French News Humbug. Economic Consequences of War

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 31 December 1861


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 19, p. 131;
First published: in Die Presse, January 4, 1862.
Collection(s): Die Presse

London, December 31[edit source]

The belief in miracles seems to be withdrawn from one sphere only in order to settle in another. If it is driven out of nature, it now rises up in politics. At least, that is the view of the Paris newspapers and their confederates in the telegraph agencies and the newspaper-correspondence shops. Thus, Paris evening papers of yesterday announce: Lord Lyons has stated to Mr. Seward that he will wait until the evening of December 20, but then depart for London, in the event of the Cabinet at Washington refusing to surrender the prisoners. Therefore, the Paris papers already knew yesterday the steps that Lord Lyons took after receiving the dispatches transmitted to him on the Europa. Up to today, however, news of the arrival of the Europa in New York has not yet reached Europe. The Patrie and its associates, before they are informed of the arrival of the Europa in America, publish in Europe news of the events that ensued on the heels of the Europa’s arrival in the United States. The Patrie and its associates manifestly believe that legerdemain requires no magic. One journal over here remarks in its stock exchange article that these Paris inventions, quite like the provocatory articles in some English papers, serve not only the political speculations of certain persons in power, but just as much the stock exchange speculations of certain private individuals.

The Economist, hitherto one of the loudest bawlers of the war party, publishes in its last number a letter from a Liverpool merchant and a leading article in which the English public is warned not on any account to underestimate the dangers of a war with the United States. England imported grain worth £15,380,901 during 1861; of the whole amount nearly £6,000,000 fell to the United States. England would suffer more from the inability to buy American grain than the United States would suffer from the inability to sell it. The United States would have the advantage of prior information. If they decided for war, then telegrams would fly forthwith from Washington to San Francisco, and the American ships in the Pacific Ocean and the China seas would commence war operations many weeks before England could bring the news of the war to India.

Since the outbreak of the Civil War the American-Chinese trade, and the American-Australian trade quite as much, has diminished to an enormous extent. So far, however, as it is still carried on it buys its cargoes in most cases with English letters of credit, therefore with English capital. English trade from India, China and Australia, always very considerable, has, on the contrary, grown still more since the interruption of the trade with the United States. American privateers would therefore have a great field for privateering; English privateers, a relatively insignificant one. English investments of capital in the United States are greater than the whole of the capital invested in the English cotton industry. American investments of capital in England are nil. The English navy eclipses the American, but not nearly to the same extent as during the war of 1812 to 1814.

If at that time the American privateers already showed themselves far superior to the English, then how about them now? An effective blockade of the North American ports, particularly in winter, is quite out of the question. In the inland waters between Canada and the United States — and superiority here is decisive for the land warfare in Canada — the United States would, with the opening of the war, hold absolute sway.

In short, the Liverpool merchant comes to the conclusion:

“Nobody in England dares to recommend war for the sake of mere cotton. It would be cheaper for us to feed the whole of the cotton districts for three years at state expense than to wage war with the United States on their behalf for one year.

Ceterum censeo that the Trent case will not lead to war.