Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1861

The London Times and Lord Palmerston

Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, October 21, 1861;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

London, Oct. 5, 1861

“English people participate in the government of their own country by reading The Times newspaper.” This judgment, passed by an eminent English author on what is called British self-government, is only true so far as the foreign policy of the Kingdom is concerned. As to measures of domestic reform, they were never carried by the support of The Times, but The Times never ceased attacking and opposing them until after it had become aware of its utter inability to any longer check their progress. Take, for instance, the Catholic Emancipation, the Reform bill, the abolition of the Corn laws, the Stamp Tax, and the Paper Duty. When victory had unmistakably declared on the side of the Reformers, The Times wheeled round, deserted the reactionary camp, and managed to find itself, at the decisive moment, on the winning side. In all these instances, The Times gave not the direction to public opinion, but submitted to it, ungraciously, reluctantly, and after protracted, but frustrated, attempts at rolling back the surging waves of popular progress. Its real influence on the public mind is, therefore, confined to the field of foreign policy. In no part of Europe are the mass of the people, and especially of the middle-classes, more utterly ignorant of the foreign policy of their own country than in England, an ignorance springing from two great sources. On the one hand, since the glorious Revolution of 1688, the aristocracy has always monopolized the direction of foreign affairs in England. On the other hand, the progressive division of labor has, to a certain extent, emasculated the general intellect of the middle-class men by the circumscription of all their energies and mental faculties within the narrow spheres of their mercantile, industrial and professional concerns. Thus it happened that, while the aristocracy acted for them, the press thought for them in their foreign or international affairs; and both parties, the aristocracy and the press, very soon found out that it would be their mutual interest to combine. One has only to open Cobbett’s Political Register to convince himself that, since the beginning of this century, the great London papers have constantly played the part of attorneys to the heaven-born managers of English foreign policy. Still, there were some intermediate periods to be run through before the present state of things had been brought about. The aristocracy, that had monopolized the management of foreign affairs, first shrunk together into an oligarchy, represented by a secret conclave, called the cabinet, and, later on, the cabinet was superseded by one single man, Lord Palmerston, who, for the last thirty years, has usurped the absolute power of wielding the national forces of the British Empire, and determining the line of its Foreign Policy. Concurrently with this usurpation, by the law of concentration, acting in the field of newspaper-mongering still more rapidly than in the field of cotton-spinning, The London Times had attained the position of being the national paper of England, that is to say, of representing the English mind to Foreign nations. If the monopoly of managing the Foreign affairs of the nation had passed from the aristocracy to an oligarchic conclave, and from an oligarchic conclave to one single man, the Foreign Minister of England, viz: Lord Palmerston, the monopoly of thinking and judging for the nation, on its own Foreign relations, and representing the public mind in regard to these relations, had passed from the press to one organ of the press, to The Times. Lord Palmerston, who secretly and from motives unknown to the people at large, to Parliament and even to his own colleagues, managed the Foreign affairs of the British Empire, must have been very stupid if he had not tried to possess himself of the one paper which had usurped the power of passing public judgment in the name of the English people on his own secret doings. The Times, in whose vocabulary the word virtue was never to be found, must, on its side, have boasted more than Spartan virtue not to ally itself with the absolute ruler in fact of the national power of the Empire. Hence, since the French coup d'état, when the Government by faction was in England superseded by the Government by the coalition of factions, and Palmerston, therefore, found no longer rivals endangering his usurpation, The Times became his mere slave. He had taken care to smuggle some of its virtue into the subordinate posts of the cabinet, and to cajole others by their admission into his social circle. Since that time, the whole business of The Times, so far as the foreign affairs of the British Empire are concerned, is limited to manufacturing a public opinion to conform to Lord Palmerston’s Foreign policy. It has to prepare the public mind for what he intends doing, and to make it acquiesce in what he has done.

The slavish drudgery which, in fulfilling this work, it has to undergo, was best exemplified during the last session of Parliament. That session proved anything but favorable to Lord Palmerston. Some independent members of the H. of C., Liberals and Conservatives, rebelled against his usurped dictatorship, and, by an exposure of his past misdeeds, tried to awaken the nation to a sense of the danger of continuing the same uncontrolled power in the same hands. Mr. Dunlop, opening the attack by a motion for a Select Committee on the Afghan Papers, which Palmerston had laid on the table of the House in 1839, proved that Palmerston had actually forged these papers. The Times, in its Parliamentary report, suppressed all the passages of Mr. Dunlop’s speech which it considered most damaging to its master. Later on, Lord Montagu, in a motion for the publication of all papers relating to the Danish Treaty of 1852, accused Palmerston of having been the principal in the maneuvers intended to alter the Danish succession in the interest of a foreign power and of having misled the House of Commons by deliberate misstatements. Palmerston, however, had come to a previous understanding with Mr. Disraeli to baffle Lord Montagu’s motion by a count-out of the House, which in fact put a stop to the whole proceeding. Still, Lord Montagu’s speech had lasted one hour and a half before it was cut off by the count-out. The Times having been informed by Palmerston that the count-out was to take place, its editor specially charged with the task of mutilating and cooking the Parliamentary reports had given himself a holiday, and thus Lord Montagu’s speech appeared unmutilated in The Times’s columns. When, on the following morning, the mistake was discovered, a leader was prepared telling John Bull that the count-out was an ingenious institution for suppressing bores, that Lord Montagu was a regular bore, and that the business of the nation could not be carried on if Parliamentary bores were not disposed of in the most unceremonious way. Again Palmerston stood on his trial last session, when Mr. Hennessy moved for a production of the Foreign office dispatches during the Polish revolution of 1831. Again The Times recurred, as in the case of Mr. Dunlop’s motion, to the simple process of suppression. Its report of Mr. Hennessy’s speech is quite an edition in usum delphini. If one considers how much painstaking it must cause to run through the immense Parliamentary reports the same night they are forwarded to the newspaper office from the House of Commons, and in the same night mutilate, alter, falsify them so as not to tell against Palmerston’s political purity, one must concede that whatever emoluments and advantages The Times may reap from its subserviency to the noble Viscount, its task is no pleasant one.

If, then, The Times is able by misstatement and suppression thus to falsify public opinion in regard to events that happened but yesterday in the British House of Commons, its power of misstatement and suppression in regard to events occurring on a distant soil, as in the case of the American war, must, of course, he unbounded. If in treating of American affairs it has strained all its forces to exasperate the mutual feelings of the British and Americans, it did not do so from any sympathy with the British Cotton Lords nor out of regard for any real or supposed English interest. It simply executed the orders of its master. From the altered tone of The London Times during the past week, we may, therefore, infer that Lord Palmerston is about to recede from the extremely hostile attitude he had assumed till now against the United States. In one of its to-day leaders, The Times, which for months had exalted the aggressive powers of the Secessionists, and expatiated upon the inability of the United States to cope with them, feels quite sure of the military superiority of the North. That this change of tone is dictated by the master, becomes quite evident from the circumstance that other influential papers, known to be connected with Palmerston, have simultaneously veered round. One of them, The Economist, gives rather a broad hint to the public-opinion-mongers that the time has come for “carefully watching” their pretended “feelings toward the United States.” The passage in The Economist which I allude to, and which I think worth quoting as a proof of the new orders received by Palmerston’s pressmen, runs thus:

“On one point we frankly avow that the Northerners have a right to complain, and on one point also we are bound to be more upon our guard than perhaps we have uniformly been. Our leading journals have been too ready to quote and resent as embodying the sentiments and representing the position of the United States, newspapers notorious at all times for their disreputable character and feeble influence, and now more than suspected of being Secessionists at heart, of sailing under false colors, and professing extreme Northern opinions while writing in the interests and probably the pay of the South. Few Englishmen can, for example, with any decent fairness, pretend to regard The N. Y. Herald as representing either the character or views of the Northern section of the Republic. Again: we ought to be very careful lest our just criticism of the Unionists should degenerate by insensible gradation into approval and defense of the Secessionists. The tendency in all ordinary minds to partisanship is very strong. [...] Now, however warmly we may resent much of the conduct and the language of the North, [...] we must never forget that the Secession of the South was forced on with designs and inaugurated with proceedings which have our heartiest and most rooted disapprobation. We, of course, must condemn the protective tariff of the Union as an oppressive and benighted folly. [...] Of course, we reciprocate the wish of the South for low duties and unfettered trade. Of course, we are anxious that the prosperity of States which produce so much raw material and want so many manufactured goods should suffer no interruption or reverse. [...] But, at the same time, it is impossible for us to lose sight of the indisputable fact that the real aim and ultimate motive of secession was not to defend their right to hold slaves in their own territory (which the Northerners were just as ready to concede as they to claim), but to extend Slavery over a vast, undefined district, hitherto free from that curse, but into which the planters fancied they might hereafter wish to spread. This object we have always regarded as unwise, unrighteous and abhorrent. The state of society introduced in the Southern States by the institution of domestic servitude appears to English minds more and more detestable and deplorable the more they know of it. And the Southerners should be made aware that no pecuniary or commercial advantage which this country might be supposed to derive from the extended cultivation of the virgin soils of the planting States, and the new Territories which they claim, will ever in the slightest degree modify our views on these points, or interfere with the expression of those views, or warp or hamper our action whenever action shall become obligatory or fitting. [...] It is believed that they (the Secessionists) still entertain the extraordinary notion that by starving France and England — by the loss and suffering anticipated as the consequences of an entire privation of the American supply — they will compel those Governments to interfere on their behalf, and force the United States to abandon the blockade.... There is not the remotest chance that either Power would feel justified for a moment in projecting such an act of decided and unwarrantable hostility against the United States.... We are less dependent on the South than the South is upon us, as they will ere long begin to discover. [...] We, therefore, pray them to believe that Slavery, so long as it exists, must create more or less of a moral barrier between us, and that even tacit approval is as far from our thoughts as the impertinence of an open interference: that Lancashire is not England; and, for the honor and spirit of our manufacturing population be it said also, that even if it were, Cotton would not be King.

All I intended to show for the present was that Palmerston, and consequently the London press, working to his orders, is abandoning his hostile attitude against the United States. The causes that have led to this revirement, as the French call it, I shall try to explain in a subsequent letter. Before concluding, I may still add that Mr. Forster, M.P. for Bradford, delivered last Tuesday, in the theater of Bradford Mechanics Institute a lecture “On the Civil War in America” in which he traced the true origin and character of that war, and victoriously refuted the misstatements of the Palmerstonian press.