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Quotations about Liberty and Power

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Richard Cobden believed in the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of others nations with a passion. This was partly a matter of principle, that all people had the right to choose the type of government which best suited them, even if this arrangement did not meet the approval of other states, especially large and more powerful states. He also believed in non-intervention for more practical reasons, because it was costly to the taxpayers of the intervening powers and that the military intervention destroyed the lives and property of those being occupied. Cobden could also see through the hypocrisy of the intervening powers which claimed they were trying to restore “order” when they themselves had either suffered from their own internal forms of disorder or created disorder in the countries they were intimidating or invading. He concluded with the firmest of statements that “there can be no peace in Europe … and no prospect of any abatement of those vast military efforts that prevent the people from enjoying the fruits of their industry, until you have the principle of non-intervention recognized as applicable to every small State as sacredly as to a large one.” This quotation has been paired with a cartoon from the satirical magazine Punch from 1860 in which a school teacher, Madame Cobden, is teaching her young pupil, Emperor Napoleon III of France, how to spell “F.R.E.E. T.R.A.D.E.” In the next lesson she will have to teach him another word to go with it, “N.O.N. I.N.T.E.R.V.E.N.T.I.O.N.”

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24 October, 2011

CobdenBust300

Cobden on the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries (1859)

Read the full quote in context here.

In 1859 while Richard Cobden (1804-1865) was visiting the U.S., France and Sardinia fought Austria in order to win independence for the Italian states. This prompted Codben to address his electorate in Rochdale upon his return. In the speech he strongly defended the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries:

(D)o not let us have any more Congresses of Vienna, where we are parties to treaties that partition off Europe, and apportion the people to different rulers, just with the same indifference to their wishes and their instincts as though they were mere flocks of sheep… if England takes any part in the Congress that is to be held by the great Powers on the Continent, our object, and the sole condition on which they should go into that Congress, should be,—that the Italians should be left free to manage their own affairs; that they should be as secure from intervention—that they should enjoy the privilege of non-intervention in the management of their own affairs, just as entirely and as sacredly as the great Powers themselves. I know what is the excuse that is made by those great Powers for interfering in the affairs of Italy and the smaller States; they do it under the pretence of preserving order,—the hypocritical pretence, I have no hesitation in calling it. Do the great Powers preserve order themselves? Have we had perfect order reigning in the Austrian empire or in the French empire for the last twenty years? Do they preserve the earth from bloodshed? Have not those two great Powers, Austria and France, during the last six months, shed more blood in their mad quarrels than has been shed by all the smaller states of Europe for the last fifty years? And shall these great Powers, for the purpose of interfering, and sending their armed bands to coerce the free instincts of the people of Italy, be allowed to set up the pretence that they want to preserve order and prevent bloodshed? I will face the chance of disorder. I say that if the Italians cannot settle their own affairs without falling into discord, why should not they be allowed even to carry on civil and domestic tumult, or even war itself, without any other Power pretending to take the advantage and entering their territory?

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

We have seen lately, and I have seen it with very great satisfaction—it was during my absence that it occurred—that the public voice of this country was raised in opposition to any interference by force of arms in the dreadful war which has raged on the Continent since I left England. I was glad to see that outburst of public opinion in this country in favour of non-intervention; and I congratulate you all, and I congratulate this country, that we have for the first time, almost, in our modern history, seen great armies march and great battles take place on the Continent without England having taken any part in the strife.

And now, shall we take stock just at the present moment—to use a homely but expressive phrase—shall we take stock, and ask ourselves whether all the old musty predictions and traditions of our diplomacy have been proved to be true on this occasion? They told us that if we did not mingle in European wars we should lose our prestige with the world; that we should become isolated; that we should lose our power. Well, now, I ask you, whilst the thing is fresh upon our memory and observation, have we lost prestige or power by having abstained from the late war in Italy? On the contrary, do we not know that now the great Powers on the Continent, feeling that England is powerful,—more powerful than ever, in her neutrality,—are anxious, are clamorous, are most solicitous, that we should go and take a part in the peaceful conferences that are to take place with a view of securing peace?

Well, gentlemen, we have prevented intervention by force of arms. I say, let public opinion manifest itself, as I believe it has manifested itself, against any intervention by diplomacy, unless it can be upon principles and with objects of which England may be proud to approve; but do not let us have any more Congresses of Vienna, where we are parties to treaties that partition off Europe, and apportion the people to different rulers, just with the same indifference to their wishes and their instincts as though they were mere flocks of sheep. Now, I think Lord John Russell in the House of Commons laid down certain conditions, upon which alone the Government would be disposed to go into a Continental Congress, in order, if possible, to arrange and perpetuate the terms of peace; and he made conditions which I thought were good, though I think they are not very likely to be acted upon or accepted by the great Powers of the Continent. But what I wish now to express, and I am sure I cannot utter any words that will be more likely to express your sentiments; they are these—that if England takes any part in the Congress that is to be held by the great Powers on the Continent, our object, and the sole condition on which they should go into that Congress, should be,—that the Italians should be left free to manage their own affairs; that they should be as secure from intervention—that they should enjoy the privilege of non-intervention in the management of their own affairs, just as entirely and as sacredly as the great Powers themselves. I know what is the excuse that is made by those great Powers for interfering in the affairs of Italy and the smaller States; they do it under the pretence of preserving order,—the hypocritical pretence, I have no hesitation in calling it. Do the great Powers preserve order themselves? Have we had perfect order reigning in the Austrian empire or in the French empire for the last twenty years? Do they preserve the earth from bloodshed? Have not those two great Powers, Austria and France, during the last six months, shed more blood in their mad quarrels than has been shed by all the smaller states of Europe for the last fifty years? And shall these great Powers, for the purpose of interfering, and sending their armed bands to coerce the free instincts of the people of Italy, be allowed to set up the pretence that they want to preserve order and prevent bloodshed? I will face the chance of disorder. I say that if the Italians cannot settle their own affairs without falling into discord, why should not they be allowed even to carry on civil and domestic tumult, or even war itself, without any other Power pretending to take the advantage and entering their territory? How did we act in the case of France, when she fell into her almost red republic ten years ago? Was not our Government most eager at once to proclaim that, whatever happened in France, we would never interfere with her internal affairs, but would leave her free to choose any government she pleased?

Well, I say, that which you allow to the great Powers, allow to the smaller Powers; and I say this, not merely in the interest of those Powers themselves, but of humanity, for I say there can be no peace in Europe, there can be no chance of peace, and no prospect of any abatement of those vast military efforts that prevent the people from enjoying the fruits of their industry, until you have the principle of non-intervention recognised as applicable to every small State as sacredly as to a large one. I say, therefore, and I do not say wrongly when I express my conviction that I rightly interpret your views on the subject—I say that one condition, and almost the sole condition, on which our Government should be prepared to take any part in any Continental Congress with reference to the affairs of Italy, should be by laying down and insisting upon the fundamental maxim that Italy should manage her own affairs, without the interference, by force of arms, of Austria, or Russia, or any other Power whatever.

[More works by Richard Cobden (1804 – 1865) and on The Manchester School]