Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Pyramids, and without condescending to offer an excuse for assaulting an unoffending people, already looked on the land of the Pharaohs as an appendage of the great republic. On the 10th of May, 1798, the most formidable and magnificent armament that had ever been equipped on the French shores, took its departure for Egypt; and within three months that proud fleet had been captured, and the army it transported, was subsequently returned as prisoners in the vessels of their enemies.

The French troops having taken possession of the papal territories, the king of Naples, alarmed by the proximity of such formidable neighbors, thought it expedient, for the security of his own dominions, to throw down the gauntlet to the French republic; and in a few months he found himself a fugitive, and his kingdom in the entire possession of his enemies.

The growing power of France, which had been aggrandized by every effort made to check it, now excited an alliance against it between Austria and Prussia. During the progress of this new war, the fortunate soldier who swayed the destinies of France, proposed peace to Great Britain. That nation, safe in her Island fortress, and guarded by her wooden walls, had little to fear from any continental power ; yet seduced by the meteor of glory, she preferred war to peace, and her people were burdened with taxes, not merely to maintain her own armaments, but to replenish the exhausted coffers of Austria. That rash state, weakened and humiliated by successive defeats, at last closed the contest she had herself commenced, by the ignominious treaty of Luneville. Prussia, likewise, after a murderous conflict, concluded a peace which gave no guarantee whatever of her own safety, or that of others.

England was thus left to struggle alone with her gigantic foe. The war she had provoked and prolonged, contributed nothing to her prosperity or security, and had in truth no real object but the gratification of her national pride; and even that was at length compelled to submit to the inglorious peace of Amiens, by which England obtained, in return for her prodigal expenditure of blood and treasure, Ceylon in the East, and Trinidad in the West Indies—possessions which would have been dearly purchased at the cost of one year's hostility.

Such was the result of ten years' war waged against the French republic, not to resist, but to prevent aggression. Had the powers of Europe abstained from all interference with the internal dissensions of France, order would soon have succeeded to confusion, either through the energy of some successful chieftain, or the establishment of a regular government; but the attempts made to coerce and conquer France, armed a whole nation in defence of its liberties, and created that military enthusiasm and desperation which, like a volcanic eruption, burst forth with resistless fury, spreading terror and desolation in its course.

Never had the precarious issue of war been more forcibly taught to mankind; but it was a lesson unheeded by Europe, and least of all by England. Mortified by the failure of all her vast efforts to limit the power of the new republic, confident in her naval superiority, and trusting to her pecuniary resources to enlist new allies in her cause, she panted to renew the contest from which she had so recently retired. Britain could not complain of any infraction of the late treaty, as it had been violated only by herself in refusing to surrender Malta. France had offered her no violence, nor was there proof that any was intended. She was therefore compelled to assume the attitude of champion and protector of Europe ; and, scarcely twelve months after the peace of Amiens, she renewed the war against France avowedly on account of the grasping and inordinate ambition of her ruler, as manifested in his recent encroachments on Switzerland and Piedmont! But the hostility of Great Britain, instead of curbing the ambition of Napoleon, opened new paths for its splendid and adventurous career; and the petty encroachments which had excited alarm were followed by the occupation of Hanover, the patrimonial possession of the house of Brunswick. In the course of a few months England beheld, with amazement and dismay, arrayed on the opposite coast, a numerous force, indicating in the name it bore, Army of England, the invasion it meditated. The terror inspired by this army, is evinced by the preparations made to repel it. To nearly 100,000 troops of the line were added 80,000 disciplined militia, and about 300,000 volunteers. “The land,” says a distinguished historian,“ seemed converted into an immense camp, and the whole nation into soldiers.” The mere expense of these preparations must have far exceeded the value of any acquisitions rationally anticipated from the war; and in less than one year after its declaration, that ruler whose ambition it sought to repress, had exchanged the truncheon of first Consul for the imperial sceptre.

Soon after his coronation, Bonaparte once more offered peace to England; but her passion for war led her not only again to refuse the proffered boon, but to lavish her wealth in rekindling on the Continent the flames which had but just been extinguished. An alliance was formed against France, between Great Britain, Austria and Russia. This new war was announced by Napoleon to his senate on the 22d September, 1805, and on the 13th November following, he entered Vienna in triumph! The Russians hastened to the succor of their unfortunate ally; and on the 2d December the battle of Austerlitz dissolved the confederacy, and, in a few days after, the treaty of Presburg completed the humiliation of Austria by depriving her of more than a million of square miles of territory, and two and a half millions of subjects. With a folly bordering on insanity, Prussia now resolved to take the field against France. The grievances of which she complained, were trivial, and utterly unworthy the risk of an appeal to arms. Yet on the 1st of October, 1806, she issued her declaration of war, and the campaign immediately commenced. After gaining some advantages, Bonaparte offered peace to Prussia; but her infatuated monarch did not deign to return an answer; and, on the 13th day after his declaration of war, his power was prostrated in the battle of Jena, he hiinself was a fugitive, and his capital in the occupation of the very enemy he had just defied. At Berlin the French emperor issued a decree which was the beginning of what was afterwards called the continental system, by which all commercial intercourse between Great Britain and France, and her allies, was interdicted. The operation of this system occasioned vast loss and distress to England, and greatly aggravated her sufferings from this unnecessary war. The Russians had advanced to the support of Prussia ; but finding their ally already conquered, immediately retreated. They were pursued by the victor, and a series of murderous conflicts ensued, in one of which 50,000 human beings perished. At length the treaty of Tilsit gave peace to Prussia and Russia, and converted them from allies into enemies to Great Britain, and supporters of the continental system.

Thus had Britain the mortification of witnessing the coalitions which her subsidies and intrigues had raised against France, serving only to swell the triumphs, and augment the power of her rival. She had renewed the war to rescue Europe from the grasping ambition of the first Consul; and yet, notwithstanding all her mighty efforts, that Consul had become emperor of France, and his brothers, kings of Holland, Naples and Westphalia ; and Austria, Prussia and Russia, enrolled themselves among his allies. Could peace have rendered France more powerful, Europe more enslaved, or England herself more burdened and exposed ?

Soon after the treaty of Tilsit, France and Russia jointly offered peace to England, consenting to leave her in possession of whatever she had acquired in the course of the war. But again was the blessing spurned, not because the rights of Britain were in jeopardy, but because the same boon was not also tendered to Spain and Sweden! And on what principle of duty, on what plea of state expediency, could the continuance of the contest by Britain under such circumstances be justified ? Had it been in the power of Britain to rescue Spain and Sweden from the designs of their enemies, her right to shed her own blood in defence of other nations might well be questioned. The result of her former efforts as the champion of Europe, ought to have taught her humility; and she was doomed soon to receive another lesson not more gratifying to her pride. As if Providence designed to rebuke her arrogance, only a few months elapsed after she had rejected peace, that she might extend her protection to Spain and Sweden, before Madrid surrendered to the French emperor; an English army was ignominiously driven from the Peninsula, and Finland, wrested from Sweden, became a province of Russia.

The infatuation of England communicated itself to Austria. To that power France had given no cause of complaint since the treaty of Presburg, but had faithfully observed all its articles. Still Austria found in the ever increasing power of Napoleon, a pretext for renewing hostilities against him. An army of 550,000 men flattered Austria with a glorious issue to the war she commenced on the 9th April, 1809. In thirty days Vienna was once more in possession of the French, and on the 6th July the battle of Wagram placed the house of Austria, for the third time, at the mercy of Napoleon, and for the third time was peace purchased by prodigious sacrifices.

Surely this brief retrospect of the wars arising from the Frencn revolution, is sufficient to humble the pride of human reason. We see nations rejecting peace as an evil, counting war as a blessing, spurning the lessons of experience, and again and again seeking safety and power in the same paths which had repeatedly led them to defeat and spoliation. It has been very far from our design in this retrospect to justify the conduct of Napoleon. The ends he pursued, and the means he employed, were generally alike unlawful; but we must admit that, for very many of the wars waged against him, he had given no other provocation than the possession of great power and inordinate ambition. That his power was augmented, and his ambition indulged by the very assaults of his enemies, cannot be questioned ; and their retrospect forcibly illustrates the little dependence that can rationally be placed on war as a means of national security.

But it may be contended that the successive defeats sustained by Russia, Prussia and Austria, were owing to their inferiority to their enemy; and that the nation which can bring into the field the most numerous and best appointed army, must inyariably be successful. Were we to admit this, still, unless the superiority of the army to which victory is destined can be previously ascertained, war must remain as uncertain as ever. But if this superiority can be discovered before. the contest is commenced, how are we to account for the fact, that Austria, Russia and Prussia were so often and so grievously deceived? Their wars against France were either declared or invited by themselves, and they must therefore have flattered themselves that they had at least an even chance for success. All history, however, and none more fully than that of Napoleon himself, bears testimony to the great and instructive truth, that the battle is not always to the strong, and that no military force or skill whatever can enable the eye of man to penetrate the future, and distinctly foresee the result of a single campaign.

This truth is strikingly illustrated in Napoleon. On taking a survey of Europe, after his last conquest of Austria, he beheld the whole continent courting his alliance and protection, with the single exception of Spain, in which the arms and treasures of England were employed in strengthening a popular resistance to his will. Bent on the destruction of his insular foe who, inaccessible to his armies, was both indefatigable and implacable in her hostility, he determined to enforce against her the continental system in every country that could be controlled by his power. Russia refused to submit to all the restrictions of this system, and he sternly resolved to compel obedience to his mandate. The preparations for this war by France exceeded in effective strength

any the world had ever witnessed. Greater numbers may have assembled in arms; but history affords no reason to believe that any body of men were ever summoned to the field possessed in as great a degree of the constituents of military power, as the army now collected by Napoleon. The gross amount of the regular disciplined force of the empire, and its dependencies and allies, amounted to the almost incredible number of 1,187,000. From this mighty mass the emperor could draw at pleasure to maintain the war; and he selected about half a million to carry the French eagles into the heart of Russia. This prodigious multitude, inured to arms, and accustomed to victory, were commanded not by a Xerxes or Darius, but by one of the most energetic, skilful and fortunate soldiers that Europe had ever known. Could military superiority insure success, surely Napoleon was justified in his confident anticipations of triumph; and yet in a few months this mighty monarch was seen deserting at night the wreck of an army that had lost 450,000 men, and seeking safety in flight under a borrowed name! It is unnecessary to trace further the progress of this memorable war, which terminated in the entire subjugation of France, and in the exile and captivity of her late powerful emperor. Of these results England claims the chief credit; but they would probably have come without her agency. Napoleon was indeed banished to Elba; but that was effected almost without the aid of a British musket. British troops caused his downfall at Waterloo ; but, had there not been a British soldier on the continent, he could not long have retained the throne of France.

For her wanton waste of human life and happiness, Great Britain is now suffering a severe retribution in her enormous debt, which represses industry, and has filled the kingdom with mourning and sedition. Institutions long her pride and boast, are now totteringto their fall, and she is threatened with a portentous revolution. For her blood poured out like water, for the millions on millions wrung from her people to sustain her wars, Great Britain has received no one substantial good!

"But liberty is a blessing worth every sacrifice, and war is often indispensable to its acquisition and protection.'-Could liberty be always attained and preserved by war, there would certainly be strong inducements to wage it; but if you consult the records of history, you will find war far more frequently the foe than the friend of freedom. Rarely have usurpers triumphed over the liberties of their country but by the sword. The ancient despotism of France was overthrown by representative assemblies, and a republic established on its ruins; and that republic was annihilated by an adventurous soldier through the agency of the army entrusted to him for its defence. The liberties of England have been acquired not by force of arms, but by the energy of parliaments. T'he ruin of almost every republic that has been blotted from the list of nations, may be ascribed to the military spirit fostered by its citizens.

War has always been adverse to political freedom. A Roman

« PreviousContinue »