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Jeremy Bentham: A Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

Jeremy Bentham: War is mischief upon the largest scale

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Jeremy Bentham
From The Principles of International Law

A Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace

The object of the present Essay is to submit to the world a plan for an universal and perpetual peace. The globe is the field of dominion to which the author aspires,- the press the engine, and the only one be employs,- the cabinet of mankind the theatre of his intrigue.

The happiest of mankind are sufferers by war; and the wisest, nay, even the least wise, are wise enough to ascribe the chief of their sufferings to that cause.

The following plan has for its basis two fundamental propositions: -1.The reduction and fixation of the force of the several nations that compose the European system; – 2. The emancipation of the distant dependencies of each state. Each of these propositions has its distinct advantages; but neither of them, it will appear, would completely answer the purpose without the other.

As to the utility of such an universal and lasting peace, supposing a plan for that purpose practicable, and likely to be adopted, there can be but one choice. The objection, and the only objection to it, is the apparent impracticability of it; – that it is not only hopeless, but that to such a degree that any proposal to that effect deserves the name of visionary and ridiculous. This objection I shall endeavour in the first place to remove; for the removal of this prejudice may be necessary to procure for the plan a hearing.

What can be better suited to the preparing of men’s minds for the reception of such a proposal than the proposal itself?

Let it not be objected that the age is not ripe for such a proposal: the more it wants of being ripe, the sooner we should begin to do what can be done to ripen it; the more we should do to ripen it. A proposal of this sort, is one of those things that can never come too early nor too late.

Who that bears the name of Christian can refuse the assistance of his prayers? What pulpit can forbear to second me with its eloquence, – Catholics and Protestants, Church-of-England-men and Dissenters, may all agree in this, if in nothing else. I call upon them all to aid me with their countenance and their support.

The ensuing sheets are dedicated to the common welfare of all civilized nations; but more particularly of Great Britain and France.

The end in view is to recommend three grand objects, – simplicity of government national frugality, and peace.

Reflection has satisfied me of the truth of the following propositions.

I. That it is not the interest of great Britain to have any foreign dependencies whatsoever.

II. That it is not the interest of Great Britain to have any treaty of alliance, offensive or defensive, with any other power whatever.

III. That it is not the interest of Great Britain to have any treaty with any power whatsoever, for the purpose of possessing any advantage whatsoever in point of trade, to the exclusion of any other nation whatever.

IV. That it is not the interest of Great Britain to keep up any naval force beyond what may be sufficient to defend its commerce against pirates.

V. That it is not the interest of Great Britain to keep on foot any regulations whatever of distant preparation for the augmentation or maintenance of its naval force; such as the Navigation Act, bounties on the Greenland trade, and other trades regarded as nurseries for seamen.

VI. VII. VIII. IX. & X. That all these several propositions are also true of France.

As far as Great Britain is concerned, I rest the proof of these several propositions principally upon two very simple principle.

i. That the increase of growing wealth every nation in a given period, is necessarily limited by the quantity of capital it possesses at that period.

ii. That Great Britain, with or without Ireland, and without any other dependencies can have no reasonable ground to apprehend injury from any one nation upon earth.

Turning to France, I substitute to the last of the two just-mentioned propositions the following: –

iii. That France, standing singly, has at present nothing to fear from any other nation than Great Britain: nor, if standing clear from her foreign dependencies, should she have anything to fear from Great Britain.

XI. That supposing Great Britain and France thoroughly agreed, the principal difficulties would be removed ta the establishment of a plan of general and permanent pacification for all Europe.

XII. That for the maintenance of such a pacification, general and perpetual treaties might be formed, limiting the number of troops to be maintained.

XIII. That the maintenance of such a pacification might be considerably facilitated, by the establishment of a common court of judicature for the decision of differences between the several nations, although such court were not to be armed with any coercive powers.

XIV. That secresy in the operations of the foreign department ought not to be endured in England; being altogether useless and equally repugnant to the interests of liberty and to those of peace.

Proposition I. – That it is not the interest of Great Britain to have any foreign dependencies whatsoever.

The truth of this proposition will appear if we consider, 1st, That distant dependencies increase the chances of war, –

By increasing the number of possible subjects of dispute.
By the natural obscurity of title in case of new settlements or discoveries.
By the particular obscurity of the evidence resulting from the distance.
By men’s caring less about wars when the scene is remote, than when it is nearer home.
2nd, That colonies are seldom, if ever, sources of profit to the mother country.

Profitable industry has five branches: –

1. Production of new materials, including agricultures, mining, and fisheries; 2. Manufactures; 3. Home trade; 4. Foreign trade; 5. Carrying trade. The quantity of profitable industry that can be carried on in a country being limited by that of the capital which the country can command, it follows that no part of that quantity can be bestowed upon any one branch, but it must be withdrawn from or withholden from, all the others. No encouragement, therefore, can be given to any one, but it must be a proportionable discouragement to all the others. Nothing can be done by government to induce a man to begin or continue to employ his capital in any one of those branches, but it must induce him in the same degree to withdraw or withhold that capital from all the rest. Of these five branches, no one is to such a degree more beneficial to the public than the rest, as that it should be worth its while to call forth the powers of law to give it an advantage. But if there were any, it would unquestionably be the improvement and cultivation of land. Every factitious encouragement to any one of these rival branches being a proportionable discouragement to agriculture. Every encouragement to any of those branches of manufacture which produce articles that are at present sold to the colonies, is a proportionable discouragement to agriculture.

When colonies are to be made out to he beneficial to the mother country, and the quantum of the benefit is to be estimated, the mode in which the estimate is made is curious enough. An account is taken of what they export, which is almost the whole of their produce. All this, it is said, while you have the colonies, is yours; this is exactly what you lose if you lose your colonies. How much of all this is really yours? Not one single halfpenny. When they let you take it from them, do they give it you for nothing? Not they indeed; they make you pay for it just as anybody else would do. How much? Just as much as you would pay them if they belonged to themselves or to anybody else. For maintaining colonies there are several avowed reasons, besides others which as not avowed: of the avowed reasons, by far the principal one is, the benefit of trade. If your colonies were not subject to you, they would not trade with you; they would not buy any of your goods, or let you buy any of theirs; at least, you could not be sure of their doing so: if they were subject to anybody else they would not do so; for the colonies of other nations are, you see, not suffered to trade with you. Give up your colonies, you give up so much of your trade as is carried on with your colonies. No; we do not give up any such thing, – we do not give up anything whatever. Trade with colonies cannot, any more than with anywhere else, be carried on without capital: just as much of our capital as is employed in our trade with the colonies – just so much of it is not employed elsewhere – just so much is either kept or taken from other trades.

Suppose, then, any branch of trade or manufacture to decline – even suppose it lost altogether – is this any permanent lose to the nation? Not the smallest. We know the worst that can happen from any such loss; the capital that would otherwise have been employed in the lost branch will be employed in agriculture. The loss of the colonies, if the loss of the colony trade were the consequence of the loss of the colonies, would at the worst be so much gain to agriculture.

Other reasons against distant dominions may be found in a consideration of the good of the government. Distant mischiefs make little impression on those on whom the remedying of them depends. A single murder committed in London makes more impression than if thousands of murders and other cruelties were committed in the East Indies. The situation of Hastings, only because he was present, excited compassion in those who heard the detail of the cruelties committed by him with indifference.

The communication of grievances cannot be too quick from those who feel them to those who have the power to relieve them. The reason which in the old writs the king is made to assign for his interfering to afford relief, is the real cause which originally gave birth to that interference, – it is one of those few truths which have contrived to make their way through the thick cloud of lies and nonsense they contain. “See what it is that these people want”, says the sovereign to the ministers of justice, “that I may not any more be troubled with their noise”. The motive assigned to the unjust judge in the Gospel, is the motive which the sovereign, who is styled the fountain of justice, is thus made to avow.

The following, then, are the final measures which ought to be pursued:—

Give up all the colonies.
Found no new colonies.
The following is a summary of the reasons for giving up all the colonies:–

i. Interest of the mother-country.

Saving the expense of the establishments, civil and military.
Saving the danger of war –
For enforcing their obedience;
On account of the jealousy produced by the apparent power they confer.
Saving the expense of defending them, in case of war on other
grounds.
Getting rid of the means of corruption afforded by the patronage – 1. Of their civil establishments; 2. Of the military force employed in their defence.
Simplifying the whole frame of government, and thereby rendering a competent skill in the business of government more attainable -. To the members of administration; 2. To the people.
1. The stock of national intelligence is deteriorated by the false notions which must be kept up, in order to prevent the nation from opening its eyes and insisting upon the enfranchisement of the colonies
At the same time, bad government results to the mother country from the complication of interests, the indistinct news, and the consumption of time, occasioned by the load of distant dependencies.

ii. Interest of the colonies. Diminishing the chance of bad government resulting from –

Opposite interest;
Ignorance.
The real interests of the colony must be sacrificed to the imaginary interests of the mother-country. It is for the purpose of governing it badly, and for no other, that you can wish to get or to keep a colony. Govern it well, it is of no use to you. Govern it as well as the inhabitants would govern it themselves,- you must choose those to govern it whom they themselves would choose. You must sacrifice none of its interests to your own, – you must bestow as much time and attention to their interests as they would themselves: in a word, you must take those very measures, and none others, which they themselves would take. But would this be governing? and what would it be worth to you if it were?

After all, it would be impossible for you to govern them so well as they would govern themselves, on account of the distance.

The following are approximating measures: –

Maintain no military force in any of the colonies.
Issue no moneys for the maintenance of any civil establishment in any of the colonies.
Nominate to the offices in the colonies as long as they permit you: – yield as soon as they contest such nomination.
Give general instructions to governors to consent to all acts presented to them.
Issue no moneys for fortifications.
Proposition II. That it is not the interest of Great Britain to have any treaty of alliance, offensive or defensive, with any other power whatever.

Reason: saving the danger of war arising out of them.

And more especially ought not Great Britain to guarantee foreign constitutions.

Reason: saving the danger of war resulting from the odium of so tyrannical a measure.

Proposition III. That it is not the interest of Great Britain to have any treaty with any power whatsoever, for the purpose of possessing any advantages whatsoever, in point of trade, to the exclusion of any other nation whatsoever.

That the trade of every nation is limited by the quantity of capital is so plainly and obviously true, as to challenge a place among self-evident proposition. But self-evident propositions must not expect to be readily admitted, if admitted at all, if the consequence of them clash with prevalent passions and confirmed prejudice.

Nation are composed of individuals. The trade of a nation must be limited by the same causes that limit the trade of the individual. Each individual merchant, when he has as much trade as his whole capital, and all the credit he can get by mean of his capital can suffice for carrying on, can have no more. This being true of each merchant, is not less true of the whole number of merchants put together.

Many books directly recognise the proposition, that the quantify of trade a nation can carry on is limited – limited by the quantity of its capital. None dispute the proposition; but almost all, somewhere or other, proceed upon the opposite supposition; they suppose the quantity of trade to have no limitation whatsoever.

It is a folly to buy manufactured goods; wise to buy raw materials. Why? because you sell them to yourselves, or, what is still better, to foreigners, manufactured; and the manufacturer’s profit is all clear gain to you. What is here forgotten is, that the manufacturer, to carry on his business, must have a capital; and that just so much capital as is employed in that way, is prevented from being employed in any other.

Hence the perfect inutility and mischievousness of all law and public measures of government whatsoever, for the pretended encouragement of trade – all bounties in every shape whatsoever – and non-importation agreements and engagements to consume home manufactures in preference to foreign – in any other view than to afford temporary relief to temporary distress.

But of the two prohibitions and bounties – penal encouragements and remuneratory – the latter are beyond comparison the most mischievous. Prohibitions, except while they are fresh, and drive men at a great expense out of the employments they are embarked in, are only nugatory. Bounties are wasteful and oppressive: they force money from one man in order to pay another man for carrying on a trade, which, if it were not a losing one, there would be no need of paying him for.

What then, are all mode of productive in industry alike? May not one be more profitable than another? Certainly. But the favourite one is it in fact, more profitable than any other? That is the question and the only question that ought to be put; and that is the very question which nobody ever thinks of putting.

Were it ever put and answered, and answered ever so clearly, it could never be of any use as a ground for any permanent plan of policy. Why? Because almost as soon as one branch is known to be more profitable than the rest, so soon it ceases so to be – Men flock to it from other branches, and the old equilibrium is presently restored. Your merchants have a monopoly against foreigners? True, but they have no monopoly as against one another. Men cannot, in every instance, quit the less productive branch their capitals are already employed in, to throw them into this more productive one. True – but there are young beginners as well as old stagers; and the first concern of a young beginner, who has a capital to employ in a branch of industry, is to look out for the most profitable.

Objection – Oh! but it is manufacture that creates the demand for the productions of agriculture. You cannot, therefore, increase the productions of agriculture but by increasing manufactures. No such thing. I admit the antecedent – I deny the consequence. Increase of manufactures certainly does create an increase in the demand for the productions of agriculture. Equally certain is it that the increase of manufacture is not necessary to produce an increase in that demand. Farmers can subsist without ribbons, gauzes, or fine cambric. Weavers of ribbons, gauzes, or fine cambrics, cannot subsist without the productions of agriculture; necessary subsistence never can lose its value. Those who produce it are themselves a market for their produce. Is it possible that provision should be too cheap? Is there any present danger of it? Suppose (in spite of the extreme absurdity of the supposition) that provisions were growing gradually too cheap, from the increase of the quantity produced, and the want of manufacturers to consume them, what would be the consequence? The increasing cheapness would increase the facility and disposition to marry: it would thence increase the population of the country; children thus produced, eating as they grew up, would keep down this terrible evil of a superabundance of provisions.

Provisions, the produce of agriculture, constantly and necessarily produce a market for themselves The more provisions a man raises, over and above what is necessary for his own consumption, the more he has to give to others, to induce them to provide him with whatever, besides provisions, he chooses to have. In a word, the more he has to spare, the more he has to give to manufacturers; who, by taking it from him, and paying him with the produce of their labours, afford the encouragement requisite for the productions of the fruits of agriculture.

It is impossible, therefore, that you can ever have too much agriculture. It is impossible that while there is ground untilled, or ground that might be better tilled than it is, that any detriment should ensue to the community from the withholding or withdrawing capital from any other branch of industry, and employing it in agriculture. It is impossible, therefore, that the loss of any branch of trade can be productive of any detriment to the community, excepting always the temporary distress experienced by the individuals concerned in it for the time being, when the decline is a sudden one.

The following are the measures the propriety of which results from the above principles: –

That no treaties granting commercial preferences should be made.
That no wars should be entered into for compelling such treaties.
That no alliances should be contracted for the sake of purchasing them.
That no encouragements should be given to particular branches of trade, by –
Prohibition of rival manufactures.
Taxation of rival manufactures.
Bounties on the trade meant to be favoured.
That no treaties should be entered into insuring commercial preferences. They are useless as they add nothing to the mass of wealth; they only influence the direction of it.
Proposition IV. – That it is not the interest of Great Britain to keep up any naval force beyond what may be sufficient to defend its commerce against pirates. It is unnecessary, except for the defence of the colonies, or for the purposes of war, undertaken either for the compelling of trade or the formation of commercial treaties.

Proposition V. – That it is not the interest of Great Britain to keep on foot any regulations whatsoever of distant preparation for the augmentation or maintenance of its naval force – such as the navigation act, bounties on the Greenland trade, and other trades regarded as nurseries for seamen.

This proposition is a necessary consequence of the foregoing one.

Propositions VI. VII. VIII. IX. &c. X.

Propositions similar to the foregoing are equally true applied to France.

Proposition XI. – That supposing Great Britain and France thoroughly agreed, the principal difficulties would be removed to the establishment of a plan of general and permanent pacification for all Europe.

Proposition XII. – That for the maintenance of such a pacification, general and perpetual treaties might be formed, limiting the number of troops to be maintained.

If the simple relation of a single nation with a single other nation be considered, perhaps the matter would not be very difficult. The misfortune is, that almost everywhere compound relations are found. On the subject of troops, – France says to England, Yes I would voluntarily make with you a treaty of disarming, if there were only you; but it is necessary for me to have troops to defend me from the Austrians. Austria might say the same to France; but it is necessary to guard against Prussia, Russia, and the Porte. And the like allegation might be made by Prussia with regard to Russia.

Whilst as to naval forces, if it concerned Europe only, the difficulty might perhaps not be very considerable. To consider France, Spain and Holland, as making together a counterpoise to the power of Britain, – perhaps on account of the disadvantages which accompany the concert between three separate nations, to say nothing of the tardiness and publicity of procedures under the Dutch Constitution, – perhaps England might allow to all together a united force equal to half or more than its own.

An agreement of this kind would not be dishonourable. If the covenant were on one side only, it might be so. If it regard both parties together, the reciprocity takes away the acerbity. By the treaty which put an end to the first Punic War, the number of vessels that the Carthaginians might maintain was limited. This condition was it not humiliating? It might be: but if it were, is must have been because there was nothing correspondent to it on the side of the Romans. A treaty which placed all the security on one side, what cause could it have had for its source? It could only have had one – that is the avowed superiority of the party the incontestably secured, – such a condition should only have been a law dictated by the conqueror to the party conquered. The law of the strongest. None but a conqueror could have dictated it; none but the conquered would have accepted it.

On the contrary, whatsoever nation should act the start of the other in making the proposal to reduce and fix the amount of its armed force, would crown itself with everlasting honour. The risk would be nothing – the gain certain. This gain would be, the giving an incontrovertible demonstration of its own disposition to peace, and of the opposite disposition in the other nation in case of its rejecting the proposal.

The utmost fairness should be employed. The nation addressed should be invited to consider and point out whatever further securities it deemed necessary, and whatever further concessions it deemed just.

The proposal should be made in the most public manner: – it should be an address from nation to nation. This, at the same time that it conciliated the confidence of the nation addressed, would make it impracticable for the government of that nation to neglect it, or stave it off by shifts and evasions. It would sound the heart of the nation addressed. It would discover its intentions, and proclaim them to the world.

The cause of humanity has still another resource. Should Britain prove deaf and impracticable, let France, without conditions, emancipate her colonies, and break up her marine. The advantages even upon this plan would be immense, the danger none. The colonies I have already shown are a source of expense, not of revenue, – of burthen to the people, not of relief. This appears to be the case, even upon the footing of those expenses which appear upon the face of them to belong to the colonies, and are the only ones that have hitherto been set down to their account. But in fact the whole expense of the marine belongs also to that account, and no other. What other destination has it? What other can it have? None. Take away the colonies, what use would there be for a single vessel, more than the few necessary in the Mediterranean to curb the pirates.

In case of a war, where at present (1789) could England make its first and only attack upon France? In the colonies. What would she propose to herself from success in such an attack? What but the depriving France of her colonies. Were these colonies – these bones of contention – no longer hers, what then could England do? what could she wish to do?

There would remain the territory of France; with what view could Britain make any attack upon it in any way? Not with views of permanent conquest; – such madness does not belong to our age. Parliament itself, one may venture to affirm, without paying it any very extraordinary compliment, would not wish it. It would not wish it, even could it be accomplished without effort on our part, without resistance on the other. It would not, even though France herself were to solicit it. No parliament would grant a penny for such a purpose. If it did, it would not be a parliament a month. No king would lend his name to such a project. He would be dethroned as surely and as deservedly as James the Second. To say, I will be king of France, would be to say, in other words, I will be absolute in England.

Well, then, no one would dream of conquest. What other purpose could an invasion have? The plunder and destruction of the country. Such baseness is totally repugnant, not only to the spirit of the nation, but to the spirit of the times. Malevolence could be the only motive – rapacity could never counsel it; long before an army could arrive anywhere, everything capable of being plundered would be carried off. Whatever is portable, could be much sooner carried off by the owners, than by any plundering army. No expedition of plunder could ever pay itself.

Such is the extreme folly, the madness of war: on no supposition can it be otherwise than mischievous, especially between nations circumstanced as France and England. Though the choice of the events were absolutely at your command, you could not make it of use to you. If unsuccessful, you may be disgraced and ruined: if successful, even to the height of your wishes, you are still but so much the worse. You would still be so much the worse, though it were to cost you nothing. For not even any colony of your own planting, still less a conquest of your own making, will so much as pay its own expenses.

The greatest acquisitions that could be conceived would not be to be wished for, – could they even be attained with the greatest certainty, and without the least expense. In war, we are as likely not to gain as to gain – as likely to lose as to do either: we can neither attempt the one, or defend ourselves against the other, without a certain and most enormous expense.

Mark well the contrast. All trade is in its essence advantageous – even to that party to whom it is least so. All war is in its essence ruinous; and yet the greatest employments of government are to treasure up occasions of war, and to put fetters upon trade.

Ask an Englishman what is the great obstacle to a secure and solid peace, he has his answer ready: – It is the ambition, perhaps he will add, the treachery of France. I wish the chief obstacle to a plan for this purpose were the dispositions and sentiments of France! – were that all, the plan need not long wait for adoption.

Of this visionary project, the most visionary part is without question that for the emancipation of distant dependencies. What will an Englishman say, when he sees two French ministers (Turgot and Vergennes) of the highest reputation, both at the head of their respective departments, both joining in the opinion, that the accomplishment of this event, nay the speedy accomplishment of it, is inevitable, and one of them scrupling not to pronounce it as eminently desirable.

It would only be the bringing things back on these points to the footing they were on before the discovery of America. Europe had then no colonies – no distant garrisons – no standing armies. It would have had no wars but for the feudal system – religious antipathy – the rage of conquest – and the uncertainties of succession. Of these four causes, the first is happily extinct everywhere – the second and third almost everywhere, and at any rate in France and England – the last might, if not already extinguished, be so with great ease.

The moral feelings of men in matters of national morality are still so far short of perfection, that in the scale of estimation, justice has not yet gained the ascendency over force. Yet this prejudice may, in a certain point of view, by accident, be rather favourable to this proposal than otherwise. Truth, and the object of this essay, bid me to say to my countrymen, it is for you to begin the reformation – it is you that have been the greatest sinners. But the same considerations also lead me to say to them, you are the strongest among nations: though justice be not on your side, force is; and it is your force that has been the main cause of your injustice. If the measure of moral approbation had been brought to perfection, such positions would have been far from popular, prudence would have dictate the keeping them out of sight, and the softening them down as much as possible.

Humiliation would have been the effect produced by them on those to whom they appeared true – indignation on those to whom they appeared false. But, as I have observed, men have not yet learned to tune their feelings in unison with the voice of morality in these points. They feel more pride in being accounted strong, than resentment at being called unjust: or rather, the imputation of injustice appears flattering rather than otherwise, when coupled with the consideration of its cause. I feel it in my own experience; but if I, listed as I am as the professed and hitherto the only advocate in my own country in the cause of justice, set a less value on justice than is its due, what can I expect from the general run of men?

Proposition XIII. – That the maintenance of such a pacification might be considerably facilitated, by the establishment of a common court of judicature, for the decision of differences between the several nations, although such court were not to be armed with any coercive powers.

It is an observation of somebody’s, that no nation ought to yield any evident point of justice to another. This must mean, evident in the eyes of the nation that is to judge, – evident in the eyes of the nation called upon to yield. What does this amount to? That no nation is to give up anything of what it looks upon as its rights – no nation is to make any concessions. Wherever there is any difference of opinion between the negotiators of two nations, war is to be the consequence.

While there is no common tribunal, something might be said for this. Concession to notorious injustice invites fresh injustice. Establish a common tribunal, the necessity for war no longer follows from difference of opinion. Just or unjust, the decision of the arbiters will save the credit, the honour of the contending party.

Can the arrangement proposed be justly styled visionary, when it has been proved of it – that

It is in the interest of the parties concerned.
They are already sensible of that interest.
The situation it would place them in is no new one, nor any other than the original situation they set out from.
Difficult and complicated conventions have been effectuated: for examples, we may mention, –
The armed neutrality.
The American confederation.
The German diet.
The Swiss league.
Why should not the European fraternity subsist, as well as the German diet or the Swiss league? These latter have no ambitious views. Be it so; but is not this already become the case with the former?
How then shall we concentrate the approbation of the people, and obviate their prejudices?

The main object of the plan is to effectuate a reduction, and that a mighty one, in the contributions of the people. The amount of the reduction for each nation should be stipulated in the treaty; and even previous to the signature of it, laws for the purpose might be prepared in each nation, and presented to every other, ready to be enacted, as soon as the treaty should be ratified in each state.

By these means the mass of the people, the part most exposed to be led away by prejudices, would not be sooner apprized of the measure, than they would feel the relief it brought them. They would see it was for their advantage it was calculated, and that it could not be calculated for any other purpose.

The concurrence of all the maritime powers, except England, upon a former occasion, proved two points: the reasonableness of that measure itself, and the weakness of France in comparison with England. It was a measure not of ambition, but of justice – a law made in favour of equality – a law made for the benefit of the weak. No sinister point was gained, or attempted to be gained by it. France was satisfied with it. Why? because she was weaker than Britain; she could have no other motive – on no other supposition could it have been of any advantage to her. Britain was vexed at it. Why? For the opposite reason: she could have no other.

Oh my countrymen! purge your eyes from the film of prejudice – extirpate from your hearts the black specks of excessive jealousy, false ambition, selfishness, and insolence. The operations may be painful; but the rewards are glorious indeed! As the main difficulty, so will the main honour be with you.

What though wars should hereafter arise? the intermediate savings will not the less be so much clear gain.

Though, in the generating of the disposition for war, unjust ambition has doubtless had by far too great a share, yet jealousy, sincere and honest jealousy, must be acknowledged to have had a not inconsiderable one. Vulgar prejudice, fostered by passion, assigns the heart as the seat of all the moral diseases it complains of; but the principal and more frequent seat is really the head: it is from ignorance and weakness that men deviate from the path of rectitude, more frequently than from selfishness and malevolence. This is fortunate; – for the power of information and reason, over error and ignorance is…much surer than that of exhortation, and all the modes of rhetoric, over selfishness and malevolence.

It is because we do not know what strong motives other nations have to be just, what strong indications they have given of the disposition to be so, how often we ourselves have deviated from the rules of justice, – that we take for granted, as an indisputable truth, that the principles of injustice are in a manner interwoven into the very essence of the hearts of other men.

The diffidence, which forms part of the character of the English nation, may have been one cause of this jealousy. The dread of being duped by other nations – the notion that foreign heads are more able, though at the same time foreign hearts are less honest than our own, has always been one of our prevailing weaknesses. This diffidence has perhaps some connexion with the mauvaise honte which has been remarked as commonly showing itself in our behaviour, and which makes public speaking and public exhibition in every line a task so much more formidable to us than to other people.

This diffidence may, perhaps, in part be accounted for, from our living less in society, and accustoming ourselves less to mixed companies, than the people of other nations.

But the particular cast of diffidence in question, the apprehension of being duped by foreign powers, is to be referred in part, and perhaps principally, to another cause – the jealousy and slight opinion we entertain of our ministers and public men; we are jealous of them as our superiors, contending against us in the perpetual struggle for power; we are diffident of them as being our fellow-countrymen, and of the same mould as ourselves.

Jealousy is the vice of narrow minds; – confidence the virtue of enlarged ones. To be satisfied that confidence between nations is not out of nature where they have worthy ministers, one need but read the account of the negotiation between De Wit and Temple, as given by Hume. I say, by Hume: – for as it requires negotiators like De Wit and Temple to carry on such a negotiation in such a manner, so it required a historian like Hume to do it justice. For the vulgar among historians know no other receipt for writing that part of history than the finding out whatever are the vilest and basest motives capable of accounting for men’s conduct in the situation in question, and then ascribing it to those motives without ceremony and without proof.

Temple and De Wit, whose confidence in each other was so exemplary and so just – Temple and De Wit were two of the wisest as well as most honourable men in Europe, The age which produced such virtue, was, however, the age of the pretended popish plot, and of a thousand other enormities which cannot now be thought of without horror. Since then, the world has had upwards of a century to improve itself in experience, in reflection, in virtue. In every other line its improvements have been immense and unquestioned. Is it too much to hope that France and England might produce not a Temple and a De Wit, – virtue so transcendent as theirs would not be necessary, – but men who, in happier times, might achieve a work like theirs with less extent of virtue.

Such a Congress or Diet might be constituted by each power sending two deputies to the place of meeting; one of these to be the principal, the other to act as an occasional substitute.

The proceedings of such Congress or Diet should be all public.

Its power would consist, – 1. In reporting its opinion;

2. In causing that opinion to be circulated in the dominions of each state.

Manifestoes are in common usage. A manifesto is designed to be read either by the subjects of the state complained of, or by other states, or by both. It is an appeal to them. It calls for their opinion. The difference is, that in that case nothing of proof is given; no opinion regularly made known. The example of Sweden is alone sufficient to show the influence which treaties, the acts of nations, may be expected to have over the subjects of the several nations, and how far the expedient in question deserves the character of a weak one, or the proposal for employing and trusting to it, that of a visionary proposal.

The war commenced by the king of Sweden against Russia, was deemed by his subjects, or at least a considerable part of them, offensive, and as such, contrary to the constitution established by him with the concurrence of the states. Hence a considerable part of the army either threw up their commissions or refused to act; and the consequence was, the king was obliged to retreat from the Russian frontier and call a diet.

This was under a government, commonly, though not truly, supposed to he changed from a limited monarchy, or rather aristocracy, to a despotic monarchy. There was no act of any recognised and respected tribunal to guide and fix the opinion of the people. The only document they had to judge from was a manifesto of the enemy, couched in terms such as resentment would naturally dictate, and therefore none of the most conciliating, – a document which had no claim to me circulated, and of which the circulation we may be pretty well assured, was prevented as much as it was in the power of the utmost vigilance of the government to prevent it.

3. After a certain time, in putting the refractory state under the ban of Europe.

There might, perhaps, be no harm in regulating, as a last resource, the contingent to be furnished by the several states for enforcing the decrees of the court. But the necessity for the employment of this resource would, in all human probability, be superseded for ever by having recourse to the much more simple and less burthensome expedient, of introducing into the instrument by which such court was instituted, a clause guaranteeing the liberty of the press in each state, in such sort, that the diet might find no obstacle to its giving, in every state, to its decrees, and to every paper whatever which it might think proper to sanction with its signature, the most extensive and unlimited circulation.

Proposition XIV. – That secresy in the operations of the foreign department in England ought not to be endured, being altogether useless, and equally repugnant to the interests of liberty and peace.

The existence of the rule which throws a veil of secresy over the transactions of the Cabinet with foreign powers, I shall not take upon me to dispute – my objection is to the propriety of it. Being asked in the House of Lords by Lord Stormont (May 22, 1789) about secret articles, the minister for foreign affairs refuses to answer. I blame him not. Subsisting rules, it seems to be agreed, forbid reply. They throw a general veil of secresy over the transactions of the Cabinet with foreign powers. I blame no man for the fault of the laws. It is these laws that I blame as repugnant to the spirit of the constitution, and incompatible with good government.

I take at once the boldest and the broadest ground – I lay down two propositions: –

That in no negociation, and at no period of any negociation, ought the negociations of the cabinet in this country to be kept secret from the public at large; much less from parliament and after inquiry made in parliament.
That whatever may be the case with preliminary negociations, such secresy ought never to be maintained with regard to treaties actually concluded.
In both cases, to a country like this, such secresy is equally mischievous and unnecessary.
It is mischievous. Over measures of which you have no knowledge, you can apply no controul. Measures carried on without your knowledge you cannot stop, – how ruinous soever to you, and how strongly soever you would disapprove of them if you knew them. Of negociations with foreign powers carried on in time of peace, the principal terminations are treaties of alliance, offensive or defensive, or treaties of commerce. But by one accident or other, everything may lead to war.

That in new treaties of commerce as such, there call be no cause for secresy, is a proposition that will hardly be disputed. Only such negociations, like all others, may eventually lead to war, and everything connected with war, it will be said, may come to require secresy.

But rules which admit of a minister’s plunging the nation into a war against its will, are essentially mischievous and unconstitutional.

It is admitted that ministers ought not to have it in their power to impose taxes on the nation against its will. It is admitted that they ought not to have it in their power to maintain troops against its will. But by plunging it into war without its knowledge they do both.

Parliament may refuse to carry on a war after it is begun: – Parliament may remove and punish the minister who has brought the nation into a war.

Sorry remedies these; add them both together, their efficacy is not worth a straw. Arrestment of the evil, and punishment of the authors, are sad consolations for the mischief of a war, and of no value as remedies in comparison with prevention. Aggressive war is a matter of choice: defensive, of necessity. Refusal of the means of continuing a war is a most precarious remedy, a remedy only in name. What, when the enemy is at your doors, refuse the materials for barricading them?

Before aggression, war or no war depends upon the aggressor; – once begun, the party aggrieved acquires a vote: He has his negative upon every plan for terminating the war. – What is to be done? Give yourself up without resistance to the mercy of a justly exasperated enemy? But this or the continuance of the war, is all the choice that is now left. In what state of things can this remedy be made to serve? Are you unsuccessful? – the remedy is inapplicable. Are you successful? – nobody will call for it.

Punishment of the authors of the war, punishment whatever it may be to the personal adversaries of the ministers, is no satisfaction to the nation. This is self-evident; but what is closer to the purpose and not less true, is, that in a case like this, the fear of punishment on such an account is no check to them: of a majority in parliament they are in possession, or they would not be ministers. That they should be abandoned by this majority is not in the catalogue of events that ought to be looked upon as possible: but between abandoning them and punishing them, there is a wide difference. Lord North was abandoned in the American war: he has not punished for it. His was an honest error in judgement, unstained by any malâ fide practice, and countenanced by a fair majority in parliament. And so may any other impolitic and unjust war be. This is not a punishing age. If bribe-taking, oppression, peculation, duplicity, treachery, every crime that can be committed by statesmen sinning against conscience, produce no desire to punish, what dependence can be placed on punishment in a case where the mischief may so easily happen without any ground for punishment? Mankind are not yet arrived at that stage in the track of civilization. Foreign nations are not yet considered as objects susceptible of an injury. For the citizens of other civilized nations, we have not so much feeling as for our negroes. There are instances in which ministers have been punished for making peace – there are none where they have been so much as questioned for bringing the nation into war; and if punishment had been ever applied on such an occasion, it would be not for the mischief done to the foreign nation, but purely for the mischief brought upon their own; not for their justice, but purely for the imprudence.

It has never been laid down as a rule that you should pay any regard to foreign nations: it has never been laid down that you should stick at anything which would give you an advantage in your dealings with foreign nations. On what ground could a minister be punished for a war, even the most unsuccessful, brought on by any such means? I did my best to serve you, he would say – the worse the measure was for the foreign nation, the more I took upon me: the greater therefore the zeal I showed for your cause: the event has proved unfavourable. Are zeal and misfortune to be represented as crimes?

A war unjust on the part of our own nation, by whose ministers it is brought on, can never be brought on but in pursuit of some advantage which, were it not for the injustice towards the foreign nation it would be for our interests to pursue. Their justice and the danger of retaliation being on all hands looked upon as nothing, the plea of the minister would always be, – “It was your interest I was pursuing.” And the uninformed and unreflecting part of the nation, that is, the great body of the nation would echo to him, – “Yes, it was our interest you were preserving.” The voice of the nation on these subjects can only be looked for in newspapers. But on these subjects the language of all newspapers is uniform: – “It is we that are always in the right, without a possibility of being otherwise. Against us other nations have no lights. If according to the rules of judging between individual and individual, we are right – we are right by the rules of justice: if not, we are right by the laws of patriotism, which is a virtue more respectable than justice” – Injustice, oppression, fraud, lying, whatever acts would be crimes, whatever habits would be vices, if manifested in the pursuit of individual interests, when manifested in pursuit of national interests, become sublimated into virtues. Let any man declare who has ever read or heard an English newspaper, whether this be not the constant tenor of the notions they convey. Party on this one point makes no difference. However hostile to one another on all other points, on this they have never but one voice – they write with the utmost harmony. Such are the opinions, and to these opinions the facts are accommodated as of course. Who would blush to misrepresent, when misrepresentation is a virtue?

But newspapers, if their voice make but a small part of the voice of the people, the instruction they give makes on these subjects the whole of the instruction which the people receive.

Such being the national propensity to error on these points, and to error on the worst side, the danger of parliamentary punishment for misconduct of this kind must appear equivalent to next to nothing, even in the eyes of an unconcerned and cool spectator. What must it appear then in the eyes of ministers themselves, acting under the seduction of self-partiality, and hurried on by the tide of business? No; the language which a minister on such occasions will hold to himself will be uniformly this, – “In the first place what I do is not wrong: in the next place, if it were, nothing should I have to fear from it.”

Under the present system of secresy, ministers have, therefore, every seduction to lead them into misconduct; while they have no check to keep them out of it. And what species of misconduct? That in comparison of which all others are but peccadillos. Let a minister throw away £30,000 or £40,000 in pensions to his creatures. Let him embezzle a few hundred thousand for himself: What is that to fifty or a hundred millions, the ordinary burthen of a war? Observe the consequence. This is the department of all others in which the strongest checks are needful; at the same time, thanks to the rules of secresy of all the departments, this is the only one in which there are no checks at all. I say, then, the conclusion is demonstrated. The principle which throws a veil of secresy over the proceedings of the foreign department of the cabinet is pernicious in the highest degree, pregnant with mischiefs superior to everything to which the most perfect absence of all concealment could possibly give rise.

There still remains a sort of inexplicit notion which may present itself as secretly furnishing an argument on the other side. Such is the condition of the British nation: peace and war may be always looked upon as being to all human probability in good measure in her power. When the worst comes to the worst, peace may always be had by some unessential sacrifice. I admit the force of the argument: what I maintain is that it operates in my favour. Why? It depends upon two propositions, – the matchless strength of this country, and the uselessness of her foreign dependencies. I admit both but both operate as arguments in my favour. Her strength places her above the danger of surprise, and above the necessity of having recourse to it to defend herself. The uselessness of her foreign dependencies prove a fortiori, the uselessness of engaging in wars for their protection and defence. If they are not fit to keep without war, much less are they worth keeping at the price of war. The inutility of a secret cabinet is demonstrated by this short dilemma. For offensive measures, cabinet secresy can never be necessary to this nation; for defence it can never be necessary to any.

My persuasion is that there is no state whatever in which any inconveniences capable of arising from publicity in this department would not be greatly overbalanced by the advantages; be the state ever so great or ever so small; ever so strong or ever so weak; be its form of government pure or mixed, single or confederated, monarchical, aristocratical, or democratical. The observations already given seem in all these cases sufficient to warrant the conclusion.

But in a nation like Britain, the safety of publicity, the inutility of secresy in all such business, stands upon peculiar grounds. Stronger than any two other nations, much stronger of course than any one, its superiority deprives it of all pretence of necessity in carrying points by surprise. Clandestine surprise is the resource of knavery and fear, of unjust ambition combined with weakness. Her matchless power exempts her from the one; her interest, if her servants could be brought to be governed by her evident interests, would forbid the other.

Taking the interest of the first servant of the state as distinct from and opposite to the nation, clandestinity may undoubtedly be, in certain cases, favourable to the projects of sceptred thieves and robbers. Without taking the precautions of a thief, the Great Frederic might probably enough not have succeeded in the enterprise of stealing Silesia from her lawful sovereign. Without an advantage of this sort, the triple gang might, perhaps, not have found it quite so easy to secure what they stole from Poland. Whether there can or cannot exist occasions on which it might, in this point of view, be the interest of a king of Great Britain to turn highwayman, is a question I shall waive: but a proposition I shall not flinch from is, that it never can be the interest of the nation to abet him in it. When those sceptred sinners sold themselves to the service of Mammon, they did not serve him for nought: the booty was all their own. Were we (I speak as one of the body of the nation) to assist our king in committing a robbery upon France, the booty would be his. He would have the naming to the new places, which is all the value that in the hands of a British robber such booty can be of to anybody. The privilege of paying for the horse and pistols is all that would be ours. The booty would be employed in corrupting our confidential servants: and this is the full and exact amount of what we should get by it.

Conquests made by New Zealanders have some sense in them; while the conquered fry, the conquerers fatten. Conquests made by the polished nations of antiquity, – conquests made by Greeks and Romans, – had some sense in them. Lands, moveables, inhabitants, everything went into the pocket. The invasions of France in the days of the Edwards and the Henrys, had a rational object. Prisoners were taken, and the country was stripped to pay their ransom. The ransom of a single prisoner, a Duke of Orleans, exceeded one third of the national revenue of England.

Conquests made by a modern despot of the continent have still some sense in them. The new property being contiguous, is laid on to his old property; the inhabitants, as many as he thinks fit to set his mark upon, so to increase his armies by their substance, as much as he thinks fit to squeeze from them, goes into his purse.

Conquests made by the British nation would be violations of common sense, were there no such thing as justice. They are bungling imitations of miserable originals, bating the essential circumstances. Nothing but confirmed blindness and stupidity can prompt us to go on imitating Alexander and Caesar, and the New Zealanders, and Catherine and Frederic, without the profit.

If it be the king alone who gets the appointment to the places, it is a part of the nation, it may be said, that gets the benefit of filling them. A precious lottery! Fifty or one hundred millions the cost of the tickets. So many years purchase of ten or twenty thousand a-year, the value of the prizes. This if the scheme succeed: – what if it fail?

I do not say there are no sharers in the plunder: – it is impossible for the head of a gang to put the whole of it into his own pocket. All I contend for is, that robbery by wholesale is not so profitable as by retail: – if the whole gang together pick the pockets of strangers to a certain amount, the ringleaders pick the pockets of the rest to a much greater. Shall I or shall I not succeed in persuading my countrymen that it is not their interest to be thieves?

“Oh, but you mistake!” cries somebody, “we do not now make war for conquests, but for trade.” More foolish still. This is a still worse bargain than before. Conquer the whole world, it is impossible you should increase your trade one halfpenny: – it is impossible you should do otherwise than diminish it. Conquer little or much, you pay for it by taxes: – but just so much as a merchant pays in taxes, just so much he is disabled from adding to the capital he employs in trade. Had you two worlds to trade with, you could only trade with them to the amount of your capital; and what credit, you might meet with on the strength of it. This being true of each trader, is so of all traders. Find a fallacy in this short argument if you can. If you obtained your new right of trading given you for nothing, you would not be a halfpenny the richer: if you paid for them by war or preparations for war; by just so much as you paid for these you would be the poorer.

The good people of England, along with the right of self-government, conquered prodigious right of trade. The revolution was to produce for them not only the blessings of security and power, but immense and sudden wealth. Year has followed after year, and to their endless astonishment, the progress to wealth has gone on no faster than before. One piece of good fortune still wanting, they have never thought of: – that on the day their shackles were knocked off, some kind sylph should have slipped a few thousand pounds in to every man’s pocket. There is no law against my flying to the moon. Yet I cannot get there. Why? Because I have no wings. What wings are to flying, capital is to trade.

There are two ways of making war for trade, – forcing independent nations to let you trade with them, and conquering nations, or pieces of nations, to make them trade with you. The former contrivance is to appearance the more easy, and the policy of it the more refined. The latter is more in the good old way, and the king does his own business and the nation’s at the same time. He gets the naming to the places: and the nation cannot choose but join with him, being assured that it is all for the sake of getting them the trade. The places he lays hold of, good man, only out of necessity, and that they may not go a-begging: – on his own account, he has no more mind for them than a new-made bishop for the mitre, or a new-made speaker for the chair. To the increase of trade, both these plans of war equally contribute. What you get in both cases is the pleasure of the war.

The legal right of trading to part of America was conquered by France from Britain in the last war. What have they got by it? They have got Tobago, bankruptcy, and a revolution, for their fifty millions. Ministers, who to account for the bankruptcy are forced to say something about the war, call it a national one: – the king has not got by it, – therefore the nation has. What has it got? A fine trade, were there but capital to carry it on. With such room for trade, how comes there to be no more of it? This is what merchants and manufacturers are putting themselves to the torture to account for. The sylph so necessary elsewhere, was still more necessary to France; since, over and above her other work, there was the fifty millions spent in powder and shot to replace.

The King of France, however, by getting Tobago, probably obtained two or three thousand pounds worth of places to give away. This is what he got, and this is all that anybody got for the nation’s fifty millions. Let us go on as we have begun, strike a bold stroke, take all their vessels we can lay hold of without a declaration of war, and who knows but what we may get it back again. With the advantages we now have over them, five times the success they are so pleased with, would be but a moderate expectation. For every fifty millions thus laid out, our king would get in places to the amount, not of two or three thousand pounds only, but say of ten, fifteen, or twenty thousand pounds. All this would be prodigious glory—and fine paragraphs and speeches, thanksgivings, and birth-day odes, might be sung and said for it: but for economy, I would much rather give the king new places to the same amount at home, if at this price his ministers would sell us peace.

The conclusion is, that as we have nothing to fear from any other nation or nations, nor want anything from other nations, we can have nothing to say to other nations, nor to hear from them, – that might not be as public as any laws. What then is the veil of secresy that enwraps the proceedings of the cabinet? A mere cloak for wickedness and folly – a dispensation to ministers to save them from the trouble of thinking – a warrant for playing all manner of mad and silly pranks, unseen and uncontrouled – a licence to play at hazard with their fellows abroad, staking our lives and fortunes upon the throw.

What, then, is the true use and effect of secresy? That the prerogatives of place may furnish an aliment to petty vanity, – that the members of the circulation may have as it were a newspaper to themselves, – that under favour of the monopoly, ignorance and incapacity may put on airs of wisdom, – that a man, unable to write or speak what is fit to be put into a newspaper, may toss up his head and say, I don’t read newspapers – as if a parent were to say I don’t trouble my head about schoolmasters, – and that a minister, secure from scrutiny in that quarter, may have the convenient opportunity, upon occasion, of filling the posts with obsequious cyphers, instead of effective men: – anything will do to make a minister whose writing may be written for him, and whose duty in speaking consists in silence.

This much must be confessed: – if secresy as against the nation be useless and pernicious to the nation, it is not useless and pernicious with regard to its servants. It forms part of the douceurs of office – a perquisite which will be valued in proportion to the insignificance of their characters and the narrowness of their views. It serves to pamper them up with notions of their own importance, and to teach the servants of the people to look down upon their masters.

Oh! – but if everything that were written were liable to be made public, were published, who would treat with you abroad? Just the same persons as treat with you at present. Negotiations, for fear of misrepresentation, would perhaps be committed somewhat more to writing than at present; – and where would be the harm? The king and his ministers might not have quite such such copious accounts, true or false, of the tittle-tattle of each court: or they must put into different hands the tittle-tattle, and the real business. And suppose your head servants were not so minutely acquainted with the mistresses and buffoons of kings and their ministers – what matters it to you as a nation, who have no intrigues to carry on, no petty points to compass?

It were an endless task to fill more paper with the shadows that might be conjured up in order to be knocked down. I leave that task to any that will undertake it. I challenge party men – I invite the impartial lovers of their country and mankind to discuss the question – to ransack the stores of history, and imagination as well as history, cases actual or possible, in which the want of secrecy in this line of business can be shown to be attended with any substantial prejudice.

As to the constitution, the question of cabinet-secresy having never been tried by the principles of the constitution, has never received a decision. The good old Tudor and Stuart principles have been suffered to remain unquestioned here. Foreign politics are questions of state. Under Elizabeth and James, nothing was to be inquired into—nothing was to be known – everything was matter of state. On other points the veil has been torn away: but with regard to these, there has been a sort of tacit understanding between ministers and people.

Hitherto war has been the national rage: peace has always come too soon, – war too late. To tie up the ministers’ hands and make them continually accountable, would be depriving them of numberless occasions of seizing those happy advantages that lead to war: it would be lessening the people’s chance of their favourite amusement. For these hundred years past, ministers, to do them justice, have generally been more backward than the people – the great object has rather been to force them into war, than to keep them out of it. Walpole and Newcastle were both forced into war.

It admits of no doubt, if we are really for war, and fond of it for its own sake, we can do no better than let things continue as they are. If we think peace better than war, it is equally certain that the law of secresy cannot be too soon abolished.

Such is the general confusion of ideas – such the power of the imagination – such the force of prejudice – that I verily believe the persuasion is not an uncommon one; – so clear in their notions are many worthy gentlemen, that they look upon war, if successful, as a cause of opulence and prosperity. With equal justice might they look upon the loss of a leg as a cause of swiftness.

Well, but if it be not directly the cause of opulence, it is indirectly; from the successes of war, come, say they, our prosperity, our greatness; thence the respect paid to us by Foreign Powers – thence our security: and who does not know how necessary security is to opulence?

No; war is, in this way, just as unfavourable to opulence as in the other. In the present mode of carrying on war – a mode which it is in no man’s power to depart from, security is in proportion to opulence. Just so far then as war is, by its direct effects, unfavourable to opulence, – just so far is it unfavourable to security.

Respect is a term I shall beg leave to change; respect is a mixture of fear and esteem, but for constituting esteem, force is not the instrument, but justice. The sentiment really relied upon for security is fear. By respect then is meant, in plain English, fear. But in a case like this, fear is much more adverse than favourable to security. So many as fear you, join against you till they think they are too strong for you, and then they are afraid of you no longer; – meantime they all hate you, and jointly and severally they do you as much mischief as they can. You, on your part, are not behindhand with them. Conscious or not conscious of your own bad intentions, you suspect theirs to be still worse. Their notion of your intentions is the same. Measures of mere self-defence are naturally taken for projects of aggression. The same causes produce, on both sides, the same effects; each makes haste to begin for fear of being forestalled. In this state of things, if on either side there happen to be a minister or a would-be minister, who has a fancy for war, the stroke is struck, and the tinder catches fire.

At school, the strongest boy may perhaps be the safest. Two or more boys are not always in readiness to join against one. But though this notion may hold good in an English school, it will not bear transplanting upon the theatre of Europe.

Oh! but if your neighbours are really afraid of you, their fear is of use to you in another way – you get the turn of the scale in all disputes. Points that are at all doubtful, they give up to you of course. Watch the moment, and you may every now and then gain points that do not admit of doubt. This is only the former old set of fallacies exhibited in a more obscure form, and which, from their obscurity only, can show as new. The fact is, as has been already shown, there is no nation that has any points to gain to the prejudice of any other. Between the interests of nations, there is nowhere any real conflict: if they appear repugnant anywhere, it is only in proportion as they are misunderstood. What are these points? What points are these which, if you had your choice, you would wish to gain of them? Preferences in trade have been proved to be worth nothing, – distant territorial acquisitions have been proved to be worth less than nothing. When these are out of the question, what other points are there worth gaining by such means.

Opulence is the word I have first mentioned; but opulence is not the word that would be first pitched upon. The repugnancy of the connexion between war and opulence is too glaring: – the term opulence brings to view an idea too simple, too intelligible, too precise. Splendour, greatness, glory, these are terms better suited to the purpose. Prove first that war contributes to splendour and greatness, you may persuade yourself it contributes to opulence, because when you think of splendour you think of opulence. But splendour, greatness, glory, all these fine things, may be produced by useless success, and unprofitable and enervating extent of dominion obtained at the expense of opulence; and this is the way in which you may manage so as to prove to yourself that the way to make a man run the quicker is to cut of one of his legs. And true enough it is, that a man who has had a leg cut of, and the stump healed, may hop faster than a man who lies in bed with both legs broken, can walk. And thus you may prove that Britain is in a better case after the expenditure of a glorious war, than if there had been no war; because France or some other country, was put by it into a still worse condition.

In respect, therefore, of any benefit to be derived in the shape of conquest, or of trade – of opulence or of respect no advantage can be reaped by the employment of the unnecessary, the mischievous, and unconstitutional system of clandestinity and secresy in negotiation.

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  1. Keith McLennan
    November 5, 2018 at 5:19 am

    Written in 1789, the very year that the French Revolution set off a quarter of a century of war across Europe. It was also 73 years before Bismarck’s “blood and iron” speech. How quaint in retrospect to think of England’s relationship with France as the crux of the problem of war and peace.

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