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London: Saturday, March 18, 1865

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1306, p. 250.

March 18, 1865

London: Saturday, March 18, 1865.

The most interesting, as well as the most important, debate which has marked the present Session took place on Monday last, when Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald, calling attention to the report of Colonel Jervois on the defences of Canada, brought up "the American question." Several of the best speakers in the house took part in the discussion, and the Commons were occupied upon it until near midnight, the Premier closing the debate. It was, generally speaking, conducted in a manner which showed that the House had a due sense of the weight which would attach to the deliberate utterances of the British House of Representatives. The report is now on its way to the West, and it will be interesting to know how it will have affected American readers. The declaration of the friends of the Federals that the newspapers of the States are not to be respected, as they do not represent the feeling of the people, may as well be borne in mind when we are told, as we unquestionably shall be, that the British are showing their terror of the great and glorious armies which the crushing of the rebellion will liberate, and probably dispatch to rectify an account which requires stern overhauling.

We do not suppose that an honest American reader of the debate, however much he may fancy he dislikes England, will perceive any signs of terror in the great debate. We are expressly told, on both sides of the House, that there is no reason to believe that the Federals propose to break the peace. Lord Palmerston assures us of the friendly character of the relations between the Government at Washington and our own; but his words are those which a Minister is bound to use until a rupture takes place, and too nearly resemble the assurances of peace which we received within a very short time of the declaration of war with Russia, to derive very great importance from the position of the speaker. Mr. Disraeli, like the celebrated German who had never seen a camel but nevertheless described one, evolved a Federal out of his own moral consciousness, and, having constructed the being, cited Aristotle to show that Lincoln would not invade Canada. The leader of the Opposition assumed, and sustained with great skill, a calm, philosophic tone in regard to America; and argued, from a lofty height, and as if with a bird's-eye view of affairs, that we need not apprehend war, though it was just and necessary to state that our Government was not to be thanked for our security. But Mr. Bright, who may be regarded as the member for Federalia, and who represents American views far more faithfully than those of any large number of Englishmen, would not be content with any formalism or any philosophy. He was, or seemed to be, more angry than he usually appears; and, while peace was his theme, he thundered over it as if he were proclaiming war. Mr. Bright contended that England had behaved ill to the Federals in recognising the South, in taking a high tone in the Trent affair, and in permitting the Alabama and other English-built vessels to ravage the seas. That was the guilt of the Government. The educated classes had behaved ill in admiring the valour of the slaveowners and in rejoicing at their successful resistance. The press had behaved ill in recording its belief that the Confederates would make a long defence, and might ultimately establish their independence, and, moreover, in describing the victories which they had gained. Lord Russell was let off easily, though his declaration that the triumph of the North would be good neither for the negroes nor for humanity is on permanent record. Mr. Bright--and we have noted his words at some length because he is the American advocate--is instructed to say that there is "no fear of war."

These were the statements of the three men who represent opposed opinions, and, for different reasons, they all agree that at present there is no cause to apprehend a rupture. The allegation by Mr. Seward that at the Hampton Roads conference the Confederates proposed to make peace, and then that North and South should fall on Canada, is eagerly repudiated by the Richmond press, and we are assured that it was not upon Canada, but upon Mexico, that it was proposed to fall, and that the French, not the English, were to be expelled from the New World. This may or may not be. If we have to express our opinion, it would be that, had the North seen its way to any war at all, the South would not have been particular as to the direction in which the reunited stars should travel; nor have we done anything to deserve the affection of the South. The Emperor of the French will, doubtless, take into consideration the amiable readiness of the Confederates to overturn the new Mexican Empire. He is, in fact, in much the same position as ourselves in regard to America. If Canada be attacked, we shall certainly support her with the whole force which Great Britain can bring to bear; and if the Canadian frontier be indefensible, that is also the case with several points in another frontier, which it is not necessary to name. If Mexico be attacked, the honour of France is pledged to maintain, for some years at least, the empire which she has founded, and which will be an invaluable boon to a country which was never free, by reason of the numerous bloodthirsty and corrupt tyrannies which rendered Mexico a by-word among nations. The American reader of our debates will perceive that our statesmen of all parties are fully aware of all the bearings of the case, and we think that the speeches of the responsible orators will show that "rowdy rhetoric" has produced no effect upon the tempers of Englishmen, and that we do not accept the scoffs of vulgar writers as the expression of American opinion. And, above all, and amid all, and beneath all will be found, we hope, the resistless current of a noble faith--namely, the belief that Providence will not permit the despots of the world to enjoy the humiliating spectacle of the two great free nations of the earth, the mighty champions of civilisation and progress, engaged in hideous grapple, instead of leading in majestic union the march of mankind towards better things than can be gained by war.

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