Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Vienna, a pause, partly of exhaustion, and partly of natural repose from labours accomplished, ensued, and all foreign policy was gathered up in the general desire of the leading European States to sustain the complicated and fragile settlement brought about by the Treaty, in the stability of which so many States, great and small, had a direct and private concern. From about the year 1829 to 1846, English attention was distracted and absorbed by the unprecedentedly active legislation in which, under such leaders as Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell, the country was engaged. To this period belong the Emancipation of the Roman Catholics, the Reform of Parliament, the re-adjustment of public Corporations and Endowments, the establishment of Railways, the Bank Charter Act, and the culmination of the successful struggle for the abolition of protective duties on corn. Between 1846 and 1848, the invasion of the newly-constituted Republic of Cracow by Russia, and the apprehensions of an increase of French influence in Spain by the possible marriage of a French Prince to the Queen,' were events which seemed to arouse the House of Commons, and, through the discussion of them, to prepare the way for a new era of foreign policy, which dates from the European revolutions in 1848. It became now quite impossible for England, or for the House of Commons, to be indifferent to what was going on abroad, or to forbear from adopting some distinct line of policy. A number of circumstances,-among which the peculiar temperament of Lord Palmerston at

? An interesting account of the Spanish marriage question from the point of view of M. Guizot, who was personally concerned in the negotiations, together with a defence of his conduct and the French policy, will be found in the sixteenth chapter of his Memoirs of Sir Robert Peel.

Non-Intervention.

365

this period, and the enormous development of trade consequent on the abolition of protection of corn are prominent,-combined to give currency to a doctrine which was hitherto unknown in English political phraseology,—that of non-intervention. The doctrine, indeed, did not suffice to prevent the Crimean War in 1853; but at the close of that war the doctrine, reinforced rather than otherwise by the vicissitudes of the war and by its uncertain results, assumed fresh sway, and in fact had a dominant effect on English politics during the whole period of nearly twenty years which covered events of the utmost magnitude and lasting importance on the Continent of Europe and in the United States. From 1856 to the accession of Mr. Disraeli's Ministry in 1874, it is not saying too much to assert that the one desire of England and the House of Commons was to vindicate its neutrality. At the time, indeed, of the war for the liberation and unification of Italy in 1859, there was many an Englishman whose heart burned within him because his country seemed only to look on and pass by on the other side. In the Sleswig-Holstein war of 1864 there were those, in and out of the House of Commons, who charged the country and the Government with culpable laxity in the observance of treaties for not coming to the active aid of Denmark. During the Franco-German war of 18701871 there were influential and articulate-speaking parties in favour of coming to the help either of Germany, from a supposed spirit of hereditary alliance, or of France, because of the alleged destiny of England to be the champion of the weak, if not because of obligations to her most recent allies. It was, however, during the civil strife in the United States that the doctrine of English neutrality was most severely tried;during the earlier part of the struggle the general right of revolution, anywhere and by anyone, seeming to claim recognition at the hands of England, and in the latter part of the struggle the prospect of emancipating four millions of slaves seeming to command English sympathy irresistibly in favour of the Federal armies.

It is a remarkable fact, however, that, in spite of all these occasional sympathies and antipathies, there was hardly, at any moment, a thought of England's doing more than keeping free from entanglements with the wars and tumults of other States. This is usually attributed to the influence of Lord Palmerston, and sometimes also to an ignoble and unpatriotic spirit of indifference, supposed to belong to a rather fictitious assemblage of persons ignominiously styled either “the Peace-at-any-Price Party,' or 'the Manchester School.' Whatever were the real cause, there is no doubt that down to the time at which the great legislative efforts for the disestablishment of the English Church in Ireland, the provisional settlement of the Land Question in that country, and the institution of a system of national education in England, were finally completed, and Mr. Gladstone retired from office at the commencement of 1874, only the coldest and most superficial interest in foreign affairs could ever be excited in the House of Commons. In 1857, indeed, the iniquitous war with China arising out of the “ Arrow 'controversy, and in the same year the resentment of the country against the proposal to amend the Law of Conspiracy for the purpose, presumedly, of better protecting the Emperor of the French, stirred the House of Commons from its lethargy, and for the moment made foreign

The Eastern Question.

367

affairs take precedence of every other interest. But even in these cases it was, it is to be feared, rather the party question which was the intrinsic centre of interest; and the show of cosmopolitan zeal, if real, was certainly fleeting. The country and the House of Commons determined to have peace and neutrality, and they supported Lord Palmerston mainly because he contrived to secure them. Thus the tale of foreign policy in the House of Commons from 1815 to 1874 is first that of exhaustion or patience, then that of distraction or of absorption in home affairs, and lastly that of deliberate non-intervention or insulation.

It is not necessary to attribute to the Government of Lord Beaconsfield, which came into office in 1874, the extraordinary revival of concern in foreign policy which has of late been witnessed in the House of Commons. Events had long been preparing in the East of Europe, and could not but be immediately precipitated. The question must have been in any case shortly propounded to England, as to whether the policy of the Crimean War, and of the Treaty of Paris, was to be actively persisted in and maintained, or whether it was to be definitively abandoned. Even if England or Russia could have waited, the misgoverned and outrageously oppressed provinces of European Turkey could not wait. The Herzegovina led the way in active revolution. Servia lost little time in declaring war. Montenegro armed, with too well-accustomed zeal, to defend itself and its Slavonic neighbours ; Bulgaria was being tortured to death upon the mere suspicion of insurrection; and the Russian armies were being propelled to the frontier by an irresistible weight of Slavonic sympathy. By the Treaty of Paris of 1856, England was one of a number of Great Powers which had succeeded in substituting themselves for one of them (Russia) as the guardians of the Christian provinces of Turkey against the maladministration which had been the real occasion of the Crimean War. The question for the British House of Commons was, whether England was to support the policy of the Treaty to which she was a party, by forming a combination with the other parties to it for the purpose of re-constituting an arrangement which in its earlier form had signally and confessedly failed; or whether she was to leave the reconstruction of Eastern Europe to any Power which would undertake it, whatever might be its ulterior or secondary motives in addressing itself to the task. It unfortunately happened, however, that another set of considerations crossed the path of English politics, which may be compendiously expressed by the words • British interests. The policy of the Crimean War and of its main advocates, such as Lord Palmerston, was not one merely of philanthropic zeal for the good government of other countries, but had also been directed to the re-establishment of Turkey and the weakening of Russia. It was believed that Turkey was the best or only available barrier against an amount of Russian aggression which might ultimately terminate in a competition between England and Russia in the region of the Indian frontier. This faith soon grew into a passion, and has long survived as a lasting enthusiasm. Whatever its value, it has done more to re-awaken the interest of the British Parliament in foreign policy than any other problematical speculation extending over the future of politics. There were at least three distinct views, all tenable, and each in fact held in some quarter or other :-either that England,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »