Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1861

The Opinion of the Newspapers and the Opinion of the People

Source: MECW Volume 19, p. 127;
Written: December 25, 1861;
First published: in Die Presse, December 31, 1861.

London, December 25

Continental politicians, who imagine that in the London press they possess a thermometer for the temper of the English people, inevitably draw false conclusions at the present moment. With the first news of the Trent case the English national pride flared up and the call for war with the United States resounded from almost all sections of society. The London press, on the other hand, affected moderation and even The Times doubted whether a casus belli existed at all. Whence this phenomenon? Palmerston was uncertain whether the Crown lawyers were in a position to contrive any legal pretext for war. For, a week and a half before the arrival of the La Plata at Southampton, agents of the Southern Confederacy had turned to the English Cabinet from Liverpool, denounced the intention of American cruisers to put out from English ports and intercept Messrs. Mason, Slidell, etc., on the high seas, and demanded the intervention of the English government. In accordance with the opinion of its Crown lawyers, the latter refused the request. Hence, in the beginning, the peaceful and moderate tone of the London press in contrast to the warlike impatience of the people. So soon, however, as the Crown lawyers — the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, both themselves members of the Cabinet — had worked out a technical pretext for a quarrel with the United States, the relationship between the people and the press turned into its opposite. The war fever increased in the press in the same measure as the war fever abated in the people. At the present moment a war with America is just as unpopular with all sections of the English people, the friends of cotton and the country squires excepted, as the war-howl in the press is overwhelming.

But now, consider the London press! At its head stands The Times, whose leading editor, Bob Lowe, was formerly a demagogue in Australia, where he agitated for separation from England. He is a subordinate member of the Cabinet, a kind of minister for education, and a mere creature of Palmerston. Punch is the court jester of The Times and transforms its sesquipedalia verba into flat jokes and spiritless caricatures. A principal editor of Punch was accommodated by Palmerston with a seat on the Board of Health and an annual salary of a thousand pounds sterling.

The Morning Post is in part Palmerston’s private property. Another part of this singular institution is sold to the French Embassy. The rest belongs to the haute volée and supplies the most precise reports for court flunkeys and ladies’ tailors. Among the English people the Morning Post is accordingly notorious as the Jenkins (the stock figure for the lackey) of the press.

The Morning Advertiser is the joint property of the “licensed victuallers”, that is, of the public houses, which, besides beer, may also sell spirits. It is, further, the organ of the English Pietists and ditto of the sporting characters, that is, of the people who make a business of horse-racing, betting, boxing and the like. The editor of this paper, Mr. Grant, previously employed as a stenographer by the newspapers and quite uneducated in a literary sense, has had the honour to get invited to Palmerston’s private soirees. Since then he has been enthusiastic for the “truly English minister” whom, on the outbreak of the Russian war, he had denounced as a “Russian agent”. It must be added that the pious patrons of this liquor-journal stand under the ruling rod of the Earl of Shaftesbury and that Shaftesbury is Palmerston’s son-in-law. Shaftesbury is the pope of the Low Churchmen,” who blend the spiritus sanctus with the profane spirit of the honest Advertiser.

The Morning Chronicle! Quantum mutatus ab illo! For well-nigh half a century the great organ of the Whig Party and the not unfortunate rival of The Times, its star paled after the Whig war. It went through metamorphoses of all sorts, turned itself into a penny paper and sought to live by “sensations”, thus, for example, by taking the side of the poisoner, Palmer. It subsequently sold itself to the French Embassy, which, however, soon regretted throwing away its money. It then threw itself into anti-Bonapartism, but with no better success. Finally, it found the long missing buyer in Messrs. Yancey and Mann — the agents of the Southern Confederacy in London.

The Daily Telegraph is the private property of a certain Levy. His paper is stigmatised by the English press itself as Palmerston’s mob paper. Besides this function it conducts a chronique scandaleuse. It is characteristic of this Telegraph that, on the arrival of the news about the Trent, by ordre from above it declared war to be impossible. In the dignity and moderation dictated to it, it seemed so strange to itself that since then it has published half-a-dozen articles about this instance of moderation and dignity displayed by it. As soon, however, as the ordre to change its line reached it, the Telegraph has sought to compensate itself for the constraint put upon it by outbawling all its comrades in howling loudly for war.

The Globe is the ministerial evening paper which receives official subsidies from all Whig ministries.

The Tory papers, The Morning Herald and The Evening Standard, both belonging to the same boutique, are governed by a double motive: on the one hand, hereditary hate for “the revolted English colonies"'; on the other band, a chronic ebb in their finances. They know that a war with America must shatter the present coalition Cabinet and pave the way for a Tory Cabinet. With the Tory Cabinet official subsidies for The Herald and The Standard would return. Accordingly, hungry wolves cannot howl louder for prey than these Tory papers for an American war with its ensuing shower of gold!

Of the London daily press, The Daily News and The Morning Star are the only papers left that are worth mentioning; both work counter to the trumpeters of war. The Daily News is restricted in its movement by a connection with Lord John Russell; The Morning Star (the organ of Bright and Cobden) is diminished in its influence by its character as a “peace-at-any-price paper”.

Most of the London weekly papers are mere echoes of the daily press, therefore overwhelmingly warlike. The Observer is in the ministry’s pay. The Saturday Review strives for esprit and believes it has attained it by affecting a cynical elevation above “humanitarian” prejudices. To show “esprit”, the corrupt lawyers, parsons and schoolmasters that write this paper have smirked their approbation of the slaveholders since the outbreak of the American Civil War. Naturally, they subsequently blew the war-trumpet with The Times. They are already drawing up plans of campaign against the United States displaying a hair-raising ignorance.

The Spectator, The Examiner and, particularly, MacMillan’s Magazine must be mentioned as more or less respectable exceptions.

One sees: On the whole, the London press — with the exception of the cotton organs, the provincial papers form a commendable contrast — represents nothing but Palmerston and again Palmerston. Palmerston wants war; the English people don’t want it. Imminent events will show who will win in this duel, Palmerston or the people. In any case, he is playing a more dangerous game than Louis Bonaparte at the beginning of 1859.