The Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston by Karl Marx


The contents of the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi were published in the Morning Herald of August 21, 1833 On August 24, Sir Robert Inglis asked Lord Palmerston, in the House of Commons,

“whether there really had been concluded a treaty, offensive and defensive, between Russia and Turkey? He hoped that the noble lord would be prepared before the prorogation of Parliament, to lay before the House, not only the treaties that had been made, but all communications connected with the formation of those treaties between Turkey and Russia.” Lord Palmerston answered that “ when they weresure that such a treaty as that alluded to really did exist, and when they were in possession of that treaty, it would then be for them to determine what was the course of policy they ought to pursue. ... It could be no blame to him if the newspapers were sometimes beforehand with the Government.” —(House of Commons, August 24, 1833)

Seven months afterwards, he assures the House that

“it was perfectly impossible that the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, not to be ratified at Constantinople until the month of September, should have been officially known to him in August.” —(House of Commons, March 17, 1834.)

He did know of the treaty, in August, but not officially.

“The British Government was surprised to find that when the Russian troops quitted the Bosphorus, they carried that treaty with them.” —(Lord Palmerston, House of Commons, March 1, 1848.)

Yes, the noble lord was in possession of the treaty before it had been concluded.

“No sooner had the Porte received it (namely, the draft of the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi), than the treaty was communicated by them to the British Embassy at Constantinople, with the prayer for our protection against Ibrahim Pasha and against Nicholas. The application was rejected—but that was not all. With an atrocious perfidiousness, the fact was made known to the Russian Minister. Next day, the very copy of the treaty which the Porte had lodged with the British Embassy, was returned to the Porte by the Russian Ambassador, who ironically advised the Porte—‘ to choose better another time its confidants.’” —(Mr. Anstey, House of Commons, February 8, 1848.)

But the noble viscount had obtained all he cared for. He was interrogated with respect to the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, of whose existence he was not sure, on August 24, 1833. On August 29, Parliament was prorogued, receiving from the throne the consolatory assurance “that the hostilities which had disturbed the peace of Turkey had been terminated, and they might be assured that the King's attention would be carefully directed to any events which might affect the present state or the future independence of that Empire. ”

Here, then, we have the key to the famous Russian Treaties of July. In July they are concluded; in August something about them is transpiring through the public press. Lord Palmerston is interrogated in the Commons. He, of course, is aware of nothing. Parliament is prorogued,—and, when it reassembles, the treaty has grown old, or, as in 1841, has already been executed, in spite of public opinion.

Parliament was prorogued on August 29, 1833, and it reassembled on February 5, 1834. The interval between the prorogation and its reassembling was marked by two incidents intimately interwoven with each other. On the one hand, the united French and English fleets proceeded to the Dardanelles, displayed there the tricolour and the Union Jack, sailed on their way to Smyrna, and returned from thence to Malta. On the other hand, a new treaty was concluded between the Porte and Russia on January 29, 1834,—the Treaty of St. Petersburg. This treaty was hardly signed when the united fleet was withdrawn.

This combined manoeuvre was intended to stultify the British people and Europe into the belief that the hostile demonstration on the Turkish seas and coasts, directed against the Porte, for having concluded the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, had enforced upon Russia the new Treaty of St. Petersburg. This treaty, by promising the evacuation of the Principalities, and reducing the Turkish payments to one-third of the stipulated amount, apparently relieved the Porte from some engagements enforced on it by the Treaty of Adrianople. In all other instances it was a simple ratification of the Treaty of Adrianople, not at all relating to the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, nor dropping a single word about the passage of the Dardanelles. On the contrary, the small alleviations it granted to Turkey were the purchase money for the exclusion of Europe, by the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, from the Dardanelles.

“At the very time at which the demonstration (of the British fleet) was being made, an assurance was given by the noble lord to the Russian Ambassador at this court, that this combined movement of the squadrons was not intended in any sense hostile to Russia, nor to be taken as a hostile demonstration against her; but that, in fact, it meant nothing at all. I say this on the authority of Lord Ponsonby, the noble lord's own colleague, the Ambassador at Constantinople.”—(Mr. Anstey, House of Commons, February 23, 1848.)

After the Treaty of St. Petersburg had been ratified, the noble lord expressed his satisfaction with the moderation of the terms imposed by Russia.

When Parliament had reassembled, there appeared in the Globe, the organ of the Foreign Office, a paragraph stating that

“the Treaty of St. Petersburg was a proof either of the moderation or good sense of Russia, or of the influence which the union of England and France, and the firm and concerted language of those two powers, had acquired in the councils of St. Petersburg.”—(Globe, February 24, 1835)

Thus, on the one hand, the Treaty of Adrianople, protested against by Lord Aberdeen and the Duke of Wellington, was surreptitiously to be recognised on the part of England by Lord Palmerston officially expressing his satisfaction with the Treaty of St. Petersburg, which was but a ratification of that treaty; on the other hand, public attention was to be diverted from the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, and the animosity it had aroused in Europe against Russia was to be soothed down.

Artful as the dodging was, it would not do. On March 17, 1834, Mr. Sheil brought in a motion for “the copies of any treaties between Turkey and Russia, and of any correspondence between the English, Russian, and Turkish Governments, respecting those treaties, to be laid before the House.”

The noble lord resisted this resolution to his utmost, and succeeded in baffling it by assuring the House that “peace could be preserved only by the House reposing confidence in the Government,” and refusing to accede to the motion. So grossly contradictory were the reasons which he stated prevented him from producing the papers, that Sir Robert Peel called him, in his parliamentary language, “a very inconclusive reasoner”, and his own Colonel Evans could not help exclaiming:—“The speech of the noble lord appeared to him the most unsatisfactory he had ever heard from him.”

Lord Palmerston strove to convince the House that, according to the assurances of Russia, the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was to be looked upon “as one of reciprocity,” that reciprocity being, that if the Dardanelles should be closed against England in the event of war, they should be closed against Russia also. The statement was altogether false, but if true, this certainly would have been Irish reciprocity, for it was all on one side. To cross the Dardanelles is for Russia not the means to get at the Black Sea, but, on the contrary, to leave it.

So far from refuting Mr. Sheil's statement that “the consequence [of the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi] was precisely the same as if the Porte surrendered to Russia the possession of the Dardanelles,” Lord Palmerston owned “that the treaty closed the Dardanelles to British men-of-war,... and that under its provision even merchant vessels might,... in effect, be practically excluded from the Black Sea,” in the case of a war between England and Russia. But if the Government acted “with temper,” if it “showed no unnecessary distrust,“ that is to say, if it quietly submitted to all further encroachments of Russia, he was “inclined to think that the case might not arise in which that treaty would be called into operation; and that, therefore, it would in practice remain a dead letter.“—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834.)

Besides, “the assurances and explanations” which the British Government had received from the contracting parties to that treaty greatly tended to remove its objections to it. Thus, then it was not the articles of the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, but the assurances Russia gave with respect to them, not the acts of Russia, but her language, he had, in his opinion, to look upon. Yet, as on the same day his attention was called to the protest of the French Charge d'Affaires, M. Le Grenee, against the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, and the offensive and contumelious language of Count Nesselrode, answering in the St. Petersburg Gazette, that “the Emperor of Russia would act as if the declaration contained in the note of Le Grenee had no existence”—the noble lord, eating his own words, propounded the opposite doctrine that “it was on all occasions the duty of the English Government to look to the acts of a foreign Power, rather than to the language which the Power might hold, on any particular subject or occasion.”

One moment he appealed from the acts of Russia to her language, and the other from her language to her acts.

In 1837 he still assured the House that the “Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was a treaty between two independent Powers.” —(House of Commons, December 14, 1837)

Ten years later, the treaty having long since lapsed, and the noble lord being just about to act the play of the truly English minister, and the “civis Romanus sum,” he told the House plainly, “the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was no doubt to a certain degree forced upon Turkey by Count Orloff the Russian envoy, under circumstances [created by the noble lord himself] which rendered it difficult for Turkey to refuse acceding to it.... It gave practically to the Russian Government a power of interference and dictation in Turkey, not consistent with the independence of that state.“—(House of Commons, March 1, 1848.)

During the whole course of the debates about the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, the noble lord, like the clown in the comedy, had an answer of most monstrous size, that must fit all demands and serve all questions—the Anglo-French Alliance. When his connivance with Russia was pointed at in sneers, he gravely retorted:

“If the present relations established between this country and France were pointed at in these sneers, he would only say, that he should look with feelings of pride and satisfaction at the part he had acted in bringing about that good understanding.“—(House of Commons, July 11, 1833)

When the production of the papers relating to the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was demanded, he answered that “England and France had now cemented a friendship which had only grown stronger.”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1834)

“He could but remark,” exclaimed Sir Robert Peel, “that whenever the noble lord was thrown into a difficulty as to any part of our European policy, he at once found a ready means of escape, by congratulating the House upon the close alliance between this country and France.”

Simultaneously the noble lord took good care not to quench the suspicions of his Tory opponents, that he had “been compelled to connive at the aggression upon Turkey by Mehemet Ali,” because France had directly encouraged it.

At that time, then, the ostensible entente with France was to cover the secret infeoffment to Russia, as in 1840 the clamorous rupture with France was to cover the official alliance with Russia.

While the noble lord fatigued the world with ponderous folios of printed negotiations on the affairs of the constitutional kingdom of Belgium and with ample explanations, verbal and documentary, with regard to the “substantive power” of Portugal, to this moment it has proved quite impossible to wrest out of him any document whatever relating to the first Syrio-Turkish War, and to the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi. When the production of the papers was first demanded, on July 11, 1833, “the motion was premature,... the transactions incomplete,...and the results not yet known.”

On August 24, 1833, “the treaty was not officially signed, and he was not in possession of it.” On March 17, 1834, “communications were still carrying on ... the discussions, if he might so call them, were not yet completed.“ Still in 1848, when Mr. Anstey told him that in asking for papers he did not ask for the proof of the noble lord’s collusion with the Czar, the chivalrous minister preferred killing time by a five hours’ speech, to killing suspicion by self-speaking documents. Notwithstanding all this, he had the cynical impudence to assure Mr. T. Attwood, on December 14, 1837, that t“he papers connected with that treaty [viz., the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi] were laid before the House three years ago,” that is to say in 1834, when “peace could be preserved only” by withholding them from the House. In 1834, he enjoined the House not to press him, as “peace could be preserved only by the House reposing confidence in the Government,” which, if left alone, would certainly protect the interests of England from encroachment. Now in 1837, in a thin House, composed almost entirely of his retainers, he told Mr. Attwood, that it had never been “the intention of the Government to have recourse to hostile measures to compel Russia and Turkey, two independent Powers, to cancel the treaty made between them.”

On the same day, he told Mr. Attwood that “this treaty was a matter which had gone by, it was entered into for a, limited period,... and that period having expired, its introduction by the honourable member....was wholly unnecessary and uncalled for.”

According to the original stipulation, the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi was to expire on July 8, 1841 Lord Palmerston tells Mr. Attwood that it had already expired on December 14, 1837.

“What trick, what device, what starting hole, canst thou now find to hide thee from this open and apparent shame? Come, let's hear, Jack—what trick hast thou now?”[32]