A Suppressed Debate on Mexico and the Alliance with France

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 16 July 1862


Written : London, July 16, 1862.

First published in German in Die Presse, July 20, 1862.

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

ONE of the most curious of English parliamentary devices is the count out. What is the count out? If less than 40 members are present in the Lower House, they do not form a quorum, that is, an assembly capable of transacting business. If a motion is introduced by an independent parliamentarian, which is equally irksome to both oligarchical factions, the Ins and the Outs (those in office and those in opposition), they then come to an agreement that on the day of the debate parliamentarians from both sides will gradually be lacking, alias otherwise absent themselves. When the emptying of the benches has reached the necessary maximum, the government whip, that is, the parliamentarian entrusted with party discipline by the ministry of the day, then tips the wink to a brother previously chosen for this purpose. Brother parliamentarian gets up and quite nonchalantly requests the chairman to have the house counted. The counting takes place and, behold, it is discovered that there are less than 40 members assembled. Herewith the proceedings come to an end. The obnoxious motion is got rid of without the government party or the opposition party having put itself in the awkward and compromising position of being obliged to vote it down.

At yesterday’s sitting the count out was brought up in an interesting manner. Lord R. Montagu had given notice of a motion for that day which dealt with the communication of new diplomatic documents on intervention in Mexico. He began his speech with the following words:

I was warned yesterday that both front benches had agreed to count out the House on this motion. I do not suppose the House will be so indifferent to a subject which affects it so nearly. The papers on the affairs of Mexico had a peculiar interest in themselves. The last of them was delivered on Saturday, and it would be unconstitutional not to submit that policy to discussion by the House.

But Lord R. Montagu had reckoned without his host. After he himself had spoken, Layard had replied to him on behalf of the government and Fitzgerald had delivered himself of some official chatter on behalf of the Tories, Kinglake (a Liberal member) rose. The exordium of his speech concluded with the following words:

The whole series of negotiations disclosed by the papers is a good illustration of the way in which the French government uses its relations with this country as a means to prop the Imperial throne. It is of great moment for the French government to divert attention from affairs at home by causing it to be seen that the French government is engaged in some great transactions abroad, in concert with one of the great settled States of Europe.

Hardly had Kinglake uttered these words when an ‚Äúhonorable‚ÄĚ member of the House moved that the House be ‚Äúcounted.‚ÄĚ And behold! The House had dwindled to only 33 members. Lord Montagu‚Äôs motion had been killed by the same count out against which he had protested at the beginning of the debate.

Apart from Kinglake’s interrupted speech, only that of Lord Montagu possessed any material interest. Lord R. Montagu’s speech contains the following important analysis of the facts of the case:

Sir Charles Wyke had concluded a treaty with Mexico. Out of servility to Louis Bonaparte this treaty was not ratified by Lord John Russell. Sir Charles Wyke concluded the said treaty after France, through her connection with Almonte, the leader of the reactionary party, had entered a path which abrogated the joint convention between England, France and Spain. Lord John Russell himself declared in an official dispatch that this treaty satisfied all the legitimate demands of England. In his correspondence with Thouvenel, however, he promised, in compliance with Bonaparte‚Äôs wish, not to ratify the treaty for the time being. He allowed Thouvenel to communicate this decision to the Corps L√©gislatif. Indeed, Lord John Russell lowered himself so far as to promise Thouvenel that he would break off all communication with Sir Charles Wyke until July 1, 1862‚ÄĒa date that gave Thouvenel time to answer. Thouvenel answered that Bonaparte did not contest England‚Äôs right to act in isolation, but disapproved of the Anglo-Mexican treaty concluded by Sir Charles Wyke. Thereupon Russell ordered Wyke to withold the ratification of the treaty.

England, added Lord Montagu, lends her influence to enforce the fraudulent claims on the Mexican Treasury with which Morny ‚Äúand perhaps persons of higher standing in France‚ÄĚ have provided themselves per medium of the Swiss bourse-swindler Jecker.

These operations in Mexico‚ÄĒhe continued‚ÄĒwere not divulged until after Parliament was prorogued and when no question could be asked about them.‚Ķ The first extra-Parliamentary war was waged in 1857. The Noble Viscount (i.e., Palmerston) defended that on the ground that the principle of the previous sanction of Parliament did not apply to Asiatic war; now it was made not to apply to wars in America. It would next not be supposed to apply to wars in Europe. Yet if this were permitted Parliament would become a mere farce. For how could that House control the expenditure, if negotiations were to be carried on in secret and wars were to be begun without sanction?

Lord Montagu wound up with the words:

We combined with the murderer of his country’s liberties (i.e. Louis Napoleon) and joined him in planting a despotism on free will. Even now we cannot shake off our accomplice, although we see him doomed to the abhorrence of man and the vengeance of Heaven. (We have already given an abstract of Layard’s reply in the Abendblatt.)