Intervention in Mexico (November 12, 1861)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 7 November 1861

Written: London, November 7, 1861.

Published: Die Presse, November 12, 1861.

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

The Times of today has a leading article in its well-known, confusedly kaleidoscopic, affectedly humorous style, on the French government’s invasion of Dappenthal and on Switzerland’s protest against this violation of territory. The oracle of Printing House Square recalls how, at the time of most acute struggle between English manufacturers and landowners, little children employed in the factories were led to throw needles into the most delicate parts of the machinery to upset the motion of the whole powerful automaton. The machinery is Europe, the little child is Switzerland and the needle that she throws into the smoothly running automaton is—Louis Bonaparte’s invasion of her territory or, rather, her outcry at his invasion. Thus the needle is suddenly transformed into the outcry at the needle’s prick and the metaphor into a piece of buffoonery at the expense of the reader who expects a metaphor. The Times is further enlivened by its own discovery that Dappenthal consists of a single village called Cressioniéres. It ends its short article with a complete contradiction of its beginning. Why, it exclaims, make so much ado about this infinitely small Swiss bagatelle, when every quarter of Europe will be ablaze next spring? One may not forget that, shortly before, Europe was a well regulated automaton. The whole article appears sheer nonsense and yet it has its sense. It is a declaration that Palmerston has given carte blanche in the Swiss incident to his ally on the other side of the Channel. The explanation of this declaration is found in the dry notice in the Moniteur that on October 31 England, France and Spain concluded a convention on joint intervention in Mexico.[1] The article of The Times on Dappenthal and the notice of the Moniteur on Mexico stand as close together as the Canton of Waadt[2] and Vera Cruz lie far apart.

It is credible that Louis Bonaparte counted on intervention in Mexico among the many possibilities which he continually has ready to divert the French people. It is sure that Spain, whose cheap successes in Morocco and St. Domingo have gone to her head, dreams of a Restoration in Mexico. But it is certain that France’s project had not yet matured and that both France and Spain were opposed to a crusade against Mexico under English command. On September 24, Palmerston’s private Moniteur, the Morning Post, announced the details of an agreement that England, France and Spain had reached for joint intervention in Mexico. The following day the Patrie denied the existence of any such agreement. On September 27 The Times refuted the Patrie, without naming it. According to The Times’ article, Lord Russell had communicated the English decision on intervention to the French government, whereupon M. Thouvenel had answered that the Emperor of the French had arrived at a like determination. It was now the turn of Spain. In a semi-official organ the Spanish government declared that it purposed an intervention in Mexico, but by no means an intervention alongside of England. It rained dementis. The Times had categorically announced that “the full assent of the American President had been given to the expedition.” Hardly had the report reached the other side of the Atlantic Ocean when all the organs of the American government branded it as a lie, since [the American Union,] conjointly with President Lincoln, was going with and not against Mexico. From all this it follows that the plan of intervention in its present form originated in the Cabinet of St. James.

No less puzzling and contradictory than the statements concerning the origin of the convention were the statements concerning its objects. One organ of Palmerston, the Morning Post, announced that Mexico was not an organized state, with an existing government, but a mere robbers’ nest. It was to be treated as such. The expedition had only one object—the satisfaction of the Mexican state’s creditors in England, France and Spain.[3] To this end the combined forces would occupy the principal ports of Mexico, collect the import and export duties on her coast and hold this “material guarantee” till all debt claims were satisfied.

The other organ of Palmerston, The Times, declared, on the contrary, that England was “steeled against plunderings on the part of bankrupt Mexico.” It was not a question of the private interests of the creditors, but “they hope that the mere presence of a combined squadron in the Gulf, and the seizure of certain ports, will urge the Mexican government to new exertions in keeping the peace, and will convince the malcontents that they must confine themselves to some form of opposition more constitutional than brigandage.”

According to this, the expedition would therefore take place to investigate the official government of Mexico. At the same time, however, The Times intimates that “the City of Mexico was sufficiently healthy, should it be necessary to penetrate so far.”

The most original means of strengthening a government indisputably consist in the sequestration of its revenues and its territories by force. On the other hand, mere occupation of the ports and collection of the duties in these ports can only cause the Mexican government to set more inland-lying bounds to its domains. Import duties on foreign commodities, export duties on American commodities would in this way be doubled; the intervention would in fact satisfy the claims of European creditors by extortions from European-Mexican trade. The Mexican government can become solvent only by internal consolidation, but it can consolidate itself at home only so long as its independence is respected abroad.

If the expedition’s alleged ends are contradictory, then the alleged means to these alleged ends are still more contradictory. The English government organs themselves admit that if one thing or another would be attainable by a one-sided intervention of France or England or Spain, everything becomes unattainable by a joint intervention of these states.

One may recall that the Liberal Party in Mexico under Juarez, the official President of the republic, has now the upper hand at almost all points; that the Catholic Party under General Márquez has suffered defeat after defeat, and that the robber band organized by it is driven back to the sierras of Queretaro and dependent on an alliance with Mejía, the Indian chief there. The last hope of the Catholic Party was Spanish intervention.

The only point—says The Times—on which there may possibly be a difference between ourselves and our allies, regards the government of the republic. England will be content to see it remain in the hands of the Liberal Party which is now in power, while France and Spain are suspected of a partiality for the ecclesiastical rule which has recently been overthrown. It would, indeed, be strange, if France were, in both the old and the new world, to make herself the protector of priests and bandits. Just as in Italy the partisans of Francis II[4] at Rome were equipped for their work of making Naples ungovernable, so in Mexico the highways, indeed, the streets of the capital, are infested with robbers, whom the church party openly declares to be its friends.

And just for this reason England strengthens the Liberal governments by undertaking a campaign against them with France and Spain; she seeks to suppress anarchy by supplying the clerical party lying in extremis127 with fresh allied troops from Europe! Save during the short winter months the coasts of Mexico, pestilential as they are, can only be held by conquest of the country itself. But a third English government organ, The Economist, declares the conquest of Mexico to be impossible.

If it is desired—says this paper—to thrust upon her a British prince with an English army, then the fiercest wrath of the United States is excited. France’s jealousy would make such a conquest impossible, and a motion to this effect would be rejected almost unanimously by an English parliament the moment it was submitted to it. England, for her part, cannot entrust the government of Mexico to France. Of Spain there can be no question whatever.

The whole expedition is therefore a mystification, the key to which the Patrie gives in these words: “The convention recognizes the necessity of installing in Mexico a strong government, that can maintain tranquillity and order there.”

The question is simply one of applying to the states of America through a new Holy Alliance the principle according to which the Holy Alliance held itself called on to interfere in the internal governmental relations of the countries of Europe. The first plan of this sort was drafted by Chateaubriand for the Bourbons of Spain and France at the time of the Restoration. It was frustrated by Canning and Monroe, the President of the United States, who declared any European interference in the internal affairs of American states to be taboo. Since then the American Union has constantly asserted the Monroe Doctrine as an international law. The present Civil War, however, created the right situation for securing to the side of the European monarchies an intervention precedent on which they can build later. That is the real object of the English-French-Spanish intervention. Its immediate result can only be and is only intended to be the restoration of the anarchy just dying out in Mexico.

Apart from all standpoints of international law in general, the occurrence has the great significance for Europe that by concessions in the domain of Continental politics England has purchased the support of Louis Bonaparte in the Mexican expedition.

  1. (Reference Note) For the text of the convention, consult Appleton’s Annual Cyclopaedia, 1861 (New York, 1862), pp. 466–67.
  2. In west central Switzerland.—Ed.
  3. (Reference Note) About 1861, English, French and Spanish claims upon the Mexican government were estimated as follows:

    British bondholders’ debt $60,621,843.00
    Spanish convention 7,270,600.75
    English-Spanish convention 5,000,000.00
    French convention 263,490.00
    Total $73,155,933.75
  4. (Reference Note) Refers to the King of Naples who reigned from 1859–61. In 1861, the Neapolitan kingdom became part of united Italy.