Billeder på siden

feeling is not altogether ungrounded. In practical politics and the great expenditures of national power, we must not pretend to be too far-sighted: otherwise even a transient peace would be impossible among the European nations. To future and distant evils we may always oppose the various unforeseen events that are ripening in the womb of the future. Lastly, it is chiefly to immediate and unequivocal attacks on our own interests and honor, that we attach the notion of right with a full and efficient feeling. Now, though we may be first stimulated to action by probabilities and prospects of advantage, and though there is a perverse restlessness in human nature, which renders almost all wars popular at their commencement, yet a nation always needs a sense of positive right to steady its spirit. There is always needed some one reason, short, simple, and independent of complicated calculation, in order to give a sort of muscular strength to the public mind, when the power that results from enthusiasm, animal spirits, and the charm of novelty, shall have evaporated.

There is no feeling more honorable to our nature, and few that strike deeper root when our nature is happily circumstanced, than the jealousy concerning a positive right, independent of an immediate interest. To surrender, in our national character, the merest trifle that is strictly our right, the merest rock on which the waves will scarcely permit the sea-fowl to lay its eggs, at the demand of an insolent and powerful rival, on a shopkeeper's calculation of loss and gain, is in its final, and assuredly not very distant consequences, a loss of every thing-of national spirit, of national independence, and with these, of the very wealth for which the low calculation was made. This feeling in individuals, indeed, and in private life, is to be sacrificed to religion. Say rather, that by religion, it is transmuted into a higher virtue, growing on a higher and engrafted branch, yet nourished from the same root; that it remains in its essence the same spirit, but

Made pure by thought, and naturalized in heaven;

and he who can not perceive the moral differences of national and individual duties, comprehends neither the one nor the other, and is not a whit the better Christian for being a bad patriot. Considered nationally, it is as if the captain of a man-of-war should strike and surrender his colors under the pretence, that it would be folly to risk the lives of so many good Christian sailors for the

Of such reasoners I take

sake of a few yards of coarse canvas!

an indignant leave in the words of an obscure poet :—

Fear never wanted arguments: you do
Reason yourselves into a careful bondage,
Circumspect only to your misery.

I could urge freedom, charters, country, laws,
Gods, and religion, and such precious names-
Nay, what you value higher, wealth! But that
You sue for bondage, yielding to demands

As impious as they're insolent, and have
Only this sluggish aim,—to perish full !*

And here it is necessary to animadvert on a principle asserted by Lord Minto (in his speech, June 6th, 1803, and afterwards published at full length), that France had an undoubted right to insist on our abandonment at Malta, a right not given, but likewise not abrogated, by the treaty of Amiens. Surely in this effort of candor, his Lordship must have forgotten the circumstances on which he exerted it. The case is simply thus: the British government was convinced, and the French government admitted the justice of the conviction, that it was of the utmost importance to our interests, that Malta should remain uninfluenced by France. The French government bound itself down by a solemn treaty, that it would use its best endeavors, in conjunction with us, to secure this independence. This promise was no act of liberality, no generous free-gift, on the part of FranceNo! we purchased it at a high price. We disbanded our forces, we dismissed our sailors, and we gave up the best part of the fruits of our naval victories. Can it therefore with a shadow of plausibility be affirmed, that the right to insist on our evacuation of the island was unaltered by the treaty of Amiens, when this demand was strictly tantamount to our surrender of all the advantages which we had bought of France at so high a price,tantamount to a direct breach on her part, not merely of a solemn treaty, but of an absolute bargain? It was not only the perfidy of unprincipled ambition-the demand was the fraudulent trick of a sharper. For what did France? She sold us the independence of Malta ;-then exerted her power, and annihilated the very possibility of that independence, and lastly, demanded of us that we should leave it bound hand and foot for her to seize

* Cartwright. The Siege, or Love's Convert. Act I. sc. 1.-Ed.

without trouble, whenever her ambitious projects led her to regard such seizure as expedient. We bound ourselves to surrender it to the Knights of Malta-not surely to Joseph, Robert, or Nicholas, but to a known order, clothed with certain powers, and capable of exerting them in consequence of certain revenues. We found no such order. The men indeed and the name we found and even so, if we had purchased Sardinia of its sovereign for so many millions of money, which through our national credit, and from the equivalence of our national paper to gold and silver, he might have agreed to receive in bank notes, and if he had received them-doubtless, he would have the bank-notes, even though immediately after our payment of them we had for this very purpose forced the Bank company to break. But would he have received the debt due to him? It is nothing more or less than a practical pun, as wicked though not quite so ludicrous, as the (in all senses) execrable pun of Earl Godwin, who requesting basium (a kiss) from the archbishop, thereupon seized on the archbishop's manor of Baseham.

A treaty is a writ of mutual promise between two independent states, and the law of promise is the same to nations as to individuals. It is to be sacredly performed by each party in that sense in which it knew and permitted the other party to understand it, at the time of the contract. Any thing short of this is criminal deceit in individuals, and in governments impious perfidy After the conduct of France in the affair of the guarantees, and of the revenues of the order, we had the same right to preserve the island independent of France by a British garrison, as a lawful creditor has to the household goods of a fugitive and dishonest debtor.

One other assertion made by Lord Minto, in the same speech, bears so immediately on the plan of The Friend, as far as it proposed to investigate the principle of international, no less than of private morality, that I feel myself in some degree under an obligation to notice it. A treaty, says his lordship, ought to be strictly observed by a nation in its literal sense, even though the utter ruin of that nation should be the certain and foreknown consequence of that observance. Previously to any remarks of my own on this high flight of diplomatic virtue, we will hear what Harrington has said on this subject: "A man may devote himself to death or destruction to save a nation; but no nation


The conse

will devote itself to death or destruction to save mankind. Machiavel is decried for saying, 'that no consideration is to be had of what is just or unjust, of what is merciful or cruel, of what is honorable or ignominious, in case it be to save a state or to preserve liberty which as to the manner of expression may perhaps be crudely spoken. But to imagine that a nation will devote itself to death or destruction any more after faith given, or an engagement thereto tending, than if there had been no engagement made or faith given, were not piety but folly.”—Crudely spoken indeed, and not less crudely thought; nor is the matter much mended by the commentator. Yet every man, who is at all acquainted with the world and its past history, knows that the fact itself is truly stated and what is more important in the present argument, he can not find in his heart a full, deep, and downright verdict, that it should be otherwise. quences of this perplexity in the moral feelings are not seldom extensively injurious. For men hearing the duties which would be binding on two individuals living under the same laws insisted on as equally obligatory on two independent states, in extreme cases, where they see clearly the impracticability of realizing such a notion,—and having at the same time a dim halfconsciousness, that two states can never be placed exactly on the same ground as two individuals,-relieve themselves from their perplexity by cutting what they can not untie, and assert that national policy can not in all cases be subordinated to the laws of morality;-in other words, that a government may act with injustice, and yet remain blameless. This assertion was hazarded,—I record it with unfeigned regret,—by a minister of state, on the affair of Copenhagen. Tremendous assertion! that would render every complaint, which we make, of the abominations of the French tyrant, hypocrisy, or mere incendiary declamation for the simple-headed multitude. But, thank God! it is as unnecessary and unfounded, as it is tremendous. For what is a treaty ? A voluntary contract between two nations. So we will state it in the first instance. Now it is an impossible case, that any nation can be supposed by any other to have intended its own absolute destruction in a treaty, which its interests alone could have prompted it to make. The very thought is self-contradictory. Not only Athens (we will say) could not have intended this to have been understood in any specific promise made to

Sparta; but Sparta could never have imagined that Athens had so intended it. And Athens itself must have known, that had she even affirmed the contrary, Sparta could not have believed— nay, would have been under a moral obligation not to have believed her. Were it possible to suppose such a case-for instance, such a treaty made by a single besieged town, under an independent government as that of Numantia-it becomes no longer a state, but the act of a certain number of individuals voluntarily sacrificing themselves, each to preserve his separate honor. For the state was already destroyed by the circumstances which alone could make such an engagement conceivable.—But we have said, nations.-Applied to England and France, relatively to treaties, this is but a form of speaking. The treaty is really made by some half-dozen, or perhaps half a hundred individuals, possessing the government of these countries. Now it is a universally admitted part of the law of nations, that an engagement entered into by a minister with a foreign power, when it is known to this power that the minister in so doing has exceeded and contravened his instructions, is altogether nugatory. And is it to be supposed for a moment, that a whole nation, consisting perhaps of twenty millions of human souls, could ever have invested a few individuals, whom altogether for the promotion of its welfare it had intrusted with its government, with the right of signing away its existence ?*

* See Paley's Moral and Political Philosophy, B. vi. c. 12.—Ed.

« ForrigeFortsæt »