The Mexican Imbroglio

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 15 February 1862


Written : London, February 15, 1862.

First published in English in 'The New York Tribune, February 15, 1862

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 19
Keywords : France, Karl Marx, Mexico

The Blue Book on the intervention in Mexico,[1] just published, contains the most damning exposure of modern English diplomacy with all its hypocritical cant, ferocity against the weak, crawling before the strong, and utter disregard of international law. I must reserve for another letter the task of forwarding, by a minute analysis of the dispatches exchanged between Downing street and the British representatives of Mexico, the irrefragable proof that the present imbroglio is of English origin, that England took the initiative in bringing about the intervention, and did so on pretexts too flimsy and self-contradictory to even veil the real but unavowed motives of her proceedings. This infamy of the means employed in starting the Mexican intervention is only surpassed by the anile imbecility with which the British government affect to be surprised at and slink out of the execution of the nefarious scheme planned by themselves. It is the latter part of the business I propose dealing with for the present.[2]

On the 13th December, 1861, Mr. Istúriz, the Spanish Ambassador at London, submitted to John Russell a note including the instructions sent by the Captain-General of Cuba[3] to the Spanish commanders, at the head of the expedition to Mexico. John Russell shelved the note and kept silent. On the 23d December, Mr. Istúriz addresses him a new note, professing to explain the reasons that had induced the Spanish expedition to leave Cuba before the arrival of the English and French forces. John Russell again shelves the note and persists in his taciturn attitude. Mr. Istúriz, anxious to ascertain whether that protracted restraint of speech so unusual in the verbose upshoot of the house of Bedford, means possibly mischief, urges a personal interview, which is granted to him, and takes place on the 7th of January. John Russell had now for more than a month been fully acquainted with the onesided opening of the operations against Mexico on the part of Spain. A month had almost passed since the event had been officially communicated to him by Mr. Istúriz. With all that, in his personal inter-view with the Spanish Ambassador, John Russell breaks no word breathing the slightest displeasure or astonishment at "the precipitate steps taken by Gen. Serrano," nor leave his utterances the faintest impression on the mind of Mr. Isturiz that all was not right, and that the Spanish proceedings were not fully approved of by the British Government. The Castilian pride of Mr. Istúriz shuns, of course, any notion of Spain being played with by her powerful allies and made a mere catspaw of. Yet, the time of the meeting of Parliament approached, and John Russell had now to pen a series of dispatches, especially intended, not for international business, but for Parliamentary consumption. Accordingly, on the 16th of January, he pens a dispatch inquiring, in rather angry tones, about the onesided initiative ventured upon by Spain. Doubts and scruples, which for longer than a month had slumbered in his bosom, and had not even matured into symptoms of existence, on the 7th of January, during his personal interview with Mr. Isturiz, all at once disturb the serene dream of that confident, sincere and unsuspecting statesman. Mr. Istfiria feels thunderstruck, and in his reply, dated January 18, somewhat ironically reminds his Excellency of the opportunities missed by him of giving vent to his posthumous spleen. He pays in fact his Excellency in his own coin, assuming in his justification of the initiative taken by Spain, the same air of naïveté Lord John Russell affected in his request for an explanation.

"The Captain-General of Cuba." says Mr. Istúriz, "came too early because he was fearful of arriving too late at Vera Cruz." "Besides," and here he pinches Lord John, "the expedition had been for a long time ready on every point," although the Captain-General, till the middle of December, was "unacquainted with the details of the treaty, and with the point fixed for the meeting of the squadrons."

Now, the treaty was not concluded before the 20th of November. If, then, the Captain-General had his expedition for a long time "ready in every point before the middle of December," the orders originally sent out to him from Europe for starting the expedition, had not waited upon the treaty. In other words, the original agreement between the three Powers, and the steps taken in its execution, did not wait upon the treaty, and differed in their "details" from the clauses of the treaty, which, from the beginning, were intended not as a rule of action, but only as decent formulas, necessary to conciliate the public mind to the nefarious scheme. On the 23d January, John Russell replies to Mr. Isttiriz in rather a bluff note, intimating to him that "the British Government was not entirely satisfied with the explanation offered," but, at the same time would not suspect Spain of the fool-hardiness of presuming to act in the teeth of England and France. Lord John Russell, so sleepy, so inactive, for a whole month, becomes all life and wide awake as the Parliamentary session rapidly draws near. No time is to be lost. On the 19th of January he has a personal interview with Count Flahaut, the French Ambassador at London. Flahaut broaches to him the ill-omened news that his master considered it necessary "to send an additional force to Mexico." that Spain by her precipitate

initiative had spoiled the mess; that

"the allies must now advance to the interior of Mexico, and that not only the forces agreed upon would now prove insufficient for the operation, but that the operation itself would assume a character in regard to which Louis Bonaparte could not allow the French forces to be in a position of inferiority to those of Spam, or run the risk of being compromised."

Now, Flahaut's argumentation was anything but conclusive. If Spain had overstepped the convention, a single note to Madrid from the quarters of St. James and the Tuileries would have sufficed to warn her off her ridiculous pretensions, and drive her back to the modest part imposed upon her by the convention. But no. Because Spain has broken the convention—a breach merely formal and of no consequence, since her premature arrival at Vera Cruz changed nothing in the professed aim and purpose of the expedition—because Spain had presumed to cast anchor at Vera Cruz in the absence of the English and French forces, there remained no other issue open to France but to follow in the track of Spain, break also the convention, and augment, not only her expeditionary forces, but change the whole character of the operation. There was, of course, no pretext needed for the Allied Powers to let the murder out, and, on the very outset of the expedition, set at naught the pretexts and purposes upon which it was ostensibly started. Consequently, John Russel, although he "regrets the step" taken by France, indorses it by telling Count Flahaut that "he had no objection to offer, on behalf of her Majesty's Government, to the validity of the French argument." In a dispatch dated January 20, he forwards to Earl Cowley, the English Ambassador at Paris, the narrative of this his interview with Count Flahaut. The day before, on the 19th January, he had penned a dispatch to Sir F. Crampton, the English Ambassador at Madrid—that dispatch being a curious medley of hypocritical cant addressed to the British Parliament, and of sly hints to the Court of Madrid as to the intrinsic value of the liberal slang so freely indulged in. "The proceedings of Marshal Serrano," he says, "are calculated to produce some uneasiness," not only because of the precipitate departure of the Spanish expedition frown Havana, but also "of the tone of the proclamations issued by the Spanish Government." But, simultaneously, the bon homme suggests to the Madrid Court a plausible excuse for their apparent breach of the Convention. He is fully convinced that the Madrid Court means no harm; but, then, commanders, at a distance from Europe, are sometimes "rash," and require "to be very closely watched." Thus, good man Russell volunteers his services, in order to shift the responsibility from the Court at Madrid to the shoulders of indiscreet Spanish commanders "at a distance," and even out of the reach of good man Russell's sermonizing. Not less curious is the other part of his dispatch. The Allied forces are not to preclude the Mexicans from their right "of choosing their own Government," thus intimating that there exists "no Government" in Mexico; but that, on the contrary, not only new governors, but even "a new form of Government," must so be chosen by the Mexicans under the auspices of the Allied invaders. Their "constituting a new Government" would "delight" the British Government; but, of course, the military forces of the invaders must not falsify the general suffrage which they intend calling the Mexicans to for the installation of a new Government. It rests, of course, with the commanders of the armed invasion to judge what form of new government is or is not "repugnant to the feelings of Mexico." At all events, good man Russell washes his hands in innocence. He dispatches foreign dragoons to Mexico, there to force the people into "choosing" a new Government; but he hopes the dragoons will do the thing gently, and be very careful in sifting the political feelings of the country they invade. Is it necessary to expatiate one moment upon this transparent farce? Apart from the context of good man Russell's dispatches, read The Times and The Morning Post of October, six weeks before the conclusion of the sham convention of Nov. 30,[4] and you will find the English Government prints to foretell all the very same untoward events Russell feigns to discover only at the end of January, and to account for by "the rashness" of some Spanish Ambassadors at a distance from Europe.

The second part of the farce Russell had to play was the putting on the lapis of the Archduke Maximilian of Austria as the Mexican King held in petto by England and France.

On the 24th of January, about ten days before the opening of Parliament, Lord Cowley writes to Lord Russell that not only Paris gossip was much busied with the Archduke, but that the very officers going with the re-enforcements to Mexico, pretended that the expedition was for the purpose of making the Archduke Maximilian King of Mexico. Cowley thinks it necessary to interpellate Thouvenel upon the delicate subject. Thouvenel answers him, that it was not the French Government, but Mexican emissaries, "come for the purpose, and gone to Vienna," that had set on foot such negotiations with the Austrian Government.

Now, at last, you expect unsuspecting John Russell, who even five days ago, in his dispatch to Madrid, had harped upon the terms of the convention, who even later yet, in the Royal speech of Feb. 6, had proclaimed "the redress" of wrongs sustained by European subjects the exclusive motive and purpose of the intervention[5]—you expect him now at last to fly into a passion and to fret and foam at the very idea of his kind-natured confidence having been played such unheard-of pranks with. Nothing of the sort! Good man Russell receives Cowley's gossip on the 26th of January, and on the following day he hastens to sit down and write a dispatch volunteering his patronage of the Archduke Maximilian's candidature for the Mexican throne.[6]

He informs Sir C. Wyke, his representative at Mexico, that the French and Spanish troops will march "at once" to the City of Mexico; that Archduke Maximilian "is said" to be the idol of the Mexican people, and that, if such be the case, "there is nothing in the convention to prevent his advent to the throne of Mexico."

There are two things remarkable in these diplomatic revelations: first, the fool Spain is made of; and secondly, that there never passes the slightest thought through Russell's mind that he cannotwage war upon Mexico without a previous declaration of war, and that he can form no coalition for that war with foreign Powers, except on the ground of a treaty binding upon all panics. And such is the people who have fatigued us for two months with their hypocritical cant on the sacredness of, and their homage to, the strict rules of international law!

  1. Correspondence Respecting the Affairs of Mexico. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, 3 parts. London, 1862.—Ed.
  2. Here and below Marx draws on material published under the heading "Papers Relating to Mexican Affairs" in The Times, No 24168. February 13, 1862.— Ed.
  3. F. Serrano y Dominguez.— Ed.
  4. This probably refers to the treaty signed on November 20, 1861.—Ed.
  5. J. Russell [Speech in the House of Lords on February 6, 1862]. The Times, No. 24165, February 7, 1862.— Ed.
  6. Presumably, a slip of the pen in the text. Russel! received Cowley's report on the 25th, Russell's dispatch was sent on the 27th — Ed.