Изображения страниц

million Frenchmen engaged in all the honest | greatest products of the soil of France-upon

occupations of their country, as our people are engaged here, are as anxious for perpetual peace with England as the most intelligent and Christian Englishman can be for a perpetual peace with France. I believe, too, because I am convinced that it is his wisest course and his truest interest, that the Emperor of the French is also anxious to remain at peace with us, and the people of France are utterly amazed and lost in bewilderment when they see the course taken by the press and by certain statesmen in this country. With that belief what would I do if I were in that responsible position?-for which, however, I know that I am thought to be altogether unfit but if I were sitting on that bench, and were in the position of the noble lord, I would try to emancipate myself from those old, ragged, worthless, and bloody traditions which are found in every pigeon-hole, and almost in every document, in the foreign office. I would emancipate myself from all that, and I would approach the French nation and the French government in what I would call a sensible, a moral, and a Christian spirit. I do not say that I would send a special envoy to Paris to sue for peace. I would not commission Lord Cowley to make a great demonstration of what he was about to do; but I would make this offer to the French government, and I would make it with a frankness that could not be misunderstood; if it were accepted on the other side, it would be received with enthusiasm in England, and would be marked as the commencement of a new era in Europe. I would say to the French government, We are but twenty miles apart, the trade between us is nothing like what it ought to be, considering the population of the two countries, their vast increase of productive power, and their great wealth. We have certain things on this side which now bar the intercourse between the two nations. We have some remaining duties which are of no consequence either to the revenue or to protection, which everybody has given up here, but they still interrupt the trade between you and us. We will recon

sider these and remove them. We have also an extraordinary heavy duty upon one of the

the light wines of your country. The chancellor of the exchequer, and perhaps the right hon. gentleman opposite, may start at once and say that involves a revenue of £1,500,000, or at least of £1,200,000. . . . What is £1,200,000-what is £1,500,000 for the abolition of the wine duties, or their reduction to a very low scale, if by such an offer as this we should enable the Emperor of the French to do that which he is most anxious to do? The only persons whom the French emperor cannot cope with are the monopolists of his own country. If he could offer to his nation thirty millions of the English people as customers, would not that give him an irresistible power to make changes in the French tariff which would be as advantageous to us as they would be to his own country? I do believe that if that were honestly done, done without any diplomatic finesse, and without obstacles being attached to it that would make its acceptance impossible, it would bring about a state of things which history would pronounce to be glorious."

It was to this portion of Mr. Bright's speech that the practical proposals of the French commercial treaty was afterwards attributed. At all events it was immediately after his attention had been arrested by reading a report of this speech that M. Chevalier wrote to Mr. Cobden expressing his belief that a commercial treaty between England and France might be negotiated, and urging him to visit Paris during the autumn to make the attempt.


To that visit and its results we shall now turn, and we may at once avail ourselves of so much of Cobden's own account of it as will enable us to follow it to its conclusion. have already seen under what discouraging circumstances from the premier he set about his mission. Probably Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Milner Gibson were the only persons in the ministry who fully appreciated his difficulties, and what might be gained by surmounting them. But Cobden was not the man to turn back till he had exhausted all reasonable efforts, and after some delay he succeeded, as we have already noted, in obtaining an in


terview with the emperor. This was on the 27th of October, 1859, and in describing it he says:


"After a few remarks upon the subject of the improvements in Paris, and in the Bois de Boulogne, and after he had expressed his regret at my not having entered the ministry of Lord Palmerston, the emperor alluded to the state of feeling in England, and expressed his regret that notwithstanding he had for ten years given every possible proof of his desire to preserve the friendship of the British people, the press had at last defeated his purpose, and now the relations of the two countries seemed to be worse than ever. appealed to me if he had ever done one act to justify the manner in which he was assailed by our press? I candidly told him that I thought the governments of both countries were to blame. He asked what he could do more than he had already done to promote the friendly relations of the two countries. This led to the question of free-trade, and I urged many arguments in favour of removing those obstacles which prevented the two countries from being brought into closer dependence on one another. He expressed himself as friendly to this policy, but alluded to the great difficulties in his way; said he had made an effort by admitting iron in bond for shipbuilding, which he was obliged to alter again, and spoke of the sliding-scale on corn which had been reimposed after it had expired. I spoke of the opportuneness of the present moment for making a simultaneous change in the English and French tariffs, as there was a prospect of a surplus of revenue next year, owing to the expiry of our terminable annuities, and that Mr. Gladstone was very desirous to make this surplus available for reducing duties on French commodities. Louis Napoleon said he had a majority of his chambers quite opposed to free-trade, and that they would not pass a decided measure; that by the constitution he could alter, the tariff by a decree, if it were part of a treaty with a foreign power; and he asked me whether England would enter into a commercial treaty with him. I explained that we could give no exclusive privileges to any


nation; that we could simultaneously make reductions in our tariffs; and the alterations might be inserted in a treaty, but that our tariff must be equally applicable to all countries. He said he was under a pledge not to abolish the prohibitive system in France and substitute moderate duties, previous to 1861. I told him that I saw no obstacle in this to a treaty being entered into next spring, for that the moral effect would be the same even if the full operation of the new duties did not come into play for two or three years. He asked me to let him know what reductions could be made in our tariff upon articles affecting his country, which I promised to do. He then inquired what I should advise him to do in regard to the French tariff. I said I should attack one article of great and universal necessity, as I had done in England, when I confined all my efforts to the abolition of the corn-laws, knowing that when that clef-de-voûte was removed the whole system would fall. In France the great primary want was cheap iron, which is the daily bread of all industries, and I should begin by abolishing the duty on iron and coal, and then I should be in a better position for approaching all the other industries; that I would, if necessary, pay an indemnity in some shape to the iron-masters, and thus be enabled to abolish their protection immediately-a course which I should not contemplate following with any other commodity but iron and coal. He spoke of the danger of throwing men out of work, and I tried by a variety of arguments to convince him, especially by a reference to the example of England, that the effect of a reduction of duties is to increase, not diminish, the demand for labour. I showed that in England we had much machinery standing idle in consequence of the want of workmen at the present time; and in order to allay his fears of an inundation of British products, to throw his own people out of work, I explained that there was not an ounce of our productions which was not already bespoken, and that it would take a long time to increase largely our investment of capital, whilst it was impossible to procure any considerable addition to our labourers.

On my giving him a description of the reforms effected by Sir Robert Peel, and the great reverence in which his name is held, he said, 'I am charmed and flattered at the idea of performing a similar work in my country; but,' he added, ‘it is very difficult in France to make reforms; we make revolutions in France, not reforms.""

Cobden was greatly impressed with the good qualities of the emperor, and he felt that he was making way with him at a subsequent meeting. He was gaining courage to attempt a movement against the protectionists of France. Next M. Fould had to be converted, and then came disturbing influences of the mistrust of France on the part of England in relation to the emperor's foreign policy. The treaty, or something like it, had been sketched out after long conversations and discussions with Rouher and Chevalier, and during a temporary attack of illness which confined Cobden to his bed, but did not prevent him from continuing the discussions in his bed-room. At last the proposals were ready and things took a turn.

M. de Persigny had come from London to tell his master how hostile and dangerous was the state of opinion in England. For the first time in his experience he said he believed war to be possible, unless the emperor took some step to remove the profound mistrust that agitated the English public. The security of the throne, he went on to urge, depended on the English alliance being a reality. So long as there was a solid friendship between England and France they need not care what might be in the mind of Russia, Austria, or Prussia. This was the course of reasoning which, in Cobden's opinion, finally decided the emperor. In other words, Napoleon assented to the treaty, less because it was good for the French than because it would pacify the English. It was the only available instrument for keeping the English alliance.

M. Rouher presented his plan of a commercial treaty, together with sixty pages of illustrative reasoning upon it. The whole was read to the emperor; he listened attentively through every page, approved it, and declared his intention of carrying it out. He then produced

a letter which he had prepared, addressed to M. Gould, and intended for publication, in which he announced his determination to enter upon a course of pacific improvement, to promote the industry of the country by cheapening transport, and so forth.

The project was now disclosed to Count Walewski, the minister for foreign affairs, and Cobden was invited to have an interview with him. Once more he went over the ground along which he had already led Gould, Rouher, and the emperor. "I endeavoured,” says Cobden, "to remove his doubts and difficulties, and to fortify his courage against the protectionist party, whose insignificance and powerlessness I demonstrated by comparing their small body with the immense population which was interested in the removal of commercial restrictions." The discussion with M. Walewski was followed by a second interview with the emperor.

December 21.-"Had an interview with the emperor at the Tuileries. I explained to him that Mr. Gladstone, the chancellor of the exchequer, was anxious to prepare his budget for the ensuing session of parliament, and that it would be a convenience to him to be informed as soon as possible whether the French government was decided to agree to a commercial treaty, as in that case he would make arrangements accordingly; that he did not wish to be in possession of the details, but merely to know whether the principle of a treaty was determined upon. The emperor said he could have no hesitation in satisfying me on that point; that he had quite made up his mind to enter into the treaty, and that the only question was as to the details. He spoke of the difficulties he had to overcome, owing to the powerful interests that were united in defence of the present system. The protected industries combine, but the general public do not.' I urged many arguments to encourage him to take a bold course, pointing out the very small number of the protected classes as compared with the whole community, and contending for the interests of the greatest number rather than those of the minority. He repeated to me the arguments which had been used by some of his ministers to dissuade him


from a free-trade policy, particularly by M. Magne, his finance minister, who had urged that if he merely changed his system from prohibition to high protective duties it would be a change only in name, but that if he laid on moderate duties which admitted a large importation of foreign merchandise, then, for every piece of manufactured goods so admitted to consumption in France, a piece of domestic manufacture must be displaced. I pointed out the fallacy of M. Magne's argument in the assumption that everybody in France was sufficiently clothed, and that no increased consumption could take place. I observed that many millions in France never wore stockings, and yet stockings were prohibited. He remarked that he was sorry to say that ten millions of the population hardly ever tasted bread, but subsisted on potatoes, chestnuts, &c. (I conclude this must be an exaggeration.) I expressed an opinion that the working population of his country were in a very inferior condition as compared with those in England. "Referring to the details in his intended tariff, he said the duties would range from ten to thirty per cent. I pointed out the excessive rate of the latter figure, that the maximum ought not to exceed twenty per cent; that it would defeat his object in every way if he went as high as thirty per cent; that it would fail as an economical measure, whilst in a political point of view it would be unsuccessful, inasmuch as the people of England would regard it as prohibition in another form. He referred me to M. Rouher for further discussion of this question. He described to me the letter which he thought of publishing declaratory of his intention of entering on a course of internal improvement and commercial reform, and asked me whether it would not place him at a disadvantage with the British government if he announced his policy beforehand, and whether they might not be inclined afterwards to withdraw from the treaty. I replied that there might be other objections to his publishing such a letter, but this was not one, and that I was sure it would not be taken advantage of by our government. We then talked of our immense preparation in naval armaments. I said I expected that in



a few months we should have sixty line-ofbattle-ships, screws, in commission. He said he had only twenty-seven. Talking of the excited state of alarm in England, he said he was dictating to M. Mocquard a dialogue between a Frenchman and an Englishman, in which he should introduce all the arguments used in England to stimulate the present alarmı of French aggression, and his answers to them, and he asked if I thought the Times would print it.

"Whilst we were in the midst of this familiar conversation, during which he smoked several cigarettes, the empress entered the room, to whom I was introduced. She is a tall and graceful person, very amiable and gracious, but her features were not entirely free from an expression of thoughtfulness, if not melancholy. The emperor is said by everybody to be very fascinating to those who come much in personal contact with him. I found him more attractive at this second audience than the first. His manner is very simple and natural. If there be any affectation, it is in a slight air of humility ('young ambition's ladder'), which shows itself with consummate tact in his voice and gestures."

Cobden gives some further particulars in a letter to Mr. Bright (Dec. 29, 1859):—

"I saw the emperor again for a full hour last week, as you would learn from your brother. Of course I tried to employ every minute on my own topic, but he was in a talkative mood, and sometimes ran off on other subjects. It was at four o'clock; he had been busy all day, and I was surprised at the gaiety of his manner. He smoked cigarettes all the time, but talked and listened admirably.

On this occasion my private lesson was chiefly taken up with answering the arguments with which M. Magne, his minister of finance, who is a furious protectionist, had been trying to frighten him. Here was one of them, which he repeated word for word to me: 'Sire, if you do not make a sensible reduction in your duties the measure will be charged on you as an attempted delusion. If you do make a serious reduction, then for every piece of foreign manufacture admitted into France,




you will displace a piece of domestic fabrication.' I, of course laughed, and held up both hands and exclaimed: What an old friend that argument was! how we have been told the same thing a thousand times of corn, and how we have answered it a thousand times by showing that a fourth part of the people were not properly fed. And then I showed how we had imported many millions of quarters of corn annually since the repeal of our cornlaw, whilst our own agriculture was more prosperous and productive than ever, and yet it was all consumed. I told him that his people were badly clothed, that nearly a fourth of his subjects did not wear stockings, and I begged him to remind M. Magne that if a few thousand dozens of hose were admitted into France, they might be consumed by these barelegged people without interfering with the demand for the native manufacture. . . We then got upon the condition of the mass ass of the working people, where his sympathy is mainly centred, and on the effect of machinery, free-trade, &c., on their fate. He said the protectionists always argued that the workingclass engaged in manufactures were better off here than in England, and they always assumed that free-trade would lower the condition of the French operatives. I told him that the operatives in France were working twenty per cent more time for twenty per cent less wages, and paid upwards of ten per cent more for their clothing, as compared with the same class in England. He seized a pen and asked me to repeat these figures, which he put down, observing, 'What an answer to those people!' I told him that if M. Magne or anybody else disputed my figures I was prepared to prove them. But I need not repeat to you a course of argument with which we are so familiar."

After this interview the negotiation reached the stage of formal diplomacy. Cobden's position had hitherto been wholly unofficial. He had been a private person, representing to the French emperor that he believed the English government would not be indisposed to entertain the question of a commercial treaty. The matter came officially before Lord Cowley in the form of a request from Count Walewski

that he would ascertain the views and intentions of his government. Lord Cowley applied to Lord John Russell for official instructions to act, and in the course of the next mouth Cobden received his own instructions and powers. Meanwhile not a day was lost, and he brought the same tact and unwearied energy to the settlement of the details of the treaty which he had employed in persuading this little group of important men to accept its principles and policy. There was one singular personage who ought from his keen faculties, his grasp of the principles of modern progress, and his position, to have been the most important of all, but in whom his gifts had been nullified by want of that indescrib able something which men call character and the spirit of conduct. This was Prince Napoleon. Cobden had several conversations with him, and came to the conclusion that few men in France had a more thorough mastery of economic questions.1

The Emperor of the French showed some sagacity in taking the earliest reasonable opportunity of making terms of peace with Austria, although neither the King of Sardinia nor Prince Napoleon considered that he had fulfilled the obligations which he had previously incurred. Cavour was so bitterly disappointed at the sudden peace and the terms of it that he resigned office. The French people were satisfied with the emperor for having led the army in Italy and beaten the enemy, but they were by no means enthusiastic enough to look forward to a prolonged conflict, especially as the cession of Savoy and Nice had yet to be accomplished. On the other hand it might truly have been said that French intervention in Italy had aroused the suspicions of the rest of Europe. When he had reached Genoa on the 12th of May, the emperor had issued a proclamation to "the army of Italy," saying, "We are about to second the struggles of a people now vindicating its independence, and to rescue it from oppression. This is a sacred cause, and has the sympathies of the civilized world." The cause was sacred and worthy of sympathy, no doubt, but a considerable part

Mr. John Morley's Life of Richard Cobden,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »