Karl Marx in New-York Tribune 1861

The Intervention in Mexico

Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, November 23, 1861;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

London, Nov. 8, 1861

The contemplated intervention in Mexico by England, France, and Spain, is, in my opinion, one of the most monstrous enterprises ever chronicled in the annals of international history. It is a contrivance of the true Palmerston make, astounding the uninitiated by an insanity of purpose and an imbecility of the means employed which appear quite incompatible with the known capacity of the old schemer.

It is probable that, among the many irons which, to amuse the French public, Louis Bonaparte is compelled to always keep in the fire, a Mexican Expedition may have figured. It is sure that Spain, whose never overstrong head has been quite turned by her recent cheap successes in Morocco and St. Domingo, dreams of a restoration in Mexico. But, nevertheless, it is certain that the French plan was far from being matured, and that both France and Spain strove hard against a joint expedition to Mexico under English leadership.

On Sept. 24, Palmerston’s private Moniteur, The London Morning Post, first announced in detail the scheme for the joint intervention, according to the terms of a treaty just concluded, as it said, between England, France, and Spain. This statement had hardly crossed the Channel, when the French Government, through the columns of the Paris Patrie, gave it the lie direct. On Sept. 27, The London Times, Palmerston’s national organ, first broke its silence on the scheme in a leader contradicting, but not quoting, the Patrie. The Times even stated that Earl Russell had communicated to the French Government the resolution arrived at on the part of England of interfering in Mexico, and that M. de Thouvenel replied that the Emperor of the French had come to a similar conclusion. Now it was the turn of Spain. A semi-official paper of Madrid, while affirming Spain’s intention to meddle with Mexico, repudiated at the same time the idea of a joint intervention with England. The dementis were not yet exhausted. The Times had categorically asserted that “the full assent of the American President had been given to the Expedition.” All the American papers taking notice of The Times article, have long since contradicted its assertion.

It is, therefore, certain, and has even been expressly admitted by The Times, that the joint intervention in its present form is of English — i.e., Palmerstonian — make. Spain was cowed into adherence by the pressure of France; and France was brought round by concessions made to her in the field of European policy. In this respect, it is a significant coincidence that The Times of November 6, in the very number in which it announces the conclusion at London of a convention for the joint interference in Mexico, simultaneously publishes a leader, pooh-poohing and treating with exquisite contumely the protest of Switzerland against the recent invasion of her territory — viz., the Dappenthal — by a French military force. In return for his fellowship in the Mexican expedition, Louis Bonaparte has obtained carte blanche for his contemplated encroachments on Switzerland and, perhaps, on other parts of the European continent. The transactions on these points between England and France have lasted throughout the whole of the months of September and October.

There exist in England no people desirous of an intervention in Mexico save the Mexican bondholders, who, however, had never to boast the least sway over the national mind. Hence the difficulty of breaking to the public the Palmerstonian scheme. The next best means was to bewilder the British elephant by contradictory statements, proceeding from the same laboratory, compounded of the same materials, but varying in the doses administered to the animal.

The Morning Post, in its print of September 24, announced that there would be “no territorial war on Mexico,” that the only point at issue was the monetary claims on the Mexican exchequer; that “it would be impossible to deal with Mexico as an organized and established Government,” and that, consequently, “the principal Mexican ports would be temporarily occupied and their customs revenues sequestered.”

The Times of September 27 declared, on the contrary, that “to dishonesty, to repudiation, to the legal and irremediable plunder of our countrymen by the default of a bankrupt community, we were steeled by long endurance,” and that, consequently, “the private robbery of the English bondholders” lay not, as The Post had it, at the bottom of the intervention. While remarking, en passant, that “the City of Mexico was sufficiently healthy, should it be necessary to penetrate so far,” The Times hoped, however, that “the mere presence of a combined squadron in the Gulf, and the seizure of certain ports, will urge the Mexican Government to new exertions in keeping the peace, and will convince the malcontents that they must confine themselves to some form of opposition more constitutional than brigandage.”

If, then, according to The Post, the expedition was to start because there “exists no Government in Mexico,” it was, according to The Times, only intended as encouraging and supporting the existing Mexican Government. To be sure! The oddest means ever hit upon for the consolidation of a Government consists in the seizure of its territory and the sequestration of its revenue.

The Times and The Morning Post having once given out the cue, John Bull was then handed over to the minor ministerial oracles, systematically belaboring him in the same contradictory style for four weeks, until public opinion had at last become sufficiently trained to the idea of a joint intervention in Mexico, although kept in deliberate ignorance of the aim and purpose of that intervention. At last, the transactions with France had drawn to an end; the Moniteur announced that the convention between the three interfering powers had been concluded on October 31;c and the journal des Débats, one of whose coproprietors is appointed to the command of one of the vessels of the French squadron, informed the world that no permanent territorial conquest was intended; that Vera Cruz and other points on the coast were to be seized, an advance to the capital being agreed upon in case of noncompliance by the constituted authorities in Mexico with the demands of the intervention; that, moreover, a strong government was to be imported into the Republic.

The Times, which ever since its first announcement on September 27, seemed to have forgotten the very existence of Mexico, had now again to step forward. Everybody ignorant of its connection with Palmerston, and the original introduction in its columns of his scheme, would be induced to consider the to-day’s leader of The Times as the most cutting and merciless satire on the whole adventure. It sets out by stating that “the expedition is a very remarkable one” [later on it says a curious one].

Three States are combining to coerce a fourth into good behavior, not so much by way of war as by authoritative interference in behalf of order.”

Authoritative interference in behalf of order! This is literally the Holy Alliance slang, and sounds very remarkable indeed on the part of England, glorying in the non-intervention principle! And why is “the way of war, and of declaration of war, and all other behests of international law,” supplanted by “an authoritative interference in behalf of order?” Because, says The Times, there “exists no Government in Mexico.” And what is the professed aim of the expedition? “To address demands to the constituted authorities at Mexico.”

The only grievances complained of by the intervening Powers, the only causes which might give to their hostile procedure the slightest shade of justification, are easily to be summed up. They are the monetary claims of the bondholders and a series of personal outrages said to have been committed upon subjects of England, France and Spain. These were also the reasons of the intervention as originally put forth by The Morning Post, and as some time ago officially indorsed by Lord John Russell in an interview with some representatives of the Mexican bondholders in England. The to-day’s Times states:

“England, France, and Spain have concerted an expedition to bring Mexico to the performance of her specific engagements, and to give protection to the subjects of the respective crowns.

However, in the progress of its article, The Times veers round, and exclaims:

“We shall, no doubt, succeed in obtaining at least a recognition of our pecuniary claims; in fact, a single British frigate could have obtained that amount of satisfaction at any moment. We may trust, too, that the more scandalous of the outrages committed will be expiated by more immediate and substantial atonements; but it is clear that, if only this much was to be brought about, we need not have resorted to such extremities as are now proposed.”

The Times, then, confesses in so many words that the reasons originally given out for the expedition are shallow pretexts; that for the attainment of redress nothing like the present procedure was needed; and that, in point of fact, the “recognition of monetary claims, and the protection of European subjects” have nothing at all to do with the present joint intervention in Mexico. What, then, is its real aim and purpose?

Before following The Times in its further explanations, we will, en passant, note some more “curiosities” which it has taken good care not to touch upon. In the first instance, it is a real “curiosity” to see Spain — Spain out of all other countries — turn crusader for the sanctity of foreign debts! Last Sunday’s Courrier du Dimanche already summons the French Government to improve the opportunity, and compel Spain, “into the eternally delayed performance of her old standing engagements to French bondholders.”

The second still greater “curiosity” is, that the very same Palmerston who, according to Lord John Russell’s recent declaration, is about invading Mexico to make its Government pay the English bondholders, has himself, voluntarily, and despite the Mexican Government, sacrificed the treaty rights of England and the security mortgaged by Mexico to her British creditors.

By the treaty concluded with England in 1826, Mexico became bound to not allow the establishment of Slavery in any of the territories constituting her then empire. By another clause of the same treaty, she tendered England, as a security for the loans obtained from British capitalists, the mortgage of 45,000,000 acres of the public lands in Texas. It was Palmerston who, ten or twelve years later, interfered as the mediator for Texas against Mexico. In the treaty then concluded by him with Texas, he sacrificed not only the Anti-Slavery cause, but also the mortgage on the public lands, thus robbing the English bondholders of their security. The Mexican Government protested at the time, but meanwhile, later on, Secretary John C. Calhoun could permit himself the jest of informing the Cabinet of St. James that its desire “of seeing Slavery abolished in Texas would be” best realized by annexing Texas to the United States. The English bondholders lost, in fact, any claim upon Mexico, by the voluntary sacrifice on the part of Palmerston of the mortgage secured to them in the treaty of 1826.

But, since The London Times avows that the present intervention has nothing to do either with monetary claims or with personal outrages, what, then, in all the world, is its real or pretended aim?

An authoritative interference in behalf of Order.”

England, France, and Spain, planning a new Holy Alliance, and having formed themselves into an armed areopagus for the restoration of order all over the world, “Mexico,” says The Times, “must be rescued from anarchy, and put in the way of self-government and peace. A strong and stable government must be established” there by the invaders, and that government is to be extracted from “some Mexican party.”

Now, does any one imagine that Palmerston and his mouthpiece, The Times, really consider the joint intervention as a means to the professed end, viz: The extinction of anarchy, and the establishment in Mexico of a strong and stable government? So far from cherishing any such chimerical creed, The Times states expressly in its first leader of September 27:

“The only point on which there may possibly be a difference between ourselves and our allies, regards the government of the Republic. England will be content to see it remain in the hands of the liberal party which is now in power, while France and Spain are suspected of a partiality for the ecclesiastical rule which has recently been overthrown.... It would, indeed, be strange, if France were, in both the old and new world, to make herself the protector of priests and bandits.”

In its to-day’s leader, The Times goes on reasoning in the same strain, and resumes its scruples in this sentence:

“It is hard to suppose that the intervening powers could all concur in the absolute preference of either of the two parties between which Mexico is divided, and equally hard to imagine that a compromise would be found practicable between enemies so determined.”

Palmerston and The Times, then, are fully aware that there “exists a government in Mexico,” that “the Liberal party,” ostensibly favored by England, “is now in power,” that “the ecclesiastical rule has been overthrown; that Spanish intervention was the last forlorn hope of the priests and bandits; and, finally, that Mexican anarchy was dying away. They know, then, that the joint intervention, with no other avowed end save the rescue of Mexico from anarchy, will produce just the opposite effect, weaken the Constitutional Government, strengthen the priestly party by a supply of French and Spanish bayonets, rekindle the embers of civil war, and, instead of extinguishing, restore anarchy to its full bloom.

The inference The Times itself draws from those premises is really “remarkable” and “curious.”

Although, it says, “these considerations may induce us to look with some anxiety to the results of the expedition, they do not militate against the expediency of the expedition itself.

It does, consequently, not militate against the expediency of the expedition itself, that the expedition militates against its only ostensible purpose. It does not militate against the means that it baffles its own avowed end.

The greatest “curiosity” pointed out by The Times, I have, however, stilt kept in petto.

“If,” says it, “President Lincoln should accept the invitation, which is provided for by the convention, to participate in the approaching operations, the character of the work would become more curious still.

It would, indeed, be the greatest “curiosity” of all if the United States, living in amity with Mexico, should associate with the European order-mongers, and, by participating in their acts, sanction the interference of a European armed Areopagus with the internal affairs of American States. The first scheme of such a transplantation of the Holy Alliance to the other side of the Atlantic was, at the time of the restoration, drawn up for the French and Spanish Bourbons by Chateaubriand. The attempt was baffled by an English Minister, Mr. Canning, and an American President, Mr. Monroe. The present convulsion in the United States appeared to Palmerston an opportune moment for taking up the old project in a modified form. Since the United States, for the present, must allow no foreign complication to interfere with their war for the Union, all they can do is to protest. Their best well-wishers in Europe hope that they will protest, and thus, before the eyes of the world, firmly repudiate any complicity in one of the most nefarious schemes.

This military expedition of Palmerston’s, carried out by a coalition with two other European powers, is started during the prorogation, without the sanction, and against the will of the British Parliament. The first extra Parliamentary war of Palmerston’s was the Afghan war softened and justified by the production of forged papers. Another war of that sort was his Persian war of 1856-1857. He defended it at the time on the plea that “the principle of the previous sanction of the House did not apply to Asiatic wars.” It seems that it does neither apply to American wars. With the control over foreign wars, Parliament will lose all control over the national exchequer, and Parliamentary government turn to a mere farce.