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The American Difficulty.—
Affairs of France[410]

Karl Marx

London, Friday, Feb. 8, 1856

Except the venal gentry of the Ministerial press, nobody in England seems to believe much in our Anglo-American difficulty[411] Some people consider it a trick to withdraw attention from the peace negotiations. Others pretend that Palmerston will push on to a mutual recall of Embassadors, when he will go out, as Pitt did before the peace of Amiens[412], to return when a truly English Minister is again wanted. From the manner in which the dispute is maintained very clever people look upon the whole as a simple election dodge of the President[a]. The Democratic press beholds Bonaparte behind the scenes, delighted in fanning internecine war between the Anglo-Saxons on either side of the Atlantic. Everybody else is quietly convinced that there is not the least chance of hostilities, however high official language may run. This view, we observed, is entertained also by the French Government paper, the Constitutionnel, which offers its master as pacificator for the New as well as for the Old World.[b]

The principal circumstance not to be lost sight of in estimating this affair is the almost virtual extinction of the entente cordiale between England and France[413], more or less openly confessed by the English press. Take, for instance, the London Times, the paper -which not long ago proclaimed this Bonaparte a much greater man than the real Napoleon, and proposed to expel all the vicious people who would not bow to that creed. In a leading article it now suggests that the only obstacle to peace is Bonaparte's over-eagerness for it. This is followed up by another article hinting that the "chosen instrument of Providence" is, after all, a mere pis-aller of French society, accepted "because there was not to be found one single man in whom the nation could place its confidence and esteem." In a third article it denounces his whole staff of generals, ministers, functionaries, &c., as a motley band of stockjobbing desperadoes[c]. The language of the provincial press of England is even less reserved. Observe, on the other hand, the altered tone of the French journals—their fulsome adulation and flattery to Russia; so singularly contrasting with their moderate antipathy for England. Further, observe the very confident menaces of a general Continental coalition held out by the Austrian, Belgian and Prussian papers. Lastly, take the Russian press which in its peace homilies ostentatiously addresses itself to France alone, without as much as mentioning England.

"A rainbow of peace," says the Nordische Biene, "has appeared in the horizon, and has been joyfully hailed by all friends of civilization.... In these two years of war with Four Powers, the Russian people has given a striking proof of its great and noble character, and has earned the respect of its enemies. [...] As regards France, it may he positively affirmed that the French nation loves and respects the Russians, admires their courage and self-denial, and takes every opportunity of expressing its sympathy, as it did when there was a short suspension of hostilities in the Crimea, as also when Russian prisoners passed through France. The French prisoners, on their part, have been treated by the Russians like brothers."[d]

Le Nord of Brussels bluntly intimates that Bonaparte cultivated the Austrian mediation from the beginning with the view to throw off the English alliance at the first opportunity.[e]

The alliance with France then being about to be supplanted by a rupture with that country, England, still at war with Russia, evidently cannot mean to embark in a war with America, and it is plain that no importance, beyond what has been pointed out, can attach to the present difficulty between the two Governments.

Peace in Europe itself is by no means certain. With regard to the conditions presented by the Allies to Russia[414]: the fact is there is hardly the appearance of a concession in their acceptance. The cession of a problematic strip of land in Bessarabia, marked out by a mysterious chain of mountains not to be discovered on any map, is more than counterbalanced by the obdurate silence on the Russian acquisition of Kars, suspiciously mentioned since in a Petersburg paper as a Russian province. Meanwhile, the advantages of an armistice, together with the other opportunities in the course of turning up, do not make it improbable that Russia, having had the time to concentrate her forces on all the decisive points, may wish to continue the war. The great pledge of peace, however, is the absolute necessity for Bonaparte to conclude it at any price. On the one hand the means for carrying on the war are failing him; on the other hand there is growing up a necessity of repeating the Crimean expedition, as Montalembert said of the expedition against Rome, in the interior of France.[415]

Shortly before the acceptance of the preliminaries of peace by Russia, it was generally current at Paris that Bonaparte contemplated a forced loan, to be borne proportionately to the amount of direct taxes. The vacuum in his exchequer is forcibly demonstrated by the condition of his army in the Crimea. For some time past the lamentable state of the troops under Pélissier has been alluded to by correspondents. The plain statement which follows is given by a British non-commissioned officer writing to The Birmingham Journal, under date of Sevastopol, January 5:

"To-day was very fine. About 3 o'clock a strong north wind blew, and it froze very hard, which soon made us button up. Our men do not feel the cold; but you would pity the poor French. They are eternally dragging fuel from Sevastopol. They are miserably clad and, I think, are worse fed. Every hour of the day there are some of them looking for biscuit. Our men pity them, and are very kind. Our sentries have orders not to allow them in the camp, because some were in the habit of selling cognac, which caused some of our men to get drunk. But the poor French manage to elude the sentries occasionally, and introduce themselves with bono Inglis. Of course, our men know what they want, and never send them away empty-handed. The poor fellows have not so much as a glove to put on their hands. The only article I see they have got more than they had in Summer is a hood to their great-coat, and a pair of common, coarse cloth gaiters, which reach the knee, and are buckled round the knee with a few straps. They do not wear socks, and they generally have had boots. The fact is, they are the picture of misery, and indeed they feel it when they see the British soldier with his fine seal-skin cap, tweed coat, lined with fur, a fine, large comforter round his neck and one round his waist, and a fine, strong pair of ox-hide boots which come to the knee."

The state of Napoleon's finances must be wretched enough, when he leaves his army, his one and all, in the condition just described; at the same time, an inference as to their administration may he drawn from the fact that these two years of war have cost already more than all his uncle's[f] campaigns, from 1800 to 1815, together. Even Bonapartist generals, returned from the Crimea, are said to have commented indignantly on the impudent robberies of Morny & Co., at the expense of the army. These remonstrances have found publicity in a semi-official paper, which has the following:

"If peace be concluded, the emperor will turn his whole attention to the finances, and especially to certain abuses too inherent to great movements of speculation, such as certain accumulations of incompatible offices, and certain fortunes a little too rapidly acquired."

Meanwhile revolutionary symptoms manifest themselves in the youth of the universities, in the working-classes, in a portion of the middle class, and what is the worst for Bonaparte, in the army.

On the affair of the Ecole Polytechnique, we are informed that Bonaparte, although sufficiently exasperated at their taciturn attitude on the 29th of December when he played the Roman Senate with this army (as he likes to play the Roman Imperator with his Senate)[416], at first meditated a compromise with the Ecole. The students were given to understand that the Emperor was inclined to maintain that institution, if they consented, as an opportunity would be given them to manifest sympathy for the dynasty. To this the Ecole replied by their delegates that not only they would not cry vive l'Empereur, but would drive any of their comrades from school who should utter that cry. It was upon this reply that the dissolution of the anarchical establishment was determined. One-half, composed of the pupils destined for military service, will be transferred to Vincennes, there to form a simple school of artillery. The other half, destined to the civil service, will be in the Ecole Normale[g]. The building itself is to be converted into barracks. Such is the end of the pet institute of Napoleon the Great.

The prison of Mazas is filled with pupils of the University of Paris, and with other young men who, at the funeral of David, the sculptor, had raised the cry of Vive la liberté There was a circumstance connected with the demonstration against Nisard peculiarly annoying to Bonaparte. The police having made their razzia among the students for having hissed Nisard's apotheosis of Tiberius as the savior of Roman society, the rest formed in a body, and, traversing all Paris, went to Nisard's residence, Rue Courcelles, and summoned him to put their comrades at liberty. A detachment of soldiers of the line dispatched after them arrived there almost at the same time. Received with cries of Vive la ligne[h], they immediately stood at ease, and refused to act. To prevent a further fraternization, they were at once withdrawn, and supplanted by sergents de vine[i]. The students removed in a body to the Odeon, where they invaded the pit, and kept singing the "Sire de Franc Boissy,"[417] shouting the more offensive verses right into the ears of Bonaparte and Eugénie, who were present in their box.

The Bonapartist press confess that the number of arrests effected in the departments amount to 5,000; the figure given elsewhere of 15,000 is therefore probably the whole truth. This conspiracy of the laborers[418], it now appears, had its ramifications in the midst of the army. It became necessary to break up the whole school for non-commissioned officers at La Flèche, and to change all the garrisons of the center of France. In order to suppress this dangerous spirit in the army, Bonaparte is having recourse to that most dangerous experiment of the Restoration, setting up a complete system of espionage through all ranks of the army. This new legion of honor has led to some very lively altercations between Marshal Magnan and certain superior officers who do not think it much to the taste of the troops.

The movement of the working classes of Paris, as in all times preceding a crisis, is betokened by quod libets[j], the greatest favorite of which is the

"Voilà qu'il part, voila qu'il part,
Le petit marchand de moutarde,
Voilà qu'il part pour son pays
Avec tous ses outils,"

To leave no doubt as to who is meant by the little mustard-vendor, the police has prohibited the song.

The esteem in which Bonapartist institutions are held, is illustrated by an anecdote related in the Nord. Some Senators did not hesitate to approve of the act of M. Drouyn de Lhuys in resigning his senatorship, but took good care not to imitate him. Morny being asked if any of them were likely to follow the example, replied that he had excellent reasons to believe the contrary. "But what reasons have you?" asked his interlocutor. "I have thirty thousand very good reasons, one franc a piece," coolly answered Morny.[l] One more circumstance may be mentioned of immense meaning in the present condition of the French people. I don't revert to the stock-jobbers, for whom peace and war are equally convenient. The first time in their history the mass of the French people have shown themselves indifferent to their old hobby "la gloire." This ominous fruit of the revolution of 1848 proves in a manner not to be mistaken, that the epoch of Bonapartism has passed its climax.

Written on February 8, 1856
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4634, February 25, 1856,
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1123; February 29, 1856 as a leading article
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune.


[a] Pierce.—Ed.

[b] L. Boniface, "Une question interéssante...", Le Constitutionnel, No. 37, February 6, 1856.—Ed.

[c] The articles in question were published in The Times, Nos. 22277, 22278 and 22275, January 30, 31 and 28, 1856. Pis-aller means "last resort".—Ed.

[d] Severnaya Pchela, No. 11, January 14, 1856.—Ed.

[e] Le Nord, No. 19, January 19,1856.—Ed.

[f] Napoleon I.—Ed.

[g] Pedagogical higher school in Paris.—Ed.

[h] Long live the Army!—Ed.

[i] Police.—Ed.

[j] Medleys.—Ed.

[k] "He is leaving, he is leaving,
       The little mustard-vendor.
       He is leaving for his country
       With all his belongings," etc.—Ed.

[l] Le Nord, No. 37, February 6, 1856.—Ed.

[410] In the second half of this article Marx drew on a letter from Engels of February 7, 1856 describing the position in France.

[411] A reference to the struggle between Britain and the United States for domination in Central America. It found reflection in the sharp differences over the interpretation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, under which Britain and the United States guaranteed the neutrality of the projected Isthmian canal and undertook to refrain from occupying Nicaragua, the Mosquito Coast and certain other areas. However, Britain, in violation of the Treaty, continued to hold the Mosquito Coast and the territories she captured in the 1840s. The United States supported the adventurer William Walker, who had seized power in Nicaragua in 1855. Relations were further aggravated by Britain's attempts to recruit mercenaries in the United States for her Crimean army. The governments of the two countries each threatened to break off diplomatic relations with the other. In October 1855 Britain sent warships to the American coast. The conflict was settled in October 1856 by the signing of a convention neutralising the Mosquito Coast and the adjacent sea zone.

[412] The peace of Amiens—the peace treaty concluded by Napoleonic France and its allies (Spain and Holland) with Britain on March 27, 1802. It was actually a brief truce in these states' armed struggle for supremacy, which was resumed in May 1803.

[413] Marx is ironically comparing the Franco-British alliance of the Crimean War period with the rapprochement between Britain and France in the early years of the July monarchy, which went down in history as the "Entente cordiale" (see Note 331↓).

[414] This refers to the Five Points (see Note 409↓).

[415] Speaking in the French Legislative Assembly on May 22, 1850, Montalembert urged the Government to launch a military expedition against the revolutionary and democratic forces in France similar to that undertaken against the Roman Republic in 1849 (see Note 194↓).

[416] On December 29, 1855, during the ceremony held in Paris to welcome the French army returning from the Crimea, students of the École Polytechnique refused to greet the troops and the Emperor. The Government retaliated by repressive measures.

In his speech to the troops Louis Bonaparte compared himself to the Roman Senate, which usually went out in a body to welcome the victorious legions at the gates of Rome.

[417] Sire de Franc Boissy—a French song containing satirical allusions to royalty and the government.

[418] At the end of August 185 5 several hundred workers in Angers (north-west France) rose in revolt in an attempt to set up a republic. Their leaders were associated with Marianne, a secret republican society established in 1850. Numerous arrests were made and trials held in late 1855 and early 1856 in connection with unrest in different parts of the country.

[331] "Entente cordiale"—the relations established between Britain and France after the July 1830 revolution by an agreement signed in April 1834, when Britain, France, Spain and Portugal formed an alliance. However, already at that stage differences between Britain and France emerged, which intensified as time went on. Marx is referring here to the strongly anti-French attitude taken by the British Government, in particular Palmerston, during the Turko-Egyptian conflict of 1839-41 (see Note 69↓).

[409] A reference to the Five Points, the terms for peace talks presented to Russia by Austria on behalf of the Allied Powers in December 1855. An elaboration of the earlier Four Points (see Note 43↓), they called for replacement of the Russian protectorate over the Danubian Principalities by a protectorate of all the contracting parties, a revision of the Bessarabian border involving the relinquishing by Russia of the territory along the Danube, the neutralisation of the Black Sea, the closure of the Straits to warships, a ban on the maintenance of arsenals and navies in the Black Sea by Russia and Turkey; and collective protection of the Christian subjects of Turkey by the Great Powers. Presented in the form of an ultimatum, these terms were accepted by the Tsarist Government and provided the basis for the Paris peace talks.

[194] A reference to the French intervention against the Roman Republic which led to the latter's fall (July 1849) and the restoration of the temporal power of the Pope. Louis Napoleon, as President of the French Republic, was one of the organisers of the intervention.

[69] A reference to the aggravation of Anglo-French differences in the Middle East during the Turko-Egyptian war of 1839-41. The conclusion, without French participation, of the London Convention of July 15, 1840 on aid by the Western Powers to the Sultan in his struggle against the Egyptian ruler Mehemet Ali created the danger of war breaking out between Britain and France. Fearing the formation of an anti-French coalition, France was forced to discontinue its support for Egypt.

[43] The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.599-604), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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