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London: Saturday, July 18, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1213, p. 62.

July 18, 1863

London: Saturday, July 18, 1863.

France has Mexico. The capital was virtually won at La Puebla, and the north-western march of the French was all but unopposed. It is, however, due to the military character of our gallant neighbours to add that they lost no time in improving their victory, and hastened to seize points at which a determined resistance might have been offered with disastrous results to themselves. They pushed forward with energy, and the Imperial eagle has dethroned the eagle and serpent. The Sovereigns of the old world have been somewhat in haste to congratulate the "Parvenu;" but there is matter for congratulation in this success. We have from the outset expressed our conviction that a French occupation of Mexico must do good--not unalloyed good, it is true; but the imposition of anything like order and law upon a people utterly unaccustomed to either cannot fail to lay the seeds of a civilisation that will bear fruit in good season. We look with neither real nor affected horror upon the operations of the French in Mexico. At the very lowest, they are police operations of a salutary character, but we have hope that they will prove to be something nobler and better. We therefore hope, also, that the so-called national party, which could never be consolidated while peaceful and honest reform was to be done, but which was promptly welded into a formidable conspiracy against a reformer from abroad, will discover that further resistance is useless, and will accept the lessons which the Tuileries schoolmaster has undertaken to teach. Those who see in this Mexican conquest a tyrannical suppression of the liberties of a people must have studied to little purpose the disgraceful history of Mexico for the last quarter of a century. It was time that she should be taken in hand, and, if the force under General Forey be not sufficient for the tranquillisation of the region, there is an army in another famous capital that is eager to get rid of those military occupants, an army which might very well be transferred from the cause of brigandage and applied to aid in its suppression.

The Federal Government in North America will probably have something to say upon the subject of the occupation; and, indeed, certain of the Northern organs have already been good enough to inform the Emperor that as soon as the civil war shall have been concluded by the subjection of the South, he will do well to evacuate Mexico, or those who have visited it as conquerors may visit it again as protectors and avengers. Setting aside this somewhat informal notification, or regarding it as a hint which does not precisely demand immediate attention, we may be permitted to consider what effect a different result of the civil war from that indicated by the New York press will have upon the plans of the Emperor. Now it is due to that Sovereign to bear in mind that when he has issued a programme he always adverts to it at the close of his campaign, and points out how far he has been able to carry out his announced designs, and what he has deemed it wiser to abandon. The Emperor, when Spain and England withdrew from active co-operation in his designs upon Mexico, stated that he came for the good of the people, and for the purpose of enabling the rightminded among them to execute regenerative operations which had been rendered impossible by the strife of factions and the absence of national ideas. Passing over the question whether his Majesty had not supposed that the conquest would be easier than it turned out to be, and whether he under-estimated the strength of the hatred which unites robbers against the police, we may give him credit for having conducted the war with an undaunted vigour, and in the face of a general and discouraging readiness on the part of Europe to believe that the campaign was disastrous. He holds Mexico; but it has cost much. We mean nothing disrespectful in saying that France is not more ready than England to make sacrifices without securing some form of reward. It is true that we are usually cheated the moment we lay by the sword and take to the pen; but we do our humble best to recoup ourselves the losses we sustain, and France is generally more fortunate. Now, the Americans, North and South, are out of court in this matter. We all know what the Union gained by the Mexican War, and unless American diplomatists have recourse to the Monroe doctrine (incorrectly so termed, by-the-way), and declare that European Powers have nothing to say on the soil of the New World--a logic against which England has the very best reason to protest--it is not for fellow-citizens of the Californians and Texans to object upon principle to any concession which a regenerated Mexico may make in gratitude to her French regenerator. But supposing that the South should establish its claim to recognition, and the rumour should be true that a French General has in his portfolio powers to publish such recognition in the great square of Mexico on the part of France, the relations of the Emperor and of Mr. Davis will take a new aspect. Clearly, the sentiment of Southern gratitude, to use a gracious form of words in lieu of a cynical one, will take a distinct form, and between the kindness of the recognised Confederation and of the regenerate Mexico the Emperor may find himself obliged to accept the reward of his goodness. In plainer terms, a permanent French settlement in Mexico may be among the things of the future; perhaps an incipient Algiers.

As regards the Mexicans themselves, we believe that such a result of the war would be a benefit. The French are not good colonists, but they are an admirable police. They, when in earnest to put down brigands (such brigands not having had their poniards blessed at St. Peter's) do the work effectually, and, as under the stern old Romans, "the robber is smothered in his cave or stabbed at its mouth." But it is with a higher class of ruffianism that France will have to deal also, and with a fierce system of robbery and jobbery which sends its agents into Government houses, and works ambidextrously with proclamations and with pistols. A new organisation will have to be devised and carried out, and the astounded Mexicans will have to learn that law does not mean law conditionally on its exponent holding a long knife; but means a rule to be obeyed silently and punctually by all people and under all circumstances. We admit that to hope that this lesson will be learned in a hurry is a hope in the spirit of the stage direction in a late wit's proposal to dramatise Lord Macaulay's History--"Enter St. Augustine: a pause of five-and-twenty minutes while he converts the Britons to Christianity." But the lesson will be taught in time. The Arabs of Algeria have at length been made to comprehend that they are to recover a debt by putting the defendant into a court and not into a fire.

But as regards England. There is a swarm of little red marks on the right of the map at North America which indicates that England has an interest in knowing all about new settlers between 10 deg. and 30 deg. and 60 deg. and 110 deg. Well, we incline to think that, should the Emperor decide on a permanent occupation, we might have a worse neighbour. We should have an ally, and one who professes, and, as we believe, with truth, to consider England and France as the natural leaders of the world, and Powers with whom it would be insanity to quarrel, when, united, they have the world at their disposal. There is another reason or two why a French settlement in Mexico would not be disadvantageous to us, and we think that England will have no cause to object to the congratulations of our Queen being added to those of the other Sovereigns.

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