In the “wilderness” years after Sir Winston Churchill unflinchingly guided his country through World War II, he turned his masterful hand to an exhaustive history of the country he loved above all else. And the world discovered that this brilliant military strategist was an equally brilliant storyteller. In 1953, the great man was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”
This final volume in Churchill’s extraordinary, sweeping history follows Britain from the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars to the Boer War of 1902. In it, Churchill makes an impassioned argument for the crucial role played by the English-speaking people in exporting not just economic benefits, but political freedom by encouraging democracy throughout the world. Churchill’s passion for this era—informed by his own experience as a soldier and a wartime journalist during the Boer War—shines through in this thrilling conclusion to his historic work.
“This history will endure; not only because Sir Winston has written it, but also because of its own inherent virtues—its narrative power, its fine judgment of war and politics, of soldiers and statesmen, and even more because it reflects a tradition of what Englishmen in the hey-day of their empire thought and felt about their country’s past.” —The Daily Telegraph
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BOOK X RECOVERY AND REFORM
CHAPTER I THE VICTORY PEACE
After a generation of warfare peace had come to Europe in the summer of 1815. It was to be a long peace, disturbed by civil commotions and local campaigns, but flaring into no major blaze until the era of German expansion succeeded the age of French predominance. In the Revolutionary and Napoleonic struggles Britain had played an heroic part. The task that had united and preoccupied her people was now at last accomplished. Henceforth they could bend their energies to developing the great resources of industrial and commercial skill which had accumulated in the Island during the past half-century and been tested and sharpened by twenty-two years of war. But the busy world of trade and manufacture and the needs and aspirations of the mass of men, women, and children who toiled in its service were beyond the grasp of the country's leading statesmen on the morrow of Waterloo. The English political scene succumbed to stagnation. The Tories, as we may call them, though not all would have acknowledged the name, were firmly in power. They had won the struggle against Napoleon with the support of a War Cabinet drawn largely from their own party. They embodied the tradition of resistance to the principles of Revolutionary France and the aggressive might of the Napoleonic empire. Throughout the country they had innumerable allies among men of substance and independent mind, who would have scorned to wear a party label but nevertheless shared the prevailing Tory outlook. They regarded themselves as the defenders not only of the Island, but of the almost bloodless aristocratic settlement achieved by the Revolution of 1688. Under the shock of the French Terror the English governing classes had closed their minds and their ranks to change. Prolonged exertions had worn out the nation. Convalescence lasted until 1830.
The principal figures in the Government were Lord Liverpool, Lord Castlereagh, and, after 1818, the Duke of Wellington. Castlereagh and Wellington towered above their colleagues. Much of the credit for the broad peace which Europe enjoyed after the fall of Napoleon was due to the robust common sense and shrewd judgment of Wellington and to the aloof disinterestedness of Castlereagh. In spite of many setbacks and some military blunders these men had led the country to victory. Liverpool was the son of Charles Jenkinson, organiser of Government patronage under George III and close colleague of the younger Pitt. He was a man of conciliatory temper, a mild chief, and an easy colleague. He had held a variety of public offices almost continuously since the start of the war with France. In 1812 he became Prime Minister, and for fifteen years presided over the affairs of the realm with tact, patience, and laxity.
Castlereagh had served his political apprenticeship as Chief Secretary for Ireland. In the difficult days of the negotiation for Union with Ireland, when the powers of patronage were extensively used, he had seen eighteenth-century jobbery at its worst. He had joined the war- time Cabinet as Secretary for War, but was obliged to resign after a celebrated quarrel with his colleague Canning, which led to a duel between them on Putney Heath. In 1812 Castlereagh had returned to the Government and had been appointed to the Foreign Office. He was the architect of the coalition which gained the final victory and one of the principal authors of the treaties of peace. For home affairs he cared little, and he was unable to expound his far-sighted foreign policy with the eloquence that it deserved. Castlereagh was no orator. His cool, collected temperament was stiffened with disdain; he thought it beneath him to inform the public frankly of the Government's plans and measures. Nevertheless he was Leader of the House of Commons. Seldom has that office been filled by a man with fewer natural qualifications for it.
In Wellington all men acknowledged the illustrious General who had met and beaten Napoleon. His conception of politics was simple. He wished to unite all parties, and imbue them with the duty of preserving the existing order. The rest of the Cabinet were Tories of the deepest dye, such as the Lord Chancellor, Eldon; Addington, now Viscount Sidmouth, once Prime Minister and now at the Home Office; and Earl Bathurst, Colonial Secretary, whom Lord Rosebery has described as "one of those strange children of our political system who fill the most dazzling offices with the most complete obscurity". These men had begun their political life under the threat of world revolution. Their sole aim in politics was an unyielding defence of the system they had always known. Their minds were rigid, and scarcely capable of grasping the changes pending in English society. They were the upholders of the landed interest in government, of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, and of Anglicanism at home. Castlereagh was a specialist in foreign and Wellington in military affairs. The others were plain Tory politicians resolved to do as little as possible as well as they could.
They had many advantages. The sea-power, the financial strength, and the tenacity of Britain had defeated Napoleon. In the summer of 1815 Britain and Castlereagh stood at the head of Europe, and upon the terms of the European settlement now to be concluded the peace of generations depended. The sundered or twisted relations between the leading states must be replaced by an ordered system; France must be rendered harmless for the future. An international structure must be raised high above the battlefields of nations, of theories, and of class. The treaties which created the new Europe involved Britain in obligations she had never assumed before. She was a party to the settlement of the new frontiers of France, which deprived the restored Bourbons of what is now the Saarland and of parts of Savoy. France was reduced to the frontiers of 1789, and Prussia established as the chief Power upon the River Rhine. The Allied army of occupation in North-Eastern France, which included thirty thousand British troops out of a hundred and fifty thousand men, was commanded by the Duke of Wellington. Although Tory opinion even in the day of triumph was fearful of Continental commitments, Castlereagh resolved that Britain should not abandon the position of authority she had won during the war. Immune from popular passions, race hatreds, or any desire to trample on a fallen enemy, he foresaw the day when France would be as necessary to the balance of Europe and to the interests of Britain as Prussia, Austria, and Russia. With Wellington he stood between France and her vindictive foes. Unrestrained, Prussia, Austria, and Russia would have divided between them the states of Germany, imposed a harsh peace upon France, and fought each other over the partition of Poland. The moderating influence of Britain was the foundation of the peace of Europe.
In the eighteenth century the European Powers had no regular organisation for consulting each other, and little conception of their common interests. The Revolution in France had united them against the common danger, and they were now determined to remain together to prevent a further outbreak. An alliance of the four Great Powers already existed, sworn to confer as occasion demanded upon the problems of Europe. This was now supplemented by a Holy Alliance between the three autocratic rulers on the Continent, the Emperors of Russia and Austria and the King of Prussia. Its main purpose was to intervene in any part of Europe where revolution appeared and in the name of legitimacy instantly to suppress it.
This made small appeal to Castlereagh. He was opposed to any interference in the affairs of sovereign states, however small and whatever liberal complexions their Governments might assume. Although caricatured as a reactionary at home he was no friend to Continental despotism. To him the Quadruple Alliance and the Congress at Vienna were merely pieces of diplomatic machinery for discussing European problems. On the other hand, the Austrian Chancellor Metternich and his colleagues regarded them as instruments for preserving the existing order. This divergence between the Great Powers was in part due to the fact that Britain had a Parliamentary Government which represented, however imperfectly, a nation. Castlereagh's European colleagues were the servants of absolute monarchs. Britain was a world-Power whose strength lay in her ranging commerce and in her command of the seas. Her trade flourished and multiplied independently of the reigning ideas in Europe. Moreover, her governing classes, long accustomed to public debate, did not share the absolutist dreams that inspired, and deluded, the Courts of the autocrats.
In spite of these differences the Congress of Vienna stands as a monument to the success of classical diplomacy. The intricacies of its negotiations were immense. No fewer than twenty-seven separate agreements were concluded during the first six months of 1815, in addition to the formidable Final Act of the Congress itself, and some twenty other treaties signed elsewhere in the same period. Talleyrand, with his background of double-dealing and treachery to his Emperor, nevertheless displayed an unswerving and ingenious determination to restore his country's position in Europe. But to modern eyes Castlereagh was pre-eminent as the genius of the conference. He reconciled opposing views, and his modest expectation that peace might be ensured for seven years was fulfilled more than fivefold. He represented, with its faults and virtues, the equable detached and balanced approach to Continental affairs that was to characterise the best of British foreign policy for nearly a century. After the Congress was concluded split became inevitable, but Castlereagh achieved at least one triumph before the eventual collapse. Within three years of the signing of the peace treaty British troops had evacuated French territory, the war indemnity had been paid, and France was received as a respectable nation into the European Congress. Wellington, released from military duties in France, thereupon entered the Cabinet in the not inappropriate office of Master-General of the Ordnance.
At home the Government were faced with the delicate and perplexing task of economic reconstruction. For this their members were supremely unfitted. The dislocation caused by the end of the war and the novel problems posed by the advance of industry were beyond the power of these men to remedy or solve. Earlier than her neighbours Britain enjoyed the fruits and endured the rigours of the Industrial Revolution. She gained a new domain of power and prosperity. At the same time the growing masses in her ill-built towns were often plunged into squalor and misery, the source of numerous and well-grounded discontents. Her technical lead was due to the ingenuity and success of British inventors and men of business in the eighteenth century and to the fortunate proximity of her main coal and iron deposits to each other and to the coast. Supremacy at sea, the resources of the colonial empire, and the use of capital accumulated from its trade nourished the industrial movement. Steam engines were gradually harnessed to the whole field of contemporary industry. In engineering accurate tools were perfected which brought a vast increase in output. The spinning of cotton was mechanised, and the factory system grew by degrees. The skilled man, self-employed, who had hitherto worked in his home, was steadily displaced. Machinery, the rise of population, and extensive changes in employment all presented a formidable social problem. The Government were by their background and upbringing largely unaware of the causes of the ills which they had to cure. They concentrated upon the one issue they understood, the defence of property. In a society which was rapidly becoming industrial most of them represented the abiding landed interest. They were incapable of carrying out even moderate reforms because of their obsessive fears of bloody revolution.
Napoleon had closed the Continent to British commerce, and the answering British blockade had made things worse for industry at home. There was much unemployment in the industrial North and the Midlands. Smashing of machinery during the Luddite riots of 1812 and 1813 had exposed the complete absence of means of preserving public order. There was no co-ordination between the Home Office in London and the Justices of the Peace in the country. Disorder was in the end suppressed only by the tactful and efficient behaviour of the officers commanding the troops sent to put down the rioters. Often before in the eighteenth century low wages and lack of employment had caused widespread unrest, which had been fanned into riot whenever a succession of bad harvests drove prices high and made food dearer. Bad harvests now added to the prevailing distress. But eighteenth- century riots were generally soon over. They were snuffed out by a few hangings and sentences of transportation to the colonies. The sore-pates who remained at home were more inclined to blame nature for their woes than either the economic or political system. After Waterloo the public temper was very different. Extremist Radical leaders came out of hiding and kept up a perpetual and growing agitation. Their organisations, which had been suppressed during the French Revolution, now reappeared, and began to take the shape of a political movement, though as yet scarcely represented in the House of Commons.
In the Radical view it was the Government alone, and not chance or Act of God, that was to blame for the misfortunes of the people. The Tory Cabinet in the face of such charges knew not what to do. It was no part of Tory philosophy to leave everything to be settled by the chaffer of the market-place, to trust to good luck and ignore the bad. The Tories of the time recognised and sometimes gloried in the responsibility of the governing classes for the welfare of the whole nation. The tasks of government were well understood to be as Burke had defined them — "the public peace, the public safety, the public order, the public prosperity". It was the last of these that was now foremost. The trouble was that the Government, in the unprecedented conditions that confronted them, had no idea how to secure the public prosperity. And even if they had hit upon a plan they possessed no experienced body of civil servants to put it into effect. As a result the only remedy for misery was private charity or the Poor Law.
It was a misfortune for Britain in these years that the Parliamentary Opposition was at its weakest. A generation in the wilderness had demoralised the Whig Party, which had not been effectively in office since 1783. Among themselves the Whigs were deeply divided, and none of them had any better or broader plans for postwar reconstruction than the Tories. Indeed, their interests were essentially the same. Like their rivals, they represented the landed class, and also the City of London. The only issues upon which they seriously quarrelled with the Government were Catholic Emancipation and the enfranchisement of the middle classes in the rising industrial towns. In the 1790's the Whigs had favoured the cause of Parliamentary Reform. It had been a useful stick with which to beat the administration of the younger Pitt. But they had been badly scared by the headlong course of events in France. Their leaders only gradually and reluctantly regained their reforming zeal. In the meantime, as Hazlitt put it, the two parties were like competing stage-coaches which splashed each other with mud but went by the same road to the same place. The Radicals who found their way into Parliament were too few to form an effective Opposition. One of their veteran leaders, John Cartwright, had for forty years in a litter of pamphlets been advocating annual Parliaments and universal suffrage. He was a landed gentleman, liked by many Members, but he never sat in the House of Commons. Under the unreformed franchise no constituency would adopt him. The violence of language used by the Radicals frightened Tories and Whigs alike. It stiffened the resistance of the upper middle classes, both industrial and landed to all proposals for change.
English political tradition centred in Parliament, and men still looked to Parliament to cure the evils of the day. If Parliament did nothing, then the structure of Parliament must be changed. Agitation therefore turned from airing social discontents to demanding Parliamentary Reform. Huge meetings were held, and protests vociferously made. But the tactics of the Radicals were too much like those of the French Revolutionaries to gain support from the middle classes. Though still denied much weight in Parliament, the middle classes were bound by their fear of revolution to side in the last resort with the landed interest. The Cabinet was thoroughly perturbed. Habeas corpus was suspended, and legislation passed against the holding of seditious meetings. Throughout the country a fresh wave of demonstrations followed. A large body of men set out to march from Manchester to London to present a petition against the Government's measures, each carrying a blanket for his night's shelter. This march of the "Blanketeers" disturbed the authorities profoundly. The leaders were arrested and the rank and file quickly dispersed. Another rising in Derbyshire was easily suppressed.(Continues…)
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Table of Contents
Book X Recovery and Reform,
I. The Victory Peace,
II. Canning and the Duke,
III. Reform and Free Trade,
IV. The Crimean War,
VI. The Migration of the Peoples. I: Canada and South Africa,
VII. The Migration of the Peoples. II: Australia and New Zealand,
Book XI The Great Republic,
I. American Epic,
II. Slavery and Secession,
III. The Union in Danger,
IV. The Campaign Against Richmond,
V. Lee and McClellan,
VI. Chancellorsville and Gettysburg,
VII. The Victory of the Union,
Book XII The Victorian Age,
I. The Rise of Germany,
II. Gladstone and Disraeli,
III. American "Reconstruction",
IV. America as a World-Power,
V. Home Rule for Ireland,
VI. Lord Salisbury's Governments,
VII. The South African War,