Political Situation in Europe (1857)
|Written||5 September 1857|
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.
The last sitting but one of the Commons before their prorogation was seized upon by Lord Palmerston to allow them to take some faint glimpses at the entertainments he keeps in store for the English public during the interregnum between the session that has passed away and the session that is to come. The first item of his programme is the announcement of the revival of the Persian war, which as he had stated some months ago, was definitely terminated by a peace concluded on the 4th of March. General Sir de Lacy Evans having expressed the hope that Col. Jacob was ordered back to India with his forces now stationed on the Persian Gulf, Lord Palmerston stated plainly that until Persia had executed the engagements contracted by the treaty, Col. Jacob’s troops could not be withdrawn. Herat, however, had not yet been evacuated. There were, on the contrary, rumors afloat affirming that additional forces had been sent by Persia to Herat. This, indeed, had been denied by the Persian Embassador at Paris; but great doubts were justly entertained of the good faith of Persia, and consequently the British forces under Col. Jacob would continue to occupy Bushire. On the day following Lord Palmerston’s statement, the news was conveyed by telegraphic dispatch of the categorical demand pressed upon the Persian Government by Mr. Murray for the evacuation of Herat — a demand which may be fairly considered the forerunner of a new declaration of war. Such is the first international effect of the Indian revolt.
The second item of Lord Palmerston’s programme makes good for its want of details by the wide perspective it unrolls. When he first announced the withdrawal of large military forces from England to be dispatched to India, he answered his opponents, accusing him of denuding Great Britain of her defensive power, and thus affording foreign countries an opportunity to take advantage of her weakened position, that
“the people of Great Britain would never tolerate any such proceeding, and that men would be raised suddenly and rapidly, sufficient for any contingency that would arrive.”
Now, on the eve of the prorogation of Parliament, he speaks in quite a different strain. To the advice of Gen. de Lacy Evans to send out to India the troops in screw line-of-battle ships, he did not reply, as he had done before, by asserting the superiority of the sail to the screw-propeller, but on the contrary, admitted that the General’s plan appeared in the first instance highly advantageous. Yet, the House ought to bear in mind, that
“there were other considerations to be kept in view, in regard to the propriety of keeping up sufficient military and naval forces at home... Certain circumstances pointed out the inexpediency of sending out of the country a greater naval force than was absolutely necessary. The steam line-of-battle ships were, no doubt, lying in ordinary, and were of no great use at present; but if any such events as had been alluded to took place, and the) wanted their naval forces to put to sea, how could they meet the danger which threatened, if they allowed their line-of-battle ships to do the duty of transports to India? They should be falling into a grave error if they sent to India the fleet which circumstances occurring in Europe might render it necessary to arm for their own defense at a very short notice.”
Lord Palmerston, it will not be denied plants John Bull on the horns of a very fine dilemma. If he uses the adequate means for a decisive suppression of the Indian revolt, he will be attacked at home; and if he allows the Indian revolt to consolidate, he will, as Mr. Disraeli said,
“find other characters on the stage, with whom to contend, beside the princes of India.”
Before casting a glance at the “European circumstances” so mysteriously alluded to, it may not be amiss to gather up the confessions made during the same sitting of the Commons in regard to the actual position of the British forces in India. First, then, all sanguine hopes of a sudden capture of Delhi were dropped as if by mutual agreement, and the highflying expectations of former days came down to the more rational view that they ought to congratulate themselves, if the English were able to maintain their posts until November, when the advance of the re-enforcements sent from home was to take place. In the second instance, misgivings oozed out as to the probability of their losing the most important of those posts, Cawnpore, on the fate of which, as Mr. Disraeli said, everything must depend, and the relief of which he considered of even greater import than the capture of Delhi. From its central position on the Ganges, its bearing on Oude, Rohilcund, Gwalior, and Bundelcund, and its serving as an advanced fort to Delhi, Cawnpore is, in fact, in the present circumstances, a place of prime importance. Lastly, Sir F. Smith, one of the military members of the House, called its attention to the fact that, actually, there were no engineers and sappers with their Indian army, as all of them had deserted, and were likely “to make Delhi a second Saragossa.” On the other hand, Lord Palmerston had neglected to forward from England either any officers or men of the engineer corps.
Returning now to the European events said to be “looming in the future,” we are at once astonished at the comment The London Times makes on Lord Palmerston’s allusions. The French Constitution, it says, might be overthrown, or Napoleon disappear from the scene of life, and then there would be an end to the French alliance, upon which the present security rests. In other words, The Times, the great organ of the British Cabinet, while considering a revolution in France an event not unlikely to occur any day, simultaneously proclaims the present alliance to be founded not on the sympathies of the French people, but on mere conspiracy with the French usurper. Beside a revolution in France, there is the Danubian quarrel. By the annulling of the Moldavian elections, it has not been made to subside, but only to enter on a new phase. There is, above all, the Scandinavian North, which, at a period not distant, is sure to become the theater of great agitation, and, perhaps, may give the signal to an international conflict in Europe. Peace is still kept in the North, because two events are anxiously waited for the death of the King of Sweden and the abdication of his throne by the present King of Denmark. At a late meeting of naturalists at Christiania, the hereditary Prince of Sweden declared emphatically in favor of a Scandinavian union. Being a man in the prime of life, of a resolute and energetic character, the Scandinavian party, mustering in its ranks the ardent youth of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, will consider his accession to the throne as the opportune moment for taking up arms. On the other hand, the weak and imbecile King of Denmark, Frederick VII., is said to have been at last allowed by the Countess Danner, his morganatic consort, to withdraw to private life, a permission hitherto refused him. It was on her account that Prince Ferdinand, the King’s uncle, and the presumptive heir of the Danish throne, was induced to retire from State affairs, to which he afterward returned in consequence of an arrangement brought about by the other members of the royal family. Now, at this moment, the Countess Danner is said to be disposed to change her residence at Copenhagen for one at Paris, and even to prompt the King to bid farewell to the storms of political life by resigning his scepter into the hands of Prince Ferdinand. This Prince Ferdinand, a man about 65 years of age, has always occupied the same position toward the Court of Copenhagen, which the Count of Artois — afterward Charles X. – held toward the Court of the Tuileries. Obstinate, severe and ardent in his conservative faith, he has never condescended to feign adherence to the Constitutional system. Yet the first condition of his accession to the throne would be the acceptance on oath of a Constitution he openly detests. Hence the probability of international troubles, which the Scandinavian party, both in Sweden and Denmark, are firmly resolved upon turning to their own profit. On, the other hand, the conflict between Denmark and the German Duchies of Holstein and Schleswig, supported in their claims by Prussia and Austria, would still more embroil matters, and entangle Germany in the agitations of the North; while the London treaty of 1852, guaranteeing the throne of Denmark to Prince Ferdinand, would involve Russia, France and England.