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colleagues in 1853.1 But on both occasions he seems strangely to have overlooked the circumstance that there was a question of much more importance for the consideration of the ministry than the acceptance of the Vienna note. The chief chance of peace lay in maintaining the cohesion of the four Powers; and any ministry which understood its duty, instead of determining the question for itself, would have endeavoured to decide it in concert with its allies. While the four Powers were agreed, war was almost impossible; it was their separation which made it certain.
Unhappily, moreover, at this juncture the members of the Cabinet with whom the decision rested were divided among themselves.
Russell had with difficulty been per- The dissensuaded to join the ministry. He had been prevailed sions in the upon to do so by the suggestion that, after a due interval, Aberdeen might retire in his favour, and he might again become Prime Minister. The interval had passed, but the arrangement was still unfulfilled. Aberdeen naturally considered that, while peace or war was the high issue at stake, he could not honourably retire from his post. But though, unfortunately for his reputation, he was thus forced to remain in office, he still more unfortunately could not afford to dispense with Russell's services. For the sake of retaining Russell's help he was compelled to sanction the policy which was adopted by Russell and supported by Palmerston. As the autumn wore on, moreover, the two men who led the war party in the Cabinet were separated from one another on a question of internal policy. Russell was pledged to Russell and introduce a new Reform Bill, and Palmerston, who Palmerston, agreed with Russell on the Eastern question, but who disliked a further extension of the franchise, resigned. Eventually, indeed, he was persuaded to withdraw his resignation. But differences of this kind, even when they are healed, leave a permanent impression on public policy. Practically the ministry
1 Kinglake's History of Crimean War, vol. i. p. 393.
2 Ashley's Palmerston, vol. ii. p. 270. Kinglake's Crimea, vol. ii. p 26 ct seq., and prefatory note to vol. vi.
had decided that it could not afford to lose either Palmerston or Russell, and the men whom it could not spare were insisting on the support of the Turk.
Moreover, while the Cabinet was thus divided, and the leaders of the old Whig section were throwing their influence Stratford into the scale which pronounced for war, there was Canning's
one man, a mere agent and not a member of the policy. ministry, who knew his own mind and resolved on carrying out his own policy. Stratford—to quote the accurate description which was given of his conduct-fulfilled his instructions to the letter, but he so contrived that his employers were constantly getting deeper into a war policy. In September, on the application of the Sultan, who feared for the peace of Constantinople, he called up some ships of war from Besika Bay to the Bosphorus. The ministry not merely approved his policy, but, influenced by the advice which Palmerston had frequently given,3 authorised the ambassador to summon the whole fleet. This policy led, as it could only lead, directly to war. The treaty of 1841 had strictly forbidden the Porte to admit, or other Powers to send, ships of war to the Bosphorus while Turkey was at peace. The new policy, therefore, could only be justified by the assumption that Turkey was at war, and, in reply to the animated remonstrance of Russia,5 Clarendon boldly answered that, while the Principalities were occupied, Turkey could not be considered at peace.6 Such a declaration formed a new departure. Up to that time the ministry had declined to consider that the occupation of the Principalities involved war, and the Russians were certainly justified in contending that if, after the battle of Navarino, Britain did not choose to consider herself at war with Turkey, there were no grounds for asserting that the Russian occupation of the Principalities involved an act of
i Prince Consort to Stockmar, in Martin's Prince Consort, vol. ii. p. 532. 2 Eastern Papers, Part ii. p. 121. 3 Ashley's Palmerston, vol. ii. p. 276, 277. 4 Eastern Papers, Part ii. p. 116.
5 Ibid., p. 119.
126. 7 Ashley's Palmerston, Part ii. p. 279.
war." But the new policy soon underwent a rapid development. Urged on by France, the ministry in October sent full instructions to Stratford, authorising him, if necessary, to desire the fleet to pass through the Bosphorus, and engage in defensive operations in any part of the Euxine. Four days before this momentous decision was taken, the Porte authorised Omar Pacha to summon Gortschakoff to evacuate the Principalities within fifteen days, and, in the event of the summons being disobeyed, to commence operations.3
For the moment, indeed, the moderation of the Russian Government afforded a fresh opportunity for averting war. Russia declared that she would probably meet the Turkish declaration of war by neither counter-declaration nor attack, but await, with peaceful aims, fresh overtures from the Porte. 4 But a passive attitude is difficult in war. While the Russian troops were awaiting fresh overtures, the Turkish troops crossed the Danube and inflicted on them sharp defeats. The Turkish Forced into activity, the Czar loosed his squadron Sinope defrom Sebastopol, and authorised it to cruise in stroyed. Turkish waters. On November 30, 1853, it attacked and destroyed the Turkish fleet at Sinope. 5
The battle, or massacre, of Sinope, as it was called, was regarded in Britain as “a humiliation and defiance," 6 and created a passionate anger against the Czar, and an almost irresistible desire for war with Russia. Yet it is certain that this anger was wholly unreasonable. Englishmen might, indeed, feel natural annoyance that the allied fleets, which had been ordered to the Bosphorus, and which had been authorised to engage in offensive operations in any part of the Euxine, had not prevented the catastrophe. But no Englishman had
1 Eastern Papers, Part ii. p. 139.
2 Ibid., p. 142. 3 Ibid., p. 161.
4 Ibid., p. 181. 5 The Russians believed that the Sinope fleet, under the pretext of victualling Batoum, was intended to stir up insurrection in the Caucasus.
6 Diplomatic Siudy, vol. i. p. 334. Aberdeen was completely overwhelmed by the public exasperation. · I am accused,” he said, “of cowardice, of betraying my country to Russia. I dare not show myself in the streets; I am done for." Ibid., p. 339.
a right to complain that the Czar, after war had been declared against him, should have committed an act of war. If Englishmen, in fact, had enjoyed even a superficial acquaintance with their own history, they would have known that, forty-seven years before, their own ancestors had committed an act of much more doubtful propriety, which British historians always defend. Yet, if the battle of Sinope were indefensible, the bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 was an outrage.
Though, however, the attack on Sinope may be justified, its imprudence cannot be excused. The British Ministry, on hearing of the disaster, declared that it did not doubt that the British and French Ambassadors would have at once directed the combined fleets of France and England to enter the Black Sea. The French Government, going a step further, proposed that the fleets should not merely enter the Black Sea, but that every Russian vessel found at sea should be “invited” to return to Sebastopol, and the British Government adopted the emperor's suggestion.3
This decision, which brought the Western Powers still nearer towards the war to which their policy was continually driving them, was taken at a singularly unfortunate period. Ever since the rejection of the Vienna note, and the practical separation of the Western from the German States, the representatives of the four Powers had been constantly striving to discover some ground on which they could take common action. Within the week in which the slaughter at Sinope occurred, they succeeded in agreeing on a note which they had
1 Mr. Kinglake has been so anxious to show that our Government was forced by the emperor into a policy of war, that he has misconstrued this decision. He writes (vol. ii. p. 36 note) that the Government determined that no special instructions to the Admirals were necessitated by the disaster of Sinope. But the full passage is : “Her Majesty's Government do not doubt that ... your Excellency, acting in concert with General Baraguay d'Hilliers, will have directed that the combined fleets should enter the Black Sea. Special instructions as to the manner in which they should act do not appear to be necessary. We have undertaken to defend the territory of the Sultan from aggression, and that engagement must be fulfilled." Eastern Papers, Part ii. pp. 304, 305. By overlooking the words which I have italicised, Mr. Kinglake has given a contrary appearance to the decision of the Cabinet, 2 Ibid., p. 310.
3 Ibid., p. 321,
reason to hope might prove acceptable to Czar and Sultan. Stratford was directed to press this note on the Porte's acceptance. In the closing days of 1853 the Porte adopted this note, and one obstacle to peace was at last removed. On the 13th of January 1854 the represen- note of tatives of the four Powers at Vienna decided on communicating these terms to St. Petersburg for the Czar's acceptance. By another unfortunate coincidence, on the very day on which the four Powers in conference at Vienna adopted this resolution, the British Minister at St. Petersburg communicated to Nesselrode the decision of the Western Powers to require every Russian ship in the Euxine to re-enter a Russian port.5 The Russian Government, unable
Diplomatic to obtain explanations satisfactory to itself of this relations sus
pended. policy, withdrew its missions from Paris and London, and, on the 6th of February 1854,7 instructions were sent to the British and French Ministers to leave St. Petersburg.
The withdrawal of the Russian Ministers from London and Paris, and of the British and French Ministers from St. Petersburg, in 1854, did not immediately lead to war. By a policy, which most people will regard as unfortunate, those who were responsible for the government of Britain and France had separated themselves from the German Powers ; but by a circumstance, which was as fortunate as it might have proved beneficial, the Western Powers obtained a new opportunity of recovering the posi- tiations betion which they had lost, by rejoining the German tween the Powers. The original dispute between France and the German Russia, it must be recollected, had been settled; the quarrel had passed into a controversy between Russia and Turkey' on the right of Russia to protect the Christian subjects of the Porte. Irritated at the refusal of the Sultan to concede his claim, the Czar had occupied the Princi
1 The note was signed on the 5th of December. Eastern Papers, Part ii., p. 296. 3 Ibid., p. 361.
4 Ibid., p. 369. 6 Russian Diplomatic Study, vol. i. pp. 236-245. 7 Eastern Papers, Part iii. p. 7, Part. vii. pp. 26, 27.
2 Ibid., p. 303.
5 Ibid., p. 374.