Harper's Weekly Editorials on Carl Schurz/Liberty and the War
|←The Missouri Senator|| Harper's Weekly Editorials on Carl Schurz
Liberty and the War
|From Harper's Weekly, August 13, 1870, p. 514.|
It is sometimes asked whether liberty has any thing to choose between the Prussian King and the French Emperor, and whether it is not foolish to prefer one side to the other in the pending war. The Prussian King, it is said, is arrogant and despotic; many of his warmest supporters in this country, among them Senator Schurz himself, who praises him so cordially, are victims of his tyranny. Prussia is declared to be a military despotism of boundless ambition, which means to dominate Germany and Europe, and there are those who say that they would not be sorry to see her humbled. France, on the other hand, they declare, was our first friend. But for France the colonies would not have been independent. She is our traditional ally, and we do wrong to condemn her so rigorously. Much more is said in this same general strain; but the purport of all is, that, as popular liberty is not likely to gain by the contest, Americans ought to be rather favorable to France, or indifferent, as in a fight of Kilkenny cats.
But a great war is not a question of two men; and even if it were, and both the King of Prussia and the Emperor of France were alike despots, which of two despots is to be the more condemned, he who involves two nations in all the horrors of war, or he who removes the alleged pretext for those horrors? It seems to be forgotten that it is not a question of quarrel between kings only, but of war between nations. Granting that liberty gains nothing by the war, does humanity lose nothing. Suppose it to be true that the Prussians can not expect liberty from King William, must we with indifference see them murdered by Emperor Louis? Or because freedom has no hope in France, must we, without protest, behold Frenchmen dragged to fight in a wanton war? If both governments are equally hostile to freedom, then certainly that which insists upon adding the sufferings of war to those of slavery is the more to be condemned by humane men every where. Because King William is arrogant, and the Prussian army officers are haughty, and Bismarck is aristocratic, there are those who would willingly see them punished by Louis Napoleon. But they will not be punished; and do those reasons reconcile any American to the immeasurable anguish of wholly innocent persons which is to overspread two great countries? King William and Bismarck will not be touched, but the honest German citizen will be killed and his peaceful home ruined. Is that a spectacle which any American would willingly see?
Moreover, the war being forced upon Prussia, she begins by making it as humane as possible. Americans are neutrals; and the first act of Prussia is to declare the rights of neutrals in the utmost extent ever claimed by the United States. France refuses, and abides by the letter of her last agreement, the Treaty of Paris in 1856. And if we come to traditions, it is not to France nor to Celtic civilization that we owe the great muniments of American freedom. At this day, in France, most of those who call themselves republicans, and earnestly strive for the overthrow of Louis Napoleon, show as little comprehension of the vital and fundamental guarantees of liberty as the terrorists of '93. A century ago the French government, already rotten with the vices of despotism, which were about to plunge the country into revolution, recognized the independence of the American colonies, and substantially aided them. It was not chivalry nor magnanimity — it was sheer selfishness. It was not because the Bourbon government loved liberty, or the descendants of Englishmen, or wished to encourage rebellion, but because it hated England, and would gladly see a power upon this continent that would hold its rival in check. And it was the Bourbon government in France, not the republic, which helped us. The republic did what it could to humiliate us, while an American party flattered it because it called itself republican. Then came the Bonaparte successor of the Bourbon despotism. He restored slavery in St. Domingo, and sold us Louisiana because he knew that he could not keep it for himself. And when slavery in the United States, incalculably strengthened by the expansion furnished by the Louisiana purchase, sought to destroy the republic, and to found an empire based on slavery, the descendant of Bonaparte lent it all his sympathy and aid, seizing the chance to supersede the Mexican republic by an Austrian empire.
Meanwhile, whatever the arrogance of the Prussian King, the recent political action of Prussia has been to transfer to itself the headship of Germany which Austria had exercised since the last settlement of Europe. Is that a calamity for liberty? Prussia has also secured the independence of Italy. Do lovers of liberty decry her for that? She aims, undoubtedly, at a united Germany. What else has been the dream and hope of the best Germans for a century? It is, therefore, because circumstances have made his old foe at home the representative of such tendencies and principles that Senator Schurz defends the Prussian King. It is not the Crown Prince sternly suppressing republican movements in Prussia; it is the King refusing to yield to the mad requirement of the nephew of the victor of Jena, who imposed a fine of a hundred million of francs upon Prussia; it is the King resisting, in the name of Germany and civilization, the demand of the hereditary enemy of liberty and Europe, that a German republican of '48 with all his heart approves and defends.
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).|