« AnteriorContinuar »
destruction of human life. Surely any future historian, whose sources of information as to the proceedings of English politicians should accidentally fail him at the year 1860, would confidently conclude that, during the years that followed, these two great champions of peace had not neglected the opportunity offered to them by events of preaching their favourite doctrine ; but that they had surpassed themselves in the energy with which they had declaimed against the most colossal war of modern times, and in the earnestness with which they had striven to bring it to a close. Perhaps he might go on to moralise on the unfading laurels won by the great champions of peace, who, in season and out of season, without fear or favour, in the presence of friend or foe, had never flagged in their struggle against the most enduring and deadliest curse of the human race.
Even if their views had been extravagant and their zeal overstrained, such a life-long consistency would have furnished a grea example of brave and earnest conflict against wrong. Unhappily, they have lived to show that this horror of war was only felt because it was waged by emperors and kings. Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright have both had the opportunity of expressing to the Government of the United States their opinions upon this war, not merely at its outset, but in this the fourth year of its duration, when enough blood has been poured out to sicken even the most warlike. They have been in a position to counsel peace, because their political views gave them influence in America, and any advice they had tendered would have affected popular opinion powerfully. If it had been a monarchical State that was fighting to subdue a vast revolted region to a yoke which it abhorred, how they would have scouted the idea that one half of a continent could have a property in the other! what harrowing pictures they would have drawn of the devastation and the butchery and the reckless waste of happiness and life and treasure which have arisen out of the infatuated passion for extended empire! But their eloquent horror of bloodshed has been struck dumb. Now they vie with the Northerners themselves in their thirst for “war to the bitter end.' The composure with which Mr. Cobden philosophises upon the necessity of a war of extermination is a curious contrast to the peace fervour of his earlier days. We quote a passage from his letter to Mr. Scovell:
* In common with all your friends and well-wishers, I have been looking with great solicitude to the progress of the war.
There seems to be something in the modern development of armaments which favours the defence over attack. This must tend to prolong the war, and make the issue depend on the comparative strength of the resources of the contending parties. In this struggle against exhaus
tion and men the North will be able to hold out the longer: and to this tedious and dreadful process we must resign ourselves.
There is a cynical calmness in Mr. Cobden's mode of contemplating the process of exhaustion.' Has it ever crossed him to ask himself what is the sum of human misery which that small word represents? It is a metaphor of a terrible simplicity. Exhaustion in a man means the temporary loss of strength which a few hours' rest recruits. In a community at war, it means the death on the field of battle or by disease of every male of the fighting age until there are not enough left to form an army. Applied to the Confederate States, it means the slaughter of a million or more of men in the flower of their age; the consignment of their wives and children and those who depended on them to hopeless poverty; the desolation, so far as the hand of man can effect it, of a land teeming with the produce of a rich and growing industry. Such is the process which Mr. Cobden calmly describes, and encourages the Federals to carry through. Such is the advice of the man who used to think that war, if it could be avoided, was wholesale murder,' upon the first occasion on which his voice might have exercised the faintest influence in the advocacy of peace. The Federal Generals, by their calculated barbarity, have justly earned a niche in history by the side of Tilly and Turenne. But the devastators have at least this to plead in palliation of their crimes—that the Bavarian and the Frenchman were never hounded on to their bloody work by the exhortations of a professed apostle of peace.
Mr. Bright also, though more circuitously, but not less earnestly, gives his voice for continued war. His letter to Mr. Greeley is a remarkable production, when we remember that Mr. Lincoln was professedly the war candidate, and the advocates of peace in the United States were to a man in bitter opposition to him. A single extract will show the tone of it:
• Every friend of your Union probably in Europe, every speaker and writer who has sought to do justice to your cause since the war began, is now hoping with an intense anxiety that Mr. Lincoln may be placed at the head of your executive for another term. It is not because they think Mr. Lincoln to be wiser and better than all other men on your continent; but they think they have observed in his career grand simplicity of purpose, and a patriotism which knows no change, and which does not falter.'
Those who canvass for the war candidate canvass for the continuance of war. Those who canvass for the continuance of war approve in the main of the things that have been done in the course of it, and of the things which it is proposed to do by those who carry it on. Mr. Bright approves the awful slaughter with which the Federals have dyed the fields of Virginia and Tennessee ; he approves of the desolation which has visited thousands and hundreds of thousands of heretofore happy hearths; he does not shrink from renewing these scenes of horror until no victims shall be left on whom they can be enacted ; and therefore he exerts himself to secure the election of the man who has been, and will continue to be, the minister of this bloodthirsty policy so long as he has power to do so. Is this indeed the same statesman as the one who, in the crisis of the Crimean war, painted so movingly the near presence of the Angel of Death ? İs this the man who denounced in language of almost frightful energy the short Italian campaign, undertaken—in profession, at least—with the aim of emancipating a people? It was, indeed, wonderful acting; and, but for this American war, we should have never guessed how completely histrionic it was.
But now we have been taught, and shall know for the future, that the occupation of mutual destruction is not fiendlike' if it is conducted by Republicans, and that war is no longer, in their hands, to be looked upon as that .savagery' which will break down of itself. When Mr. Bright denounced war before, it was supposed that the American democracy was pacific; but now that it has been discovered to be warlike, even Quakerism becomes warlike too. The leading member of the Peace Society in the character of bottleholder to the most cruel conflict of modern times is a phenomenon to which it is hard to find a parallel in history. Many men have in every age used the influence they possessed over others to whet the appetite of the multitude for blood, and have upon their souls the guilt of human lives prodigally squandered and human hearts wrung with woe. But they furnish no analogy to the peace statesmen, for they did not profess to believe that all war was in itself wrong. The nearest parallel that can be supplied will be found in the fact that Robespierre's first appearance in public life was the composition of an essay against the punishment of death.
We now know what the progress of humanity and the advocacy of peace mean in the mouths of our pacific teachers.
They inean the support of such a war as Burbridge and Sherman and Sheridan have been waging. But wbat does freedom mean in the language of the same school ? It is a question that imports is nearly. From these same men we are still receiving the same old exhortation—to look to the Government of Washington for our lessons of freedom, and to imitate its salutary example in the reform of our own institutions. Nor is the question needless ; for the meaning of words appears to have undergone great alteration. We used to think freedom meant being free ; but that
definition is evidently very wide of the mark. The great champion of freedom, the Government of Washington, is pouring out blood and treasure with fabulous prodigality in order to prevent a community of some five millions of men from being free. The change which the word must have undergone will be evident to anyone who reflects upon the actions of those persons who in recent times have been held up to the execration of mankind as the great enemies of freedom. The Czar Nicholas, for instance, has been a staple illustration of the wicked oppressor. The Poles desired to be free from his government, and to govern themselves : but he would not suffer the country to be destroyed and broken up,' and would not let them go. They took up arms to assert their freedom; but his forces were the strongest, and he“ broke down their fighting power. The rebellion was quenched in blood; and Poland still belongs to his son. For all this, he was cursed throughout the civilised world as the enemy of freedom. At the present moment Mr. Lincoln is doing exactly the same thing. The Confederates have desired to be free from his rule and to govern themselves; and they have shown that they are united and sincere in desiring it, by the devotion with which they have fought, and the sacrifices they have made to their cause, But Mr. Lincoln, after four years' war, still will not let them go; and if he can have his way, he also will quench the rebellion in blood. We are of course prepared to put him into the same anathema as the Czar Nicholas; but to our immeasurable surprise we are informed that he is not only not the enemy of freedom, but its foremost and noblest champion. Certainly these sudden changes in the meaning of words are very perplexing to the simple-minded politician. Take another instance. The people of Sicily desire to be free from the King of Naples. Like the Czar Nicholas and President Lincoln, he will not let them go. He has the same feeling as that expressed by Mr. Lincoln's friends in the New York Times'-he does not like to see the country broken up. The quarrel becomes a war; and the king, to reduce his rebellious subjects, bombards Palermo, which is held by them. Instantly the whole of Europe stands aghast at his wickedness. The friends of freedom plunge him into the lowest depth of their Inferno. The nickname Bomba clings to him for life. There may be many doubtful chapters in political ethics; but one thing seemed to have been decided by the unanimous yoice of the whole civilised world—that a king who bombards a town held by his revolted subjects in order to reduce them to obedience, is a monster. But now we know that there is no rule without an exception. President Lincoln is in the same position towards South Carolina that the King of Naples occu
pied towards Sicily. He has revolted subjects to deal with, who abhor his rule, but from whom he will not part. He adopts precisely the same plan for subduing them as his prototype, and sends a fleet to bombard Charleston : but his superior ingenuity enables him to add to the operation a new circumstance of barbarity. He causes burning naphtha to be projected into the city-a vehicle of destruction which could do little damage to bomb-proof magazines and casemated batteries (buildings which moreover lay in the other direction); but which, bad the attempt been carried out with a little more skill, would have given up all the dwellings and property of non-combatants to the flames. It was natural to expect that the improved Bomba would have been visited with curses as hearty as the original deviser of the idea. But great are the mysteries of freedom! The act which has
procured for the King of Naples the execration of the civilised world, has only acquired for Mr. Lincoln a new title to the admiration of the friends of humanity—a more prominent niche in the Pantheon of freedom. Those who put themselves forward as the high-priests in that temple, do not appear to be easily disconcerted by novelties of this kind. But for the humbler worshippers these sudden changes are not edifying. It throws their devotion out of gear to be reversed so suddenly. Their simple faith is disturbed by seeing the demon of yesterday put before them so boldly as the deity of to-day. They are puzzled at being told to adore as a model of goodness the very same thing which, a short time ago, they were taught to loathe and cast cut as unutterable crime.
Take yet a third case. There is no subject upon which Radicals of the present day have been so eloquent as the Rebellion of 1798. It was a movement supported undoubtedly by a large class of Irishmen, probably not by the majority; and certainly not by the mass of those who had any stake in the security of the country. It was put down by force, and in many cases with undue severity. But the severity was generally the act either of perfectly unauthorised persons, or of obscure subordinates, whom, in the disturbed condition of the country, it was difficult to control. But there certainly was no general officer in the king's army who was guilty of ordering his fellow-citizens to be shot without an allegation of crime, and without the semblance of a trial. Yet the English language has hardly proved equal to the demand made upon it for words of vituperation to be applied to the conduct of the Irish Government in the suppression of that rebellion. General Burbridge, General Paine, and General M`Neill, have been guilty of atrocities which have left the worst deeds of the most lawless Orangeman in the shade. What say