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WE claim attention from the public on the state of our relations present and to come with China. We pretend to no private materials upon the subject; but in this respect we stand upon the same footing as the leaders of our public counsels. All speak from the text furnished to them by Captain Elliot's correspondence, as published in the newspapers. So far we stand upon the universal level. But it is astonishing how much advantage one man may gain over another, even where all start from the same basis of information, simply by these two differences-1st, by watching the oversight of his competitors, most of whom are apt to seize upon certain features of the case with an entire neglect of others; 2dly, by combining his own past experience, gathered from books or whatever sources, with the existing phenomena of the case, as the best means of deciphering their meaning or of calculating their remote effects.
We do not wish to disguise that our views tend to the policy of war-war conducted with exemplary vigour. It is better to meet openly from the first an impression, (current amongst the hasty and undistinguishing,) that in such views there is a lurking opposition to the opinions of the Conservatives. Were that true, we should hesitate. It is a matter of great delicacy to differ with one's party; and it is questionable whether, even in extreme cases, it can be right to publish such a difference. Once satisfied that the general policy
NO. CCXCVI. VOL. XLVII.
of our party is clamorously demanded by the welfare of the country; and in this particular case of the Tory pretensions finding them sustained by the very extraordinary fact, that even out of office they are not out of power, but do really impress the Conservative mind upon one-half of the public measures, whilst of the other half a large proportion is carried only by their sufferance, by their forbearance, or by their direct co-operation-under such circumstances, an honourable party-man will not think himself justified, for any insulated point of opinion or even of practice, to load his party with the reproach of internal discord. Every party, bound together by principles of public fellowship, and working towards public objects, is entitled to all the strength which can arise from union, or the reputation of union. scandal to have it said "You are disunited-you cannot agree amongst yourselves; " and the man who sends abroad dissentient opinions, through any powerful organ of the press, is the willing author of such a scandal. No gain upon the solitary truth concerned, can balance the loss upon the total reputation of his party for internal harmony.
It is a
Meantime, as too constantly is the case in mixed questions, when there is much to distinguish, it is a very great blunder to suppose the Conservative party to set their faces against a Chinese war. That party, with Sir Robert Peel for their leader, have in the House of Commons recorded a strong
vote against our recent Chinese policy; so far is true; but not against a Chinese war. Such a war, unhappily, is all the more necessary in consequence of that late policy; a policy which provided for nothing, foresaw nothing, and in the most pacific of its acts laid a foundation and a necessity that hostilities should redress them.
There is another mistake currenta most important mistake; viz. about the relation which the opium question bears to the total dispute with China. It is supposed by many persons, that, if we should grant the Chinese Government to have been in the right upon the opium affair, it will follow of course that we condemn the principle of any war, or of any hostile demonstrations against China. Not at all. This would be a complete non sequitur. I. China might be right in her object, and yet wrong insufferably wrong-in the means by which she pursued it. In the first of the resolutions moved on the 2d of May by the Company of Edinburgh Merchants, (Mr Oliphant, chairman,) it is assumed that the opium lost by the British was a sacrifice to the "more effectual execution of the Chinese laws," which is a gross fiction. The opium was transferred voluntarily by the British: on what understanding is one of the points we are going to consider. II. There is a causa belli quite apart from the opium question; a ground of war which is continually growing more urgent; a ground which would survive all disputes about opium, and would have existed had China been right in those disputes from beginning to end.
Yet it is good to pause for a moment, and to look at this opium dispute so far as the documents give us any light for discussing it. The apologists of China say, that the Pekin Government has laboured for some time to put down the national abuse of opium. Why, and under what view of that abuse? As a mode of luxury, it is replied, pressing upon the general health; and for a second reason, as pressing seriously upon the national energies. This last we put down in candour as a separate consideration; because, though all unwhole some luxuries must be supposed indirectly to operate upon the cheerfulness and industry of those who use them, with respect to opium, in particular, it
must be allowed, that this secondary action is often the main one, and takes place in a far larger proportion than simply according to the disturbances of health. There is a specific effect known to follow the habitual use of opium, by which it speedily induces a deadly torpor and disrelish of all exertion, and in most cases long before the health is deranged, and even in those constitutions which are by nature so congenially predisposed to this narcotic, as never to be much shaken by its uttermost abuse.
Thus far, and assuming all for truth which the Chinese tell us, we have before us the spectacle of a wise and paternal Government; and it recommends such wisdom powerfully to a moral people like ours, that we seem to see it exerting itself unpopularly; nobly stemming a tide of public hatred, and determined to make its citizens happy in their own despite. Fresh from this contemplation of dis interested virtue, how shocked we all feel on seeing our own scamps of sailors working an immense machinery for thwarting so beneficent a Govern ment! A great conflagration is undermining all the social virtues in China: the Emperor and Commissioner Lin are working vast fire-engines for throwing water upon the flames; and, on the other hand, our people are discharging columns of sulphur for the avowed purpose of feeding the combustion.
"Scandalous!" we all exclaim; but, as the loveliest romances are not always the truest, let us now hear the other party. Plaintiff has spoken: Defendant must now have his turn.
For the defendant then it is urged,
That the Chinese Government, having long connived at the opium trade, has now found three purely selfish reasons against it.
1st, As having at length a rival interest of its own; Lin and others are said to have some thousands of acres laid down as poppy-plantations. Now, the English opium, and that of Malwa, as an old concern, is managed much more cheaply. To exclude the foreign growth is essential, therefore, as the first step towards a protection to the infancy of the home growth. On this view of the case we would recommend a sliding duty, such as that of our corn-laws, to the Celestial opiumgrowers.
2dly, That this foreign opium caused a yearly drain of silver; from the small range of Chinese commerce, it is impossible for China to draw upon foreign states; much of the imports must now be paid for in hard downright silver, which is the more disgusting, as formerly the current of silver ran precisely in the other direction.
3dly, That the English have become objects of intense jealousy at the court of Pekin. Indeed, it is time for that Cabinet to look about with some alarm, were it only that a great predominating power has arisen in India-a conquering power, and a harmonizing power, where heretofore there was that sort of balance maintained amongst the many Indian principalities which Milton ascribes to the anarchy of chaos; one might rise superior for a moment, but the restlessness of change, and the tremulous libration of the equipoise, guaranteed its speedy downfal. Here, therefore, and in this English predominance, is cause enough for alarm; how much more since the war against Nepaul, in virtue of which the English advance has pushed forward the English outposts within musket range of the Chinese, and against the Burman empire, in virtue of which great interposing masses have been seriously weakened. It is become reasonable that China should fear us; and, fearing us, she must allowably seek to increase her own means of annoyance, as well as to blunt or to repel ours. Much of ours must lie in the funds by which we support our vast Indian establishment; and towards those funds it is understood that the opium trade contributes upwards of three millions sterling per annum. In mere prudence, therefore, the cabinet of Pekin sets itself to reduce our power by reducing our money resources, and to reduce our money resources by refusing our opium.
Such are the three reasons upon which it has been alleged that Lin and his master have been proceeding. And now, if it were so, what has any man to say against these reasons? Have not nations a right to protect their own interests? Is not the path of safety open to them, because it happens to lead away from British objects? Why, as to that, measures are not always allowable in a second or third stage of intercourse which might have been so in the first. But for the present we
meditate no attack on these measures. Let them be supposed purely within the privilege of a defensive policy. Only let us have things placed on their right footing, and called by their right names; and let us not be summoned to admire, as acts of heroic virtue which put to shame our Christianity, what under this second view appears to be a mere resort of selfish prudence.
But, then, is it certain that this second view of the case is the correct view? Why, we have before acknowledged that documents are wanting for either view any inference, for or against the Chinese, will be found too large for the premises. The materials do not justify a vote either of acquittal or of impeachment; but, as this is so, let us English have the benefit of this indistinctness in the proofs equally with the Chinese. So much, at the very least, is fair to ask, and something more; for, upon the face of this Chinese solicitude for the national virtue, some things appear suspicious. Nemo repente fuit turpissimus-Nobody mounts in a moment to the excess of profligacy: and it is equally probable that Nemo repente fuit sanctissimus. This sudden leap into the anxieties of parental care, is a suspicious fact against the Chinese Government.
Then, again, is it, or can it be true, that in any country the labouring class should be seriously tainted by opium? Can any indulgence, so costly as this, have struck root so deeply as to have reached the subsoil of the general national industry? Can we shut our eyes to this gross dilemma? Using much opium, how can the poor labourer support the expense-using little, how can he suffer in his energies or his animal spirits? In many districts of Hindostan, as well as of the Deccan, it is well known that the consumption of opium is enormous: but amongst what class? Does it ever palpably affect the public industry? The question would be found ludicrous. Our own working class finds a great providential check on its intemperance in the costliness of intoxicating liquors. Cheap as they seem, it is impossible for the working man (burdened with average claims) to use them to excess, unless with such intervals as redress the evil to the constitution. This stern benediction of Providence-this salutary operation of poverty-has made it impossible for one generation to
shatter the health of the next. Now, for the opium-eater this counteracting provision presses much more severely. Wages are far lower in the opium countries and the quantity of opium required, in any case where it can have been abused, is continually increasing; whereas the dose of alcohol continues pretty stationary for years.
These things incline a neutral spectator to suspect, grievously, some very earthly motives to be working below the manœuvres of the Celestial Commissioner, since it really appears to be impossible that the lower Chinese should much abuse the luxury of opium; and, as to the higher, what a chimerical undertaking to make war upon their habits of domestic indulgence! With these classes, and in such a point, no Government would have the folly to measure its strength. And, as to the classes connected with public industry, we repeat and maintain that it is impossible (for the reason explained) to suppose them seriously tainted; so that a delusion seems to lie at the very root of this Chinese representation.
But, apart from all that, we see two pinching dilemmas even in this opium case-dilemmas that screw like a vice -which tell powerfully in favour of our Tory views; first, as criminating the present Whig administration beyond all hope of apology; secondly, as criminating the Chinese administration. The first clenches the argument, moved by Sir James Graham, on the criminal want of foresight and provision in our own cabinet; and we are surprised that it could have been forgotten in the debate: the second goes far to justify our right of war against China.
We will take these dilemmas in the inverse order, putting forward the latter dilemma first.
I. When Lin seized the British opium, and in one day pillaged our British merchants to the extent of more than two millions sterling, by what means was it that Lin got a hank" over so much alien property? The opium was freighted on board various ships; and these ships were lying at various distances in the waters of the Bocca Tigris. No considerable part of it was on shore, or in the Canton factory. What is our inference from this? Why, that the opium was not in Lin's power. Indeed, we are sure
of that by another argument: for Lin begs from Captain Elliot the interposition of his authority towards getting the opium transferred to Chinese custody—a thing which most assuredly he would not have done, had he seen the slightest hopes of its coming into his possession by violence. Merely the despair of success in any attempt to seize it, prevailed with him to proceed by this circuitous course. Captain Elliot-for reasons not fully explained
granted this request. Now, then, what we ask is-that all who advocate the Chinese cause, would be pleased to state the terms on which this deliberate transfer of British property was made over to Lin-what were the terms understood by the party surrendering and by the party receiving, viz. Lin? That monosyllabic hero did, or he did not, make terms with Captain Elliot. Now, if you say he did not, you say a thing more severe, by twenty times, against the Whig Superintendent than any of us Tories, in or out of Parliament, has ever hinted at. What a British agent, sent to protect British interests, giving up British property by wholesale sacrificing millions of British pounds sterling-without an effort to obtain an equivalent, without a protest, without a remonstrance! Why, a diplomatist, acting for the most petty interests, gives up nothing without a consideration; nothing at all, without a struggle at the first, without an equivalent at the last. Quid pro quo is the very meaning and essence of dip. lomacy. And observe that Captain Elliot does far more than sanction the surrender it is not as though Chinese artillery had been ready to enforce a seizure, and Captain Elliot, for peace's sake, interfered to substitute a milder course. Nothing of the sort: but for him the opium would not and could not have passed into Chinese hands. In such circumstances-for of course he insisted for some equivalent—you cannot suppose the first horn of the dilemma-that he did not. That is too incredible. Suppose, therefore, the other horn of the dilemma. You must suppose it. Mere decency binds us to suppose, that Captain Elliot, in compliance with the most flagrant demands of duty, did make terms. What were those terms? What was the equivalent? This we have a right to know, because hitherto (and, by Lin's account, the affair is now terminated)
no equivalent at all, no terms of any kind, have been reported as offered by the Chinese, or as accepted by the British. Sundry of the Chinese have, indeed, since that time made an awk. ward attempt at cutting sundry British throats, and have had their own cut instead-a result for which we heartily grieve, as the poor victims were no willing parties to this outrage upon our rights. But this could hardly be the equivalent demanded by Elliot. And, as to any other, it is needless to enquire about it, since nothing of any kind has been offered to the British except outrages and insults. Here, then, is a short two-edged argument, which it will be difficult to parry -Lin agreed to a stipulation for equivalents, in which case he must have broken it. Lin did not agree, in which case we have a heavier charge against the superintendent, that is, the representative of our own Government, than any which has yet been put forward.
II. But worse, far worse, as respects our own Government, is the second dilemma. It is this:-Those who had charge of the opium surrendered it on the most solemn official guarantee of indemnification. Now, in offering that guarantee, was Captain Elliot authorized by his Government?- -or was he not authorized? Practically, there is no such indulgent alternative now open to the Government: because the time is now passed in which that Government could claim the benefit of a disavowal. Instantly to have disavowed Captain Elliot was the sole course by which the Whig Government could retrieve their position, and evade the responsibility created for them by their agent. When they first appointed him, they had delegated their responsibility to him; they had notified that delegation to all whom it might concern.
be an extreme case, indeed, which can warrant a minister in disavowing his own agent, so deliberately selected-and much more when the distance is so vast. In no case can this be done unless where it can be demonstrated that the agent has flagrantly exceeded his powers. But, in cases of money guarantees, or the drawing of bills, it is hardly possible that an agent should do so: such cases are not mixed up with the refinements of politics, about which the varieties of opinion are likely to arise. Always, and
in all situations, an agent knows what are the limits of his powers as to so definite a subject as money. And, were it otherwise, what would become of the innumerable bills drawn upon the British treasury by consuls and naval officers in ports of countries the most remote? Nobody would take such bills: no ship in our navy, no shipwrecked crew, could obtain aid under the worst circumstances, if a practice existed of disavowing authorized agents, or resisting bills when pres sented for payment. The Elliot guarantee, therefore, was hardly within the privilege of disavowal by Lord Melbourne's Government. They it was who sent the agent-who clothed him with authority-who called upon all men in the East to recognise him as representing themselves-who proclaimed aloud, "Behold the man whom the Queen delighteth to honour: what he does is as if done by ourselves: his words are our words: his seal is our seal!"
The argument, therefore, will stand thus:-Captain Elliot solemnly undertook to the British merchants, in order to gain a favourite point for Lin, that no fraction of the money at which the opium had been valued, should finally be lost. On the faith of that undertaking, the surrender was made quietly, which else, confessedly, would not have been made at all. Now, in making that perilous engagement-so startling by the amount of property concerned, that no man could pretend to have acted inconsiderately-was Captain Elliot exceeding his powers or not? Did the Government disavow his act, even in thought, on first hearing it reported, or did they not? If they did-if privately they were shocked to find the enormity of responsible obligation which Elliot had pledged on their behalf—if they felt that he had created no right in the persons who held his engagements-why did they not instantly publish that fact? Mere honesty, as in a commercial_transaction, requires this. If a man draws on you unwarrantably for an immense sum, you never think of replying, "I have not money enough to meet this demand." You say to the holders of the bills and you say it indignantly -and you say it instantly-without taking time to finesse, or leaving time for the creditor to lose his remedy"This man has no authority whatever