A Coup d’Etat of Lord John Russell

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 17 January 1862


Written: London, January 17, 1862.

Published: Die Presse, January 21, 1862.

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 19
Collection(s): Die Presse

Lord John Russell’s position during the recent crisis was a thoroughly vexatious one, even for a man whose whole parliamentary life proves that he has seldom hesitated to sacrifice real power for official position. No one forgot that Lord John Russell has lost the Premiership to Palmerston, but no one seemed to remember that he has gained the Foreign Office from Palmerston. All the world considered it a self-evident axiom that Palmerston directed the Cabinet in his own name and foreign policy under the name of Russell. On the arrival of the first peace news from New York, Whigs and Tories vied with one another in trumpet-blasts to the greater glory of Palmerston’s statesmanship, whilst the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lord John Russell, was not even a candidate for praise as his assistant. He was absolutely ignored. Hardly, however, had the scandal caused by the suppressed American dispatch of November 30 broken out, when Russell’s name was resurrected from the dead.

Attack and defense now made the discovery that the responsible Minister for Foreign Affairs was called Lord John Russell! But now even Russell’s patience gave way. Without waiting for the opening of Parliament and contrary to every ministerial convention, he published forthwith in the official Gazette of January 12 his own correspondence with Lord Lyons. This correspondence proves that Seward’s dispatch of November 30 was read by Mr.

Adams to Lord John Russell on December 19; that Russell expressly acknowledged this dispatch as an apology for the act of Captain Wilkes, and that Mr. Adams, after Russell’s disclosures, considered a peaceful outcome of the dispute as certain. After this official disclosure, what becomes of the Morning Post of December 21, which denied the arrival of any dispatch from Seward relating to the Trent case; what becomes of the Morning Post of January 10, which blamed Mr. Adams for the suppression of the dispatch, what becomes of the entire war racket of the Palmerston press from December 19, 1861, to January 8, 1862? Even more! Lord John Russell’s dispatch to Lord Lyons of December 19, 1861, proves that the English Cabinet presented no war ultimatum; that Lord Lyons did not receive instructions to leave Washington seven days after delivering “this ultimatum”; that Russell ordered the ambassador to avoid every semblance of a threat, and, finally, that the English Cabinet had determined to make a definitive decision only after receipt of the American answer. The whole of the policy trumpeted by the Palmerston press, which found so many servile echoes on the Continent, is therefore a mere chimera. It has never been carried out in real life. It only proves, as a London paper states today, that Palmerston “sought to thwart the declared and binding policy of the responsible advisers of the Crown.”

That Lord John Russell’s coup de main struck the Palmerston press like a bolt from the blue, one fact proves most forcibly. The Times of yesterday suppressed the Russell correspondence and made no mention of it whatever.

Only today a reprint from the London Gazette figures in its columns, introduced and prefaced by a leading article that carefully avoids the real issue, the issue between the English people and the English Cabinet, and touches on it merely in the ill-humored phrase that “Lord Russell has exerted all his ingenuity to extract an apology” out of Seward’s dispatch of November 30. On the other hand, the wrathful Jupiter Tonans of Printing House Square lets off steam in a second leading article, in which Mr. Gilpin, a member of the ministry, the President of the Board of Trade and a partisan of the Manchester school, is declared to be unworthy of his place in the ministry. For last Tuesday, at a public meeting in Northampton, whose parliamentary representative he is, Gilpin, a former bookseller, a demagogue and an apostle of moderation, whom nobody will take for a hero, criminally urged the English people to prevent by public demonstrations an untimely recognition of the Southern Confederacy, which he inconsiderately stigmatized as an offspring of slavery. As if, The Times indignantly exclaims, as if Palmerston and Russell— The Times now remembers the existence of Lord John Russell once more—had not fought all their lives to put down slavery! It was surely an indiscretion, a calculated indiscretion on the part of Mr. Gilpin, to call the English people into the lists against the pro-slavery longings of a ministry to which he himself belongs. But Mr. Gilpin, as already mentioned, is no hero. His whole career evidences little capacity for martyrdom. His indiscretion occurred on the same day as Lord Russell carried out his coup de main. We may therefore conclude that the Cabinet is not a “happy family” and that its individual members have already familiarized themselves with the idea of “separation.”

No less noteworthy than the English ministerial sequel to the Trent drama is its Russian epilogue. Russia, which during the entire racket stood silently in the background with folded arms, now springs to the proscenium, claps Mr. Seward on the shoulders—and declares that the moment for the definitive regulation of the maritime rights of neutrals has at last arrived. Russia, as is known, considers herself called on to put the urgent questions of civilization on the agenda of world history at the right time and in the right place. Russia becomes unassailable by the maritime powers the moment the latter give up, with their belligerent rights against neutrals, their power over Russia’s export trade. The Paris Convention of April 16, 1856, which is in part a verbatim copy of the Russian “Armed” Neutrality Treaty of 1780 against England, is meanwhile not yet law in England. What a trick of destiny if the Anglo-American dispute ended with the English Parliament and the English Crown sanctioning a concession that two British ministers made to Russia on their own authority at the end of the Anglo-Russian war.