Pages

Friday, 14 June 2019

How did Canning secure British interests 1822 -1830?

George Canning had already held the post between 1807 and 1809. Only his unwillingness to serve with Castlereagh prevented his reappointment in July 1812. By 1816, Canning and Castlereagh appeared to have made up their differences, at least outwardly, and Canning joined the cabinet. He had a hand in drafting the 1820 State Paper and accepted it as the basis for his own policies once in office. The real contrast between Castlereagh and Canning was not in policy but in personality and public image. Castlereagh was hesitant and shy, Canning was a speaker with a strong sense of humour. Castlereagh was popular at Court but largely because as Leader of the House of Commons he had had to defend the government’s repressive policies against radicalism, unpopular in the country. Canning was very popular with the public. Castlereagh was cautious and was only pushed into disagreement with Britain’s allies by the pressure of public opinion. Canning was more flamboyant, setting himself vigorously in the van of public opinion and ruthlessly pursuing British interests and gained a reputation as a crusader for liberalism and nationalism. Metternich saw him as the evil genius of revolution, ‘a malevolent meteor, this scourge of the world, a revolution in himself’.
 
 
This contrast exaggerates differences between Castlereagh and Canning. Both were well aware of the limitations of both British interests and power and were pragmatic in their approach. Both sought to pursue Britain’s aims of security, trade and support for liberal causes. The difference between them was over how policy should be put into practice. Castlereagh and Canning represented the alternative approaches that ran through nineteenth century British foreign policy. Castlereagh, Aberdeen and Gladstone sought cooperation with foreign states. Canning, Palmerston and Disraeli were more competitive and belligerent in approach.
 
 
Canning and the Americas
 
Britain feared the extension of the forces of reaction to Portugal and Spanish America where she had important economic interests. Castlereagh had been anxious about this but for Canning, spokesman for Britains commercial interests and MP for Liverpool, it was of central importance. The United States had already recognised the rebel governments in Latin America. Canning moved more cautiously. He was opposed by the king and Wellington but exerted sufficient diplomatic pressure on France to get agreement that its intervention should not be extended to the rebel Spanish colonies. The uneasiness of Anglo-American relations and American suspicions of Canning’s motives led President Monroe to issue his famous message (the Monroe Doctrine) in December 1823 banning European assistance to Spain in her struggle against the rebels and any transfer or extension of European possessions to the New World. Canning’s defence of the rebel colonies and his pose as a true friend of the United States were not very convincing. By mid-1823, he was isolated from the European powers. His attacks on French intervention caused criticism at home and he needed to drum up popular support against opponents in his own party. Support for the rebels had commercial and political advantages for Canning and it was popular outside Parliament. His claim that he had ‘called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old’ must be seen in this domestic context.
 
Canning and Portugal
 
The Royal Navy allowed Britain to intervene in Portugal where revolutionaries and reactionaries were struggling for power. Canning wanted to main­tain the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries. He sent the fleet to Lisbon to support King John VI in 1824 and helped to arrange the peaceful separation of Brazil from direct Portuguese rule. King John’s death in 1826 saw the accession of the eight-year-old Donna Maria. Her father Pedro renounced the throne preferring to remain as Emperor of Brazil. This led to a revival of the claims of her uncle Miguel. Spanish interfered in support of Miguel and this led to direct British action. Canning rushed 5,000 troops to Lisbon and threatened Spain with war. This ensured Maria’s succession and the acceptance of the 1826 liberal constitution. British naval power played a major role in the success of Canning’s actions and a naval presence at Lisbon maintained British influence. Events in Portugal and the New World made the weaknesses and strengths of Britain’s position very clear. Naval power let her operate effectively only where water dominated communication.
 
Canning and Greece
 
Canning’s influence on European countries was, by contrast limited. Britain remained isolated as long as the conservative alliance of Russia, Austria and Prussia was united. Disagreement between Austria and Russia over the Greek revolt against the Turks permitted Canning to take a leading role.
Greece was a major problem for Canning. It was in Britain’s interest to prevent Russia becoming a Mediterranean naval power and to secure the stability of the Ottoman Empire, opening it to British trade.[1] The Greek revolt roused mixed feelings in London. Canning agreed with Castlereagh that preserving the Ottoman Empire offered the best hope of stability in the area. There was, however, a great deal of sympathy for the Greeks among the educated classes. Turkey’s refusal to compromise combined with a growth of popular philhellenism[2] in Britain, personified by the poet Lord Byron who died in Greece in 1824, threatened to undermine British policy.
 
Russia was sympathetic to the Greek struggle and had an interest in eroding the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. This broke the conservative alliance with Austria against revolution. Canning recog­nised the Greeks in March 1823. Tsar Alexander tried first to get the British to agree to joint intervention, but by the end of 1824, he abandoned this strategy. The Greeks suffered from Ottoman military victories and in July 1825 appealed for protection and mediation directly to Great Britain. Canning wanted to avoid a Russo-Turkish war and the possibility of Russian territorial expansion. The St. Petersburg Protocol of April 1826 gave him roughly what he wanted. Nicholas I, who had succeeded Tsar Alexander in late 1825, agreed that Greece should become an autonomous state, nominally under the sover­eignty of the Sultan, and that Russia should support Britain’s mediation to achieve this. Austria and Prussia refused to accept this. This was formalised in the Treaty of London in 1827. The Turks, strengthened by further victories over the Greeks, refused the demands of the great powers and British, French and Russian ships were sent to the east Mediterranean. On 20 October 1827, a combined Turkish and Egyptian fleet was annihilated within two hours at Navarino. This was followed by the outbreak of war between Russia and Turkey in April 1828.
 
Canning did not live to see the breakdown of his policy. Navarino changed the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean and outbreak of war between Russia and Turkey marked an end to the policy pursued since 1826. Canning might have been able to limit the effects of this situation but under Wellington, Britain’s Greek policy simply drifted. Domestic issues rather than foreign policy dominated Parliament and Lord Aberdeen, who became Foreign Secretary in June 1828, though sympathetic to Greek demands, believed that a narrowly defined state would limit Russian influence. Russia made small territorial gains from the war with Turkey that ended with the Treaty of Adrianople in September 1829. Greek independence was achieved the following year. Little of the limited success Wellington and Aberdeen had between 1828 and 1830 was the result their efforts. They badly bungled the situation in Portugal by withdrawing the British naval presence and giving the initiative to the reactionaries. They almost destroyed Canning’s achievement in dismantling the con­servative alliance and, over the Greek issue, came close to restoring Britain’s isolation.

[1] Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks controlled large parts of the Balkans throughout the nineteenth century. The Eastern Question reflected concerns about the future of these Balkan territories. Britain was concerned about Russian expansion into the Balkans and often supported Turkey against Russia aggression.[2] Philhellenism or love of things Greek.
 
 
 

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

A question of dates!


 
 
There are occasions when doing research that you come across something that you’ve always accepted and then find out you’ve been wrong all the time and, more to the point, so has everyone else.  While working on a chapter on 1848 and Chartism, I checked the reference for:
‘We desire no fraternisation between the Irish people and the Chartists--not on account of the bugbear of physical force, but simply because some of their five points are to us an abomination…’
I wanted to get the correct page reference in the Dublin Weekly Nation for this statement written by John Mitchel, the paper’s editor, and published on 14 August 1847.  I’d always accepted this as the correct date based largely on Dorothy Thompson’s reference to it.  In fact it was published a year earlier on 15 August 1846 in the ‘Answers to Correspondents’ section on page 8. In fact, the quotation is cited on three occasions in the Northern Star editorials as its banner: ‘‘The Nation’ and ‘The Charter’’, Northern Star, 19 September 1846, p. 4, ‘‘The Nation’ and ‘The Charter’’, Northern Star, 10 October 1846, p. 4, and ‘‘The Nation’ and ‘The Charter’’, Northern Star, 17 October 1846, p. 4.  So how have so many historians—and there are exceptions such as –got this wrong?
It’s the classic case of an initial source giving a date that is then perpetuated in subsequent work.  As far as I can see the first reference to Mitchel’s comment was in  Charles Gavan Duffy, Four Years of Irish History 1845-1849: A Sequel to ‘Young Ireland’, (Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.), 1883, p. 450 and was, for instance cited as the reference by Christine Kinealy in her Repeal and Revolution: 1848 in Ireland, (Manchester University Press), 2009, p. 125. 
 
Mitchel’s statement was written, according to Charles Gavan Duffy, because he was angered by ‘The Chartists who listened to the egotistical declamation of Mr Feargus O’Connor did not understand the party [Young Ireland]’.  The full statement is as follows:
 
We have received a printed address from the Chartists of England to the Irish people, with a request that we should insert it in THE NATION. ‘We desire no fraternisation between the Irish people and the Chartists--not on account of the bugbear of physical force, but simply because some of their five points are to us an abomination, and the whole spirit and tone of their proceedings, though well enough for England, are so essentially English that their adoption in Ireland would neither be probable not at all desirable.  Between us and them there is a gulf fixed; we desire not to bridge it over, but to make it wider and deeper.
 
As far as I can ascertain, this is a case of ‘false news’.  Having checked the Northern Star for the months before August 1846, I have not come across any ‘printed address from the Chartists of England’ and can only assume that Mitchel concocted the whole thing.  He is not saying anything that was not widely known: Mitchel was opposed to Chartism in Ireland and beyond as he did not see it as offering any relief to Ireland’s problems.  He could have just as easily written this in 1847 as 1846.  It was not until early 1848 that his view changed and he urged the Irish not to reject Chartism…cynical opportunism I suspect as much as a Damascene conversion.