same reason.

to largely buy out the shareholders and replace the Company by a kind of Administration or Syndicate in which all the Maritime Powers would be represented. In any case we will do our utmost not to let an undertaking on which our chief interests depend be monopolised by foreigners. The guarantee resulting from the control of the Porte is now no longer sufficient. If we lost that offered us by the participation of the Khedive we should be absolutely at the mercy of M. de Lesseps, to whom, however, I render all justice.'

The point on which we differ from Lord Derby is that the participation of the Khedive' does not merely consist in the possession of 176,000 unproductive shares, but in his right to 15 per cent of the profits as sovereign, and in the other legal attributes of territorial sovereignty. We have bought his shares, but we have not bought any portion of his territorial and political rights. They were not in the market, and could in fact neither be sold nor bought. This confusion of ideas pervades all the popular writing on the subject, whether in favour of the purchase or against it. The intelligence was received in England with enthusiasm, because it was imagined that in purchasing these shares we had purchased more than the mere scrip, and were to stand to the Canal in the place of the Khedive. The measure was disliked by France for the

In our view both impressions are alike unfounded. Thus the · Moscow Gazette writes:

'In consequence of the English proceedings in Egypt, the difficulties incidental to the Oriental question have been considerably aggravated. England's step gives rise to questions of the most delicate and complicated nature. There is no precedent of a Government acquiring a share in a joint-stock enterprise on foreign soil, and thereby virtually extending its own territory. The fact of the Canal being an international concern adds force to this reasoning, though even if the Canal were purely Egyptian, the transaction might give rise to difficulties. Luxembourg was intended to be sold, but the sale was not allowed to be completed. As the crowning feature of it all, Egypt is not even an independent State, but the vassal of a Power, itself the client of European guarantors. Egypt is Turkish territory, and the Canal concession is based upon a Firman of the Porte. Has the Khedive the right to sell a portion of his territory—that is, to partition out the property of his suzerain ? It is doubtful whether the Sultan himself would be entitled to take any such step without the consent of all Europe. Were the Sultan to claim an independent right to sell the harbour of Constantinople or the port of Batum, or the Turkish fleet, would England allow such a claim to be legitimate? But we remember reading in an English journal that there would be nothing to prevent the Sultan ceding his Navy to England in payment of the interest upon the national debt!' It is not given to every Minister

• To purclase kingdoms and to buy renown;

but it would be easy to answer the · Moscow Gazette' that absolute transfers of territory in full sovereignty for money are by no means unprecedented. In 1768 the Republic of Genoa sold the island of Corsica to Louis XV.-a transaction the more remarkable as it caused Napoleon Bonaparte to be born a French subject. In 1800 Spain had ceded Louisiana to France by the secret treaty of St. Ildofonso. The fact becoming known, the American Government took alarm, and Napoleon was afraid lest they should join with England in the war.

To obviate this danger, France sold Louisiana to the United States for sixty millions of francs; that vast cession included more than half the continent of North America, and the whole basin of the Missouri and the Mississippi, extending from New Orleans to the coast of Oregon.* Indeed, the Americans have frequently enlarged their territories by purchase. Russia herself sold to them the territory of Alaska ; Denmark had agreed to sell St. Thomas; proposals have more than once been made for the purchase of Cuba from Spain. These were all transactions of considerable political importance. But it would be an utter delusion to compare them with the purchase of so many shares in the French Canal Company, which confer on the holders no tittle of sovereignty or political power in Egypt whatsoever. The only power we possess there is derived from the fact that we have rendered the Khedive a financial service for which he is grateful, and that we are trying to help him to escape from the clutches of sharks, cormorants, and usurers. We have acquired no polilitical power in Egypt, and we are very glad of it, for political power, especially when it is limited and incomplete, brings with it the most embarrassing responsibilities, and is totally opposed to the neutral character which is established by the terms of concession, and which we hope to see maintained both by the Suez Canal Company and by the ruler of Egypt. The other Maritime Powers might fairly say, and would say, We are not afraid of a joint-stock company-we are not afraid that the Khedive of Egypt will assume a hostile attitude or a belligerent character; but if this great passage were to fall under the absolute control of the most powerful maritime empire in the world, it would in the event of war cease to be neutral and be used for belligerent purposes—a result totally opposed to the universal and pacific scheme on which it was undertaken by its first promoters. To support such a policy as that would indeed involve considerations of a much more serious nature

* See the Fifteenth Chart in Captain Walker's 'Statistical Atlas of 'the United States'- a work of extraordinary merit and value.


the sea.

than those we have been discussing, and the Minister who could contemplate so daring and extravagant a course ought at least to have an army of 30,000 men to send abroad and a perfectly equipped fleet to sweep the seas.

The perpetual neutralisation of the Canal was from the first pointed out by Prince Metternich in conversation with Sir Travers Twiss (who enjoyed the confidence of that statesman) as a most desirable object, to be secured not only by the concession of the Viceroy of Egypt or the statutes of a jointstock company, but by a formal agreement of the Maritime Powers. Lord Derby, as we have seen, has recently held the same language. The opposite course of policy would obviously give rise to jealousy, hostility, and endless political complications. A power of opening or closing the Canal for political reasons is not one which


wise statesman would wish to acquire or could easily exercise. The Canal should be as free and open

You might as well attempt to shut up the gut of Gibraltar or the Straits of Dover. No policy can be regarded as safe, honourable, and consistent by the statesmen of this country, but that which consists in taking or giving the best security we can that the freedom and neutrality of this Canal shall be invariably maintained. We do not believe that there has ever been any danger that this principle should be violated, and we ourselves should be the first to defend it, the last to contest it. Our new position as shareholders in the Company seems to us to make no alteration in this respect, because if the principle of neutrality were infringed, all the Maritime Powers would be alike interested in upholding it. The Company would be powerless, as M. de Lesseps was powerless, when he threatened to interrupt the passage on the tonnage question.

The question of neutrality, however, does not arise while all the world is at peace. It would only become a difficulty under the pressure of maritime warfare. In that event it might seriously affect ourselves. For the Suez Canal is to England not only a commercial highway for the passage of trading and unarmed vessels, but it is also the route by which the reliefs and reinforcements of the British army are constantly conveyed to India, and it is also used by our vessels of war. Vessels of war are not provided for by the concession of the Viceroy, whose declaration is expressly limited (Art. 14) to “tout navire ' de commerce.' We presume that if troops and armed vessels are allowed to pass through any neutral territory, it is by the permission of the sovereign of that territory. This permission does not rest with the Suez Canal Company or with its shareholders. It is a prerogative of the Khedive or of the Sultan, and has not been delegated to the Company. It is essentially a political right and power. Such a permission might still be conceded in time of war by a neutral State without any breach of neutrality to belligerents, provided it was conceded to all belligerents equally ; just as belligerents are allowed to take refuge or purchase supplies in any neutral port. But it is a favour which no belligerent can claim as a right, and which certainly cannot be conceded as an exclusive right in favour of one belligerent and not to another. The possession of 176,000 shares in the Suez Canal Company by Great Britain would not invest her with the smallest right to interdict the passage of the Canal in time of war, even to an enemy, because she has acquired no territorial or political power over it. Nay, we are not even sure that she has acquired any right to use it herself for belligerent purposes, for that too is excluded by the principle of neutrality.

We are reluctant to reason on the hypothesis of war, because we most sincerely trust and believe that no such calamity will afflict the world in our days. But when we see the whole of Europe bristling with troops--when we see it computed that more than seven millions of men are, or soon will be, engaged in military service—when we know the immense preparations which are made for naval warfare, it is impossible not to feel that neutral and pacific principles are not in these days entirely secure. Least of all do we apprehend, and most of all should we deplore, a war with France-a contingency in the highest degree improbable ; but can anything be conceived more embarrassing to the British Government than its relations to our French co-shareholders and co-proprietors of a large property in a neutral territory, if such a misfortune were to overtake us? Some people suppose that war suspends all laws, and justifies all acts of violence-the seizure of the Danish fleet and the confiscation of enemy's property in neutral ships. But these are not the principles on which wars can be carried on by liberal and enlightened nations in modern times. God forbid that we should seek to stretch the theory of belligerent rights, which are certain to be turned to our own detriment, because we have more property floating about the globe than any other people. We say, then, that war does not justify or permit any aggression on an enemy's property in a neutral territory, because such an act of aggression is an act of war against the neutral himself.

If the Crown and Parliament of England were ever moved by some extraordinary concourse of events which we cannot foresee by some vast political convulsion tearing up the landmarks of nations and plunging the whole world into strife and bloodshed—to repeat the expedition of 1798, and attempt, from paramount obligations of public safety, the conquest and occupation of Egypt, that would be an enterprise of the very greatest magnitude---greater than the Crimean War-greater than our Indian campaigns, because it must be accomplished in the teeth of most of the great Powers of Europe. Nothing in the world could excite this country to such an undertaking, or could justify us in engaging in it, but a peremptory conviction that the safety and the very existence of the Empire were at stake, and that we must defend it to the last extremity in Egypt and elsewhere. Far be it from us to enter upon such violent and desperate courses, which are utterly opposed to our principles, to our traditional policy, to our interests, to our pursuits. But if we were driven to any such extremity, the fact that we had possessed ourselves by purchase of 176,000 shares in the Suez Canal Company would really not weigh one ounce in the scale. In peace the neutrality and safety of the Canal are not in question ; it is the common interest of all mankind to keep the passage open, and to improve the means of communication. In the event of war new complications might arise, and we must be on our guard against them; but it appears to us that they are more likely to be increased than averted by the fact that we have purchased an interest in the Company. *

We have now passed rapidly in review the considerations which occur to us on this subject, from the information it has been in our power to collect. In a financial point of view we think that the purchase was highly useful to the Khedive, and by no means injurious to the Company; but as a mere investment of British capital it is deplorable; and we question whether it has given us any important influence in the administration of the Company, at least for several years. It has given us no territorial or political rights whatever in Egypt, except in as far as we are creditors of the Egyptian Government, and have conferred an obligation on the Khedive. But while it has not strengthened our political position in the East, and may give rise to some embarrassing questions, it

• One of the contingencies which might occur, very much to our inconvenience and detriment, is that any hostile Power having a sufficient motive to stop, at least temporarily, the passage of the Canal, could easily do so. It would suffice to scuttle or blow up a vessel in a narrow part of the channel to block it up altogether for several days or weeks, as the port of Boulogne was accidentally blocked last year by the wreck of the Charles Dickens.'

« VorigeDoorgaan »