Articles by Karl Marx in the New York Tribune 1862

English Public Opinion

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Written: on January 11, 1862;
First published: in the New-York Daily Tribune, February 1, 1862.

London, Jan. 11, 1862

The news of the pacific solution of the Trent conflict was, by the bulk of the English people, saluted with an exultation proving unmistakably the unpopularity of the apprehended war and the dread of its consequences. It ought never to be forgotten in the United States that at least the working classes of England, from the commencement to the termination of the difficulty, have never forsaken them. To them it was due that, despite the poisonous stimulants daily administered by a venal and reckless press, not one single public war meeting could be held in the United Kingdom during all the period that peace trembled in the balance. The only war meeting convened on the arrival of the La Plata, in the cotton salesroom of the Liverpool Stock Exchange, was a corner meeting where the cotton jobbers had it all to themselves. Even at Manchester, the temper of the working classes was so well understood that an insulated attempt at the convocation of a war meeting was almost as soon abandoned as thought of.

Wherever public meetings took place in England, Scotland, or Ireland, they protested against the rabid war — cries of the press, against the sinister designs of the Government, and declared for a pacific settlement of the pending question. In this regard, the two last meetings held, the one at Paddington, London, the other at N ewcastle — u pon — Tyne, are characteristic. The former meeting applauded Mr. Washington Wilkes’s argumentation that England was not warranted in finding fault with the seizure of the Southern Commissioners'; while the Newcastle meeting almost unanimously carried the resolution — firstly, that the Americans had only made themselves guilty of a lawful exercise of the right of search and seizure; secondly, that the captain of the Trent ought to be punished for his violation of English neutrality, as proclaimed by the Queen. In ordinary circumstances, the conduct of the British workingmen might have been anticipated from the natural sympathy the popular classes all over the world ought to feel for the only popular Government in the world.

Under the present circumstances, however, when a great portion of the British working classes directly and severely suffers under the consequences of the Southern blockade; when another part is indirectly smitten by the curtailment of the American commerce, owing, as they are told, to the selfish “protective policy” of the Republicans; when the only remaining democratic weekly, Reynolds’s paper, has sold itself to Messrs. Yancey and Mann, and week after week exhausts its horse-powers of foul language in appeals to the working classes to urge the Government, for their own interests, to war with the Union — under such circumstances, simple justice requires to pay a tribute to the sound attitude of the British working classes, the more so when contrasted with the hypocritical, bullying, cowardly, and stupid conduct of the official and well-to-do John Bull.

What a difference in this attitude of the people from what it had assumed at the time of the Russian complication! Then The Times, The Post, and the other Yellowplushes of the London press, whined for peace, to be rebuked by tremendous war meetings all over the country. Now they have howled for war, to be answered by peace meetings denouncing the liberticide schemes and the Pro-Slavery sympathy of the Government. The grimaces cut by the augurs of public opinion at the news of the pacific solution of the Trent case are really amusing.

In the first place, they must needs congratulate themselves upon the dignity, common sense, good will, and moderation, daily displayed by them for the whole interval of a month. They were moderate for the first two days after the arrival of the La Plata, when Palmerston felt uneasy whether any legal pretext for a quarrel was to be picked. But hardly had the crown lawyers bit upon a legal quibble, when they opened a charivari unheard of since the anti-Jacobin war. The dispatches of the English Government left Queenstown in the beginning of December. No official answer from Washington could possibly be looked for before the commencement of January. The new incidents arising in the interval told all in favor of the Americans. The tone of the Transatlantic Press, although the Nashville affair might have roused its passions, was calm. All facts ascertained concurred to show that Capt. Wilkes had acted on his own hook. The position of the Washington Government was delicate. If it resisted the English demands, it would complicate the civil war by a foreign war. If it gave way, it might damage its popularity at home, and appear to cede to pressure from abroad. And the Government thus placed, carried, at the same time, a war which must enlist the warmest sympathies of every man, not a confessed ruffian, on its side.

Common prudence, conventional decency, ought, therefore, to have dictated to the London press, at least for the time separating the English demand from the American reply, to anxiously abstain from every word calculated to heat passion, breed ill-will, complicate the difficulty. But no! That “inexpressibly mean and groveling” press, as William Cobbett, and he was a connoisseur, calls it, really boasted of having, when in fear of the compact power of the United States, humbly submitted to the accumulated slights and insults of Pro-Slavery Administrations for almost half a century, while now, with the savage exultation of cowards, they panted for taking their revenge on the Republican Administration, distracted by a civil war. The record of mankind chronicles no self-avowed infamy like this.

One of the yellow-plushes, Palmerston’s private Moniteur — The Morning Post — finds itself arraigned on a most ugly charge from the American papers. John Bull has never been informed — on information carefully withheld from him by the oligarchs that lord it over him — that Mr. Seward, without awaiting Russell’s dispatch, had disavowed any participation of the Washington Cabinet in the act of Capt. Wilkes. Mr. Seward’s dispatch arrived at London on December 19. On the 20th December, the rumor of this “secret” spread on the Stock Exchange. On the 21st, the yellow-plush of The Morning Post stepped forward to gravely herald that “the dispatch in question does not in any way whatever refer to the outrage on our mail packet.”

In The Daily News, The Morning Star, and other London journals, you will find yellow-plush pretty sharply handled, but you will not learn from them what people out of doors say. They say that The Morning Post and The Times, like the Patrie and the Pays, duped the public not only to politically mislead them, but to fleece them in the monetary line on the Stock Exchange, in the interest of their patrons.

The brazen Times, fully aware that during the whole crisis it had compromised nobody but itself, and given another proof of the hollowness of its pretensions of influencing the real people of England, plays to-day a trick which here, at London, only works upon the laughing muscles, but on the other side of the Atlantic, might be misinterpreted. The “popular classes” of London, the “mob”, as the yellow-plush call them, have given unmistakable signs-have even hinted in newspapers-that they should consider it an exceedingly seasonable joke to treat Mason (by the by, a distant relative of Palmerston, since the original Mason had married a daughter of Sir W. Temple), Slidell & Co. with the same demonstrations Haynau received on his visit at Barclay’s brewery.” The Times stands aghast at the mere idea of such a shocking incident, and how does it try to parry it? It admonishes the people of England not to overwhelm Mason, Slidell & Co. with any, sort of public ovation! The Times knows that its to-day’s article will form the laughing-stock of all the tap-rooms of London. But never mind! People on the other side of the Atlantic may, perhaps, fancy that the magnanimity of The Times has saved them from the affront of public ovations to Mason, Slidell & Co., while, in point of fact, The Times only intends saving those gentlemen from public insult!

So long as the Trent affair was undecided, The Times, The Post, The Herald, The Economist, The Saturday Review, in fact the whole of the fashionable, hireling press of London, had tried its utmost to persuade John Bull that the Washington Government, even if it willed, would prove unable to keep the peace, because the Yankee mob would not allow it, and because the Federal Government was a mob Government. Facts have now given them the lie direct. Do they now atone for their malignant slanders against the American people? Do they at least confess the errors which yellow-plush in presuming to judge of the acts of a free people, could not but commit? By no means. They now unanimously discover that the American Government, in not anticipating England’s demands, and not surrendering the Southern traitors as soon as they were caught, missed a great occasion, and deprived its present concession of all merit. Indeed, yellow plush! Mr. Seward disavowed the act of Wilkes before the arrival of the English demands, and at once declared himself willing to enter upon a conciliatory course a ; and what did you do on similar occasions? When, on the pretext of impressing English sailors on board American ships — a pretext not at all connected with maritime belligerent rights, but a downright, monstrous usurpation against all international law-the Leopard fired its broadside at the Chesapeake, killed six, wounded twenty-one of her sailors, and seized the pretended Englishmen on board the Chesapeake, what did the English Government do? That outrage was perpetrated on the 20th of June, 1807. The real satisfaction, the surrender of the sailors, &C., was only offered on November 8, 1812, five years later. The British Government, it is true, disavowed at once the act of Admiral Berkeley, as Mr. Seward did in regard to Capt. Wilkes; but, to punish the Admiral, it removed him from an inferior to a superior rank. England, in proclaiming her Orders in Council,” distinctly confessed that they were outrages on the rights of neutrals in general, and of the United States in particular; that they were forced upon her as measures of retaliation against Napoleon, and that she would feel but too glad to revoke them whenever Napoleon should revoke his encroachments on neutral rights. Napoleon did revoke them, as far as the United States were concerned, in the Spring of 1810. England persisted in her avowed outrage on the maritime rights of America. Her resistance lasted from 1806 to 23d of June, 1812 — after, on the 18th of June, 1812, the United States had declared war against England. England abstained, consequently, in this case for six years, not from atoning for a confessed outrage, but from discontinuing it. And this people talk of the magnificent occasion missed by the American Government! Whether in the wrong or in the right, it was a cowardly act on the part of the British Government to back a complaint grounded on pretended technical blunder, and a mere error of procedure, by an ultimatum, by a demand for the surrender of the prisoners. The American Government might have reasons to accede to that demand; it could have none to anticipate it.

By the present settlement of the Trent collision, the question underlying the whole dispute, and likely to again occur — the belligerent rights of a maritime power against neutrals — has not been settled. I shall, with your permission, try to survey the whole question in a subsequent letter. For the present, allow me to add that, in my opinion, Messrs. Mason and Slidell have done great service to the Federal Government. There was an influential war party in England, which, what for commercial, what for political reasons, showed eager for a fray with the United States. The Trent affair put that party to the test. It has failed. The war passion has been discounted on a minor issue, the steam has been let off, the vociferous fury of the oligarchy has raised the suspicions of English democracy, the large British interests connected with the United States have made a stand, the true character of the civil war has been brought home to the working classes, and last, not least, the dangerous period when Palmerston rules single-headed without being checked by Parliament, is rapidly drawing to an end. That was the only time in which an English war for the slaveocrats might have been hazarded. It is now out of question.