Sunday, 9 November 2014


The recent question, agitated amongst imperial statesmen, respecting the obligation of Great Britain to give up to their enemies the political refugees who have taken asylum in her bosom, is not an uninteresting one to any nation of the world, much less to any part of the British Empire. It is a subject which every body ought to, understand, not merely in its technical bearings, but in its natural and essential relation to justice. Few foreign Governments have yet arrived at the high science of humanity sufficiently to comprehend what is due to man as man. The very fact that such men as Silvio Pellico, and Count Confalonieri, could be persecuted as they were, is enough to show that their tyrranical rulers were actuated by no sentiments which would allow their victims a corner of the world to rest in. And yet such persecutors have been consistent, for their conduct rests on the assumption, which they take for true, though it is utterly false, that it is a crime against all Governments to resist one of them, even in the most atrocious acts of tyranny. They hold that everywhere the people are made for the Governments, and not the Governments for the people, and that, therefore, all Governments ought to be actuated by a community of feeling, and to assist each other in keeping the bonds of Helotism strong upon all the subjects of power. In this persuasion it was that Russia assisted Austria to suppress the Hungarian patriots, and that France assisted the Pope to overthrow popular government of Rome. Too much of this was there in Pitt's French war. In short, the principle has been everywhere operative, more or less, and it is only by slow degrees that any nation has come thoroughly to repudiate a thing so infernal. The demand which, it was said Austria, abetted by other powers, was going to make upon the British Government, to drive out the Italian and Hungarian refugees, was unquestionably mooted, though it appears never made ; and that it was mooted at all was entirely owing to the opinion, yet predominant in those countries, that the worst crime that can be committed is to strive to supercede a despotic and irresponsible power by substituting for it an enlightened and a popular one.

It the principle which those Governments assume were true, beyond all refutation the conclusion of it would also be right. But we venture, in the broadest possible manner, to deny its truth. And we do so, not merely because we are fond of democratic opinions, but because the upholders of despotism are witnesses against themselves. Thus, the established, the actual Government of a country is now universally, whether for convenience sake or from principle, recognised as included in the phrase "the powers that be," and that are "ordained of God," and which it is so fearful and unpardonable a crime to strive against. Now this being the case, though the overthrow of monarchy in France, according to the principle, was a crime, it was equally so for Napoleon to supersede the Directory, and for Kingship again, in the person of Louis XVIII., to come in the place of the Empire in the person of Napoleon. Or, to come nearer to our own times, if it were a crime for the Austrians to establish a constitution in the place of their old despotism, it was equally so, when that constitution was thus established, for the Emperor to return and subvert it. Or, if it were a crime for the Romans to remove the ecclesiastical tyranny, and establish a free government, when that was actually done it was equally a crime for Pio Nono, with French bayonets, to come and overthrow the existing Roman liberties. And so of every other like case. If the principle have any force at all, it cuts both ways. In other words, the assertion disproves its own conclusions—there is nonsense in the argument somewhere.

In fact the assumption is not true. The world abounds with cases illustrative of the imperative duty of citizens. The people are not made for the rulers, but the rulers for the people, and when the latter abuse their trust they ought to be superseded ; and it must be done by the people themselves in the last resort. If the system of government be in fault, it is demonstrably the duty of the community to rectify it. If this can be done in accordance with existing forms of law, well ; but in a vast number of cases it must be done by overruling such forms. There are many countries where there are no laws under which state reforms can take shelter. In these instances, then, the whole tyranny must be removed, and a completely new apparatus be brought into play ; and as this will never be done by the free will of the rulers, it must be done by patriotic energy, the creation of which therefore is not a crime, but a virtue.

Suppose then, the men thus engaged are put to flight by the powers they have sought to supersede—have those powers a right to hunt them through the world, and to deny them a resting place on the wide earth? Has Austria a right to demand of Great Britain and of America, that they should deliver to her vengeance such men as Kossuth and Mazzini? Most assuredly not. And the ostensible nature of British and American institutions does not admit of their conceding any thing to such a demand. The British Ministry have done nobly in declaring themselves on this point as they have done. But if the letter of Kossuth, in our issue of last Saturday, contain real facts, it would almost seem as if in secret the Ministry do one thing, and in public declare another. At any rate, the right of the Secretary of State to open post office correspondence is a most anti British and dangerous one ; and this, it is well known exists, and has been employed by a member of the present Cabinet, on n former occasion, at least, for the injury of foreign patriots, and in direct support of Continental despotism and cruelty. It would thus seem, that the boast of Britain is too loud ; and that while she takes praise to herself for the hospitality of her conduct to foreign refugees, she is far from consistently carrying out the principle ; or, to speak more properly, whatever the spirit of the British people may be, there are yet relics of barbarity unexpunged from British institutions. The system of dogging and espionage, by whomsoever practised, is a sure proof that humanity's own freedom is yet far from thoroughly appreciated.

But even far-renowned America is not free from stain. It is true that her ostentation of Kossuth was made with dazzling ├ęclat. It is true that she has received and embosomed the Irish exiles, escaped from Van Diemen's Land. But what does she do in denial of the right of asylum within her own limits? The States that adhered to her fundamental doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal ; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights ; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ; that to secure these rights Governments are instituted among men ; that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it," &c.— the States that by adherence to this doctrine did not allow the presence of slavery, the federal Government has at length subjugated by the infamous "Fugitive Slave Law," so that no State can now afford an asylum to one held in bondage by another State of the Confederation, contrary to natural and constitutional right. The free States have been forced to admit the element of slavery into their laws, and to aid in persecuting the oppressed. Hungarian refugees may be received, but negro refugees may not. Had the Congressional Government the power to enforce the same demand on England in regard to Frederic Douglas, which Austria is reputed to have mooted in regard to Kossuth and Mazzini, would she not have done so? Would Canada, then, have been an asylum ?

We have men in New South Wales of whose predilections we entertain extreme jealousy ; but in spite of those, we earnestly hope that our adopted country will become pre-eminently the land of the free, the home of the persecuted, and the cherished abode of all true patriotism.

 Empire 12 August 1853,

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