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Napoleon and Barbès.—The Newspaper Stamp

Karl Marx

London, March 27. We learn from the best source that Bonaparte's visit to St. James's Palace[106]—expected on April 16— will occasion a great counter-demonstration. For the Chartists have invited the French refugee Armand Barbès also to visit London on April 16, when he is to be received with a public procession and a big meeting. There is, however, some question whether his state of health will permit a sea voyage.

The Bill to abolish the newspaper stamp passed its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday. The main articles of this Bill are as follows: 1. The compulsory newspaper stamp is abolished; 2. Periodicals printed on stamped paper will continue to enjoy the privilege of free distribution through the post. A third clause concerns the size of printed matter distributed through the post, and another decrees that stamped newspapers will have to furnish security in case of any action for libel. The old newspaper duty system is sufficiently characterised by two facts. The publication of a daily paper in London requires a capital of at least £50,000 to £60,000. The whole English press, with very few exceptions, raises a shameless and disgraceful opposition to the new Bill. Is further proof needed that the old system was a protective tariff system for the established press and a system prohibiting free mental production? Press freedom, in England up to now has been the exclusive privilege of capital. The few weekly journals which represent the interests of the working class—daily papers were, of course, out of the question manage to survive thanks to the weekly contributions of the workers, who in England are making very different sacrifices for public purposes than those on the Continent. The tragicomic, blustering rhetoric with which the Leviathan of the English press—The Times— fights pro aris et focis[a], i. e., for the newspaper monopoly, now modestly comparing itself with the Delphic oracle, now affirming that England possesses only one single institution worth preserving, namely The Times; now claiming absolute rule over world journalism, and, without any Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji[107], a protectorate over all European journalists.

All this cant[b] by The Times was properly disposed of in yesterday's sitting of the Lower House by the whimsical Drummond:

"Nowadays the press was a mercantile speculation, and nothing else.... Why Messrs. Walter", the principal shareholders of The Times, "should not set up a manufactory of gossip just as well as Mr. Bright should set up a manufactory of calico?... The Times seemed to him to carry on their business [...] better than their rivals [...]. The Walter family have always found a convenient man [...]—a seven years' barrister or some one of that stamp, who was ready to take up anything. [...] There was Barnes, Alsager, Sterling, Delane, Morris, Lowe and Dasent. [...] These gentlemen were all of different opinions. Now, the foolish papers who did not understand the matter, like The Morning Chronicle, for instance, took up with some particular party. One was a Peelite[108]; another a Derbyite, etc. When the Peelite party was thriving the paper throve too, but when the Peelites went down, down went the paper. It was quite clear these were not men of business. The thing was to get a set of gentlemen of different opinions"—and The Times is a master of this—"and to set them writing. Of course, you could accuse no one man of inconsistency; he might always have held the same opinions; and so individually these were most consistent, while, collectively, nothing in the world could be more inconsistent. It seemed to him that the very perfection of journalism was—individual honesty, and collective profligacy, political and literary. There was [...] a great advantage in this, and The Times newspaper always put him very much in mind of one of his farmers. When he suggested draining a bit of bog the farmer [...] replied, 'No, no! don't drain it. In wet weather there's something for the cow, and if there's nothing for the cow there's something for the pig, and if there's nothing for the pig, there's some-thing for the goose.' [...] As to the bribery of newspapers there was positive proof respecting The Times of which Napoleon said, 'You have sent me The Times,—that infamous Times, the journal of the Bourbons'—and it was stated in a work by Mr. O'Meara[c] that the Bourbons paid The Times 6,000 f. [...] a month. He had found the receipt for the money, signed by the editor. Mr. O'Meara also stated that before he was exiled to Elba Napoleon received several offers [...] from the editors of newspapers, and among them offers from The Times, to write for them. Napoleon declined to accept the offers made to him, but afterwards regretted the course he took."[d]

In this context we merely observe that in 1815 The Times urged that Napoleon, whom it presented as the centre of European demagogy[109] should be shot under martial law. In 1816 this same paper wanted to bring the United States of North America, "this disastrous example of successful insurrection", back under English despotism.

Written on March 27, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 151, March 30, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] For hearth and home. The reference is to an article on the Bill to lift stamp duty, published in The Times, No. 22011, March 26, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Marx uses the English word.—Ed.

[c] O'Meara's diary Napoleon in Exile, or A Voice from St. Helena, published in 1822.—Ed.

[d] Drummond made this speech in the House of Commons on March 26, 1855. The Times, No. 22012, March 27, 1855.—Ed.

[106] St. James's Palace—royal residence in London since the late seventeenth century. Festive ceremonies and receptions were frequently held there.

[107] The Kuchuk-Kainarji peace treaty was concluded by Russia and Turkey on July 21, 1774, following the former's victories in the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-74. Russia obtained part of the Northern shore of the Black Sea between the South Bug and the Dnieper with the fortress of Kinburn; she also got Azov, Kerch and Yenikale and compelled Turkey to recognise the independence of the Crimea, which facilitated its eventual incorporation into Russia. The Sultan undertook to grant a number of privileges to the Greek Orthodox Church. Article 14, in particular, provided for the building of an Orthodox church in Constantinople.

[108] The Peelites were a group of moderate Tories supporting Robert Peel, who advocated economic concessions to the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie as a means of maintaining the political rule of the big landowners and financiers. In 1846, he secured the repeal of the Corn Laws (see Note 14↓). This move, favouring the industrial bourgeoisie, was bitterly resented by the Protectionist Tories and led to a split in the Tory party and the emergence of the Peelites as an independent group. The Peelites were represented in Aberdeen's coalition government (1852-55) and joined the Liberal party in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

[109] The Demagogues were members of an opposition movement of German intellectuals. The word gained wide currency following the Carlsbad conference of Ministers of German states in August 1849, which adopted a special resolution against the intrigues of "demagogues". Here the reference is to the opponents of the counter-revolutionary monarchies restored in Europe after Napoleon's fall.

[14] The Corn Laws, the first of which were passed as early as the fifteenth century, imposed high import duties on agricultural products in order to maintain high prices for these products on the domestic market. The Corn Laws served the interests of the big landowners. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in their repeal in June 1846.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.121-123), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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