Слике страница
PDF
ePub

disciplined spirits, and such there are in all times and countries, may be provoked to commit, in defiance, deeds of which they have been unjustly accused) we shall be compelled to acknowledge that the reformers of France had no reason to expect from the existing governments of Europe, the powerful ones, at least, a friendly neutrality.

We need not follow these subjects in detail. In the attack on Turkey in 1807, and on Spain, was manifested a determination to admit of no neutrality, the very charge so often made against Napoleon and the French. In the attack on Denmark in 1807, concessions were demanded from the Crown Prince, which could not have been granted without ruin to his kingdom. To have surrendered voluntarily his fleet and naval stores to the safe keeping of Great Britain, would have been to furnish Napoleon with a sufficient and unanswerable plea for taking all that remained of the kingdom under his protection. Great Britain could have opposed no barrier to an invading army-even the islands and the capital of Denmark would have been, during the winter, entirely at the mercy of the French. Sir Walter acknowledges that "in the ordinary intercourse betwixt nations, these requisitions would have been severe and unjustifiable," that “the nature and character of the attack upon Copenhagen were attended by circumstances which were very capable of being misrepresented." In other words, not capable of justification-but that “the apology arose out of the peculiar circum stances of the times. The condition of England was that of an individual, who, threatened by the approach of a superior force of mortal enemies, sees close behind him, and with arms in his hand, one, of whom he had a right to be suspicious, as having co-operated against him on two former occasions, and who, he has the best reason to believe, is at the very moment engaged in a similar alliance to his prejudice. The individual, in the case supposed, would certainly be warranted in requiring to know this third party's intention; nay, in disarming him, if he had strength to do so, and retaining his weapons as the best pledge of his neutrality.” (Vol. ii. p. 142.) Now, all that we complain of is, that this apology is never made or considered of any avail excepting where England is concerned. The combination of all Europe in 1792–3, is not permitted to form any palli ation for the desperate struggle of the French people, but a remote and very doubtful contingency, a suspicion merely, for there is even yet no proof that a secret article in the treaty of Tilsit, to which, by the by, Denmark was no party, provided for the re-establishment of the armed neutrality, and proposed for this purpose a great northern confederacy, was a sufficient

ground for seizing her navy by force, after having laid in ashes nearly one half of her capital. Against the appeal of the jacobins and the French convention to the people in all despotic governments, may be placed the appeals so often made by Great Britain to all the crowned heads in Europe, and even to the French people themselves, exhorting them to crush the Revolutionary government and if the rulers of the French nation were actuated by an immoderate and insatiable ambition, which we certainly mean not to deny, we fear a comparison of the map of the world as it stood in 1788, with what it was in 1827, will shew that neither Austria, Great Britain nor Russia ought, in decency, to be the accusers-yet, while indignant justice is made to brandish on high against French rulers and French transgressions, an unsparing scourge, the trespasses of Great Britain are all covered with a mantle of charity, are considered as measures of self defence, justified by the principles of self-preservation, and authorised by a stern and severe necessity.

When, at the close of the year 1813, offers of peace were made to Napoleon, and a manifesto published by the Allied Sovereigns, setting forth, previous to their invasion of France, their claims, their rights, and the principles which must form the basis of any future pacification; the Emperor replied that he “acquiesced in the principle which would rest the proposed pacification on the absolute independence of the States of Europe, so that neither one nor another should, in future, arrogate sovereignty or supremacy in any form wbatsoever, either upon land or sea. These conditions will involve great sacrifices on the part of France, but his majesty would make them without regret, if, by like sacrifices, England would give the means of arriving at a general peace, honourable for all concerned."

“The slightest attention to this document, adds Sir Walter, shows that Napoleon, in bis pretence of being desirous for peace, on the terms held out in the proposals of the allies, was totally insincere. His answer was artfully calculated to mix up with the diminution of his own exorbitant power, the question of the maritime law on which England and all other nations had acted for many centuries, and which gives to those nations that possess powerful fleets the same advantage which those that have great armies enjoy by the law martial. The rights arising out of this law maritime had been maintained by England at the end of the disastrous American war. It had been defended during the present war against all Europe with France, and Napoleon at her head. It was impossible that Britain should permit any challenge of her maritime rights in the present moment of her prosperity, when not only her ships rode triumphant on every coast, but her own victorious army was quartered on French ground, and the powerful hosts of her allies, brought

to the field by her means, were arrayed along the whole frontier of the Rhine.

“ Neither can it be pretended that there was an indirect policy in introducing this discussion as an apple of discord, which might give cause to disunion among the allies. Far from looking on the maritime law as exercised by Britain, with the eyes of jealousy, with which it migbt, at other times, have been regarded, the continental nations remembered the far greater grievances which had been entailed on them by Bonaparte's memorable attempt to put down that law by his anti-commercial system which had made Russia herself buckle on her armour, and was a cause, and a principal one, of the general coalition against France, It is very true that England had offered to make sacrifices for obtaining a general peace, but these sacrifices, as was seen by the event, regarded the restoration to France of conquered colonies, not the cession of her own naval rights, which, on no occasion whatsoever, a minister of Britain will, can or dare permit to be brought into challenge.” Vol. iii. p. 81.

These paragraphs might open a field for ample discussion. They would seem, at first, to contain rather the boast of power than the apology or justification of its exercise and abuse. It was, indeed, not probable that at the period of these negotiations any concessions of her maritime claims would be made by Great Britain, or be required of her by her allies. But, that her naval power and maritime law were viewed with jealous eyes by the nations of Europe, would need no other proof than the testimony of Sir Walter himself, who, in apologising for the attack on Copenhagen, remarks, that Denmark had co-operated against this very naval power and jurisdiction on two former occasions. The correspondence with Count Bernstorff, to which in a note we have already alluded, may be considered as another controversy-so that four times in twenty-five or six years, Denmark, once perhaps alone, but generally with numerous and powerful allies, had been found engaged in ineffectual efforts to circumscribe those very pretensions which we are now told were as (mildly and liberally) exercised by Great Britain, not viewed with the eyes of jealousy.

In Napoleon it was certainly impolitic, particularly if we judge by results, that safe and incontrovertible criterion, to reject at this late period, and when the chances were so much against him, the offers made by the allies. They would still have left him one of the most powerful sovereigns in Europe, even if he were no longer able to control them all-it was unwise to take the position he assumed, when no other power was morally at liberty to support his claim. All were combined against him—all had felt more sensibly his encroachments and his exactions than the naval usurpations of Great-Britain. At a moment too, when Great-Britain stood, as is justly re

marked by Sir Walter, pre-eminently distinguished by the allied powers, conditions like those proposed by Napoleon, must be considered as an evasion rather than an acceptance of the proffered negotiation.

If we were to examine the justice of his pretensions, a very different conclusion might be drawn. What were the complaints and accusations brought against Napoleon ? That he had disregarded the rights of neutral nations, had invaded their territories, had imposed upon them taxes either in money or in contributions of provisions and military stores, and frequently compelled them by force to take up arms in his behalf. What were the charges against Great-Britain ? That on the ocean she was constantly violating all neutral rights—declaring extensive coasts and even countries under a fictitious blockadeissuing at her discretion orders in council to modify all international law-making in fact, her own will on maritime questions, the law of. nations, and causing her decrees to be executed, not by officers of high rank where some discretion might be supposed to exist, but by and at the caprice of every officer who bore a commission in ber naval service, nay, by any and every commander of a privateer, fitted out in any ocean or in any part of her scattered dominions. From the abuses which, under such circumstances, ignorance, or passion, or avarice might commit, there was no appeal but to a tribunal dependent on the very administration which, perhaps, issued such orders, and thereby gave sanction to these outrages, of which the presiding officer may generally be considered as a part of the administration of the day, to å tribunal which cannot be impartial when foreign nations or subjects are the complainants, and of which, an illustrious judge has recently declared, that the orders of the king in council were, and must be to him, the rule to guide and govern his decisions.*

Thus it frequently happened that neutral vessels engaged in what had been declared by the law of nations a legal trade, were captured and condemned for violating some unknown proclamation or decree. Still more frequently were seized on trivial accusations or on mere suspicion, for the crime of having on board a valuable cargo, were turned from their destination, sent into an out-port for adjudication, condemned upon ex-parte evidence, and the owner compelled to seek redress by an appeal to the Court of Admiralty in Great-Britain. Here, even if the sentence of condemnation were reversed, the destruction of the

See the case of Fox and others-Edwards, p. 311; and the Snipe and others, Ib. p. 380.

voyage, the detention, the enormous fees and expenses, necessary to carry the claims of the owners, or their complaints to a final issue, rendered the loss of property, even under the most favourable circumstances, inevitable, sometimes, almost total; and this loss was doubled or trebled, if judgment finally was given against them. Multitudes abandoned their claims, rather than pursue them under such hazards and disadvantages.

Napoleon had been led to consider these doctrines of the British maritime law, with great attention, because they had been employed to interdict and destroy all neutral commerce with his own dominions, and, because, in endeavouring, violently it is true, and without more regard to neutral rights than had been manifested by his antagonists, to counteract these measures, he had been constantly involved in disputes with neutral powers, and left, at his abdication, a thousand unsettled claims, which years of peace have not been able to adjust.

He may have been unwise to have required as a condition of peace, the sacrifice of such pretensions and practises on the part of Great-Britain. But, surely, in wishing to establish a peace as the allies themselves had proposed, “on the absolute independence of the States of Europe, so that neither one nor the other should arrogate sovereignty over another," it was impossible to view these claiins but as pretensions, which only highhanded power could assert, which only high-handed power could maintain.

In a scholar and a patriot relating the events of a war, in which his country bore a part so prominent, so steadfast and undeviating, and, finally, so glorious, we can read not only without censure, but even with sympathetic pleasure, such apostrophes as he occasionally addresses to her perseverance and undismayed courage.

“Of those who shared amongst them the residue of Europe, and still maintained some claim to independence, Britain might make the proud boast, that she was diametrically in opposition to this ruler of the world; that in the long-continued strife, she had dealt him injuries as deep as she had ever received, and had disdained, under any circumstances, to treat with him on less terms than those of equality. Not to that fair land be the praise, though she supported many burdens and endured great losses; but to Providence, who favoured her efforts and strengthened her resolutions; who gave her power to uphold her own good cause, which, in truth, was that of European independence, and courage to trust in the justice of Heaven, when the odds mustered against her, seemed, in earthly calculation, so dreadful, as to deprive the wise of the head to counsel; the brave of the heart to resist.” Vol. ii. p. 296. VOL. II.-NO. 3.

37

« ПретходнаНастави »