The New Treaty between France and England (January 1860)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 28 January 1860


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First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 5868, February 14, 1860
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.341-344), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): New York Tribune

London, Jan. 28, 1860

The commercial treaty with France[1] will not be communicated to the House of Commons before the 6th of February. Still, with what was broached during the address debates—with what is insinuated by the French papers, and with what is gossiped at London and Paris, one may, Mr. Gladstone's solemn warnings[2] notwithstanding, already venture upon some general appreciation of this "sweet changeling."[3] It was on Monday, the 23d of January, that the treaty was duly signed at Paris, Rouher, Minister of Commerce, and Baroche, ad interim Minister of Foreign Affairs, acting as its French godfathers, while, on the part of England, the same function was performed by Lord Cowley and Mr. Cobden. That Mr. Michel Chevalier—the ex-St. Simonian—had his hand in the pie, and that general regret is felt throughout the whole realm of France that Louis Napoleon had not the tact of allowing this distinguished personage (viz.: Mr. Chevalier) to inscribe his name to the treaty by the side of his "English confrère"[4], is a piece of news which that "distinguished personage" himself was so condescending as to send over to London and have inserted in the various free-trade organs. But, what is not known by the journals, is that Père Enfantin, the ex-high-priest of St. Simonism, was the principal actor on the French side. Is it not truly wonderful how those St. Simonians, from Père Enfantin down to Isaac Péreire and Michel Chevalier, have been turned into the main economical pillars of the second Empire. But to return to Mr. Chevalier's "English confrère", the Lancashire ex-manufacturer, who, of course, felt not a little elated at the honor of putting his own sign-manual to an international treaty. If one should consider the circumstance that reciprocity treaties, and commercial treaties generally, save the treaties with barbarians, have always been loudly denounced by the English free-traders, led by Mr. Cobden, as the worst and most perfidious form of protectionism; if it be further considered that the present treaty, even judged from the reciprocity stand-point, seems a rather ludicrous arrangement; and, lastly, if the political aims and purposes the treaty is destined to screen be duly weighed, people might feel inclined to pity Mr. Richard Cobden as the innocent victim of a Palmerstonian machination. Yet there is another side to the medal. Mr. Cobden, as is generally known, did once receive, in exchange for his Anti-Corn law[5] success, some £60,000 sterling on the part of the grateful manufacturing interest. Mr. Cobden invested the principal in American shares, and, consequent upon the crisis of 1857, lost almost everything. The hopes he still cherished when setting out on his voyage to the United States, proved delusory. Mr. Cobden returned to England a ruined man. To appeal to a national subscription some national pretext was wanted, some transaction that might be puffed, and again exhibit Mr. Cobden in the light of the guardian angel of the United Kingdom, "securing plenty and comfort to millions of lowly households." Well, the Anglo-French treaty did the thing, and, as you will see, from the provincial papers, a new subscription to the amount of £40,000, intended to compensate the great free-trade apostle for his American losses, already goes the round very "feelingly." There is no doubt that if Disraeli, for instance, had introduced to the Commons such a treaty, Mr. Cobden at the head of the free-traders would have risen to move for a vote of non-confidence in a Cabinet attempting to carry the legislation back to the darkest fallacies of the unenlightened past.

From the following tables[6] the number of protective duties levied during the year 1858 by England on French articles may be inferred:

Articles.Duty.
Baskets£2,061
Butter7,159
China and Porcelain Ware1,671
Clocks3,928
Coffee4,311
Eggs19,934
Embroidery5,572
Flowers, artificial20,412
Fruit7,347
Lace1,858
Boots, Shoes, and other Leather Manufactures8,883
Gloves48,839
Musical Instruments4,695
Oil, chemical2,369
Paper-Hangings6,713
Plaiting of Straw, for hats, &c11,622
Silks215,455
Brandy and other Spirits824,960
Sugar275,702
Tea14,358
Tobacco52,696
Watches14,940
Wine164,855

Most of the duties thus levied were protective duties, as those on lace, boots, gloves, silks, etc. Others, like the duties on brandy, etc., were higher than the English excise duty on British spirits, and so far protective. Even mere duties for revenue, such as the duty on wine, might be considered by a impossible to levy taxes on a foreign article without protecting consequent free-trader as protective duties, because it is almost some similar, if not identical, article in the home market. For instance, a revenue duty on foreign wine may be considered a protective duty for native beer, etc. By dint of the treaty just concluded all British duties on French manufactures will be abolished at once, while the duties on brandy, wine, and other articles, will be assimilated to English excise duties, or to the Custom-House duty now raised on similar products (wine for instance) if introduced from British colonies. On the other hand, the French changes of tariff will not be completely carried out before October, 1861, as will be seen from the following statement, borrowed from a French Government paper[7]:

July 1, 1860—Suppression of the import duties on cotton and wool.

July 1, 1860—Belgian tariff applied to English coal and coke.

October 1, 1860—Duty of 7 francs the 100 kilogs. substituted for the present duties on iron. December 31, 1860—Diminution of the duties on the importation of machinery.

June 1, 1861—Removal of the prohibition on hemp threads and fabrics, and the adoption of duties not exceeding 30 per cent.

October 1, 1861—Removal of all other prohibitions, to be replaced by protective duties ad valorem for five years, and not exceeding 25 per cent afterward.

Save the reduction of the duty on English coal to the same rate now paid by Belgian coal, all the concessions apparently made by - France appear of a very equivocal character. The price of a tun of pig iron No. 1 (Wales) amounts, for instance, at present, to £3 10/, but the French duty on iron will amount to nearly another £3. That the 30 per cent ad valorem duty on prohibited articles will be virtually protective is conceded by the London Economist. So far as the reductions, real or apparent, on English articles are put off to future periods, the English Government acts, in fact, the part of an insurance office for Louis Napoleon's tenure of power for the terms specified. The true secret, however, of the commercial treaty, viz.: that "it is no commercial treaty at all", but a simple hoax, intended to puzzle John Bull's commercial mind, and to cloak a deep-laid political scheme, has been masterly exposed by Mr. Disraeli during the address debates[8]. The substance of his revelation was this:

"Some years ago, the Emperor of the French made a communication similar to the letter lately addressed by him to the Minister of the Interior[9], in which communication he proposed the entire extinction of the prohibitive system, and the adoption of measures similar to those contained in his late manifesto[10]. In 1856, a bill in this sense was introduced into the Corps Législatif [...], but, before being passed, was laid before the 86 Provincial Councils of France[11], which, with the exception of 6, all adopted the proposal with an understanding that a certain period of time should elapse before the new system should be brought into play. Consequently, the Emperor agreeing with this proposition, some public document expressed his resolution to carry this system into effect, and appointed July, 1861, as the period with which it should commence." All, therefore, that France engages by the treaty to do in July, 1861, "was already provided by the course of law in France."

  1. A reference to the preparations for an Opium War against China conducted by the British and French governments in early 1860. The war was unleashed in the summer of the same year with the aim of imposing onerous new terms upon China. The Anglo-French commercial treaty, signed on January 23, 1860, signified a triumph for the advocates of free trade in both countries and served the interests of the British industrial bourgeoisie.

    Marx is referring to the movement for the national unification of Italy, which gained momentum during and after the Austro-Italo-French War of 1859 (*) and was opposed by a number of European countries. In the spring and summer of 1859 popular insurrections flared up in Tuscany, Modena, Parma and Romagna. The members of the ruling dynasties there fled from their duchies to seek the protection of the Austrian army. The national assemblies set up as the result of the insurrections declared that the population of the duchies wished to be incorporated in Piedmont. This question was finally settled in March 1860 by a plebiscite.
    (*) This refers to the war between the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont) and France, on the one hand, and Austria, on the other (April 29 to July 8, 1859). It was launched by Napoleon III, who, under the banner of the "liberation of Italy", strove for aggrandizement and sought to strengthen the Bonapartist regime in France with the help of a successful military campaign. The Piedmont ruling circles hoped that French support would enable them to unite Italy, without the participation of the masses, under the aegis of the Savoy dynasty ruling in Piedmont. The war caused an upsurge of the national liberation movement in Italy. The Austrian army suffered a series of defeats. However, Napoleon III, frightened by the scale of the national liberation movement in Italy, abruptly ceased hostilities. On July 11, the French and Austrian emperors concluded a separate preliminary peace in Villafranca.
    On July 8, 1859 the emperors of France and Austria held a separate meeting—without the King of Piedmont, France's ally in the war against Austria—in Villafranca, at which they reached an agreement on an armistice. The meeting was held on the initiative of Napoleon III, who feared that the protracted war might give a fresh impulse to the revolutionary and national liberation movement in Italy and other European states. On July 11 France and Austria signed a preliminary peace treaty under which Austria was to cede to France its rights to Lombardy and France was to transfer this territory to Piedmont. Venetia was to remain under Austrian supremacy (despite the terms of the Plombières agreement) and the princes of the Central Italian states were to be restored to their thrones. A confederation of Italian states was to be formed under the honorary chairmanship of the Pope.
  2. Gladstone's speech in the House of Commons on January 25, 1860, The Times, No. 23526, January 26, 1860.—Ed.
  3. Marx is referring to the Anglo-French Commercial Treaty of 1860, a source of intricate political intrigues in the relations between the two countries. He compares this treaty with the "sweet changeling" (Puck) of Oberon, king of the farries, and his wife Titania (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene 1), Puck being the cause of Oberon's wicked tricks.
  4. Colleague.—Ed.
  5. The Corn Laws were repealed in June 1846. They imposed high import duties on agricultural produce in the interests of the landowners, in order to maintain high prices on the home market. The repeal of the Corn Laws marked a victory for the industrial bourgeoisie, who opposed them under the slogan of free trade.
  6. "Commercial Treaties and Free Trade", The Economist, No. 857, January 28, 1860, p. 85.—Ed.
  7. "Foreign correspondence. Paris, Thursday", The Economist, No. 857, January 28, 1860.—Ed.
  8. Benjamin Disraeli's speech in the House of Commons on January 24, 1860, The Times, No. 23525, January 25, 1860.—Ed.
  9. The Times has "the Minister of State".—Ed.
  10. See Affairs in France (January 1860).—Ed.
  11. The Times has "86 Councils General, the departmental Parliaments of France".—Ed.