The Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston by Karl Marx


One glance at the map of Europe will show you on the western littoral of the Black Sea the outlets of the Danube, the only river which, springing up in the very heart of Europe, may be said to form a natural highway to Asia. Exactly opposite on the eastern side, to the south of the river Kuban, begins the mountain-range of the Caucasus, stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian in a south-easterly direction for some seven hundred miles, and separating Europe from Asia.

If you hold the outlets of the Danube, you hold the Danube, and with it the highway to Asia, and a great part of the commerce of Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, and above all, of Moldo-Wallachia. If you hold the Caucasus too, the Black Sea becomes your property, and to shut up its door, you only want Constantinople and the Dardanelles. The possession of the Caucasus mountains makes you at once master of Trebizond, and through their domination of the Caspian Sea, of the northern seaboard of Persia.

The greedy eyes of Russia embraced at once the outlets of the Danube and the mountain-range of the Caucasus. There, the business in hand was to conquer supremacy, here to maintain it. The chain of the Caucasus separates southern Russia from the luxurious provinces of Georgia, Mingrelia, Imertia, and Giuriel, wrested by the Muscovite from the Mussulman. Thus the foot of the monster empire is cut off from its main body. The only military road, deserving to be called such, winds from Mozdok to Tiflis, through the eyry-pass of Dariel, fortified by a continuous line of entrenched places, but exposed on both sides to the never-ceasing attacks from the Caucasian tribes. The union of these tribes under one military chief might even endanger the bordering country of the Cossacks. “The thought of the dreadful consequences which a union of the hostile Circassians[35] under one head would produce in the south of Russia, fills one with terror,” exclaims Mr. Kapffer, a German who presided over the scientific commission which, in 1829, accompanied the expedition of General Etronnel to Elbruz.

At this very moment our attention is directed with equal anxiety to the banks of the Danube, where Russia has seized the two corn magazines of Europe, and to the Caucasus, where she is menaced in the possession of Georgia. It was the Treaty of Adrianople that prepared Russia’s usurpation of Moldo-Wallachia, and recognised her claims to the Caucasus.

Article IV of that treaty stipulates:

“All the countries situated north and east of the line of demarcation between the two Empires (Russia and Turkey), towards Georgia, Imertia, and the Giureil, as well as all the littoral of the Black Sea, from the mouth of the Kuban, as far as the port of St. Nicholas exclusively, shall remain under the domination of Russia.”

With regard to the Danube the same treaty stipulates:

“The frontier line will follow the course of the Danube to the mouth of St. George, leaving all the islands formed by the different branches in the possession of Russia. The right bank will remain, as formerly, in the possession of the Ottoman Porte. It is, however, agreed that the right bank, from the point where the arm of St. George departs from that of Sulina, shall remain uninhabited to a distance of two hours (six miles) from the river, and that no kind of structure shall be raised there, and, in like manner, on the islands which still remain in the possession of the Court of Russia. With the exception of quarantines, which will be there established, it will not be permitted to make any other establishment or fortification.”

Both these paragraphs, inasmuch as they secure to Russia an “extension of territory and exclusive commercial advantages,” openly infringed on the protocol of April 4, 1846, drawn up by the Duke of Wellington at St. Petersburg, and on the treaty of July 6, 1827, concluded between Russia and the other great Powers at London. The English Government, therefore, refused to recognise the Treaty of Adrianople. The Duke of Wellington protested against it.—(Lord Dudley Stuart, House of Commons, March 17, 1837.)

Lord Aberdeen protested:

“In a despatch to Lord Heytesbury, dated October 21, 1829, he commented with no small dissatisfaction on many parts of the Treaty of Adrianople, and especially notices the stipulations respecting the islands of the Danube. He denies that peace (the Treaty of Adrianople) has respected the territorial rights of the sovereignty of the Porte, and the condition and the interests of all maritime states in the Mediterranean.”—(Lord Mahon, House of Commons, April 20, 1836.)

Earl Grey declared that “the independence of the Porte would be sacrificed, and the peace of Europe endangered, by this treaty being agreed to.”—(Earl Grey, House of Lords, February 4, 1834.)

Lord Palmerston himself informs us:

“As far as the extension of the Russian frontier is concerned in the south of the Caucasus, and the shores of the Black Sea, it is certainly not consistent with the solemn declaration made by Russia in the face of Europe, previous to the commencement of the Turkish war.”—(House of Commons, March 17, 1837.)

The eastern littoral of the Black Sea, by blockading which and cutting off supplies of arms and gunpowder to the northwestern districts of the Caucasus, Russia could alone hope to realise her nominal claim to these countries—this littoral of the Black Sea and the outlets of the Danube are certainly no places “where an English action could possibly take place,” as was lamented by the noble lord in the case of Cracow. By what mysterious contrivance, then, has the Muscovite succeeded in blockading the Danube, in blocking up the littoral of the Euxine, and in forcing Great Britain to submit not only to the Treaty of Adrianople, but at the same time to the violation by Russia herself of that identical treaty?

These questions were put to the noble viscount in the House of Commons on April 20, 1836, numerous petitions having poured in from the merchants of London, of Glasgow, and other commercial towns, against the fiscal regulations of Russia in the Black Sea, and her enactments and restrictions tending to intercert English commerce on the Danube. There had appeared on February 7, 1836, a Russian ukase, which, by virtue of the Treaty of Adrianople, established a quarantine on one of the islands formed by the mouths of the Danube. In order to execute that quarantine, Russia claimed a right of boarding and search, of levying fees and seizing and marching off to Odessa refractory ships proceeding on their voyage up the Danube. Before the quarantine was established, or rather before a custom-house and fort were erected, under the false pretence of a quarantine, the Russian authorities threw out their feelers, to ascertain the risk they might run with the British Government. Lord Durham[36] acting upon instructions received from England, remonstrated with the Russian Cabinet for the hindrance which had been given to British trade.

“He was referred to Count Nesselrode,[37] Count Nesselrode referred him to the Governor of South Russia, and the Governor of South Russia again referred him to the Consul at Galatz, who communicated with the British Consul at Ibraila, who was instructed to send down the captains from whom toll had been exacted, to the Danube, the scene of their injuries, in order that inquiry might be made on the subject, it being well known that the captains thus referred to were then in England.”—(House of Commons, April 20, 1836.)

The formal ukase of February 7, 1836, aroused, however, the general attention of British commerce.

“Many ships had sailed, and others were going out, to whose captains strict orders had been given not to submit to the right of boarding and search which Russia claimed. The fate of these ships must be inevitable, unless some expression of opinion was made on the part of that House. Unless that were done, British shipping, to the amount of not less than 5,000 tons, would be seized and marched off to Odessa, until the insolent commands of Russia were complied with.”—(Mr. Patrick Stewart, House of Commons, April 20, 1836.)

Russia required the marshy islands of the Danube, by virtue of the clause of the Treaty of Adrianople, which clause itself was a violation of the treaty she had previously contracted with England and the other Powers, in 1827. The bristling the gates of the Danube with fortifications, and these fortifications with guns, was a violation of the Treaty of Adrianople itself, which expressly prohibits any fortifications being erected within six miles of the river. The exaction of tolls, and the obstruction of the navigation, were a violation of the Treaty of Vienna, declaring that “the navigation of rivers along their whole course, from the point where each of them becomes navigable to its mouth, shall be entirely free,” that “ the duties shall in no case exceed those nowthe amount of the duties shall in no case exceed those now (1815) paid” and that “shall take place, except with the common consent of the states no increase shall take place, except with the common consent of the states bordering on the river.” Thus, then, all the argument on which Russia could plead not guilty was the Treaty of 1827, violated by the Treaty of Adrianople, the Treaty of Adrianople violated by herself, the whole backed up by a violation of the Treaty of Vienna.

It proved quite impossible to wring out of the noble lord any declaration whether he did or did not recognise the Treaty of Adrianople. As to the violation of the Treaty of Vienna, he had

“received no official information that anything had occurred which is not warranted by the treaty. When such a statement is made by the parties concerned, it shall be dealt with in such manner as the law advisers of the Crown shall deem consistent with the rights of the subjects of this country.”—(Lord Palmerston, House of Commons, April 20, 1836.)

By the Treaty of Adrianople, Art. V, Russia guarantees the “prosperity” of the Danubian Principalities, and full “liberty of trade” for them. Now, Mr. Stewart proved that the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia were objects of deadly jealousy to Russia, as their trade had taken a sudden development since 1834 as they vied with Russia’s own staple production, as Galatz was becoming the great depot of all the grain of the Danube, and driving Odessa out of the market. If, answered the noble lord,

“my honourable friend had been able to show that whereas some years ago we had had a large and important commerce with Turkey, and that that commerce had, by the aggression of other countries, or by the neglect of the Government of this, dwindled down to an inconsiderable trade, then there might have been ground to call upon Parliament.”

In lieu of such an occurrence,

“my honourable friend has shown that during the last few years the trade with Turkey has risen from next to nothing to a very considerable amount.”

Russia obstructs the Danube navigation, because the trade of the Principalities is growing important, says Mr. Stewart. But she did not do so when the trade was next to nothing, retorts Lord Palmerston. You neglect to oppose the recent encroachments of Russia on the Danube, says Mr. Stewart. We did not do so at the epoch these encroachments were not yet ventured upon, replies the noble lord. What “circumstances” have therefore “occurred against which the Government are not likely to guard unless driven thereto by the direct interference of this House?” He prevented the Commons from passing a resolution by assuring them that “there is no disposition of His Majesty’s Government to submit to aggression on the part of any Power, be that Power what it may, and be it more or less strong,” and by warning them that “we should also cautiously abstain from anything which might be construed by other Powers, and reasonably so, as being a provocation on our part.” A week after these debates had taken place in the House of Commons, a British merchant addressed a letter to the Foreign Office with regard to the Russian ukase. “I am directed by Viscount Palmerston,” answered the Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, to

“acquaint you that his lordship has called upon the law adviser for the Crown for his opinions as to the regulations promulgated by the Russian ukase of February 7, 1836; but in the meantime Lord Palmerston directs me to acquaint you, with respect to the latter part of your letter, that it is the opinion of His Majesty’s Government that no toll is justly demanded by the Russian authorities, at the mouth of the Danube, and that you have acted properly in directing your agents to refuse to pay it.”

The merchant acted according to this letter. He is abandoned to Russia by the noble lord; a Russian toll is, as Mr. Urquhart states, now exacted in London and Liverpool by Russian Consuls, on every English ship sailing for the Turkish ports of the Danube; and “the quarantine still stands on the island of Leti”.

Russia did not limit her invasion of the Danube to a quarantine established, to fortifications erected, and to tolls exacted. The only mouth of the Danube remaining still navigable, the Sulina mouth, was acquired by her through the Treaty of Adrianople. As long as it was possessed by the Turks, there was kept a depth of water in the channel of from fourteen to sixteen feet. Since in the possession of Russia, the water became reduced to eight feet, a depth wholly inadequate to the conveyance of the vessels employed in the corn trade. Now Russia is a party to the Treaty of Vienna, and that treaty stipulates, in Article CXIII, that “each State shall be at the expense of keeping in good repair the towing paths, and shall maintain the necessary work in order that no obstructions shall be experienced by the navigation”. For keeping the channel in a navigable state, Russia found no better means than gradually reducing the depth of the water, paving it with wrecks, and choking up its bar with an accumulation of sand and mud. To this systematic and protracted infraction of the Treaty of Vienna, she added another violation of the Treaty of Adrianople, which forbids any establishment at the mouth of the Sulina, except for quarantine and light-house purposes, while at her dictation, a small Russian fort has there sprung up, living by extortions upon the vessels, the occasion for which is afforded by the delays and expenses for lighterage, consequent upon the obstruction of the channel.

“Cum principia negante non est disputandum—of what use is it to dwell upon abstract principles with despotic Governments, who are accused of measuring might by power, and of ruling their conduct by expediency, and not by justice?”(Lord Palmerston, April 30, 1823)

According to his own maxim, the noble viscount was contented to dwell upon abstract principles with the despotic Government of Russia; but he went further. While he assured the House on July 6, 1840, that the freedom of the Danube navigation was “guaranteed by the Treaty of Vienna,” while he lamented on July 13, 1840, that the occupation of Cracow being a violation of the Treaty of Vienna, “there were no means of enforcing the opinions of England, because Cracow was evidently a place where no English action could possibly take place”; two days later he concluded a Russian treaty, closing the Dardanelles to England “during times of peace with Turkey,” and thus depriving England of the only means of “enforcing” the Treaty of Vienna, and transforming the Euxine into a place where no English action could possibly take place.

This point once obtained, he contrived to give a sham satisfaction to public opinion by firing off a whole battery of papers, reminding the “despotic Government, which measures right by power, and rules its conduct by expediency and not by justice,” in a sententious and sentimental manner, that “Russia, when she compelled Turkey to cede to her the outlet of a great European river, which forms the commercial highway for the mutual intercourse of many nations, undertook duties and responsibilities to other States which she should take a pride in making good.” To this dwelling upon abstract principles, Count Nesselrode kept giving the inevitable answer that “the subject should be carefully examined,” and expressing from time to time, “a feeling of soreness on the part of the Imperial Government at the mistrust manifested as to their intentions.”

Thus, through the management of the noble lord, in 1853, things arrived at the point where the navigation of the Danube was declared impossible, and corn was rotting at the mouth of the Sulina, while famine threatened to invade England, France, and the south of Europe. Thus, Russia was not only adding, as The Times says, “to her other important possessions that of an iron gate between the Danube and the Euxine,” she possessed herself of the key to the Danube, of a bread-screw which she can put on whenever the policy of Western Europe becomes obnoxious to punishment.