Farsi    Arabic    English   

English Politics

Karl Marx

London, Jan. 27, 1860

The most interesting topics touched upon in the parliamentary address[a] debates were the third Chinese war, the commercial treaty with France, and the Italian complication[262]. The Chinese question, it ought to be understood, involves not only an international question, but also a constitutional question of vital import. The second Chinese war[263], undertaken on the arbitrary behest of Lord Palmerston, having led first to a vote of censure against his Cabinet, and then to a forcible dissolution of the House of Commons—the new House, although elected under his own auspices, was never called upon to cashier the sentence passed by its predecessor. To this very moment Lord Palmerston's second Chinese war stands condemned by a parliamentary verdict. But this is not all.

On the 16th of September, 1859, the account of the repulse on the Peiho was received in England. Instead of summoning Parliament, Lord Palmerston addressed himself to Louis Bonaparte, and conversed with the autocrat on a new Anglo-French expedition against China.

"During three months," as Lord Grey says, "the British ports and arsenals resounded with the din of preparation, and measures were taken for dispatching artillery, stores, and gun-boats to China, and for sending land forces of not less than 10,000 men, in addition to the naval forces."[b]

The country having thus been fairly embarked in a new war, on the one hand by a treaty with France, on the other by a vast expenditure incurred without any previous communication to Parliament, the latter, on its meeting, is coolly asked "to thank her Majesty for having informed them of what had occurred, and the preparations that were making for the expedition to China." In what different style could Louis Napoleon himself have addressed his own corps législatif, or the Emperor Alexander his senate?

In the debate on the address in the House of Commons in 1857, Mr. Gladstone, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, with reference to the Persian war[264], had indignantly exclaimed:

"I will say, without fear of contradiction, that the practice of commencing wars, without first referring to Parliament, is utterly at variance with the established practice of the country, dangerous to the Constitution, and absolutely requiring the intervention of this House, in order to render the repetition of so dangerous a proceeding utterly impossible."[c]

Lord Palmerston has not only repeated the proceeding, "so dangerous to the Constitution"; he has not only repeated it this time with the concurrence of the sanctimonious Mr. Gladstone, but as if to try the strength of ministerial irresponsibility, wielding the rights of Parliament against the Crown, the prerogatives of the Crown against Parliament and the privileges of both against the people—he had the boldness to repeat the dangerous proceeding within the same sphere of action. His one Chinese war being censured by the Parliament, he undertakes another Chinese war in spite of Parliament. Still, in both Houses, only one man mustered courage enough to make a stand against this ministerial usurpation; and, curiously to say, that one man belonging not to the popular, but to the aristocratic branch of the Legislature. The man is Lord Grey. He proposed an amendment to the address in answer to the Queen's speech to the purport that the expedition ought not to have been entered upon before the sense of both Houses of Parliament was taken.

The manner in which Lord Grey's amendment was met, both by the spokesman of the ministerial party and the leader of her Majesty's opposition, is highly characteristic of the political crisis which the representative institutions of England are rapidly approaching. Lord Grey conceded that, in a formal sense, the Crown enjoyed the prerogative of entering upon wars, but since Ministers were interdicted from spending one single farthing on any enterprise without the previous sanction of Parliament, it was the constitutional law and practice that the responsible representatives of the Crown should never enter upon warlike expeditions before notice having been given to Parliament, and the latter been called upon to make provision for defraying the expenditure which might be thus incurred. Thus, if the council of the nation thought fit, it might check, in the beginning, any unjust or impolitic war contemplated by ministers. His Lordship quoted then some examples in order to show how strictly these rules were formerly adhered to. In 1790, when some British vessels were seized by the Spaniards on the north-west coast of America, Pitt brought down to both Houses a message from the Crown[d] calling for a vote of credit to meet the probable expenses. Again in December 1826, when the daughter of Dom Pedro[e] applied to England for assistance against Ferdinand VII of Spain, who intended an invasion of Portugal to the benefit of Dom Miguel, Canning brought down a similar message[f] notifying to Parliament the nature of the case and the amount of expenditure likely to be incurred. In conclusion Lord Grey broadly intimated that the ministry had dared to raise taxes upon the country without the concurrence of Parliament, since the large expenditure already incurred must have been defrayed one way or other; and could not have been defrayed without encroaching upon money-grants provided for entirely different demands.

Now which sort of reply did Lord Grey elicit on the part of the Cabinet? The Duke of Newcastle, who had been foremost in protesting against the lawfulness of Palmerston's second Chinese war, answered in the first instance that "the very wholesome practice had arisen of late years of never moving an amendment to the address, unless some great party object was to be attained."[g] Consequently, Lord Grey being not prompted by factious motives, and pretending not to aspire to put Ministers out in order to put himself in, what, for the life of the Duke of Newcastle, could he mean by infringing upon that "very wholesome practice of late years"? Was he crotchety enough to fancy that they were to break lances except for great party objects? In the second instance, was it not notorious that the constitutional practice, so anxiously adhered to by Pitt and Canning, had been over and over again departed from by Lord Palmerston? Had that noble Viscount not carried on a war of his own in Portugal in 1831, in Greece in 1850, and, as the Duke of Newcastle might have added, in Persia, in Afghanistan[265] and in many other countries? Why, if Parliament had allowed Lord Palmerston to usurp to himself the right of war and peace and taxation during the course of thirty years, why, then, should they all at once try to break from their long servile tradition? Constitutional law might be on the side of Lord Grey, but prescription was undoubtedly on the side of Lord Palmerston. Why call the noble Viscount to account at this time of the day, since never before had he been punished for similar "wholesome" innovations? In fact, the Duke of Newcastle seemed rather indulgent in not accusing Lord Grey of rebellion for his attempt at breaking through Lord Palmerston's prescriptive privilege of doing with his own—the forces and the money of England—as he liked.

Equally original was the manner in which the Duke of Newcastle endeavored to prove the legality of the Peiho expedition. There exists an Anglo-Chinese treaty of 1843, by dint of which England enjoys all the rights conceded by the Celestials to the most favored nations[266]. Now Russia, in her recent treaty with China, has stipulated for the right of sailing up the Peiho[267] Consequently, under the treaty of 1843, the English had a right to such passage. This, the Duke of Newcastle said, he might insist upon "without any great special pleading." Might he, indeed! On the one side there is the ugly circumstance that the Russian treaty was only ratified, and, consequently, dates its actual existence only from an epoch posterior to the Peiho catastrophe. This, of course, is but a slight husteron proteron[h] On the other hand, it is generally known that a state of war suspends all existing treaties. If the English were at war with the Chinese at the time of the Peiho expedition, they, of course, could appeal neither to the treaty of 1843, nor to any other treaty whatever. If they were not at war, Palmerston's Cabinet has taken upon itself to commence a new war without the sanction of Parliament? To escape the latter part of the dilemma, poor Newcastle asserts that since the Canton bombardment[268], for the last two years, "England had never been at peace with China." Consequently the Ministry had pushed on hostilities, not recommenced them, and consequently he might, without special pleading, appeal to the treaties effective only during a time of peace. And to highten the beauty of this queer sort of dialectics, Lord Palmerston, the chief of the Cabinet, asserts at the same time, in the House of Commons, that England all this time over, "had never been at war with China"[i] They were not so now. There were, of course, Canton bombardments, Peiho catastrophes, and Anglo-French expeditions, but there was no war, since war had never been declared, and since, to this moment, the Emperor of China[j] had allowed transactions at Shanghai to proceed in their usual course. The very fact of his having broken, in regard to the Chinese, through all the legitimate international forms of war, Palmerston pleads as a reason for dispensing also with the constitutional forms in regard to the British Parliament, while his spokesman in the House of Lords, Earl Granville, "with regard to China," disdainfully declares "the consultation of Parliament by Government" to be "a purely technical point."[k] The consultation of Parliament by Government a purely technical point! What difference, then, does still remain between a British Parliament and a French Corps Législatif? In France, it is, at least, the presumed heir of a national hero[l] who dares to place himself in the place of the nation, and who at the same time openly confronts all the dangers of such usurpation. But, in England, it is some subaltern spokesman, some worn-out place-hunter, some anonymous nonentity of a so-called Cabinet, that, relying on the donkey power of the parliamentary mind and the bewildering evaporations of an anonymous press, without making any noise, without incurring any danger, quietly creep their way to irresponsible power. Take on the one hand the commotions raised by a Sulla[269]; take on the other the fraudulent businesslike maneuvers of the manager of a joint stock bank, the secretary of a benevolent society, or the clerk of a vestry, and you will understand the difference between imperialist usurpation in France and ministerial usurpation in England! Lord Derby, fully aware of the equal interest both factions have in securing ministerial impotence and irresponsibility, could, of course, "not concur with the noble Earl [Grey] in the strong views which he takes of the laches of Government." [m] He could not quite concur in Lord Grey's complaint that "the Government ought to have called Parliament together, to have consulted them on the Chinese question," but he "certainly would not support him by his vote, should he press the amendment to a division."

Consequently, the amendment was not pressed to a division, and the whole debate, in both Houses, on the Chinese war, evaporated in grotesque compliments showered by both factions on the head of Admiral Hope for having so gloriously buried the English forces in the mud.

Written on January 27, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5868, February 14, 1860


[a] Victoria, "The Queen's Speech. The Address, January 24, 1860," The Times, No. 23525, January 25, 1860.—Ed.

[b] Here and below Marx quotes Lord Grey's speech in the House of Lords on January 24, 1860 during the parliamentary address debates. See The Times, No. 23525, January 25, 1860.—Ed.

[c] Marx quotes Gladstone from Lord Grey's speech.—Ed.

[d] George III, "Message respecting Vessels captured by Spain at Nootka Sound. 1790, 5 May", The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, London, 1816, Vol. 28, pp. 764-66.—Ed.

[e] Maria II da Gloria.—Ed.

[f] George IV [Message respecting Portugal, December 11, 1826], Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, London, 1826, Vol. 16, pp. 334-36.—Ed.

[g] Here and below Marx quotes the Duke of Newcastle's speech in the House of Lords on January 24, 1860. See The Times, No. 23525, January 25, 1860.—Ed.

[h] The latter (put as) the former—a figure of speech in which what should come last is put, first; inversion of the natural order.—Ed.

[i] Lord Palmerston's speech in the House of Commons on January 25, 1860, The Times, No. 23526, January 26, 1860.—Ed.

[j] Hsien Fêng.—Ed.

[k] The Earl of Granville's speech in the House of Lords on January 24, 1860, The Times, No. 23525, January 25, 1860.—Ed.

[l] The reference is to Napoleon III and Napoleon I.—Ed.

[m] Lord Derby's speech in the House of Lords on January 24, 1860, The Times, No. 23525, January 25, 1860.—Ed.

[262] A reference to the preparations for an Opium War against China conducted by the British and French governments in early 1860. The war was unleashed in the summer of the same year with the aim of imposing onerous new terms upon China. The Anglo-French commercial treaty, signed on January 23, 1860, signified a triumph for the advocates of free trade in both countries and served the interests of the British industrial bourgeoisie (for details see this volume, pp. 341-44).

Marx is referring to the movement for the national unification of Italy, which gained momentum during and after the Austro-Italo-French War of 1859 (see Note 13↓) and was opposed by a number of European countries. In the spring and summer of 1859 popular insurrections flared up in Tuscany, Modena, Parma and Romagna. The members of the ruling dynasties there fled from their duchies to seek the protection of the Austrian army. The national assemblies set up as the result of the insurrections declared that the population of the duchies wished to be incorporated in Piedmont. This question was finally settled in March 1860 by a plebiscite.

[263] This refers to the second Opium War, waged by Britain and France against China in 1856-60.

[264] The object of the Anglo-Persian War of 1856-57 was to establish British influence in Persia, pave the way for further colonial expansion in the Middle East and Central Asia and prevent the Shah of Persia from establishing his power over the independent principality of Herat. When Persian troops occupied Herat in October 1856 Britain used this as a pretext to open hostilities. The war took an unfavourable turn for Persia. However, the national liberation uprising that flared up in India in 1857 and continued up to 1859 compelled Britain to conclude a peace treaty with Persia in all haste. Under the terms of the treaty signed in Paris in March 1857, Persia repudiated its claims to Herat, which, in 1863, was incorporated into the possessions of the Afghan Emir.

[265] Britain interfered in the civil war in Portugal (1828-34) waged by the liberal nobility, bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, which were supported by the anti-feudal section of the peasantry and fought for the preservation of the constitutional monarchy and against the feudal aristocracy, which-'sought to restore absolute monarchy and was backed up by the clergy and reaction-influenced peasants in some districts of Spain. The absolutists were led by Dom Miguel, a pretender to the Portuguese throne. In an attempt to consolidate their influence in- the Iberian Peninsula and weaken the positions of Austria, which supported the absolutists, the British and French governments sent a fleet to the Portuguese coast (in 1831) to blockade the Tagus and Douro rivers, thus facilitating the victory of the constitutionalists.

The Anglo-Greek conflict referred to occurred in June 1850. When the British Government presented Greece with an ultimatum and sent ships to blockade Piraeus, using as a pretext the burning (in Athens in 1847) of the house of a Portuguese merchant, Pacifico, who was a British subject. The real object of this move, however, was to make Greece surrender several strategically important islands in the Aegean Sea.

The war against Afghanistan was instigated by the British Government in 1838. British troops invaded Afghanistan, but British rule was short-lived. In November 1841 a popular, insurrection broke out and the occupying troops were defeated. In 1842 Britain made another attempt to conquer Afghanistan, but this also ended in total failure.

[266] The Anglo-Chinese Treaty, signed on October 8, 1843, supplemented the Treaty of Nanking (1842), which was concluded after the Anglo-Chinese War of 1840-42 (known as the first Opium War) and was the first of a series of unequal treaties imposed by the Western powers on China and reducing it to the status of a semi-colony.

Under the supplementary treaty of 1843 the British secured further concessions from China, including the right to have special settlements for foreign citizens in the open ports, the right of exterritoriality and most-favoured-nation treatment.

[267] A reference to the Tientsin Russo-Chinese Treaty signed on June 13 (1), 1858. It stipulated among other things that Russian envoys going to Peking could sail up the Peiho River via Daga.

[268] The seizure of a British ship carrying contraband opium by the Chinese authorities in October 1856, followed by the savage bombardment of Canton by the British Navy, served as a pretext for the second Opium War.

[269] A reference to the struggle for power in Ancient Rome waged by the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla supported by the nobility and army veterans. It resulted in the establishment of Sulla's dictatorship in 82 B. C. Here, Marx has in mind Napoleon III.

[13] This refers to the war between the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont) and France, on the one hand, and Austria, on the other (April 29 to July 8, 1859). It was launched by Napoleon III, who, under the banner of the "liberation of Italy", strove for aggrandizement and sought to strengthen the Bonapartist regime in France with the help of a successful military campaign. The Piedmont ruling circles hoped that French support would enable them to unite Italy, without the participation of the masses, under the aegis of the Savoy dynasty ruling in Piedmont. The war caused an upsurge of the national liberation movement in Italy. The Austrian army suffered a series of defeats. However, Napoleon III, frightened by the scale of the national liberation movement in Italy, abruptly ceased hostilities. On July 11, the French and Austrian emperors concluded a separate preliminary peace in Villafranca (see Note 126↓).

[126] On July 8, 1859 the emperors of France and Austria held a separate meeting—without the King of Piedmont, France's ally in the war against Austria—in Villafranca, at which they reached an agreement on an armistice. The meeting was held on the initiative of Napoleon III, who feared that the protracted war might give a fresh impulse to the revolutionary and national liberation movement in Italy and other European states. On July 11 France and Austria signed a preliminary peace treaty under which Austria was to cede to France its rights to Lombardy and France was to transfer this territory to Piedmont. Venetia was to remain under Austrian supremacy (despite the terms of the Plombières agreement) and the princes of the Central Italian states were to be restored to their thrones. A confederation of Italian states was to be formed under the honorary chairmanship of the Pope.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.335-340), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME1193en.html