The Italian Insurrection British Politics

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 11 February 1853

Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Doily Tribune, No. 3701, February 25, 1853;
reprinted in the Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 810, March 1,
and the New York Weekly Tribune, No. 599, March 5, 1853
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.508-512), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
Collection(s): New York Tribune

London, Friday, February 11, 1853

The political torpor which, under the protection of nature's dullest fog, has for so long a time prevailed here, has been suddenly interrupted by the arrival of revolutionary news from Italy. Intelligence has been received by electric telegraph, that an insurrection took place at Milan on the 6th; that proclamations had been posted up, one by Mazzini[1], the other by Kossuth[2], exhorting the Hungarians in the Austrian army to join the revolutionists; that the insurrection had been at first suppressed, but had afterwards recommenced; that the Austrians stationed in the arsenal had been massacred, Sec.; that the gates of Milan were shut up. The French Government papers, it is true, communicate two further dispatches, dated Berne the 9th, and Turin 8th, which report the definitive suppression of the outbreak on the 7th. But the non-arrival of any direct information at the English Foreign Office for two days, is regarded as a favorable symptom by the friends of Italy.Rumors are current in Paris, that great excitement prevailed at Pisa, Lucca and in other towns.

At Turin the ministry met in haste, in consequence of a communication from the Austrian Consul, in order to deliberate on the aspect of affairs in Lombardy. The day, on which the first information reached London, was the 9th of February, which day, curiously enough, is also the anniversary of the proclamation of the Roman Republic in 1849[3], of the decapitation of Charles I in 1649, and of the deposition of James II in 1689.

As regards the chances of the present insurrection at Milan, there can be little hope of success, unless some of the Austrian regiments pass over to the revolutionary camp. Private letters from Turin, which I expect will shortly reach me, will probably enable me to furnish you a detailed account of the whole affair.

Several statements as to the character of the amnesty lately granted by Louis Napoleon, have been published on behalf of the French refugees. Victor Frondes (a former officer) declares in the Nation, a Brussels paper, that he was surprised to see his name in the list of the amnestied, he having already amnestied himself. five months ago, by making his escape from Algiers.

The Moniteur[4] announced at first, that 3,000 exiles were to be amnestied, and that only about 1,200 citizens would remain under the ban of proscription. A few days later the same authority stated, that 4,312 persons[5] had been pardoned, so that Louis Napoleon actually forgave 100 persons more than he had previously condemned. Paris and the Department of the Seine alone numbered about 4,000 exiles. Of these only 226 are included in the amnesty. The Department of the Hérault counted 2,611 exiles; 299 are amnestied. The Nièvre furnished 1,478 victims among whom there were 1,100 fathers of families averaging three children each: 180 have been amnestied. In the Department of the Var 687 out of 2,181 have been released. Among the 1,200 republicans transported to Cayenne. only a few have been pardoned, and precisely such as have escaped already from that penal settlement. The number of persons transported to Algeria and now released, is large, but still in no proportion to the immense mass of people that have been carried over to Africa, which is said to amount to 12,000. The refugees now living in England, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain, with very rare exceptions, are entirely excluded from the decree. On the other hand, the amnesty lists actually contain a large number of persons who have never quitted France, or who have long since been permitted to re-enter it; nay, more, there are names which figure in the list several times. But the most monstrous fact is, that the list is swelled with the names of a large number of persons well known to have been slaughtered during the sanguinary "battues" of December.

The new Parliamentary session commenced yesterday. As a worthy introduction to the future performances of the Millenarian Ministry, the following scene was produced in the House of Lords: The Earl of Derby asked the Earl of Aberdeen what measures the Government proposed to submit to the consideration of Parliament; upon which the latter replied that he had already, on a former occasion, explained his principles, a repetition of which would be inconvenient; and that any further statement, before the communication to be made in the House of Commons, would be premature. And now ensued a most curious dialogue, in which the Earl of Derby spoke, and the Earl of Aberdeen only bowed significantly:[6]

The Earl of Derby— "He would ask the noble Lord what measures he intended to submit to their Lordships in the course of the Session?"

After a few seconds' pause, no noble Lord having risen—

The Earl of Derby— "Does silence mean no measures?" [A laugh.]
The Earl of Aberdeen—[Muttering some inaudible words.]
The Earl of Derby— "May I be permitted to ask what measures will be introduced in this House?"

No answer.
The question of adjournment being put by the Lord Chancellor[7], their Lordships adjourned.

Passing from the House of Lords to "Her Majesty's liege Commons," we shall observe that the Earl of Aberdeen has expounded the programme of the Ministry much more strikingly by his silence than Lord John Russell by his long and grave speech last night. The short resumé of the latter was: "No Measures, but Men"; adjournment of all questions of Parliamentary importance for one year; and strict payment of the salaries of her Majesty's Ministers during that time. Lord John Russell stated the intention of the Government in nearly these words:

"With regard to the number of men to be voted for the Army, the Navy, and Ordnance, there will be no increase beyond the number voted before the Christmas holidays. With regard to the amounts in the various estimates, there will be found a considerable increase upon the estimates of last year.... A bill will be brought in to enable the Legislature of Canada to dispose of the Clergy Reserves in Canada.... The President of the Board of Trade[8] will move for the introduction of a Pilotage bill.... The disabilities of her Majesty's Jewish subjects will be removed.... Propositions will be made on the subject of Education. I am not prepared to say that I am about to introduce, on the part of her Majesty's Government, a very large plan on that subject. It will include educational measures for the poorer classes, and propositions with respect to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.... Transportation to Australia will cease.... There will be made a proposal with respect to the system of secondary punishments.... Immediately after the Easter recess, or as soon as possible after that period, the Chancellor of the Exchequer[9] will propose the financial statement for the year.... The Lord Chancellor will state in a few days what are the measures he proposes to bring in for the improvement of the law... It is the intention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland[10], in a few days, to move the appointment of a select Committee with regard to the law of Landlord and Tenant in Ireland... Ministers would endeavor to effect a renewal of the Income Tax for the present year, without any observation or discussion whatever."

In reference to Parliamentary Reform, Lord John Russell declares that it may perhaps be taken into consideration in the next session. Accordingly, no Reform Bill at present. Nay more, Johnny was at great pains to disclaim the idea of ever having promised to give a more liberal measure of representative reform than his bill of last session[11]. He was even indignant that words to that effect should have been ascribed to him. He never said nor meant anything of the kind. Nor does he promise that his intended bill of next session will be as comprehensive as that of 1852. With respect to bribery and corruption, he said:

"I think it better to defer giving an opinion as to whether any further measures may be necessary to check bribery and corruption. I will only say that the subject is one of the highest importance."

It is impossible to describe the cool amazement with which this speech of Finality-John[12] was received by the House of Commons. It would be difficult to state, which was greater, the perplexity of his friends, or the hilarity of his foes. All seemed to regard his speech as a complete refutation of Lucretius's doctrine, that "Nil de nihilo fit."[13] Lord John at least made something out of nothing; a dry, long and very tedious speech.

There were two subjects upon which Ministers were supposed to mean to stand or fall —a new assessment of the Income Tax and a new Reform Bill. Now, as to the Income Tax it is proposed to continue it for a year in its present form. As to a Reform Bill, even of Whig dimensions, it is declared that Ministers intend to introduce it only on the condition that they remain in office for a whole year. It is altogether the programme of the late Russell Administration, minus the Reform Bill. Even the financial statement is postponed till after the Easter recess, so that Ministers may be able, in any event, to touch their quarterly pay.

The particular reform propositions are nearly all of them borrowed from Mr. Disraeli's programme. Thus for instance, the law amendment, the abolition of transportation to Australia, the Pilotage bill, the Committee on the Tenant-Right question, etc. The only points belonging properly to the present Ministry, are the proposed educational reform which Lord John assures us will be of no larger size than himself, and the removal of Baronet Lionel Rothschild's disabilities. It may be questioned, whether the English people will be very contented with this extension of the suffrage to a Jewish usurer, who was notoriously one of the accomplices of the Bonapartist coup d'état.

This impudence of a Ministry, composed of two parties that were completely beaten at the late general elections, it would be difficult to explain, were it not for the circumstance that any new Reform Bill would necessitate a dissolution of the present House of Commons, the majority of which stick to their dearly-bought seats, gained by narrow majorities.

Nothing is more delightful than the manner in which The Times attempts to comfort its readers:

"Next session is not quite so uncertain an epoch as to-morrow; for to-morrow depends not only on the will, but even on the life of the procrastinator, while, if the world endures, next session will certainly arrive. Then put off to next session—the whole Parliamentary reform—give the Ministry a rest for one year!"[14]

I, for my part, am of opinion, that it is highly beneficial to the people, that no Reform Bill is to be octroyed by Ministers, in the present dull state of the public mind, and "under the cold shadow of an aristocratic Coalition Cabinet." It must not be forgotten that Lord Aberdeen was a member of the Tory Cabinet, which, in 1830, refused to agree to any measure of reform. National reforms must be won by National agitation, and not by the grace of my Lord Aberdeen.

In conclusion let me mention that, at a special meeting of the General Committee of the National Association for the Protection of British Industry and Capital, held in the South-Sea House, on Monday last, under the Presidency of the Duke of Richmond, this Society wisely resolved to dissolve itself.[15]

  1. G. Mazzini, A. Saffi, "Italian National Committee" (February 1853), The Times, No. february 12, 1853.—Ed.
  2. L. Kossuth, in the Name of the Hungarian Nation.—To the Soldiers Quartered in Italy" (February 1853), The Times, No. 21348, February 10, 1853.—Ed.
  3. On February 9, 1849 the Constituent Assembly in Rome, elected by universal suffrage, abolished the secular power of the Pope and proclaimed a republic. The Roman Republic had to repulse attacks of the counter-revolutionary Neapolitan and Austrian troops and the French expeditionary corps sent to Italy in April 1849 by decision of President Louis Bonaparte to restore the Papal power. The republic lasted only until July 3, 1849, the main blow having been dealt to it by the French interventionists.
  4. Of January 31, 1853.—Ed.
  5. "Décret accordant la grace à 4312 condamnés politiques, le 2 février 1853", Le Moniteur universel, No. 35, February 4, 1853.—Ed.
  6. Information about the debate in the House of Lords and Russell's speech in the House of Commons on February 10, 1853 are given according to the account of them in The Times, No. 21349, February 11, 1853.—Ed.
  7. Cranworth.—Ed.
  8. Cardwell.—Ed.
  9. Gladstone.—Ed.
  10. John Young.—Ed.
  11. In February 1852 Russell made a preliminary statement of his intention to introduce a franchise Bill, but it was not discussed in Parliament. See Engels' analysis of this Bill, MECW volume 11, pp. 205-09.
  12. An allusion to the nickname "Finality-John" which was given by the radicals to John Russell, the leader of the Whig Party in England, after his speech in 1837 in which he characterised the Parliamentary Reform of 1832 as the final point of constitutional development in England.
  13. "Nothing comes out of nothing" (Lucretius Carus, De rerun natura. V).—Ed.
  14. Quoted from the leading article in The Times, No. 21349, February 11, 1853.—Ed.
  15. The reference is to the Association for the Protection of Agriculture and British Industry which originally was named the Association for the Protection of Agriculture. Founded in 1845 to fight the Free Traders it expressed the interests of the big landowners and opposed the repeal of the Corn Laws.

    The South Sea Company, in the former premises of which the above-mentioned meeting was held, was founded in England about 1712, officially to trade with South America and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Its true aim was to speculate in state securities, which led to the bankruptcy of the Company in 1720.

    The Bill repealing the Corn Laws was passed in June 1846. The English Corn Laws imposed high import duties on agricultural products in the interests of landowners, in order to maintain high prices for them on the home market. Their repeal marked a victory for the industrial bourgeoisie who opposed them under the slogan of free trade.