Extract from Fraser’s Magazine, March, 1872.
* * * * * * We cannot but deeply regret the whole course of procedure which has been pursued by us, both in official and non-official quarters, since the publication of the American Case. Whatever “blundering” may have been evinced in the drawing up of the unfortunate treaty, there has been much more and more unseemly and perilous blundering since, in the babel of clamor and denunciation with which the pretensions put forward in the American Case, founded upon it, have been received. In this remark we refer not so much to the press, which is “nothing if not critical,” and which, having no recognized authority, incurs none of that responsibility which attaches to authority. We utterly reject and discountenance the unworthy suggestion put forth by some American journals, that the meaningless and ignoble cry of distress and remonstrance which broke out from “the usual organs of public opinion” on this subject at the beginning of the year, was instigated by Her Majesty’s ministers, with a view of diverting attention from other disagreeable questions which they felt to be impending over their heads, or even of removing from their own shoulders the weight of any odium which might attach to all who had had any part in this unfortunate affair of Washington; but we at the same time think it to be a circumstance much to be deplored, that those ministers should have so far forgotten the dignity of their station, and that of the sovereign whose servants they are, as to allow themselves to follow, and to drag the Crown with them in the wake of such a miserable escapade. The conduct of ministers, instead of being such as to re-assure public feeling, and to support the character of the country before surrounding nations, has been undignified, and full of inconsistencies, as well as being, as we believe, utterly without precedent in the history of international relations. It was without precedent, without justification, and at the cost of infinite inconvenience and scandal, that the government introduced into the Queen’s speech any reference at all to matters in dispute, which had been formerly delegated to the discretion of a tribunal of arbitration.
It was a still greater violation of the rules of etiquette applicable in such cases, as well as a derogation of the dignity of the nation, to add that “a friendly communication” had been made to the Goverment of the United States, with a view, as was understood, of inducing them to withdraw from and recall part of the “Case” which they had in due form, and according to the provisions of the treaty, placed before the tribunal. But, in truth, whatever hope there might have been of extracting anything from the generous humor of the Government on the other side of the Atlantic though this humiliating appeal was, on the very evening when the fact was announced, dashed to the ground by tho violent, dogmatic, and offensive language of the intractable premier, who, far from imitating the judicious reserve of the noble lord, his colleague, at the head of the foreign office, noisily challenged the whole world to dispute his own construction of the terms of the treaty as being “the meaning, the only meaning, the rational meaning, the direct grammatical meaning.” Now, to any one with more discriminating perceptions than Mr. Gladstone, such a declaration as this could only imply that the Government of the United States, supposing it to be gifted with ordinary intelligence, must have been guilty of deliberate dishonesty and attempted extortion, in putting forward demands which were to be thus emphatically repudiated [Page 554] by the right honorable gentleman. Could it be wondered at if the latter Government in the full consciousness of the additional strength which its opponent’s fatuous display of weakness has afforded them, should, without betraying any show of irritated feeling, simply reply to our “friendly communication” by announcing their determination to leave the whole matter, upon its merits, in the hands of the arbitrators? This we are inclined to believe that they actually did “by return of cable,” though Mr. Gladstone, in reply to an inquiry a few days ago, stated that the government had not received any official reply, and did not expect to receive one till the 1st of March; which would thus enable them and the country to tide over the “Thanksgiving Day” in peaceful insouciance.
But, indeed, even had Mr. Gladstone, doing violence to his nature, been ever so courteous and conciliatory in tone, and the Washington Government ever so generously disposed, how could the latter, with any regard to their responsibilities and the dignity of statesmanship, make any other reply than we presume them to have done? Individuals acting on their own account, and rulers of states, having the interests of their constituent members in their hands, are very differently situated, and must act upon different principles in respect of enforcing claims, or demanding reparation for injuries—a subject very clearly treated of by the highest juridical authorities. An individual, acting on his own account, may permit motives of kindness or weakness to influence him in abstaining from pressing to the fullest extent his just claims, and even in pardoning an injury received. But the sovereign of a state, who is but the trustee of the rights of his subjects, may not exercise a discretion of this sort, unless justified by special considerations, rendering it, in his opinion, expedient in the general interests of the state. There is always, in the case of states, in addition to the consideration of the simple material advantages in dispute, the character of the nation for honor and magnanimity, which must not be suffered to be brought in question.
And this brings us to the reflection that there are other parties beside the actual litigants who are entitled to honorable consideration in this matter, but who, unfortunately, have been by implication subjected to unexampled indignity through the irregular discussions which have been permitted to take place, namely, the worthy members of the Geneva court of arbitration and the sovereign states, who, at the joint request of the contending parties, have nominated them.
It need scarcely be pointed out that in matters in litigation before an ordinary tribunal the discussion of a case out of court is justly visited and resented as an act of “contempt.” Sovereign states cannot commit one another to “durance vile” for breach of discipline; and so long as the discussions of the points of disagreement in the Washington treaty were confined to the columns of the newspapers, the members of the Geneva arbitration court had, perhaps, nothing to complain of, or, at any rate, no ground of complaint upon which they would deem it necessary to seek redress. But the case is different when the legislature of one of the states in disagreement takes up the discussion, and when the prime minister of that state insists upon laying down the law in the case, and, by necessary logical interference, precluding the court of arbitration from giving any decision other than that which he has dictated. It is, moreover, a flagrant breach of the good faith which should exist between states, to oven hint at retiring from an arbitration, or repudiating its award, in case it should be in any way at variance with one’s own notions. There is no department of its functions in which a sovereign state takes more pride than in the exercise of its “good offices,” whether in the way of mediation or arbitration, and any show of recusancy against them, once they have been accepted, becomes a grave offence before the world, susceptible of being visited by any form and any amount of resentment.
“As the case stands, the country is clearly in the hands of the arbitrating powers, to abide their award, whatever it may be. And however stupid, howevever ‘scandalous’in ‘blundering,’ our representatives may have been in drawing up this dismal treaty, let us hope, in Mr. Gladstone’s despite, that there maybe sufficient ‘ambiguity’ in it to enable the arbitrators, having regard to the rules which regulate the reasonable and equitable interpretation of treaties, having regard also to the supreme interest of peace, of which they are guardians, to give an award favorable to, or at least not so disastrously prejudicial to us as has been anticipated by alarmist speculators, who, there is too much reason to apprehend, have not been altogether free from stock-jobbing influences.’