« PreviousContinue »
instinctive and predominant as ever. Throughout all these periods, too, one national idea continued paramount and governing—the maintenance of our maritime supremacy, as connected with the multiplication of our colonies and the extension of our commerce. We sought for no European territory: any thing we desired or acquired in that direction was merely for military stations, fortresses, and harbours of refuge for our naval and mercantile interests; but we pursued the aggrandisement of our remote colonial empire with a zeal and pertinacity almost amounting to a passion; nearly all our wars originated, directly or indirectly, out of this national pursuit; nearly all our treaties of peace terminated in some fresh acquisitions in the eastern or western hemisphere; we appropriated dependencies here, we founded settlements there; and all with the one pertinacious and inspiring notion of creating customers to whom we could sell, and from whom we could buy, to the exclusion of all other nationsof monopolising, in a word, as far as possible, the commerce of the world. This might not be a very generous or noble aim; there may have lurked-indeed we have now recognised that there undoubtedly did lurk—a fallacy at the very root of it; but still it was sufficiently distinct, persistent, intelligible, religiously believed in, and unanimously adopted by the nation, to be a guide, a soul, a backbone to our foreign policy. There was a port for the helmsman to steer for—a land with whose gorgeous beauty and magnificence the crew could inflame their fancies and reward their toils—a compass by which, as by an unquestioned creed, the captain could direct his course. The English, as a people, knew what they wished for and strove for, and never doubled for a moment that it deserved all their yearnings and all their efforts.
Now all this is changed; and the change has not been adequately realised, studied, or accepted. The old maxims have been rudely shaken, if not utterly upset, by modern economic doctrines; the old theory of international relations has been strongly complicated by the new political elements which democracy has introduced; the old combinations and alliances have been deranged and perplexed by the fresh states which have risen up into greatness, and forced themselves into the first rank. Economic science has nearly brought us to the conclusion that a vast colonial empire adds much to our burdens and little to our strength; that it multiplies our assailable points, and does not multiply our available forces; that the mother country is compelled to keep a large army and navy in order to defend dependencies which can render her no aid in return when she herself is threatened; that colonies never pay their own expenses; that they are, in fact, simply a brilliant, but a very costly, dia
mond in the imperial crown of Britain. We have discovered that even India, the grandest and most imposing of them all, contributes nothing to our revenue, and drains away millions from our loan-market; while America, which was comparatively worthless to us as a colony, has become a source of enormously profitable trade as an independent republic. We have begun to discover that colonies are only valuable as countries with which we can have a mutually lucrative interchange of our respective productions, and on which we can pour out our surplus population; and we have learned that we can have both these advantages from them without owning them. For a long series of years we have sent more emigrants to the United States than to either Australia or Canada - or, indeed, than to both together; while our aggregate commerce with that one foreign country is greater than that with all our colonial possessions (except India) combined.* In obedience at once to the doctrines of free trade and of free institutions, we now allow our colonies to deal with foreign nations as unrestrictedly as with ourselves, and to emancipate them as soon as they wish to separate and are able to maintain themselves. In short, while still feeling a natural and honourable pride in the wide range of that colonial empire which we long strove so gallantly and perseveringly to found and to extend, while still, perhaps, in defiance of reasoning and calculation, cherishing a vague notion that it is a main element in our national grandeur and prosperity, and actually contributes to our power,—we have already deliberately surrendered all those exclusive advantages for the sake of which alone we formerly desired it; and we are voluntarily curtailing it year by year,-glad enough to turn anxious, costly, and grumbling dependencies into independent, spontaneous, prosperous, and affectionate allies, kindred in race, analogous in institutions, sympathising in principles and views, but free, because full-fledged.
But this is by no means the only or the most embarrassing novelty. Formerly, in all our foreign relations, we had simply to consider states as states, represented by their governments, embodied in their kings. But the social convulsions and upheavings of the last seventy or eighty years have rendered this unity of conception impossible and deceptive. In many of the chief countries of Europe we have been compelled to perceive and to reckon with—even where diplomatic decencies forbade * Emigrants in the last fifteen years,
To the North American Colonies . . . . .
. . . 2,350,397 Aggregate trade to United States in 1859
. £58,700,000 Ditto, to all British Possessions, exclusive of India. .51,000,000
us formally to recognise—the existence of the people as well as of the sovereign; and often it has been difficult to determine which of the two ought in justice to be treated as the nation. Revolutions have multiplied in all directions; and revolutions have become popular where they used to be dynastic. Not only have we had rival claimants to various thrones, legitimist and constitutional monarchs, branche ainée and branche cadette, — we have had cases where the people have declared, and successfully enforced their declaration, that there should be no throne at all. Nations have expelled their sovereigns, established republics, changed them again for empires, for restorations, for repeated governmental experiments of every kind, as in the case of France. They have changed despotisms into constitutions, as in Spain and Portugal, and transferred the crowns from unwilling to willing conceders of democratic rights. They have revolted against unnatural connexions, and severed them asunder, as in the case of the Netherlands. They have seceded in fragments when discontented or oppressed, as in the case of Hungary in 1849, and America to-day. They have dethroned their old rulers, and annexed themselves to a more favoured king, as now in Italy. There has been every conceivable internal change in European countries; and with each change we have had to deal as with a fait accompli, if not as a government de facto. * Formerly wars were between princes and empires; latterly they have been between princes and their own subjects. Formerly kingdom fought with kingdom; now a kingdom is divided against itself. When states were units and fought against each other, we had obvious interests or traditional maxims which determined with which belligerents we should sympathise or side; but when despotic courts and governments, with which we were in amity, were rebelled against and perhaps expelled by insurgent citizens, whose free aspirations and constitutional designs we could not but approve and wish success to, the old principles of policy were no longer adequate or applicable. Yet it is clear to every understanding, that under no circumstances are distinct and settled principles of policy more absolutely indispensable to enable us to steer a worthy and honourable course, than amidst such a series of complications as the revolutionary element has introduced into the commonwealth of nations.
Again, the very multiplication of powerful states—the rise of some and the decay of others—has done much to confuse and perplex the old international relations of England, and to call for a revision of our hereditary maxims. In the last century we had scarcely to think much of any powers except France, Spain, and Austria. Now Spain has ceased to be either formidable or influential; Austria-apparently in extremis-has long, at least as a European empire, been living on the reputation of the past; the weakness of Turkey has become a far greater peril than her greatness ever was, even in her days of conquest; Prussia and Russia have grown into powers of the first magnitude, and the latter has, for at least a generation, given us almost more anxiety than France; while in the western hemisphere a mighty nation has arisen which threatened to give us more trouble and annoyance than any European state, and, in fact, for thirty years has kept us in that condition of hot water which she delights in, and which we detest.
Now, the point on which we wish to fix attention is, that these changes in external facts, this multiplication in the elements of the problem, and this entire subversion of ancient economic doctrines, render it absolutely imperative upon us to reconsider all our maxims of international policy, and to frame new and steady principles of action applicable to the altered world, if we wish either to influence others or to respect ourselves. It will never do to go on repeating the old formulas, talking the old language, running in the old ruts, quoting rules out of which all the meaning has departed, whining after dead and buried possibilities, speaking as if we still believed in the incredible, and hoped for and were intending to attempt the unattainable. We could scarcely need a clearer proof, or a more telling instance of the want of some such revision and reconstruction of our code of foreign policy, than the language and conduct of our ministers at this moment in reference to Austria. According to traditional ideas, Austria is our natural, ancient, and faithful ally, our bulwark against France, a mighty power, a European necessity. This is what Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell say, and do not think, but-have not got out of the habit of fancying they think. But the warmest sympathies of the British nation, and to a certain extent their own, go along with the two provinces which are seeking to release themselves from, and virtually to dismember, this ancient ally and necessary empire-with Hungary in her constitutional claims, with Venice in her intolerable wrongs. The English ministers would fain keep Austria erect and complete: the English people would fain strip her of her Italian and Magyar subjects, whom she has so robbed and trampled on; and between the two conflicting sentiments, not yet fused into a principle, the English nation is vacillating, paralysed, and powerless.
The reason why we are thus, at a most critical conjuncture in the world's affairs, destitute of the guiding-star of a clear and fixed national policy, properly so-called, is not far to seek.
It arises from the fact that, politically and nationally, we are in a transition state ; that we have among us several conflicting sentiments and opinions, inconsistent even where not absolutely antagonistic, striving for the mastery: those that are dying out still strong in hereditary prepossession; those that are in the ascendant not yet established; those that are to modify and blend with both still crude and nebulous. The decided and admitted victory of one set of views, or the harmonious fusion of them all, must be effected before Great Britain can possess a distinct foreign policy, by which we can regulate our action, and which other nations can comprehend and count upon; and both the victory and the fusion must be the work of time.
It is inherently difficult for a free country to have a definite and persistent foreign policy, except in circumstances where surrounding dangers and material interests dictate its course too obviously for mistake, and where weakness permits not even a momentary vacillation or aberration. This difficulty is enhanced in the precise proportion in which the government is really and faithfully parliamentary; and it reaches its culminating point when the democracy is powerful, and when parties are evenly balanced. The more completely domestic questions are settled, the more will foreign questions be made the battlefield of faction; different political doctrines must be put forward by the competitors for office while in opposition, and maintained to a certain extent for decency's sake, if not from conviction, when they are in power. The external action of the nation will therefore fluctuate within certain limits according to the ministry which happens to hold the reins for the time being; and the range of these limits will be determined by the degree to which the people are decided or unanimous in their sentiments; while upon the extent of this range will depend the consistency, and therefore the influence for good or evil, of the national action. If the people are nearly equally divided, or very indefinite, or very indifferent as to foreign politics, a change of ministry may cause such a change of external action as utterly to neutralise the nation's power, and deplorably to impair its character and stain its honour. If, on the contrary, the people have a tolerably consentaneous and positive opinion, a change of ministry may be felt only in the greater or less degree of spirit and energy which it may infuse or display.
Again, in a practically parliamentary government like ours, the external action of the country is perplexed and hampered by another influence. Ministers can seldom, except in very extraordinary crises, speak or act with a due degree of confidence and decision. They can only promise what they know they can perform; they can only venture to threaten