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The Eastern Question
From the Treaty of Paris 1856 to the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, and to the second Afghan War by the Duke of Argyll


It has appeared to me desirable that the views of those who have been opposed to the foreign policy of the Government since 1876 should be stated in a manner more systematic than that in which it has been possible to state them in speeches, or in pamphlets, or in the periodical literature of the day.

The Eastern Question has stirred more deeply the feelings of the country than any other question of our time. It was only natural, and it was only right, that this should be so. Five-and-twenty years ago, when that question engrossed public attention, there was comparatively little difference of opinion. This arose principally from the fact that Russia was then so clearly in the wrong that little or nothing could be said in her defence. But in a -secondary degree it arose from the peculiar position of political parties. Lord Aberdeen

was at the head of the Administration. He- had deserted the Conservative party; and, carrying with him most of his officers, had made a hated coalition with Whigs and Radicals. Consequently the Tories were hostile, and were naturally disposed to assail him where he was supposed to be most easily assailable. In the then temper of the nation, his weak point was his well-known love of peace. Although if the- Conservative party had been in power, Lord Aberdeen would have unquestionably been- either their own Prime Minister, or their own Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, they instinctively perceived that the reputation he had acquired in their service in former years was precisely the reputation which now made him most open to attack. Accordingly, the- whole tendency of the Opposition was to point him out as an object of national suspicion, and to urge on the Government to war. The result was tjiat when the imperious character of the Emperor Nicholas led him to reject every reasonable compromise, and when the Cabinets of London and of Paris came to the conclusion that they could yield no farther, the country was not only practically unanimous, but was.even hotly enthusiastic in support of a war which had become inevitable.

In 1876 everything was different—nothing was the same. The Eastern Question was raised by native insurrections in the Provinces, of Turkey, excited and justified by the gross, misgovernment of the Porte. The whole Eastern Question, therefore, as it was then raised, resolved itself into this—how the abuses and vices of Turkish Administration were to be dealt with by the Powers which had supported Turkey in the Crimean War, and by those other Powers, embracing all the principal Governments of Europe, which had ultimately signed the Treaties of 1856 ?

This question necessarily involves some of the most fundamental principles of morality and of;politics. As a consequence, it has come to engage also the fiercest party spirit. At first it had no such connexion. Men spoke on behalf of humanity, and of nothing else. The earliest meeting expressive of "indignation" against the Turks had Lord Shaftesbury as its President, and was attended by men of all political parties. It was not then known what the action of the Cabinet had been, if, indeed, they had taken any action at all. Very soon, however, it began to appear that, although full of indignation themselves, the Government somehow did not like others to express it. Then it came to be perceived what the explanation was. It was that all this " sentiment" looked in the direction of abandoning Turkey, whereas it was still, on account of " British interests," as much as ever the business of England to support her.

The moment this doctrine came to be detected as governing the policy of the Cabinet, there could be no compromise on the side of those who condemned it. It was a question, in the first place, of right and wrong. It was a question, in the second place, of the great follies which are always involved in a course of selfishness and injustice. On the other hand, this aspect of the question rallied to the side of the Government a powerful contingent. There is an important school, ably represented in the Press, whq regard with nothing short of loathing the very mention of morality as affecting politics. They dislike, if possible still more vehemently, the smallest tinge of sympathy with the Christian races in the East, or the slightest symptom of the belief that the decay of Turkey has any connexion whatever with the Teachings and the Example of the Arabian Prophet. What has religion to do with politics, or with the rise and fall of nations ? Nothing whatever? It is mere fanaticism to think it has. The decrepitude now visibly affecting every Moslem Government in the world is an effect without a cause. As for morality, it is equally irrelevant. Politicians who think of it are no statesmen. Immediate self-interest is the only rule by which nations can guide their course.

Sometimes plausible attempts were made to rest the policy pursued, if not positively, at least negatively, upon higher and better arguments. When as yet the Government had no other thought than that of resisting the popular impulse to coerce the Turks—when as yet it was the summit of their ambition to be allowed to do nothing—it was possible for them to say something which was at least inoffensive. Of this kind was the well- known speech of Lord Cranbrook (then Mr. Gathorne Hardy), that "we had no commission from heaven to go about the world redressing human wrongs." The cheers with which this plea is said to have been received indicated how welcome it was to uneasy consciences. Of Lord Cranbrook’s perfect sincerity when he used it, I fiave no doubt. Of all our public speakers there is, perhaps, no other whose sincerity is more obvious. But the sincerity with which an orator may use arguments of this kind does not necessarily imply that the inspiring motive of his opinions is visible on the surface. Even at that stage of the Eastern Question it was quite plain that the active sympathy of the Cabinet was with the Government of the Porte. When they were talking about " a commission" from heaven, which they had not got, they were really thinking about another commission—not certainly from heaven—which they thought they had got. And that commission was to support the Turks. Public feeling would not allow them to do as much as they desired. But if I rightly understand an allusion to this time, made not long ago by the Prime Minister, he regrets that he had not greater courage, and that he had not sooner swept away Lord Derby and all his works.

When currents of feeling and of opinion cutting so deep as these have been the prevailing currents in tfie Eastern Question, it is not surprising that political excitement has run very- high. And yet I have never been able to connect the question with party politics properly so called?" Of course every question becomes a party question when an existing Government is attacked. But the Eastern Question has no bearing upon domestic politics. It is true, indeed, that there is a tendency among Liberals to sympathise more or less actively with insurrections in support of popular liberties. There is, perhaps, also a corresponding tendency among Conservatives to sympathise with Governments against insurgents, however bad those Governments may be. But, beyond this, there is no natural connexion between Conservatism and a low morality in politics. On the contrary, I should be disposed to say that the natural connexion is the other way. The Utilitarian theory of Morals is generally regarded with antipathy by Tories, and has, in point of fact, been specially associated with the prophets and apostles of Radicalism, Yet in the Eastern Question we have had this theory applied in the coarsest form by Tory Secretaries of State, by Chancellors, and by Representatives of the old English Universities—where the doctrines of an " Independent Morality" have hitherto found an illustrious home. Indeed, I am wronging the Utilitarian theory of Morals, as it has latterly been purged and corrected by its most distinguished teachers, when I connect it with the flagrant caricatures presented in the speeches and writings of those who have supported the policy of the Government in the Eastern Question. The doctrines they proclaimed are doctrines which Jeremy Bentham would have considered coarse, and which the higher instincts of John Stuart Mill would have repudiated with indignation and disgust.

On the other*hand, I differ very much from a section of the Liberal party which, if not very large, has been quite prominent enough to give a perceptible flavour to the whole.3 I refer to those who think, and who have said—very much in the terms, although not in the spirit, of Lord Cranbrook’s speech—that we' had nothing to do in the matter. Their sympathies, indeed, were on the right side. They would never have suffered the diplomatic influence of England to be exerted, as it has been exerted, against the cause of freedom in the East. Such influence as they could have exerted through diplomacy • would have been exerted with wisdom and with justice. But I venture to think that they have shown an inadequate sense of the duties and responsibilities devolving upon us, not only as one of the Great Powers, but as the one of all the Great Powers which, rightly or wrongly, did most materially contribute to the pre-existing arrangement in the East of Europe. We could not shake off that responsibility; and as it was in the highest degree improbable that Turkey would have submitted to any mere efforts of diplomacy unbacked by force, I hold that it was the duty of England to join the other Powers in acting upon the moral obligations they had incurred in the Treaty of 1856. The uncertain sound given upon this subject at the beginning of the contest was a fatal mistake. John Bull is a creature highly militant. He has not, indeed, that restless vanity which, before the last war, made Frenchmen feel that they had been insulted if anything was settled in any corner of Europe without their leave. But, on the other hand, Englishmen do not like to be told that they ought to content themselves with looking after stocks and cotton. They feel that they have duties as well as rights and interests in the politics of the East of Europe, and if their energies are not employed in a right direction, they will be very apt to employ them in a wrong one. The noisy nonsense which is now so rampant on the subject of what is called "Imperialism" seems in part, at least, to be a reaction due to this cause.

In the following work I have sketched the history o^ the Eastern Question almost entirely from Official Documents. I have endeavoured throughout to make it quite clear as to what is stated as fact,—what is direct quotation,—what is my own representation of the effect of documents not quoted in extenso,—what is inference,— and what is comment. I cannot hope that among materials extending over several thousand pages I have made no mistakes. But at least I can say that I have taken great pains to be accurate.

Looking at the manner in which witnesses adverse to the Government have been treated- when they have produced evidence of the truth, I think it possible that some objection may be taken to the use I have made in the following pages of Lord Mayo’s letters to me when I was Secretary of State. I do not myself feel that any explanation on this matter is required, since the passages I have quoted are all of an essentially public character. But there are some points connected with this subject to which I am very glad to have an opportunity of directing public attention.

In the Afghan branch of the Eastern Question it has been deemed important by the Government to make out, if they could, tfrat Sherement have attached to it,—because it was their duty to think mainly, not of what that unfortunate Prince may or may not have been willing to do at a former time under unknown circumstances and conditions,—but of what he had a right to object to under the actual engagements made with him by the representatives of the Crown in India. Nevertheless, the Government have shown a very great anxiety to prove that the Ameer had been willing to admit British officers as Residents in his Kingdom ; and this is so far well—inasmuch as it shows some consciousness that they had no right to force the measure upon him if he were not willing. In the whole of their dealings with Afghanistan, this is the only homage they have paid to virtue. But their method of proceeding has been singular. The only two witnesses of any value on whose evidence they have relied, have been Colonel Burne, who was Lord Mayo’s Private Secretary, and Captain*Grey, who was Persian Interpreter at the Umballa Conferences in 1869. Colonel Burne’s evidence is given in the " Afghan Correspondence" (1.1878, No. 36, Enclosure 5, page 174). Of Colonel Burne’s perfect good faith there can be no shadow of a doubt. But several circumstances are to be observed in respect to his testimony. In the first place, he is now at the head of the Foreign Department of the India Office, and concerned in all the policy towards Shere Ali which has led to the Afghan war. In the second place, he writes nine years after the events of which he speaks, and wholly, so far as appears, from personal recollection. In the third place, he speaks with extraordinary confidence, considering that other officers of the Government who were present at all the Conferences positively deny the accuracy of his impressions. In the fourth place, a portion of what he says in respect of Lord Mayo’s opinions, appears to me to be distinctly at variance with the evidence of Lord Mayo’s own letters to myself. In the fifth and last place, it is to be observed that the whole of his evidence is founded on the knowledge he acquired as Private Secretary of Lord Mayo, " in his full confidence," and carrying in his mind that Viceroy’s private conversations.

Now I am far from saying or implying that the Government had no right to use the information derivable from this source. But I do say that in a matter of the highest importance, involving the honour of the Crown, and the peace of India, they were bound to take every means in their power to test and to verify the personal recollections of Colonel Burne. To use evidence of this kind as a means of ascertaining truth, is one thing:—to use it as a means of justifying foregone conclusions, is a very different thing. The two methods of handling such evidence are very distinct. We know, on the evidence of Mr. Seton Karr, who was Foreign Secretary to the Government of India at the Umballa Conferences, who was present at them all, and who must have been in constant personal communication both with Lord Mayo and all other principal persons there, that his evidence was never asked by the Government, and that this evidence, if it had been asked for, would have been given against that of Colonel Burne. I venture to add, that the Government, knowing that I was Secretary of State during the whole of Lord Mayo’s Viceroyalty, and in possessiQn of all his letters, might have applied to me for access to them. The whole of them, without reserve, would have been at the disposal of the Government. But if the Government were at liberty to use, and to found important action upon, the private information of

Lord Mayo’s Private Secretary, speaking of Lord Mayo’s private conversations, much more must I be at liberty to correct that evidence by Lord Mayo’s own written testimony, conveyed in the most authentic of all forms—letters written at the time.

As regards the purport and the value of Captain Grey’s evidence, I have analysed it at the proper place, in the following work. But there is one circumstance in connexion with that evidence which is another illustration of the rash and inconsiderate use which the Government has been making of testimony of this kind. Captain Grey, from his position of Persian Interpreter at Umballa, was necessarily in frequent and confidential communication with Noor Mohammed Khan, the favourite Minister and friend of Shere Ali. Now, Noor Mohammed being evidently a very able man, and comparatively well acquainted with Europeans, was naturally much considered by all officers of the Indian Government as the best source of information on the policy of the Afghan State, and -on the personal feelings and desires of his master. In the course of confidential conversations, wholly private and unofficial, such a Minister is induced to say many things which he would only say in perfect reliance that they would be considered as confidential in the strictest sense of that word. • In fact, Noor Mohammed did frequently give information to our Officers and Agents, which it would have been the highest breach of confidence on their part to repeat in such a manner as to render it possible that the sayings of his Minister should get round to the Ameer. Yet this is the very breach of confidence which, in heated pursuit of their object, the Government appear to have committed in regard to the evidence of Captain Grey. At the Peshawur Conference, shortly before his death, among the other just complaints which Noor Mohammed had to make against the conduct of Lord Lytton and of his Government, this was one—that the letter from Captain Grey of October 13th, 1876, quoting Noor Mohammed as having been willing to advise or consent to the reception of British officers as Residents in Afghanistan, had been sent to him under circumstances which brought it before the Cabul Durbar. "It was laid before the Durbar,’’said Noor Mohammed to his friend, Dr. Bellew, on the 28th of January, 1877, " and I was at once pointed out as the encourager of the Government in this design. It was as much as an order for my death."* Of the unjustifiable character of this letter, in other* respects, I have spoken in the text. I refer here only to the breach of confidence involved in its quotations of the most private conversations of the Minister of the Ameer.

There was another circumstance connected with the Afghan question which has, in my opinion, imposed it upon me absolutely as a public duty, that I should explain Lord Mayo’s engagements at U mballa, as he explained them to me. That circumstance is that one of the most serious misrepresentations made on behalf of the Government on this subject has been founded on a single passage in one of his private letters to me, which Lord Mayo has himself quoted in a public Despatch. The case is rather a curious one, and deserves special notice.

It will be seen that the first public Despatch of April 3rd, i869,t in which Lord Mayo reported the proceedings at Umballa, is a very meagre one. The more detailed despatch which followed on the ist of July/''" was drawn forth from him by my Despatch of the 14th of May,+ in which I had stated the objections which the Cabinet felt to one passage in his letter to the Ameer. In that second Despatch, a much fuller account is given. But one of the principal paragraphs (No. 22)4 namely, that in which the Viceroy summed up the result of his negotiations, expressly refers to, and quotes the summing- up with which he had in the meantime supplied me in a private letter.

In that private letter Lord Mayo had classified the main points of the final arrangement on the principle of giving one list of the proposals which had been decided in the negative, and another list of the proposals which had been decided in the affirmative. It is, of course, an incident of all classifications of this kind—or, indeed, of any kind—that they place together things which are congruous only in some one or two particulars,’ and may be quite incongruous in every other. This inconvenience was somewhat increased, in the present case, by the heading or title which he attached to the two lists. The proposals which had been negatived were called " What the Ameer is not to have." The proposals which had been affirmed were called "What the Ameer is to have."

It was inevitable that on this principle of classification Lord Mayo should include in the same list, things which the Ameer was " not to have" as a boon, and things which he was "not to have" as a burden. The benefits which he had hoped for, but which had been refused him, and the demands on our side from which he was to be relieved—all came naturally and necessarily under the same category. In this way, quite naturally and quite consistently, Lord Mayo included in the things the Ameer was " not to have," all of the following miscellaneous items : (i) no Treaty, (2) no fixed subsidy, (3) no European troops, officers, or Residents, (4) no domestic pledges. Some of these are things which he wanted to get; others, are things which he particularly wanted to avoid. He wanted to have an unconditional Treaty, offensive and defensive. He wanted to have a fixed subsidy. He wanted to have a dynastic guarantee. He would have liked sometimes to get the loan of English officers to drill his troops, or to construct his forts—provided they retired the fnoment they had done this work for him. On the other hand, officers "resident" in his country as Political Agents of the British Government were his abhorrence. Yet all these things are classified by Lord Mayo, quite correctly, as equally belonging to the list of proposals which had been considered, or thought of, and had been decided in the negative.

Advantage has been taken of this by some supporters of the Government, and apparently by the Under Secretary of State for India, in the late debates in the House of Commons, to argue that all the items in this list were equally things which the Ameer wanted " to havethus representing Shere Ali as consumed by a desire to have British officers as Residents in his cities. This is by no means an unnatural mistake for any one to make who had no independent knowledge of the subject, and who derived all he knew of it from reading by itself the particular paragraph of Lord Mayo’s Despatch to which I have referred. But it seems to me to be a mistake wholly inexcusable on the part of any official of the Indian Department, because not even the personal recollections of Colonel Burne and of Captain Grey go the length of representing the Ameer ’as desirous of having British officers resident as Political Agents in his cities. The utmost length to which their evidence goes, even if it were wholly uncontradicted, is that Shere Ali would have submitted to the residence of British officers in certain cities, as the price of benefits which he could not otherwise secure.

But unjustified as this contention is, even on the unsupported testimony of these two officers, and unjustified also even on the 22nd paragraph of Lord Mayo’s Despatch of July ist, it is at once refuted by Lord Mayo’s letter to me, quoted in the text, of the 3rd of June, 1869. That letter was expressly written to warn me against misapprehensions prevalent on the subject of his engagements with the Ameer. In this letter there is no possibility of mistake. The list he gives is a list of the " pledges given by him" to the Ameer. The first pledge was that of non-interference in his affairs. The second pledge was that "we would support his independence." The third pledge was "that we would not force European officers, or Residents, upon him, against his wish."

This is the pledge, given on the honour of the Crown, *which has been violated by the present Government. They have attempted to force Resident Officers upon the Ameer against his will, by threats of our displeasure, and by threats—still more discreditable—that if he did not comply, we should hold ourselves free from all the verbal and written engagements of Lord Lawrence, of Lord Mayo, and of Lord N orthbrook.

It had been my intention to close this work with the Treaty of Berlin. A purely Indian War would not naturally have fallen within its scope. But the Afghan War of 1878 was not an Indian War in its origin. The cost and the burden of it are to be thrown on the people of India, although that cost is the price of a divided Bulgaria, and of a "real military frontier" for a phantom Turkey. It is a mere sequel of the policy of the Government on the Turkish Question in Europe and in Asia. I have, therefore, been compelled to deal with it. In doing so, I have been compelled to deal with transactions which, as it seems to me, can only be read with a sdnse of humiliation by every man who values the honour of his country. If this be so, no "overwhelming majorities" in Parliament, and no successful campaigns against half-barbarous tribes, can compensate the country for the guilt into which it has been led, or protect the Government from the censure of posterity.

Cannes, January, 1879.

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