It is fortunate for humanity that the interests of so influential a community are on the side of peace, and we may safely leave the blouses of Paris to deal with the French pirates who, in the imagination of the Spectator , were to carry off the Queen from Osborne. I give below an account of the navigation of France to all parts of the world, and to the fisheries, in and —.
Thus, whilst, as we have seen, the importations of raw materials for her manufactures have increased in some cases twenty-fold, her mercantile tonnage has not augmented more than 40 per cent. The increased tonnage, required for this large additional supply of commodities, has chiefly gone to swell the mercantile marines of other countries; as the following figures will show:—.
It will be here seen how much greater the increase of foreign than French tonnage has been in the trade of France; a fact which, I may add, ought to make her statesmen doubt the wisdom of the protective system, by which they have sought to cherish their mercantile navy. The return of the tonnage of British vessels entering inwards and clearing outwards in is as follows: Our Custom House records for were destroyed by fire. But it appears that our tonnage has doubled since It is, however, in our steam vessels that we have made the greatest relative progress as compared with the French.
It was stated by Mr. Anderson, in the House of Commons, that for every horse-power possessed by the French, we had twenty; and yet we are told that the discovery of steam navigation has conferred a great advantage upon France. The strength of a people at sea has invariably been measured by the extent of their mercantile marine.
Judged by this test, there is not even a doubt as to whether England or France be the first naval power. In fact, the French themselves do not question it. It is frankly acknowledged in our favour by M.
Thiers, in his speech to the Assembly from which I have before quoted. Nobody in that country has ever pretended that they can, or ought to, keep more than two-thirds of our force at sea. Their public men never believed in the sincerity of our cry of invasion. No, they cannot think so badly of themselves as to believe that others, whose opinion they respect, would ever give them credit for such wickedness or insanity.
But I shall be told that the people of France are entirely at the mercy of one man, and that public opinion is now powerless in that country. There is nothing about which we make such mistakes as in passing judgment upon our next neighbour. Public opinion is as omnipotent there as in the United States, upon matters with which it interests itself ; but it takes a different direction from our own, and therefore we do not appreciate it.
But it is quite necessary that the people, I mean the mass of our people, should be better informed as to the character and circumstances of the population of France. Teach Englishmen to despise another nation, and you have gone far towards making them quarrel; and there is nothing so sure to evoke our contempt as to be told that a people have not spirit to maintain their rights against the arbitrary will of a usurper. Now, no people have ever clung with more tenacity to the essential principles and main objects of a revolution than have the French.
The chief aim of the Constituent Assembly of was to uproot feudalism; to found an equal Edition: current; Page: [ ] system of taxation; and to establish religious equality and freedom of worship, by appropriating to the State the lands and tithes of the Church, and making all religions a charge upon the public revenues; very many other reforms were effected by that body, but these were its leading principles. The abolition of the monarchy was never contemplated by the Constituent Assembly.
The death of Louis which I attribute to the interference of foreign powers was decreed by the National Convention three years later. Now, the principles of have been maintained, and maintained by public opinion only, with more jealousy than we have shown in guarding our Bill of Rights, or Habeas Corpus Act; for the latter has been suspended, whenever it suited the convenience of Tory or even Whig governments.
But Napoleon at the head of his victorious legions, the Bourbons with a reactionary priesthood at their back, and the present ruler with all the advantages of a socialist hobgoblin to frighten people into his arms, have been compelled to own allegiance to these principles. Insidious attempts have been made to plant anew the genealogical tree, by the creation of majorats , but the schemes were nipped in the bud by public opinion, and public opinion only.
When told that the present Emperor possesses absolute and irresponsible power, I answer by citing three things which he could not, if he would, accomplish; he could not endow with lands and tithes one religion as the exclusively paid religion of the State, although he selected for the privilege the Roman Catholic Church, which comprises more than nine-tenths of the French people; he could not create an hereditary peerage, with estates entailed by a law of primogeniture; and he could not impose a tax on successions, which should apply to personal property only, and leave real estate free. Public opinion in France is an insuperable obstacle to any of these measures becoming law; because they outrage that spirit of equality which is the sacred and inviolable principle of I am penning these pages in a maritime county.
Stretching from the sea, right across to the verge of the next county, and embracing great part of the parish in which I sit, are the estates of three proprietors, which extend in almost unbroken masses for upwards of twenty miles. The residence of one of them is surrounded with a walled park ten miles in circumference.
Not only could not Louis Napoleon create three such entailed estates in a province of France, but were he to declare himself favourable to such a state of things, it would be fatal to his popularity. Public opinion, by which alone he reigns, would instantly abandon him. Yet this landed system flourishes in all our counties, without opposition or question.
And why? The poorest cottager on these estates feels that his personal liberty is sacred, and he cares little for equality; and here I will repeat, that I would rather live in a country where this feeling in favour of individual freedom is jealously cherished, than be, without it, in the enjoyment of all the principles of the French Constituent Assembly. Let us, however, learn to tolerate the feelings and predilections of other people, even if they are not our own; and recollect, we require the same consideration at their hands, for I can vouch from actual experience that the intelligent natives of France, Italy, and other countries, where the Code Napoleon is in force, and where, consequently, the land is divided amongst the people, are very much puzzled to understand how the English submit to the feudal customs which still find favour here.
But I have never found with them a disposition to dogmatise, or insist upon making their system our model. I must, however, say that we are egregiously mistaken if we fall into the belief, so much inculcated by certain parties, Edition: current; Page: [ ] that we are the admiration and envy of surrounding nations Tell the eight millions of landed proprietors in France that they shall exchange their lot with the English people, where the labourer who cultivates the farm has no more proprietary interest in the soil than the horses he drives, and they will be stricken with horror; and vain will it be to promise them as a compensation, Habeas Corpus Acts, or the right of public meetings—you might as well ask them to exchange their little freeholds for a bon mot , or a song.
Let us then spare our pity where people are contented; and withhold our contempt from a nation who hold what they prize by the vigilant exercise of public opinion.
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But the point to which I wish to bring the foregoing argument is, as you will at once see, that where public opinion is thus able to guard great principles which make war upon privilege of every kind, it is surely not to be despised in such a question as entering upon hostilities with England. Nobody, I believe, denies that Louis Napoleon received the votes of a majority of the French people.
In the election which took place for the presidency, when he was supported by three-fourths of the electors, his opponent General Cavaignac had possession of the ballot boxes, and there could be no fraud to account for the majority. With what view did the French people elect him Emperor? To maintain, in the first place, as he is pledged to do, the principles of ; and, in the next, to preserve order, keep the peace, and enable them to prosper.
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Nobody denies that these are the objects desired by France. Yet we are told that he will, regardless of public opinion, plunge the country into war. Last year, we are told, Edition: current; Page: [ ] was very inimical to the mental health of the country, owing to the want of electricity: are these invasionist writers under the influence of this meteorological phenomenon?
But the army! The army, we are told, will compel the Emperor to make war upon somebody. I should humbly submit if they wish to fight, and are not particular about a quarrel, or a declaration of war, that they had better march upon Holland, Prussia, or Belgium, inasmuch as they coula march there, and, what is equally important, in the combinations of a good general, they could march back again. It our Government had any fear of the kind, it is quite evident that they would bring to our shores that immense fleet which is amusing itself in the Mediterranean, and which it would take at least a month to recall.
There can be no doubt, if an invasion took place, and it could be proved that the Government had expected it, that the Ministers would be impeached. But they keep a fleet, more powerful than the whole American navy, two thousand miles off at Malta, and therefore we may be sure at least that they have no fears. Now, as I have already said, the army of France, about which we hear so much, is no larger in proportion to her population, than the armies of the other powers of Europe, with which she is surrounded; and, inasmuch as that country was invaded, without provocation, by Prussia and Austria, within the memory of man, it is rather unreasonable to ask her to be the first and only country to disarm.
Besides, a large part of her army is in Algiers, surrounded by hostile tribes; and, by the way, when that colony was first seized, we used to console ourselves that owing to that part of the army being liable to be cut off by the sea, and offered as a sacrifice to the neighbouring tribes, we had obtained a great security for peace. But, in a word, everybody who is acquainted with France and they are unhappily in this country but few in number knows that the army is not, like ours, fished out of the lees of society, but that it fairly represents the people.
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It Edition: current; Page: [ ] is, in fact, , of the young men taken 80, a year from the farms, shops, and manufactories, and to which they return at the end of their service; and, such being their origin and destination, their feelings and opinions are identical with those of their countrymen. The French soldier is anxious for the time of his service to expire, that he may return to his little family estate.
I have never heard but one opinion—that the common soldiers share in the sentiments of the people at large, and do not want a war. But then the officers! Surely after Louis Napoleon's treatment of the African generals, stealing them out of their warm beds in the night, he will not be any longer supposed to be ruled by the officers.
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His dependence is mainly upon the peasant proprietors, from whom the mass of the army is drawn. But I must draw this long letter to a close — What then is the practical deduction from the facts and arguments which I have presented?
Why, clearly, that conciliation must proceed from ourselves. The people of this country must first be taught to separate themselves in feeling and sympathy from the authors of the late war, which was undertaken to put down principles of freedom. When the public are convinced, the Government will act; and one of the great ends to be attained is an amicable understanding, if not a formal convention, between the two Governments, whatever their form may be , to prevent that irrational rivalry of warlike preparations which has been lately and is still carried on.
One word of diplomacy exchanged upon this subject between the two countries will change the whole spirit of the respective governments. But this policy, involving a Edition: current; Page: [ ] reduction of our warlike expenditure, will never be inaugurated by an aristocratic executive, until impelled to it by public opinion. Nay, as in the case of the repeal of the corn law— no minister can do it, except when armed by a pressure from without.
I look to the agitation of the peace party to accomplish this end. It must work in the manner of the League, and preach common sense, justice, and truth, in the streets and market-places. Sturge, and his friends of the Peace Society—upon whose undying religious zeal, more than all besides, I rely for the eventual success of the peace agitation. The great advance of this party, within the last few years, as indicated most clearly by the attacks made upon them, which like the spray dashed from the bows of a vessel, mark their triumphant progress, ought to cheer them to still greater efforts.
But the most consolatory fact of the times is the altered feelings of the great mass of the people since There lies our great advantage.