London: Saturday, September 30, 1865The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1336, p. 306-307.
September 30, 1865
Perrault speaks of certain unhappy illustrations as "comparisons with long tails." Probably a comparison more caudally gifted than one which has just been published, with the honoured name of the late Mr. Cobden annexed to it, has scarcely been penned since Perrault wrote. In alluding to the affairs of Mexico and French intervention in that region, Mr. Cobden says that we ought to consider how France would feel if the United States were suddenly, and without consulting her, to erect a republic in Belgium. Even our respect for the memory of an able and good man, too soon lost to us, can hardly induce us to treat such an argument gravely, or to admit that it has the slightest value in enabling us to estimate the facts. The most that can be said in justification of so feeble a suggestion is, that Mr. Cobden was endeavouring to touch a Frenchman on his weak point--national pride; but the recipient of the letter must have smiled at the rather helpless effort.
It might have been better had one whose words deservedly commanded respectful attention in America called the attention of the Republicans to one circumstance which might be thought to merit consideration from any people possessed of ordinary good feeling, not to say of a sense of decency. The Americans might, indeed, without Mr. Cobden's reminder, have recollected that annexation, to adopt the polite word, was practised by them upon Mexico, on a very large scale, and not twenty years ago. Some of us here, who are troubled with memories, can easily recall the revolt of Texas, which had previously and by system been filled with adventurers from the United States, and the absorption, a few years later, of that province by the Northern Republic. But everyone remembers how the long-sought war with Mexico broke out, and how it terminated in 1848, when this Mexico, over whose interests the Union now desires to watch so tenderly, was compelled to give up nearly 600,000 square miles of territory to the Stripes and Stars, whereby New Mexico, Upper California, and a large tract of country east of the Rio Grand del Norte, became American. We are not inclined to say that it was not a good thing for these districts that they came into the possession of a civilised Power, and law and order took the place of robbery and jobbery. We believe that no change could have occurred in the condition of any part of Mexico, for the last half century, that would not have been an improvement. Our American cousins have greatly benefited the territories which they acquired in this highhanded manner. But, considering that the plots to obtain them were just as deliberately planned as the conspiracy of European rulers against Poland, that the Mexican plunder was gained just as the Polish plunder was gained, and with quite as little real title on the part of the spoliators, we must be allowed to think that in any new effort for the civilisation of Mexico the Republic might discover what a Frenchman calls a splendid opportunity of holding its tongue. The Americans, however, have many virtues and merits, but nobody is in the habit of including among them the tame quality called good taste.
Mr. Cobden says, rather dogmatically, that no human power can restore Mexico to order, or bestow on it the blessings of civilised progress. This double proposition is strong, and we may be forgiven for thinking that it is rather too strong. We have no reason to believe that a military Government, for instance, or a Government, like that of France, which wraps up its bayonet in the stamped paper of legality, could not at all events enforce order in Mexico by the same stringent process which has been employed by France elsewhere. Mexico is a large country; but its population is not very great, and in all probability does not exceed the amount of that of Ireland some years ago. The Census of 1850 gave the number at about seven millions and a half, over an area of about 800,000 English square miles. Making all allowance for the extraordinary difficulties offered by the character of portions of the country to military operations, it is idle to say that France, in earnest at the work, could not enforce order for all material purposes in a region like this, leaving moral agencies to exert themselves afterwards. It might be safely affirmed, in speculation, even if the brief history of the Maximilian dynasty had not proved the fact, that in the large towns, and in the better portion of the country districts, there must exist a hearty desire, not for the success of this or that army, but for a system under which men's lives, freedom, and purses should be safe. A government of order has already obtained the support of the best classes, weary of the constant struggles of adventurers and of the unhappy condition into which those were thrown who had aught to lose. The country has always been in a transition state, and this is only another word for a demoralisation, at which the patriotic Mexican must sicken. We do not think that it is too much to say that the class in which the true element of strength resides is at heart in favour of the Empire, and with the support of that class we do not see the impossibility of what Mr. Cobden declares to be impossible--namely, the establishment of order, at the very least.
For nearly forty years the condition of Mexico has been more unfavourable than that of any country on the globe. The attempt at a Constitution was a failure from several causes, the chief, perhaps, being the effort to combine Old and New World institutions and the difficulty of making these work harmoniously. But the want of character and conscience in the statesmen and leaders of the country would have prevented any system from working for the benefit of the people. Intrigue followed upon intrigue, and the victor of the day sought only the advantage of himself and his partisans, while the defeated faction, instead of accepting the new state of things, instantly set to organising plots for fresh attempts at dominion. It was no wonder that the United States, eager for accession of territory, soon spied the nakedness of the land, and marked out a prey on which they pounced with more celerity than dignity. The dictatorship of three years was disastrous, and the clergy, who are among the most troublesome specimens of the priesthood, were never fairly taken in hand and taught their true place by any Government that has yet essayed to administer Mexican affairs. Central and Federal Republicanism have been alike tried, but in vain, and the condition of Mexico at length became a scandal and
Page 307an outrage to the world. Whether the United States might not have interfered more advantageously than a European Power could do may have been a question; but it is one no longer; the Northern Republic had its own affairs to attend to, and France, having cleverly sought but signally failed to enlist England and Spain in the business, has undertaken the settlement of Mexico. The wishes of all lovers of order went with the experiment, not because they admired the exertion of force, but because the settlement was a necessity, and Mexico had been showing for years that she was unable to effect it. We cannot see that the right course has not been taken; and, at all events, the course is up to the present moment successful. The rebels have been defeated, their leader has fled, and the last news is that the Republic of Mexico has ceased to exist. In spite of Mr. Cobden's conviction, therefore, order is in a fair way to be established in Mexico, and we desire to believe that moral progress also is at no distant date to commence.