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The Joint Expedition to Mexico

The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1114, p. 432.

October 26, 1861

During the coming winter America is destined to be the theatre of many stirring events. The expiry of the unhealthy season for which M'Clellan and Fremont wait on the Potomac and the Mississippi will be the signal for letting loose upon Mexico the fleets of the three leading nations of Western Europe. Seldom was an armed intervention more imperiously called for.The British case against Mexico is only too complete. The misgivings which could not be suppressed in the minds of many concerning the justifiableness of our late intervention in the affairs of China do not and cannot exist in the present instance. Those most inclined to dispute the justice or deny the policy of high-handed proceedings on our part towards other nations refuse to become the advocates of Mexico. British residents plundered at pleasure and murdered with impunity at the rate of a score a year, British creditors not only systematically defrauded of their rights but robbed even of a small instalment of pecuniary justice which had been placed under the protection of the Legation itself, the faith of treaties and special conventions so consistently flouted as to make further negotiation a mockery, and the fact that these wrongs were perpetuated not by one party merely, but by all of the more than semi-barbarous factions which dispute for an ephemeral sway in the "halls of Montezuma," furnish a catalogue of grievances such as, happily, is not often presented for the consideration of a British Cabinet. Neither of our proposed co-partners in this expedition has so many claims for redress. Some of the British claims date back to 1834, but France seized Vera Cruz in 1838, and obtained 600,000 dollars in payment of all demands to that date, She has likewise obtained several "conventions" since that time—conventions to which more respect has probably been shown than to those which the offending State has entered into with Great Britain. Whatever other outrages Spain may have to allege, it is certain Spaniards have not advanced to the Mexican Government £12,000,000, and that their claims for injuries received do not amount to anything like the enormous sum of 21,000,000 dollars; indeed, the British merchants, whose petition stimulated our Government into action, hint very broadly that the life and property of an Englishman in Mexico are held cheaper by the natives than those of any other people in the world.

The astonished public may well ask why things have been suffered to come to this pass? why outrage has been heaped upon outrage, and nothing been avenged? why the national honour has been allowed to suffer in the eyes of our own citizens and of the rest of the world? What an empty boast seems that Romanus civis declaration of Lord Palmerston when put in apposition with the history of British transactions with the first of Spanish American Republics! It is manifestly inconsistent for the Government to bombard Athens in behalf of Don Pacifico; to exact redress for a single Englishman cut down by an Austrian saber in a Tuscan city; to obtain compensation for two English engineers taken on board the filibustering steamer Cagliari; and leave unavenged a hundred cases worse than any of these which have happened in Mexico. In Europe and the Orient the British Government have been acting on Roman principles; in America they seem to have taken to heart the doctrines of the Sermon on the Mount in their literal sense, and to have presented their cheek to the smiter. Again, it may be asked, whence this incongruity?

The mystery is easily dispelled. We find the solution in the former policy of the United States' Government. The Cabinet of Washington have said "Hands off!" whenever a British or Spanish intervention was threatened. The United States have acted as the great protectors of anarchy in Mexico. The arrogant "Monroe doctrine," to the effect that no European Power shall wield influence in the Western World, has been jealously enforced against Britain and Spain in favour of Mexico. The Mexican anarchs have not been slow to appreciate the advantages of their position and to indulge in license where that license could only be chastised at the fearful price of a war with the United States. The wrongs which British residents and creditors have received at the hands of Mexicans, heavy as they are, were trifles compared with the consequences of letting loose upon British America those 500,000 volunteers who are now arrayed in hostile camps on the Potomac, the Ohio, and the Mississippi. This consideration bade our Government pause. It was doubtless good policy to suffer meekly; our predominant interests demanded it; but it is impossible to overlook the fact that, in so acting, we have sacrificed the national honour to the national interest. We need hardly add that in protecting ruffianism in Mexico the United States Government and people have been actuated by no kindly motives towards Mexico. She has been their "sick man," and held the same position towards them that Poland in the latter half of the eighteenth, and Turkey in the former part of this century, occupied in respect to Russia. Indeed this analogy has often been suggested as one of the mysterious bonds which linked so strangely together the great serf empire of the East and the great Slave Republic of the West. Little Poland, however, only afforded food for three partitions. The original gigantic proportions of Mexico (including as they did Texas, New Mexico, and California) gave material for two annexations, and still left enough for two or three repetitions of the process. Such a monster could not be swallowed whole. It was necessary for the anaconda to rest awhile and digest. In the meantime, and before any action has been taken on Mr. Buchanan's proposition of occupying the frontier provinces of their neighbour, the anaconda itself is severed into two parts: the protector is occupied at home with internecine quarrels, quarrels which suggest the idea that, in appropriating portions of Mexican territory, he had himself become assimilated somewhat to the Mexican in character, and the anarchs suddenly find themselves at the mercy of those they have so long injured with impunity. For this long-desired opportunity we may safely acknowledge our indebtedness to the politicians of the cotton States, and credit them with it as a small set-off against the serious injury with which their hotheaded policy has already visited, and the still worse calamities with which it threatens to visit, the manufacturing classes of Europe. Busily occupied as the United States are, we already hear the Anglo-French-Spanish expedition politely characterised as "an unholy combination," "an unnatural alliance"—words which issue with bad grace from the lips of those who have just warmly applauded the sentiment of the Czar of Russia that Russia and the United States, "placed at the extremities of two worlds, both in the ascending periods of their development, appear called to a natural community of interests and of sympathies, of which they have already given mutual proofs to each other."

The fact that the expedition is to be a joint one causes some regrets of another kind at home. The combination is not denounced as "unholy," but is pronounced "unpleasant." Joint-stock operations with France are said to result in the disadvantage and discredit of this country. We cannot so interpret the memorable passages in modern history to which allusion is made. Did Anglo-French co-operation against Russia terminate in an unsatisfactory peace? More recently, did the same combination so terminate in the case of China? In both cases the triumph was achieved in a comparatively short space of time. It is true that the army and navy of the two countries do feel a little mutual repulsion; but this consideration is a trifling one, and cannot be allowed to stand in the way of great measures of public policy demanded by the industrial spirit of the age in which we live. That the dominant tendencies of this century urge upon both the French and the British nations a cordial and frequent co-operation we cannot doubt. There was an invasion panic in England in 1852. Armies and fleets were reviewed in mutual distrust, if not defiance, on each side of the Channel. The superficial public opinion of the hour marked out those armaments as destined to be used against each other. But the progress of events threw irony on these speculations. The forces of the two nations were destined to fight side by side in the Crimea, the Black Sea, and the Baltic. Again; since 1858 the invasion panic has become almost endemic here; the two nations, it is said, have been arming against each other. Nevertheless, the voice of the mercantile community in China urged upon the home Governments the expediency of a joint war in that quarter of the globe, and the forces of the two nations again fought side by side; and, lastly, a similar demand from a similar class arises in reference to Mexico. The merchants urgently recommend a joint expedition as the best means of effecting the righteous object they have in view. In our querulousness at the Anglo-French alliance let us beware that we are not kicking against the highest tendencies and the most radical requirements of our generation.

It is no drawback if Spain should be added to the combination. This is not the first time that England, France, and Spain have acted in unison on American questions. Cuba has been preserved to Spain these ten years by an Anglo-French guarantee. It is well, moreover, for the cause of Western civilization that out Teutonic and Protestant nation should be drawn closer to its Latin and Catholic neighbours. The policy of isolation has endured long enough, and has cost Western Europe many calamities. The same principle which in industrial pursuits gives birth to joint-stock companies and co-operative stores, and in social life to associations of all kinds unknown to our forefathers, forces upon us, sometimes it may be in spite of ourselves, the adoption of an analogous course in the elevated region of diplomacy and international politics. Combined action has this additional advantage in that it affords less ground for the suspicion that the enterprise begun with laudable motives be prosecuted for the baser purpose of selfish aggrandisement. It is rumoured that Spain, inflamed by her success in Morocco and by the windfall of St. Domingo, is meditating the revival of the projects of Hernando Cortez. Association with Britain and France will impose moderation on the vaulting ambition of Iberian statesmen and will be a guarantee to the rest of the world that the original purpose of the expedition will be sincerely and scrupulously adhered to. "The age of conquest is over," says Napoleon III., and nothing is a surer sign of the truth of this aphorism than the prevalence of associated action for the settlement of international difficulties, and the discredit into which an isolated and individualistic policy is falling.

"There is many a slip between the cup and the lip," and it is by no means impossible that France and Spain may act independently of Great Britain. The British merchants prayed for the occupation of the city of Mexico by a small force of European troops. This idea is said to find favour with the French Government, with whom a fondness for "occupations" is traditional. If that Government have troops they are willing to "expend" in Mexico, it is not the British residents who will object to their presence. But Earl Russell sets his face against implicating this country in this course. He thinks a very large force would be insufficient to restore public tranquility. Foreign interference of this kind is only beneficial when a large and numerous party in the country is prepared to welcome foreign aid. There is no such party in Mexico. The British Government will therefore confine itself to demanding "respect for the persons and property of British subjects, and the fulfillment of recorded obligations." Such is the argument of the British Foreign Secretary. It is easy to see that the "fulfillment of recorded obligations" may be ensured by the administration of the customs of Vera Cruz and the other ports of Mexico, and the application of the moneys to those creditors to whom by special treaty they are due; but how the British Government propose to make good their demand for the "respect of the persons and property of British subjects" resident in the interior is not so clear. Already we are warned by the Europeans in the interior towns of Mexico that, if the military operations are confined to the coast, their position will be rendered more precarious than ever. The natives, unable to oppose the foreigner on the coast, will, we are told, avenge themselves on the defenceless foreigners in their midst. These appeals are worthy of consideration, and may lead Earl Russell to consent to the desired occupation. In the meantime we bespeak for the Mexican expedition, whether joint or several, the favour of the English public. It will sail in the interest of order, civilization civilisation , and humanity, and will vindicate the national honour and prestige in a part of the world where it has long been suffered to droop. It will rehabilitate the legitimate influence of Europe in the Western World, and confound the pretensions of the partisans of the Monroe doctrine. It may, indeed, help Mr. Gladstone's very small margin of estimated surplus to disappear; but England has so long allowed pecuniary considerations to override those of honour in her relations with Mexico that she may consider herself fortunate in being able at the present juncture to renew her credit there at a small immediate outlay.

Previous: London, Saturday, October 26, 1861ArticleVolume 39, no. 1097, p. 2 (23 paragraphs)
Next: Illustrations of the Civil War in America, From sketches by Our Special Artist: Franklin's Brigade Passing Arlington Mill on its Way to Occupy Munson's Hill. and A Portion of the Confederate Works on Munson's Hill. and General M'Clellan Occupying the Confederate Position at Munson's Hill.Articlevol. 39, no. 1114, p. 438 (4 paragraphs)
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