British History - Liberal Toryism, 1822 - 27 - Canning, Peel, Huskisson - Francis Place and the Combination Acts - The Corn Laws - Canning's foreign policy : Spain, America, Greece.
( Originally Published 1922 )
IF Castlereagh's mind had not given way that month, or if his attendants in removing his razors had not overlooked the fatal penknife, George Canning would have started on the long sailing voyage to Bengal as Governor-General, and the history of England and Europe would have taken some different course.
For a dozen years past Canning had been kept in the background of politics by his personal unpopularity first with his colleagues, and then with the King, whom he refused to assist in the prosecution of Queen Caroline. His brilliancy had been eclipsed by the solid services that Castlereagh had rendered to Europe. But now at last his chance had come. Instead of being exiled to India, he stepped into his dead rival's place as Foreign Secretary and leader of the Commons, and became, under the mild premiership of Lord Liverpool, the first man in the kingdom.
About the time of his promotion a great change had come to maturity in his mind. In youth the chosen disciple of Pitt, he remembered in the closing years of life that his master had once been a reforming and liberal Minister, before the French Revolution raised an issue that had now receded. This was unpalatable doctrine to the men who still shouted Pitt's name as a war-cry against every measure of justice and common sense, and met in Pitt Clubs to drink ' Irish Protestant Ascendancy,' and the health of the yeomanry of Peterloo. But the influence of Canning in his new position permeated Westminster and Whitehall.
Indeed, though the popular rejoicings over Castlereagh's suicide were brutal, and unjust to a great public servant, his death, coming when it did, was fortunate. Not only did our foreign policy, which had become neutral under Castlereagh, become liberal under Canning, but at home reforms followed in rapid succession. Popular belief in constitutional and political action, which Peterloo and the Six Acts had nearly killed, was revived by the proof of what could be done even in an unreformed House of Commons. In such an atmosphere, improved still further by good harvests and a revival in trade, the prospect of violence and class war retreated into the back-ground.
The liberal Tories were the men of the hour. After the death of Castlereagh the ablest statesmen in the Cabinet belonged to their section of the party. The Whigs had failed to give a lead to the country through their official chiefs, but were ready, under younger men like Brougham and Russell, to cooperate in debates and divisions with the more enlightened part of the Government forces. Under these conditions not only were many valuable measures passed, but the Tory party was disintegrated and forced to resolve itself into its true elements, so that when after Canning's death men were forced to choose between a reversion to anti-Jacobinism under Wellington and Eldon, and an advance to Parliamentary and Municipal Reform under the rejuvenated Whigs, the liberal Tories, with the great exception of Peel, felt themselves pre-pared by the experience of ten years to break with their old connections and join the party of Parliamentary Reform.
The happy issue of affairs for Britain in the nineteenth century was largely determined by the character and personality of the men who came to the front in the 'twenties Canning, Huskisson and Peel, Althorp, Durham and Russell, and the school of statesmen that they inspired. In an age of transition, they united to an unusual degree the merits of aristocracy and democracy. The merit of aristocracy lies in the families and individuals who are brought up to serve the State; its demerit lies in a policy dictated by a small class whose experience and interest are not those of the community at large. In democracy, on the other hand, public opinion and the interest of the majority prevail as the motive force, but there is no provision for the training of a class of statesmen. In the epoch of English history that opened in the reign of George IV, the tradition of the old aristocracy, shared by the rising bourgeoisie, still supplied both parties in the State with a large number of families, whose ablest sons were devoted from boyhood to high politics, and were placed early in Parliament with the consciousness that the government was upon their shoulders. The difference from former times was that these specially trained leaders now felt responsibility to the great public rather than to their own class, whose prejudices and monopolies they were often prepared to sacrifice to the general welfare. The eighteenth-century aristocrats and the anti-Jacobin Tories had been the masters of the public, and sometimes therefore its robbers and tyrants. Peel and his successors were its servants. But they were not demagogues, because they still felt themselves to belong to a high and austere sect, devoted to the science of government. Part of that science was to keep in touch with the changes of public opinion but it was by no means all.
Peel's father, the first Sir Robert, of Lancashire fame, calico-printer and Tory member, stood like his son after him for the reconciliation of classes. We have seen him, during Napoleon's Hundred Days, working out the details of a Factory Bill with Owen himself.1 The calico-printer, even before he had been made a baronet, determined, like the elder Pitt, that his son should be Prime Minister. He vowed him from the cradle, and trained him from the nursery, not for business but for Parliament. He sent him to Harrow, then populous with future Premiers and party leaders, where he shared with Lord Byron a sound classical education. His classics and his aristocratic connections received the finishing touch at Christ Church, where he figured as a gentleman commoner. As soon as he came of age, his father bought him a seat for an Irish
borough. Next year his own abilities and training, and his father's influence, obtained for him subordinate office. By 1812 he was Chief Secretary for Ireland.
Thus, before he had had time to observe the political scene, and to think out opinions for himself, Peel was immersed in official routine of flattering importance. The Tory party in its heyday of power and popularity, and the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, both shone on the manufacturer's son in their brightest and most alluring colours. Almost from his boyhood, the squires and rectors of both islands hailed him as their favourite spokesman, for he at least was staunch against Catholic Emancipation. At the age of twenty-nine he won the blue ribbon of Toryism, that had been denied to Canning, the membership for the University of Oxford. In another aspect, he was the business agent of Tory officialdom : so long as he was at work for twelve hours a day in Whitehall, the squires could hunt and shoot with the security that all was right. They trusted him indeed too blindly, and found in the end a master where they had placed a servant.
These circumstances of his youth partly explain why Peel never learnt that he was not a Tory. Yet Palmerston, who had been pushed forward equally young by the same party, carried his much more real Toryism over into the Whig camp, while Peel continued all his life, from force of early association, to regard Toryism as synonymous with the government of the country rather than with a particular set of opinions, many of which he ceased to share.
In 1822 Peel entered the Cabinet as Home Secretary. He at once cleared out the mystery of iniquity at the Home Office. He abolished the system of maintaining Government spies and agents provocateurs among the working-men, which had done so much to embitter class feelings during the last dozen years. He discontinued the political and Press prosecutions, and on every side broke off the connection of Tory rule with coercion in England. The change passed unnoticed, since no legislation was necessary, but it was a change of profound importance.
After the suicide of Romilly in 1818, the agitation for reform of the Criminal Code on the principles of Bentham was carried on by Sir James Mackintosh, who as an Opposition member won the first great Parliamentary triumph of the cause in the legislation of 1820. In 1823 Peel as Home Secretary took up the movement on behalf of Government, and in a few years obtained the repeal of the death penalty for a hundred different offences.
There was equal need for a reform of legal procedure, above all of the procrastinating Court of Chancery, loved for its very faults by its ancient and apparently irremovable chief, Lord Eldon. The world's attention was first turned to law reform as a whole by Brougham's famous six-hour speech in the Commons in 1828, surveying the labyrinth of anachronism and delay that caused misery and injustice not only in Chancery, but in the realm of common law, ecclesiastical law and the petty local courts. Under the impulse given by Brougham's speech, followed up by Royal Commissions, a long series of law reforms were carried in the middle years of the century.
Peel crowned his work at the Home Office by establishing in 1829 the Metropolitan Police Force. Its success in London caused it to be adopted throughout the whole country in the course of the next thirty years. The frequency and immunity of crime had scared the legislators of the eighteenth century into the creation of fresh capital felonies every session a remedy that proved worse than useless. It had never occurred to the ` age of common sense ' to find a substitute for the fumbling old watchmen, who preserved unimpaired the traditions of Dogberry and Verges.
Peel's ' new police ' secured the success of his reform of the criminal law. And they were no less essential to his policy of avoiding a serious collision between the armed forces of Government and the working-class agitators. It was universally agreed that if there had been ' Peelers ' in Manchester in 1819, or in Bristol in 1831, there would have been no Peter-loo, and no burning of Bristol. The lower type of Radical rioters cursed 'Peel's bloody gang' as a serious restraint on their activities, but Francis Place, who knew that liberty implied order, was strongly on the side of an efficient civilian force, of non-partisan character, and armed only with staves a boon unknown to the subjects of continental despotisms. Some of Place's Radical friends might have been not too well pleased to know that in November i 830 he advised the inspector of the new police ' when he saw a mob prepared to make an attack, to lead his men on and thrash those who composed the mob with their staves as long as any of them remained together, but to take no one into custody; and that if this were done once or twice there would be no more mobs.' The event justified the advice. There had previously been no force capable of doing anything with a London mob, short of shooting and sabring, and for that reason Lord George Gordon had been able to begin the sack of the capital.
One important reform cannot be placed to the credit of the Ministry. Pitt's Combination Laws, a relic of the days of anti-Jacobin panic, still rendered all Trade Union action illegal. Had they been left on the Statute Book., the recrudescence of working-class combination, already very general in industry, must perforce have become revolutionary in the new age. The national service of repealing these dangerous laws was rendered by two determined and unselfish citizens, unaided by any recognised party leader. Joseph Hume, a private member, notorious in the Commons as the persistent advocate of retrenchment, took his orders about the Combination Laws from Francis Place, who manipulated the whole affair from his library at Charing Cross.
Place, like many self-made men, had somewhat too high an opinion of himself as compared to others, but his management of a recalcitrant Parliament of employers, through the sole agency of one private member, was a masterpiece of the political art. In 1824 Place and Hume secured the passage of a very liberal Act settling the status of Trade Unions, before members were aware of what they were doing. Next year the two had the more difficult task of preventing a reversal of the policy at the instigation of Huskisson and Peel, after a wave of strikes had caused a panic in the employing class. The crisis was severe, but owing to the mass of evidence from the industrial districts which Place marshalled before the House of Commons Committee, the Act of 1825 was not in the end a reversal of Hume's Act of the year before, though very stringent provisions were added against intimidation.
The wage-earners were set free to work out their own salvation, not only by the repeal of the Combination Laws, but by analogous legislation passed at various dates, which permitted artisans to emigrate, and legalised Friendly and Co-operative Societies. These laws were not the work of Owen and the Socialists, but of the individualist Radicals and political economists of the ' classical' school. The Act of 1824 is the first case of the impartial application of the doctrines of laissez faire even when they benefited the workmen as against the master.1 It was significant that Place and Hume had had the support of an important minority of employers who believed that Pitt's Acts were unjust and a principal cause of industrial strife. Place himself believed that when once the workmen had the right to use the weapon of collective bargaining as freely as their masters, it would not be necessary for them to do so, and that Trade Unions would die a natural death !
The working class was fortunate in having at this critical epoch three servants of such widely different talents and opinions as Owen, Cobbett and Place. They seemed made to supply each other's deficiencies. Place prided himself on the scientific character of his Benthamite individualism, but in him Bentham's teaching was modified and enlarged, as it was not in the case of James Mill and others of the sect, by his experience as a journeyman tailor in early youth. He devoted the last half of his life to raising the status and organising the political action of the class from which he had raised himself by his business abilities. He despised the other working-class leaders. He saw that if the still uneducated proletariat cut itself off politically from the liberal elements in the middle class it would achieve nothing. In spite of his profound contempt for the wisdom of Parliament as the abode of the ` stultified Tories ' and ` gabbling Whigs,' he none the less was the first to develop the modern arts of lobbying, and bringing to bear on members the weight of evidence and argument from outside. It was partly because his procedure in 1824 - 5 was so novel that it succeeded so well. The cloud of witnesses from the industrial north that he had wafted into the aristocratic precincts of Westminster to testify to the working of the Combination Laws, were the heralds of a new era in politics. Honour-able gentlemen might stare, but they would have to grow reconciled to such sights in the lobbies of the ' best club in Europe.'
Huskisson began the administrative and ministerial side of the Free Trade movement which Peel and Gladstone completed. He became President of the Board of Trade early in 1823, as the friend and protégé of Canning, whom at the same time he succeeded as member for Liverpool, becoming thereby the accredited representative of the mercantile interest.
The laissez faire economic doctrine, propounded in majestic completeness by Adam Smith as far back as 1776, had captivated the understanding of Pitt in his precocious boyhood. Before the question had become generally understood either inside or outside Parliament, the young Minister was carrying a rapid reduction and simplification of tariffs. But this process was reversed by the war of 1793-1815. War expenditure and the interest on war debt were defrayed by unscientific taxation of almost all articles in common use. A revenue tariff, not really protective in its object, taxed raw materials more heavily than manufactured articles. The unwise refusal of the middle classes at the end of the war to submit to a continuation of the income-tax in time of peace, helped to perpetuate this incubus of ill-adjusted taxation.
And so, for thirty years after the outbreak of the war with France, the doctrine of laissez faire was seldom quoted except to prove the impossibility of the State enforcing a living wage or interfering on behalf of the employee. At length, in the more liberal atmosphere of the 'twenties, the time had come for a revival of its Free Trade implications. The financial genius of Huskisson was able to operate with the full support of the economists at the height of their fame and influence, under the patronage of the port of Liverpool and the bulk of middle-class opinion, and behind the shield of Canning, the favourite of the nation and the despot of the Cabinet.
Under these favouring conditions Huskisson resumed Pitt's earlier rôle, substituted moderate tariffs for total prohibitions, abolished bounties, cut down high duties to a percentage that discouraged smuggling and encouraged competition, and admitted many raw materials at nominal tariffs. Timber he excluded from this category in order to benefit Canada.
Huskisson had more vision of the Empire than any other statesman of his own or of the following generation, except Lord Durham. He encouraged and subsidised emigration. He showed the Colonies that their interests were to be consulted no less than those of the mother country. Such a theory was new in the world. Seizing the opportunity of changes in the tariff, he established a working system of preferential duties for colonial goods. When Free Trade reached its full development in the 'forties and 'fifties, preference was no longer possible. But Huskisson's idea that the Colonies were not mere stalking-horses for British interests at home outlived his preferential tariffs.
Though Huskisson laid the foundations of British Free Trade policy, he himself did not contemplate a total abolition of duties. But in one respect he was compelled to outstrip Adam Smith himself. The philosopher had pronounced the Navigation Laws injurious to our national wealth, but necessary for our national security, as a means of maintaining the school of seamen. These laws, first enacted against our Dutch rivals in the time of the Commonwealth, had the effect of confining British trade almost entirely to ships owned and manned by British subjects. The system was brought to the ground, not by attacks of laissez faire economists, but by the action of America in passing a navigation law of her own, which imposed special duties on goods imported in British ships. European countries began to follow suit, and Huskisson in 1823 was fain to pass a Reciprocity Act enabling government to negotiate a treaty with any foreign State, so as to secure to the ships of each country the free use of the other's ports. Our Colonies were at the same time permitted to trade direct with Europe.
It was not till 1849 and the following years that the Navigation Acts were completely abolished, but they had received their death-blow in 1823. The new spirit of enterprise in the open market that asked for no protection, and the invention of iron ships just when our forests were failing, enabled British shipbuilders to compete against foreign rivals with the same success as before.
Huskisson's Free Trade measures unshackled the limbs of a vigorous giant. British commerce, unlike British agriculture, was as a young man rejoicing in his strength and confident in his power to make his own way in the world. Brilliant prospects were everywhere opening out to capital and enterprise. When the colonies of Spain threw off her yoke, the merchants of Cadiz were no longer able to forbid the rest of mankind to trade with South America. At the same time Europe's purchasing power abroad was recovering from the effects of the war and the peace. England was the clearing-house and port of call for the trade between the two hemispheres, and London was the financial centre for the colossal operations of the coming age.
Canning and Huskisson were alive to all this. The old and the new member for Liverpool understood that England's future lay in commerce rather than in agriculture, and that already less than a third of the population worked on the land. The economic and political outlook of these two Tory chiefs was very different from that of the squires and rural clergy who composed the nucleus of their party.
In the British political world ' Corn was King.' It was more dangerous to tamper with that one item of the Protectionist system than with all the rest put together. For whereas the manufacturers were meagrely represented in Parliament and were coming round to Free Trade at least in such articles as each man did not himself produce on the other hand, the landlords, who nominated or composed the immense majority of both Houses, had no doubts at all as to the necessity for the protection of corn. The Corn Laws were the ark of the Tory Covenant, and half the Whig gentlemen regarded them as no less sacred.' Parliamentary Reform would have to precede any serious reduction in the corn duty.
Yet the Act of 1815, in which Huskisson himself had been a participator, was working such general havoc that some change in the form of protection had to be devised. By the Waterloo Corn Bill import was prohibited when wheat stood below 80s. a quarter.1 The result was to hamper foreign trade, to keep the price of corn artificially high, and in years of scarcity to starve the labourer's family in town and country alike. The Corn Law had been fiercely denounced by the middle and working classes from the moment of its introduction. It increased the revolutionary feeling among town Radicals and village rick-burners, and caused grave discontent among the unrepresented captains of industry and their lieu-tenants. At inns and places of public resort loud disputes between commercial travellers and farmers on the subject of the Corn Laws marked a growing division among the respectable ' classes that boded ill for the permanence of the existing regime.
Yet the ' agricultural interest,' the landlords and big farmers, were themselves harassed by the working of their own law. It had been assumed that the measure would keep wheat above 80s. a quarter, and on the strength of that assumption farmers continued to discard the production of meat, poultry and vegetables, and to plough up bad lands that ought never to have grown corn at all. The result of this over-production of corn in Britain was that prices fell below 80s., not indeed low enough to give food to the people at a reasonable price, but low enough to break many farmers and to prevent many land-lords from obtaining the high rents on which they had calculated. Some new form of corn protection was loudly called for by the agricultural interest itself. A slight modification of the law in 1822 had made no change in the situation.
Huskisson therefore proposed a sliding scale that is to say a tariff to vary with the price. The principle was accepted, but the question of its rate and incidence divided the Tory party as fiercely as Foreign Policy and Catholic Emancipation. Huskisson and Canning stood for a lower rate, Wellington for a higher. Finally, after Canning's death, the Duke fixed a sliding scale to begin when wheat was under 735. a quarter. It was hoped that it would prevent the fluctuation of prices, but it had no such effect. It remained as the Corn Law against which the thunders of Cobden's League were in later years directed.
The liberal trend of British statesmanship in the nineteenth century was set in these years by Peel for domestic administration, by Huskisson for commerce, and by Canning for foreign relations. In our dealings with Europe, a continuous if winding stream of policy joins our breach with the Holy Alliance to the war of 1914.
Canning's tenure of the Foreign Office marked the fact that England had changed sides. In order to release Europe from the overlordship of France, we had fought in alliance with the Eastern despotisms and with all the most reactionary forces in the West. Our victory had involved the re-enslavement of Poland, the restoration of the Temporal Power and the Austrians in Italy, of the Jesuits, the princes, the nobles and the Junkers throughout the Continent,---while the military predominance had passed from the Western Powers to Russia, Prussia and Austria.
It was partly because they had foreseen such consequences in case of victory, that the Whigs had been factious and lukewarm about the war while it was still waging. Now they found themselves in touch with the rising anger of the nation at large against the obscurantism and despotism of our late allies. England had felt a generous warmth in helping the Spanish and German peoples to free themselves from Napoleon. When, after the common victory, the princes and priests of the Continent re-enslaved those who had done the fighting, many Englishmen felt that they had been taken in. It was not to restore the Inquisition that they had fought in Spain. England and Europe listened with delight to the invective of the Whig poet, Lord Byron, against forces which no one on the Continent could criticise without seeing the inside of a dungeon. All this was very fine, but would not have been very effectual had not the Tory Foreign Secretary taken up the cause. In a few years Canning attracted to England and to himself the loyalty of Liberals in all countries.
Castlereagh, who conducted foreign affairs until 1822, had withdrawn from interference on the Continent to neutrality, but he would never have positively changed sides. He refused, indeed, to take part in the policing of Europe against constitutional revolts, but not because he sympathised with those revolts. He spoke strongly in favour of Austria's rule in Italy and Turkey's rule in Greece. He had pledged the country, as was reasonable, to resist by force a Napoleonic restoration in France, but he had also approved of a secret treaty whereby Austria bound Ferdinand IV of Naples to maintain a system of absolutism in his territories. That was indeed the extent of Castlereagh's commitments, and he would go no further, even to please Metternich.
Metternich meanwhile had completely converted the Czar Alexander to absolutism. The Holy Alliance in 1815 had been a vague aspiration of the Czar's pietism.' Three years later it had taken practical form as the clearing-house of obscurantist diplomacy, settling the internal affairs of countries great and small at a series of European congresses. In both its phases it had been suspect to Castlereagh. But it was Canning alone who, in October 1818, first took a firm stand on principle against England's participation in periodical congresses, and it was Canning who persuaded the Cabinet and Castlereagh not to commit themselves any further, merely in order to please their allies, while alienating the nation. ` Our true policy,' Canning then told his colleagues, ' has always been not to interfere except in great emergencies and then with a commanding force. The people of this country may be taught to look with great jealousy for their liberties, if our Court is engaged in meetings of great despotic monarchs, deliberating upon what degree of revolutionary spirit may endanger the public security, and therefore require the interference of the Alliance.' Canning's successful stand on this ground in 1818 marks the first change of direction in British policy, though as yet only negative.2
The despots of Europe, however, went on without us, and in 1821 commissioned Austria to suppress the newly won constitution of the Neapolitan kingdom. Castlereagh disliked the collective action of the Congress, but had no objection to Austria acting in Naples on her own account. He regarded this first great episode of the Italian risorgimento, on behalf of which Byron was collecting arms and Shelley writing poems, as ` a sectarian conspiracy and military revolt against a mild and paternal Government.' The man who wrote thus, and who used equally hostile language about the Greek struggle with Turkey, would never, if he had lived, have played the part taken by Canning in Europe.
The ' mild and paternal Government,' when restored by Austria to its absolute power in Naples, proceeded to a barbarous persecution of virtue and intellect, such as the Holy Alliance was organising, with local variations, all over Europe. The dragooning of the German Universities, the destruction of the Polish constitution, the police system which put men in prison for possessing a volume of Gibbon or Montesquieu, bade fair to put out the light of Europe's culture in the course of suppressing her liberties. When the country that had over-thrown Napoleon spoke out against this system through the mouth first of her poets and then of her Foreign Minister, the moral effect was all the greater because no other voice but England's could then be heard on behalf of freedom.
When Castlereagh died and Canning took over the Foreign Office, another Holy Alliance Congress was about to meet at Verona to decide on the suppression of the constitutional rights which the Spaniards had extorted once more from their perjured and bigoted King, Ferdinand VII. France was chosen as the executioner. The French Royalists and Clericals rejoiced to lead an invasion of Spain on absolutist principles. It would be a cheap way of reviving the glories of Napoleon on behalf of their own party. With the help of the Church in Spain, French conquest was this time easy, and the persecution that followed was ferocious. Ferdinand, as his subjects had good cause to say, had ' the heart of a tiger and the head of a mule.
These proceedings infuriated all sections of British opinion. Anti-French, anti-Catholic and Liberal feeling between them covered most of the ground in politics, and all three were outraged. Another reigning passion, the desire for foreign markets, was no Iess shrewdly touched, for if the colonies that had revolted from Spain were recovered by the aid of French arms, Central and Southern America would again be closed to our goods. The ' family compact' of the French and Spanish Bourbons, so much dreaded in the eighteenth century, would be renewed against British trade and power. The spirit of Chatham was aroused. The memories of the Peninsula were revived. Once more, as in 18o8, the shop windows were filled with coloured cartoons, generously but naïvely representing ' Spanish patriots,' in the ruffs and slashed clothes of their great ancestors, slaughtering masses of shrieking Frenchmen !
Canning, though he confessed to a friend that ' he had an itch for war with France,' decided not to plunge the country into another great struggle, with half the Spanish people and all the governments of Europe supporting the French. Indeed, such a war would probably have had the disastrous result of identifying French military and nationalist feeling, which was at that time anti-Bourbon, with all the worst forms of reaction. Where Canning did not intend to fight, he was too wise to bluff or threaten. He contented himself with a strong protest against the invasion of Spain. But he gave the French to understand that if they attempted to send troops across the Atlantic, wo they would have to deal with the British fleet. And he let the restored Spanish absolutism know that the reactionary system was not to be carried by foreign arms into Portugal. When, in disregard of this warning, the Spaniards began to interfere with our little ally, Canning was as good as his word, and sent four thousand redcoats to Lisbon, who soon disposed of the reactionary forces. France and Spain shrank from a contest over Portugal. The successful landing of British troops on the Continent to defend the constitutional cause, even on this small scale, made a great sensation throughout Europe.
Although the revolt of our American colonists in the eighteenth century proved ultimately decisive as an example to those of Spain, it had had no immediate effect upon them. The revolutionary and separatist movement came to South America, not from the countrymen or contemporaries of Washington, but through the agency of Spanish-Americans resident in Europe in the time of Napoleon. In the same era, the wars of Spain against England and against France revealed to her subjects beyond the ocean the feeble and useless character of their home government, and broke up the isolation, comparable to that of China, which had so long divided South America from the rest of mankind.
In 1806-7, Spain being then at war with England, a British force from South Africa, crossing, the Atlantic without orders from home on the strangest of escapades, landed in the Plata River and seized Buenos Aires. When the news reached London, British merchants at home raised a shout of greedy joy, and the Cabinet had the weakness to accept and support the move thus forced upon them. The Spanish Royal Governor had fled in panic, incapable of attempting to organise resistance. But as the British made the mistake of demanding allegiance for King George instead of proclaiming independence, the populace acted with the guerilla energy of their race, and in twelve months compelled the invaders to sail away again under an ignominious armistice.
These events were the prelude to South American Independence. The exhibition of helpless folly on the part of the Spanish Royal authorities, the habits of successful self-defence engendered in the population thus deserted, the taste of the pleasures of anarchy enjoyed by the wilder guachos of the great plain, and the seeds of knowledge and civilisation planted by the English during their year's occupation, all made for revolution. When next year the government of old Spain betrayed the race and gave its possessions on both sides of the Atlantic to the French, its action was repudiated in South America, and the English were welcomed as friends and deliverers.
The confusion of authority that followed in Spain, between the patriotic Juntas and a Court become vassal to Napoleon, favoured the designs of the small group who were working for the independence of Spanish America. From that time forward their cause made rapid progress, though it went through many vicissitudes. The English merchants fostered the revolt, partly as a means of obtaining markets in defiance of the veto from Spain, and partly out of political sympathy. It was not, perhaps, easy to feel great enthusiasm for revolutions which never led to any-thing more constitutional than military dictatorship. Spanish America had been for more than two centuries locked away from the world's intrusion, to vegetate in peace ; Spaniards and Indians had worked out a modus vivendi, and there had been no third party. Now at length the new freedom, or more precisely the new independence, came rudely to disturb the calm of that curious society. There followed several generations of petty warfare between rival parties and rival States. But there followed also European trade, inventions, ideas, and interpenetration by foreign business men, at first chiefly from Great Britain.
In those days the scattered communities of so vast a continent were as much separated from each other as they were from Spain. The British merchant ships helped to keep up communications and to give the struggle for independence a certain unity of action. In the group of equatorial colonies along the Spanish main, the leading figure was Bolivar the Liberator. He owed much to an army of six thousand British volunteers, largely disbanded Peninsular veterans, who left their bones in that fierce struggle with man and nature in the tropical mountains. Farther south, along the coasts of Chili and Peru, a small rebel fleet decided the contest by its brilliant feats under the command of Lord Cochrane, then the finest of British sailors, whose career in our service had been cut short by an error of justice.
At the time when the French reactionaries restored Ferdinand to Madrid, Spanish-American independence, though not yet recognised by any European Power, was an accomplished fact. It was also a British vested interest of great commercial value. And grave as were the shortcomings of the half-civilised republics, ' freedom ' might without undue poetic licence be invoked to prevent the reconquest of half a hemisphere by the monarchs of the Holy Alliance, who had just trodden out the embers of liberty in Italy and Spain.
It was at this stage of affairs that the United States entered on the scene as the world-champion of a democracy more advanced than Canning's Liberal Toryism, and as the leading American Power. In neither capacity was her advent altogether welcome to Canning, who curiously enough was more under the influence of aristocratic prejudices against the United States than his more high-born and conservative predecessor.1 It was fortunate that he had only to deal with the United States at a time when our common interests were to the fore and our numerous differences were slumbering. He had indeed invited American diplomatic support against the Holy Alliance, and he made full use of it, while the Press on both sides of the Atlantic preached the novel doctrine of English-speaking union against a world of despots.
The veto laid on French action by the British fleet decided the crisis. Canning indeed had secured the acquiescence of the French Government in the inevitable, even before President Monroe laid down the famous ' Monroe doctrine' in the message to Congress of December 1823. The President's warning to the powers of the Holy Alliance to keep their hands off the revolted colonies of Spain was made in unequivocal terms, on the high ground of the political sympathies of the United States, and her own special interests in the New World. There was also a significant sentence of general application :
` The occasion has been judged proper for asserting as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonisation by any European powers.'
It is true that the ` occasion ' for ' asserting this principle ' was certain designs of Russia on the still unoccupied Pacific coast. It is also true that ' existing colonies or dependencies of any power' were excepted from this veto. None the less, Canning saw in the Monroe doctrine a warning to Great Britain about the future, as well as an immediate defiance of their common enemies of the Holy Alliance. And such indeed was the spirit of the message in the mind of those who framed it. It signified that the United States was coming into the field as a great world power with a policy and ethos of her own. Much would have been saved if her advent on these terms had been accepted by Canning, Palmerston and the other semi-aristocratic statesmen of Britain in transition, as frankly as it was accepted after the American Civil War and after the full democratisation of the British Parliament.
The closing scene of the Spanish-American drama was the official recognition by Great Britain of Mexico, Buenos Aires and Bolivar's Colombia as independent States. Canning's High Tory colleagues had fought against his policy in the Cabinet from first to last, and George IV had intrigued against him with Metternich and the Russians. But strong in the support of the British people, Canning had defied his enemies at home and abroad. They liked it little when he boasted in the Commons :
' Contemplating Spain as our ancestors had known her, I resolved that if France had Spain, it should not be Spain with the Indies. I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old.'
On the American question, Canning, backed by the peoples of America and by the British fleet, was geographically master of the situation, and had simply overridden the will of Russia, Austria, Prussia and France. But in the case of the Greek rebellion against Turkey, he was only able to achieve Greek independence by dexterous use of the divisions of the Holy Alliance itself, and the sympathy felt by France and Russia with the insurgents. He is almost the only British statesman who, by the consent of all today, added to his laurels by his positive achievements in the Near East. Combining the best points of the later policies of Disraeli and Gladstone, he kept Russia's ambitions within bounds by placing England and France alongside of her as champions of liberation from the Turk. Canning visited Paris and with great ability won over Charles X and his reactionary but Christian Ministers to co-operate in this policy, thereby splitting the Holy Alliance from top to bottom, and forcing Metternich to look on in impotent fury while the English, Russian and French fleets under Admiral Codrington blew the Turkish fleet out of the water in Navarino bay.
Two months before that decisive event, Canning had died. But though Wellington's bungling reversal of his policy eventually left France and Russia to divide the honour of clearing the Turks out of the Morea, the policy devised by Canning had triumphed. A new State representing a race with European traditions had been set up, only nominally subject to Turkey, yet not dependent on Russia. Britain had prepared a dyke against the tide of the Russian advance, not by bolstering up Turkish despotism, but by taking the lead against it herself, and appealing to the new principle of nationality.
This policy was abandoned at the Crimea, when the Whigs, throwing over the traditions of Fox and Grey, and the Tories those of Canning, reverted to Pitt's pro-Turkish methods of checkmating Russia.2 The same purely negative policy served Disraeli's turn once more in the 'seventies.
During the fifty years between Canning's liberation of Greece and Gladstone's campaign on the Bulgarian atrocities, the English people ceased to sympathise with national struggles for liberty against the Turks. The cause had aroused their generous ardour when Byron died for Greece at Missolonghi.
Before Canning's official intervention, British gold and British volunteers, collected by enthusiastic committees, had done as much to maintain the insurgent cause in Greece as in South America. But whereas the sympathy with South America had its roots in commerce, the sympathy with Greece had its roots in culture. The very name of Hellas, like that of Italy in the next generation, had a strange power to move our apparently unemotional grandfathers. But when once the heirs of Athens had been freed, Serb, Bulgar and Armenian appealed in vain for British sympathy, though the cause was the same of delivering ancient races long submerged under the stagnant waters of Turkish misrule. The classical and literary education that then moulded and inspired the English mind had power to make men sympathise with Greece and Italy, more even than Christianity had power to make them sympathise with the Balkan Christians. It is significant of much that in the seventeenth century members of Parliament quoted from the Bible ; in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from the classics ; in the twentieth century from nothing at all.