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Aberdeen and his colleagues were indeed confederates of Russia, and the Czar was right in calling the exPremier his "old friend!" It was now clear why Mr. Gladstone starved the war,-why Mr. Sidney Herbert and the Duke of Newcastle made the expedition to the East a mere parade,-why Lord Aberdeen kept protocolling instead of acting,-why Sir James Graham sent no gun-boats to the Baltic, spared Odessa,* and forbade the fleet to attack Kertsch or harm the Russians in the Sea of Azoff! A much lighter shade of criminality than this would in former times have sent a Ministry to the Tower. Why, the mere sparing of Odessa and Kertsch was a graver fault than that which Admiral Byng expiated with his life; -the one endangered Gibraltar, the other has cost us an army by saving Sebastopol. Under any other Government, Sebastopol would have been ours last year; yet the flag of Russia (though we trust soon to fall) still floats over its bristling earth-works, and England now pays with the lives of her soldiers for the policy of her Government. The British nation has grown tolerant of misconduct in high places. The public, for its blind acquiescence, now charitably takes to itself a portion of the blame of those who dupe it. But in a case like this, where the honour and interests of Great Britain are alike concerned, and where the national feelings have been outraged in their most sensitive point, where a Ministry has at once involved us in a gigantic war, and betrayed us in the conduct of it, forgive is an impossible word, and the long tale of treachery will be requited by generations of censure and abhorrence.
The tale is a longer one than the less watchful portion of the public may imagine. The fountain lies deep, and, we confess, it contains abysses into which we do not care to search. Future historians will lay it all bare,
after the lapse of years has stripped some points of the delicacy which now envelopes them. A French or Russian alliance,-that was the fundamental question from whence has arisen the conflict of opinion among our statesmen. Louis Napoleon, enthroned in France, held out his hand to England. Far-seeing as his uncle, and prescient of coming storms from the North, he sought to establish himself and fortify Western civilisation by an alliance between the two freest and most liberty-loving nations of Europe. Lord Palmerston on the spot accepted it. For the last thirty years it has been the practice of our country to recognise every de facto Government in other countries, whether it be popular or absolutist, whether it be a Republic, a Monarchy, a Presidency, or an Empire. In December 1851, Lord Palmerston, nothing loth, followed the prescriptive practice, and hastened to recognise the Presidency of Louis Napoleon. We shall not pry into the cloud which envelopes the Cabinet crisis which ensued. Suffice it to say, the pressure must have been great which rent asunder the Whig party, and drove from office so veteran and accommodating a statesman as Palmerston. But this first coup of the anti-Gallican party failed notably. The Russell Cabinet, already tottering, was prostrated by the dismemberment. And the Conservatives succeeding to the reins of government, gave a diametrically opposite bias to our foreign policy, and, rapidly undoing what the anti-Gallicans had commenced, at once drew closer the alliance with our neighbour of France. Stratford Canning, the man in all the world whom the Czar hated most, was created Lord de Redcliffe, and, coming home from his post at Constantinople, doubtless gave his Conservative friends the benefit of his long experience of Russian policy. Lord Malmesbury, the Foreign Minister, had been
* Sir James now takes credit for having proposed to Admiral Dundas to bombard Odessa. But when was this proposal made? Not till the middle of December last, after the mischief was done, and the Government had been challenged in Parliament for not having bombarded the place at the opening of the campaign. If Sir James had wished Odessa destroyed-and the enterprise would then have been of great use-why did he not give orders for its bombardment in May, when the Allied fleets were before the town, and had actually opened fire upon it?
a personal friend of Louis Napoleon, and was acquainted with his philoEnglish and anti-Russian predilections. So, at the head-quarters of the Conservative Ministry, there was both a friend of the French ruler and an inveterate antagonist of the Czar. The adherents of German principles and the Russian alliance were in despair. Nothing but a quick overthrow of the Derby Administration could prevent England from fraternising with France to the disadvantage of Russia; and they resolved to attempt it. Party rivalry and lust of office had their part in what followed; but the grand feature of opposition between the Derby Cabinet and its successor was in their Foreign policy, the one leading to France, the other to Russia.
Woburn Abbey, of old the seat of many a wily conclave, was the scene of these first "conferences." Russell, Lansdowne, and Aberdeen, were the plenipotentiaries; and they made quicker progress in their work than their own plenipotentiaries did afterwards. A Coalition was effected. The Peelites were to become Liberals at home,--the Liberals were to become Absolutists abroad. Popular principles were to be tabooed on the Continent, and Palmerston, to be out of the way, was put into the Home Office. Peelism, from some other cause than its numerical strength, was in the ascendant, and even Lord John Russell was for a time almost without office. Poans were sung in the Winter Palace of St. Petersburg. Nicholas, hitherto cold and distant, now caught hold of Sir George Seymour by the button-hole. At a private meeting at the Palace of the Grand-duchess Helen, on the 9th January-that is to say, as soon as despatches from or concerning the new Ministry could be received from London-"the Emperor came up to
me," says our Ambassador, "in the most gracious manner, to say that he had heard of her Majesty's Government being definitively formed, adding that he trusted the Ministry would be of long duration. He desired me particularly to convey this assurance to the Earl of Aberdeen-with whom, he said, he had been acquainted for nearly forty years, and for whom he entertained equal regard and esteem." But the Czar, while remembering his "old friend," did not forget the antiGallicanism of Lord John Russell in December, 1851; and from the conjunction of two such stars in the same Cabinet, he knew that Russia's hour for triumph was come. "I repeat," he went on to say in that memorable interview, "it is very essential that the English Government and I should be upon the best terms; and the necessity was never greater than at present. I beg you to convey these words to Lord John Russell. When we are agreed, I am quite without anxiety as to the west of Europe." True. "If ever France and England form a sincere reliance," said Napoleon on the rock of St. Helena, "it will be to resist Russia." And Nicholas now believed he could render that alliance impossible.*
The Czar knew his men, and spoke out. "I am unwilling to promise," he said, "not to establish myself at Constantinople-as proprietor I mean, for as its holder in deposit I do not say." He afterwards made his desire to become Lord-Paramount of Constantinople still clearer, by showing that every other possible alternative would be resisted by him to the last. "Constantinople," he said, "never shall be held by the English, or French, or any other great nation. Again, I never will permit an attempt at the reconstruction of a Byzantine empire, or such an extension of Greece as would render her a powerful state;
It is but justice to Sir George Seymour, and at the same time a grave charge against the Ministry, to say that, in one of his admirable despatches, he expressly warned them (Jan. 11) that the Czar's overtures "tended to establish a dilemma by which it was very desirable that her Majesty's Government should not allow themselves to be fettered." Again, on 21st Feb., he wrote to Downing Street: "The Emperor's object is to engage her Majesty's Government, in conjunction with his own Cabinet and that of Vienna, in some scheme for the ultimate partition of Turkey, and for the exclusion of France from the arrangement" Verba missa ad auras! The Cabinet disregarded the warning, because they acquiesced in the general proposal,
still less will I permit the breaking up of Turkey into little republics. Rather than submit to any of these arrangements, I would go to war, and as long as I have a man and a musket left, would carry it on!" The Czar's overtures were no idle talk. At the same time that the British Cabinet thus received intimation of the Czar's designs, they were informed by our ambassador that two Russian corpsd'armée (the 3rd and 4th) had got the route for the Turkish frontiers! But nothing disquieted them in their resolution to lean upon the Russian alliance. Only, lest the affair should get wind, or be deemed obnoxious by some of their colleagues, it was unconstitutionally resolved that this correspondence should be secretly conducted by a small conclave. Lord John Russell was deputed to make the first reply. He commenced with an acknowledgment of "the mode ration, frankness, and friendly disposition of his Imperial Majesty;" -then, for sole answer to the Czar's verbal and military menaces against Turkey, meekly observed that as yet "no actual crisis has occurred which renders necessary a solution of this vast European problem;" but remarked that "her Majesty's Government are persuaded that no course of policy can be adopted more wise, more disinterested, and more beneficial to Europe, than that which his Imperial Majesty has so long followed, and which will render his name more illustrious than that of the most famous sovereigns who have sought immortality by unprovoked conquest and ephemeral glory!" To these Coalition compliments and sugar-plums, Lord John added a special and uncalled-for
reference to one point in the "disinterested and beneficial" policy which was to raise the Czar to such a pitch of glory. And what was this point, but that very Protectorate over the Greek Christians which afterwards occasioned the _fatal_imbroglio;—and what did Lord John but actually commend the Emperor for performing this protectorate-not only as a right, but as a "burdensome and inconve nient" duty!* By a preceding mail, also, the gratifying news had reached St. Petersburg that two members of the British Cabinet (Sir C. Wood and Sir J. Graham) had vilified and denounced the French Emperor from the public hustings, and that their colleagues and his "ancient friend” had by silence acquiesced in the sentiment!
Thus complimented and encouraged, the Czar proceeded in his plans. Prince Menschikoff was despatched post-haste to Constantinople to pick a quarrel with France about the Holy Places, and to concuss Turkey into a recognition of the Protectorate which the British Cabinet thought the Czar was entitled to, and so well discharged. But the French Emperor was too knowing to be thus entrapped. He felt that England under the new Ministry was breaking away from him, and he had no desire to fight the Continent single-handed. The impetuous Lavalette had been recalled; and when the Russian envoy arrived at Constantinople with his demands about the Holy Places, France at once released the Porte from its difficulties, by resigning the privileges lately conceded to her. The first ultimatum, though agreed to, thus failed in its object. The next news was, alarming despatch from Colonel Rose,
The words of this commendatory sentence addressed to the Czar are:-"The more the Turkish Government adopts the rules of impartial law and equal administration, the less will the Emperor of Russia find it necessary to apply that exceptional protection which his Imperial Majesty has found so burdensome and inconve nient, though, no doubt, prescribed by DUTY and sanctioned by TREATY." Yet in the July following, Lord Palmerston declared that "no country had ever achieved so many reforms, in the same time, as Turkey had done within the last fifteen years." And exactly a year after Lord John Russell's testimony to the Czar's right and duty to exercise the Protectorate, Lord Clarendon said (Jan. 31, 1854):-"No injury to the Christian subjects of the Porte afforded even a pretext for such acts of aggression. On the contrary, from the introduction of new laws for their protection, and their own gradual progress in wealth and intelligence, the condition of the Christians was manifestly improving." And before fifteen months had expired the Aberdeen Cabinet declared war against the Czar, to resist this Protectorate, of which at first they expressly approved!
chargé d'affaires, stating that some understanding," said the Czar Menschikoff had been secretly offering to Sir G. Seymour, in the end of Febto conclude an offensive and defensive ruary, when our ambassador (although alliance with Turkey, to which Eng- unsupported by any intelligible inland was not to be a party, and from structions from his Government) which she was to be sedulously ex- showed obvious reluctance to enter cluded; and that the Russian Go- into the imperial plans; "and this vernment offered to support Turkey we should do, I am convinced, if I against any Power, with an army of could hold but ten minutes' conver400,000 men. The British Cabinet sation with your ministers,—with Lord disbelieved or disregarded the report, Aberdeen, for instance, who knows me although it was immediately after- so well, who has full confidence in wards (April 6) confirmed by Lord me, as I have in him. And, remember, Redcliffe in person; and the demand I do not ask for a treaty or a profor the fleet to be sent to the Bos- tocol; a general understanding is all phorus, though desired by France, I require,-that between gentlemen was negatived at once. Yet so ob- is sufficient; and in this case I am vious had grown the danger, and so certain that the confidence would be exorbitant in the eyes of our ambas- as great on the side of the Queen's sador the demands of Russia, that Lord Ministers as on mine." Nicholas was Redcliffe wrote home, that "it was not disappointed in his estimate of not the amputation of a limb, but the the Aberdeen Cabinet; and Lord Clainfusion of poison into the whole rendon (23d March) replied like a system, that the Turkish Government sycophant:-"The generous confiwere summoned to accept." At length dence exhibited by the Emperor encame the ultimatissimum, in which titles his Imperial Majesty to the most Menschikoff demanded for his im- cordial declaration of opinion on the perial master a protectorate over the part of her Majesty's Government, Christian subjects of the Sultan,-a who are fully aware that, in the event demand as extraordinary and unjustifi- of any understanding with reference to able, whatever Lord John and his future contingencies being expedient colleagues might think of it, as if the or indeed possible, the word of his French Emperor had claimed a similar Imperial Majesty would be preferable right over the Roman Catholic sub- to any convention that could be framed." jects of the British Crown. On the This understanding was come to. The demand being rejected by the Porte, Czar desired no tell-tale "treaty or Menschikoff withdrew, breathing ven- protocol." The litera scripta, he geance, and Luders with his corps- knew, would terrify his friends in d'armée soon afterwards crossed the the Coalition Cabinet. No British Pruth, an event destined to be more Ministry could dare to sign away the memorable in the history of modern independence of Turkey, but they Europe than was Cæsar's crossing the could connive at it,-which Nicholas, Rubicon in the annals of Rome. as a practical man, knew was quite as good.
War was begun,—our ally was attacked, all treaties were thrown to the winds,-Russia was bearing down towards Constantinople, and the balance of power in Europe was menaced. But the British Cabinet remained quiescent! Secretly in the confidence of the Czar for the previous six months, and fully informed of his designs upon Turkey, they yet took no steps to deter him from his ambitious projects. And why? Because, rather than break with him, and be forced back upon the French alliance, they were willing to acquiesce in his plans, and trust in his "well-known moderation." "We must come to
And the Aberdeen Ministry did connive at it. They laid their whole plans with the view to concussing Turkey, or letting Turkey be concussed, into acceptance of the Czar's demands. They resolved to make no opposition, and without their co-operation, they knew, France could offer none. extra supplies were asked in the Budget; and when the Pruth was crossed, not a sabre or bayonet was added to the army, nor a single step taken to embody the militia. At one time Parliament was assured that the occupation of the Principalities was merely a temporary measure, and at another
that they were "waiting for Austria.” Now, six months before (22d Feb.), the Czar had told them-"When I speak of Russia, I speak of Austria as well; our interests as regards Turkey are perfectly identical.
I can reckon upon Austria, who is bound by her promise to support me." The truth is, the Aberdeen Cabinet were waiting, not for the military co-operation of Austria to commence the war, but for the compulsory yielding of Turkey, which, by satisfying Russia, would have restored peace. The secret conclave of the Cabinet had, partly by silence and partly by their profuse eulogy and commendations, led the Czar to believe that they acquiesced in his views in regard to Turkey; and in the abovequoted despatch of Lord John Russell's, they had expressly told the Czar that they regarded his Protectorate of the Greek Christians as at once a right and a duty. They adhered to these opinions all the more after the work of invasion had commenced; because they saw that the Czar (whom they had thus tempted into the path of conquest) would not recede, or quit hold of the Principalities, unless his demands were conceded. Lord Aberdeen and his colleagues had assented to Russia occupying the Principalities without considering it a casus belli, because they thought that this would bring the Porte to terms. To browbeat Turkey, content Russia, and so (though with immense damage to England and Europe in the end) preserve peace and the Russian alliance at any price, was the policy of the
Cabinet,—and for their Russian leanings, Europe and their country will yet have to weep tears of blood. The gallantry of the Ottomans, however, baffled the anticipations of the senile Premier ;-and although he fought on to attain his object by means of "mediating" (!) Notes, the Turks would not listen to such degrading conditions, and resolved rather to die sword in hand than to sign away their independence. So strong, too, grew the feeling of sympathy for the Turks, and of hatred to Russia, among the British people, that the Coalition Cabinet became divided against itself. Then came the dreadful massacre of Sinope-a disaster for which the British Cabinet were directly responsible,* by having forbidden the main body of the Turkish fleet to enter the Euxine to escort their convoys; and a general burst of indignation took place throughout the kingdom. Palmerston threatened to resign; and seeing the country against him, and the Cabinet going to pieces, the Premier at length began to give
But began only, and that, too, rather in semblance than in reality. If ever there were philo-Russians in this country, and cunning knaves to boot, they were Aberdeen and his Peelite colleagues. In sending the British fleet to the Bosphorus, they did so only because (owing to the winter storms) it could no longer lie exposed in Beycos Bay; and when it reached Constantinople, the only thing it did was by its presence to help to compel the Turkish fleet not to put to sea.
It is rarely that a Ministry can be convicted by the testimony of its own representatives, and by documents printed under its own superintendence, but the following extract from a despatch of Lord de Redcliffe, dated 17th December, 1853, shows the opinion of our ambassador as to the share which the Ministry had in producing the catastrophe of Sinope:-"From all that precedes, it appears that a severe loss, which a timely interposition of the Allied squadrons might have prevented, has been sustained by the Porte. Forgive me, my Lord, if, in this combination of circumstances, all tending to the same conclusion, I cannot lose sight of PUBLIC OPINION, or of that maturer judgment which LATER TIMES will pronounce upon our conduct at this unprecedented juncture;-and if, while stating my reasons for purposing to send the squadrons into the Black Sea now, I feel that an explanation of the causes which restrained them from going SOONER might be reasonably expected." This was plain language. It indicates that the ambassador neither acquiesced in the policy, nor was informed of the secret motives, of his Government; and explains the rumours, frequent at that time, of Lord de Redcliffe having tendered his resignation. But Lord Clarendon's only answer was to write to St. Petersburg on the 27th, that the combined fleets "had no hostile designs against Russia!”