Page images
[ocr errors]

Under these circumstances, and while meetings advocating war were being held in many places in England, Bright delivered this address at Rochdale on December 4, 1861. He succeeded in stemming the tide of exasperation and in inducing the Engish nation to consider the affair calmly and sympathetically. As he predicted in his speech, the American government acknowledged the justice of the English claim and released the prisoners. But even then war was narrowly averted, for, Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, was inclined to follow up the matter. He was finally restrained through the influence of Queen Victoria and by the public sentiment aroused by Bright. England never recognized the Southern Confederacy; the most that the South ever obtained was the acknowledgement of its rights as a belligerent.

[merged small][ocr errors]

EIGHTY-FIVE years ago, at the time when some of our oldest townsmen were very little children, there were, on the North American continent, colonies, mainly of Englishmen, containing about three millions of souls. These colonies we have seen a year ago constituting the United States of North

of North America,

America, and comprising a population of no less than thirty millions of souls. We know that in agriculture and factures, with the exception of this kingdom, there is country in

the world which in these arts may be placed in advance of the United States. With regard to inventions, I believe, within the last thirty years, we have received more useful inventions from the



United States than from all the other countries of the earth. In that country there are probably ten times as many miles of telegraph as there are in this country, and there are at least five or six times as many miles of railway. The tonnage of its shipping is at least equal to ours, if it does not exceed ours. The prisons of that countryfor, even in countries the most favored, prisons are needful—have been models for other nations of the earth; and many European governments have sent missions at different times to inquire into the admirable system of education so universally adopted in their free schools throughout the Northern States.

This is a very fine, but a very true picture; yet it has another side to which I must advert. There has been one great feature in that country, one great contrast, which has been pointed to by all who have commented upon the United States as a feature of danger, as a contrast calculated to give pain. There has been in that country the utmost liberty to the white man, and bondage and degradation to the black man. Now rely upon it, that wherever Christianity lives and flourishes, there must grow up from it, necessarily, a conscience hostile to any oppression and to any wrong; and, therefore, from the hour when the United States Constitution was formed, so long as it left there this great evil—then comparatively small, but now so great-it left there seeds of that which an American 'statesman has so happily described of that “irrepressible conflict " of which now the whole world is the witness. It has been a common thing for men disposed to carp at the United States to point to this blot upon their fair fame, and to compare it with the boasted declaration of freedom in their Deed and Declaration of Independence.

I will not discuss the guilt of the men who, ministers of a great nation only last year, conspired to overthrow it,

He was

I will not point out or recapitulate the statements of the fraudulent manner in which they disposed of the funds in the national exchequer. I will not point out by name any of the men, in this conspiracy, whom history will designate by titles they would not like to hear; but I say that slavery has sought to break up the most free government in the world, and to found a new State, in the nineteenth century, whose corner-stone is the perpetual bondage of millions of men.

It has been said, “How much better it would be not for the United States, but-" for us, that these States should be divided.” I recollect meeting a gentleman in Bond Street one day before the session was over. a rich man and one whose voice is much heard in the House of Commons; but his voice is not heard when he is on his legs, but when he is cheering other speakers; and he said to me: After all, this is a sad business about the United States; but I think it very much better that they should be split up. In twenty years ”—or in fifty, I forget which it was "they will be so powerful that they will bully all Europe." And a distinguished member of the House of Commons—distinguished there by his eloquence, distinguished more by his many writings—I mean Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton-he did not exactly express a hope, but he ventured on something like a prediction, that the time would come when there would be, I do not know how many, but about as many independent States on the American continent as you can count upon your fingers.

There can not be a meaner motive than this I am speaking of, in forming a judgment on this question: that it is better for us "—for whom? the people of England, or the government of England ?—that the United States should be severed, and that the North American continent should be as the continent of Europe is in many States, and subject to all the contentions and disasters which have accompanied the history of the states of Europe. I should say that, if a man had a great heart within him, he would rather look forward to the day, when, from that point of land which is habitable nearest to the Pole, to the shores of the Great Gulf, the whole of that vast continent might become one great confederation of States—without a great army, and without a great navy—not mixing itself up with the entanglements of European politics—without a custom house inside, through the whole length and breadth of its territory-and with freedom everywhere, equality everywhere, law everywhere, peace everywhere; such a confederation would afford at least some hope that man is not forsaken of Heaven, and that the future of our race may be better than the past.

Now I am obliged to say—and I say it with the utmost pain—that if we have not done things that are plainly hostile to the North, and if we have not expressed affection for slavery, and, outwardly and openly, hatred for the Union—I say that there has not been that friendly and cordial neutrality, which, if I had been a citizen of the United States, I should have expected; and I say further, that, if there has existed considerable irritation at that, it must be taken as a measure of the high appreciation which the people of those States place upon the opinion of the people of England.

But there has occurred an event which was announced to us only a week ago, which is one of great importance, and it may be one of some peril. It is asserted that what is called "international law " has been broken by the seizure of the Southern commissioners on board an English trading steamer by a steamer of war of the United States.

Now, the act which has been committed by the American steamer, in my opinion, whether it was legal or not, was both impolitic and bad. That is my opinion. I think it may turn out, almost certainly, that, so far as the taking of those men from that ship was concerned, it was an act wholly unknown to, and unauthorized by, the American government. And if the American government believe, on the opinion of their law officers, that the act is illegal, I have no doubt they will make fitting reparation; for there is no government in the world that has so strenuously insisted upon modifications of international law, and has been so anxious to be guided always by the most moderate and merciful interpretation of that law.

Now, our great advisers of the Times newspaper have been persuading people that this is merely one of a series of acts which denote the determination of the Washington government to pick a quarrel with the people of England. Did you ever know anybody who was not very nearly dead drunk, who, having as much upon his hands as he could manage, would offer to fight everybody about him? Do you believe that the United States government presided over by President Lincoln, so constitutional in all his acts, so moderate as he has been-representing at this moment that great party in the United States, happily now in the ascendancy, which has always been especially in favor of peace, and especially friendly to England—do you believe that such a government, having now upon its hands an insurrection of the most formidable character in the South, would invite the armies and the fleets of England to combine with that insurrection, and, it might be, to render it impossible that the Union should ever again be restored ? I say, that single statement, whether it came from a public writer or a public speaker, is enough to stamp him forever with the character of being an insidious enemy of both countries.

What can be more monstrous than that we, as we call ourselves, to some extent, an educated, a moral, and a

« PreviousContinue »