British History - The last days of Whig-Liberalism - ' The Triumvirate ' helps Cavour to free Italy - Cobden's Commercial Treaty with France - The American Civil War - Canadian Federation - Denmark - Death of Palmerston, 1865.
( Originally Published 1922 )
IN 1857 Palmerston as Prime Minister fought and won another battle against the collective wisdom of Parliament, in his old ' Don Pacifico ' style of seven years before.1 In dealing with China over the affair of the Arrow he abused the strength of Britain and brought on a war originating from an unworthy quarrel. So thought not only Cobden, but the Peelites, Lord John Russell, and Disraeli's Conservative party, who all combined to defeat him in the House. He appealed to the electorate, and came back victorious, having extinguished at the polls the weakest of the parties allied against him, the ' Manchester School.' The defeat of Cobden and Bright in the house of their friends, in those northern constituencies where they had for so many years been personally identified with the self-consciousness of the industrial community, was due as much to their former opposition to the Crimean War as to the Chinese question of the hour.
But their long battle with Palmerston, the most profound political antagonism of that easy-going period, resembled the alternate rise and fall of Punch and the Policeman, in rapid exchange of knock-out blows, each less fatal than appears at the moment to the applauding spectators. Hardly had the men of peace crept back at by-elections into the arena whence they had been expelled by Palmerston's ' Chinese ' dissolution, before we find them again heading the alliance of his enemies, and again defeating his government, this time in a manner fatal to its continuance. The combination of parties Tories, Peelites, Russellite Whigs and Manchester schoolmen was the same as that which had beaten Palmerston on Cobden's Chinese motion a year before. But this time he could not hope to appeal from the House to the nationalist passions of the electorate, because the motion of Bright and his friend Gibson charged Palmerston with neglect of his country's honour. The complaint was that his Foreign Secretary had left unanswered the rather insolent dispatch of Napoleon III's Minister, on the subject of the Orsini bomb outrage which had been plotted by refugees in England. On this question Palmerston had the country against him, as on the occasion of his former complaisance to Napoleon over the coup d'état.
Another brief interlude of Conservative government under Derby and Disraeli ensued on Palmerston's fall. But after the General Election of 1859 the Conservatives found themselves still in a minority, and were replaced by a Cabinet of Whig-Liberal reunion under Palmerston, Russell and Glad-stone. The kaleidoscope of sections and parties remained fixed in this new formation for the next half-dozen years. The government of the ' Triumvirate,' as it was called, after the three leaders whose co-operation was the condition of its survival, dealt with the Italian crisis on liberal principles, and with the American Civil War and the Danish question on no principles at all. In home affairs its motto was to let sleeping dogs lie.
Palmerston's last Ministry was in fact the final phase of the old Whig-Liberalism which the first Reform Bill had brought into power, the alliance of the ten-pound voter ' with the great Whig families. The reforms which that combination was capable of inspiring had been carried, and its motive force was spent. Palmerston, tamed by age and by repeated proof that he could not flout all his colleagues all the time, submitted with a good grace to share power with Russell as his Foreign Minister. The days of his dictatorship were over. But he yielded points less willingly to Gladstone, whom he felt to be his own antithesis both in policy and in character. Gladstone, now again Chancellor of the Exchequer, had, in middle age, become the rising hope of the younger Liberals and of the forces of the unenfranchised who, under John Bright, were already beginning to batter at the gates. But all those folk would have to wait till Palmerston died ; after him the deluge would come, dreaded by fashionable Whig and Tory society under the name of 'American democracy.'
The question on which the Triumvirate worked most in harmony was the Italian. They took office in the middle of the summer campaign of Magenta and Solferino, when Napoleon, in alliance with the Piedmont of Victor Emmanuel and Cavour, was driving the Austrians out of the Milanese plain into the Venetian quadrilateral. The outgoing Derby government, inimical to the Italian cause as a disturber of peace, had felt no emotion to counteract the distrust that it shared with all Englishmen of Napoleon's bid for European supremacy. On the other hand, the incoming Liberal Cabinet was dominated by three men who were all of them enthusiasts for Italy, though each was in a different degree fearful of French aggression.
The change at Downing Street came at the very moment when English help could be most useful to the Italian cause, namely, at the moment when France and Italy were beginning to quarrel. In July 1859, a month after the new British Ministry had come into power, Napoleon made peace with the Austrians at Villafranca, giving liberated Milan to Piedmont, but ascribing the rest of Italy to its reactionary rulers, foreign and native. Napoleon himself would have liked to do better for Italy, but he dared not shed more French blood for a cause which his Clerical supporters at home detested, particularly as France was being threatened by the Prussian armies on the Rhine. Moreover, even if he could have had his own way, he would not have wished to see Italy united and strong, for then she would become independent of France. He aimed at a confederation of small, self-governing Italian States, presided over by a Liberal Pope and looking to France for protection. But there was no longer a Liberal Pope, the Italians had other aspirations, and the Napoleonic vision was not to be realised. Either Italy must be united, strong and in-dependent, or else remain the slave of Austria and of native reaction.
Just when the limitations of Napoleon's policy were becoming apparent, at the end of his half-successful Lombard campaign, the new British Government appeared on the scene, to run up the bidding for Italy, and eventually to compel France to acquiesce in the unity of the whole Peninsula.
Throughout 1860 every great Power on the Continent, including France, was hostile to Italian unity. But France was so far in favour of Italian freedom and Piedmont, that she would not willingly see the work of her 18 59 campaign undone by an Austrian re-conquest, diplomatically backed by Prussia and Russia. In this state of things, England, by her clear declaration that the Italians should be allowed to settle their own affairs, was able to keep the ring for Cavour and Garibaldi to work out at the chosen moment the unity as well as the freedom of Italy.
England's part in the creation of the Italian kingdom in 1859-60 was the most important and well-deserved success of British diplomacy between the Belgian settlement of Grey and Palmerston, and the close of the Victorian era. In many of the other great questions that we touched The American civil War, Denmark, Turkey our statesmen displayed a lamentable ignorance of the forces with which they were dealing, and produced no lasting settlement of which England has reason to be proud. Only our Italian policy of 1859–60 was based on a real understanding of the people and of the facts. Therefore it succeeded, and helped to raise up a new national power in Europe who has since proved our friend in need, partly from memory of the transactions of that crisis, partly from political affinity and common interests.
Of the Triumvirate, Palmerston knew least about the Italian question, though he hated Italy's despots. Gladstone, while still a Conservative, had in 1851 studied on the spot the Neapolitan prisons and ' Bomba's ' judicial system, and had been converted to the Italian cause by what he had then seen. Russell had lived for years in domestic intimacy with the Italian exiles in England. Through these foreign friends, and through Sir James Hudson, our Minister at Turin, he was kept in close touch with the successive phases of Cavour's labyrinthine policy. Hudson, through his personal friendship with Russell, was able to make British policy in Italy move fast enough to keep pace with the rapidity of events in a year of revolution.
First Hudson persuaded Lord John to accept the accomplished fact of the cession of Nice and Savoy to France, as being the necessary prepayment made by Cavour to Napoleon for permission to liberate any further portions of Italy. If Hudson had not made the real bearings of the question clear to Russell, the fury of Palmerston and of England in general at this trans-action would very probably have involved us in a war with France, which would have been fatal to Italy and beneficial only to the Eastern despotisms.
In the summer, Garibaldi liberated Sicily by his adventure of the Thousand. The enthusiasm with which it was hailed in England was such as perhaps no other foreigner's enterprise has ever aroused in our island. Helped by the popular feeling for Garibaldi, Hudson persuaded Lord John, and through him the Cabinet, that the hour had struck for the complete unity of all Italians in one State a solution to which Palmerston, Gladstone, Russell and Hudson himself had been averse until Garibaldi took Palermo. That event made a willing convert of England. But France, as well as Russia, Prussia and Austria, still continued hostile to Italian unity. In giving effect to this change of British policy, Hudson persuaded Russell not to become a party to Napoleon's design of sending the British and French fleets to Messina, to stop Garibaldi from crossing from Sicily to the Neapolitan mainland. Such action to check Garibaldi's further progress would have been in accordance with the policy which Cavour was constrained by France and Austria to announce in public, but contrary to Cavour's secret wishes, as Hudson well knew. Any Minister but Russell, nay, Russell himself with different coaching, might have stopped Garibaldi at the Straits, and that might well have been fatal to Italian unity.
There went so many miracles to make Italy the miracle-men, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Cavour, the right king on the right throne, the thousand wonderful chances ,of battle and debate that we sometimes overlook a miracle in that age second to none, that in 1860 a British Foreign Minister thoroughly understood, by years of previous study and from the best sources of daily information, the main question with which he was called upon to deal.
Palmerston's admiration of the French Emperor did not survive the affair of Nice and Savoy, in which he saw the beginning of another era of Napoleonic aggrandisement. His formidable temper was at length stirred up against the man on whose behalf he had twice in years gone by suffered political ostracism. In the year 1859 - 60 the feeling against France ran high, led by The Times newspaper, and we came very near to war. If the Government had been a Palmerstonian dictatorship as in 1856, war would probably have broken out. Fortunately Russell was better versed in the realities of the situation, and Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, came out as a belligerent champion of peace and economy, of a calibre to stand up even against Palmerston himself.
It ended in a victory for peace. Cobden, encouraged by Gladstone, went over to Paris on his own account, and with his marvellous persuasiveness began negotiations with Napoleon in person, which ended in a Commercial Treaty between France and England, the free-trade advantages of which bore down the clamour for war in our island. Beyond the Channel, where Protectionism was dominant, Napoleon's free-trade policy was a proof of his earnest desire to keep the peace with our country, even at the cost of unpopularity with his own subjects. At an ugly crisis peace had been preserved by what Mr. Gladstone called ' a great European operation.' The credit was due in France to an ' enlightened despotism,' in England to the more democratic elements of opinion led by Gladstone from the Treasury bench, in alliance with Cobden and Bright.
It was in the sweat and agony of that contest to avert war that Gladstone's friendship with Bright began, destined to bear notable fruit after Palmerston's death. The positive prizes they had secured in place of war Cobden's Commercial Treaty and Gladstone's budgets of 1860-1, including the repeal of the Paper Duties - are remembered as trophies of Palmerston's premiership, though certainly not of his policy.
A lasting benefit remained over to England from the war panic, in the shape of the Volunteer movement. This embodiment of the ideals and policy of Victorian England has grown in our own day into the Territorial Force, and has proved its value on the fields of France, though not, in the actual event, in conflict with Frenchmen. The song which Tennyson, as Poet Laureate, wrote for the original Volunteers of 1859, ' Form, form, Riflemen, form,' is a denunciation of Napoleon III:
' True we have got such a faithful ally
To us Englishmen he meant better than Tennyson knew.
In 1863 Palmerston consented to a most generous act of foreign policy. The Ionian islands off the coast of Greece, in our hands since the treaties of 1815, were given to Greece at the desire of their inhabitants. It was done on the advice of Gladstone, who had been sent to study the question as Commissioner a few years before. Hellenic sympathies and Liberal principles were the motives of an action which has few analogies in history.
Scarcely had we escaped the danger of a meaningless war with France when a yet darker fate threatened us, the danger of becoming involved in the American Civil War on the side of the Southern slave-owners. Our escape from that entanglement, and the final victory of the North, followed immediately by Palmerston's death, opened out the way for the enfranchisement of the working classes and the recognition of democracy as the governing force in Great Britain.
The issue in America arose from the demand of the Southern slave-owning States to dominate the politics of the whole Union, as the only means by which the ultimate extinction of slavery could be avoided. Slavery was indeed in no immediate danger of suppression. The abolitionist agitation had not converted the North, but it had maddened the slave-owners of the South, and driven them into a course of action which proved their undoing. For years they dictated to their fellow-citizens of the North, and bullied the whole Union. The Northerners, immersed in business, were more interested in developing the resources of the country than in conducting its politics, while the Southern gentlemen left the slave-driving to overseers, and interested themselves in affairs of State. But at last the apparently inexhaustible patience of the North gave out, and the choice of Lincoln as President-elect signified that a stand would be made.
It was no part of Lincoln's Presidential programme to abolish slavery in the existing slave States, but he would no longer permit them to control the policy of the Federal Government, or to force their ' peculiar institution ' on new States Union under Jefferson Davis as President of a new Confederacy. The North, under firm guidance from the new President, denied their right to secede, and waged war to bring them back into the national fold.
Thus the origin of the quarrel was freedom against slavery, but its final form was Union against Secession. The two issues had become identified. Either the Union would emerge one of the most powerful States in the world, and a democracy in every sense ; or else a new world-power would come into being based on slavery as an ideal, while democracy, not yet established in Europe, would have proved itself, on its own soil, incapable of preserving great political units from disruption.
In England the upper ranks of society sympathised generally with the South, and the lower with the North. Since, how-ever, the Northern sympathisers were not then enfranchised, the Southern sympathisers were vocal and important out of proportion to their numbers. Journalists and statesmen were not then obliged to appeal to working-class opinion, and they made England appear more ' Southern ' than she really was.
The reason of this social cleavage on the American question was twofold. In the first place the poorer classes had then many relations in the Northern United States who often wrote home to say what a fine land they had found ; for a generation past there had been a great flood of emigrants in that direction as well as to our own Colonies. America was therefore better understood in the cottage than in the mansion. For the upper and political classes had not then contracted the habit of inter-marriage with Americans, which has in more recent times helped to change their attitude to the Republic. So little was America known to the readers of The Times, that when the great newspaper declared pontifically that Yankees were cowards and that slavery was not an issue in the struggle, Belgravia and its dependencies believed what they read. Such ignorance about the affairs of a great English-speaking community was in striking contrast with the close knowledge of Italy displayed in the same quarters. If Mr. Gladstone had watched a slave-auction in the South, as he had watched the Neapolitan political trials, he would not have said that Jeff Davis had ' made a nation ' ; and if Lord John had known Boston society as well as he knew the Italian exiles, he would have taken yet a little more trouble than he did to prevent the sailing of the Alabama.
The second reason for the cleavage of British opinion on the Civil War was that one section was dreading and the other eagerly expecting the advent of ' American democracy ' in England by a further extension of the franchise. It is indeed remarkable that Gladstone, who was destined to be the chief beneficiary of the next Reform Bill, espoused the Southern cause. But in the main English Reformers sided with the industrial and democratic North, and the anti-Reformers, Whig and Tory, with the gentlemen of the Southern Confederacy.
John Bright put himself at the head of the democratic elements favouring the North. In these four years of the American Civil War, and the two years of the British Reform struggle that followed, the real battle of his life was fought and won. During the Corn Law controversy he had only been Cobden's lieutenant. In opposing the Crimea he had only been one of two, though his eloquence, the reflection of deep moral qualities, had then begun to give him a place apart in men's minds, in spite of the unpopularity of his views. But from 1859 onwards, without dividing himself from Cobden, he had struck out a policy of his own on franchise reform in which Cobden, always sceptical as to the intelligence of the working class, refused to take a share. Cobden continued to believe in the future of upper middle-class Liberalism, at a time when the upper middle-classes were becoming Conservative. And, therefore, when he died in 1865, he was no longer in the commanding position of leadership that he had occupied twenty years before.
Bright on the other hand was uniting the lower middle-class and working-classes in a new radical party, more formidable, because less alarming to property, than the old Chartism with its purely working-class standpoint. In the 'sixties Bright was the political leader or the town artisans, not on a ' class-conscious ' basis, but as a part of the nation claiming their rights as such. The ' class-consciousness ' seemed rather to be chargeable against the aristocracy and wealthier bourgeoisie who denied political power to the majority of their fellow-citizens. ' If a class has failed,' said Bright, ' let us try the nation.' Trade-Unionism, engaged in securing better wages and conditions, and mellowed by the general prosperity of the country, had forgotten its socialistic ambitions of the Owenite period, and encouraged its members to fall in under Bright's banner to fight for Parliamentary Reform, alongside of the radical portion of the ' collared classes.' The Protestant Christianity and Bible knowledge of the vast audiences whom Bright addressed, put them in sympathy with the form and spirit of the Quaker's moral appeal, as also with a part at least of Gladstone's idealism. If Bright was a demagogue, he knew none of the baser arts of the trade, and his singleness of mind stood him in good stead with that generation of men.
The issue was greatly influenced from overseas. The Colonies had just been granted self-government without any limitation of the suffrage a powerful argument against the restriction of the franchise at home. And now the principle of democracy as a practical form of government was undergoing ordeal by battle in the United States.
The Civil War was a question in every way suited to John Bright. He knew much more about America than did the Foreign Office or the Cabinet. The question of slavery stirred the deeps of his compassion and put him in touch with what was best and most powerful in the England of that day. He had the sense to ' swallow his formulas ' of pacificism for the occasion. For three years he lived in daily dread lest blood-shed so unexampled should induce the North to make terms with slavery and end the war before it had completed its work. He saw no less clearly that if the great experiment of the North American Republic broke up in disaster, democracy would be discredited all the world over as having been tried and found wanting. These things he and William Edward Forster and a few others taught to the people of England.
Although there was a strong Southern party in Great Britain there were no partisans of slavery. The Southern sympathisers tried to ignore the slavery issue, but it emerged and beat them in the end. Conservatives regarded the planters of Georgia and Carolina as ' Cavaliers' and high-spirited gentle-men oppressed by a set of low-bred Yankee tradesmen and farmers. A section of Liberals, headed by Gladstone, thought they saw a brotherhood of small States rightly struggling to be free against a tyrannous empire. And many reason-able men of all parties, though disliking slavery and the slave-owners, believed after the initial Northern defeat of Bull Run that the North could never conquer the South; and that even if, contrary to all form of likelihood, it was ever able to over-run the South with its armies, it could never remake the nation by force, any more than George III could, by destroying Washington's army, have remade the Empire which he had alienated. Indeed in 1861 it needed faith to believe in any such possibility.
These views, not unnatural among people singularly ignorant of America and the Americans, were confirmed by the policy which Lincoln at first thought it necessary to pursue. For a year and a half he refused to declare the emancipation of the slaves, and represented the war as being fought on the issue not of slavery, but of union. These declarations, which were only half the truth, deceived no one in America, but deceived many in England. They were made to conciliate those border States still faithful or divided in allegiance, where slavery existed, though under different conditions from down South. But when at length in October 1862 Lincoln pro-claimed the freedom of the slaves in the rebel States, he dealt a very serious blow to English sympathies with the South. From that time forward our Southern party, forced against its will into the position of a pro-slavery party, declined every month in power.
If it had not been for the avowed Southern sympathy of politicians and journalists, the official acts of the British Government need not have given very grave cause of offence to the North. The worst offender in the Ministry was Gladstone, who, unaccustomed to do anything by halves, gave vent to his enthusiasm for the new Southern ' nation' in a public speech at Newcastle in 1862. Palmerston knew better how to restrain himself in utterance, and Gladstone's indiscretions made him by antagonism more discreet. But at heart he was less friendly to Americans as such, and felt for their republic an old-world jealousy and dislike which he had inherited from his master Canning. Russell, who as Foreign Minister was the most important of the three, was the most friendly to America, and did his best to be correct, though he failed to understand the issues of the war.1
At the outset, Russell had angered the North by a proclamation of neutrality which accorded to the rebels the privileges of combatants ; but the North itself in practice granted these privileges while denying them in theory. Russell enraged the South no less by refusing to recognise their government, and by abstaining from the intervention which was the ultimate hope of the slave-owning confederacy. If Europe never intervened, all the heroism of General Lee's armies could not ultimately hold out against superior numbers and resources, provided the North remained united and in stubborn earnest.
Christmas 1861 was the moment of greatest danger in the relations of America and Britain. Jefferson Davis had sent over two men, Mason and Slidell, to stir up England and France to interfere on the Southern side. Mason, who was coming to our country to match himself against the grave astuteness of the American Minister, Charles Francis Adams, proved so unfitted for his task that Lincoln would have done well to have given him a convoy across the Atlantic. But unfortunately an over-zealous Federal captain took Mason and Slidell off the British ship Trent and carried them prisoners into a Northern port. It was an outrage on our flag which could not rightfully be defended. But the Northerners were so sore at the British attitude, and the insolence of the Press on both sides was so great, that it required considerable moral courage for Lincoln to release the men, and it was some time before he decided to do it. Luckily Russell at the Foreign Office desired with his whole heart that peace should be preserved. Under the steadying influence of Prince Albert who, from his death-bed, painfully exerted his last energies to have the wording of our dispatches on the subject modified, our demands were so framed that America was able to give way without loss of self-respect.
Apart from this accidental crisis, the question of interference, from beginning to end of the war, arose out of the blockade. In curious reversal of the old quarrels of Napoleonic times, we stood for those troublesome rights of neutrals, and America for the detested right of search. The North blockaded the Southern ports, to starve the slave-owners out by preventing them from selling their one great export, cotton. The Lancashire mills had then no other source whence to obtain raw cotton, either in the Empire or in foreign countries. That section of the British upper class which desired for political reasons to engineer a war to destroy the Union, was able to show to the unemployed men and women of Lancashire that only the breaking of the blockade could give immediate relief to their distress. But the appeal was made in vain to a population that had learnt to think for itself. Lancashire tightened its belt and suffered willingly for the cause of freedom. New sources of cotton supply were hastily organised in India and elsewhere, and before the end of the war the worst of the crisis was over, and the monopoly of South American cotton had been broken.
Napoleon III had reasons of his own for desiring the victory of the South. He designed to set up a French protectorate in Mexico and Central America, and that could never be done in face of the Monroe Doctrine backed by the full force of the Union. Being therefore not unwilling to see the Union destroyed, he would have liked to draw England into a policy of joint intervention. But Palmerston, though he loved America little, loved Napoleon less, and desired, no more than Canning, to see a restoration of the transatlantic power of France. After the Northern success at Gettysburg in the summer of 1863, the question of interference receded into the background as the Southern prospects grew less roseate. The final surrender of Lee's army to Grant and the moving accident of Lincoln's assassination in the hour of victory, converted English statesmen and journalists once and for all. The Civil War had left over a legacy of indignation against England in just those sections of American opinion where we were accustomed to find our best friends. The North had always been more friendly to us than the South, but we had forfeited Northern sympathy. Yet we had not made ourselves any better liked in the South, which ascribed its ruin to our half-hearted backing. Prior to 1861, the relations of Britain and America had been moving steadily towards an under-standing, as Britain became more democratic and America less isolated. The animosity aroused by the Civil War, coming on the top of the great immigration from Ireland, checked this fortunate process, but could not wholly reverse it.
In particular, the Civil War left the inheritance of the Alabama claims. In July 1862, by a grievous and bitterly repented error of negligence on the part of Russell, a disguised privateer had been allowed to escape from Liverpool docks. Once at sea, she had hoisted the Southern colours, and began her long and destructive warfare on the commerce of the United States. Large compensation was undoubtedly due for definite losses inflicted on American property. Unfortunately, the truculence of the Northern mood after the victory was won, and resentment against the recent British attitude, took the form of grossly exaggerated demands, including hundreds of millions for ` indirect claims,' on the abstract ground that the Alabama and her consorts had prolonged the war by two years. Bright denied that they had prolonged the war by a day. The question dragged on for a decade, causing grave ill-feeling on both sides. It was finally handled by Gladstone as Prime Minister with a moral courage in the cause of peace and justice which went far to compensate for the ' mistake of incredible grossness ' that he confessed he had made in his Newcastle speech of 1862. The just settlement of the Alabama question in 1872 before the Geneva tribunal, which rejected the ' indirect claims ' and assessed the others at fifteen million dollars, was one of the landmarks in the history of international arbitration, and put an end to a period of strained relations between the two parts of the English-speaking world.
Five years before the Alabama settlement, the creation of the Dominion of Canada by the statesmanship of the Canadian, Sir John Macdonald, had brought into being a ' United States' of British North America.1 This stage in Imperial evolution had been hastened by the dangers arising from the less friendly attitude of the Republic after the war. It defined and stabilised the relations of Canada with her southern neighbour, in spite of the novel difficulties of the Fenian movement on the border. There was no longer serious question of Canada joining the United States. Under the new constitution, the Dominion included all the provinces (except Newfoundland) of the Pacific and Atlantic seaboards, together with Upper and Lower Canada, once more distinct units, but now linked in the common federation. The constitution, being federal, resembled that of the United States, but it left more power to the central government.
In the following twenty years Macdonald's great project of the Canadian Pacific Railway materialised, in spite of many difficulties, including those encountered by the engineers in driving a permanent way through the Rocky Mountains. The faith of a group of men, of whom Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, was the foremost, carried this laborious achievement through to completion in 1885. The great railway and its branches gave reality to federation, and enabled the economic life of Canada to run westward and northward on its own territory, instead of only southwards across the border. The provinces on the two oceans were thereby united in fact as well as in law, and the great resources of the centre and north were opened out.
Connection by railway was a condition of political unity alike in Canada, South Africa and Australia. The chief Australian railways, built by the socialistically inclined governments of the various colonies, often at: a temporary loss, put an end to provincial isolation, and eventually led to the union of all the Australian Colonies in the Confederation of 1901 1; the form of their union is indeed somewhat less close than that which has bound together the different provinces of Canada since 1867. The economic unity of South Africa had been made by the railways, 2 before the Union of 1910 became possible. This union, unlike the Australian, bound the component Colonies of South Africa even closer than the Canadian Federation. In Canada alone political union had preceded the construction of the greater railways, because of the urgency of showing a united front in relation to the neighbour Republic. But the completion of the railway system over the Rockies was essential to the reality and permanence of the new political structure.
Thus in the 'seventies and 'eighties the relationship between Britain, Canada and the United States took on its modern features, which have since undergone development rather than change.
In 1863-4, while the American Civil War was still raging, the Danish fiasco had marked the end of Palmerstonianism in our dealings with Europe, where forces were rising too formidable to be treated by us in the cavalier fashion that had passed muster for twenty years past. The question at issue was the race problem of Schleswig and Holstein, eventually solved by the compromise and plebiscite of our own day.
The status of the two provinces, partly German and partly and Denmark. Germany was represented by Prussia and Austria in alliance, but in effect Bismarck directed their action.
England, concerned as co-signatory of a former Danish treaty, tried to negotiate a compromise, but the Danes at first, and the Germans later on were decidedly unreasonable. When Bismarck bullied, Palmerston rashly said that if Denmark had to fight she would not fight alone, and Lord Russell's dispatches as Foreign Minister were calculated to convey a like impression.
British sympathies were with Denmark, partly because she was the small country, partly because her Princess Alexandra had recently married the Prince of Wales. But neither the British people, the House of Commons, nor the royal family with its Germanophile head, had any real intention of going to war with the combined powers of Central Europe. And since several members of the Cabinet were opposed to the bellicose policy of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, the Queen's energetic expression of her views bore a weight which they never carried in cases where the Cabinet was of one mind and supported by public opinion.
For Britain, the prospects of war were bleak in the extreme. We had no allies. Russell and Palmerston had alienated Napoleon by repeated refusals to do what he wanted, both in America and in Europe. Russell had also alienated Russia by protesting against her infamous tyranny in Poland the year before, which Bismarck had been careful to aid and abet. If it was the object of Palmerston and Russell to oppose the rise of Bismarckian Germany, they should have prepared the ground. But they had consistently alienated France and Russia and had taught the British public to believe that the balance of power was threatened, not by Germany, but by Russia and by France. They had chosen for us a position of isolation. It followed, though they did not see it, that we must adopt a policy of non-interference. And such in fact became the Gladstonian policy in the coming era.
The forces now moving on the European field were too big for us to face without allies. We had no army that could hold its own against Prussia and Austria. In these circumstances the decision to stand down and see Denmark overwhelmed in war, though undignified, was more sensible than the threatening language we had used at first, which Bismarck had treated with a contempt justified by the event. This ignominious episode served as a useful warning, and put an end to the Palmerstonian method of dealing with European countries.
Early next year the news of Lincoln's victory gave a shattering blow to the domestic conservatism which Palmerston had so long imposed on English Liberals. But nature had not made him of the mould to be depressed by the failure of his plans or the confutation of his prophecies. His countrymen liked his pluck, and found in him a magnificent mirror of their own qualities. At the General Election of July, destined to be the last held under the old franchise, a majority was returned pledged to support him for personal rather than political reasons. In October the old man died in harness, Britain's popular Minister to the last. He had been a lover of life, and life had repaid him in full. He is less likely to be forgotten than many wiser statesmen, for he had filled great parts for many years, and when he was on the stage no one could take his eyes off the play.