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Crimean War


Origin of the Crimean War - President Prince Louis Napoleon (1850) raises the Eastern Question - State of Europe - New Element in the Balance of Power - France under the Prince-President - The Emperor Nicholas and the French President - French Agitation and Russian Ambition - The Eastern Question makes slow Progress - M. de Lavalette (1851-2) at Constantinople - His Violence - Nature of the Dispute about the Holy Places - Vacillation of the Porte - Its Evasions and Conflicting Pledges - Striking Spectacle of Jerusalem - Anger of Nicholas - Troops set in Motion - New Ministry in England - Its Trust in the Czar - Secret Overtures at St. Petersburg (1853) - The "Sick Man" - The Czar suggests a Partition of Turkey - The Word of a " Gentleman " - Lord Stratford sent to Constantinople - Russia preparing for a Grand Coup - Prince Menschikoff at Constantinople - His rude Attitude - Colonel Rose sends for the British Fleet - Admiral Dundas will not move, but French Fleet sails to Salamis - Anger of Russia - Rumours of a Russian Demand for a Secret Treaty - British Government Incredulous - Lord Stratford arrives at the Porte - Interview with the Sultan - His Tactics - Separates Question of the Holy Places from the Ulterior Demands - Settles Question of the Holy Places - Prince Menschikoff becomes more violent - Sends in an Ultimatum - Lord Stratford's Exertions - Ultimatum Rejected - The Prince quits Constantinople (May 22, 1853).
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Europe was allowed scant breathing-time after the wars which sprang from the political movements of 1848 had come to an end. An old danger, one which at intervals, sometimes as a grim shadow, sometimes as a near reality, had threatened the general peace, appeared once more. In 1852 it became known that the Emperors of France and Russia were, in the names of their respective churches, wrangling over the Holy Places. The Prince-President of the French Republic had raised the demon of the Eastern Question, and the policy which Prince Louis Napoleon initiated as President he pursued with fresh vigour when he became Emperor. That policy was one of the causes which led directly to those great events which we know under the collective name of the Crimean War.

Europe was far from dreaming that she stood on the verge of a great convulsion. The waves of the continental revolutions had not, it is true, wholly subsided, but the military monarchies, though triumphant, seemed exhausted by the efforts they had made to quench domestic conflagrations. France appeared to be wholly engrossed in her own affairs; in the re-organisation of her somewhat shattered public forces; in the improvement of her finances; in the settlement of knotty questions between her parliament and her executive. Germany was prostrate beneath the armies of Austria and Prussia. In the dominions of the Emperor of Austria a rigorous system of despotism was enforced, and Italy and Hungary were ground down by an exacting and vexatious tyranny. Russia had gained in prestige by her expedition into Hungary, but though she had expended men and treasure, still the formidable military machine constructed by the Emperor Nicholas remained practically whole. Yet men hardly looked at that epoch for an aggressive policy at the hands of Russia. England, too, was thriving and pacific. Her dreams were wholly of peace. Her people had begun to imagine that war was a thing of the past, that the nations would be rivals no more, except in the fields of commerce, and that thenceforth there would be peace in Europe, if not good-will among men. In 1850 the English people were engaged in preparing to entertain the world at a Carnival of Commerce, Art, and Invention; the brilliant summer of 1851 was regarded as the beginning of a new era; and the delusion was scarcely dispelled by the rude and sudden blows struck at the liberties of the French ere the year had closed, and by the appearance of a Bonaparte, emerging from the ruins, clothed in the imperial robes, and animated by the traditions, of the First Napoleon.

There were men, indeed, who saw, and more who felt, that Europe had come under new conditions of existence. They saw and felt that to a new empire, based on Napoleonic ideas, glory of some kind was essential, and that, for good or evil, France would, in future, take a more active, a more imperative, perhaps an aggressive, part in public affairs. The nation desired peace, and the Emperor understood the desire of his subjects, as well as of Europe, when he said the empire was peace. But, more than peace, Frenchmen desired glory, and glory of that kind which springs from an incessant participation in the affairs of other nations. The problem which the Emperor had to solve was, how to create material prosperity at home and satisfy the national craving for conspicuous action abroad. These signs were not hidden from the meditative few. They saw the new force which had thrust itself into that combination of forces called the European equilibrium. They dreaded it the more because the multitude, absorbed in pressing struggles, thought of it lightly, and because a sovereign like the Emperor Nicholas treated it with studied contempt. To keen eyes there was ambitious Russia, proud of her strength, and smiling over the supposed paralysis of France; and there was ambitious France, in the hands of a man of unknown gifts, and eager to force from the world respect and fear; and between these two was Germany, vast, but disjointed, and incapable of concerted action. Turkey was looked upon by most men as sick unto death; and England, half-disarmed, irresolute of purpose, was busied in securing free trade, and just awakening from dreams of perpetual peace. There was a vague, but not general presentiment, that tempests were at hand, but none foresaw that, when the clouds broke over us, France would be our ally and Bussia our foe.

Yet towards that consummation events were rapidly tending. It so chanced that the Emperor Napoleon owed his election, in great part, to the strenuous exertions of the French clergy. It also happened that the French clergy writhed under the humiliation implied in the superior privileges enjoyed by the orthodox Greek Church in Jerusalem. Now it was one of the conditions of his tenure of power that the Emperor should "restore France to her rank in Europe," as it was called; that is, should not only aggrandise her influence, and make her feared and respected, but should bring her vast power to bear, visibly and emphatically, upon the affairs of Europe, and assume somewhat of the position of an arbiter of her destiny. It is a settled maxim that a usurper looks to foreign wars for the consolidation of his power, and strives to hide the dark past in the blaze of new-won glories. The Emperor Napoleon comprehended fully the necessities of his position. Moreover, they harmonised with his own character. He had educated himself sedulously for the office to which, by patience and craft, he had attained. He had studied more deeply than any man the career of Napoleon I. He knew its strong and its weak points. He desired nothing more earnestly than the task of recovering some of the ground lost in 1814 and 1815. But he had a delicate game to play, for all the powers suspected him. One of the disadvantages of the First Napoleon was, that he could not conciliate England. The Third Napoleon determined that he would not suffer from a similar misfortune, and with infinite art he contrived to bring about an Anglo-French alliance. Yet, having to please his jealous subjects as well as his suspicious allies, he was bound to pursue an independent policy, and to make it appear that England followed the lead of France. It needed a sure judgment to choose a field of action, one that would bring success of some kind, without alarming other states. The complex Eastern Question was found to afford the opportunity for display, and the ambition of the French Church indicated the part of the Eastern Question on which it would be most convenient to lay hands. The Emperor resolved to re-assert the lapsed supremacy of the Latin Church in the Christian temples and grottoes of Palestine.

Now England, as a Protestant power, had no special interest, certainly none worth fighting for, in the squabbles of the rival Churches of Rome and Russia. Turkey, as a Moslem power, had no interest in the matter, save the important one of keeping the peace at those holy seasons when Greek and Roman entered on the sacred spots where Christ preached good-will among men. But both Turkey and England had an interest in preventing a dispute between two churches from becoming a battle for political influence between two powers, both of whom were very much of this world. And Austria, although she could not fail to sympathise with the Latins, looked with alarm upon any quarrel which threatened the integrity of Turkey. It was therefore certain that if the demands of the French ruler led to a severe diplomatic struggle, Austria would be found on the side of England and Turkey; because Austria was vitally interested in preserving her influence in the valley of the Danube, and England was vitally interested in preserving hers in Syria, Egypt, and the Mediterranean.

But there was another power whose ambition, if not whose interest, led her counter alike to England, Austria, France, and Turkey. Russia desired to issue from her icy realm. She longed for dominion over sunny lands and seas open to her ships throughout the year. As her people turn their eyes towards Jerusalem, so her rulers turn theirs towards Constantinople. The Russian peasant dreams of a pilgrimage to the holy shrines, the Russian monarch dreams of a march to Byzantium. For a hundred years, without a serious check, successive Czars have pressed on steadily towards a goal once marked on the mile-stones of the steppes. Catherine, Paul, Alexander I., Nicholas, each added provinces or points of vantage to the southern frontiers of the empire; each attacked Turkey in Europe and in Asia; each vexed, and threatened, and fought her by sea and land. They won the Crimea; they occupied Georgia, and the head of the Euphrates valley; they took post in the delta of the Danube; they covered the Black Sea with ships of war; they dictated peace at Kainardji, at Bucharest, at Adrianople. Their policy was to obtain the headship over the Christians in Turkey, and to take such positions, and hold them with such forces, as would enable them to seize the coveted prize - Constantinople, the Bosphorus, and the Dardanelles - at any moment. Europe had long seen the growing danger, but had done nothing to ward it off. The German and the Western Powers, irritated but helpless, looked on while Diebitch marched to Adrianople in 1828, and connived at the peace he was allowed, by sheer effrontery, to force from the Sultan. Lord Aberdeen, who then would not, or could not, aid the Turks, contented himself by writing a masterly criticism on the peace, showing how fully he saw the peril which he had not the heart to encounter. The only time when Europe seemed to be united in an effort to preserve Turkey, an effort in which Russia joined, was when Mehemet Ali had nearly dismembered the empire; and to that effort France was not a party. Perhaps it was the separate policy pursued by France in 1840 which made the Emperor Nicholas disregard that nation in the calculations he made in 1844 and 1853. For Nicholas had long made light of the power of France. With reluctance he had recognised Louis Philippe, and it seemed as if no power on earth could make him address Louis Napoleon in the style sanctioned by usage. The Czar called him his " good friend," not his "brother," in violation of the usage which makes sovereigns all brothers or sisters. So far as he was concerned, he would not admit Louis Napoleon into the royal circle, but kept him on its verge. There was more of pride than prudence, more of passion than sagacity, in this act of sovereign rudeness, and while France resented the known contempt of the Czar for her voice in Europe, the Emperor was certain to resent the slight put upon him. In 1844, the Czar, believing he had secured the subservience of Austria and Prussia, half disclosed an intention to tempt England with offers of a share in the spoil of the dismembered Turkish empire, and although he met with a plain rebuff from the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, remembering what occurred in 1828, he did not scruple, in 1853, to approach the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen with a distinct offer of specified provinces, intimating that so long as England agreed with him, it was indifferent to him what France thought of the transaction; and while ho alleged that he was sure of Austria, he did not even deign to mention Prussia - a sign that he believed ho carried her proxy in the pocket of his uniform. Whether the Emperor Napoleon was acquainted with the designs of the Czar upon Turkey or not, it is of little importance. The policy he developed was precisely that which he might have adopted had he known how anxious Nicholas was to secure the concurrence of England in his schemes. He set about thwarting the policy of Russia in the East, and selected a point of attack, which, while it brought him directly into collision with the Czar, did not rouse the hostility of any other power. He aimed at a weak part in the Russian system, the Christian protectorate, founding his claims upon a treaty obtained from the Porte more than a century before, and almost forgotten. The claims were indefeasible; but it was their characteristic that they excited the wrath of Nicholas and stirred him to action, not only because they touched his pride as a pontiff, but because the wound was made by a power which he had contemned.

Thus it happened that, while it was the provocative policy of France which lighted the torch, it was the passion and obstinacy of Russia which fanned it into a devouring flame, threatening at one moment to involve the whole of Europe, but finally concentrating in the Crimea, and there consuming the hoarded means of executing the cherished projects of every Russian sovereign since Catherine.

The first movement of France in this Eastern Question was made in 1850. The Latin priests in Jerusalem were always clamouring against their rivals, and a fresh complaint reaching Paris, the Prince-President directed his ambassador at the Porte, General Aupick, to claim the fulfilment of a treaty in favour of the Latin Church, obtained in 1740. The gist of the grievance was that, by Russian influence, and by degrees, the Greeks had gained possession of certain churches and other holy places, in contravention of this treaty, and by the connivance of the Porte. And it was natural that as, since 1740, Russia had exercised a greater pressure on the Porte than France, so she had brought it to bear to exact concessions in favour of the priests of her faith, and give them a predominance at the holy shrines. For a century France had acquiesced; but in 1850 the country had fallen under a ruler more active in the employment of French power than any ruler since Louis XIV., except Napoleon I., and, for purposes almost personal, he determined that France should acquiesce no longer. At that moment, however, Louis Napoleon had not seated himself on the throne - indeed, ho had not seated himself securely in the presidential chair. He was engaged deeply in a plot to seize sovereign power in France, and he had no time to devote to the task of recovering Latin supremacy in Palestine. Moreover, it does not appear that at this period the President had any decided intentions. The clerical party in France were gratified by the mere knowledge that General Aupick had raised the question of the holy shrines at the instance of the President. Throughout the year 1850 nothing was done of a serious character. The French Minister made demands, and the Porte evaded them 'is best it might. But in the very beginning of 1851, General Aupick imparted new life to the negotiations. M. de Titoff, the Russian Minister, struck into the fray, and warned the Porte that he should insist on the status quo. Then General Aupick grew still warmer in his language, and the Austrian Minister supported him. In the spring, the Marquis de Lavalette, a more energetic, indeed, a " zealous " man, replaced General Aupick as the representative of France at the Porte, and in his hands the business soon began to make progress. During this period the English Minister, Sir Stratford Canning, acting on instructions from home, held quite aloof from the disputes, and contented himself with watching closely the contest between the Porte and the French Minister. He thought that the Porte would not give way unless forced, and the Emperor of Russia was so fully persuaded of the strength of his influence at Constantinople, that he felt convinced that no change in the matter of the holy shrines would occur. But in this respect, as in so many others, he was mistaken. In the autumn of 1851 the English Minister began to see the gravity of the contest going on under his eyes; for the Marquis de Lavalette, growing impatient at the delay of the Porte in according his demands, talked in a menacing tone of the use that France could make of the strong fleet then assembled at Toulon. It was at this moment, November, 1851, that the quarrel visibly assumed the character of a struggle between France and Russia for influence at Constantinople and throughout the East. This is the cardinal fact to be borne in the mind of the reader throughout these transactions. It is the key to what followed; and our narrative will show how the conflict deepened in intensity, until it ended in war.

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Louis Napoleon
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