country should be supreme there, has the best claim—namely, Russia. Besides this, however, Turkey would have had whatever ships she liked in the Bosphorus, and the allies would also have had as many ships as they chose in the Mediterranean and the Levant.

Now, let us for a moment consider the offer with which Russia met this proposal. The first proposition was that of the open Straits, which is disapproved by the hon. Baronet opposite. I am not about to say that this proposition should have been accepted in preference to the other, but I think it is the true interest of Europe, and also of Turkey itself, that the Straits should be thrown open. At any rate, it must be admitted that the preponderance of Russia, in the sense in which we now understand it, would be absolutely destroyed if the Straits were thrown open. Russia made a proposition which appears to me to be highly satisfactory—that such regulations should be made by the Sultan and his Government with regard to the position and duration of the anchorages of ships between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea as would preclude the possibility, so far as there were means of doing so, of any inconvenience or danger to Constantinople from the opening of the Straits. If that had been agreed to, all nations would have been entitled to the passage of the Straits, and I believe that all nations would equally have respected the privilege thus granted to them. Now, suppose these Straits, instead of being one mile wide, had been ten miles wide, what difference would it make to Turkey? If the Straits were ten miles wide they would be open. Turkey would have no right to close them, and European nations would not permit her to pretend to, or to exercise, any such power; but Constantinople would be no more secure then than it would be now with the Straits open, whether they were ten miles wide or one mile wide. If the Straits were open, the consequences to Constantinople and to Turkey appear to me to be precisely the same. Turkey would be equally safe; Turkey would be equally menaced. Our fleets would visit the Black Sea in the course of the season, and the Russian Black Sea fleet, if it chose, would visit the Mediterranean. There would be no sort of pretence for wrangling about the Straits; and the balance of power—if I may use the term—between the fleets of Russia, France, and England, would be probably the best guarantee that could be offered for the security of Constantinople and Turkey, so far as they are in danger of aggression either from the Black Sea or the Mediterranean.

But it is said, the Sultan's sovereignty would be menaced—that he has an undoubted right to close the Straits. I doubt whether that right will be very long maintained; but if it be maintained, and if you are to reject any proposition which interferes with the Sultan's sovereignty, I ask you whether the sovereignty of the Czar is not as dear to him? and whether, if, in negotiations of this kind, you can find any mode of attaining your object without inflicting injury upon either the sovereignty of the Sultan or the Czar, it would not be much more statesmanlike to adopt it, and so to frame your treaties that neither should feel that it was subjected to an indignity, and therefore seek to violate such treaties at the first opportunity? Well, but the second proposition, which I think the hon. Baronet approved, and which I think the noble Lord proposed, was, that the Sultan should open the Straits at will. I ask the House whether that proposition, if accepted, would not imply that the Sultan could have no other enemy than Russia?—which I think is doubtful. If the Black Sea were open to the West, and the Mediterranean closed to the East, surely that is assuming that the Sultan could have no enemy but Russia. The Sultan could close the Straits to Russia, but the Western Powers could always proceed to the Black Sea. The French plan, in my opinion, exposed Turkey far more to the West than the Russian plan exposed her to the East. Nothing can be more short-sighted than the notion which the noble Lord the Member for London started at the conferences, that Turkey could have no enemy but Russia. In fact, everybody there seemed to be on exceedingly good terms with himself. The Austrian Minister said nobody would suspect Austria— no one could be suspected but Russia. But our experience for many years will tell us that there has been just as much menace from the West as from the East—the rapacity of the West is not less perceptible than that of the East. ['Hear.'] Some one expresses a sentiment in opposition —it is a gentleman who has never read the Blue Books—he does not know that almost the whole of this business began in a threat of the most audacious and insulting character from the Ambassador of France—a threat to order up the French fleet to the Dardanelles, and further to land an expedition in Syria to take possession of Jerusalem and the whole of the Holy Places. Do you mean to tell me, you and the noble Lord himself, who tried to frighten the country with the notion of the French fleet coming to invade England, that the fleet which three years ago threatened England, and more recently threatened the Dardanelles, has for ever abandoned rapacious desires, and that therefore there will never again be a menace against Turkey from France?

I understand, however, there is a very different opinion prevalent upon the southern shores of the Mediterranean. The Emperor of Morocco, a potentate somewhat allied to this country, as I am told his empress is an Irish lady—the Emperor of Morocco, who is not very well versed in what is going on in this House, has been making inquiries of the most anxious character as to whether the particular guarantee which the noble Lord was going to enter into included the territory of Morocco; and I understand he has not been able to find it out from the most assiduous study of the Gibraltar newspapers. It so happens that the Governor of Gibraltar—the noble Lord at the head of the Government corrected me the other night when I called him an irrational man—has issued an ordinance by which he has entirely suppressed the newspaper press in that town and garrison.

Now we come to the question, which of the propositions would be most secure? I was very much struck by an observation which fell from my hon. Colleague (Mr. M. Gibson) in the course of his speech the other night—a point I think very worthy of the attention of the House and of the Government; he said the limitation plan was one which must depend for its efficacy on the will and fidelity of Russia. I am not one of those who believe Russia to be the treacherous and felonious Power which she is described to be by the press of this country, as she is described by the noble Lord to be. I believe the right hon. Baronet the Member for Southwark gave her the same character. Although Russia may not be more treacherous than other Powers, when you are making a bargain with her, it is better you should make the efficacy of the terms depend more on your own vigilance than on her good faith. The noble Lord the Member for London has admitted that the limitation plan is, after all, an inefficient one. He said that Russia might get another ship—perhaps three or four—and when she had doubled the navy permitted to her, perhaps the noble Lord would be writing despatches about it, although I am not sure he would do that. I think it would be holding out a temptation to buy Mr. Scott Russell's great ship as one of the eight ships she is to be allowed to keep by the treaty.

My hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding remarked that Russia might purchase vessels of large size from the United States, and still keep within the prescribed limit; but if this great ship, now building in the Thames, should succeed, as I hope she will, Russia might buy her and send her into the Black Sea. Somebody says she could not go there without passing the Straits, but, as she is built for mercantile purposes, that monster vessel might freely be taken up, and then form one of the eight ships allowed to Russia. Another proposition has been alluded to by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay)—that pointed out by the Russian Plenipotentiary—that Russia and Turkey should enter into a friendly treaty between themselves and arrange that point; but the other diplomatists would not allow it, unless it were done under the eyes of the conference and bearing the same features of force and compulsion as their proposal of the limitation possessed. I was astonished to hear the hon. Baronet, as I understood him, say that, even although it could be shown that the Russian propositions were better than our own, he thought the proposition which bore on its face coercion of Russia was most desirable. A more unstatesman-like and immoral view upon a great question between nations I have rarely heard of. [Sir William Clay rose, and was understood to deny the sentiments imputed to him by the hon. Member.] I understood my hon. Friend so. Perhaps he did not mean what I thought he did mean, but that was the conclusion I came to from his argument, and I do not think he will say I entirely misrepresented him. It has, however, been said by the press that, whether we were sincere or not at the conference, Russia was not. Hon. Gentlemen have read in the Times and other papers blowing the flames of war, that from first to last Russia was treacherous and insincere. I would put it to the noble Lord the Member for London whether he can say that was the case, for I observe he said, in his speech in this House on the 23rd of January last, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Aylesbury, or some other Member—

'My hon. Friend will see that by that act the Russian Plenipotentiary accepted this interpretation as the basis of negotiation, of course reserving to himself the power, when this basis shall have been laid down in a definite article, of making any observations on the part of his Government which he should think proper.'—[3 Hansard cxxxvi. 911]

Of course the Russian Plenipotentiary, when he accepted it, did so upon the understanding that it was the basis of negotiation and discussion, as no one will deny it was a question capable of being solved in more ways than one, and it was no indication of insincerity for him to refuse the precise mode proposed by the Plenipotentiary for England. With regard to the terms proposed, I should like to read to the House a statement I have on very good authority as to the language which Prince Gortchakoff held at Vienna. The statement I have is not to be found in the protocols, but I believe it may be relied upon as the precise words he used. The noble Lord insisted, as I understand, that it was no indignity to ask Russia to limit the number of her ships in the Black Sea; but I would submit it is precisely the same in principle as if she were asked to limit the amount of her force in the Crimea to four or six regiments. Prince Gortchakoff said—

'To ask from an independent Power that it should limit its force, is to assail its rights of sovereignty on its own territory. It is with a bad grace that they would sustain the rights of the Sultan and wish to attack those of the Emperor of Russia. The proposition to render the Black Sea inaccessible to vessels of war of all nations is so strange (si bizarre) that one is astonished to see the fate of nations confided to men such as those who have conceived it. How could it be believed that Russia would consent to give herself up disarmed at the good pleasure of the Napoleons and the Palmerstons, who will be able themselves to have armed forces in the Mediterranean?'

There was no answer to that. If any diplomatist from this country, under the same circumstances as Russia was placed in, had consented to terms such as the noble Lord had endeavoured to force upon Russia—I say, that if he entered the door of this House, he would be met by one universal shout of execration, and, as a public man, would be ruined for ever.

I wish to ask the House this question—whether it has deliberately made up its mind that this was a proposition which ought to have been imposed upon Russia? If they have ascertained which is the best—and I rather think the general opinion is that the proposition of the Government is the worst; but, assuming that it is not so, and that there may be some little difference—I want to know what that difference is, and if there is any difference which can be measured even by the finest diplomatic and statesmanlike instrument ever invented, I ask, is that difference worth to this country the incalculable calamities which a prolonged war must bring upon us? I am of opinion that, with the territorial guarantee and the abolition of the Christian protectorate, either the terms proposed by the noble Lord or by Prince Gortchakoff would have been as secure for Turkey as it is possible under existing circumstances for Turkey to be by any treaty between the great Powers of Europe. And, recollect that we have been thrown a little off the original proposition, for when that proposition was first agreed to in the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen I am satisfied in my own mind that it meant something very like that which the Russians themselves have proposed.

If we take this first protocol of the conference, and look to the speech made by Count Buol and to the proposition he made, you will find the third article runs in this language: 'The treaty of July 13, 1841, shall be revised with the double object,' and so on. But what is the meaning of revising the treaty of 1841? The treaty has only one object, which is to guarantee to the Turk the right he has claimed since his possession of Constantinople—namely, that the Straits should be closed under the guarantee of the Powers, except in case of war. Therefore, when the Aberdeen Government, of which the noble Lords were Members, originally agreed upon these terms, their object was that the Black Sea should be thrown open, or, at least, that the closing of the Straits should be relaxed; and I presume that it was not until after it was known that, while Russia had no objection to the opening of the Straits, Turkey was very much opposed to it, that it was found necessary to change the terms and bring them forward in another form. But, surely, if this be so, the House and the Government should be chary indeed of carrying on a prolonged war with Russia, Russia having been willing to accept a proposition made originally by us, and which I believe to be the best for Turkey and for the interests of Europe. If, I say, this be so, was the Government justified in breaking off these negotiations, because that really is the issue which this House is called upon to try? Can they obtain better terms? If the terms are sufficient for Turkey they ought not to ask for better ones. I do not say they may not get better terms. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), that England and France, if they choose to sacrifice 500,000 men, and to throw away 200,000,000l. or 300,000,000l. of treasure, may dismember the Russian Empire. But I doubt whether this would give better terms for Turkey—I am sure it would not give better terms for England and France. Now, what has it cost to obtain all this?

And here I must be permitted to say one word with regard to the course taken by those right hon. Gentlemen who have recently taken their seats on this bench, and whose conduct on this question has been the cause of great debate, and of language which I think the state of the case has not wholly justified. I presume it will be admitted that these right hon. Gentlemen at least know the object of the war as well as any other men in this House. I presume, too, that, entertaining as they do a very serious idea of the results of a prolonged war, they are at liberty to come to the conclusion that certain terms, to which they themselves were parties, are sufficient; and if this be the conviction at which they have arrived, surely no Member of this House will say that, because they were Members of a Cabinet some time ago which went into this war, therefore they should be forbidden to endeavour to avert the incalculable calamities which threaten their country, but should be expected to maintain a show of consistency, for which they must sacrifice everything that an honest man would hold dear. Have these men gained anything in popularity with the country, or even with the Members of this House, by the course they have taken?

I am almost ashamed to say anything in the defence of those who are so capable of explaining and defending their own conduct in this matter; but I may be pardoned if I rejoice that men ranking high as statesmen, powerful by their oratory, distinguished by their long services, have separated themselves from that rash, that inexcusable recklessness which, I say, marks the present Government, and are anxious to deliver their country from the dangers which surround it. My hon. Friends below me—and I am quite sure not one of them will suppose that I speak from the mere wish to oppose them in any way; they are personal friends of mine, and it pains me now to differ from them; but hon. Members seem to think, when they are looking a long way off for the objects to be gained by war, that a man who looks at home is not a friend to his country. Is war the only thing a nation enters upon in which the cost is never to be reckoned? Is it nothing that in twelve months you have sacrificed 20,000 or 30,000 men, who a year ago were your own fellow-citizens, living in your midst, and interested, as you are, in all the social and political occurrences of the day? Is it nothing that, in addition to those lives, a sum of—I am almost afraid to say how much, but 30,000,000l. or 40,000,000l. will not be beyond the mark—has already been expended? And let the House bear in mind this solemn fact—that the four nations engaged in this war have already lost so many men, that if you were to go from Chelsea to Blackwall, and from Highgate and Hampstead to Norwood, and take every man of a fighting age and put him to death—if you did this you would not sacrifice a larger number of lives than have already been sacrificed in these twelve months of war.

Your own troops, as you know, have suffered, during a Crimean winter, tortures and horrors which the great Florentine hardly imagined when he wrote his immortal epic. Hon. Members are ready, I know, to say, 'Whose fault is that?' But if our loss has been less than that of the French, less than that of the Turks, and less than that of the Russians, it is fair to assume that, whatever mistakes may have been committed by the Government, the loss in the aggregate would, even under other circumstances, have fallen very little short of that which I have attempted to describe. Are these things to be accounted nothing? We have had for twelve years past a gradual reduction of taxation, and there has been an immense improvement in the physical, intellectual, and moral condition of the people of this country; while for the last two years we have commenced a career of reimposing taxes, have had to apply for a loan, and no doubt, if this war goes on, extensive loans are still in prospect.

Hon. Members may think this is nothing. They say it is a 'low' view of the case. But, these things are the foundation of your national greatness, and of your national duration; and you may be following visionary phantoms in all parts of the world while your own country is becoming rotten within, and calamities may be in store for the monarchy and the nation of which now, it appears, you take no heed. Every man connected with trade knows how much trade has suffered, how much profits in every branch of trade—except in contracts arising out of the war— have diminished, how industry is becoming more precarious and the reward for industry less, how the price of food is raised, and how much there is of a growing pressure of all classes, especially upon the poorest of the people—a pressure which by-and-by—not just now, when the popular frenzy is lashed into fury morning after morning by the newspapers— [Murmurs]—but I say by-and-by this discontent will grow rapidly, and you (pointing to the Ministerial bench) who now fancy you are fulfilling the behests of the national will, will find yourselves pointed to as the men who ought to have taught the nation better.

I will not enter into the question of the harvest. That is in the hand of Providence, and may Providence grant that the harvest may be as bountiful as it was last year! But the House must recollect that in 1853, only two years ago, there was the worst harvest that had been known for forty years. Prices were very high in consequence. Last year the harvest was the greatest ever known, yet prices have been scarcely lower, and there are not wanting men of great information and of sound judgment who look with much alarm to what may come—I trust it may not come—if we should have, in addition to the calamities of war, calamities arising from a scarcity of food, which may be scarcely less destructive of the peace and comfort of the population of this country.

I will ask the House in this state of things whether they are disposed to place implicit confidence in her Majesty's Ministers? On that (the Opposition) side of the House there is not, I believe, much confidence in the Government; and on this side I suspect there are many men who are wishful that at this critical moment the affairs of the country should be under the guidance of men of greater solidity and of better judgment. I will now point out one or two causes which I think show that I am justified in placing no confidence whatever in her Majesty's Government. Take for example what they have been doing with Austria. The noble Lord at the head of the Government has stated to us that it was of European importance that Hungary should be connected with Austria. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London said the other night it was of essential importance that Austria should be preserved as she is—a great conservative Power in the midst of Europe. Well, but at the same time this Government has been urging Austria, month after month, to enter into the same ruinous course which they themselves are disposed to pursue. They know perfectly well that if Austria were to join either with Russia on the one hand, or with the Western Powers on the other, in all human probability this great Empire would no longer remain that 'great conservative Power in the midst of Europe,' but would be stripped on the one side of her Italian provinces, and of Hungary on the other; or, if not stripped of these two portions of the Empire, would be plunged into an interminable anarchy which would prove destructive of her power.

What can be more inconsistent than for Ministers to tell us that they wish Austria to be preserved, and, at the same time, to urge her upon a course which they know perfectly well must end in her disruption, and in the destruction of that which they think essential to the balance of power in Europe? We are told, with regard to our other alliance, that it is a very delicate topic. It is a very delicate and a very important topic; but there is another topic still more delicate and important— namely, the future of this country with regard to that alliance. I think we have before now spent 1,000,000,000l. sterling, more or less, for the sake of a French dynasty. At this moment there are French armies in Rome, in Athens, in Gallipoli, in Constantinople, and in the Crimea, and the end of all this, I fear, is not yet. It has been repeatedly stated in this House that the people of France are not themselves enthusiastic in favour of this war. I would fain hope, whatever else may happen, that between the people of England and of France an improved and friendly feeling has grown up. But, as far as the war is concerned, your alliance depends on one life. The present dynasty may be a permanent, but it may be an ephemeral one, and I cannot but think that when men are looking forward to prolonged warfare they should at least take into consideration the ground on which they are standing.

Lord Clarendon has told us, with regard to Russia, that Europe was standing on a mine, and did not know it. I do not know that he is much more acute than other people, but I can fancy that Lord Clarendon, by the blunders of his negotiations and the alliances he has endeavoured to form, has placed this country on a mine far more dangerous and destructive than that upon which he thinks Europe was placed by the colossal power of Russia. There is another point I have to touch upon. To me it was really frightful to hear the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell) tell the House that we are not lighting for ourselves, but for Germany. I recollect one passage among many in the noble Lord's speeches upon this point; and, in looking over what has been said by Ministers, one really wonders that they should have allowed anything of the kind to appear in Hansard. On the 17th of February last year the noble Lord said,—

'They (England and France) feel that the cause is one, in the first place, of the independence of Turkey.... It is to maintain the independence, not only of Turkey, but of Germany and of all European nations.'—[3 Hansard, cxxx. 906.]

['Hear, hear!'] An hon. Member cheers. What a notion a man must have of the duties of the 27,000,000 of people living in these islands if he thinks they ought to come forward as the defenders of the 60,000,000 of people in Germany, that the blood of England is not the property of the people of England, and that the sacred treasure of the bravery, resolution, and unfaltering courage of the people of England is to be squandered in a contest in which the noble Lord says we have no interest, for the preservation of the independence of Germany, and of the integrity, civilization, and something else, of all Europe!

The noble Lord takes a much better view, as I presume many of us do, of things past than of things present. The noble Lord knows that we once did go to war for all Europe, but then we went to war with nearly all Europe, whereas now we are going to war in alliance with France only, except the little State of Sardinia, which we have cajoled or coerced into a course which I believe every friend to the freedom of Italy and to Sardinia will live to regret. All the rest of Europe—Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Prussia, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden—take no part in the war, and yet our Ministers have—what I should call, if I were not in this House, the effrontery and audacity to get up and tell us that they are fighting the battle of all Europe, and that all Europe is leagued with us against the colossal power of Russia. Europe in the last war did, for the most part, unite with us. We went to Spain because we were called to go by the patriot Spaniards, but I think the Duke of Wellington has stated, in his despatches, that if he had known how little assistance would be received from them he would not have recommended even that expedition.

But now, not only has all Europe not united with you, but other countries will not even allow their men to fight with you. You pay the Turks to fight their own battles, you enlist men in Germany to fight the battles of Germany, and the persons engaged in Switzerland and Hamburg in enlisting men for you are looked upon with suspicion by the authorities, and I am not sure that some of them have not even been taken into custody. Why, then, should you pretend that all Europe is leagued against Russia, and that you have authority to fight the battles of all Europe against Russia, when the greater part of Europe is standing by apathetically wondering at the folly you are committing? I would appeal to the noble Lord the Member for the Colonies—I beg his pardon, the Member for London—but he has been in so many different positions lately that it is extremely difficult to identify him. I would appeal to the noble Lord, because, however much I differ from him, I have never yet come to the conclusion that he has not at heart the interest of his country, that he is not capable of appreciating a fair argument when it is laid before him, and that he has not some sense of the responsibility as to the political course he takes, and I would ask him if there be no other world of kingdoms and of nations but that old world of Europe with which the noble Lord is so disposed to entangle this country?

I wish the noble Lord could blot out from his recollection, for a little time, William III, and all the remembrance of what has been called by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) 'the Dutch conquest,' which is supposed to have enthroned the Whig aristocracy in this country. I would ask the noble Lord to do this for to-night—for an hour—for five minutes. There is a country called the United States of America. Only on Tuesday night the very remarkable circumstance occurred—and I think the House will be of opinion that it is one worth notice—of two of those distinguished men being present and listening to the debates in this House who have occupied the position of President of the United States; a position, I venture to say, not lower in honour and dignity than that of any crowned monarch on the surface of the globe. The United States is precisely the country which is running with us the race of power and of greatness. Its population will, I believe, at the next census exceed the population of the United Kingdom; in its manufactures and general industry it is by far the most formidable rival that the great manufacturers of this country now have to contend with; it has, I suppose, ten steamers for one steamer of this country; its magnificent steamships have crossed the Atlantic in a shorter time than the steamships of this country; the finest vessels which are at this moment performing the voyage between England and the Australian colonies have been built in the United States; therefore, in shipbuilding industry the United States not only compete with, but in some respects even excel, this country. Look at our present position and that of the United States.

May I entreat the attention of this House, for I am not declaiming, I am not making a party attack, I am treating of that which, in my mind, is of vital importance to every family in the kingdom. This year the Chancellor of the Exchequer told you that he must have a sum of 86,000,000l. in order to carry on the various departments of your Government, and to defray your vast military expenditure. The United States has at this moment in her Treasury enough, I think, to pay off all her debt. Deduct the whole amount of the expenses of the Government of the United States, not only of the general Government, but also of the thirty independent sovereign States, from the 86,000,000l. we are spending, and you will find that at least 70,000,000l. will be left, which is, therefore, the sum of taxation that we are paying this year more than the people of the United States.

Some hon. Gentlemen know what it is to run a horse that has been weighted. I heard, the other day, of a horse that won every race in which it started, up to a certain period when it was for the first time weighted. It then lost the race, and it is reported in the annals of the turf that it never won a race afterwards. If that be the case with regard to a horse, it is much more true with regard to a nation. When a nation has gone a step backwards it is difficult to restore it to its position; if another nation has passed it in the race, it is almost impossible for it to regain the ground it has lost. I now speak particularly to hon. Members opposite, for there are, perhaps, more Gentlemen upon that than upon this side of the House in the happy position of owners of vast, productive, beautiful, and, I hope, unencumbered estates in the various parts of the kingdom. We are now about ten days' voyage from the United States, and within ten years we shall probably communicate with that country by telegraph as quickly as we now do with the Crimea. I hope it will be for a much better object. The people of the United States are our people, and there are few families in England which have not friends and relatives connected with or settled in that country. The inducements for men to remain at home and their attachment to the place of their birth are necessarily to some extent weakened by the facility with which they can now travel almost round the world in a few weeks.

Do you believe that when the capital of the greatest banking-house in Lombard street can be transferred to the United States on a small piece of paper in one post, that the imposition of 70,000,000l. of taxation over and above the taxation of an equal population in the United States will not have the effect of transferring capital from this country to the United States, and, if capital, then trade, population, and all that forms the bone and sinew of this great Empire? I ask hon. Members to remember what fell on a previous evening from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Works. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the war lasting, perhaps, six years with our resources undiminished. Now, nothing is easier than for a Cornish Baronet, possessing I am afraid to say how many thousands a year, a Member of a Cabinet, or for all those who are surrounded with every comfort, to look with the utmost complacency upon the calamities which may befall others not so fortunately situated as themselves. Six years of this war, and our resources undiminished! Why, Sir, six years of this war, at an annual expenditure of 70,000,000l., give 420,000,000l. to the side of the United States as against the condition of the people of this country.

Am I, then, talking of trifles? Am I talking to sane men, that it is necessary to bring forward facts like these? I am amazed, when the newspaper press, when public speakers, when Gentlemen on both sides of this House are so ready to listen and to speak upon questions relating to Turkey, to Servia, or to Schamyl, that I cannot get the House of Commons to consider a question so great as the expenditure of 420,000,000l., and when we have to consider if we shall trust that vast issue in the hands of the noble Lords and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench.

I have stated that I have no confidence in the Government, and I will now tell the House another reason for that want of confidence. My hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding, on a previous occasion, treated the right hon. President of the Board of Works very summarily; but I wish to call the attention of the House to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman in 1850, in the debate which then took place upon the foreign policy of the noble Lord now his chief. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman told the House that the foreign policy of the noble Lord now at the head of the Government had made us hated by every party in every nation in Europe; he said that the noble Lord had excited the disaffected to revolt, and, having brought upon them the vengeance of the Governments under which they lived, had then betrayed them. I do not say that this is true, but I state it upon the authority of a Minister now in the Cabinet of the noble Lord; but, whether true or not, I cannot have confidence in the right hon. Gentleman when sitting in a Cabinet to carry out the foreign policy of the noble Lord.

I will take the case of another Minister, and I do not think that when he speaks he will call my observations undeserved. A most distinguished Member of the Government—the Chancellor of the Exchequer—has been twice elected within a very short period, once before and once since his acceptance of office,—I must say that I do not like to see these changes, when a man one night sits on one bench and another night on another,—on the 8th of February, 1855, the right hon. Gentleman, addressing his constituents at Radnor, said:—

'I am not prepared to give my vote in favour of any change in our policy which would attempt to make England a first-rate military Power. It seems to me that it would be little short of madness to attempt any such gigantic undertaking. It is our true wisdom to limit ourselves to that amount of military force which shall enable us to defend our own shores, and to protect our great dependencies abroad. If we can completely defend our own coasts, it appears to me that the objects of our national policy have been fulfilled.'

And then, as if he had in view the language of the noble Lord at the head of the Government and that of his colleague the Member for London, he proceeded to say,—

'I wish to see a cessation of that inordinate and senseless desire which has been sometimes expressed of late, almost usurping the functions of Providence, that we should go to almost all parts of the world to redress wrong and to see that right is done.'

I say that the right hon. Gentleman had the language of his colleagues in view, and when he speaks he will no doubt admit that such was the case. For what did the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies say when he addressed the baillies and the enthusiastic citizens of Greenock? He said,—

'It is likewise to be considered, and I trust we shall none of us forget it, that this country holds an important position among the nations of the world—that not once, but many times, she has stood forward to resist oppression, to maintain the independence of weaker nations, to preserve to the general family of nations that freedom, that power of governing themselves, of which others have sought to deprive them. I trust that character will not be forgotten, will not be abandoned by a people which is now stronger in means, which is more populous and more wealthy than it ever has been at any former period. This then, you will agree with me, is not the period to abandon any of those duties towards the world, towards the whole of mankind, which Great Britain has hitherto performed.'

Now let us see what the right hon. Gentleman said, after having accepted the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech, and it was just after the death of the late Emperor of Russia, and, in referring to the new Emperor, he said,—

'If, however, it should please this mighty Potentate to continue in the course of aggression upon which his father had entered, and if our reasonable hopes of a more pacific policy should be disappointed, then let him know that in England he will find a country prepared to maintain its own rights and the rights of other nations.'

Observe, 'the rights of other nations;' and he goes on,—

'A country which, although its army has been placed in a perilous position, and has had to undergo the rigours of a Russian winter, has its resources unimpaired, has its revenue flourishing, has its trade substantially undiminished, has its spirit unbroken, and will be prepared, in case of necessity, to vindicate its own honour, and to maintain the rights and liberties of Europe.'

I wish the House to observe what a complete change there is in the language of the right hon. Gentleman upon these two occasions. Either of the two opinions which he expressed may be right, but both of them cannot be so, and I confess that when I find that a Gentleman says one thing one day, and a month later, when he comes into office, the exact opposite, I do not think that I can be expected to have that confidence in him as to be willing to entrust him with the vast issues depending on the war.

I will now refer to a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman—one who has also distinguished himself—I mean the First Lord of the Admiralty. That right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Wood) has said nothing upon the subject of the war, and I have felt that he must entertain great doubts as to its policy; but, not very long ago, he also addressed his constituents, and indulged in very hostile and insulting language towards 'our great and magnanimous ally;' but he, too, has changed his mind; and not long ago he went down by express train to Folkestone or Dover—I forget which—to meet in the most friendly, and probably in the most humble manner, the very potentate whom he had formerly abused.

If I have disposed of these Gentlemen and shown why I can have no confidence in them, are there any better reasons why I should have confidence in those two noble Lords who were the active and restless spirits in the Cabinet which the noble Lord the Member for London overthrew? I regard those noble Lords as responsible for the policy of this war. I am bound to suppose that they acted in accordance with their conscientious convictions; but, still, the fact of their having embarked in that policy is no reason why I should have confidence in them. But, are those two noble Lords men in whom the House and country ought to place implicit confidence? What of late could be more remarkable than the caprices of the noble Lord the Member for London? When that noble Lord was in the Government of Lord Aberdeen he went to Greenock, I think to Bedford, and certainly to Bristol—and, in fact, he took every opportunity which offered itself of bringing himself before the public; and, with his power of speech, his long experience, and eminent character, did his utmost to stimulate the feelings of the people to a policy which I believe to be destructive, and which I think the majority of this House in calm moments does not believe to have been the wisest which could have been pursued. It certainly appears to me to be unjustifiable that, while Lord Aberdeen was honestly endeavouring to bring the negotiations to a peaceful conclusion, the noble Lord was taking a course which rendered statesmanship valueless in conducting the foreign policy of the nation. The noble Lord, however, at last brought his conduct to a climax. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) came forward as a little David with sling and stone—weapons which he did not even use, but at the sight of which the Whig Goliath went howling and vanquished to the back benches.

I am afraid, Sir, to trust myself to speak of the conduct of the noble Lord on that occasion. I presume that we shall have to wait for the advent of that Somersetshire historian, whose coming the noble Lord expects, before we know whether his conduct on that occasion was, what some persons still call it, treachery to his chief, or whether it arose from that description of moral cowardice which in every man is the death of all true statesmanship. But in the year 1853 the noble Lord the Member for London gave me a strong reason why I should feel no confidence in his present chief. The House will remember that he then ejected the present First Minister under whom he now serves from the Cabinet of which he himself was then the head, and in the explanation which he made to the House, he told us that men like Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne, men of age, of authority, and experience, had been able in some degree to control his noble Friend, but, that he being younger than the noble Lord, and having been a shorter time on the political stage, had found it difficult to control him. The description which the noble Lord might give of his colleague is a little like that which we occasionally see given of a runaway horse—that he got the bit between his teeth, and there was no holding him.

The noble Lord the Member for London was the captain of the State vessel, and the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton was the mate. But how is it now? The noble Lord the Member for the City of London has accepted the position of mate in the most perilous times, in the most tempestuous weather, and he goes to sea with no chart on a most dangerous and interminable voyage, and with the very reckless captain whom he would not trust as mate. Sir, the noble Lord the Member for London has made a defence of his conduct at the Conferences at Vienna. I am willing to give him credit that he did then honestly intend peace; but I do think that when he goes again, and on such a journey, he will do well to leave some of his historic knowledge behind him. They were indeed historic fancies. There is nothing to me so out of place as the comparison which the noble Lord made between the limitation of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea and the destruction of Dunkirk, or between the condition of the Black Sea and that of the lakes of North America. The noble Lord can never have heard of the Falls of Niagara. If there were Falls like them between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean the cases would be somewhat similar, for the Russian fleet in the Black Sea would not then be exposed to the assaults of the vast navies of England or France. When I allude to this subject, I am reminded of that Welshman whom Shakspeare immortalised, who found some analogy between a river in Macedon and a river in Monmouth. He knew the name of the river in Monmouth, and he did not know the name of the river in Macedon, but he insisted upon the analogy between them because there were salmon in both.

Well, Sir, I now come to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. I do not complain that he is at the head of the Government. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London had thrown everything into such inextricable and unlooked-for confusion that any one next door to him must necessarily occupy the place. But I cannot have confidence in the noble Viscount, because I cannot but recollect that in 1850 he received the condemnation of his foreign policy in the other House of Parliament; and in a speech which I shall never forget, the last and one of the best ever delivered by the greatest statesman of the time, he received a similar condemnation, and the noble Viscount only escaped condemnation by a direct vote of this House by the energetic defence of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and by the stress laid upon many Members on this side of the House. But only six weeks after this the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) presented to the noble Viscount a letter from his Sovereign, which I cannot but think must have cost him much pain, and to which I will not refer further, except to say that I do not know how it is possible, if the contents of that letter were true, that either the noble Lord or the House can be called upon to place implicit confidence in the noble Lord the leader of the Government.

I have observed the noble Viscount's conduct ever since I have had the honour of a seat in this House, and the noble Viscount will excuse me if I state the reason why I have often opposed him. The reason is, that the noble Viscount treats all these questions, and the House itself, with such a want of seriousness that it has appeared to me that he has no serious, or sufficiently serious, conviction of the important business that so constantly comes before this House. I regard the noble Viscount as a man who has experience, but who with experience has not gained wisdom—as a man who has age, but who, with age, has not the gravity of age, and who, now occupying the highest seat of power, has—and I say it with pain—not appeared influenced by a due sense of the responsibility that belongs to that elevated position.

We are now in the hands of these two noble Lords. They are the authors of the war. It lies between them that peace was not made at Vienna upon some proper terms. And whatever disasters may be in store for this country or for Europe, they will lie at the doors of these noble Lords. Their influence in the Cabinet must be supreme; their influence in this House is necessarily great; and their influence with the country is greater than that of any other two statesmen now upon the stage of political life in England. They have carried on the war. They have, however, not yet crippled Russia, although it is generally admitted that they have almost destroyed Turkey. They have not yet saved Europe in its independence and civilization,—they have only succeeded in convulsing it. They have not added to the honour and renown of England, but they have placed the honour and renown of this country in peril. The country has been, I am afraid, the sport of their ancient rivalry, and I should be very sorry if it should be the victim of the policy which they have so long advocated.

There is only one other point upon which I will trouble the House, if it will give me its attention. These Ministers—the right hon. Member for Southwark, the Commissioner of the Board of Works, especially, and evidently the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am afraid many other Members of this House—seem to think little of taxes. Some Members of this House seem to have no patience with me if I speak of the cost of the war; but I am obliged to ask its attention to this point. I recollect reading in the life of Necker, that an aristocratic lady came to him when he was Finance Minister of Louis XVI, and asked him to give her 1,000 crowns from the public treasury—not an unusual demand in those days. Necker refused to give the money. The lady started with astonishment—she had an eye to the vast funds of the State, and she asked, 'What can 1,000 crowns be to the King?' Necker's answer was, 'Madam! 1,000 crowns are the taxes of a whole village!'

I ask hon. Gentlemen what are the taxes of a whole village, and what they mean? They mean bareness of furniture, of clothing, and of the table in many a cottage in Lancashire, in Suffolk, and in Dorsetshire. They mean an absence of medical attendance for a sick wife, an absence of the school pence of three or four little children—hopeless toil to the father of a family, penury through his life, a cheerless old age, and, if I may quote the language of a poet of humble life, at last—'the little bell tolled hastily for the pauper's funeral.' That is what taxes mean. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire spoke the other night in a manner rather flippant and hardly respectful to some of us on this question. But the labourers of Dorsetshire as well as the weavers and spinners of Lancashire are toiling, and must toil harder, longer, and with smaller remuneration for every single 100l. that you extract in taxes from the people in excess of what is necessary for the just requirements of the Exchequer of the country. I hope I may be permitted to treat the question on this ground, and I ask the House to recollect that when you strike down the children in the cottage you attack also the children in the palace. If you darken the lives and destroy the hopes of the humble dwellers of the country, you also darken the prospects of those children the offspring of your Queen, in whom are bound up so much of the interests and so much of the hopes of the people of this country. If I defend, therefore, the interests of the people on this point, I do not the less defend the permanence of the dignity of the Crown.

We on this bench are not willing to place ourselves alongside of noble Lords who are for carrying on this war with no definite object and for an indefinite period, but are ready to take our chance of the verdict of posterity whether they or we more deserve the character of statesmen in the course we have taken on this question. The House must know that the people are misled and bewildered, and that if every man in this House, who doubts the policy that is being pursued, would boldly say so in this House and out of it, it would not be in the power of the press to mislead the people as it has done for the last twelve months. If they are thus misled and bewildered, is it not the duty of this House to speak with the voice of authority in this hour of peril? We are the depositaries of the power and the guardians of the interests of a great nation and of an ancient monarchy. Why should we not fully measure our responsibility? Why should we not disregard the small-minded ambition that struggles for place? and why should we not, by a faithful, just, and earnest policy, restore, as I believe we may, tranquillity to Europe and prosperity to the country so dear to us?

* * * * *

LETTER OF JOHN BRIGHT TO ABSALOM WATKIN ON THE RUSSIAN WAR

[This letter was originally published with notes containing extracts from those authorities which confirmed the writer's views. The text of these notes has been omitted, but the references have been retained. It has been thought desirable to reprint this letter, as explaining the policy which Mr. Bright thought it his duty to recommend—a policy which was as wise and just as it was unfortunately unpopular.—J. E. T. R.]

[Mr. Absalom Watkin, of Manchester, having invited Mr. Bright to a meeting about to be held in that city on behalf of the Patriotic Fund, and having stated that in his opinion the present war was justified by the authority of Vattel, Mr. Bright replied in the subjoined letter.]

I think, on further consideration, you will perceive that the meeting on Thursday next would be a most improper occasion for a discussion as to the justice of the war. Just or unjust, the war is a fact, and the men whose lives are miserably thrown away in it have clearly a claim upon the country, and especially upon those who, by the expression of opinions favourable to the war, have made themselves responsible for it. I cannot, therefore, for a moment appear to discourage the liberality of those who believe the war to be just, and whose utmost generosity, in my opinion, will make but a wretched return for the ruin they have brought upon hundreds of families.

With regard to the war itself, I am not surprised at the difference between your opinion and mine, if you decide a question of this nature by an appeal to Vattel. The 'law of nations' is not my law, and at best it is a code full of confusion and contradictions, having its foundation on custom, and not on a higher morality; and on custom which has always been determined by the will of the strongest. It may be a question of some interest whether the first crusade was in accordance with the law and principles of Vattel; but whether the first crusade was just, and whether the policy of the crusades was a wise policy, is a totally different question. I have no doubt that the American war was a just war according to the principles laid down by writers on the 'law of nations,' and yet no man in his senses in this country will now say that the policy of George III. towards the American colonies was a wise policy, or that war a righteous war. The French war, too, was doubtless just according to the same authorities; for there were fears and anticipated dangers to be combatted, and law and order to be sustained in Europe; and yet few intelligent men now believe the French war to have been either necessary or just. You must excuse me if I refuse altogether to pin my faith upon Vattel. There have been writers on international law who have attempted to show that private assassination and the poisoning of wells were justifiable in war: and perhaps it would be difficult to demonstrate wherein these horrors differ from some of the practices which are now in vogue. I will not ask you to mould your opinion on these points by such writers, nor shall I submit my judgment to that of Vattel.

The question of this present war is in two parts—first, was it necessary for us to interfere by arms in a dispute between the Russians and the Turks; and secondly, having determined to interfere, under certain circumstances, why was not the whole question terminated when Russia accepted the Vienna note? The seat of war is three thousand miles away from us. We had not been attacked—not even insulted in any way. Two independent Governments had a dispute, and we thrust ourselves into the quarrel. That there was some ground for the dispute is admitted by the four Powers in the proposition of the Vienna note. [Footnote: Colonel Rose to Lord John Russell, March 7, 1853—Blue Book, part i. p. 87. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to the Earl of Clarendon., April 9 and May 22, 1853—Ibid, part i. pp. 127 and 235. Lord John Russell to Sir G. H. Seymour, February 9, 1853—Eastern Papers, part v. p. 8. Earl of Clarendon to Sir G. H. Seymour, April 5, 1853—Ibid, part v. p. 22. Lord Carlisle's Diary in Turkish and Greek Waters, p. 181.] But for the English Minister at Constantinople and the Cabinet at home the dispute would have settled itself, and the last note of Prince Menchikoff would have been accepted, and no human being can point out any material difference between that note and the Vienna note, afterwards agreed upon and recommended by the Governments of England, France, Austria and Prussia. But our Government would not allow the dispute to be settled. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe held private interviews with the Sultan—did his utmost to alarm him—insisted on his rejection of all terms of accommodation with Russia, and promised him the armed assistance of England if war should arise. [Footnote: Lord Stratford to the Earl of Clarendon, May 19, 1853. See, however, a despatch of May 10—Blue Book, part i. p. 213.]

The Turks rejected the Russian note, and the Russians crossed the Pruth, occupying the Principalities as a 'material guarantee.' I do not defend this act of Russia: it has always appeared to me impolitic and immoral; but I think it likely it could be well defended out of Vattel, and it is at least as justifiable as the conduct of Lord John Russell and Lord Palmerston in 1850, when they sent ten or twelve ships of war to the Piraeus, menacing the town with a bombardment if the dishonest pecuniary claims made by Don Pacifico were not at once satisfied. [Footnote: Count Nesselrode to Baron Brunnow, February, 1850.]

But the passage of the Pruth was declared by England and France and Turkey not to be a casus belli. Negotiations were commenced at Vienna, and the celebrated Vienna note was drawn up. This note had its origin in Paris [Footnote: Earl of Westmorland to Lord Clarendon, July 25, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 19.], was agreed to by the Conference at Vienna, ratified and approved by the Cabinets of Paris and London [Footnote: Earl of Clarendon to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, August 2, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 27. Lord Cowley to Lord Clarendon, August 4, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 37.], and pronounced by all these authorities to be such as would satisfy the honour of Russia, and at the same time be compatible with the 'independence and integrity' of Turkey and the honour of the Sultan. Russia accepted this note at once [Footnote: Sir G. H. Seymour to the Earl of Clarendon, August 5, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 43. Count Nesselrode, August 6, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 46.],— accepted it, I believe, by telegraph, even before the precise words of it had been received in St. Petersburgh [Footnote: Sir G. H. Seymour to Lord Clarendon, August 12, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 50. Count Nesselrode to Baron Meyendorff, September 7, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 101.]. Everybody thought the question now settled; a Cabinet Minister assured me we should never hear another word about it; 'the whole thing is at an end,' he said, and so it appeared for a moment. But the Turk refused the note which had been drawn up by his own arbitrators, and which Russia had accepted [Footnote: Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to the Earl of Clarendon, August 13, 1853—Blue Book, part iv. p. 69. Lord Stratford to the Earl of Clarendon, August 14, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 71.]. And what did the Ministers say then, and what did their organ, the Times, say? They said it was merely a difference about words; it was a pity the Turk made any difficulty, but it would soon be settled [Footnote: Lord Cowley to Lord Clarendon, from Paris, September 2, 1853— Blue Book, part iv. p. 87. Lord Clarendon to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, September 10, 1853—Ibid, part iv. p. 95. The Times, September 17, 1853.]. But it was not settled, and why not? It is said that the Russian Government put an improper construction on the Vienna note. But it is unfortunate for those who say this, that the Turk placed precisely the same construction upon it; and further, it is upon record that the French Government advised the Russian Government to accept it, on the ground that 'its general sense differed in nothing from the sense of the proposition of Prince Menchikoff.' [Footnote: Earl of Clarendon to the Earl of Westmoreland, July 25, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 1. Count Nesselrode's Memorandum of March 2, 1854, in the Journal des Debats.] It is, however, easy to see why the Russian Government should, when the Turks refused the award of their own arbitrators, re- state its original claim, that it might not be damaged by whatever concession it had made in accepting the award; and this is evidently the explanation of the document issued by Count Nesselrode, and about which so much has been said. But, after this, the Emperor of Russia spoke to Lord Westmoreland on the subject at Olmutz, and expressed his readiness to accept the Vienna note, with any clause which the Conference might add to it, explaining and restricting its meaning; [Footnote: Lord Westmoreland to Lord Clarendon, September 28, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 129. Lord Cowley to Lord Clarendon, October 4, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 131. Lord Clarendon to Lord Cowley, October 7, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 140. Lord Clarendon to Lord A. Loftus—Ibid, part ii. p. 132.] and he urged that this should be done at once, as he was anxious that his troops should re-cross the Pruth before winter. [Footnote: Earl of Westmoreland, September 14, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 106.] It was in this very week that the Turks summoned a grand council, and, contrary to the advice of England and France, determined on a declaration of war. [Footnote: Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, September 26, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. p. 130. M. Drouyn de Lhuys to Count Walewski, October 4, 1853— Ibid, part ii. p. 136.]

Now, observe the course taken by our Government. They agreed to the Vienna note; not fewer than five Members of this Cabinet have filled the office of Foreign Secretary, and therefore may be supposed capable of comprehending its meaning: it was a note drawn up by the friends of Turkey, and by arbitrators self-constituted on behalf of Turkey; they urged its acceptance on the Russian Government, and the Russian Government accepted it; there was then a dispute about its precise meaning, and Russia agreed, and even proposed that the arbitrators at Vienna should amend it, by explaining it, and limiting its meaning, so that no question of its intention should henceforth exist. But, the Turks having rejected it, our Government turned round, and declared the Vienna note, their own note, entirely inadmissible, and defended the conduct of the Turks in having rejected it. The Turks declared war, against the advice of the English and French Governments [Footnote: Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, September 20, 1853—Blue Book, part ii. pp. 149, 151. Lord Clarendon, October 24, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 131. Lord Stratford, November 17, 1853—Ibid, part ii. pp. 271, 281. Lord Stratford—Ibid, part ii. p. 288. Lord Clarendon to Lord Stratford, November 8, 1853—Ibid, part ii. p. 219.]—so, at least, it appears from the Blue Books; but the moment war was declared by Turkey, our Government openly applauded it. England, then, was committed to the war. She had promised armed assistance to Turkey—a country without government [Footnote: Lord Clarendon to Lord Stratford—Blue Book, part i. pp. 81, 82. Lord Stratford to M. E. Pisani, June 22, 1853—Ibid, part i. p. 383. The same to the same, July 4—Ibid, part i. pp. 383, 384.], and whose administration was at the mercy of contending factions; and incapable of fixing a policy for herself, she allowed herself to be dragged on by the current of events at Constantinople. She 'drifted,' as Lord Clarendon said, exactly describing his own position, into the war, apparently without rudder and without compass.

The whole policy of our Government in this matter is marked with an imbecility perhaps without example. I will not say they intended a war from the first, though there are not wanting many evidences that war was the object of at least a section of the Cabinet. A distinguished Member of the House of Commons said to a friend of mine, immediately after the accession of the present Government to office, 'You have a war Ministry, and you will have a war.' But I leave this question to point out the disgraceful feebleness of the Cabinet, if I am to absolve them from the guilt of having sought occasion for war. They promised the Turk armed assistance on conditions, or without conditions. They, in concert with France, Austria, and Prussia, took the original dispute out of the hands of Russia and Turkey, and formed themselves into a court of arbitration in the interests of Turkey; they made an award, which they declared to be safe and honourable for both parties; this award was accepted by Russia and rejected by Turkey; and they then turned round upon their own award, declared it to be 'totally inadmissible,' and made war upon the very country whose Government, at their suggestion and urgent recommendation, had frankly accepted it. At this moment England is engaged in a murderous warfare with Russia, although the Russian Government accepted her own terms of peace, and has been willing to accept them in the sense of England's own interpretation of them ever since they were offered; and at the same time England is allied with Turkey, whose Government rejected the award of England, and who entered into the war in opposition to the advice of England. Surely, when the Vienna note was accepted by Russia, the Turks should have been prevented from going to war, or should have been allowed to go to war at their own risk.

I have said nothing here of the fact that all these troubles have sprung out of the demands made by France upon the Turkish Government, and urged in language more insulting than any which has been shown to have been used by Prince Menchikoff [Footnote: Col. Rose to the Earl of Malmesbury, November 20, 1852—Blue Book, part i. p. 49. Lord J. Russell to Lord Cowley, January 28, 1853—Ibid, part i. p. 67.]. I have said nothing of the diplomatic war which has been raging for many years past in Constantinople, and in which England has been behind no other Power in attempting to subject the Porte to foreign influences [Footnote: Blue Book—Correspondence respecting the Condition of Protestants in Turkey, 1841-51, pp. 5-8.] I have said nothing of the abundant evidence there is that we are not only at war with Russia, but with all the Christian population of the Turkish Empire, and that we are building up our Eastern policy on a false foundation—namely, on the perpetual maintenance of the most immoral and filthy of all despotisms over one of the fairest portions of the earth which it has desolated, and over a population it has degraded but has not been able to destroy. I have said nothing of the wretched delusion that we are fighting for civilization in supporting the Turk against the Russian and against the subject Christian population of Turkey. I have said nothing about our pretended sacrifices for freedom in this war, in which our great and now dominant ally is a monarch who, last in Europe, struck down a free constitution, and dispersed by military violence a national Representative Assembly.

My doctrine would have been non-intervention in this case. The danger of the Russian power was a phantom [Footnote: 'There never has been a great State whose power for external aggression has been more overrated than Russia. She may be impregnable within her own boundaries, BUT SHE IS NEARLY POWERLESS FOR ANY PURPOSE OF OFFENCE.'—Lord Palmerston, in the House of Commons, 1853.]; the necessity of permanently upholding the Mahometan rule in Europe is an absurdity. Our love for civilization, when we subject the Greeks and Christians to the Turks, is a sham; and our sacrifices for freedom, when working out the behests of the Emperor of the French and coaxing Austria to help us, is a pitiful imposture. The evils of non-intervention were remote and vague, and could neither be weighed nor described in any accurate terms. The good we can judge something of already, by estimating the cost of a contrary policy. And what is that cost? War in the north and south of Europe, threatening to involve every country of Europe. Many, perhaps fifty millions sterling, in the course of expenditure by this country alone, to be raised from the taxes of a people whose extrication from ignorance and poverty can only be hoped for from the continuance of peace. The disturbance of trade throughout the world, the derangement of monetary affairs, and difficulties and ruin to thousands of families. Another year of high prices of food, notwithstanding a full harvest in England, chiefly because war interferes with imports, and we have declared our principal foreign food-growers to be our enemies. The loss of human life to an enormous extent. Many thousands of our own countrymen have already perished of pestilence and in the field; and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of English families will be plunged into sorrow, as a part of the penalty to be paid for the folly of the nation and its rulers.

When the time comes for the 'inquisition for blood,' who shall answer for these things? You have read the tidings from the Crimea; you have, perhaps, shuddered at the slaughter; you remember the terrific picture,— I speak not of the battle, and the charge, and the tumultuous excitement of the conflict, but of the field after the battle—Russians, in their frenzy or their terror, shooting Englishmen who would have offered them water to quench their agony of thirst; Englishmen, in crowds, rifling the pockets of the men they had slain or wounded, taking their few shillings or roubles, and discovering among the plunder of the stiffening corpses images of the 'Virgin and the Child.' You have read this, and your imagination has followed the fearful details. This is war,—every crime which human nature can commit or imagine, every horror it can perpetrate or suffer; and this it is which our Christian Government recklessly plunges into, and which so many of our countrymen at this moment think it patriotic to applaud! You must excuse me if I cannot go with you. I will have no part in this terrible crime. My hands shall be unstained with the blood which is being shed. The necessity of maintaining themselves in office may influence an administration; delusions may mislead a people; Vattel may afford you a law and a defence; but no respect for men who form a Government, no regard I have for 'going with the stream,' and no fear of being deemed wanting in patriotism, shall influence me in favour of a policy which, in my conscience, I believe to be as criminal before God as it is destructive of the true interest of my country.

I have only to ask you to forgive me for writing so long a letter. You have forced it from me, and I would not have written it did I not so much appreciate your sincerity and your good intentions towards me.

Believe me to be, very sincerely yours,

JOHN BRIGHT.

October 29.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11
Home - Random Browse