Our Relations with AmericaThe Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1128, p. 97.
January 25, 1862
Is it our unhappy destiny to become involved in a third war with the people of the United States, with whom we have so many ties of language, race, religion, and laws? This is an apprehension which weighs heavily on the public mind at the present moment, and which Mr. Seward's high-flying diplomacy, concurring with the incensed temper towards England of the Northern people, will not allow us to stifle. "The relations between the two countries," said Mr. Gladstone, at Leith, "afford a thousand points of contact every day, and must necessarily likewise afford opportunities for collision." He would be a bold man who would be willing to give assurance that those opportunities will always be met in a spirit of mutual forbearance and concession. The British Americans, whose situation compels them to a close acquaintance with the character and tendencies of their neighbours, forewarn us with ominous unanimity that the evil day is only postponed, not conjured away for ever. How the events of the last twelvemonth have necessarily resulted in bringing an American war, which seemed so distant in 1860, into the foreground of our national prospects merits a brief explanation.
The eleven "Confederate" States, in seceding, shattered with the same blow the Union and Constitution of 1787 and the basis on which peace between Britain and the Union had hitherto rested. Without forgetting the influence in behalf of international amity wielded by a small section of New England politicians, of whom the late Daniel Webster and Charles Sumner are the best-known representatives, we must, nevertheless, mainly attribute the maintenance of peace for the last thirty years to the unwillingness of Southern politicians to initiate a war which, if successful, could only result in strengthening the Northern States by adding to them a territory which would immediately give at least four anti-slavery States to the Union and overbalance Slave-soil acquisitions at the South by immense Free-soil acquisitions at the North. It is patent to every one that those who struggled so fiercely and fraudulently to wrest the single State of Kansas from a Northern immigration would be in no hurry (however great their dislike of British influence) to make sacrifices to annex British America to the Union. They therefore judged it politic to bridle the bellicose propensities of the people of the Middle and Western States and to put them off with a succession of vexatious international disputes never meant to be urged to the issue of war. From this situation resulted peace, but a peace little to be envied, because it was a peace without amity, and sometimes even without common courtesy. On several occasions of late years it cannot be denied that the English nation have felt that this was a situation which benefited their political and commercial interests at the expense of their honour.
This guarantee of peace is now withdrawn, and we look around in vain to find a substitute. The South can never again be to us what she has been. If in the present conflict she is able to maintain her independence, then the Northern people stand alone, absolute masters of their own destiny. If, on the other hand, the South is subjugated by the North, she will use whatever political influence she may hereafter possess in the Union to precipitate a foreign war, in order that she may find therein a splendid opportunity for revolt, and a sweet occasion for revenge. It is bootless to inquire whether the independence or the reconquest of the South would be the most unfavourable combination for the continuance of pace with the British empire. It is sufficient that neither one contingency nor the other offers any stable basis on which we could reasonably rest our hopes. A new experiment would commence—that of administering British rule on the American continent alongside of a multitudinous, pugnacious, anti-British, and henceforth unchecked democracy, dwelling south of the St. Lawrence and the lakes. Who says that this experiment will he allowed to evolve itself without interruption? Not the British Americans, nor those best acquainted with the ideas and passions of the Americans of the North. This ever-present apprehension of war, and all the expense of preparation that it involves, is what we must henceforward resign ourselves to pay as the price of our continued dominion on the American continent; and it is highly flattering to our national self-love that no voice has been heard in any part of British America praying us to remove our flag, although the knowledge that the proximity of that flag is a chronic source of irritation to the neighbouring democracy is possessed by every schoolboy in Canada.
But if a third war with the United States be an only too probable occurrence, then it may be said, the sooner it comes the better. "Let us accept the first gage of battle thrown down by the Transatlantic Demos and punish them for their rash arrogance by ensuring the dismemberment of the Union." This is the hasty logic of the soldier. The statesman and the moralist will argue quite differently. Conceding that in a merely military point of view the conditions may never be so favourable to our side as during the existence of the present troubles, we unhesitatingly affirm that they can hardly ever be so unfavourable in a political, commercial, and moral point of view. If we should be tempted to pick up the glove thrown down by a passionate people in their hour of difficulty and distress the British nation would never be forgiven by any class or section of the Northern people. If through any direct agency of this nation their idolised Union were dismembered, what would be the result? Keenly watching every turn of the world's kaleidoscope, the Northerners would subordinate their whole foreign policy to the fanatical prosecution of one idea—that of dismembering the British empire and humiliating the British nation. Mr. Seward has already given us a friendly hint of the prospects of our trade with the United States in such an event. Conscious of the resentful character of his own people, he shudders as he contemplates a contingency "which will leave no roots remaining out of which trade between the United States and Great Britain, as it has hitherto flourished, can ever again spring up." If our manufactures would be excluded how could our English and Scottish immigrants hope to fare? From the Atlantic to the Pacific the United States would be too hotly vindictive towards our race and name to offer an asylum to our emigration. This is consideration of no small moment to our middle and working classes, from whose ranks the whole of our emigration proceeds.
We could expect no compensation for this terrible hostility in the ardent attachment of the Confederate States, whose independence we should have established. There is a moral gulf between the British and Slave State people which no accidental, ephemeral, political, and military alliance could bridge over. The Southern Confederacy, if it can make good its independence by its own unaided resources, will probably offer to our commerce better terms than it ever enjoyed under the old Union; while the creation of a balance of power on the American continent would be viewed without regret as well by Great Britain as by the other nations of the Old and New Worlds. But these advantages must be won for us, if at all, by Southern patriotism, and not by English interference.
If these premises be correct, they lead up to this conclusion, that it is our truest policy to exercise great forbearance towards the United States during the course of the present war and to avoid doing anything which seems to evince a desire to take advantage of their temporary difficulties. It is not conceivable that any cause of difference can arise between the two nations during this crisis which the embarrassed nation would not be willing to refer to the arbitration of a third party. It would be our duty and interest to give as wide an extension to the principle of arbitration as possible; but, in the event of cases arising which in the opinion of our statesmen could not with propriety be referred to an umpire, then we could well afford to be magnanimous, and wait to vindicate our honour until the United States had their hands disengaged. Europe could not misinterpret our motives, and the American Democracy are no longer under the delusion that Britain "cannot be kicked into a war" with their irresistible selves. But, indeed, the very readiness on our part to take such a generous position would not fail to touch the heart of the American people, and dispose them to make reparation for whatever injury or insult they might have inflicted on us. It would also do much towards creating such a feeling between the two nations as would postpone for a long time, if it did not for ever avert, the outbreak of another war. As the older, sager, and, as we claim, more chivalrous nation, Britain, we believe, would find it conduce not less to her honour than to her interests to take such an attitude.
If, however, this is to expect too much of human nature as displayed in the relations between two rival nations, let us at least rise superior to every temptation to take the United States at a disadvantage, remembering that there are cases where it is not Vœ victis but Vœ victoribus, and where military triumphs are fruitful only in political, moral, and economical losses to the nation which wins them. If after the present war is settled, by the reconquest or the independence of the States which acknowledge Mr. Davis as their chief the Northern Democracy force an unjust quarrel upon us, we shall see, as we saw in 1812, a powerful peace party arise among the Americans themselves whose condemnation of the war will enfeeble its intensity, curtail its resources, shorten its duration, and neutralise the resentments it would engender. But such a party will only arise in the event of our meeting the North in fair single combat. If in such a war Great Britain were victorious, in the reaction of defeat universal suffrage would be offered up as a victim to the wounded national pride of the American people, and with a limited suffrage on the south of the St. Lawrence we should have reached once more a solid guarantee of peace. If Great Britain were defeated and obliged to abandon some of her possessions on the continent, the victors, in the acquisition of one or more disaffected and anti-American provinces, would soon discover that they had damaged themselves more than their opponent. If (what is highly probable) a treaty of peace left neither party victorious, the bellicose democracy would have learnt once more that a war on the Canadian frontier "does not pay," and would be little inclined to re-enact for a fourth time a stale and worn-out tragedy. Such an international single combat, deplorable as it would be, might find us better friends at its termination than at its commencement; and in no case, on whichever side victory inclined, could it leave behind it that "study of revenge—immortal hate," which would surely be the most fell accompaniment and the most pernicious legacy of a struggle into which we should allow ourselves to enter as the virtual ally of those whom the whole people of the loyal States rightly or wrongly regard as rebels, parricides, and traitors of the deepest dye.