« PrécédentContinuer »
a secret hostile league uniting almost all the independent Indian princes in their rear, Russian intrigue organizing the hostility of the Birmans and the Nepaulese on their frontier, and thirty thousand men, projected a thousand miles from their magazines and their resources into the heart of Asia, in their front. The fearful perils of that crisis, when a single check, one false step was ruin, are clearly to be ascribed to the timorous policy which has on all previous occasions succumbed to Russian influence in the East; which brought their armies to Constantinople and their fleets to Navarino; which abandoned Persia to their arms and the Euxine to their ambition; which destroyed the British naval force at Bombay, and nearly halved the military force of Hindostan, until their emissaries, encouraged by long impunity, had crossed the Himalaya barrier, and gave us no means of maintaining our empire in the East, but by the enormous cost, and not yet terminated perils, of the Affghanistan expedition.
But what shall we say to the confidence which the British mercantile interest in the East can have in this Government? Was there ever such a disgrace heard of. ever such a proof of national degradation evinced, as the late confiscation of British property in China? We do not now wish to enter into the opium question. What we rest upon is the decisive proof, which the conduct of the Chinese on this occasion affords, of how completely the English character, once so renowned, has sunk in the eastern world. The Chinese-the most pacific and unwarlike race on the globe-have ventured to imprison the representative of Great Britain, and confiscate four millions' worth of British property! What would the shades of Hawke and Rodney, of Blake and Nelson, say to such an indignity? The Chinese, with impunity, brave the British lion; they imprison our merchants, lay in irons our naval officers, shut out our merchantmen from their harbours, and actually besiege our frigates with flotillas of junks! Truly this is the ass giving the last kick to the dying lion.
Lord Melbourne says it is impossible to have fleets every where, and that a nation possessing a commerce so widely spread as England, must at
some points find its merchantmen unprotected by men of war. Most true: but did it never occur to his lordship that there is such a thing as NATIONAL CHARACTER, which never leaves the members of a great country, and throws its agis round the unarmed person of the humblest of its citizens? There was a time when, in Mr Canning's words, "the meanest Englishman could not walk the streets of Paris without being considered as the compatriot of Wellington-as a member of that community which had humbled France and rescued Europe." Whither are those days fled? What has become of that halo of glory?
The greatest Englishman cannot now walk the streets of Canton without being reviled and insulted, imprisoned, and his goods confiscated. These are the doings of the Liberal Administration-of the successors of Canning and Wellington-of the men who sought power only to abuse, and retain it only to degrade it; and thus far has mob-ascendency paralysed and prostrated the once-awful power of England. And so utterly unprepared were our improvident rulers for any disaster of the kind, that they had no force whatever in the Chinese seas capable of asserting the honour of our flag, or protecting the vast mercantile interests there at stake. The Chinese, like all Asiatics, were provoked to insolence by the proof afforded of our imbecility; a serious contest is now entailed upon the empire, destructive alike to the revenue at home and the commercial interests of the East, which a vigorous demonstration of an adequate force at the outset would at once have prevented; and now, more than ten months after the rupture has commenced, and the disgrace been incurred, we have not yet been able to fit out a single ship of the line or frigate at Portsmouth or Plymouth, to avenge in those distant seas the outraged honour of the British flag!
But, in truth, the evil lies much deeper than is generally imagined, and the Liberal party are more closely wound up with this disgrace and disaster in the Chinese empire than the public has yet been made aware of. The smuggling of opium is the pretence, not the cause of the rupture. The Celestial rulers care much too little for the drugging or debasement of the inhabitants of a small corner of their
immense dominions, to hazard for it a considerable portion of their revenue, and a large branch of industry, if political considerations of a higher kind did not interfere to rouse them to this unwonted act of vigour. It is the opening of the trade which is the real cause of the disaster: it is the jealousy of the Celestial authorities at the increasing frequency of our commercial intercourse with their subjects which has prompted them to such a rupture. Every one practically acquainted with the jealous and irritable character of the Chinese, and the extraordinary vigilance and precautions by which alone the Company's servants were able to keep on good terms with them, predicted when the trade was opened that it would be ruined; and that the incessant efforts of private traders to insinuate their goods into the empire, contrary to the general policy of the Government, would speedily induce a rupture which would prove fatal to the whole commercial intercourse. This is, accordingly, exactly what has happened; and it is the jealousy of the Chinese at the footing which our private traders were getting along their coast towns, coupled with the defenceless condition of these insulated traders, without the Company's shield around them, which is the real motive for their determination to rid themselves of our presence. Herein, then, lies the gross neglect, the culpable imprévoyance of the Liberal Government: that they first urged on, in defiance of the opinion of all persons practically conversant with the subject, by the clamour which they raised in the great towns against the East India Company's monopoly of the China trade, the throwing down the whole barriers which had hitherto kept matters quiet in the Celestial empire, and deprived the commercial interest there of the name and the protection, so redoubtable in the East, of the East India Company; next exposed the insulated British free traders, naked and defenceless, without any naval force whatever to protect them, to the insults and caprice of a jealous and arbitrary Asiatic Government; and, in the end, were found so utterly unprepared for a contest, which their combined rashness in innovation and negligence in precaution had rendered unavoidable, that to this hour not a single frigate has been able to sail from the British har
bours to restore the credit of the British flag in the Eastern seas.
But this proved inability of Portsmouth and Plymouth, after three months' hard labour, night and day, to get out even a single ship of the line and couple of frigates for the Eastern warfare, suggests materials for further and still more important considerations. Thirty years ago, England, without raising the blockade of a single harbour from the North Cape to Gibraltar, fitted out in six weeks thirty-nine sail of the line and forty frigates for the Walcheren expedition. We are always told in Parliament, by the supporters of Ministers, that the navy never was in so good a condition as at this moment; that it is equal to an encounter with any enemies who might threaten British naval supremacy; and that, if any of the "pasteboard fleet of Nicholas were to near the British shores, dozens of ships of the line would issue forth to renew the terrors of "Nelson and the North" against these Baltic pirates. True, we have only seventy-eight ships of the line in all in the British navy; true, this is just one-half of what we had in 1792, when the British empire, with half its present population, and a third of its present wealth, had not half its present colonial empire to defend; true, there are only seventeen ships of the line in commission to counterbalance Russia's forty-five: but what then? we could equip a fleet at a week's notice, and would do so at once if the "pasteboard fleet" approached our shores. Well, the time of trial has come, and that in the way and from the power of all others most favourable for displaying to advantage the admirable state of preparation of the British navy. We are assailed, not by the "pasteboard fleet" of Nicholas, but the gossamer flotilla of Canton; not by the most powerful state on earth, but the most despicable; not by the lion, but the ass. Even the ass, however, is more than a match for the lion, when debilitated by ten years of Liberal regimen. After three months' incessant labour, night and day, Sunday and Saturday, in the British dockyards after unheard-of activity at Portsmouth and Plymouth ever since the disgraceful news arrived, one sail of the line and two frigates have not yet been fitted out from the whole of Great Britain; our merchant vessels, with
property to the value of twenty millions on board, are lying clustered together, without any prepared defence, save their own valour, from the Chinese fireships; and it is owing to the accidental appearance of a frigate and a sloop of war in those latitudes that a single royal pendant has been seen, or that noble fleet has been saved from conflagration by the junks of Canton! If this is the way we are able to resist the flotilla of the Celestial empire, what should we say to the thirty ships of the line of Nicholas, or the twenty of Louis-Philippe? The one attack will, if the present Ministers continue at the helm, find us just as unprepared as the other; the disgrace which has befallen us in the Eastern will overtake us in the Western Seas; and the extraordinary spectacle will be exhibited of the three guard-ships, which form Sir Charles Adam's boasted protection for England, striving to save London and Woolwich from a tenfold greater European force.
In the debates in Parliament on this subject, the Opposition have never taken the proper ground. They have always allowed themselves to get involved in a sea of details, which the nation don't understand and don't care about; and amidst endless discussions about this flag-lieutenant and that two-decker, this cut-down fifty-gun ship and that steamer of war, the one thing needful -the equipment of a force adequate to the defence of the British empire-is totally forgotten. The case lies in a nutshell, and has nothing to do with these details, in which Admiralty clerks or naval officers alone take an interest. Have we a fleet in the British harbours capable of combating the Russian, which could be fitted out at a week's notice? That is the question: all others are insignificant in comparison. That the Russians have one we all know: thirty ships of the line and as many frigates are constantly ready for sea at Cronstadt. What have we, on the statement of the present Admiralty, to meet them? Three guard-ships, each with a third of their crews on board, to protect the British isles! What protection have we then for London or Woolwich, Portsmouth or Plymouth our commerce, our riches, or our liberties? None whatever. These are the questions which it imports the people of England to have answered; hot whether the Tories in former days
had one or two sail of the line more or less than are now afloat, or whether Lord This or the Hon. Mr That should have been made such an admiral's flag-lieutenant. It is no answer to our present disgraceful state of weakness to say-we are now at peace with Russia; still less that we have recently concluded a treaty with that empire for the adjustment of the affairs of the East. The withering alliance of such a power is not less perilous than its open hostility. Amity with the Czar is admirable: but it should be not the amity of the subsidiary rajahs in India with the English empire; it should be an equal alliance an alliance breathing no hostility, but fearing no danger-with the olive branch in one hand and the sword in the other; and, till we again sharpen the edge of the sword, we never shall either be respected abroad or in safety at home.
Look at the army, and the means we possess of maintaining our land empire abroad, or holding together the various and discordant parts of our immense dominions. Has any thing commensurate to the dangers with which we are environed been done in that department? That our situation at home and abroad is full of peril, and such as calls in a voice of thunder for vigilant watchfulness and unceasing preparation, is evident, and admitted on all hands. We have on one side Canada, teeming with a fierce revolutionary alien population, in which two frightful revolts have only been suppressed by a deplorable loss of human life, an incredible amount of human suffering, and an
waste of British treasure: we have the West Indies, with the sword of Damocles-a St Domingo revolt suspended by a thread over our heads, and a sullen spoliated white population to resist it: we have the East lowering with a triple war-the Chinese engaged in actual hostilities—the Russians already at Khiva, that is, on the high-road to Asterabad and the Indusand the whole rajahs in the south of India leagued in a vast confederacy, ready to break out like the Tugendbund of Germany, the moment a serious disaster happens to the British arms; in England, we have several hundred thousand Chartists, armed, organized, and prepared, at a mo ment's warning, to renew the fires of
Birmingham and the insurrection of Newport over the whole manufacturing districts of Britain; while in Ireland, O'Connell, by his own admission, has "seven hundred thousand fighting men" in the leash, ready to let slip the moment that the fitting time has arrived for turning loose the dogs of war. What, then, have Ministers done during the last year to guard against such a host of perils at home and abroad-in the East, in the West, and in the South-above us, around us, in the midst of us? Why, they have added ten thousand five hundred men to the army, of which seven thousand are for the service of the East India Company, and three thousand five hundred for Canada, the West Indies, and the British Islands! The whole British army is only 91,000 strong; of whom at least 50,000 are required for the garrisons abroad, leaving hardly 40,000 to preserve peace amidst a distracted population of 27,000,000 in the British Islands. Was ever such infatuation heard of? Three ships of the line, and 40,000 men to guard Great Britain and Ireland! Why, Russia has 100,000 veterans within a day's march of St Petersburg; France 80,000 within cannon-shot of Paris, and 300,000 between Calais and the Pyrenees. Even Prussia has 160,000 in arms in her dominions: and this is the way in which we uphold the empire of Nelson and Wellington - the state which thirty years ago had eight hundred thousand men in arms, and two hundred and forty ships of the line in her service-which beat down Napoleon, and rescued Europe!- Quos Deus perdere vult prius dementat.
Doubtless, however, since the army and navy is in so miserably reduced a condition, as compared with the existing dangers which threaten the empire, the Government will be able to exhibit a favourable set-off in other quarters; and the quantity of debt they must have paid off during the last ten years must have taken a load off the springs of the state, and enabled us, with renewed resources, to prepare for any fresh dangers which may arise. Yet, marvellous to narrate, here too the inveterate vice of the whole system of Government is apparent; and so far from having paid off one farthing of debt in the last ten years, all that the Chancellor of the Ex
chequer can now assert is, that No ADDITION has been made to the debt during that period! Is this the result to which the efforts of all the talents the condensation of Whig wisdom, Radical economy, and Liberal legisla. tion during ten years, have brought us? We have added nothing to the debt in that time! True, it has been a period of profound foreign peace; true, there was no extraordinary cause of expenditure till the Canada revolt broke out; true, the first four years of it were fine years of unexampled agricultural produce, and the next three of unparalleled commercial and manufacturing prosperity. All this is true; but somehow or other we could not pay off any debt during all that time. Be thankful-we have contracted none ! This is Whig- Radical administration-this the conduct of the economical Government which succeeded the profuse and profligate Tories, who, in fifteen years, from 1815 to 1830, bad paid off£82,000,000 of the public debt-in three years, from 1827 to 1830, no less than twenty millions!-and who left their successors a clear admitted surplus of £2,900,000 a-year. At the same rate, from 1830 to 1840, the Tories would have paid off SIXTY FIVE MILLIONS, and liberated the country for ever from three millions of yearly taxesand the economical Liberals have not discharged a farthing!
But attend a little more closely to the state of the revenue, as it at present stands, and the condition to which this Ministry, in whom the House of Commons have such confidence, have brought the British finances. It appears from the official documents now laid before Parliament, that not only has no debt whatever been paid off for the last three years, but there has been a yearly deficit which has stood as follows:
1837-£726,000 1838- 440,000 1839-1,512,000
In three years, £2,678,000 It is hardly necessary to say, that the estimates for 1840 amount to less than those for 1839; in addition to which, the loss by the Penny Postage, it is now admitted, will be little short of £1,500,000 a year: so that, for the service of 1840, the shortcoming will be at least £3,000,000!—a state
of things unheard of in peace in the whole annals of the British empire.
It was in this disastrous and unprecedented state of matters, of which they were well aware, (for, even if they had shut their eyes to it themselves, we had clearly pointed out the whole matter in our article on Whig and Tory Finance, in October last,*) that the Ministry in whom the House of Commons have such confidence proposed and carried the Penny Postage system—that disgraceful tub to the whale of Popularity, which they well knew, for all their own servants in the Post-Office had told them so, would at one blow sacrifice nearly a million and a half of revenue, and double the already fearful deficit in the finances of the country. We doubt if any thing so monstrous and absurd ever was proposed at such a time by any administration, in any country; or any thing so utterly ruinous ever assented to by any people fit to be allowed to walk at large out of Bedlam. Post-Office Reform, which was loudly called for, had nothing whatever to do with it; it was easy to have made all the changes demanded in the rate of postage, with out destroying the revenue, or charging a letter the same which travelled twenty yards or seven hundred miles. But the state of the Ministry imperiously called for some holocaust to mob-popularity. They had hardly escaped from the rude shock of May 1839; they were still sheltered only behind the Ladies of the Bed-Chamber. Something must be done to retrieve their sinking credit with their supporters; and the Penny Post system was that something; and the revenue of the country-the sheet anchor of the empire, that holocaust.
Having thus sacrificed the revenue, starved the army, ruined the navy, surely the Ministers must have done something to give them the recorded confidence of the House of Commons -surely they must have conciliated the working-classes, and put an end to the heart-burnings between the manufacturers and their operatives, and brought the House of Commons into that state of "harmony with the people," which was held forth as the grand result to be anticipated from
Parliamentary Reform. done this? Are the masses quiet? Are there no Chartists in the land? Is rebellion unheard of?-treason unknown? Are the jails empty? Has general disaffection, amidst the sinking power, defences, and revenue of the state, died a natural death? Alas! the very reverse of all this is the case. So far from disaffection having died a natural death, it never was so rife since the days of the Great Rebellion. So far from the jails being empty, they are crammed with convicted rebels. So far from treason being put down, it has recently in many different quarters reared its hateful head-so far from property being safe, conflagration and ruin are daily bursting forth from Chartist revenge-so far from the people being quieted and the waves of faction stilled, they are in an unheardof state of excitement, and an inexplicable Whig blunder has alone saved a Whig magistrate and two Radical allies from the death of traitors on a public scaffold! This is the result of the grand experiment for bringing the legislature into a state of harmony with the people-this the issue of the great Liberal nostrum for quieting the masses-this the way in which, by conceding to public clamour, they have brought all ranks in the state into cordial unanimity with the House of Commons! Why, the Reformed Parliament is now the object of more inveterate hostility with the masses than the national representatives ever were under the old constitution. The language which daily is poured forth on the liberal Government by their old supporters and correspondents in the Birmingham Political Union, far exceeds in virulence all that the Tory press ever uttered; and so far from the House of Commons, as constituted by our present rulers, possessing the confidence of the masses, it is their uniform and fundamental principle, that it is altogether incurable, and that social regeneration need never be looked for till universal suffrage is everywhere established.
Lord Melbourne admits all this. He allows that it is desirable to have a surplus revenue, and that we have no surplus. He allows it is bad to have a deficit, and that we have a
* See Vol. xlvi. p. 494.