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France and Mexico

The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1339, p. 373-374.

October 21, 1865


Whatever character the messages from Washington to Paris upon the subject of Mexico may have assumed, and whether they are of recent date or were dispatched at the time when the conclusion of the internecine war gave the United States Government an opportunity of looking round them, there is no doubt that the President, in signifying his displeasure with French interference on the new continent, expresses the feelings of a very large, if not a very intellectual, portion of the American people. It is not, therefore, of the first consequence to be assured as to the exact accuracy of the statement which has just caused considerable sensation in London and Paris--namely, that the President of the States has decided on forbidding the Emperor of the French to dispatch a fresh supply of troops to the aid of the Emperor Maxmilian. The probability seems to be that the peremptory message of which we have heard was rather inferred than known, and that we shall learn that, if a very late despatch on the subject has been sent to Paris, the document is not one of a character so offensive as that which has been described. But this is of little consequence, for the reason we have assigned. The Americans have managed to inoculate themselves with an extraordinary conviction that the New World belongs to them, and that Mr. Canning, of England, and Mr. Monroe, of Washington, have told them so, and therefore they view with unconcealed jealousy any attempt at intrusion on the part of Europeans. Whether, therefore, they may be inclined to quarrel with France now on the subject of Mexico, or whether they may be able to nurse their wrath to keep it warm until the empire of Maximilian is able to stand by itself, and France may withdraw, and not be quarrelled with at all, matters not very much. It would, perhaps, be more to the advantage of the Maximilian dynasty that hostilities should be provoked at once, while the honour of France is involved, and her whole mighty force must be brought to the aid of the new Emperor, than that his empire should be left to settle itself, and that it should get into difficulties with the States at a later date. Very good terms and a very good treaty could be obtained from the latter Power at the present time; but later, væ victis! and who can say that ten years hence France will be inclined to lend aid to the Mexican empire?

But, inasmuch as the hostility of the Americans to this Mexican empire is a fact over which there is no getting, we may venture to believe that, whether the President has sent the menacing despatch or not, the belief represents the feelings of his constituents, and we may be tolerably sure that at some convenient opportunity the States will quarrel with Mexico. They did so before, as we recently pointed out, and

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the result was a war and an annexation. We will not say what might be the end of a war in which the disciplined and scientific armies of France would encounter the American forces. It is possible that volunteers, even of the high class of which much of the United States Army, now disbanded, was composed, might find a different enemy in the splendid machine called a French army from the gallant volunteers of the South. At the utmost, the Americans have had but four years of military experience, while the French armies have an unbroken succession of such knowledge. It might be that the Imperial Marshals would be an overmatch for the Republican Generals. But, withdraw France from the game, and it is not too much to say that Grant, Sherman, or Sheridan would finish the business of the Emperor Maximilian in a month. Unless France means to have a permanent protectorate in Mexico, or unless good offices can bring the United States Government to a recognition of the new monarchy, we may, without any inclination to be prophets of ill, prognosticate that bad fortune is in store for the Mexican empire. We shall have telegrams for the second edition of the papers some fine afternoon, which despatches will begin with the ominous words, "Rupture between the States and Mexico." What the next will contain will depend very much upon which of the dates is selected for the rupture in question.

Now, if the United States desire a new annexation, if they have resolved that the stripes and stars shall float over the entire of the southern part of North America, from Canada to Quibo, we can understand the resolution, though we may not admire it. But there are statesmen in the States. The vulgar longing for mere acquisition of territory and addition of population, no doubt, actuates myriads among them, and bids them regard Mexico as a territory to be taken when circumstances may permit, or when any decent pretext can be afforded for the annexation. The same objections which they affect to feel in regard to a monarchical neighbour can easily be made to apply to a democratic neighbour, if his democracy is not exactly like that of the great Republic. There need never be wanting an excuse for seizing Mexico while the Americans retain their present ideas as to their own destiny, and as to the very frivolous and antiquated character of Old World notions about right and wrong. These persons need be in no hurry. But, as we have said, there are statesmen among them who must be superior to the low feeling of avidity for mere annexation. They want something more than so many additional millions of acres and fellow-citizens. They would like to increase the Union, no doubt; but they would like to feel that any increase was an advantage. Men of this class must perceive that at the present time the absorption of Mexico would be a premature step, a foolish blunder. In the anecdotage of New York is a clever story illustrating the acuteness of a hunter. He was tracking a deer, had marked it down, and had his finger on the trigger of his rifle, when he noted a movement in the bush. The next moment he perceived a hostile Indian who was intent on the same game as himself. The savage did not see him, but took fatal aim at the deer. The American transferred his aim from the animal's heart to that of the Indian, waited calmly until the latter had fired the death-shot, and then he drew his own trigger, thus securing his deer and slaying his foe. The wiser men among the Northerners will perhaps do well to take a hint from the wary hunter, at least to the extent of letting their game be brought down by other hands than their own.

Si sua bona nôrint, the Americans would regard their Majesties the Emperors Napoleon and Maximilian as pioneers, who are doing the best possible service to the States. If the Austrian dynasty be allowed to survive, the States will obtain, instead of the worst neighbours they could possibly have, reasonably good and improving ones. Order and law mean commerce and artificial wants, and these can only grow where a strong hand represses the barbarous and disorderly in the sternest and most resolute manner. No American can need to be told what sort of a chaos of wretchedness Mexico has been for years. Each successive attempt to educe order from it by means of the people has only shown more and more the demoralisation of that people, and its entire unfitness for self-government. When it has chosen or endured a leader, he has been about as bad a man as could be found, even in Mexico, and any better ruler has speedily lost the reins. Mexico has at length got the only form of Government which can have any hope of success--the rule of the bayonet. Force may achieve good, but it is certain that nothing else can. If the Americans are wise, they will quietly permit Canning-Monroe doctrines, as they have now chosen to call them (though Canning would have been singularly sarcastic in his retort on anyone who accused him of wishing to make Uncle Sam the king of the western world), go to sleep in the pigeon-hole at the White House. They will watch the exertions of the new Emperor, aided by his powerful friend, to bring Mexico into order. Whether the latter uses Egyptians or not for the purpose does not greatly signify. He used them some time ago, and we ourselves made protest, not on Monroe grounds, but on the more rational basis of international law, which does not permit subjects to be taken away without leave from their suzerain. If the Emperor wants more Egyptians he will doubtless, obtain them in a regular manner; and we really suggest in sincerity to the Americans that they had better let him do his work in his own way. Let him create for them an orderly and commercial neighbour in Mexico. They cannot be afraid of the influence of example, or that the kings of shoddy and of oil may be inspired to desire a king and an aristocracy of their own. A German Count is not likely to assume a very tempting aspect in the eyes of Anglo-Saxons. We do not think that even Texas will be demoralised, and so far abnegate the rights of man as to ask to be allowed to secede and set up a Sovereign. But what will happen if the Maximilian dynasty receives support from its great neighbour is that the finances of the country will be taken out of the hands of thieves; the laws will be enforced, and not left to be carried out by corrupt functionaries as bad as the culprits who buy them; the Church will be prevented from being, as heretofore, a lever for overthrowing Government; and the honest people of Mexico will at length be delivered from the cruelty and rapacity of the dishonest. Then, material prosperity will set in, and the richly-favoured land will cease to be a scandal among nations. When this shall have been effected, an American who really believes in the principles he avows will see that a truly enlightened Mexico must of her own accord seek for admission into the all-perfect Republic. Surely such a future is better than a recurrence of anarchy and bloodshed, which would be the result of the overthrow of the Maximilian dynasty. The States which had caused its fall would be bound to take Mexico in hand themselves, and we need hardly point out to a Yankee that it is scarcely in accordance with his traditions to do anything for himself at a great price which he can get another to do for him for nothing. We think that this business-like view of the whole case ought to commend itself to the American mind, and we are not without hope that it has already done so, and than there is no truth in the statement that Mr. Seward has sent an insulting message to the benefactor of Mexico.

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