Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 1853
From Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Russian Menace to Europe, edited by Paul Blackstock and Bert Hoselitz, and published by George Allen and Unwin, London, 1953, pp 121-202. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 7 April 1853.
Prince Mentschikoff, after reviewing the Russian forces stationed in the Danubian Principalities, and after an inspection of the army and fleet at Sebastopol, where he caused manoeuvres of embarking and disembarking troops to be executed under his own eyes, entered Constantinople in the most theatrical style on 28 February, attended by a suite of twelve persons, including the Admiral of the Russian squadron in the Black Sea, a General of Division, and several staff officers, with Count Nesselrode, junior, as Secretary of the Embassy. He met with such a reception from the Greek and Russian inhabitants as if he were the orthodox Tsar himself entering Tsarigrad to restore it to the true faith. An enormous sensation was created here and at Paris by the news that Prince Mentschikoff, not satisfied with the dismissal of Fuad Effendi, had demanded that the Sultan should abandon to the Emperor of Russia not only the protection of all the Christians in Turkey, but also the right of nominating the Greek Patriarch; that the Sultan had appealed to the protection of England and France; that Colonel Rose, the British Envoy, had despatched the steamer Wasp in haste to Malta to request the immediate presence of the English fleet in the Archipelago, and that Russian vessels had anchored at Kili, near the Bosphorus. The Paris Moniteur informs us that the French Squadron at Toulon has been ordered to the Grecian waters. Admiral Dundas, however, is still at Malta. From all this it is evident that the Eastern Question is once more on the European ‘ordre du jour’, a fact not astonishing for those who are acquainted with history.
Whenever the revolutionary hurricane has subsided for a moment, one ever-recurring question is sure to turn up: the eternal ‘Eastern Question’. Thus, when the storms of the first French Revolution had passed, and Napoleon and Alexander of Russia had divided, after the peace of Tilsit, the whole of Continental Europe between themselves, Alexander profited by the momentary calm to march an army into Turkey, and to ‘give a lift’ to the forces that were breaking up, from within, that decaying empire. Again, no sooner had the revolutionary movements of Western Europe been quelled by the Congresses of Laibach and Verona, than Alexander’s successor, Nicholas, made another dash at Turkey. When, a few years later, the revolution of July, with its concomitant insurrections in Poland, Italy, Belgium, had had its turn, and Europe, as remodelled in 1831, seemed out of reach of domestic squalls, the Eastern Question in 1840 appeared on the point of embroiling the ‘Great Powers’ in a general war. And now, when the short-sightedness of the ruling pigmies prides itself on having successfully freed Europe from the dangers of anarchy and revolution, up starts again the everlasting topic, the never-failing difficulty: What shall we do with Turkey?
Turkey is the living sore of European legitimacy. The impotency of legitimate, monarchical government, ever since the first French Revolution, has resumed itself in the one axiom: Keep up the status quo. A testimonium paupertatis, an acknowledgment of the universal incompetence of the ruling powers, for any purpose of progress or civilisation, is seen in this universal agreement to stick to things as by chance or accident they happen to be. Napoleon could dispose of a whole continent at a moment’s notice; aye, and dispose of it, too, in a manner that showed both genius and fixedness of purpose. The entire ‘collective wisdom’ of European legitimacy, assembled in Congress at Vienna, took a couple of years to do the same job; got at loggerheads over it, made a very sad mess indeed of it, and found it such a dreadful bore that ever since they have had enough of it, and have never tried their hands again at parcelling out Europe. Myrmidons of mediocrity, as Beranger calls them; without historical knowledge or insight into facts, without ideas, without initiative, they adore the status quo they themselves have bungled together, knowing what a bungling and blundering piece of workmanship it is.
But Turkey no more than the rest of the world remains stationary; and just when the reactionary party has succeeded in restoring in civilised Europe what they consider to be the status quo ante, it is perceived that in the meantime the status quo in Turkey has been very much altered; that new questions, new relations, new interests have sprung up, and that the poor diplomatists have to begin again where they were interrupted by a general earthquake some eight or ten years before. Keep up the status quo in Turkey! Why, you might as well try to keep up the precise degree of putridity into which the carcass of a dead horse has passed at a given time, before dissolution is complete. Turkey goes on decaying, and will go on decaying as long as the present system of ‘balance of power’ and maintenance of the status quo goes on; and in spite of congresses, protocols and ultimatums it will produce its yearly quota of diplomatic difficulties and international squabbles quite as every other putrid body will supply the neighbourhood with a due allowance of carburetted hydrogen and other well-scented gaseous matter.
Let us look at the question at once. Turkey consists of three entirely distinct portions: the vassal principalities of Africa, viz, Egypt and Tunis; Asiatic Turkey; and European Turkey. The African possessions, of which Egypt alone may be considered as really subject to the Sultan, may be left for the moment out of the question. Egypt belongs more to the English than to anybody else, and will and must necessarily form their share in any future partition of Turkey. Asiatic Turkey is the real seat of whatever strength there is in the empire; Asia Minor and Armenia, for four hundred years the chief abode of the Turks, form the reserved ground from which the Turkish armies have been drawn, from those that threatened the ramparts of Vienna, to those that dispersed before Diebitsch’s not very skilful manoeuvres at Kulewtscha. Turkey in Asia, although thickly populated, yet forms too compact a mass of Mussulman fanaticism and Turkish nationality to invite at present any attempts at conquest; and, in fact, whenever the ‘Eastern Question’ is mooted, the only portions of this territory taken into consideration are Palestine and the Christian valleys of the Lebanon.
The real point at issue always is Turkey in Europe – the great peninsula to the south of the Save and Danube. This splendid territory has the misfortune to be inhabited by a conglomerate of different races and nationalities, of which it is hard to say which is the least fit for progress and civilisation. Slavonians, Greeks, Wallachians, Arnauts, twelve millions of men, are all held in submission by one million of Turks, and up to a recent period, it appeared doubtful whether, of all these different races, the Turks were not the most competent to hold the supremacy which, in such a mixed population, could not but accrue to one of these nationalities. But when we see how lamentably have failed all attempts at civilisation by Turkish authority – how the fanaticism of Islam, supported principally by the Turkish mob in a few great cities, has availed itself of the assistance of Austria and Russia invariably to regain power and to overturn any progress that might have been made; when we see the central, that is, Turkish, authority weakened year after year by insurrections in the Christian provinces, none of which, thanks to the weakness of the Porte and to the intervention of neighbouring states, is ever completely fruitless; when we see Greece acquire her independence, parts of Armenia conquered by Russia – Moldavia, Wallachia, Serbia, successively placed under the protectorate of the latter power – we shall be obliged to admit that the presence of the Turks in Europe is a real obstacle to the development of the resources of the Thraco-Illyrian Peninsula.
We can hardly describe the Turks as the ruling class of Turkey, because the relations of the different classes of society there are as mixed up as those of the various races. The Turk is, according to localities and circumstances, workman, farmer, small free-holder, trader, feudal landlord in the lowest and most barbaric stage of feudalism, civil officer or soldier; but in all these different social positions he belongs to the privileged creed and nation – he alone has the right to carry arms, and the highest Christian has to give up the footpath to the lowest Moslem he meets. In Bosnia and the Herzegovina, the nobility, of Slavonian descent, have passed over to Islam, while the mass of the people remain Rayahs, that is, Christians. In this province then, the ruling creed and the ruling class are identified, as of course the Moslem Bosnian is upon a level with his co-religionist of Turkish descent.
The principal power of the Turkish population in Europe, independently of the reserve always ready to be drawn from Asia, lies in the mob of Constantinople and a few other large towns. It is essentially Turkish, and though it finds its principal livelihood by doing jobs for Christian capitalists, it maintains with great jealousy the imaginary superiority and real impunity for excesses which the privileges of Islam confer upon it as compared with Christians. It is well known that this mob in every important coup d'état has to be won over by bribes and flattery. It is this mob alone, with the exception of a few colonised districts, which offers a compact and imposing mass of Turkish population in Europe. And certainly there will be, sooner or later, an absolute necessity for freeing one of the finest parts of this continent from the rule of a mob, compared with which the mob of Imperial Rome was an assemblage of sages and heroes.
Among the other nationalities, we may dispose in a very few words of the Arnauts, a hardy aboriginal mountain people, inhabiting the country sloping towards the Adriatic, speaking a language of their own, which, however, appears to belong to the great Indo-European stock. They are partly Greek Christians, partly Moslems, and, according to all we know of them, as yet very unprepared for civilisation. Their predatory habits will force any neighbouring government to hold them in close military subjection, until industrial progress in the surrounding districts shall find them employment as hewers of wood and drawers of water; the same as has been the case with the Gallegas in Spain, and the inhabitants of mountainous districts generally.
The Wallachians or Daco-Romans, the chief inhabitants of the district between the Lower Danube and the Dniester, are a greatly mixed population, belonging to the Greek Church and speaking a language derived from the Latin, and in many respects not unlike the Italian. Those of Transylvania and the Bukowina belong to the Austrian, those of Bessarabia to the Russian Empire; those of Moldavia and Wallachia, the only two principalities where the Daco-Roman race has acquired a political existence, have princes of their own, under the nominal suzerainty of the Porte and the real dominion of Russia. Of the Transylvanian Wallachians we heard much during the Hungarian War; hitherto oppressed by the feudalism of Hungarian landlords who were, according to the Austrian system, made at the same time the instruments of all government exactions, this brutalised mass was, in like manner as the Ruthenian serfs of Galicia in 1846, won over by Austrian promises and bribes, and began that war of devastation which has made a desert of Transylvania. The Daco-Romans of the Turkish Principalities have at least a native nobility and political institutions; and in spite of all the efforts of Russia, the revolutionary spirit has penetrated among them, as the insurrection of 1848 well proved. There can hardly be a doubt that the exactions and hardships inflicted upon them during the Russian occupation since 1848 must have raised this spirit still higher, in spite of the bond of common religion and Tsaro-Popish superstition which has hitherto led them to look upon the Imperial chief of the Greek Church as their natural protector. And if this is the case, the Wallachian nationality may yet play an important part in the ultimate disposal of the territories in question.
The Greeks of Turkey are mostly of Slavonic descent, but have adopted the modern Hellenic language; in fact, with the exception of a few noble families of Constantinople and Trebizond, it is now generally admitted that very little pure Hellenic blood is to be found even in Greece. The Greeks, along with the Jews, are the principal traders in the seaports and many inland towns. They are also tillers of the soil in some districts. In all cases, neither their number, compactness, nor spirit of nationality, gives them any political weight as a nation, except in Thessaly and perhaps Epirus. The influence held by a few noble Greek families as dragomans (interpreters) in Constantinople is fast declining, since Turks have been educated in Europe, and European legations have been provided with attachés who speak Turkish.
We now come to the race that forms the great mass of the population and whose blood is preponderant wherever a mixture of races has occurred. In fact, it may be said to form the principal stock of the Christian population from the Morea to the Danube, and from the Black Sea to the Arnaut Mountains. This race is the Slavonic race, and more particularly that branch of it which is resumed under the name of Illyrian (Ilirski), or South Slavonian (Yugoslavyanski). After the Western Slavonian (Polish and Bohemian), and Eastern Slavonian (Russian), it forms the third branch of that numerous Slavonic family which for the last twelve hundred years has occupied the East of Europe. These southern Slavonians occupy not only the greater part of Turkey, but also Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia and the South of Hungary. They all speak the same language, which is much akin to the Russian, and by far, to the Western ears, the most musical of all Slavonic tongues. The Croatians and part of the Dalmatians are Roman Catholics; all the remainder belong to the Greek Church. The Roman Catholics use the Latin alphabet, but the followers of the Greek Church write their language in the Cyrillian character, which is also used in the Russian and old Slavonic or Church language. This circumstance, combined with the difference of religion, has contributed to retard any national development embracing the whole South Slavonic territory. A man in Belgrade may not be able to read a book printed in his own language at Agram or Petch, he may object even to take it up, on account of the ‘heterodox’ alphabet and orthography used therein; while he will have little difficulty in reading and understanding a book printed at Moscow in the Russian language, because the two idioms, particularly in the old Slavonic etymological system of orthography, look very much alike, and because the book is printed in the ‘orthodox’ (pravoslavni) alphabet. The mass of the Greek Slavonians will not even have their Bible, liturgies and prayer-books printed in their own country, because they are convinced that there is a peculiar correctness and orthodoxy and odour of sanctity about anything printed in holy Moscow or in the imperial printing establishment of St Petersburg. In spite of all the Panslavistic efforts of Agram and Prague enthusiasts, the Servian, the Bulgarian, the Bosnian Rayah, the Slavonian peasant of Macedonia and Thracia, has more national sympathy, more points of contact, more means of intellectual intercourse with the Russian than with the Roman Catholic South Slavonian who speaks the same language. Whatever may happen, he looks to St Petersburg for the advent of the Messiah who is to deliver him from all evil; and if he calls Constantinople his Tsarigrad, or Imperial City, it is as much in anticipation of the orthodox Tsar coming from the north and entering it to restore the true faith, as in recollection of the orthodox Tsar who held it before the Turks overran the city.
Subjected in the greater part of Turkey to the direct rule of the Turk, but under local authorities of their own choice, partly (in Bosnia) converted to the faith of the conqueror, the Slavonian race has, in that country, maintained or conquered political existence in two localities. The one is Servia, the valley of the Morava, a province with well-defined natural lines of frontier, which played an important part in the history of these regions six hundred years ago. Subdued for a while by the Turks, the Russian War of 1809 gave it a chance of obtaining a separate existence, though under the Turkish supremacy. It has remained ever since under the immediate protection of Russia. But, as in Moldavia and Wallachia, political existence has brought new wants, and forced upon Servia an increased intercourse with Western Europe. Civilisation began to take root, trade extended, new ideas sprang up, and thus we find in the very heart and stronghold of Russian influence, in Slavonic or orthodox Servia, an anti-Russian Progressive party (of course very modest in its demands of reform), headed by the ex-Minister of Finances, Garaschanin.
There is no doubt that, should the Greco-Slavonian population ever obtain the mastery in the land which it inhabits, and where it forms three-fourths of the whole population (seven millions), the same necessities would by-and-by give birth to an anti-Russian Progressive party, the existence of which has been hitherto the inevitable consequence of any portion of it having become semi-detached from Turkey.
In Montenegro we have not a fertile valley with comparatively large cities, but a barren mountain country difficult of access. Here a set of robbers have fixed themselves, scouring the plains, and storing their plunder in their mountain fastnesses. These romantic but rather uncouth gentlemen have long been a nuisance in Europe, and it is but in keeping with the policy of Russia and Austria that they should stick up for the rights of the Black Mountain people (Tserno-Gorgi) to burn down villages, burn the inhabitants, and carry off the cattle.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 11 April 1853.
In ancient Greece an orator who was paid to remain silent was said to have an ox on his tongue. The ox, be it remarked, was a silver coin imported from Egypt. With regard to The Times, we may say that, during the whole period of the revived Eastern Question, it also had an ox on its tongue, if not for remaining silent, at least for speaking.
There is no doubt that the Russian bear will not draw in his paws until he is assured of a momentary entente cordiale between England and France. Now mark the following wonderful coincidence. On the very day when The Times was trying to persuade my lords Aberdeen and Clarendon that the Turkish affair was a mere squabble between France and Russia, the roi des drôles, as Guizot used to call him, M Granier de Cassagnac, happened to discover in the Constitutionnel that it was nothing but a quarrel between Lord Palmerston and the Tsar. Truly, when we read these papers, we understand the Greek orators with Macedonian oxen on their tongues at the times when Demosthenes fulminated his Phillipics.
As for the British aristocracy, represented by the Coalition Ministry, they would, if need be, sacrifice the national English interests to their particular class interests, and permit the consolidation of a juvenile despotism in the East in the hopes of finding a support for their valetudinarian oligarchy in the West. As to Louis Napoleon, he is hesitating. All his predilections are on the side of the autocrat whose system of governing he has introduced into France; and all his antipathies are against England, whose parliamentary system he has destroyed there. Besides, if he permits the Tsar’s plundering in the East, the Tsar will perhaps permit him to plunder in the West. On the other hand, he is quite sure of the feelings of the Holy Alliance with regard to the ‘parvenu Khan’. Accordingly he observes an ambiguous policy, striving to dupe the great powers of Europe as he duped the parliamentary parties of the French National Assembly. While fraternising ostentatiously with the English Ambassador for Turkey, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, he simultaneously cajoles the Russian Princess de Lieven with the most flattering promises, and sends to the court of the Sultan M De la Cour, a warm advocate of an Austro-French alliance, in contradistinction to an Anglo-French one. He orders the Toulon fleet to sail to the Grecian waters, and then announces the day afterward, in the Moniteur, that this had been done without any previous communication with England. While he orders one of his organs, the Pays, to treat the Eastern Question as most important to France, he allows the statement of his other organ, the Constitutionnel, that Russian, Austrian and English interests are at stake in this question, but that France has only a very remote interest in it, and is therefore in a wholly independent position. Which will outbid the other, Russia or England? That is the question with him.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 12 April 1853.
We are astonished that in the current discussion of the Oriental question the English journals have not more boldly demonstrated the vital interests which should render Great Britain the earnest and unyielding opponent of the Russian projects of annexation and aggrandisement. England cannot afford to allow Russia to become the possessor of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus. Both commercially and politically such an event would be a deep if not a deadly blow at British power. This will appear from a simple statement of facts as to her trade with Turkey.
Before the discovery of the direct route to India, Constantinople was the mart of an extensive commerce; and even now, though the products of India find their way into Europe by the overland route through Persia, Teheran and Turkey, yet the Turkish ports carry a very important and rapidly increasing traffic both with Europe and the interior of Asia. To understand this it is only necessary to look at the map. From the Black Forest to the sandy heights of Novgorod Veliki, the whole inland country is drained by rivers flowing into the Black or Caspian Seas. The Danube and the Volga, the two giant rivers of Europe, the Dniester, Dnieper and Don, all form so many natural channels for the carriage of inland produce to the Black Sea – for the Caspian itself is only accessible through the Black Sea. Two-thirds of Europe – that is, a part of Germany and Poland, all Hungary, and the most fertile parts of Russia, besides Turkey in Europe – are thus naturally referred to the Euxine for the export and exchange of their produce; and the more so as all these countries are essentially agricultural, and the great bulk of their products must always make water carriage the predominant means of transport. The corn of Hungary, Poland, Southern Russia, the wool and the hides of the same countries, appear in yearly increasing quantities in our Western markets, and they are all shipped at Galatz, Odessa, Taganrog and other Euxine ports. Then there is another important branch of trade carried on in the Black Sea. Constantinople and particularly Trebizond in Asiatic Turkey are the chief marts of the caravan trade to the interior of Asia, to the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris, to Persia and Turkestan. This trade, too, is rapidly increasing. The Greek and Armenian merchants of the two towns just named import large quantities of English manufactured goods, the low price of which is rapidly superseding the domestic industry of the Asiatic harems. Trebizond is better situated for such trade than any other point. It has in its rear the hills of Armenia, which are far less impassable than the Syrian desert, and it lies at a convenient proximity to Bagdad, Schiraz and Teheran, which latter place serves as an intermediate mart for the caravans from Khiva and Bokhara. How important this trade, and the Black Sea trade generally, is becoming may be seen at the Manchester Exchange, where dark-complexioned Greek buyers are increasing in numbers and importance, and where Greek and South Slavonian dialects are heard along with German and English.
The trade of Trebizond is also becoming a matter of most serious political consideration, as it has been the means of bringing the interests of Russia and England anew into conflict in inner Asia. The Russians had, up to 1840, an almost exclusive monopoly of the trade in foreign manufactured goods to that region. Russian goods were found to have made their way, and, in some instances, even to be preferred to English goods, as far down as the Indus. Up to the time of the Afghan War, the conquest of Sindh and the Punjab, it may be safely asserted that the trade of England with inner Asia was nearly nil. The fact is now different. The supreme necessity of a never-ceasing expansion of trade – the fatum which spectre-like haunts modern England, and, if not appeased at once, brings on these terrible revulsions which vibrate from New York to Canton, and from St Petersburg to Sidney – this inflexible necessity has caused the interior of Asia to be attacked from two sides by English trade: from the Indus and from the Black Sea; and although we know very little of the exports of Russia to that part of the world, we may safely conclude from the increase of English exports to that quarter that the Russian trade in that direction must have sensibly fallen off. The commercial battlefield between England and Russia has been removed from the Indus to Trebizond, and the Russian trade, formerly venturing out as far as the limits of England’s Eastern Empire, is now reduced to the defensive on the very verge of its own line of custom-houses. The importance of this fact with regard to any future solution of the Eastern Question, and to the part which both England and Russia may take in it, is evident. They are, and always must be, antagonists in the East.
But let us come to a more definite estimate of the Black Sea trade. According to The London Economist, the British exports to the Turkish dominions, including Egypt and the Danubian Principalities, were:
In 1840 – £1,440,592
In 1842 – £2,068,342
In 1844 – £3,271,333
In 1846 – £2,707,571
In 1848 – £3,626,241
In 1850 – £3,762,480
In 1851 – £3,548,595
Of these amounts, at least, two-thirds must have gone to ports in the Black Sea, including Constantinople. And all this rapidly increasing trade depends upon the confidence that may be placed in the power which rules the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, the keys to the Black Sea. Whoever holds these can open and shut at his pleasure the passage into this last recess of the Mediterranean. Let Russia once come into possession of Constantinople, who will expect her to keep open the door by which England has invaded her commercial domain?
So much for the commercial importance of Turkey, and especially the Dardanelles. It is evident that not only a very large trade, but the principal intercourse of Europe with Central Asia, and, consequently, the principal means of re-civilising that vast region, depends upon the uninterrupted liberty of trading through these gates to the Black Sea.
Now for the military considerations. The commercial importance of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus at once makes them first-rate military positions; that is, positions of decisive influence in any war. Such a point is Gibraltar, and such is Helsingor on the Sound. But the Dardanelles are, from the nature of their locality, even more important. The cannons of Gibraltar or Helsingor cannot command the whole of the strait on which they are situated, and they require the assistance of a fleet in order to close it; while the narrowness of the strait at the Dardanelles and of the Bosphorus is such that a few properly erected and well-armed fortifications, such as Russia, once in possession, would not tarry an hour to erect, might defy the combined fleets of the world if they attempted a passage. In that case, the Black Sea would be more properly a Russian Lake than even the Lake of Ladoga, situated in its very heart. The resistance of the Caucasians would be starved out at once; Trebizond would be a Russian port; the Danube a Russian river. Besides, when Constantinople is taken, the Turkish Empire is cut in two. Asiatic and European Turkey have no means of communicating with or supporting each other; and while the strength of the Turkish army, repulsed into Asia, is utterly harmless, Macedonia, Thessaly, Albania, outflanked and cut off from the main body, will not put the conqueror to the trouble of subduing them; they will have nothing left but to beg for mercy and for an army to maintain internal order.
But having come thus far on the way to universal empire, is it probable that this gigantic and swollen power will pause in its career? Circumstances, if not her own will, forbid it. With the annexation of Turkey and Greece she has excellent seaports, while the Greeks furnish skilful sailors for her navy. With Constantinople, she stands on the threshold of the Mediterranean; with Durazzo and the Albanian coast from Antivari to Arta, she is in the very centre of the Adriatic; within sight of the British Ionian Islands, and within thirty-six hours’ steaming of Malta. Flanking the Austrian dominions on the north, east and south, Russia will already count the Hapsburgs among her vassals. And then, another question is possible, is even probable. The broken and undulating western frontier of the Empire, ill-defined in respect of natural boundaries, would call for rectification; and it would appear that the natural frontier of Russia runs from Dantsic, or perhaps Stettin, to Trieste. And as sure as conquest follows conquest, and annexation follows annexation, so sure would the conquest of Turkey by Russia be only the prelude for the annexation of Hungary, Prussia, Galicia, and for the ultimate realisation of the Slavonic Empire which certain fanatical Panslavistic philosophers have dreamed of.
Russia is decidedly a conquering nation, and was so for a century, until the great movement of 1789 called into potent activity an antagonist of formidable nature. We mean the European Revolution, the explosive force of democratic ideas and man’s native thirst for freedom. Since that epoch there have been in reality but two powers on the continent of Europe – Russia and Absolutism, the Revolution and Democracy. For the moment the Revolution seems to be suppressed, but it lives and is feared as deeply as ever. Witness the terror of the reaction at the news of the late rising at Milan. But let Russia get possession of Turkey, and her strength is increased nearly half, and she becomes superior to all the rest of Europe put together. Such an event would be an unspeakable calamity to the revolutionary cause. The maintenance of Turkish independence, or, in case of a possible dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the arrest of the Russian scheme of annexation, is a matter of the highest moment. In this instance the interests of the revolutionary Democracy and of England go hand in hand. Neither can permit the Tsar to make Constantinople one of his capitals, and we shall find that when driven to the wall, the one will resist him as determinedly as the other.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 19 April 1853.
It is only of late that people in the west of Europe and in America have been enabled to form anything like a correct judgement of Turkish affairs. Up to the Greek insurrection Turkey was, to all intents and purposes, a terra incognita, and the common notions floating about among the public were based more upon the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment than upon any historical facts. Official diplomatic functionaries, having been on the spot, boasted a more accurate knowledge; but this, too, amounted to nothing, as none of these officials ever troubled himself to learn Turkish, South Slavonian or modern Greek, and they were one and all dependent upon the interested accounts of Greek interpreters and Frank merchants. Besides, intrigues of every sort were always on hand to occupy the time of these lounging diplomatists, among whom Joseph von Hammer, the German historian of Turkey, forms the only honourable exception. The business of these gentlemen was not with the people, the institutions, the social state of the country: it was exclusively with the court, and especially with the Fanariote Greeks, wily mediators between two parties, either of which was equally ignorant of the real condition, power and resources of the other. The traditional notions and opinions, founded upon such paltry information, formed for a long while and, strange to say, form to a great extent, even now, the groundwork for all the action of Western diplomacy with regard to Turkey.
But while England, France and, for a long time, even Austria, were groping in the dark for a defined Eastern policy, another power outwitted them all. Russia, herself semi-Asiatic, in her condition, manners, traditions and institutions, found men enough who could comprehend the real state and character of Turkey. Her religion was the same as that of nine-tenths of the inhabitants of Turkey in Europe; her language almost identical with that of seven millions of Turkish subjects; and the well-known facility with which a Russian learns to converse in, if not fully to appropriate, a foreign tongue made it an easy matter for her agents, well paid for the task, to acquaint themselves completely with Turkish affairs. Thus at a very early period the Russian government availed itself of its exceedingly favourable position in the south-east of Europe. Hundreds of Russian agents perambulated Turkey, pointing out to the Greek Christians the orthodox Emperor as the head, the natural protector and the ultimate liberator of the oppressed Eastern Church, and to the South Slavonians especially, pointing out that same emperor as the almighty Tsar, who was sooner or later to unite all the branches of the great Slav race under one sceptre, and to make them the ruling race of Europe. The clergy of the Greek Church very soon formed themselves into a vast conspiracy for the spread of these ideas. The Servian insurrection of 1809, the Greek rising in 1821, were more or less directly urged on by Russian gold and Russian influence; and wherever among the Turkish pashas the standard of revolt was raised against the Central government Russian intrigues and Russian funds were never wanting; and when thus internal Turkish questions had entirely perplexed the understanding of Western diplomatists, who knew no more about the real subject than about the man in the moon, then war was declared, Russian armies marched towards the Balkans, and portion by portion the Ottoman Empire was dismembered.
It is true that during the last thirty years much has been done towards general enlightenment concerning the state of Turkey. German philologists and critics have made us acquainted with its history and literature; English residents and English trade have collected a great deal of information as to the social condition of the Empire. But the diplomatic wiseacres seem to scorn all this, and to cling as obstinately as possible to the traditions engendered by the study of Eastern fairy-tales, improved upon by the no less wonderful accounts given by the most corrupt set of Greek mercenaries that ever existed.
And what has been the natural result? That in all essential points Russia has steadily, one after another, gained her ends, thanks to the ignorance, dullness and consequent inconsistency and cowardice of Western governments. From the battle of Navarino to the present Eastern crisis, the action of the Western powers has either been annihilated by squabbles among themselves – mostly arising from their common ignorance of Eastern matters, and from petty jealousies which must have been entirely incomprehensible to any Eastern understanding – or that action has been in the direct interest of Russia alone. And not only do the Greeks, both of Greece and Turkey, and the Slavonians, look to Russia as their natural protector; nay, even the government at Constantinople, despairing, time after time, to make its actual wants and real position understood by these Western ambassadors, who pride themselves upon their own utter incompetency to judge by their own eyes of Turkish matters, this very Turkish government has, in every instance, been obliged to throw itself upon the mercy of Russia, and to seek protection from that power which openly avows its firm intention to drive every Turk across the Bosphorus, and plant the cross of St Andrew upon the minarets of the Aya-Sofiyah.
In spite of diplomatic tradition, these constant and successful encroachments of Russia have at last roused in the Western cabinets of Europe a very dim and distant apprehension of the approaching danger. This apprehension has resulted in the great diplomatic nostrum, that the maintenance of the status quo in Turkey is a necessary condition of the peace of the world. The magniloquent incapacity of certain modern statesmen could not have confessed its ignorance and helplessness more plainly than in this axiom which, from always having remained a dead letter, has, during the short period of twenty years, been hallowed by tradition, and become as hoary and indisputable as King John’s Magna Carta. Maintain the status quo! Why, it was precisely to maintain the status quo that Russia stirred up Servia to revolt, made Greece independent, appropriated to herself the protectorate of Moldavia and Wallachia, and retained part of Armenia! England and France never stirred an inch when all this was done, and the only time they did move was to protect, in 1849, not Turkey, but the Hungarian refugees. In the eyes of European diplomacy, and even of the European press, the whole Eastern Question resolves itself into this dilemma; either the Russians at Constantinople, or the maintenance of the status quo – anything besides this alternative never enters their thoughts.
Look at the London press for illustration. We find The Times advocating the dismemberment of Turkey, and proclaiming the unfitness of the Turkish race to govern any longer in that beautiful corner of Europe. Skilful, as usual, The Times boldly attacks the old diplomatic tradition of the status quo, and declares its continuance impossible. The whole of the talent at the disposal of that paper is exerted to show this impossibility under different aspects, and to enlist British sympathies for a new crusade against the remnant of the Saracens. The merit of such an unscrupulous attack upon a time-hallowed and unmeaning phrase which two months ago was as yet sacred to The Times is undeniable. But whoever knows that paper knows also that this unwonted boldness is applied directly in the interest of Russia and Austria. The correct premises put forth in its columns as to the utter impossibility of maintaining Turkey in its present state serve no other purpose than to prepare the British public and the world for the moment when the principal paragraph of the will of Peter the Great – the conquest of the Bosphorus – will have become an accomplished fact.
The opposite opinion is represented by The Daily News, the organ of the Liberals. The Times, at least, seizes a new and correct feature of the question, in order afterwards to pervert it to an interested purpose. In the columns of the Liberal journal, on the other hand, reigns the plainest sense, but merely a sort of household sense. Indeed, it does not see farther than the very threshold of its own house. It clearly perceives that a dismemberment of Turkey under the present circumstances must bring the Russians to Constantinople, and that this would be a great misfortune for England; that it would threaten the peace of the world, ruin the Black Sea trade, and necessitate new armaments in the British stations and fleets of the Mediterranean. And in consequence The Daily News exerts itself to arouse the indignation and fear of the British public. Is not the partition of Turkey a crime equal to the partition of Poland? Have not the Christians more religious liberty in Turkey than in Austria and Russia? Is not the Turkish government a mild, paternal government, which allows the different nations and creeds and local corporations to regulate their own affairs? Is not Turkey a paradise compared with Austria and Russia? Are not life and property safe there? And is not British trade with Turkey larger than that with Austria and Russia put together, and does it not increase every year? And then goes on in dithyrambic strain, so far as The Daily News can be dithyrambic, with an apotheosis of Turkey, the Turks and everything Turkish, which must appear quite incomprehensible to most of its readers.
The key to this strange enthusiasm for the Turks is to be found in the works of David Urquhart, Esq, MP. This gentleman, of Scotch birth, with mediaeval and patriarchal recollections of home, and with a modern British civilised education, after having fought three years in Greece against the Turks, passed into their country and was the first thus to enamour himself of them. The romantic Highlander found himself at home again in the mountain ravines of the Pindus and Balkans, and his works on Turkey, although full of valuable information, may be summed up in the following three paradoxes, which are laid down almost literally thus: If Mr Urquhart were not a British subject, he would decidedly prefer being a Turk; if he were not a Presbyterian Calvinist, he would not belong to any other religion than Islamism; and thirdly, Britain and Turkey are the only two countries in the world which enjoy self-government and civil and religious liberty. This same Urquhart has since become the great Eastern authority for all English Liberals who object to Palmerston, and it is he who supplies The Daily News with the materials for these panegyrics upon Turkey.
The only argument which deserves a moment’s notice upon this side of the question is this: ‘It is said that Turkey is decaying; but where is the decay? Is not civilisation rapidly spreading in Turkey and trade extending? Where you see nothing but decay our statistics prove nothing but progress.’ Now it would be a great fallacy to put down the increasing Black Sea trade to the credit of Turkey alone; and yet this is done here, exactly as if the industrial and commercial capabilities of Holland, the high road to the greater part of Germany, were to be measured by her gross exports and imports, nine-tenths of which represent a mere transit. And yet, what every statistician would immediately, in the case of Holland, treat as a clumsy concoction, the whole of the Liberal press of England, including the learned Economist, tries, in the case of Turkey, to impose upon public credulity. And then, who are the traders in Turkey? Certainly not the Turks. Their way of promoting trade, when they were yet in their original nomadic state, consisted in robbing caravans; and now that they are a little more civilised it consists in all sorts of arbitrary and oppressive exactions. Remove all the Turks out of Europe, and trade will have no reason to suffer. And as to progress in general civilisation, who are they that carry out that progress in all parts of European Turkey? Not the Turks, for they are few and far between, and can hardly be said to be settled anywhere except in Constantinople and two or three small country districts. It is the Greek and Slavonic middle class in all the towns and trading posts who are the real support of whatever civilisation is effectually imported into the country. That part of the population is constantly rising in wealth and influence, and the Turks are more and more driven into the background. Were it not for their monopoly of civil and military power they would soon disappear. But that monopoly has become impossible for the future, and their power is turned into impotence except for obstructions in the way of progress. The fact is, they must be got rid of. To say that they cannot be got rid of except by putting Russians and Austrians in their place means as much as to say that the present political constitution of Europe will last for ever. Who will make such an assertion?
Originally published in New York Tribune, 9 June 1853.
On Saturday last dispatches were received by telegraph from Brussels and Paris with news from Constantinople to 13 May. Immediately after their arrival a Cabinet Council was held at the Foreign Office, which sat three hours and a half. On the same day orders were sent by telegraph to the Admiralty at Portsmouth, directing the departure of two steam-frigates – the London, 90, and Sanspareil, 71 – from Spithead for the Mediterranean. The High-flyer steam-frigate, 21, and Oden steam-frigate, 16, are also under orders for sea.
What were the contents of these dispatches which threw the ministers into so sudden an activity, and interrupted the quiet dullness of England?
You know that the question of the Holy Shrines had been settled to the satisfaction of Russia; and, according to the assurances of the Russian Embassy at Paris and London, Russia asked for no other satisfaction than a priority share in those Holy Places. The objects of Russian diplomacy were merely of such a chivalric character as were those of Frederic Barbarossa and Richard Coeur de Lion. This, at least, we were told by The Times.
But [says the Journal des Débats] on 5 May the Russian steam-frigate Bessarabia arrived from Odessa, having on board a Russian colonel with dispatches from Prince Mentschikoff; and on Saturday, 7th inst, the Prince handed to the Ministers of the Porte the draft of a convention or special treaty in which the new demands and pretensions were set forth. This is the document called the ultimatum, since it was accompanied by a very brief note, fixing Tuesday, 10 May, as the last day on which the refusal or acceptance of the Divan could be received. The note terminated in nearly the following words: ‘If the Sublime Porte should think proper to respond by refusal, the Emperor would be compelled to see in that act a complete want of respect for his person, and for Russia, and would receive intelligence of it with profound regret.’
The principal object of this treaty was to secure to the Emperor of Russia the Protectorate of all Greek Christians subject to the Porte. By the Treaty of Kutchuk-Kainardji, concluded at the close of the eighteenth century, a Greek chapel was allowed to be erected at Constantinople, and the privilege was granted to the Russian Embassy of interfering in cases of collision between the priests of that chapel and the Turks. This privilege was confirmed again in the Treaty of Adrianople. What Prince Mentschikoff now demands is the conversion of the exceptional privilege into the general Protectorate of the whole Greek Church in Turkey, that is, of the vast majority of the population of Turkey in Europe. Besides, he asks that the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, as well as the Metropolitan Archbishops, shall be immovable, unless proved guilty of high treason (against the Russians), and then only upon the consent of the Tsar; in other words, he demands the resignation of the Sultan’s sovereignty into the hands of Russia.
This was the news brought by the telegraph on Saturday; firstly, that Prince Mentschikoff had granted a further delay – until 14th inst – for the answer to his ultimatum; that then a change in the Turkish Ministry ensued, Reschid Pasha, the antagonist of Russia, being appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Fuad Effendi reinstated in his office; lastly, that the Russian ultimatum had been rejected.
It would have been impossible for Russia to make more extensive demands upon Turkey after a series of signal victories. This is the best proof of the obstinacy with which she clings to her inveterate notion – that every interregnum of the counter-revolution in Europe constitutes a right for her to exact concessions from the Ottoman Empire. And, indeed, since the first French Revolution Continental retrogression has ever been identical with Russian progress in the East. But Russia is mistaken in confounding the present state of Europe with its condition after the congresses of Laibach and Verona, or even after the peace of Tilsit. Russia herself is more afraid of the revolution that must follow any general war on the Continent than the Sultan is afraid of the aggression of the Tsar. If the other powers hold firm, Russia is sure to retire in a very decent manner. Yet, be this as it may, her late manoeuvres have, at all events, imparted a mighty impetus to the elements engaged in disorganising Turkey from within. The only question is this: does Russia act on her own free impulse, or is she but the unconscious and reluctant slave of the modern fatum, Revolution? I believe the latter alternative.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 14 June 1853.
Admiral Corry’s fleet has been seen in the Bay of Biscay on the way to Malta, where it is to reinforce the squadron of Admiral Dundas. The Morning Herald justly observes: ‘Had Admiral Dundas been permitted to join the French squadron at Salamis, several weeks ago, the present state of affairs would be quite different.’
Should Russia attempt, were it only for the salvation of appearances to back up the ridiculous demonstrations of Mentschikoff by actual manoeuvres of war, her first two steps would probably consist in the reoccupation of the Danubian Principalities, and in the invasion of the Armenian province of Kars and the port of Batum, territories which she made every effort to secure by the Treaty of Adrianople. The port of Batum being the only safe refuge for ships in the eastern part of the Black Sea, its possession would deprive Turkey of her last naval station in the Pontus and make the latter an exclusively Russian Sea. This port added to the possession of Kars, the richest and best cultivated portion of Armenia, would enable Russia to cut off the commerce of England with Persia by way of Trebizond, and afford a basis of operations against the latter power, as well as against Asia Minor. If, however, England and France hold firm, Nicholas will no more carry out his projects in that quarter, than the Empress Catherine carried out hers against Aga Mahmed, when he commanded his slaves to drive the Russian Ambassador Voinovitch and his companions with scourges to their ships, away from Asterabad.
In no quarter did the latest news create greater consternation than in Printing-House Square. The first attempt made by The Times to lift up its head under the terrible blow was a desperate diatribe against the electric telegraph, that ‘most extraordinary’ instrument. ‘No correct conclusions could be drawn’, it exclaimed, ‘from that mendacious wire.’ Having thus laid its own incorrect conclusions to the fault of the electric wire, The Times, after the statement of Ministers in Parliament, endeavours now also to get rid of its ancient ‘correct’ promises. It says:
Whatever may be the ultimate fate of the Ottoman Empire, or rather of that Mohammedan power which has ruled it for four centuries, there can be no difference of opinion between all parties in this country and in Europe, that the gradual progress of the indigenous Christian population towards civilisation and independent government is the interest of the world, and that these races of men ought never to be suffered to fall under the yoke of Russia and to swell her gigantic dominions. On that point we confidently hope, that the resistance offered to these pretensions of Russia, would be not only that of Turkey, but of all Europe; and this spirit of annexation and aggrandisement needs but to display itself in its true shape to excite universal antipathy and an insurmountable opposition, in which the Greek and Slavonian subjects of Turkey are themselves prepared to take a great part.
How did it happen that the poor Times believed in the ‘good faith’ of Russia towards Turkey, and her ‘antipathy’ against all aggrandisement? The good will of Russia towards Turkey! Peter I proposed to raise himself on the ruins of Turkey. Catherine persuaded Austria, and called upon France, to participate in the proposed dismemberment of Turkey, and the establishment of a Greek Empire at Constantinople, under her grandson who had been educated and even named with a view to this result. Nicholas, more moderate, only demands the exclusive Protectorate of Turkey. Mankind will not forget that Russia was the protector of Poland, the protector of the Crimea, the protector of Courland, the protector of Georgia, Mingrelia, the Circassian and Caucasian tribes. And now Russia, the protector of Turkey! As to Russia’s antipathy against aggrandisement, I allege the following facts from a mass of the acquisitions of Russia since Peter the Great.
The Russian frontier has advanced:
Towards Berlin, Dresden and Vienna – about 700 miles.
Towards Constantinople – 500 miles.
Towards Stockholm – 630 miles.
Towards Teheran – 1000 miles.
Russia’s acquisitions from Sweden are greater than what remains of that kingdom; from Poland, nearly equal to the Austrian Empire; from Turkey in Europe, greater than Prussia (exclusive of the Rhenish Provinces); from Turkey in Asia, as large as the whole dominion of Germany proper; from Persia, equal to England; from Tartary, to an extent as large as European Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain, taken together. The total acquisitions of Russia during the last sixty years are equal in extent and importance to the whole Empire she had in Europe before that time.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 22 June 1853.
All the Russian Generals and other Russians residing at Paris have received orders to return to Russia without delay. The language adopted by M de Kisseleff, the Russian envoy at Paris, is rather menacing; and letters from Petersburg are ostentatiously shown by him, in which the Turkish question is treated assez cavalièrement. A rumour has issued from the same quarter, reporting that Russia demands from Persia the cession of the territory of Asterabad, at the south-eastern extremity of the Caspian Sea. Russian merchants, at the same time, despatch, or are reported to have despatched, orders to their London agents ‘not to press any sales of grain at the present juncture, as prices were expected to rise in the imminent eventuality of a war’. Lastly, confidential hints are being communicated to every newspaper that the Russian troops are marching to the frontier; that the inhabitants of Jassy are preparing for their reception; that the Russian Consul at Galatz has brought up an immense number of trees for the throwing of several bridges across the Danube, and other canards, the breeding of which has been so successfully carried on by the Augsburger Zeitung and other Austro-Russian journals.
These, and a lot of similar reports, communications, etc, are nothing but so many ridiculous attempts on the part of the Russian agents to strike a wholesome terror into the Western world, and to push it to the continuance of that policy of extension, under the cover of which Russia hopes, as heretofore, to carry out her projects upon the East...
Notwithstanding all these soporifics, administered by Russian diplomacy to the press and people of England, ‘that old and obstinate’ Aberdeen has been compelled to order Admiral Dundas to join the French fleet on the coast of Turkey; and even The Times, which, during the last few months, knew only how to write Russian, seems to have received a more English inspiration. It talks now very big...
Originally published in New York Tribune, 8 July 1853.
In the year 1828, when Russia was permitted to overrun Turkey with war, and to terminate that war by the Treaty of Adrianople, which surrendered to her the whole of the eastern coast of the Black Sea, from Anapa in the north to Poti in the south (except Circassia), and delivered into her possession the islands at the mouth of the Danube, virtually separated Moldavia and Wallachia from Turkey, and placed them under Russian supremacy – at that epoch Lord Aberdeen happened to be Minister of Foreign Affairs in Great Britain. In 1853 we find the very same Aberdeen as the chief of the ‘Composite Ministry’ in the same country. This simple fact goes far to explain the overbearing attitude assumed by Russia in her present conflict with Turkey and with Europe.
I told you in my last letter that the storm aroused by the revelations of The Press, respecting the secret transactions between Aberdeen, Clarendon and Baron Brunnow, was not likely to subside under the hair-splitting, tortuous and disingenuous pleading of Thursday’s Times. The Times was even then forced to admit, in a semi-official article, that Lord Clarendon had indeed given his assent to the demands about to be made by Russia on the Porte, but said that the demands as represented in London, and those actually proposed at Constantinople, had turned out to be of quite a different tenor, although the papers communicated by Baron Brunnow to the British Minister purported to be ‘literal extracts’ from the instructions forwarded to Prince Mentschikoff. On the following Saturday, however, The Times retracted its assertions – undoubtedly in consequence of remonstrances made on the part of the Russian Embassy – and gave Baron Brunnow a testimonial of ‘perfect candour and faith’. The Morning Herald of yesterday puts the question ‘whether Russia had not perhaps given false instructions to Baron Brunnow himself, in order to deceive the British Minister’. In the meantime, fresh disclosures, studiously concealed from the public by a corrupt daily press, have been made, which exclude any such interpretation, throwing the whole blame on the shoulders of the ‘Composite Ministry’, and quite sufficient to warrant the impeachment of Lords Aberdeen and Clarendon before any other parliament than the present, which is but a paralytic product of dead constituencies artificially stimulated into life by unexampled bribery and intimidation.
It is stated that a communication was made to Lord Clarendon, wherein he was informed that the affair of the Shrines was not the sole object of the Russian Prince. In that communication the general question was entered into, the question of the Greek Christians of Turkey and of the position of the Emperor of Russia with respect to them under certain treaties. All these points were canvassed, and the course about to be adopted by Russia explicitly stated – the same as detailed in the projected Convention of 6 May. Lord Clarendon, with the assent of Lord Aberdeen, in no wise either disapproved or discouraged that course. While matters stood thus in London, Bonaparte sent his fleet to Salamis, public opinion pressed from without, Ministers were interpellated in both Houses, Russell pledged himself to the maintenance of the integrity and independence of Turkey, and Prince Mentschikoff threw off the mask at Constantinople. It now became necessary for Lords Aberdeen and Clarendon to initiate the other Ministers into what had been done, and the Coalition was on the eve of being broken up, as Lord Palmerston, forced by his antecedents, urged a directly opposite line of policy. In order to prevent the dissolution of his Cabinet, Lord Aberdeen finally yielded to Lord Palmerston, and consented to the combined action of the English and French fleets in the Dardanelles. But at the same time, in order to fulfil his engagements towards Russia, Lord Aberdeen intimated through a private despatch to St Petersburg that he would not look upon the occupation of the Danubian Principalities by the Russians as a casus belli and The Times received orders to prepare public opinion for this new interpretation of international treaties...
The dissension in the camp of the Coalition Ministry has thus been betrayed to the public by the clamorous dissension in their organs. Palmerston urged upon the Cabinet to hold the occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia as a declaration of war, and he was backed up by the Whig and sham-Radical members of the Composite Ministry. Lord Aberdeen, having only consented to the common action of the French and English fleets upon the understanding that Russia would not act at the Dardanelles, but in the Danubian Provinces, was now quite ‘outwitted’. The existence of the government was again at stake. At last, at the pressing instances of Lord Aberdeen, Palmerston was prepared to give a sullen assent to the unchallenged occupation of the Principalities by Russia, when suddenly a despatch arrived from Paris announcing that Bonaparte had resolved to view the same act as a casus belli. The confusion has now reached its highest point.
Now, if this statement be correct – and from our knowledge of Lord Aberdeen’s past there is every reason to consider it as such – the whole mystery of the Russo-Turkish tragi-comedy that has occupied Europe for months together is laid bare. We understand at once why Lord Aberdeen would not move the British fleet from Malta. We understand the rebuke given to Colonel Rose for his resolute conduct at Constantinople, the bullying behaviour of Prince Mentschikoff, and the heroic firmness of the Tsar, who, conceiving the warlike movements of England as a mere farce, would have been glad to be allowed, by the uncontroverted occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia, not only to withdraw from the stage as the ‘master’, but to hold his annual grand manoeuvres at the cost and expense of the subjects of the Sultan. We believe that, if war should break out, it will be because Russia has gone too far to withdraw with impunity to her honour; and above all, we believe her courage to be up to this notch simply because she has all the while counted on England’s connivance...
Originally published in New York Tribune, 25 July 1853.
A despatch from Constantinople, dated 26th ult [June], states:
The Sultan, in consequence of the rumours that the whole Russian fleet has left Sebastopol and is directing its course towards the Bosphorus, has inquired of the Ambassadors of England and France whether, in the event of the Russians making a demonstration before the Bosphorus, the combined fleets are ready to pass the Dardanelles. Both answered in the affirmative. A Turkish steamer, with French and English officers on board, has just been sent from the Bosphorus to the Black Sea in order to reconnoitre.
The first thing the Russians did, after their entry into the Principalities, was to prohibit the publication of the Sultan’s firman, confirming the privileges of all kinds of Christians, and to suppress a German paper, edited at Bucharest, which had dared to publish an article on the Eastern question. At the same time, they pressed from the Turkish government the first annuity stipulated for in their former occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia, in 1848-49. Since 1828 the Protectorate of Russia has cost the Principalities 150,000,000 piastres, besides the immense losses caused through pillage and devastation. England defrayed the expenses of Russia’s wars against France, France that of her war against Persia, Persia that of her war against Poland; Hungary and the Principalities have now to pay for her war against Turkey.
The most important event of the day is the new Circular Note of Count Nesselrode, dated St Petersburg, 20 June 1853. It declares that the Russian armies will not evacuate the Principalities until the Sultan shall have yielded to all the demands of the Tsar, and the French and English fleets shall have left the Turkish waters. The Note in question reads like direct scorn of England and France. Thus it says: ‘The position taken by the two maritime powers is a maritime occupation which gives us a reason for re-establishing the equilibrium of the reciprocal situations by taking up a military position.’
Be it remarked that Besika Bay is at a distance of 150 miles from Constantinople. The Tsar claims for himself the right of occupying Turkish territory, while he defies England and France to occupy neutral waters without his special permission. He extols his own magnanimous forbearance in having left the Porte complete mistress of choosing under what form she will abdicate her sovereignty – whether ‘convention’, sened or other synallagmatic act, or even under the form of signing a simple note. He is persuaded that ‘impartial Europe’ must understand that the treaty of Kainardji, which gives Russia the right of protecting a single Greek chapel at Stamboul, proclaims her eo ipso the Rome of the Orient. He regrets that the West is ignorant of the inoffensive character of a Russian religious Protectorate in foreign countries. He proves his solicitude for the integrity of the Turkish Empire by historical facts – ‘the very moderate use he made in 1829 of his victory at Adrianople’, when he was only prevented from being immoderate by the miserable condition of his army, and by the threat of the English admiral, that, authorised or not authorised, he would bombard every coast-place along the Black Sea; when all he obtained was due to the ‘forbearance’ of the Western Cabinets, and the perfidious destruction of the Turkish fleets at Navarino. ‘In 1833 he alone in Europe saved Turkey from inevitable dismemberment.’ In 1833 the Tsar concluded, through the famous treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi, a defensive alliance with Turkey, by which foreign fleets were forbidden to approach Constantinople, by which Turkey was saved only from dismemberment in order to be saved entire for Russia. ‘In 1839, he took the initiative with the other powers in the propositions which, executed in common, prevented the Sultan from seeing his throne give place to a new Arabian Empire.’ That is to say, in 1839 he made the other powers take the initiative in the destruction of the Egyptian fleet, and in the reduction to impotence of the only man who might have converted Turkey into a vital danger to Russia, and replaced a ‘dressed-up turban’ by a real head. ‘The fundamental principle of the policy of our august master has always been to maintain, as long as possible, the status quo of the East.’ Just so. He has carefully preserved the decomposition of the Turkish state, under the exclusive guardianship of Russia.
It is granted that a more ironical document the East has never dared to throw in the face of the West. But its author is Nesselrode – a nettle, at once and a rod. It is a document, indeed, of Europe’s degradation under the rod of counter-revolution. Revolutionists may congratulate the Tsar on this masterpiece. If Europe withdraws, she withdraws not with a simple defeat, but passes, as it were, under furcae Caudinae.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 5 August 1853.
The Tsar has not only commenced war, he has already terminated his first campaign. The line of operations is no longer behind the Pruth, but along the Danube. Meanwhile, what are the Western powers about? They counsel, that is, compel, the Sultan to consider the war as peace. Their answers to the acts of the Autocrat are not cannons, but notes. The Emperor is assailed, not by the two fleets, but by no less than four projects of negotiation: one emanating from the English Cabinet, the other from the French, the third presented by Austria, and the fourth improvised by the ‘brother-in-law’ of Potsdam. The Tsar, it is hoped, will consent to select from this embarras de richesses that which is most suitable to his purposes. The (second) reply of M Drouyn de l'Huys to the (second) note of Count Nesselrode takes infinite pains to prove that ‘it was not England and France who made the first demonstration’. Russia only throws out so many notes to the Western diplomats, like bones to dogs, in order to set them at an innocent amusement, while she reaps the advantage of further gaining time. England and France, of course, catch the bait...
The English press has lost all countenance. ‘The Tsar cannot comprehend the courtesy which the Western powers have shown to him... He is incapable of courteous demeanour in his transactions with other powers.’ So says The Morning Advertiser. The Morning Post is exasperated because the Tsar takes so little note of the internal embarras of his opponents:
To have put forward, in the mere wantonness of insolence, a claim that possessed no character of immediate urgency, and to have done so without any reference to the inflammable state of Europe, was an indiscretion almost incredible.
The writer of the Money Market article in The Economist finds out ‘that men discover now to their cost how inconvenient it is that all the most secret interests of the world [that is, of the Exchange] are dependent upon the vagaries of one man’.
Yet in 1848 and 1849 you could see the bust of the Emperor of Russia side by side with the golden calf itself.
Meanwhile the position of the Sultan is becoming every hour more difficult and complicated. His financial embarrassments increase the more, as he bears all burdens, without reaping any of the good chances, of war. Popular enthusiasm turns round upon him for want of being directed against the Tsar. The fanaticism of the Mussulman threatens him with palace revolutions, while the fanaticism of the Greek menaces him with popular insurrections. The papers of today contain reports of a conspiracy directed against the Sultan’s life by Mussulman students belonging to the old Turkish party, who wanted to place Abdul-Aziz on the throne.
To sum up the Eastern Question in a few words. The Tsar, vexed and dissatisfied at seeing his immense empire confined to one sole port of export, and that even situated in a sea unnavigable through one half of the year, and assailable by Englishmen through the other half, is pushing the design of his ancestors, to get access to the Mediterranean; he is separating, one after the other, the remotest members of the Ottoman Empire from its main body, till at last Constantinople, the heart, must cease to beat. He repeats his periodical invasions as often as he thinks his designs on Turkey endangered by the apparent consolidation of the Turkish government, or by the more dangerous symptoms of self-emancipation manifest amongst the Slavonians. Counting on the cowardice and apprehensions of the Western powers, he bullies Europe, and pushes his demands as far as possible, in order to appear magnanimous afterwards, by contenting himself with what he immediately wanted.
The Western powers, on the other hand, inconsistent, pusillanimous, suspecting each other, commence by encouraging the Sultan to resist the Tsar, from fear of the encroachments of Russia, and terminate by compelling the former to yield, from fear of a general war giving rise to a general revolution. Too impotent and too timid to undertake the reconstruction of the Ottoman Empire by the establishment of a Greek Empire, or of a Federal Republic of Slavonic States, all they aim at is to maintain the status quo, that is, the state of putrefaction which forbids the Sultan to emancipate himself from the Tsar, and the Slavonians to emancipate themselves from the Sultan.
The revolutionary party can only congratulate itself on this state of things. The humiliation of the reactionary Western governments, and their manifest impotency to guard the interests of European civilisation against Russian encroachment, cannot fail to work out a wholesome indignation in the people who have suffered themselves, since 1849, to be subjected to the rule of counter-revolution. The approaching industrial crisis, also, is affected, and accelerated quite as much by this semi-Eastern complication as by the completely Eastern complication of China. While the prices of corn are rising, business in general is suspended, at the same time that the rate of exchange is setting against England, and gold is beginning to flow to the Continent. The stock of bullion in the Bank of France has fallen off between 9 June and 14 July to the extent of £2,200,000, which is more than the entire augmentation which had taken place during the preceding three months.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 5 August 1853.
The Kölnische Zeitung, in a letter dated Vienna, 11 July, contains the following report on the Smyrna affair:
Shekib Effendi has been sent to Smyrna in order to commence an instruction against the authors of the sedition in which Baron Hackelberg perished. Shekib has also received orders to deliver to Austria the refugees of Austrian or Tuscan origin. Mr Brown, chargé d'affaires of the United States, has had communications on this subject with Reschid Pasha, the result of which is not yet known. I hear at this moment that the assassin of Baron Hackelberg has received from the American Consul at Smyrna a passport that places him out of the reach of the Turkish authorities. This fact proves that the United States intend intervening in European affairs. It is also certain that three American men-of-war are with the Turkish fleet in the Bosphorus, and further, that the American frigate Cumberland has brought 80,000,000 of piastres to the Turkish government.
Whatever truth there be in this and like reports, they prove one thing; viz, that American intervention is expected everywhere, and is even looked upon with favour by portions of the English public. The behaviour of the American Captain and Consul are loudly praised in popular meetings, and an ‘Englishman’ in The Advertiser of yesterday called upon the Stars and Stripes to appear in the Mediterranean, and to shame the ‘muddy old Union Jack’ into activity.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 12 August 1853.
It is our policy to see that nothing new happens during the next four months, and I hope we shall accomplish it, because men in general prefer waiting; but the fifth must be fruitful in events.
Thus wrote Count Pozzo di Borgo on 28 November 1828, to Count Nesselrode, and Count Nesselrode is now acting on the same maxim. While the military assumption of the Principalities was completed by the assumption of their civil government by the Russians, while troops after troops are pouring into Bessarabia and the Crimea, a hint has been given to Austria that her mediation might be accepted, and another to Bonaparte that his proposals were likely to meet with a favourable reception from the Tsar. The Ministers at Paris and London were comforted with the prospect that Nicholas would condescend definitely to accept their excuses. All the Courts of Europe, transformed into so many Sultanas, were anxiously awaiting which of them the magnanimous Commander of the Faithful would throw his handkerchief to. Having kept them in this manner for weeks, many for months, in suspense, Nicholas suddenly makes the declaration that neither England, nor France, nor Austria, nor Prussia, has any business in his quarrel with Turkey, and that with Turkey alone he could negotiate. It was probably in order to facilitate his negotiations with Turkey that he recalled his Embassy from Constantinople. But while he declares that the powers are not to meddle in Russia’s concerns, we are informed, on the other hand, that the representatives of France, England, Austria and Prussia kill their time by meeting in conference at Vienna, and in hatching projects for the arrangement of the Eastern Question, neither the Turkish nor Russian Ambassador participating in these mock conferences. The Sultan had appointed, on the 8th inst, a warlike Ministry, in order to escape from his armed suspension, but was compelled by Lord Redcliffe to dismiss it on the same evening. He has now been so much confused that he intends to send an Austrian courier to St Petersburg with the mission of asking whether the Tsar would re-enter into direct negotiations. On the return of that courier and the answer he brings will depend whether Reschid Pasha is himself to go to St Petersburg. From St Petersburg he is to send new draft notes to Constantinople; the new draft notes are to be returned to St Petersburg, and nothing will be settled before the last answer is again returned from St Petersburg to Constantinople – and then the fifth month will have arrived, and no fleets can enter the Black Sea; and then the Tsar will quietly remain during the winter in the Principalities, where he pays with the same promises that still circulate there from his former occupations, and as far back as 1820.
You know that the Servian Minister Garaschanin has been removed at the instance of Russia. Russia insists now, following up that first triumph, on all anti-Russian officers being expelled from the service. This measure, in its turn, was intended to be followed by the reigning Prince Alexander being replaced by Prince Michael Obrenowich, the absolute tool of Russia and Russian interest. Prince Alexander, to escape from this calamity, and likewise under the pressure of Austria, has struck against the Sultan, and declared his intention of observing a strict neutrality. The Russian intrigues in Servia are thus described in the Presse of Paris:
Everybody knows that the Russian Consulate at Orsova – a miserable village where not a single Russian subject is to be found, but situated in the midst of a Servian population – is only a poor establishment, yet it is made the hotbed of Muscovite propaganda. The hand of Russia was judiciarily seized and established in the affair of Braila in 1840, and of John Lutzo in 1850, in the affair of the recent arrest of fourteen Russian officers, which arrest became the cause of the resignation of Garaschanin’s Ministry. It is likewise known that Prince Mentschikoff, during his stay at Constantinople, fomented similar intrigues through his agents at Broussa and Smyrna, to those in Thessalonia, Albania and Greece.
There is no more striking feature in the politics of Russia than the traditional identity, not only of her objects, but of her manner of pursuing them. There is no complication of the present Eastern Question, no transaction, no official note, which does not bear the stamp of quotation from known pages of history.
Russia has now no other pretext to urge against the Sultan except the treaty of Kainardji, although that treaty gave her, instead of a Protectorate over her co-religionists, only the right to build a chapel at Stamboul, and to implore the Sultan’s clemency for his Christian subjects, as Reschid Pasha justly urged against the Tsar in his note of the 14th inst. But already in 1774, when that treaty was signed, Russia intended to interpret it one day or the other in the sense of 1853. The then Austrian Internuncio at the Ottoman Porte, Baron Thugut, wrote in the year 1774 to his Court:
Henceforth Russia will always be in a situation to effect, whenever she may deem the opportunity favourable, and without much preliminary arrangement, a descent upon Constantinople from her ports on the Black Sea. In that case a conspiracy concerted in advance with the chiefs of the Greek religion would no doubt burst forth, and it would only remain for the Sultan to quit his palace at the first intelligence of this movement of the Russians, to fly into the depth of Asia, and abandon the throne of European Turkey to a more experienced possessor. When the capital shall have been conquered, terrorism and the faithful assistance of the Greek Christians will indubitably and easily reduce beneath the sceptre of Russia, the whole of the Archipelago, the coast of Asia Minor and all Greece, as far as the shore of the Adriatic. Then the possession of these countries, so much favoured by nature, with which no other part of the world can be compared in respect to the fertility and richness of the soil, will elevate Russia to a degree of superiority surpassing all the fabulous wonders which history relates of the grandeurs of the monarchies of ancient times.
In 1774, as now, Russia was tempting the ambition of Austria with the prospect of Bosnia, Servia and Albania being incorporated with her. The same Baron Thugut writes thus on this subject:
Such aggrandisement of the Austrian territory would not excite the jealousy of Russia. The reason is that the requisition which Austria would make of Bosnia, Servia, etc, although of great importance under other circumstances, would not be of the least utility to Russia, the moment the remainder of the Ottoman Empire should have fallen into her hands. For these provinces are inhabited almost entirely by Mohammedans and Greek Christians: the former would not be tolerated as residents there; the latter, considering the close vicinity of the Oriental Russian Empire, would not hesitate to emigrate thither; or if they remained their faithlessness to Austria would occasion continuous troubles; and thus an extension of territory, without intrinsic strength, so far from augmenting the power of the Emperor of Austria would only serve to weaken it.
Politicians are wont to refer to the Testament of Peter I, in order to show the traditional policy of Russia in general, and particularly with regard to her views on Constantinople. They might have gone back still further. More than eight centuries ago, Sviataslaff, the yet Pagan Grand Duke of Russia, declared in an assembly of his Boyards, that ‘not only Bulgaria, but the Greek Empire in Europe, together with Bohemia and Hungary, ought to undergo the rule of Russia’. Sviataslaff conquered Silistria and threatened Constantinople, AD 769, as Nicholas did in 1828. The Rurik dynasty transferred, soon after the foundation of the Russian Empire, their capital from Novgorod to Kiev, in order to be nearer to Byzantium. In the eleventh century Kiev imitated in all things Constantinople, and was called the second Constantinople, thus expressing the everlasting aspirations of Russia. The religion and civilisation of Russia are of Byzantine off-spring, and that she should have aimed at subduing the Byzantine Empire, then in the same decay as the Ottoman Empire is in now, was more natural than that the German Emperors should have aimed at the conquest of Rome and Italy. The unity, then, in the objects of Russian policy, is given by her historical past, by her geographical conditions, and by her necessity of gaining open seaports in the Archipelago as in the Baltic, if she wants to maintain her supremacy in Europe. But the traditional manner in which Russia pursues those objects is far from meriting that tribute of admiration paid to it by European politicians. If the success of her hereditary policy proves the weakness of the Western powers, the stereotyped mannerism of that policy proves the intrinsic barbarism of Russia herself. Who would not laugh at the idea of French politics being conducted on the Testament of Richelieu, or the Capitularies of Charlemagne? Go through the most celebrated documents of Russian diplomacy, and you will find that shrewd, judicious, cunning, subtle as it is in discovering the weak points of European kings, ministers and courts, its wisdom is at a complete deadlock as often as the historical movements of the Western peoples themselves are concerned. Prince Lieven judged very accurately of the character of the good Aberdeen when he speculated on his connivance with the Tsar, but he was grossly mistaken in his judgement of the English people when he predicted the continuance of Tory rule on the eve of the Reform movement in 1831. Count Pozzo di Borgo judged very correctly of Charles X, but he made the greatest blunder with regard to the French people when he induced his ‘august master’ to treat with that king about the partition of Europe on the eve of his expulsion from France. Russian policy, with its traditional craft, cheats and subterfuges, may impose upon the European Courts which are themselves but traditional things, but it will prove utterly powerless with the revolutionised peoples.
At Beirut the Americans have abstracted another Hungarian refugee from the claws of the Austrian eagle. It is cheering to see the American intervention in Europe beginning just with the Eastern Question. Besides the commercial and military importance resulting from the situation of Constantinople, there are other important considerations, making its possession the hotly controverted and permanent subject of dispute between the East and the West – and America is the youngest and most vigorous representative of the West.
Constantinople is the eternal city – the Rome of the East. Under the ancient Greek Emperors, Eastern civilisation amalgamated there so far with Western civilisation, as to make this centre of a theoretical Empire the effectual bar against European progress. When the Greek Emperors were turned out by the Sultans of Iconium, the genius of the ancient Byzantine Empire survived this change of dynasties, and if the Sultan were to be supplanted by the Tsar, the Bas-Empire would be restored to life with more demoralising influences than under the ancient Emperors, and with more aggressive power than under the Sultan. The Tsar would be for Byzantine civilisation what Russian adventurers were for centuries to the Emperors of the Lower Empire – the Corps de garde of their soldiers. The struggle between Western Europe and Russia about the possession of Constantinople involves the question whether Byzantinism is to fall before Western civilisation, or whether its antagonism shall revive in a more terrible and conquering form than ever before. Constantinople is the golden bridge thrown between the West and the East, and Western civilisation cannot, like the sun, go round the world without passing that bridge; and it cannot pass it without a struggle with Russia. The Sultan holds Constantinople only in trust for the Revolution, and the present nominal dignitaries of Western Europe, themselves finding the last stronghold of their ‘order’ on the shores of the Neva, can do nothing but keep the question in suspense until Russia has to meet her real antagonist, the Revolution. The Revolution which will break the Rome of the West will also overpower the demoniac influences of the Rome of the East.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 19 August 1853. One of the Austrian revolutionary leaders of 1848, Martin Koszta, Hungarian by birth but an Austrian subject, had settled in Turkey and announced his intention – the goal of so many refugees then as now – of becoming an American citizen. At Smyrna, a Turkish port on the Aegean, the Austrian consul-general, exercising the right of extra-territorial jurisdiction, had Koszta arrested and imprisoned aboard an Austrian brig-of-war lying in the harbour near an American sloop, the St Louis. With the authorisation of Mr Brown, American chargé d'affaires at Constantinople, Commander Ingraham of the St Louis demanded the release of Koszta, claiming that he was an American citizen, and when the Austrian commander refused to give him up, prepared to open fire. Hostilities were avoided only through an arrangement whereby Koszta was placed in the custody of the French consul-general at Smyrna pending settlement of the dispute.
The great event of the day is the appearance of American policy on the European horizon. Saluted by one party, detested by the other, the fact is admitted by all.
Austria must look to the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire for indemnification for the loss of her Italian provinces – a contingency not rendered less likely by the quarrel she has had the folly to bring on her with Uncle Sam. An American squadron in the Adriatic would be a very pretty complication of an Italian insurrection, and we may all live to see it, for the Anglo-Saxon spirit is not yet dead in the West.
Thus speaks The Morning Herald, the old organ of the English aristocracy.
The Koszta affair [says the Paris Presse] is far from being terminated. We are informed that the Vienna Cabinet has asked from the Washington Cabinet a reparation, which it may be quite sure it will not receive. Meanwhile, Koszta remains under the safeguard of the French Consul.
‘We must get out of the way of the Yankee, who is half a buccaneer, and half a backwoodsman, and no gentleman at all’, whispers the Vienna Presse.
The German papers grumble about the secret treaty pretended to have been concluded between the United States and Turkey, according to which the latter would receive money and maritime support, and the former the harbour of Enos in Roumelia, which would afford a sure and convenient place for a commercial and military station of the American Republic of the Mediterranean.
In due course of time [says the Brussels Emancipation] the conflict at Smyrna between the American government and the Austrian one, caused by the capture of the refugee Koszta, will be placed in the first line of events of 1853. Compared with this fact, the occupation of the Danubian Principalities and the movements of the combined navies at Constantinople, may be considered as of second-rate importance. The event of Smyrna is the beginning of a new history, while the accident at Constantinople is only the unravelling of an old question about to expire.
An Italian paper, II Parlamento, has a leader under the title ‘La Politico Americana in Europa’, from which I translate the following passages literally:
It is well known that a long time has elapsed since the United States have tried to get a maritime station in the Mediterranean and in Italy, and more particularly at such epochs when complications arose in the Orient. Thus for instance in 1840, when the great Egyptian question was agitated, and when St Jean d'Acre was assailed, the government of the United States asked in vain from the King of the Two Sicilies to temporarily grant it the great harbour of Syracuse. Today the tendency of American policy for intervening with European affairs cannot be but more lively and steadfast. There can be no doubt but that the actual Democratic administration of the Union manifests the most clamorous sympathies with the victims of the Italian and Hungarian revolution, that it cares nothing about an interruption of the diplomatical intercourse with Austria, and that at Smyrna it has supported its system with the threat of cannon. It would be unjust to grumble at this aspiration of the great transatlantic nation, or to call it inconsistent or ridiculous. The Americans certainly do not intend conquering the Orient and going to have a land war with Russia. But if England and France make the best of their maritime forces, why should not the Americans do so, particularly as soon as they will have obtained a station, a point of retreat and of ‘approvisionement’ in the Mediterranean? For them there are great interests at stake, the republican element being diametrically opposed to the Cossack one. Commerce and navigation having multiplied the legitimate relations and contacts between all peoples of the world, none can consider itself a stranger to any sea of the Old or New Continent, or to any great question like that of the destiny of the Ottoman Empire. The American commerce, and the residents who exercise it on the shores of our seas, require the protection of the stars and stripes, and in order to make it valid in all seasons of the year, they want a port for a military marine that ranks already in the third line among the maritime powers of the world. If England and France interfere directly with all that regards the Isthmus of Panama, if the former of those powers goes so far as to invent a King of the Mosquitoes, in order to oppose territorial rights to the operations of the United States, if they have come to the final understanding, that the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific shall be open to all nations, and be possessed by a neutral state, is it not evident then that the United States must pretend at exercising the same vigilance with regard to the liberty and neutrality of the Isthmus of Suez, holding their eyes closely fixed on the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, which will be likely to devolve Egypt and Syria, wholly or partly to the dominion of some first-rate power. Suez and Panama are the two great doorways of the Orient, which, shut till now, will hereafter compete with each other. The best way to assure their ascendancy in the Transatlantic question is to cooperate in the Mediterranean question.
We are assured that the American men-of-war in the neighbourhood of the Dardanelles do not renounce the pretention to enter them whenever they please, without being subjected to the restrictions convened upon the Great Powers in 1841, and for this incontrovertible reason, that the American government did not participate in that Convention. Europe is amazed at the boldness, because it has been, since the peace of 1813, in the habit of considering the United States in the condition of the Swiss Cantons after the Westphalian Treaty, viz, as peoples allowed a legitimate existence, but which it would be too arduous to ask to enter into the aristocracy of the primitive powers, and to give their votes on subjects of general policy. But on the other side of the Ocean the Anglo-Saxon race, sprung up to the most exalted degree of wealth, civilisation and power, cannot any longer accept the humble position assigned to it in the past. The pressure exercised by the American Union on the Council of Amphyctrions of the Five Powers, till now the arbiters of the globe, is a new force that must contribute to the downfall of the exclusive system established by the treaties of Vienna.
Till the Republic of the United States succeed in acquiring a positive right and an official seat in the Congresses arbitrating on general political questions, it exercises with an immense grandeur, and with a particular dignity the more humane actions of natural rights and of the jus gentium. Its banner covers the victims of the civil wars without distinction of parties, and during the immense conflagration of 1848-49 the hospitality of the American Navy never submitted to any humiliation or disgrace.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 2 September 1853. In an editorial on the Koszta affair in the Tribune of 6 August 1853, the editor had observed that: ‘We state an obvious fact in saying that Captain Ingraham, had he sunk the Austrian corvette in Smyrna harbour, as it was but a chance he did not, would almost inevitably have been the next President of the United States. Had the two ships been cruising off the harbour, instead of at anchor within it, where action must have been a gross outrage on neutral rights and resulted in a woeful destruction of life and property on shore, the collision could not have been averted.’ The following excerpt from one of Marx’s ‘letters to the editor’ describes the reaction in the European press to this editorial.
The Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs has sent to all the European Courts a note relative to the conduct of the American frigate St Louis in the Koszta affair, denouncing the American policy in general. Austria contends that she has the right to kidnap foreigners from the territory of a neutral power, while the United States have no right to commence hostilities in order to defend them.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 24 September 1853.
A note issued from Washington could scarcely have produced a greater sensation in Europe than your editorial remarks on Captain Ingraham. They have found their way, with and without commentaries, into almost the whole weekly press of London, into many French papers, the Brussels Nation, the Turin Parlemento, the Basel Gazette, and every liberal newspaper of Germany... The journals hold out the prospect of an intervention on the part of the United States in favour of Switzerland, if it should be threatened by an attack. Today we are informed that several powers have the intention of making a collective declaration against the doctrine of international right put forth by the United States. If the American intervention theories were not refuted in a peremptory manner, the extirpation of the revolutionary spirit in Europe would meet with an insuperable obstacle. France is among the powers ready to participate in this remonstrance. On this last point, the Constitutionnel of Tuesday last takes good care not to leave any doubt, when it says:
It is necessary to be candid in all things. It is not as a citizen of the United States that Koszta is defended against Austria by the agents of the American Republic, but as a revolutionist. But none of the European powers will ever admit as a principle of public law that the government of the United States has the right to protect revolution in Europe by force of arms. On no grounds would it be permitted to throw obstacles in the way of the exercise of the jurisdiction of a government, under the ridiculous pretence that the offenders have renounced their allegiance, and from the real motive that they are in revolt against the political constitution of their country. The Navy of the American Union might not always have such an easy triumph, and such headstrong conduct as that pursued by the Captain of the St Louis might on another occasion be attended with very disastrous consequences.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 30 December 1853.
Those readers who have followed with any attention the expositions which from time to time The Tribune has given of the Eastern Question, will not be surprised at the exhibit which our statement of yesterday makes of the great lever of Russian aggrandisement. They will have learned before that the idea of Russian diplomatic supremacy owes its efficacy to the imbecility and the timidity of the Western nations, and that the belief in Russia’s superior military power is hardly less a delusion. But they were, perhaps, scarcely prepared for the strong and sudden light in which our informant held up this phantasm as an element relied upon in the calculations of the Imperial government. Bully Turkey and her supporters – France and England – we are told, was relied on to the last by the Tsar as sufficient to bend them to his demands. Accordingly, instead of sending into the Principalities a force of 120,000 men, as we were first informed had been done, or of 70,000, which we afterwards assured was the whole number, we now learn that he sent only 50,000, or the army corps of General Dannenberg alone – a fact there was reason to suspect before, since no other general commanding an army corps has been heard of in any of the actions fought there, and it is well known that long after hostilities began neither Luders nor Osten-Sacken had crossed the Pruth. The same state of facts has also been indicated by the disgrace of Mentschikoff, reported from Sweden and Paris, and most conclusively confirmed by our informant, and by the Prince’s setting off in a most inclement season of the year, as a courier, to convey to the Tsar the news of Nachimoff’s victory over the squadron of Omer Pasha. When a man of seventy years of age voluntarily undertakes such a journey, riding night and day, there can be no doubt that he has some most imperative reason for propitiating the favour of the monarch.
But the great point is that Nicholas has perfectly relied upon bullying Turkey and her allies. This has been manifest throughout the affair, though never before avowed by any authority claiming to express the feeling of the Russian Court itself. It has been a bullying business all along. The appearance and conduct of Mentschikoff at Constantinople were simply those of a bully; the manifestoes of Nesselrode were the menaces of a bully; and the entry of Gortschakoff into the Principalities with a single army corps was nothing but the bold presumption of a bully. It has all justified by the result. England, especially, has been imposed on. She has been bullied, and is so still. She has not dared to declare her soul to be her own from the beginning to the present day. France, too, has been bullied, though not so seriously. But both together have been frightened out of the only policy which could at once have guaranteed the preservation of peace, while maintaining their own respectability. To the arrogance of the Autocrat they have replied with symptoms of cowardice. They have encouraged the very assumptions they have deprecated, just as poltroons always encourage bullies to be overbearing. If, at the outset, they had used a manly style of language adequate to the position they hold, and the pretensions they set up before the world; if they had proved that bluster and swagger could not impose on them, the Autocrat would not only have refrained from attempting it, but would have entertained for them a very different feeling from that contempt which must now animate his bosom. At that time, to show that they seriously meant to preserve Turkey intact, and were ready to back up their intention with the last reason of kings – fleets and armies, was the sure means of maintaining peace. There is only one way to deal with a power like Russia, and that is the fearless way.
It is not to be denied that Turkey, the weak state, has shown more true courage, as well as more wise statesmanship, than either of her powerful allies. She has risen to the height of the occasion; they have cowered beneath it. She has rejected the demands of her hereditary foe, not with braggadocio, but with grave and worthy earnestness and dignity; they have faltered and sought to evade the crisis. She has acted with decision; they have prevented her from acting with effect. For we may justly attribute the delays and hesitation shown in the manoeuvres of Omer Pasha to the paralysing and temporising influence of Lord Redcliffe and M de la Cour, over the Divan. At the moment when he was opening the campaign, they procured orders to be sent to him to delay the beginning of hostilities. Just when he was surprising Europe by advantages gained over the enemy, they prepared new terms of mediation and asked for an armistice. Thus at every step they have exhibited that dread of Russia on which we are assured the Emperor and his advisers have continually placed their dependence. They have been bullied, and have accordingly done their utmost to bring on the very evil they are so afraid of. If there be a general war, it will not be the fault of Turkey, but next to Russia, of France and England. They might have prevented it infallibly, but they did not.
As matters now stand we incline to follow our wishes and predict peace. The decision rests with the Tsar, and peace is his interest. The prestige of his diplomacy and the renown of his arms can be maintained in peace much more easily and safely than in war. The naval success of Nachimoff enables him to cease fighting with more than an equal share of victory on his side. A general breaking up of Europe has its possibility of loss and even of destruction for him as well as for Turkey, while even if he triumphs, it must be at a far heavier cost than that of his recent vast acquisitions of power and influence. The bullying system is much less expensive than actual warfare, as we see illustrated in the small army under Gortschakoff. There is, then, a considerable chance that some one of the schemes of mediation already on foot, or to be generated during the winter, may be fixed on. Then the work of Russian encroachments in Europe will once again be confined to the slower but surer processes of diplomacy and intrigue, animated by unscrupulous arrogance on one side, and aided by weakness and pusillanimity on the other. In view of such a possibility it is impossible not to agree with Mr Douglas when he assigns to Russia the attributes of the future, and to Western Europe those of the past. There is an energy and vigour in that despotic government and that barbarous race which we seek in vain among the monarchies of the older states. But if we look a little deeper into the cause of this relative weakness, we find it full of encouragement. Western Europe is feeble and timid because her governments feel that they are outgrown and no longer believed in by their people. The nations are beyond their rulers, and trust in them no more. It is not that they are really imbecile, but that there is new wine working in the old bottles. With a worthier and more equal social state, with the abolition of caste and privilege, with free political constitutions, unfettered industry and emancipated thought, the people of the West will rise again to power and unity of purpose, while the Russian Colossus itself will be shattered by the progress of the masses and the explosive force of ideas. There is no good reason to fear the conquest of Europe by the Cossacks. The very divisions and apparent weakness which would seem to render such an event easy are the sure pledge of its impossibility.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 2 February 1854.
At last the long-pending question of Turkey appears to have reached a stage where diplomacy will not much longer be able to monopolise the ground for its ever-shifting, ever-cowardly and ever-resultless movements. The French and the British fleets have entered the Black Sea in order to prevent the Russian navy from doing harm either to the Turkish fleet or the Turkish coast. The Tsar Nicholas long since declared that such a step would be, for him, the signal for a declaration of war. Will he now stand it quietly?
It is not to be expected that the combined fleets will at once attack and destroy either the Russian squadron or the fortifications and navy-yards of Sebastopol. On the contrary, we may rest assured that the instructions which diplomacy has provided for the two admirals are so contrived as to evade, as much as possible, the chance of a collision. But naval and military movements once ordered, are subject not to the desires and plans of diplomacy, but to laws of their own which cannot be violated, without endangering the safety of the whole expedition. Diplomacy never intended the Russians to be beaten at Oltenitza; but a little latitude once given to Omer Pasha, and military movements once begun, the action of the two hostile commanders was carried on in a sphere which was to a great extent uncontrollable by the Ambassadors at Constantinople. Thus, the fleets once removed from their moorings in the Beicos Roads, there is no telling how soon they may find themselves in a position from which Lord Aberdeen’s prayers for peace, or Lord Palmerston’s collusion with Russia, cannot draw them, and where they will have to choose between an infamous retreat or a resolute struggle. A narrow land-locked sea like the Euxine, where the opposing navies can hardly contrive to get out of sight of each other, is precisely the locality in which conflicts under such circumstances may become necessary almost daily. And it is not to be expected that the Tsar will allow, without opposition, his fleet to be blockaded in Sebastopol.
If, then, a European war is to follow from this step, it will be, in all likelihood, a war between Russia on the one hand, and England, France and Turkey on the other. The event is probable enough to warrant us in comparing the chances of success and striking the balance of active strength on each side, so far as we can do so.
But will Russia stand alone? What part will Austria, Prussia and the German and Italian states, their dependents, take in a general war? It is reported that Louis Bonaparte has notified the Austrian government that if, in case of conflict with Russia, Austria should side with that power, the French government would avail itself of the elements of insurrection which in Italy and Hungary only require a spark to be kindled into a raging fire, and that then the restoration of Italian and Hungarian nationality would be attempted by France. Such a threat may have its effect upon Austria; it may contribute to keep her neutral as long as possible, but it is not to be expected that Austria will long be enabled to keep aloof from such a struggle, should it come to pass. The very fact of the threat having been uttered may call forth partial insurrectionary movements in Italy, which could not but make Austria a still more dependent and still more subservient vassal of Russia. And then, after all, has not this Napoleonic game been played once already? Is it to be expected that the man who restored the Pope to his temporal throne, and who has a candidate cut and dried for the Neapolitan monarchy, will give to the Italians what they want as much as independence from Austria – unity? Is it to be expected that the Italian people will rush headlong into such a snare? No doubt they are sorely oppressed by Austrian rule, but they will not be very anxious to contribute to the glory of an Empire which is already tottering in its native soil of France, and of a man who was the first to combat their revolution. The Austrian government knows all this, and therefore we may assume that it will be more influenced by its own financial embarrassments than by these Bonapartistic threats; we may also be certain that, at the decisive moment, the influence of the Tsar will be paramount at Vienna, and will entangle Austria on the side of Russia.
Prussia is attempting the same game which she played in 1780, 1800 and 1805. Her plan is to form a league of neutral Baltic, or North German, states, at the head of which she can play a part of some importance, and turn to whichever side offers her the greatest advantages. The almost comical uniformity with which all these attempts have ended by throwing the greedy, vacillating and pusillanimous Prussian government into the arms of Russia, belongs to history. It is not to be expected that Prussia will now escape her habitual fate. She will put out feelers in every direction, offer herself at public auction, intrigue in both camps, swallow camels and strain at gnats, lose whatever character may perchance yet be left to her, get beaten, and at last be knocked down to the lowest bidder, who in this and every other instance will be Russia. She will not be an ally, but an incumbrance to Russia, for she will take care to have her army destroyed beforehand, for her own account and gratification.
Until at least one of the German powers is involved in a European war, the conflict can only rage in Turkey, on the Black Sea, and in the Baltic. The naval struggle must, during this period, be the most important. That the allied fleets can destroy Sebastopol and the Russian Black Sea fleet; that they can take and hold the Crimea, occupy Odessa, close the Sea of Azof, and let loose the mountaineers of the Caucasus, there is no doubt. With rapid and energetic action nothing is more easy. Supposing this to occupy the first month of active operations, another month might bring the steamers of the combined fleets to the British Channel, leaving the sailing vessels to follow; for the Turkish fleet would then be capable of doing all the work which might be required in the Black Sea. To coal in the Channel and make other preparations might take another fortnight; and then, united to the Atlantic and Channel fleets of France and Britain, they might appear before the end of May in the roads of Cronstadt in such a force as to ensure the success of an attack. The measures to be taken in the Baltic are as self-evident as those in the Black Sea. They consist in an alliance, at any price, with Sweden; an act of intimidation against Denmark, if necessary; an insurrection in Finland, which would break out upon landing a sufficient number of troops, and a guarantee that no peace would be concluded except upon the condition of this province being reunited to Sweden. The troops landed in Finland would menace Petersburg, while the fleets would bombard Cronstadt. This place is certainly very strong by its position. The channel of deep water leading up to the roads will hardly admit of two men-of-war abreast presenting their broadsides to the batteries, which are established not only on the main island, but on smaller rocks, banks and islands about it. A certain sacrifice, not only of men, but of ships, is unavoidable. But if this be taken into account in the very plan of the attack, if it be once resolved that such and such a ship must be sacrificed, and if the plan be carried out vigorously and unflinchingly, Cronstadt must fall. The masonry of its battlements cannot for any length of time withstand the concentrated fire of heavy Paixhan guns, that most destructive of all arms when employed against stone walls. Large screw-steamers, with a full complement of such guns amidships, would very soon produce an irresistible effect, though of course they would in the attempt risk their own existence. But what are three or four screw-ships of the line in comparison with Cronstadt, the key of the Russian Empire, whose possession would leave St Petersburg without defence?
Without Odessa, Cronstadt, Riga, Sebastopol, with Finland emancipated, and a hostile army at the gates of the capital, with all her rivers and harbours closed up, what would Russia be? A giant without arms, without eyes, with no other recourse than trying to crush her opponents under the weight of her clumsy torso, thrown here and there at random, wherever a hostile battle-cry was heard. If the maritime powers of Europe should act thus resolutely and vigorously, then Prussia and Austria might so far be relieved from the control of Russia that they might even join the allies. For both the German powers, if secure at home, would be ready to profit by the embarrassments of Russia. But it is not to be expected that Lord Aberdeen and M Drouyn de l'Huys should attempt such energetic steps. The powers that be are not for striking their blows home, and if a general war breaks out, the energy of the commanders will be shackled so as to render them innocuous. If nevertheless, decisive victories occur, care will be taken that it is by mere chance, and that their consequences are as harmless as possible for the enemy.
The war on the Asiatic shore of the Black Sea might at once be put an end to by the fleets; that on the European side would go on comparatively uninterrupted. The Russians, beaten out of the Black Sea, deprived of Odessa and Sebastopol, could not cross the Danube without great risk (except in the direction of Servia, for insurrectionary purposes), but they might very well hold the Principalities, until superior forces and the risk of large bodies of troops being landed on their flank and rear, should drive them out of Wallachia. Moldavia they need not evacuate without a general action, for flank and rear demonstrations would there be of little importance so long as Chotin and Kishineff offered them a safe communication with Russia.
But as long as the war is confined to the Western powers and Turkey on the one hand, and Russia on the other, it will not be a European war such as we have seen since 1792. However, let it once commence, and the indolence of the Western powers and the activity of Russia will soon compel Austria and Prussia to decide for the Autocrat. Prussia will probably be of no great account, as it is more than likely that her army, whatever its capacities may be, will be wasted by presumption at some second Jena. Austria, notwithstanding her bankrupt condition, notwithstanding the insurrections that may occur in Italy and Hungary, will be no contemptible opponent. Russia herself, obliged to keep up her army in the Principalities and on the Caucasian frontier, to occupy Poland, to have an army for the defence of the Baltic coast, and especially of St Petersburg and Finland, will have very few troops to spare for offensive operations. If Austria, Russia and Prussia (always supposing the latter not yet put to rout) can muster five or six hundred thousand men on the Rhine and the Alps, it will be more than can be reasonably expected. And for five hundred thousand allies the French alone are a match, supposing them to be led by generals not inferior to those of their opponents, among whom the Austrians alone possess commanders worthy of the name. The Russian generals are not formidable, and as to the Prussians, they have no generals at all; their officers are hereditary subalterns.
But we must not forget that there is a sixth power in Europe, which at given moments asserts its supremacy over the whole of the five so-called ‘great’ powers, and makes them tremble, every one of them. That power is the Revolution. Long silent and retired, it is now again called to action by the commercial crisis and by the scarcity of food. From Manchester to Rome, from Paris to Warsaw and Pesth, it is omnipresent, lifting up its head and awakening from its slumbers. Manifold are the symptoms of its returning life, everywhere visible in the agitation and disquietude which have seized the proletarian class. A signal only is wanted, and the sixth and greatest European power will come forward, in shining armour and sword in hand, like Minerva from the head of the Olympian. This signal the impending European war will give, and then all calculations as to the balance of power will be upset by the addition of a new element which, ever buoyant and youthful, will as much baffle the plans of the old European powers, and their generals, as it did from 1792 to 1800.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 13 March 1854. With respect to the question, ‘Could privateers be fitted out in neutral ports to interfere with British shipping?’, Marx notes that the problem was brought up in Parliament and that a direct answer was evaded by Lord Palmerston. Marx continues...
The Palmerston organ [The Morning Post] declares the ‘difficult topic’ to form the subject of pending negotiations, and, on the other, the necessity of leaving it to the ‘spontaneous sense of justice’ of the interested powers. If the much-boasted treaty of neutrality with Denmark and Sweden was not dictated by the St Petersburg Cabinet, it must, of course, have forbidden privateers being fitted out in their ports; but in fact, the whole question can only be understood to refer to the United States of America, as the Baltic is to be occupied by English line-of-battle ships, and Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and the Italian ports on the Mediterranean are completely in the hands of England and France. Now, what is the opinion of the St Petersburg Cabinet as to the part to be performed by the United States in case the Turkish war should lead to a war between England and Russia? We may answer this question authentically from a dispatch addressed by Pozzo di Borgo to Count Nesselrode in the autumn of 1825. At that time Russia had resolved upon invading Turkey. As now she proposed to begin by a pacific occupation of the Principalities:
In supposing the adoption of this plan [says Pozzo di Borgo], it would be requisite to enter into explanations with the Porte in the most measured terms, and to assure it that if it did not wish to precipitate itself into a war, the Emperor was willing to terminate these differences by conciliation.
After having enumerated all the steps they would be obliged to take, Pozzo di Borgo continues as follows:
It would be advisable to communicate all these acts to the United States of America as an evidence of the regard of the Imperial Cabinet, and of the importance which it attaches to enlightening its opinion, and even obtaining its suffrage.
In case of England’s siding with Turkey and undertaking a war with Russia, Pozzo di Borgo remarks that:
... in blockading our ports they [England] would exercise their pretended maritime rights in respect to neutrals. This the United States would not suffer! Thence would arise bitter dissensions and dangerous situations.
Now, as the Russian historian Karamsin justly remarks that ‘nothing changes in our [Russian] external policy’, we are justified in presuming that, at the present moment, and perhaps as long ago as February 1853, Russia has ‘communicated all her acts to the United States’, and done her best to cajole the Washington cabinet into at least a neutral attitude. At the same time, in the case of a war with England, she bases her hopes upon eventual quarrels about the ‘maritime rights of the neutrals’ producing ‘bitter dissensions and dangerous situations’, and involving the United States in a more or less avowed alliance with St Petersburg.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 15 April 1854.
In order to understand both the nature of the relations between the Turkish government and the spiritual authorities of Turkey, and the difficulties in which the former is at present involved with respect to the question of a protectorate over the Christian subjects of the Porte, that question which ostensibly lies at the bottom of all the actual complications in the East, it is necessary to cast a retrospective glance at its past history and development.
The Koran and the Mussulman legislation emanating from it reduce the geography and ethnography of the various peoples to the simple and convenient distinction of two nations and of two countries; those of the Faithful and of the Infidels. The Infidel is ‘harby’, that is, the enemy. Islamism proscribes the nation of the Infidels, constituting a state of permanent hostility between the Mussulman and the unbeliever. In that sense the corsair ships of the Berber states were the holy fleet of Islam. How, then, is the existence of Christian subjects of the Porte to be reconciled with the Koran?
If a town [says the Mussulman legislation] surrenders by capitulation, and its inhabitants consent to become rayahs, that is, subjects of a Mussulman prince without abandoning their creed, they have to pay the kharatch (capitation tax), when they obtain a truce with the faithful, and it is not permitted any more to confiscate their estates than to take away their houses... In this case their old churches form part of their property, with permission to worship therein. But they are not allowed to erect new ones. They have only authority for repairing them, and to reconstruct their decayed portions. At certain epochs commissaries designated by the provincial governors are to visit the churches and sanctuaries of the Christians, in order to ascertain that no new buildings have been added under guise of repairs. If a town is conquered by force, the inhabitants retain their churches, but only as places of abode or refuge, without permission to worship.
Constantinople having surrendered by capitulation, as in like manner the greater portion of European Turkey, the Christians there enjoy the privileges they have, exclusively by virtue of their agreeing to accept the Mussulman protection. It is, therefore, owing to this circumstance alone that the Christians submit to be governed by the Mussulmans, according to Mussulman law, and that the Patriarch of Constantinople, their spiritual chief, is at the same time their political representative, representative and their chief justice. Wherever, in the Ottoman Empire, we find an agglomeration of Greek rayahs, the Archbishops and Bishops are by law members of the Municipal Councils, and, under the direction of the Patriarch, rule over the repartition of the taxes imposed upon the Greeks. The Patriarch is responsible to the Porte as to the conduct of his co-religionists. Invested with the right of judging the rayahs of his Church, he delegates this right to the Metropolitans and Bishops within the limits of their dioceses, their sentences being obligatory for the executive officers, cadis, etc, of the Porte to carry out. The punishments which they have the right to pronounce are fines, imprisonment, bastonado and exile. Besides, their own Church gives them the power of excommunication. Independent of the produce of the fines, they receive variable taxes on the civil and commercial law-suits. Every hierarchic scale among the clergy has its moneyed price. The Patriarch pays to the Divan a heavy tribute in order to obtain his investiture, but he sells, in his turn, the archbishoprics and bishoprics to the clergy of his worship. The latter indemnify themselves by the sale of subaltern dignities, and the tribute exacted from the popes. These again sell by retail the powers they have bought from their superiors, and traffic in all acts of their ministry, such as baptisms, marriages, divorces and testaments.
It is evident from this exposé that this fabric of theocracy over the Greek Christians of Turkey, and the whole structure of their society, has its keystone in the subjection of the rayahs under the Koran, which, in its turn, by treating them as infidels – that is, as a nation only in a religious sense – sanctions the combined spiritual and temporal power of their priests. Then, if you abolish their subjection under the Koran, by a civil emancipation, you cancel at the same time their subjection to the clergy, and provoke a revolution in their social, political and religious relations, which, in the first instance, must inevitably hand them over to Russia. If you supplant the Koran by a code civil, you must occidentalise the entire structure of Byzantine society.
Having described the relations between the Mussulman and his Christian subject, the question arises: what are the relations between the Mussulman and the unbelieving foreigner?
As the Koran treats all foreigners as foes, nobody will dare to present himself in a Mussulman country without having taken his precautions. The first European merchants, therefore, who risked the chances of commerce with such a people, contrived to secure themselves an exceptional treatment and privileges originally personal, but afterwards extended to their whole nation. Hence the origin of capitulations. Capitulations are imperial diplomas, letters of privilege, granted by the Porte to different European nations, and authorising their subjects freely to enter Mohammedan countries, and there to pursue in tranquillity their affairs, and to practice their worship. They differ from treaties in this essential point, that they are not reciprocal acts, contradictorily debated between the contracting parties, and accepted by them on the condition of mutual advantages and concessions. On the contrary, the capitulations are one-sided concessions on the part of the government granting them, in consequence of which they may be revoked at its pleasure. The Porte has, indeed, at different times nullified the privileges granted to one nation by extending them to others, or repealed them altogether by refusing to continue their application. This precarious character of the capitulations made them an eternal source of disputes, of complaints on the part of Ambassadors, and of a prodigious exchange of contradictory notes and firmans revived at the commencement of every new reign.
It was from these capitulations that arose the right of a protectorate of foreign powers, not over the Christian subjects of the Porte – the rayahs – but over their co-religionists visiting Turkey, or residing there as foreigners. The first power that obtained such a protectorate was France. The capitulations between France and the Ottoman Porte made in 1535 under Soliman the Great and Francis I, in 1604 under Ahmet I and Henry IV, and in 1673 under Mustapha II and Louis XIV, were renewed, confirmed, recapitulated and augmented in the compilation of 1740, called ‘ancient and recent capitulations and treaties between the Court of France and the Ottoman Porte’.
Article 32 of this agreement constitutes the right of France to a protectorate over all monasteries professing the French religion, to whatever nation they may belong, and over the Frank visitors to the Holy Places.
Russia was the first power that, in 1774, inserted the capitulation, imitated after the example of France, into a treaty, the Treaty of Kainardji. Thus, in 1802, Napoleon thought fit to make the existence and maintenance of the capitulation the subject of an article of treaty, and to give it the character of synallagmatic contract.
In what relation, then, does the question of the Holy Places stand to the Protectorate?
The question of the Holy Shrines is the question of a protectorate over the religious Greek Christian communities settled at Jerusalem, and over the buildings possessed by them on the holy ground, and especially over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is to be understood that possession here does not mean proprietorship, which is denied to the Christians by the Koran, but only the right of usufruct. This right of usufruct excludes by no means the other communities having no other privilege besides that of keeping the keys, of repairing and entering the edifices, of kindling the holy lamp, of cleaning the rooms with the broom, and of spreading the carpets, which is an Oriental symbol of possession. In the same manner now in which Christianity culminates at the Holy Place, the question of the Protectorate is there found to have its highest ascension.
Parts of the Holy Places and of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are possessed by the Latins, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Abyssinians, the Syrians and the Copts. Between all these diverse pretendants there originated a conflict. The sovereigns of Europe, who saw in this religious quarrel a question of their respective influences in the Orient, addressed themselves in the first instance to the masters of the soil, to fanatic and greedy pashas, who abused their position. The Ottoman Porte and its agents adopting a most troublesome système de bascule, gave judgement in turn favourable to the Latins, Greeks and Armenians, asking and receiving gold from all hands, and laughing at each of them. Hardly had the Turks granted a firman, acknowledging the right of the Latins to the possession of a contested place, than the Armenians presented themselves with a heavier purse, and instantly obtained a contradictory firman. The same tactics with respect to the Greeks, who knew, besides, as officially recorded in different firmans of the Porte and ‘hudgets’ (judgements) of its agents, how to procure false and apocryphal titles. On other occasions the decisions of the Sultan’s government were frustrated by the cupidity and ill-will of the pashas and subaltern agents in Syria. Then it became necessary to resume negotiations, to appoint fresh commissaries, and to make new sacrifices of money. What the Porte formerly did from pecuniary considerations, in our days it has done from fear, with a view to obtain protection and favour. Having done justice to the reclamations of France and the Latins, it hastened to grant the same conditions to Russia and the Greeks, thus attempting to escape from a storm which it felt powerless to encounter. There is no sanctuary, no chapel, no stone of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, that has been left unturned for the purpose of constituting a quarrel between the different Christian communities.
Around the Holy Sepulchre we find an assemblage of all the various sects of Christianity, behind the religious pretensions of whom are concealed as many political and national rivalries.
Jerusalem and the Holy Places are inhabited by nations professing different religions: the Latins, the Greeks, the Armenians, Copts, Abyssinians and Syrians. There are 2000 Greeks, 1000 Latins, 350 Armenians, 100 Copts, 20 Syrians, and 20 Armenians – 3490. In the Ottoman Empire we find 13,730,000 Greeks, 2,400,000 Armenians, and 900,000 Latins. Each of these is again subdivided. The Greek Church, of which I treated above, the one acknowledging the Patriarch of Constantinople, essentially differs from the Greco-Russian, whose chief spiritual authority is the Tsar, and from the Hellenes, of whom the King and the Synod of Athens are the chief authorities. Similarly, the Latins are subdivided into the Roman Catholics, United Greeks and Maronites; and the Armenians into Gregorian and Latin Armenians – the same distinction holding good with the Copts and Abyssinians. The three prevailing religious nationalities at the Holy Places are the Greeks, the Latins and the Armenians. The Latin Church may be said to represent principally Latin races; the Greek Church, Slav, Turko-Slav and Hellenic races; and the other Churches, Asiatic and African races.
Imagine all these conflicting peoples beleaguering the Holy Sepulchre, the battle conducted by the monks, and the ostensible object of their rivalry being a star from the grotto of Bethlehem, a tapestry, a key of a sanctuary, an altar, a shrine, a chair, a cushion – any ridiculous precedence! In order to understand such a monastical crusade, it is indispensable to consider, firstly, the manner of their living, and, secondly the mode of their habitation:
All the religious rubbish of the different nations [says a recent traveller] live at Jerusalem separated from each other, hostile and jealous, a nomad population, incessantly recruited by pilgrimage or decimated by the plague and oppressions. The European dies or returns to Europe after some years; the Pashas and their guards go to Damascus or Constantinople; and the Arabs fly to the desert. Jerusalem is but a place where everyone arrives to pitch his tent and where nobody remains. Everybody in the holy city gets his livelihood from his religion – the Greeks or Armenians from the 12,000 to 13,000 pilgrims who yearly visit Jerusalem, and the Latins from the subsidies and alms of their co-religionists of France, Italy, etc.
Besides their monasteries and sanctuaries, the Christian nations possess at Jerusalem small habitations or cells, annexed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and occupied by the monks who have to watch day and night that holy abode. At certain periods these monks are relieved in their duty by their brethren. These cells have but one door, opening into the interior of the Temple, while the monk guardians receive their food from without, through some wicket. The doors of the church are closed, and guarded by Turks, who do not open them except for money, and close them according to their caprice or cupidity.
The quarrels between Churchmen are the most venomous, said Mazarin. Now fancy these Churchmen, who not only have to live upon, but live in, these sanctuaries together!
To finish the picture, be it remembered that the fathers of the Latin Church, almost exclusively composed of Romans, Sardinians, Neapolitans, Spaniards and Austrians, are all of them jealous of the French Protectorate, and would like to substitute that of Austria, Sardinia or Naples, the kings of the two latter countries both assuming the tide of King of Jerusalem, and that the sedentary population of Jerusalem numbers about 15,500 souls, of whom 4000 are Mussulmans and 8000 Jews. The Mussulmans, forming about a fourth part of the whole, and consisting of Turks, Arabs and Moors, are, of course, the masters in every respect, as they are in no way affected by the weakness of their government at Constantinople. Nothing equals the misery and the sufferings of the Jews at Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter of the town, called hareth-el-yahoud, in the quarter of dirt between the Zion and the Moriah, where their synagogues are situated – the constant objects of Mussulman oppression and intolerance, insulted by the Greeks, persecuted by the Latins, and living only upon the scanty alms transmitted by their European brethren. The Jews, however, are not natives, but from different and distant countries, and are only attracted to Jerusalem by the desire of inhabiting the valley of Jehoshaphat, and dying on the very place where the redemption is to be expected.
To make these Jews more miserable, England and Prussia appointed, in 1840, an Anglican bishop at Jerusalem, whose avowed object is their conversion. He was dreadfully thrashed in 1845, and sneered at alike by Jews, Christians and Turks. He may, in fact, be stated to have been the first and only cause of a union between all the religions at Jerusalem.
It will now be understood that the common worship of the Christians at the Holy Places resolves itself into a continuance of desperate Irish rows between the diverse sections of the faithful; that, on the other hand, these sacred rows merely conceal a profane battle, not only of nations but of races; and that the protectorate of the Holy Places, which appears ridiculous to the Occident, but all important to the Orientals, is one of the phases of the Oriental question incessantly reproduced, constantly stifled, but never solved.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 11 July 1854.
A certain class of writers have been wont to attribute to the Emperor of Russia the possession of extraordinary powers of mind, and especially of that far-reaching, comprehensive judgement which marks the really great statesman. It is difficult to see how such illusions could be derived from any truthful view of his character, or from any part of his history; but the most obstinate of his admirers must, we think, now question the justice of their conclusions. Russia is now in a difficult and most humiliating position. Her armies are defeated in Turkey, and, after immense losses of men and means, are retreating within her own frontiers; her possessions in Asia, the fruit of many years’ effort and vast expenditure, are partly lost and wholly imperilled; her foreign commerce is destroyed, and her home industry injured by turning the national attention and the people’s energies to a useless and disastrous war; her navy is imprisoned, and her fortresses menaced; and she must even regard as an advantage an intervention which, whatever its other benefits, interposes an effectual barrier to the realisation of her ambitious dreams, and renders impossible a renewal of her attack on Turkey, because that would involve a direct collision with Germany, as well as with the Western powers. And all this is the work of this great statesman and wise ruler Nicholas I. Praise of this headstrong imperial blunderer’s mental gifts must hereafter be considerably qualified, if indulged in at all.
The defeat at Silistria is not enough to destroy the reputation of the Tsar, or of his army, any more than the defeat at Oltenitza, Tchetalea or Karakul, for a defeat is something that the wisest foresight and the most complete preparations cannot always prevent. But apart from this there is a fact which stands out with greater prominence than any other in the whole course of the late remarkable siege and the Russian retreat which followed it. It is this – that the Russian army, with its enormous numbers and its whole swarms of officers, cannot afford leaders to take the place of Paskevitch, Gortschakoff, being each over seventy, and Luders, the youngest, being over sixty – and likely as they were to die a natural death any day; such is the narrowness and imbecility of the system on which the Tsar has managed his vast military establishment that we can affirm it as a positive and undeniable fact, that there is hardly a single officer who could step into the vacated place of either of these generals, and carry with him confidence of the army and the nation. For years the Emperor, with an unaccountable blindness which seemed, indeed, to fall little short of stupidity, has directed his efforts to the real injury and depression of the service for whose improvement and perfection he fancied he was doing the utmost. Thus he has limited promotion to mere parade martinets, whose principal merit consists in stolid obedience and ready servility, added to accuracy of eyesight in detecting a fault in the buttons and button-holes of the uniform – constantly preferring such sticks to men of real military ability and intellectual superiority. Years of the dullest service, such as garrison duty and daily parade, and not youth, activity and the study and acquirement of military science, have been the exclusive titles to the Tsar’s favour and to advancement. Thus the army is commanded on the average by old valetudinarians, or by ignorant corporals, who might manage a platoon, but have not brains and knowledge enough to direct the extensive and complicated movements of a campaign.
The same narrow-mindedness and presumption appear throughout the Tsar’s whole management of this Eastern Question. Everyone can now see that he began the war in an unwise and inadequate manner. Indeed, his very first military demonstration was totally absurd and unequal to the purpose in hand. He ought to have known that Europe would not allow the destruction of Turkey, and should, therefore, either have kept quiet, biding his time, or have crossed the Pruth, not with between forty and fifty thousand men, as he did last year, when during the whole winter he had only one army corps in the Principalities, but should have pounced at once with his most powerful masses upon Turkey, reaching across the Balkans before the Turks could have gathered together their scattered forces, and before the Western powers could have combined in their opposition and sent fleets of troops. To strike by surprise and terror ought to have been his aim, instead of engaging in such an imbecile manner his nation in a gigantic struggle. But Nicholas is growing old, and has all the faults of decrepit age. One of the reasons which prevented him from putting all his resources into action at once was that he feared the cost of such an effort. Now he will lose a hundred times as much money, and without results. Penny-wisdom in such an affair is no wisdom at all.
When the Russian forces first crossed the Pruth, the Tsar had no doubt – as we happened to know and took occasion to state at the time – that he could bully all Europe, and reap laurels at small expense. His diplomatic agents, too, encouraged him in this foolish opinion. The most mischievous of these accessories to the Great Russian blunder has proved to be the Russian Minister at Paris, Kisseleff, whose dispatches were full of the most satisfactory accounts concerning the friendly and pacific intentions of Louis Napoleon. Kisseleff having resided for more than twenty-eight years in the French capital, very naturally dreaded the idea of being recalled from the position where he led an epicurean life. The Tsar, accordingly, who delights to read adulatory and flattering reports from his agents, caught at the first bait, and any dispatch smelling of a disagreeable truth from any quarter was discredited, treated with contempt, and did nothing but injury with the Autocrat to the faithful and able diplomatist sending it. Thus nearly all the Russian diplomatic reports were full of encomiums on the Imperial sagacity, to which Europe bowed, as they assured his Majesty, with respect and admiration. In one word we are able to affirm that, since 1851, Nicholas has never had laid before him a truthful account of the state of Europe, and of the feelings of the other governments towards him and Russia; and if his numerous agents misled him in such a manner, the reason was that this was the most, nay the only, palatable dish for his political appetite. He craved universal adulation; now he tastes its bitter and poisonous fruits.
We do not put any faith in the rumour of his abdication, a thing totally impossible and unwarranted; but, on the other hand, only a miracle can extricate him from the difficulties now heaped on him and Russia by his pride, shallowness and imbecility.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 17 August 1854.
It is now very nearly twelve months since a small Turkish corps, two battalions, succeeded in crossing the Danube near Turtukai, opposite Oltenitza, threw up entrenchments there, and being attacked by the Russians, repulsed them in a very spirited little affair, which, being the first engagement in the war, took the style and title of the Battle of Oltenitza. There the Turks alone were opposed to the Russians; they had no British or French troops behind them as a reserve, and could not even expect any support from the allied fleets. And yet they held their ground on the Wallachian side of the river, for a fortnight at Oltenitza, and for the whole winter at Kalafat.
Since then, England and France have declared war against Russia; sundry exploits, of a doubtful nature it is true, have been achieved. Black Sea fleets, Baltic fleets, and an army of now nearly a hundred thousand English and French soldiers are there to assist the Turks or to make diversions in their favour. And the upshot of all this is nothing but a repetition of the Oltenitza business on a larger scale, but rather less successfully than last year.
The Russians laid siege to Silistria. They went about it stupidly but bravely. They were defeated day after day, night after night; not by superior science, not by Captain Butler or Lieutenant Nasmyth, the two British officers present, who, according to The Times, saved Silistria. They were defeated by the ignorance of the Turks, an ignorance extending so far as not to know when a fort or rampart ceases to be tenable, and to sticking doggedly to every inch of ground, every molehill which the enemy appears to covet. They were defeated besides by the stupidity of their own generals, by fever and cholera; finally, by the moral effect of an allied army menacing their left, and an Austrian army menacing their right wing. When the war began, we stated that the Russian army had never been able to lay a regular siege, and the ill-managed operations before Silistria show that they have not improved since. Well, they were defeated; they had to decamp in the most discreditable way imaginable; they had to raise the siege of an incomplete fortress in the midst of a fine season, and without any troops coming to relieve the garrison. Such an event occurs not more than once in a century; and whatever the Russians may try to do in the autumn, the campaign is lost, disgracefully lost, for them.
But now for the reverse of the medal. Silistria is free. The Russians retreat to the left bank of the Danube. They even prepare for and gradually execute the evacuation of the Dobrudscha. Hirsova and Marschin are dismantled. The Sereth seems to be the line to which the Russians trust for the defence, not of their conquests, but of their own territory. Omer Pasha, the wily old Croat, who can hold his tongue or tell a lie as well as anybody, ‘in the execution of his duty’, at once sends a corps to the Dobrudscha, and another to Rustchuk, thus engaging the two wings of the Russians at once. There were far better manoeuvres possible at the time, but poor old Omer appears to know the Turks and the Allies better than we do. The correct military move to be made would have been to march through the Dobrudscha or by Kalarash upon the communications of the enemy; but, after what we have seen, we cannot even accuse Omer of having missed a good opportunity. We know that his army is very badly cared for – provided with almost nothing – and cannot therefore execute rapid movements which would remove it to a distance from its base, or open up fresh lines of operation. These movements, decisive as they are in their effect when undertaken by a sufficient force, are not within the reach of an army which lives from hand to mouth, and has to pass through a barren country. We know that Omer Pasha went to Varna, imploring the aid of the allied generals, who at that time had 75,000 capital soldiers there, within four days’ march of the Danube, but neither St Arnaud nor Raglan thought proper to come up to where they could meet the enemy. Thus Omer could do no more than he has done. He sent 25,000 men towards the Dobrudscha, and marched with the rest of his army to Rustchuk. Here his troops passed from island to island until the Danube was crossed, and then by a sudden march to the left took Giurgevo in the rear, and forced the Russians to quit it. On the next day the Russians were drawn up on some heights to the north of Giurgevo, where the Turks attacked them. A sanguinary battle ensued, remarkable for the number of English officers who, with rare success, competed for the honour of being shot first. They all got their bullets, but with no benefit to anybody, for it would be preposterous to think that the sight of a British officer being shot could inflame a Turkish soldier to invincibility. However, the Russians having a mere advanced guard on the spot – a brigade, the two regiments of Kolyvan and Tomsk – got beaten, and the Turks made good their footing on the Wallachian bank of the Danube. They at once set about fortifying the place, and as they had British sappers, and, as at Kalafat, they did very well for themselves, there is no doubt that they were making a formidable position of it. But thus far they were allowed to go and no farther. That Emperor of Austria who now for eight months has been trying hard to act the part of an independent man, steps in at once. The Principalities have been promised to his troops as a feeding ground, and he intends to have them. What business have the Turks there? Let them go back to Bulgaria. So down comes the order from Constantinople to withdraw the Turkish troops from the left bank, and to leave ‘all that plot of land’ to the tender mercies of the Austrian soldiers. Diplomacy is above strategy. Whatever may come of it, the Austrians will save their own frontiers by occupying a few yards of ground beyond; and to this important end even the necessities of the war must give way. Besides, is not Omer Pasha an Austrian deserter? And Austria never forgets. In Montenegro she interrupted his victorious career; and she repeats the process again, to make the renegade feel that he is not yet out of the allegiance to his lawful sovereign.
It is entirely useless to enter into the military details of this present stage of the campaign. The actions possess little tactical interest, being plain, straightforward front attacks; the movements of troops on either side are ruled more by diplomatic than strategical motives. Most likely we shall see the campaign closing without any great enterprise, for on the Danube there is nothing prepared for a grand offensive, and as to the taking of Sebastopol, of which we hear so much, the beginning will probably be delayed until the season is so far advanced that it must be postponed till next year.
It would seem that whoever may have had any conservative leanings in Europe must lose them when he looks at this everlasting Eastern Question. There is all Europe, incapable, convicted for the last sixty years of incapability, to settle this puny little strife. There they are, France, England, Russia, going actually to war. They carry on their war for six months, and unless by mistake, or on a very shabby scale, they have not even come to blows. There they are, eighty or ninety thousand English and French soldiers, at Varna, commanded by old Wellington’s late military secretary and by a Marshal of France (whose greatest exploits, it is true, were performed in London pawnshops) – there they are, the French doing nothing and the British helping them as fast as they can; and as they may think this sort of business not exactly honourable, the fleets are come up to Baltchik Roads to have a look at them and to see which of the two armies can enjoy the dolce far niente with the greater decorum. And, although the Allies have hitherto only been eating up the provisions upon which the Turkish army had calculated, idling away day after day at Varna, for the last two months, they are not yet fit for duty. They would have relieved Silistria if required by about the middle of May next year. The troops that have conquered Algeria had learned the theory and practice of war on one of the most difficult theatres in existence, the soldiers who fought the Sikhs on the sands of the Indus, and the Kaffirs in the thorny bush of South Africa, in countries far more savage than Bulgaria – there they are, helpless and useless, fit for nothing in a country which even exports corn!
But if the Allies are miserable in their performances, so are the Russians. They have had plenty of time to prepare. They have done whatever they could, for they knew from the beginning what resistance they would find. And yet, what have they been able to do? Nothing. They could not take a yard of contested ground from the Turks; they could not take Kalafat; they could not beat the Turks in one single engagement. And yet they are the same Russians who, under Muennich and Suvaroff, conquered the Black Sea coast from the Don to the Dniester. But Schilders is not Muennich, Paskevitch is not Suvaroff, and though the Russian soldier can bear flogging with the cane beyond all others, yet when it comes to habitual retreating he loses his steadiness as well as anybody else.
The fact is, that conservative Europe – the Europe of ‘order, property, family, religion’ – the Europe of monarchs, feudal lords, moneyed men, however they may be differently assorted in different countries – is once more exhibiting its extreme impotency. Europe may be rotten, but a war should have roused the sound elements, a war should have brought forth some latent energies; and assuredly there should be that much pluck among two hundred and fifty millions of men, that at least one decent struggle might be got up wherein both parties could reap some honour, such as force and spirit can carry off even from the field of battle. But no, not only is the England of the middle classes, the France of the Bonapartes, incapable of a decent, hearty, hard-fought war; but even Russia, the country of Europe least infected by infidel and unnerving civilisation, cannot bring about anything of the kind. The Turks are fit for sudden starts of offensive action, and stubborn resistance on the defensive, but seem not to be fit for large combined manoeuvres with great armies. Thus everything is reduced to a degree of impuissance and a reciprocal confession of weakness, which appears to be as reciprocally expected by all parties, With governments such as they are at present, this Eastern war may be carried on for thirty years, and yet come to no conclusion.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 24 October 1854.
The days in which religious considerations were a governing element in the wars of Western Europe are, it seems, long gone by. The Treaty of Westphalia, in 1648, which wound up the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, marks the epoch when such questions lost their force and disappeared as a moving cause of international strife. The attitude of the two great powers of Western Europe in the present war against Russia is a striking illustration of this truth. We there see England, professedly Protestant, allied with France, professedly Catholic ('damnably heretical’ as they naturally are in each other’s eyes, according to the orthodox phraseology of both), for the purpose of defending Turkey, a Mohammedan power, against the aggressions of ‘holy’ Russia, a power Christian like themselves; and though the position of Austria and Prussia is more equivocal than that of England and France, the maintenance of the Mussulman Empire in its integrity against the assaults of its Christian neighbour of the North is an object that has been avowed and guaranteed equally with France and England, by the two great powers of Christian Germany. Religious considerations are certainly not the influences which restrain these from action against Russia.
To appreciate this state of things perfectly we must call to mind the period of the Crusades, when Western Europe, so late as the thirteenth century, undertook a ‘holy war’ against the ‘infidel’ Turks for the possession of the Holy Sepulchre. Western Europe now not only acquiesces in the Mussulman jurisdiction over the Sepulchre, but goes so far as to laugh at the contests and rivalries of the Greek and Latin monks to obtain undivided possession of a shrine once so much coveted by all Christendom; and when Christian Russia steps forward to ‘protect’ the Christian subjects of the Porte, Western Europe of today arrays itself in arms against the Tsar to thwart a design which it would once have deemed highly laudable and righteous. To drive the Moslems out of Europe would once have roused the zeal of England and France; to prevent the Turks from being driven out of Europe is now the most cherished resolve of those nations. So broad a gulf stands between Europe of the nineteenth and Europe of the thirteenth century! So fallen away since the latter epoch is the political influence of religious dogma.
We have carefully watched for any expression of the purely ecclesiastical view of the European crisis, and have only found one pamphlet by a Cambridge DD, and one North British Reviewer for England, and the Paris Univers for France, which have dogmatically represented the defence of a Mohammedan power by Christendom as absolutely sinful; and these pronunciamentos have remained without an echo in either country. Whence is this?
From the period of the Protestant Reformation, the upper classes in every European nation, whether it remained Catholic or adopted Protestantism, and especially the statesmen, legists and diplomatists, began to unfasten themselves individually from all religious relief, and become free-thinkers so-called. This intellectual movement in the higher circles manifested itself without reserve in France from the time of Louis XIV, resulting in the universal predilection for what was denominated Philosophy during the eighteenth century. But when Voltaire found residence in France no longer safe, not because of his opinions, nor because he has given oral expression to them, but because he had communicated them by his writings to the whole reading public, he betook himself to England and testified that he found the salons of high life in London still ‘freer’ than those of Paris. Indeed, the men and women of the court of Charles II, Bolingbroke, the Walpoles, Hume, Gibbon and Charles Fox are names which all suggest a prevalent unbelief in religious dogmas, and a general adhesion to the philosophy of that age on the part of the upper classes, statesmen and politicians of England. This may be called, by way of distinction, the era of aristocratic revolt against ecclesiastical authority. Comte, in one short sentence, has characterised this situation:
From the opening of the revolutionary period in the sixteenth century this system of hypocrisy has been more and more elaborated in practice, permitting the emancipation of all minds of a certain bearing, on a tacit condition that they should aid in protracting the submission of the masses. This was eminently the policy of the Jesuits.
This brings us down to the period of the French Revolution, when the masses, firstly of France, and afterwards of all Western Europe, along with a desire for political and social freedom, began to entertain an ever-growing aversion from religious dogma. The total abolition of Christianity, as a recognised institution of state by the French Republican Convention of 1793, and since then the gradual repeal in Western Europe, wherever the popular voice has had power, of religious tests and political and civil disabilities of the same character, together with the Italian movement of 1848, sufficiently announce the well-known direction of the popular mind in Europe. We are still witnesses of this epoch, which may be characterised as the era of democratic revolt against ecclesiastical authority.
But this very movement among the masses since the French Revolution, bound up as it was with the movement for social equality, brought about a violent reaction in favour of church authority in high quarters. Nobility and clergy, lords temporal and lords spiritual, found themselves equally threatened by the popular movement, and it naturally came to pass that the upper classes of Europe threw aside their scepticism in public life and made an outward alliance with the state churches and their systems. This reaction was most apparent in France, first under Bonaparte, and during the Restoration under the elder branch of the Bourbons, but it was not less the case with the rest of Western Europe. In our own day we have seen renewed on a smaller scale this patching up of an alliance offensive and defensive between the upper classes and the ecclesiastical interest. Since the epoch of 1830 the statesmen had begun to manifest anew a spirit of independence towards ecclesiastical control, but the events of 1848 threw them back into the arms of Mother Church. Again France gave the clearest exemplification of this phenomenon. In 1849, when the terror of the Democratic deluge was at its height, Messrs Thiers, De Hauranne and the Universitarians (who had passed for Atheists with the clergy), together with the so-called Liberal Opposition, were unanimous in supporting that admirably qualified ‘saviour of religion’, M Bonaparte, in his project for the violent restoration of the Pope of Rome, while the Whig Ministry of Protestant England, at whose head was a member of the ultra-Protestant family of Russell, were warm in their approval of the same expedition. This religious restoration by such processes was indeed only redeemed from universal ridicule by the extremely critical posture of affairs which, for the moment, in the interest of ‘order’ did not allow the public men of Europe to indulge in the sense of the ludicrous.
But the submission of the classes of leading social influence to ecclesiastical control, which was hollow and hypocritical at the beginning of this century after the Revolution of 1792, has been far more precarious and superficial since 1848, and is only acknowledged by those classes so far as it suits their immediate political interest. The humiliating position of utter dependence which the ecclesiastical power sustains towards the temporal arm of government has been made fully manifest since 1848. The Pope indebted to the French government for his present tenure of the chair of St Peter; the French clergy, for the sake of their salaries, blessing trees of liberty and proclaiming the sovereignty of the people, and afterwards canonising the present Emperor of France as the chosen instrument of God and the Saviour of religion, their old proper doctrines of legitimacy, and the divine right of kings being in each case laid aside with the downfall of the corresponding political régime; the Anglican clergy, whose ex officio head is a temporal Queen, dependent for promotion on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, now generally a Liberal, and looking for favours and support against popular encroachment to Parliament in which the Liberal element is ever on the increase – constitute an ensemble from which it would be absurd to expect acts of pure ecclesiastical independence, except in the normally impossible case of an overwhelming popular support to fall back upon.
Such was the position of affairs in 1853, when the governing classes of England and France deemed it necessary and politic to espouse the cause of the Ottoman Porte against the Christian Tsar; and that policy was not only sanctioned, but in a measure forced upon them by the popular sentiment of the two nations. Then the governments of France and England entered upon a policy totally inconsistent with religious considerations, and threw off unhesitatingly their feigned ecclesiastical alliances. Then at length the upper-class current of revolt (which had been so long dissembled) formed a juncture with the broad popular current, and the two together, like the Missouri and the Mississippi, rolled onwards a tide of opinion which the ecclesiastical power saw it would be madness to encounter. Beneath this twofold assault the pure ecclesiastical point of view has not dared to manifest itself; while, on the contrary, the state clergy of England, on the appointed day of the national fast and humiliation, had to pray and preach patriotic sermons on behalf of the success of the Crescent and its allies. These considerations seem to afford a rational explanation of two apparent anomalies with which we started; namely, the defence of the Crescent by allied Catholic and Protestant Europe against the assaults of the Cross, as represented by Christian Russia, and the fact that no voice of any influence has been lifted up to denounce to Christendom the novel position in which it is placed.
This coalition between the politicians of Western Europe and the popular opinion in behalf of a purely secular policy, is likely to generate ulterior consequences and to subject ecclesiastical influence to further shocks from its old accomplices, the politicians. It is doubtless owing to the ripeness of the public mind in this respect, that Lord Palmerston ventured to refuse the request of the Edinburgh Presbytery for a day of public fast and humiliation to avert the divine scourge of cholera, the Home Secretary audaciously averring that prayers would be of no consequence unless they cleansed their streets and habitations, and that cholera was generated by natural causes, such as deleterious gases from decomposed vegetable matter. The vain and unscrupulous Palmerston knew that buffeting the clergy would be a cheap and easy way of acquiring popularity, otherwise he would not have ventured on the experiment.
A further evidence of the extreme incompetence of ecclesiastical policy to answer the exigencies of the European situation is found in the consideration that the ecclesiastical view, if logically carried out, would condemn Catholic Europe to entire indifference in the present European crisis; for though it might be permissible for Anglican orthodoxy to side with the Greek Cross against the Turkish Crescent, Catholic Europe could not unite with so impious a denier of the authority of the successor of St Peter, and so unhallowed a pretender to the highest spiritual functions, as the Tsar of Russia, and would apparently have no other opinion to utter than that both the belligerent parties were inspired by Satan!
To complete the disparagement which ecclesiastical authority has undergone in the present European crisis, it is patent to the world that while the advance communities of Western Europe are in a forward stage of ecclesiastical decay, in barbarian Russia, on the other hand, the State Church retains a powerful and undiminished vigour. While Western Europe, discarding religious biases, has advanced in defence of ‘right against might’ and ‘for the independence of Europe’, ‘holy’ Russia has claimed for its war of might against right a religious sanction as a war of the vicegerent of God against the infidel Turks. It is true that Nesselrode, in his state papers, has never had the assurance in the face of Europe to appeal to the ecclesiastical aspect of the question, and this is in itself a remarkable symptom of the decline of the ecclesiastical sentiment; this method of treatment is reserved by the Russian Court for internal use among the ignorant and credulous Muscovites, and the miracle-pictures, the relics, the crusading proclamations of the Russian generals show how much stress is there laid upon the religious phase of the struggle for inflaming the zeal of the Russian people and army. Even the St Petersburg journals do not omit to cast in the teeth of France and England the reproach that they are fighting on behalf of the abhorred Crescent, against the religion of the Cross. Such a contrast between religious Russia and secular France and England is worthy of a profound and thorough examination, which we cannot undertake to give it, our object being simply to call to these large, impressive and novel facts a degree of attention they have not hitherto received. They are facts which perhaps the philosophic and religious historians of the future will alone be able to appreciate at their exact value. They appear, however, to constitute an important step in the great movement of the world towards abrogating absolute authority and establishing the independence of the individual judgement and conscience in the religious as well as the political sphere of life. To defend or attack that movement is not our purpose; our duty is discharged in the simple attestation of its progress.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 1 January 1855.
The sun of Austerlitz has melted in water. A great battle, as was confidently announced and believed in Paris, was to be fought before Sebastopol in celebration of the second of December, but from a dispatch of General Canrobert, of the third of December, it appears that ‘rain was falling in torrents, the roads were cut up, the trenches filled with water, and the siege operations – as well as all the works – put in a state of suspense’.
The Russians hitherto had the offensive, the Allies the defensive, superiority on the Chernaya; at the walls of Sebastopol it was the reverse. In other words the Russians were strong enough on the Chernaya to hold the field, but the Allies were not, though able to keep their position; while at Sebastopol the Allies, strong enough to carry on the siege, were so nearly matched by the garrison that the operations, though not stopped from without, yet proceeded with hardly any visible effect. The proportions of force seem about to change, and the Allies appear on the point of becoming strong enough to repulse the Russians from the Chernaya. In that case, the Russians can act two ways, after having lost their position above Inkerman. Either they can go round and take up the entrenched camp about the North Fort, or they can with their main body retreat into the interior, where the Allies cannot follow them far. The Allies can hardly be strong enough before February either to invest the northern camp or follow a retreating army much further than Baktchiserai. They could scarcely fight a second battle against an army entrenched somewhere about Simpheropol. In either case they would have to fall back on the Chernaya, and thus this game of alternate advance and retreat is likely to be played all the winter over, unless, indeed, Sebastopol, on the south side, succumbs to an assault. But as the news which we receive respecting the siege is very meagre, we cannot say any more on this point than that it is not at all likely. We are, indeed, aware that, according to a dispatch of 7 December, published in the Paris Moniteur, and reprinted in the London papers, the allied armies had all of a sudden got the upper hand, and only two days after the deluge ‘almost completed the investment of the town’. This spurious dispatch was evidently concocted with a view to make amends for the baffled second of December prophecy.
If, in 1812, the Continental force launched against Russia was far weaker than that which she may perhaps see on her frontiers in April or May – if then England was her ally instead of her foe, Russia may console herself with the reflection that the more numerous the armies are which penetrate her interior, the more chance is there of their speedy destruction, and that, on the other hand, she has now three times the troops under arms which she had then.
Not that we think ‘Holy Russia’ unassailable. On the contrary, Austria and Prussia united are quite able, if merely military chances are taken into account, to force her to an ignominious peace. Any forty millions of men, concentrated upon a country of the size of Germany proper, will be able to cope successfully with the scattered sixty millions of Russian subjects. The strategy of an attack upon Russia from the west has been clearly enough defined by Napoleon, and had he not been forced by circumstances of a non-strategic nature to deviate from his plan, Russia’s integrity would have been seriously menaced in 1812. That plan was to advance to the Dvina and the Dnieper, to organise a defensive position, both as to fortifications, depots and communications, to take her fortresses on the Dvina, and to delay the march to Moscow until the spring of 1813. He was induced to abandon this plan, late in the season, from political reasons, from the outcry of his officers against winter quarters in Lithuania, and from a blind faith in his invincibility. He marched to Moscow, and the result is known. The disaster was immensely aggravated by the maladministration of the French Commissariat, and by the want of warm clothing for the soldiers. Had these things been better attended to, Napoleon, on his retreat, might have found himself at Vilna at the head of an army twice in numbers that which Russia could oppose to him. His errors are before us; they are none of them of a nature irremediable; the fact of his penetrating to Moscow, the march of Charles XII to Poltava, prove that the country is accessible, though difficult of access; and as to maintaining a victorious army in its heart, that all depends upon the length of the line of operations from the Rhine to Eylau and Friedland, if we consider long lines of operations in their capacity of drawbacks upon the active force of an army, will be about equal to a line of operations from Brest-Litovsk (supposing the Polish fortresses to be taken in the first year) to Moscow. And in this supposition no account is taken of the circumstance that the immediate base of operations would have been advanced to Vitebsk, Mogilev and Smolensk, without which preparatory act a march on Moscow would certainly be hazardous.
Russia is certainly thinly populated; but we must not forget that the central provinces – the very heart of Russian nationality and strength – have a population equal to that of central Europe. In Poland – that is, the five governments constituting the Russian kingdom of Poland – the average is about the same. The most populous districts of Russia – Moscow, Tula, Riazan, Nijni-Novgorod, Kaluga, Yaroslavl, Smolensk, etc – are the very heart of Great Russia, and form a compact body; they are continued, on the south, by the equally populous Little Russian provinces of Kiev, Poltava, Tehernigov, Voronezh, etc. There are, in all, twenty-nine provinces or governments, in which the population is quite half as dense as that of Germany. It is only the eastern and northern provinces, and the steppes of the south, where population is very thin; partly also the formerly Polish provinces of the west – Minsk, Mogilev and Grodno – on account of extensive swamps between the (Polish) Bug and Dniester. But an advancing army, having in its rear the corn-producing plains of Poland, Volhynia and Podolia, and in front, and for its theatre of operations, those of Central Russia, need not be afraid of its subsistence, if it manages the matter anything like well, and if it learns from the Russians themselves how to employ the means of transport of the country. As for a devastation of all resources by the retreating army, as in 1812, such a thing is only possible on one line of operations, and in its immediate vicinity; and if Napoleon had not, by his hurried advance from Smolensk, tied himself down to a very short time in which to complete his campaign, he would have found plenty of resources around him. But being in a hurry, he could not forage out the country at a short distance from his line of march, and his foraging parties, at that time, appear actually to have been afraid of penetrating far into the immense pine forests which separate village from village. An army which can detach strong cavalry parties to hunt up provisions, and the numerous carts and wagons of the country, can easily provide itself with everything necessary in the shape of food; and it is not likely that Moscow will burn down a second time. But even in that case, a retreat to Smolensk cannot be prevented, and there the army would find its well-prepared base of operation provided with every necessary.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 22 January 1855.
The entire British public, starting from the recent vehement leaders of the London Times, seems to be in a state of great anxiety and excitement respecting the condition of the forces in the Crimea. Indeed, it is impossible longer to deny or palliate the fact that, through unparalleled mismanagement in every branch of the service, the British army is rapidly approaching a state of dissolution. Exposed to the hardships of a winter campaign, suffering cold and wet, with the most harassing and uninterrupted field duty, without clothing, food, tents or housing, the veterans who braved the burning sun of India and the furious charges of the Beloochee and Afghan die away by hundreds daily, and as fast as reinforcements arrive they are eaten up by the ravages of disease. To the question who is to blame for this state of things, the reply just now most popular in England is that it is Lord Raglan; but this is not just. We are no admirers of his Lordship’s military conduct, and have criticised his blunders with freedom, but truth requires us to say that the terrible evils amid which the soldiers in the Crimea are perishing are not his fault, but that of the system on which the British war establishment is administered.
The British army has a Commander-in-Chief, a person dispensed with in almost all other civilised armies. But it would be a mistake to suppose that this Commander-in-Chief really commands anything. If he has some control over the infantry and cavalry, the artillery, engineers, sappers and miners are entirely beyond his sphere. If he has any authority over trousers, coatees and stocks, all great-coats are exempt from his influence. If he can make every foot-soldier carry two cartridge pouches, he cannot find him a single musket. If he can have all his men tried by court-martial and well flogged, he cannot make them stir a single inch. Marching is beyond his competence, and as to feeding his troops, that is a thing which does not concern him at all. Then there is the Master-General of the Ordnance. This person is a lamentable relic of the times when science was considered unsoldier-like, and when all scientific corps, artillery and engineers were not soldiers, but a sort of nondescript body, half savants, half handicraftsmen, and united in a separate guild or corporation, under the command of such a Master-General. This Master-General of the Ordnance, besides artillery and engineers, has under him all the great-coats and small arms of the army. To any military operation, of whatever nature, he must, therefore, be a party. Next comes the Secretary at War. If the two preceding characters were already of comparative nullity, he is beyond nullity. The Secretary at War can give no order to any part of the army, but he can prevent any portion of the army from doing anything. As he is the chief of the military finances, and as every military act costs money, his refusal to grant funds is equivalent to an absolute veto upon all operations. But, willing as he may be to grant the funds, he is still a nullity, for he cannot feed the army; that is beyond his sphere. In addition to all this, the Commissariat, which really feeds the army, and, in case of any movement, is supposed to find it in means of transport, is placed under the control of the Treasury. Thus the Prime Minister, the First Lord of the Treasury, has a direct hand in the getting up of every military operation, and can at his pleasure either push it, retard it, or stop it. Everybody knows that the Commissariat is almost a more important portion of the army than the soldiers themselves; and for this very reason the collective wisdom of Great Britain has thought proper to make it quite independent of the army, and to place it under control of an essentially different department. Finally, the army, formerly put in motion by the Colonial Secretary, is now subject to the orders of the new War Minister. He dislocates the troops, from England to China, and from India to Canada. But, as we have seen, his authority, taken singly, is as ineffectual as that of any of the four preceding military powers, the cooperation of all the five being required in order to bring about the least movement.
It was under the auspices of this wonderful system that the present war began. The British troops, well fed and well cared for at home, in consequence of a forty years’ peace, went out in high condition, persuaded that, whatever the enemy might do, England would not let her gallant lads want for anything. But scarcely had they landed at their first stage, at Gallipoli, when the comparison with the French army showed the ludicrous inferiority of all British arrangements, and the pitiable helplessness of every British official. Although it was here comparatively easy to provide for everything, although sufficient notice had been given, and a very small body of troops only was sent out, everything went wrong. Everybody made himself very busy, and yet nobody would perform duties that had not fallen to his lot at home in time of peace; so that not a man was to be found to do that business which was created by the very war itself. Thus shiploads of stuff were left to rot on the shore where they were first landed, and troops had to be sent on to Scutari for want of room. Chaotic disorder announced itself in unmistakable signs; but as it was the beginning of the war, an improvement was expected from growing experience.
The troops went to Varna. Their distance from home increased, their number increased, the disorder in the administration increased. The independent working of the five departments composing the administration, each of them responsible to a different minister at home, here first resulted in open and unmistakable clashing. Want reigned in the camp, while the garrison of Varna had the best of comforts. The Commissariat, lazily indeed, got together some means of transport from the country; but as the General-in-Chief did not appoint any escort wagons, the Bulgarian drivers disappeared again as fast as they had been brought together. A central depot was formed at Constantinople – a sort of first base of operations; but it served no purpose, except to create a fresh centre of difficulties, delays, questions of competency, quarrels between the army, the Ordnance, the paying staff, the Commissariat and the War Office. Wherever anything was to be done, everybody tried to shove it off his own shoulders upon those of somebody else. The avoiding of all responsibility was the general aim. The consequence was that everything went wrong, and that nothing whatever was done. Disgust at these proceedings, and the certainty of seeing his army rot in inactivity, may have had some influence in determining Lord Raglan to risk the expedition to the Crimea.
This expedition crowned the success of John Bull’s military organisation. There in the Crimea came the ‘palpable hit’. So long as the army was, in point of fact, in a state of peace, as at Gallipoli, Scutari and Varna, the magnitude of the disorder, the complexity of the confusion, could hardly be expected fully to develop itself. But now, in face of the enemy, during the course of an actual siege, the case was different. The resistance of the Russians gave full scope to the British officials for the exercise of their business-like habits. And it must be confessed never was the business of destroying an army done more effectually than by these gentlemen. Of more than 60,000 men sent to the East since February last, not more than 17,000 are now fit for duty; and of these some 60 or 80 die daily, and about 200 or 250 are every day disabled by sickness, while of those that fall sick hardly any recover. And out of the 43,000 dead or sick, not 7000 have been disabled by the direct action of the army.
When it first was reported in England that the army in the Crimea wanted food, clothing, housing, everything; that neither medical nor surgical stores were on the spot; that the sick and wounded had either to lie on the cold, wet ground, exposed to the weather, or to be crowded on board ships moored in an open roadstead, without attendance or the simplest requisites for medical treatment; when it was reported that hundreds were dying for want of the first necessaries – everybody believed that the government had neglected to send proper supplies to the scene of action. But soon enough it became known that, if this had been partially the case in the beginning, it was not so now. Everything had been sent there, even in profusion; but, unfortunately, nothing ever happened to be where it was wanted. The medical stores were at Varna, while the sick and wounded were either in the Crimea or at Scutari; the clothing and provisions arrived in sight of the Crimea, but there was nobody to land them. Whatever by chance got landed was left to rot on the beach. The necessary cooperation of the naval force brought a fresh element of dissension to bear upon the already distracted councils of the department whose conflicts were to insure triumph to the British army. Incapacity, sheltered by regulations made for peace, reigned supreme; in one of the richest countries of Europe, on the sheltered coast of which hundreds of transports laden with stores lay at anchor, the British army lived upon half rations; surrounded by numberless herds of cattle, they had to suffer from scurvy in consequence of being restricted to salt meat; with plenty of wood and coal on board ship, they had so little of it on shore that they had to eat their meat raw, and could never dry the clothes which the rain had drenched. Think of serving out the coffee not only unground but even unroasted. There were stores of food, of drink, of clothing, of tents, of ammunition by tons and hundreds of tons, stowed away on board the ships, whose masts almost touched the tops of the cliffs where the camp was placed; and yet, Tantalus-like, the British troops could not get at them. Everybody felt the evil, everybody ran about, cursing and blaming everybody else for neglect of duty, but nobody knew, to use the vernacular expression, ‘which was which’, for everybody had his own set of regulations, carefully drawn up, sanctioned by the authorities, and showing that the very thing wanted was no part of his duty, and that he, for one, had no power to set the matter right.
Now, add to this state of things the increasing inclemency of the season, the heavy rains setting in and transforming the whole Heracleatic Chersonesus into one uninterrupted pool of mud and slush, knee-deep if not more; imagine the soldiers two nights at least out of four in the trenches, the other two sleeping, drenched and dirty in the slush, without boards under them, and with hardly any tents over them; the constant alarms completing the impossibility of anything like proper rest and adequate sleep; the cramps, diarrhoea and other maladies arising from constant wet and cold; the dispersion of the medical staff, weak though it was from the beginning, over the camp; the hospital tents with 3000 sick almost in the open air, and lying on the wet earth; and it will be easily believed that the British army in the Crimea is in a state of complete disorganisation – reduced to ‘a mob of brave men’, as the London Times says – and that the soldiers may well welcome the Russian bullet which frees them from all their miseries.
But what is to be done? Why, unless you prefer waiting until half a dozen Acts of Parliament are, after due consideration by the Crown lawyers, discussed, amended, voted on and enacted; until by this means the whole business connected with the army is concentrated in the hands of a real War Minister; until this new Minister, supposing him to be the right man, has organised the service of his office, and issued fresh regulations; in other words, unless you wait until the last vestige of the Crimean army has disappeared, there is only one remedy. This is the assumption by the General-in-Chief of the expedition, upon his own authority and his own responsibility, of that dictatorship over all the conflicting and contending departments of the military administration which every other General-in-Chief possesses, and without which he cannot bring the enterprise to any end but ruin. That would soon make matters smooth; but where is the British general who would be prepared to act in this Roman manner, and on his trial defend himself, like the Roman, with the words, ‘Yes, I plead guilty to having saved my country'?
Finally we must inquire who is the founder and preserver of this beautiful system of administration. Nobody but the old Duke of Wellington. He stuck to every detail of it as if he was personally interested in making it as difficult as possible for his successors to rival him in war-like glory. Wellington, a man of eminent common sense, but of no genius whatever, was the more sensible of his own deficiencies in this respect from being the contemporary and opponent of the eminent genius of Napoleon. Wellington, therefore, was full of envy of the success of others. His meanness in disparaging the merits of his auxiliaries and allies is well known; he never forgave Blucher for saving him at Waterloo. Wellington knew full well that had not his brother been minister during the Spanish War he never could have brought it to a successful close. Was Wellington afraid that future exploits would place him in the shade? And did he therefore preserve to its full extent this machinery so well adapted to fetter generals and to ruin armies?
Originally published in New York Tribune, 28 March 1855.
The death of the Emperor Nicholas, with its immediate and prospective consequences, overtops all other news. As The Tribune informed its readers would be the case, contrary to the opinion of nearly all the journals, Alexander II quietly assumed the inheritance of his father. Europeans speculate upon the course which the new Emperor will pursue in the ominous conflict now pending. Until yet, however, the few public acts of Alexander show that he intends to pursue the same course as his predecessor. The manifesto to the nation, of which only the most interesting part is published in the European journals, declares that the new Tsar will do all in his power to maintain Russia in the high position which she holds, and that he will continue the policy of Peter, Catherine, Alexander and his deceased father. Such a declaration is very natural in the mouth of a new sovereign, but it would be preposterous to draw conclusions therefrom as to his future acts. Such words are neither for war nor for peace, and other indications are required in order to judge of his intentions. One of these is that he has no liking for the English; and another is the nomination of Count Rudiger as War Minister, instead of Prince Dolgoroucki, who filled this post under the deceased Tsar, and was his favourite. These are the only changes yet known to be made among the higher dignitaries of the Empire, and they followed almost immediately on the death of Nicholas. We perceive in them a demonstration that the new Emperor is preparing for extremities, and for an energetic prosecution of the war, should the Conference of Vienna prove a failure.
As we long ago stated, it was the practice of Nicholas to direct personally all the movements of his armies and the destination and location of his troops. In a word, he was his own War Minister. Prince Dolgoroucki, a man of secondary capacity, without any military experience, was a good Secretary – laborious and exact in the execution of orders, but unable alone to conceive any plans, or combine or energetically organise new resources. The present Emperor himself, inexperienced in military matters, and never having really devoted to them much of his time, has, in appointing Count Rudiger Minister of War, compensated for his own deficiencies. This Minister is one of oldest generals of Russia, having served with distinction in interior grades during the French campaigns, as general against the Turks in 1828-49, as the commander of a corps in the Polish campaign of 1831, and having finally contributed chiefly to bring to an end the Hungarian invasion, Georgey surrendering to him. He is beyond seventy years, but active, very energetic, and a military man to the marrow, enjoying great consideration in the army as well as at St Petersburg. He was highly esteemed by Nicholas, and was always a favourite with the present Emperor. Personally he is on rather unfriendly terms with Prince Paskevitch and Prince Gortschakoff, the late commander on the Danube, and now in the Crimea. Count Rudiger has represented the German party, but that must not be confounded with a peace party. The Germans in the military service of Russia are more warlike than the Russians themselves. War is for them the only way of acquiring distinction and rising to elevated positions. Rudiger is descended from an ancient family in the Baltic provinces, as are nearly all the Germans in the Russian service. These ancient noble descendants of the ancient Teutonic knights have preserved all the warlike traditions and the aristocratic character of their ancestors, and all of them prefer to enter the army, war being for them an object of ambition as well as an attraction. The elevation, therefore, of Rudiger, though a German, would give a new and powerful impulse to the preparations for war.
Originally published in New York Tribune, 27 April 1855.
With the middle classes both of France and England this war is decidedly unpopular. With the French bourgeoisie it was so from the beginning, because this class has been ever since 2 December in full opposition against the government of the ‘saviour of society’. In England the middle class was divided. The great bulk had transferred their national hatred from the French to the Russians, and although John Bull can do a little annexation business himself now and then in India, he has no idea of allowing other people to do the same in other neighbourhoods in an uncomfortable proximity to himself or his possessions. Russia was the country which in this respect had long since attracted his anxious notice. The enormously increasing British trade to the Levant, and through Trebizond to Inner Asia, makes the free navigation of the Dardanelles a point of the highest importance to England. The growing value of the Danubian countries as granaries forbids England to allow their gradual absorption into Russia, and the closing of the navigation of the Danube by the same power. Russian grains form already a too important item in British consumption, and an annexation of the corn-producing frontier countries by Russia would make Great Britain entirely dependent upon her and the United States, while it would establish these two countries as the regulators of the corn-market of the world. Besides, there are always some vague and alarming rumours afloat about Russian progress in Central Asia, got up by interested Indian politicians or terrified visionaries, and credited by the general geographical ignorance of the British public. Thus, when Russia began her aggression upon Turkey, the national hatred broke forth in a blaze, and never, perhaps, was a war so popular as this. The peace party was for a moment interdicted from speaking; even the mass of its own members went along with the popular current. Whoever knew the character of the English must have felt certain that this warlike enthusiasm could be of but short duration, at least so far as the middle class was concerned; as soon as the effects of the war should become taxable upon their pockets, mercantile sense was sure to overcome national pride, and the loss of immediate individual profits was sure to outweigh the certainty of losing gradually great national advantages. The Peelites, adverse to the war, not so much out of real love of peace as from a narrowness and timidity of mind which holds in horror all great crises and all decisive action, did their best to hasten the great moment when every British merchant and manufacturer could calculate to a farthing what the war would cost him, individually, per annum. Mr Gladstone, scorning the vulgar idea of a loan, at once doubled the income tax, and stopped financial reform. The result came to light at once. The peace party raised their heads again. John Bright dared popular feeling with his own well-known spirit and tenacity until he succeeded in bringing the manufacturing districts round to him. In London the feeling is still more in favour of the war, but the progress of the peace party is visible even here; besides, it must be recollected that the peace society never at any time commanded any mentionable influence in the capital. Its agitation, however, is increasing in all parts of the country, and another year of doubled taxation, with a loan – for this is now considered to be unavoidable – will break down whatever is left of warlike spirit among the manufacturing and trading classes.
With the mass of the people in both countries, the case is entirely different. The peasantry in France have ever since 1789 been the great supporters of war and warlike glory. They are sure this time not to feel much of the pressure of the war; for the conscription, in a country where the land is infinitesimally subdivided among small proprietors, not only frees the agricultural districts from surplus labour, but also gives to some 20,000 young men every year the opportunity of earning a round sum of money by engaging to serve as substitutes. A protracted war only would be felt. As to war taxes, the Emperor cannot impose them upon the peasantry without risking his crown and his life. His only means of maintaining Bonapartism among them is to buy them up by freedom from war taxation, and thus for some years to come they may be exempted from this sort of pressure. In England the case is similar. Agricultural labour is generally oversupplied, and furnishes the mass of soldiery, which only at a later period of the war receives a strong admixture of the rowdy class from the town. Trade being tolerably good, and a good many agricultural improvements being carried out when the war began, the quota of agricultural recruits was, in this instance, supplied more sparingly than before, and the town element is decidedly preponderant in the present militia. But even what has been withdrawn had kept wages up, and the sympathy of the villagers is always accompanying soldiers who come from among them, and who are now transformed into heroes. Taxation, in its direct shape, does not touch the small farmers and labourers, and until an increase of indirect imposts can reach them sensibly, several years of war must have passed. Among these people the war enthusiasm is as strong as ever, and there is not a village where is not to be found some new beer-shop with the sign of ‘The Heroes of the Alma’, or some such motto, and where are not in almost every house wonderful prints of Alma, Inkerman, the charge at Balaklava, portraits of Lord Raglan and others, to adorn the walls. But if in France the great preponderance of the small farmers (four-fifths of the population), and their peculiar relation to Louis Napoleon, give to their opinions a great deal of importance, in England that one-third of the population forming the country people has scarcely any influence except as a tail and chorus to the aristocratic landed proprietors.
The industrial working population has in both countries almost the same peculiar position with regard to this war. Both British and French proletarians are filled with an honourable national spirit, though they are more or less free from the antiquated national prejudices common in both countries to the peasantry. They have little immediate interest in the war, save that if the victories of their countrymen flatter their national pride, the conduct of the war, foolhardy and presumptuous as regards France, timid and stupid as regards England, offers them a fair opportunity of agitating against the existing governments and governing classes. But the main point with them is this: that this war, coinciding with a commercial crisis, only the first developments of which have, as yet, been seen, conducted by hands and heads unequal to the task, gaining at the same time European dimensions, will and must bring about events which will enable the proletarian class to resume that position which they lost to France by the battle of June 1848, and that not only as far as France is concerned, but for all Central Europe, England included.
In France, indeed, there can be no doubt that every fresh revolutionary storm must bring sooner or later the working class to power; in England things are fast approaching a similar state. There is an aristocracy willing to carry on the war, but unfit to do so, and completely put to the blush by last winter’s mismanagement. There is a middle class unwilling to carry on that war which cannot be put a stop to, sacrificing everything to peace, and thereby proclaiming their own incapacity to govern England. If events turn out the one, with its different fractions, and do not admit the other, there remain but two classes upon which power can devolve – the petty bourgeoisie, the small trading class, whose want of energy and decision has shown itself on every occasion when it was called upon to come from words to deeds – and the working class, which has been constantly reproached with showing far too much energy and decision when proceeding to action as a class.
Which of these classes will be the one to carry England through the present struggle, and the complications about to arise from it?