A Pro-America Meeting (January 1862)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 1 January 1862


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 19, p. 134;
First published: in Die Presse, January 5, 1862.
Collection(s): Die Presse

London, January 1 1862[edit source]

The anti-war movement among the English people gains from day, to day in energy, and extent. Public meetings in the most diverse Parts of the country insist on settlement by arbitration of the dispute between England and America. Memoranda in this sense rain on the chief of the Cabinet,. and the independent provincial press is almost unanimous in its opposition to the war-cry of the London press.

Subjoined is a detailed report of the meeting held last Monday in Brighton, since it emanated from the working class, and the two principal speakers, Messrs. Coningham and White, are influential members of Parliament who both sit on the ministerial side of the House.

Mr. Wood (a worker) proposed the first motion, to the effect

“that the dispute between England and America arose out of a misinterpretation of international law, but riot out of an intentional insult to the British flag; that accordingly this meeting is of the opinion that the whole question in dispute should be referred to a neutral power for decision by arbitration; that under the existing circumstances a war with America is not justifiable, but rather merits the condemnation of the English people”.

In support of his motion Mr. Wood, among other things, remarked:

“It is said that this new insult is merely the last lick in a chain of insults that America has offered to England. Suppose this to be true, what would it prove in regard to the cry for war at the present moment? It would prove that so long as America was undivided and strong. we submitted quietly to her insults; but now, in the hour of her peril, we take advantage of a position favourable to [is, to revenge the insult. Would not such a procedure brand us as cowards in the eyes of the civilised world?”

Mr. Coningham:

“...At this moment there is developing in the midst of the Union art avowed policy of emancipation (Applause), and I express the earnest hope that no intervention on the part of the English government will be permitted (Applause).... Will you, freeborn Englishmen, allow. y ourselves to be embroiled in an anti-republican war? For that is the intention of The Times and of the party that stands behind it.... I appeal to the workers of England, who have the greatest interest in the preservation of peace, to raise their voices and, in case of need, their hands for the prevention of so great a crime (Loud applause)... The Times has exerted every endeavour to excite the warlike spirit of the land and by bitter scorn and slanders to engender a hostile mood among the Americans.... I do not belong to the so-called peace party. The Times favoured the policy, of Russia and put forth (in 1853) all its powers to mislead our country into looking on calmly at the military encroachments of Russian barbarism in the East. I was amongst those who raised their voices against this false policy. At the time of the introduction of the Conspiracy Bill, whose object was to facilitate the extradition of political refugees, no expenditure of effort seemed too great to The Times, to force this Bill through the Lower House. I was one of the 99 members of the House who withstood this encroachment on the liberties of the English people and brought about the minister’s downfall (applause). This minister is now at the head of the Cabinet. I prophesy to him that should he seek to embroil our country, in a war with America without good and sufficient reasons, his plan will fail ignominiously. I promise him a fresh ignominious defeat, a worse defeat than was his lot on the occasion of the Conspiracy Bill (Loud applause).... I do not know the official communication that has gone to Washington; but the opinion prevails that the Crown lawyers have recommended the government to take its stand on the quite narrow legal ground that the Southern commissioners might not be seized without the ship that carried them. Consequently the handing over of Slidell and Mason is to be demanded as the conditio sine qua non.

Suppose the people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean does not permit its government to hand them over. Will you go to war for the bodies of these two envoys of the slavedrivers?... There exists in this country an anti-republican war party. Remember the last Russian war. Front the secret dispatches published in Petersburg it was clear beyond all doubt that the articles published by The Times in 1855 were written by, a person who had access to the secret Russian state papers and documents. At that time Mr. Layard read the striking passages in the Lower House,” and The Times. in its consternation, immediately changed its tone and blew the war-trumpet next morning, ... The Times has repeatedly attacked the Emperor Napoleon and supported our government in its demand for unlimited credits for land fortifications and floating batteries. Having done this and raised the alarm cry against France, does The Times now wish to leave out. coast exposed to the French emperor by embroiling our country in a trans-Atlantic war ... ? It is to be feared that the present great preparations are intended by no means only for the Trent case but for the eventuality of a recognition of the government of the slave states. If England does this, then she will cover herself with everlasting shame.”

Mr. White:

“It is due to the working class to mention that they are the originators of this meeting and that all the expenses of organising it are borne by their committee.... The present government never had the good judgment to deal honestly and frankly with the people.... I have never for a moment believed that there was the remotest possibility of a war developing out of the Trent case. I have said to the face of more than one member of the government that not a single member of the government believed in the possibility of a war on account of the Trent case. Why, then, these massive preparations? I believe that England and France have reached an understanding to recognise the independence of the Southern states next spring. By then Great Britain would have a fleet of superior strength in American waters. Canada would be completely equipped for defence. If the Northern states are then inclined to make a casus belli out of the recognition of the Southern states, Great Britain will then be prepared ...”

The speaker then went on to develop the dangers of a war with the United States, called to mind the sympathy that America showed on the death of General Havelock, the assistance that the American sailors rendered to the English ships in the unlucky Peiho engagement, etc. He closed with the remark that the Civil War would end with the abolition of slavery and England must therefore stand unconditionally on the side of the North.

The original motion having been unanimously adopted, a memorandum for Palmerston was submitted to the meeting, debated and adopted.