Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

State of the Revenue, Trade and general interests of the country at the commencement of the year—Distress in the Cotton Manufacturing Districts—State of public opinion in England in regard to the Civil War in America—Tranquil condition of our domestic politics—General absence of party feeling and acquiescence in the ascendancy of Lord Palmerston–Opening of the Session of Parliament by Commission on the 5th of February–The Royal Speech—Absence of recommendations of legislative changes—Debates on the Address in both Houses of Parliament—Principal topics of the leading speakers—The discussions turn chiefly on points of Foreign Policy—The chiefs of the Opposition make strong objections to the proposed cession of the Ionian Islands to Greece—General approval expressed of the policy of non-interference pursued towards the belligerent powers in America—Strictures on the conduct of our Government in regard to Denmark, Greece, Rome, and China— Defences of the ministerial policy by Earl Russell and Lord Palmerston—The Address in both Houses agreed to without division—Provision for the Marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales—The proposed allowance is readily voted by the House of Commons—The announcement of the Marriage affords universal satisfaction -Great demonstrations of loyalty throughout the kingdom—Reception of the Princess Alexandra, her entry into London and celebration of the royal Marriage— Public rejoicings and festivities on the occasion—Presence of Her Majesty as a spectator at the nuptials—Gratifying anticipations deduced from that event.

At the commencement of the year 1863 the condition of the United Kingdom was, with one marked exception, flourishing and prosperous. The people, save in that single instance, were well employed, peaceable and contented. Political and religious aniInosities were more than usually quiescent, and there was little to disturb the calm of the social atmosphere. The Revenue of the country, notwithstanding many drawbacks and recent heavy drains on the finances, was in an improving state, and there appeared to be an opening for further relief from taxation by means of some reductions in the public expenditure. The condition of trade was B

[graphic]

generally regarded as sound, and the returns of exports and imports betokened an unabated activity in foreign commerce. All looked well and promising, except in that one quarter to which the eyes of all who felt concern for the common weal were turned with painful solicitude. The chief centre of England's manufacturing wealth and industry, Lancashire, was now the source of her greatest #. and weakness. The civil war in America had fallen ike a blight upon that populous and once opulent province, where tens of thousands of industrious men, with their families, were undergoing the terrible ordeal of enforced idleness and eleemosynary subsistence. Wast, indeed, as were the proportions of this calamity, the evils entailed by it were not without some alleviating circumstances. It was endured with exemplary patience, it excited universal sympathy, and it was not attended with that degree of demoralization which might have been anticipated from so great a dislocation of ordinary habits and industrious pursuits. The misfortune was inevitable, and was acknowledged by the immediate sufferers so to be. They felt that the distress to which they were reduced was owing to no neglect or errors of the Government, no injustice of the laws under which they lived; they knew also that they had the heartfelt sympathy of their countrymen, a feeling which was not confined to barren professions of commiseration. From every class of the community, and from the farthest extremities of the empire, the means of substantial relief had been supplied with a spontaneous liberality, which must have been no less gratifying than valuable to the sufferers. Before the end of January these voluntary contributions, from the various parts of the United Kingdom and from the Colonies, had exceeded the sum of three quarters of a million sterling. This large fund was controlled and allocated in weekly sums by Committees, who discharged gratuitously the arduous task of distribution. It is true that the amount thus, weekly supplied by the Relief Fund, in addition to that furnished from the poor rates, sufficed for little more than a bare subsistence to the host of families whom the stoppage of the mills had reduced to indigence. Still, both the physical and moral effects of this generous outflow of national sympathy were of great value. It not only mitigated the actual suffering and privation, but it called forth, as one' who was himself a leading agent in the distribution of the funds declared, “a great amount of kindly feeling among different classes. It made rich and poor understand each other better than before, and taught them to remember their mutual dependence upon one another. It led the rich to think of the duties they owed to the poor, and it showed the poor that the rich were not unmindful of them in their affliction.” There was another feature in the circumstances of the Cotton Famine from which consolation might be derived. Within the extent of its immediate operation the calamity was great and overpowering, still it was rather in its local than its national effects that the loss occasioned by it was perceptible. If the people of Lancashire could only be rescued from starvation, the resources of the nation would not be seriously impaired. The other great branches of trade had not sympathized with the collapse of the cotton manufacture. On the contrary, the general resources and commercial interests of the country were in a prosperous condition. This was a gratifying, because, in some degree, an unexpected, result. It had been confidently anticipated in America, and in some quarters apprehended at home, that the suspension of so enormous a department of our manufacturing industry as that which depended on cotton, could not take place without shaking the whole industrial system to its centre, and producing widespread national distress. But even those who had felt most confidence in the strength and elasticity of the commercial resources of England, were surprised to find how completely these forebodings were disappointed. It was proved by the result that the nation could endure a much severer shock than even the prostration of her most productive branch of industry. The operations of her trade and the sphere of her labour were too vast and varied to be seriously affected by any local or partial derangement. As one source failed, others received fresh development, and the increased profits made in new quarters compensated the loss sustained by the depressed interests. Thus it came to pass that the national revenue, instead of suffering a decline, as might have been foreboded, in consequence of the great blow inflicted on the producing and consuming powers of the community, actually exhibited an increase, which enabled the Government, even while the calamity was in its full sway, to propose a reduction in the burthen of taxation. The original cause of the disaster we are now considering, the civil war in America, now in the second year of its bloody and destructive continuance, was an event which more than any other at the present time engaged the attention and divided the opinions of the public in this country. As to its ultimate result on the destinies of the two parties engaged in it, or as to the period of its probable cessation, speculation was completely at fault. No political sagacity was equal to the task of forecasting either the issue or the date of its termination. The conditions of the contest and the relations of the contending parties were too novel and peculiar to allow any precedents to be drawn from experience. That it must be “fought out,” appeared to be the only inference that could fairly be deduced from the conduct and spirit of the combatants, but at what cost and with what result no prudent man could venture to predict. Upon one point, however, nearly all persons of competent judgment, without distinction of parties, and to whichever side their sympathies might incline, were of the same mind, namely, that the true policy of this country was to observe a strict and undeviating neutrality between the rival powers. Here and there, indeed, some exceptions to this unanimity might be observed. Among public men whose opinions carried weight with their countrymen, and among the organs of the press, a voice had been occasionally raised in favour of a recognition of the Southern States, the repudiation of the blockade, or other overt act of adhesion to one side or the other, but the general sense of the community was decidedly adverse to any form of intervention in the contest. The foremost statesmen of all parties deliberately pledged themselves to that policy; even among those whose dearest interests depended on the cessation of the strife, the suffering body of manufacturers, no complaint was made, no blame imputed to the Government, because they had not attempted, by taking a side in the contest, to hasten its termination. Nor was this anxiety for neutrality due to the mere dread of involving this country in hostilities; when the national honour was affected, as in the notable instance of the “Trent ’’ steam-vessel, it was evident that no fear of the consequences of war would influence the English people to forego the assertion of their just rights. But the controversy between the Northern and the Southern States was regarded as an issue exclusively pertaining to the contending parties, with which foreign nations, however indirectly affected by the consequences, had no right to intermeddle. Deeply as we might regret the contest, and painfully as we might suffer from its effects on our trade and industry, we were bound to maintain the attitude of impartial spectators. To this resolution the Government and the nation stedfastly adhered, though exposed thereby to misunderstanding and censure, alternately from one of the belligerents or the other, and though it was well known that the Emperor of the French had expressed his own desire to recognize the Southern States as a de facto power, and was prepared actually to take that step, provided only that England would consent to act with him. But while neutrality was thus prescribed as our political duty, to expect that public opinion should be untinctured with any sympathies in this momentous contest, would have been unreasonable. The feelings and hopes of the English public unquestionably took their side, and sometimes found audible expression. It is difficult to estimate exactly the relative forces of public sentiment upon any question, but so far as observation may be trusted, it would appear that opinion in England at this time leaned rather in favour of the Southern than the Northern States. Some of the causes of this inclination of feeling are sufficiently obvious. In the first place, it is certain that the arrogant and boastful language of the Northern leaders, the scornful and menacing terms which they occasionally used towards England, and especially the spirit evinced by them in the matter of the “Trent,” had excited great offence in this country against President Lincoln's Government and its partisans. A feeling of sympathy for the seceding States, as the weaker party, and a warm admiration for the constancy, the courage and superior skill with which they were maintaining an unequal contest, conspired with the causes before mentioned, to strengthen the alienation of the English public from their opponents. Added to which, there was probably in many minds no disinclination to see the overweening pretensions of the great American confederacy abated by a dismemberment which might result in a desirable partition and balance of power. From all or some of these causes it resulted that among a large proportion of the upper and educated classes in England, sympathy for the South, and desire for the success of the Secession was felt, and, in the confidence of private intercourse, was unreservedly expressed. On the other hand, the cause of the Northern States was not without its adherents on this side of the Atlantic. The party which followed the guidance of Mr. Bright, an active and demonstrative, if not very numerous section of the public, still upheld the cause of the Union, although the principles of economy, cheap government, and peace, with which they had hitherto identified the American Republic, seemed to have been utterly discarded in the struggle now waged at an unbounded cost of blood and treasure. A still more potent influence in the same direction was the old and unextinguishable hatred of slavery, so deeply rooted in the English mind, which induced great numbers, especially in the middle and lower classes of society, to overlook all other considerations in their desire to see this great contest issue in the abolition of that detested system. Regarding the Southern States as the stronghold of the institution in America, the Abolitionists on this side of the water did not stop to inquire too curiously into the sincerity of the professions of the Northern ople on the subject, nor into the policy which had dictated the mancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln; but simply identifying the cause of the North with that of human freedom, and the cause of Secession with the continuance of human degradation and misery, they unhesitatingly threw their weight into what they deemed the scale of liberty. While the transactions that were passing in other countries thus engaged the principal attention of the English people, there were few matters in our domestic policy which excited controversy or interest. It seemed as if the long and warm contentions, which had resulted in the great reforms of the preceding thirty years, had been succeeded by a season of reaction and repose, and as if the settlement of the many momentous questions of policy which had during that period taken place had left little room for further legislation. There was, indeed, at this time a singular absence of demand for constitutional change,_a cessation of party cries and watchwords, -an almost total calm in the political atmosphere. The controversies of party appeared to have lost all their bitter

* The Earl of Derby. See his speech in the House of Lords, Feb. 5th.

« AnteriorContinuar »