Articles by Marx in the New York Tribune 1861
Written: December, 1861;
Source: Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volume 19;
Publisher: Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964;
First Published: New-York Daily Tribune No. 6467, December 25, 1861;
Online Version: Marxists.org 1999;
Transcribed: S. Ryan;
HTML Markup: Tim Delaney.
The friends of the United States on this side of the Atlantic anxiously hope that conciliatory steps will be taken by the Federal Government. They do so not from a concurrence in the frantic crowing of the British press over a war incident, which, according to the English Crown lawyers themselves, resolves itself into a mere error of procedure, and may be summed up in the words that there has been a breach of international law, because Capt. Wilkes, instead of taking the Trent, her cargo, her passengers, and the Commissioners, did only take the Commissioners. Nor springs the anxiety of the well-wishers of the Great Republic from an apprehension lest, in the long run, it should not prove able to cope with England, although backed by the civil war; and, least of all, do they expect the United States to abdicate, even for a moment, and in a dark hour of trial, the proud position held by them in the council of nations. The motives that prompt them are of quite a different nature.
In the first instance, the business next in hand for the United States is to crush the rebellion and to restore the Union. The wish uppermost in the minds of the Slaveocracy and their Northern tools was always to plunge the United States into a war with England. The first step of England as soon as hostilities broke out would be to recognise the Southern Confederacy, and the second to terminate the blockade. Secondly, no general, if not forced, will accept battle at the time and under the conditions chosen by his enemy.
"A war with America," says The Economist, a paper deeply in Palmerston's confidence, "must always be one of the most lamentable incidents in the history of England; but if it is to happen, the present is certainly the period at which it will do us the minimum of harm, and the only moment in our joint annals at which it would confer on us an incidental and partial compensation."
The very reasons accounting for the eagerness of England to seize upon any decent pretext for war at this 'only moment' ought to withhold the United States from forwarding such a pretext at this 'only moment.' You go not to war with the aim to do your enemy 'the minimum of harm,' and, even to confer upon him by the war, 'an incidental and partial compensation.' The opportunity of the moment would all be on one side, on the side of your foe. Is there any great strain of reasoning wanted to prove that an internal war raging in a State is the least opportune time for entering upon a foreign war? At every other moment the mercantile classes of Great Britain would have looked upon a war against the United States with the utmost horror. Now, on the contrary, a large and influential party of the mercantile community has for months been urging on the Government to violently break the blockade, and thus provide the main branch of British industry with its raw material. The fear of a curtailment of the English export trade to the United States has lost its sting by the curtailment of that trade having already actually occurred. "They" (the Northern States), says The Economist, "are wretched customers, instead of good ones." The vast credit usually given by English commerce to the United States, principally by the acceptance of bills drawn from China and India, has been already reduced to scarcely a fifth of what it was in 1857. Last, not least, Decembrist France, bankrupt, paralyzed at home, beset with difficulty abroad, pounces upon an Anglo-American war as a real godsend, and, in order to buy English support in Europe, will strain all her power to support "Perfidious Albion" on the other side of the Atlantic. Read only the French newspapers. The pitch of indignation to which they have wrought themselves in their tender care for the "honor of England," their fierce diatribes as to the necessity on the part of England to revenge the outrage on the Union Jack, their vile denunciations of everything American, would be truly appalling, if they were not ridiculous and disgusting at the same time. Lastly, if the United States give way in this instance, they will not derogate one iota of their dignity. England has reduced her complaint to a mere error of procedure, a technical blunder of which she had made herself systematically guilty in all her maritime wars, but against which the United States have never ceased to protest, and which President Madison, in his message inaugurating the war of 1812, expatiated upon as one of the most shocking breaches of international law. If the United States may be defended in paying England with her own coin, will they be accused for magnanimously disavowing, on the part of a single American captain, acting on his own responsibility, what they always denounced as a systematic usurpation on the part of the British Navy!
In point of fact, the gain of such a procedure would be all on the American side. England, on the one hand, would have acknowledged the right of the United States to capture and bring to adjudication before an American prize court every English ship employed in the service of the Confederation. On the other hand, she would, once for all, before the eyes of the whole world, have practically resigned a claim which she was not brought to desist from either in the peace of Ghent, in 1814, or the transactions carried on between Lord Ashburton and Secretary Webster in 1842.The question then comes to this: Do you prefer to turn the "untoward event" to your own account, or, blinded by the passions of the moment, turn it to the account of your foes at home and abroad?
Since this day week, when I sent you my last letter, British consols have again lowered, the decline, compared with last Friday, amounting to 2 per cent, the present prices being 89 3/4 to 7/8 for money and 90 to 1/8 for the new account on the 9th of January. This quotation corresponds to the quotation of the British consols during the first two years of the Anglo-Russian war. This decline is altogether due to the warlike interpretation put upon the American papers conveyed by the last mail, to the exacerbating tone of the London press, whose moderation of two days' standing was but a feint, ordered by Palmerston, to the dispatch of troops for Canada, to the proclamation forbidding the export of arms and materials for gunpowder, and lastly, to the daily ostentatious statements concerning the formidable preparations for war in the docks and maritime arsenals.
Of one thing you may be sure, Palmerston wants a legal pretext for a war with the United States, but meets in the Cabinet councils with a most determinate opposition on the part of Messrs. Gladstone and Milner Gibson, and, to a less degree, of Sir Cornewall Lewis. "The noble viscount" is backed by Russell, an abject tool in his hands, and the whole Whig Coterie. If the Washington Cabinet should furnish the desired pretext, the present Cabinet will be sprung, to be supplanted by a Tory Administration. The preliminary steps for such a change of scenery have been already settled between Palmerston and Disraeli. Hence the furious war-cry of The Morning Herald and The Standard, those hungry wolves howling at the prospect of the long-missed crumbs from the public almoner.
Palmerston's designs may be shown up by calling into memory a few facts. It was he who insisted upon the proclamation, acknowledging the Secessionists as belligerents, on the morning of the 14th of May, after he had been informed by telegraph from Liverpool that Mr. Adams would arrive at London on the night of the 13th May. He, after a severe struggle with his colleagues, dispatched 3,000 men to Canada, an army ridiculous, if intended to cover a frontier of 1,500 miles, but a clever sleight-of-hand if the rebellion was to be cheered, and the Union to be irritated. He, many weeks ago, urged Bonaparte to propose a joint armed intervention "in the internecine struggle," supported that project in the Cabinet council, and failed only in carrying it by the resistance of his colleagues. He and Bonaparte then resorted to the Mexican intervention as a pis aller. That operation served two purposes, by provoking just resentment on the part of the Americans, and by simultaneously furnishing a pretext for the dispatch of a squadron, ready, as The Morning Post has it, "to perform whatever duty the hostile conduct of the Government of Washington may require us to perform in the waters of the Northern Atlantic." At the time when that expedition was started, The Morning Post, together with The Times and the smaller fry of Palmerston's press slaves, said that it was a very fine thing, and a philanthropic thing into the bargain, because it would expose the slave- holding Confederation to two fires -- the Anti-Slavery North and the Anti-Slavery force of England and France. And what says the very same Morning Post, this curious compound of Jenkins and Rhodomonte, of plush and swash, in its to-day's issue, on occasion of Jefferson Davis's address? Hearken to the Palmerston oracle:
"We must look to this intervention as one that may be inoperative during a considerable period of time; and while the Northern Government is too distant to admit of its attitude entering materially into this question, the Southern Confederation, on the other hand, stretches for a great distance along the frontier of Mexico, so as to render its friendly disposition to the authors of the insurrection of no slight consequence. The Northern Government has invariably railed at our neutrality, but the Southern with statesmanship and moderation has recognized in it all that we could do for either party; and whether with a view to our transactions in Mexico, or to our relations with the Cabinet at Washington, the friendly forbearance of the Southern Confederacy is an important point in our favor."
I may remark that the Nord of December 3 -- a Russian paper, and consequently a paper initiated into Palmerstons designs -- insinuates that the Mexican expedition was from the first set on foot, not for its ostensible purpose, but for a war against the United States.
Gen. Scott's letter had produced such a beneficent reaction in public opinion, and even on the London Stock Exchange, that the conspirators of Downing Street and the Tuileries found it necessary to let loose the Patrie, stating with all the airs of knowledge derived from official sources that the seizure of the Southern Commissioners from the Trent was directly authorized by the Washington Cabinet.