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Russell—so M. Ollivier alleges—made his despatch more unpalatable by communicating a copy of it to the ' Times' before the original reached the French Foreign Office.
Thus the unhappy insurrection, which led to the final subjugation of Poland, increased the discredit into which the Emperor had already fallen. The man who, in the earlier part of his reign, had marched from victory to victory, seemed in the latter part of his reign to move from failure to failure; and the ruler who in the first period had seemed always ready to use his military strength in a cause in which he believed, appeared in the latter period either incompetent or afraid to support his opinion on the battlefield against a first-rate Power. In the latter part of 1863, indeed, there was good reason why the Emperor should shrink from such a struggle. For, with inconceivable folly, he had allowed himself to become involved in a campaign, 5,000 miles from home, which was exhausting the resources of his country and locking up thousands of men in another hemisphere. The Mexican war, however, had so fatal an effect on the fortunes of the Second Empire, and its incidents are so imperfectly known in England, that it is worth while devoting a few pages to the subject.
In the middle of the nineteenth century Mexico was the scene of civil war. Two men, Juarez and Miramon, were struggling with alternate success for the mastery. In the course of the struggle things were done on both sides which it was difficult to justify. Many Europeans, French and English especially, attracted by the wealth of the country, had settled or were carrying on business in the republic, and these adventurers—Uitlanders they would have been called to-day—were exposed to arbitrary taxation and personal violence. In August 1860, for example, a considerable quantity of silver, the property of British subjects, was ' commandeered' (we again use a more modern word) on its way to the coast, by Juarez's orders. Three months afterwards a large sum of money was taken from the British Consulate at Mexico itself by a force under Miramon's officers.
Outrages of this character justified grave remonstrance. If remonstrance failed in its effect, precedent could be quoted for a resort to stronger measures. The complaints which this country had against Mexico in 1860 were at least as serious as those which she had preferred against Greece ten years before. It so happened, however, that this country was not alone in its complaints against Mexico.
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France and Spain were in very much the same position; it was natural, therefore, that the representatives of the three Powers should meet and discuss the possibility of concerted action. They accordingly met in London in the autumn of 1861. They agreed to send a joint expedition to Mexico, and to seize and occupy certain positions on its coast as security for the settlement of their claims and the safety of the Uitlanders.
In the negotiations which thus took place it soon became evident that France was anxious to go much further than England was prepared to follow. France was already contemplating the reversal of Juarez's government, while London was determined to confine itself to obtaining pecuniary redress for the wrongs which British subjects had suffered. The fact was that, in the days of his exile, Napoleon had dreamed a dream of a Latin Empire in the New World intersected by a canal joining the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific, and that the outhreak of civil war in America had apparently supplied him with an opportunity for giving effect to his dream. He had in Mexico a representative—M. de Saligny—who had penetrated his thoughts and who made it his business to supply him with arguments for his policy. 'M. de Saligny became the indefatigable 'accuser of Juarez. With premeditated bitterness, he recited 'all the violence which had been committed in the past, he 'added all the vexatious experiences which the Uitlanders 'had recently undergone, and by dexterously grouping his 'facts he composed a picture, true in its main features, but 'artificially coloured, to produce an effect.' And he repeated, by every mail, the same story; he added, as its moral, the same advice; it is necessary to have in Mexico a force sufficient to protect our interests; the time has come when we must support our remonstrances by force.
The forces which the allied Powers determined to send hardly came up to M. de Saligny's expectations. Spain, indeed, dispatched a little army of 6,000 men, under General Prim; France a contingent of 2,500 men, whom it placed under the command of Admiral Jurien de la Graviere. This country was content with sending a couple of line-of-battleships, some frigates, and on landing some 700 marines. The allied forces, however, on their arrival at Vera Cruz, in January 1862, disclaimed all thoughts of war. They had come with the intention of securing redress, but with the best wishes for the happiness of Mexico. They proceeded to formulate their demands. The English claimed the punctual execution of treaties and the prompt payment of all debts. The Spaniards made a somewhat similar demand. The French demanded a lump sum of 12,000,000 piastres (about l,500,0OOZ.), and 'the loyal and immediate' execution of the Jecker contract.
In 1856 Miramon, in sore want of money, had contracted a loan with M. Jecker—a Swiss banker—for the nominal amount of 3,000,000?. M. de la Goree states that M. de Morny, the half-brother of Napoleon, and the President of the French Chamber, had a corrupt interest in the loan. M. Ollivier, whose friendship for M. de Morny is apparent in many passages of his book, says that he is not in a position either to affirm or to deny the truth of the story; but that he can give a formal assurance that the Emperor never gave a minute's consideration to the Jecker loan. However that may be, it is certain that M. de Saligny included in the French demands the loyal and immediate execution of the Jecker contract; and that the British and Spanish representatives protested against the claim, and declared that it was 'shameful.'
It was one thing to formulate demands of this character; it was another to enforce them. It is true that the allied troops were at Vera Cruz. But their presence there did not enable them to procure any money, and the men were already beginning to melt away with fever. It was, in fact, becoming plain either that the troops must be moved to some higher and healthier part of the country, or that the expedition must be abandoned. The allied forces, however, were not strong enough to venture into the interior; they found themselves, in consequence, forced to negotiate with Juarez, and they concluded the Convention of La Solidad. Under this treaty Juarez gained the great advantage of recognition by the allies; he was even permitted to fly his flag at Vera Cruz. In return, the French were allowed to establish themselves at Tehuacan; the Spaniards at Orizaba and Cordova. The commandant of the British contingent preferred to embark his men on board his vessels, and keep them, under healthier conditions, at sea.
Before the news of this convention reached Europe, the Emperor, a little jealous of the numerical superiority of the Spanish force, decided on reinforcing his own troops; and, early in 1862, he despatched General Lorencez with 4,000 additional men to Mexico. With this new force came General Almonte, the natural son of Morelos, the hero of the Mexican war of independence—a man who had been selected by Miramon to represent him at Paris, and who had persuaded the Emperor that there would be no difficulty in overthrowing Juarez's government, and establishing monarchical institutions in its place. General Almonte's presence accentuated the difficulties of the situation. He came with the object of overthrowing Juarez's government; and he found that the allies had just made a solemn treaty with that government, under which French troops were moving into healthier quarters at Tehuacan, and Juarez's own flag was flying at Vera Cruz. He found, too, that every suggestion which he made for interference in the internal affairs of the country increased the tension between the commanders of the allies. The differences between the allies became so acute that the British, who, in pursuance of their instructions, were rigidly refusing to intervene in the internal politics of Mexico, resolved to withdraw from the expedition. The Spaniards, with some hesitation, followed their example. The French were thus left alone to carry out the ambitious projects of their Emperor, which were slowly becoming manifest.
It is satisfactory to note that, in recording these proceedings, French historians are agreed in according praise to both the policy and the conduct of the British Government. Neither M. de la Gorce nor M. Ollivier has any special liking for Lord Russell, who in 1862 held the seals of the British Foreign Office. But M. de la Gorce calls his criticism of the French policy singularly wise; and M. Ollivier defends M. Thouvenel from any charge of dishonesty by affirming that in his heart he thought with Lord Russell.* We may assume, therefore, that the only criticism which French historians have to offer on our withdrawal from the expedition is an expression of their regret that their own Government did not follow our example. The French, in fact, were surrounded with difficulty. The treaty of La Solidad had apparently made an attack on Juarez impossible; and General Almonte could not carry out his own views, or perhaps even Napoleon's instructions, without destroying Juarez's power. The French, accordingly, under General Almonte's inspiration, set themselves, as a first step, to tear up the convention to which they had just agreed, and they charged Juarez, in a document—which M. Ollivier says he blushes to copy—with a breach of its
* 'Au fond, l'honnete Thouvenel penaait comme Russell.' Vol. iv. p. 381.
stipulations. A miserable and unworthy excuse—which the French troops themselves are said to have resented—was made the basis of an unworthy and unjustifiable war.
Success in military matters occasionally is held to justify the unjustifiable. If the French, however, had entered on a war without excuse, they commenced it in a state of ignorance which is almost inconceivable. General Lorencez declared at the very outset of the campaign that the French were so superior in race, in organisation, in discipline, and in other qualities, that at the head of 6,000 men he was master of Mexico. Within a month this soi-disant master of Mexico had been foiled in au attack on Puebla—an open town—and forced to retire with a loss of 500 men.
News of this disaster reached Paris in June 1862, and the Emperor, to do him justice, at once roused himself to the necessities of the situation. He hurried off reinforcements to Mexico; he raised the grand total of the French troops to 27,000, and ultimately to 84,000 men; and he selected General Forey, who had served under his orders in Italy, for the supreme command. General Forey arrived in Mexico in August 1862, but he did not find himself in a position to open the campaign till February 1863. Puebla, the scene of General Lorencez's defeat, was only taken after a two months' siege, at the end of March. Mexico, the capital of the country, was occupied in June. Juarez hastily retired into the more inaccessible portions of the Republic. A provisional government was instituted, which took for its title 'The Regency of the Empire,' and the French persuaded themselves that Mexico had reached the limit of its trouble, and that they themselves had come to the end of the war. General Forey, made a marshal, was recalled, and the command was entrusted to his chief lieutenant, General Bazaine.
The conviction that the war was at an end, that Mexico (to use General Bazaine's phrase) was 'conquis, pacifie,' induced the Archduke Maximilian to accept the crown, which the Emperor had from the first contemplated he should receive. But the war was not at an end. Juarez, though he had abandoned his capital, still maintained his authority in the more inaccessible portions of the territory. He called on his fellow-countrymen to unite in a great effort to save their independence. The country, at his orders, was covered with bands of guerillas, who intercepted the convoys and cut the communications of the French. In such a struggle the Mexicans had many advantages. True.