Handbook of Maritime Rights/Chapter 10

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1599934Handbook of Maritime Rights — Chapter 10Henry Alexander Munro-Butler-Johnstone


Consequences of the Declaration Of Paris.

I THINK it can be demonstrated that a final adoption by this country of the Declaration of Paris would not only be fatal to its maritime supremacy, but destructive of its very existence.

I will not confine myself to quoting authorities on this matter, but I will fortify those authorities by arguments drawn from the reason of the thing.

As for authorities, I claim the whole muster-roll of English statesmen from the time England became a maritime nation until Lord Clarendon put his signature to the Declaration of Paris.

Lord Eldon said—"The right of searching neutral vessels originated in the rights of nature, and no convention nor treaty can permanently destroy that right."

Lord Nelson—"A proposition (that the neutral flag covers enemies' goods) so monstrous in itself, so contrary to the law of nations, and so injurious to the maritime interests of this country, that if it had been persisted in we ought not to have concluded the war with these Powers whilst a single man, a single shilling, or a single drop of blood remained in the country"

Pitt said—"Rather than concede this principle he would wind the flag round his body and seek his glory in the grave."

Lord Heytesbury—"His majesty will never consent to place out of his hands in a treaty of peace those means which may be necessary for the security of his dominions in time of war."

Lord Liverpool—"The enemy requires that Great Britain should renounce all the advantages of his naval superiority."

Sir John Mc'Neil—"The right of search and capture, which, constitute the maritime power of England."

The same—"The right of search is a providential weapon placed in the hands of England for the protection of the weaker States."

Lord Stratford de Radcliffe—"Did not believe that Russia would have engaged in the Crimean war if she had not been assured beforehand that we should not use our maritime rights."

Lord Derby—"The day will come when you will wring your hands for having allowed yourselves to be bound by this fatal Declaration."

Lord John Russell—"in all books upon the subject it is stated that the rule that free bottoms make free goods has always been regarded as injurious to the supremacy of maritime nations, and especially to the maritime power of England."

Mr. Disraeli—"You have given up the cardinal principle of your maritime power."

Mr. Mill—"We have given up our main defence. Unless by resuming our natural and indispensable weapon we shall be burdened with these enormous establishments and onerous budgets for a permanency; and in spite of it all we shall be for ever in danger, for ever in alarm, cowed before any Power capable of invading any part of our widely spread possessions."

And now for the reason of the thing In the first place it is evident, and acknowledged on all sides, that the very first consequence to this country of a war in which it shall be engaged will be the absolute destruction of its carrying trade, and that the mere rumour of war will tend in the same direction. Mr. Beazley, a large shipowner, pointed out to a committee of the House of Commons, charged with examining into questions concerning the merchant service, that on the mere apprehension of war between England and France in 1859, second class American vessels were chartered in the Chinese seas at 50 per cent, higher freights than first class English vessels, which could not obtain cargoes at all. Nor is any testimony required to prove a matter so obvious. Cargoes being seizable in English vessels and safe in neutral vessels, no shipper would be so insane as to ship in the former when he could get the latter to carry his merchandize.

Now, what is the meaning of our carrying trade departing from us? Our mercantile marine consists of 37,000 vessels, representing an aggregate of between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 tons. These vessels would necessarily be laid up in dock, or sold to neutrals if the war lasted long enough; and the carrying trade having left us in war, it by no means follows that it would return to us in peace. It is very difficult to coax trade back from channels to which it has become accustomed. The carrying trade has never returned to the United States since the depredations of the "Alabama" took it out of their hands. But if our merchant ships could be laid up in dock, our merchant seamen could not afford to starve, and they would naturally transfer their labour to the carrying neutral; and thus the services of our merchant seamen, the backbone and reserve of our military marine, would be permanently lost to this country, and our maritime power dried up at its source.

This destruction, therefore, of our carrying trade is not a mere commercial loss: not the mere destruction of one very important branch of British industry; but a blow struck at the very root of our national greatness.

Do the people of this country realize to the full what the destruction of England's maritime power really means ? We have, practically speaking, no standing army; our volunteers, brave and devoted as they are, could not stand up half an hour against a regular army; we have no chains of impregnable fortresses, no mountain passes, no natural fastnesses. Our whole reliance has hitherto been on the sea; but from the moment that we lose the command of the sea, and yield up our supremacy there, that which formerly was our surest defence becomes the chief source of our danger, and we become exposed to invasion, and consequently destruction, along the whole periphery of our coasts. To defend England (to say nothing of India) territorially, without the command of the sea, is a simple strategical and military impossibility. A continental army, constituted as continental armies now are, would cut through this defenceless island as a knife cuts through a pat of butter.

This consideration seems to me conclusive. It is a mere bathos to point out other consequences which must follow from adhering to the Declaration of Paris. But it may nevertheless be interesting to trace out some of the secondary consequences which must ensue. It used formerly to be well understood what war with England meant. It meant the absolute ruin of our enemies commerce. "A month after war is declared our commerce is absolutely at your mercy," said Talleyrand to the English plenipotentiary at the Congress of Chatillon.

This was the secret of England's influence on the Continent—an influence out of all proportion to her military strength or the numbers of her population. By this she reached the secret springs of action of every Cabinet in Europe. "Nobody cares what England wishes since she gave up her maritime power" said Prince Bismarck during the Schleswig-Holstein negotiations; and the influence of England in all the different political events since that time proves the accuracy of Prince Bismarck's estimate. How could it be otherwise? Not only is compulsion applied to her enemies commerce England's main resource in war, but it is the sole sanction of her power. But for it not a victory at sea would she ever have won. It was not from gaité de cœur or for the fear of being sunk, but to defend his commerce that the enemy left his ports and gave battle to our Nelsons, St. Vincents, Camperdowns, and Howes. Once this is no longer necessary, once his commerce is safe and snug under the neutral flag, he remains like the Russian behind his granite walls, or like the Prussian entrenched behind his lines of torpedoes. Give up the power of distraining your enemies' goods at sea, and renounce at the same time the hope of adding another name to the list of your naval victories. When there is nothing to be gained by fighting, your enemy is not likely to mn his head against your iron walls. It comes to this: The Declaration of Paris abolishes war at sea, and leaves the arbitrament of war to the decision of big battalions—a comfortable prospect for the great military empires, but a doleful outlook for maritime Powers, and especially for England.