Biography of Castlereagh (1812-22)!
Castlereagh belongs to the category of those statesmen who were called upon to face a very critical situation and who performed their function in a masterly manner.
He was helped in his task by his calm, quiet, passionless and unruffled temperament.
Castlereagh was born in 1769 and died in 1822. He was Secretary for Ireland when the union of England and Ireland took place and he was partly instrumental in bribing the Irishmen to support the Union.
He was in favour of showing religious toleration to the Catholics. He also worked as Colonial and War Secretary. In 1807, he was responsible for the re-organisation of the army.
He made the old militia the basis of the military establishment of the country. He resigned his office in 1809 and fought a duel with Canning. He became Foreign Secretary in 1812 and held that office till 1822 when he committed suicide.
According to Lord Brougham, “Castlereagh possessed a fund of plain sense, not to be misled by any refinement of speculation or clouded by any fanciful notions. He went straight to his point. He was brave, politically as well as personally.”
When he became the Foreign Secretary in 1812, the condition of European States vis-a-vis Napoleon was not strong. Every State had its own axe to grind and the result was that no effective action could be taken against Napoleon.
In these circumstances, Castlereagh went over to the Continent and brought the Allies together. Thus, it was that the war of the Nations started which ended in the overthrow of Napoleon in 1814. Great Britain in 1814 held the same position in the Council of Europe as the United States held in 1919.
She alone had the power, the resources and the will to continue war. England was the arbiter of Europe and the credit for that achievement goes to Castlereagh who combined in himself high ideals, sound commonsense and great diplomatic gifts. He not only retained the confidence of the British Parliament and his colleagues in the Cabinet but was also to win the trust and good opinion of the continental statesmen.
Castlereagh had gone to Europe and travelled to the allied headquarters with the definite object of welding the Four Powers into a solid alliance against Napoleon. He also aimed at creating an international organisation to decide the problems which might confront the European statesmen.
According to Castlereagh, “in an habitual confidential and free intercourse between the ministers of the Great Powers as a body” lay the best means of removing differences of policy and ensuring a united front for victory and peace. The idea of “diplomacy by conference” seems to be a familiar one in the 20th century, but in the then of Castlereagh it was nothing of a revolution. By this one plan alone Castlereagh was stamped as one of the great peace-makers of history.
Castlereagh had gone to Europe to bring the Four Powers nearer one another and the Treaty of Chaumont of March 1814 was his crowning achievement within two months. By this treaty, the Four Powers pledged themselves to continue war until France accepted peace. Each was to provide arms and Great Britain was to give an additional subsidy of £5 million a year.
The alliance was to remain effective for 20 years and the Allies were to defend Europe against any attempt by France to upset the terms of the peace settlement. The signing of the Treaty of Chaumont was followed within a month by the abdication of Napoleon and peace negotiations were started in Paris. The first stage of the peace settlement was arranged at Paris and the rest at Vienna. The final treaty was made in November, 1815.
In the peace settlement Castlereagh played an important part. He was helped in his task by the Duke of Wellington, Metternich and Alexander I. Both Castlereagh and Alexander I were determined to see that France was not treated harshly. To quote Castlereagh, “It is not our business to collect trophies but to bring back the world to peaceful habits.” Castlereagh was strongly opposed to snatching from France any territory which one day France might attempt to recover by force.
He wrote to Lord Liverpool thus. “The more I reflect upon it, the more I deprecate the system of scratching such a Power. We may hold her down and pare her nails so that many years shall pass before she can again wound us, but this system of being pledged to a continental war for objects that France may any day reclaim from the particular State that hold them, without pushing her demands beyond what she would contend was due to her own honour, is, I am sure, a bad British policy.”
It was because the European statesmen, under the guidance of Castlereagh, followed a lenient and just policy towards France that the latter settled down under the Vienna Settlement. In spite of the fact that France had troubled Europe for almost two decades, she was treated with amazing moderation. Most of her conquests were taken away, but she was allowed to retain some slight extensions of her Northern and Eastern frontiers. Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne.
In spite of the defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the terms of peace were not made very harsh. Territorial concessions were withdrawn and she was asked to pay a small war indemnity. She was required to return the captured art treasures.
An army of occupation was to stay on the French soil till the payment of war indemnity. By meting out such a lenient treatment, Castlereagh showed that he was a greater statesman then Lloyd George who imposed upon the world a Second World War within a period of twenty years. The Settlement of Castlereagh lasted for about a century (1815-1914).
Throughout the long and complicated negotiations which took place at Paris and Vierma, Castlereagh did not lose sight of his ideal of international co-operation. He got an opportunity to put into practice his ideal when Article 6 of the Treaty of November 1815 was being discussed. In its original form, the Article provided that statesmen of Europe should meet at intervals to discuss the affairs of France.
Castlereagh did not approve of the wording and substance and widened the scope of the Article by substituting the following words. “To facilitate and to secure the execution of the present Treaty and to consolidate the connections which at the present moment so closely unite the four sovereigns for the happiness of the world the High Contracting Parties have agreed to renew their meetings at fixed periods, either under the immediate auspices of the sovereigns themselves, or by their respective ministers for the purpose of consulting upon their common interests, and for the consideration of the measures which at each of those periods shall be considered the most salutary, for the purpose and prosperity of the nations and for the maintenance of peace of Europe.”
This was Castlereagh’s great contribution to European peace. One can find in it the first draft of the Covenant of the League of Nations or the Charter of the United Nations. It was the basis of the so-called Concert of Europe. Castlereagh hoped that all the problems affecting the peace of Europe would be discussed as they arose at the conferences summoned under Article 6 and peace would be maintained because no critical situation would be allowed to develop. Castlereagh’s scheme was bound to fail because his contemporaries failed to understand the value of “diplomacy by conference”. England herself did not come forward to maintain peace when it was threatened.
It has been contended that Castlereagh “tied England to the tail of the Holy Alliance.” This assertion is merely a distortion of facts. It is true that Castlereagh believed in the co-operation of European statesmen to settle the problems that might arise from time to time and it was with that object in view that the Four Congresses met at Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), Troppau (1820), Laibach (1821) and Verona (1822). Castlereagh was, no doubt, anxious to settle the problems by means of mutual exchange of thoughts.
He had strong faith in mutual exchange of views but it is wrong to say that he in any way approved of the policy of the Holy Alliance which in its practical application became an instrument in the hands of Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary to stamp out all liberal ideas and movements in Europe. It is true that England was a member of the Quadruple Alliance and she was ready to co-operate with other powers to settle the problems which might confront the European statesmen.
It is also true that Castlereagh was ready to allow Austria a free hand in Italy. He approved of a secret treaty between Austria-Hungary and Ferdinand IV of Naples to maintain absolutism in Naples and Sicily. It is for that reason that Castlereagh regarded the revolt of the Italian Risorgimento as “a sectarian conspiracy and military revolt against a mild and paternal Government.” Castlereagh was a “good European” and “a friend of peace.”
He wished periodic Congresses to dispose of international disputes and thereby avoid cause of war, but he did not wish those meetings to be made the instruments of interference in the internal affairs of States. Castlereagh was opposed to the international policing of Europe which was the main object of Russia, Austria and Prussia. It is for this reason that he objected strongly to the Protocol of Troppau which authorised the powers of the Holy Alliance to interfere with the internal policies of the States.
In 1820, Castlereagh embodied his views in a great State Paper which was afterwards used by Canning as the basis of his own policy. The occasion for the paper was the outbreak of a military revolution in Spain against the tyranny of Ferdinand VII of Spain. In that paper Castlereagh outlined a policy of “non-intervention” in the internal politics of the States.
He pointed out that “the Spanish nation is, of all the European people that which will least brook interference from abroad.” This information was based on the views of Wellington. However, this was not the only ground on which Castlereagh stressed the necessity of non-intervention.
The Holy Alliance Powers wished to intervene in Spain to restore Ferdinand VII’s authority and Castlereagh tried to deter them by recalling the origins of the Four Powers Alliance which had been established by Article 6 of the Treaty of 1815.
That Alliance had been intended to serve as a protection for the peace settlement not “as a union of the Governments of the World for the superintendence of internal affairs of other States” and “nothing”, Castlereagh declared,” is more likely to impair or even to destroy its utility than any attempt to push its duties and obligations beyond the sphere which its original conception and understood principles will warrant.” This was a criticism of the Holy Alliance’s misuse of Article 6.
As for British policy, Castlereagh stated that Britain could not agree to foreign intervention on behalf of a king who had behaved so badly. To quote Castlereagh, “We shall be found in our place when actual danger menaces the system of Europe. But this country cannot, and will not act upon abstract and speculative principles of precaution.” While Britain would defend the peace of Europe against any real danger, she would not follow her Allies against any imaginary menace or when their motive was the defence of tyranny and not of peace.
By his firm statement of policy, Castlereagh did not intend to leave the Quadruple Alliance. However he was definitely determined to see that European Powers did not make intervention a principle guiding their regular actions. Just before his death, Castlereagh was preparing to attend the Congress of Verona where the Spanish question was to be discussed.
He had already made up his mind to check the intervention of the European powers to reinstate Ferdinand to his former position. Although he committed suicide on the eve of the Conference, his work was carried on by Canning.
Wellington who went to attend the Congress of Verona acted on the same principles as were laid down by Castlereagh. Woodward has rightly pointed out that Canning agreed with the decisions of Castlereagh although he differed from him in his methods. While Castlereagh believed on the policy of holding conferences with a view to solve the difficulties, Canning was opposed to that method. His view was summed up in his own statement “We shall have no more Congresses, thank God.” It was as a result of this policy that the era of Congresses ended.
It was wrong to say that Castlereagh tied England to the tail of the Holy Alliance. He was definitely opposed to the principles of Holy Alliance which enabled the European powers to interfere with the domestic affairs of other States. As a matter of fact, Castlereagh was deadly opposed to the Holy Alliance. He characterised the Holy Alliance as “a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense.”
He frankly told Lord Liverpool that the mind of the Czar which entertained or conceived the idea of the Holy Alliance was not “completely sound.” He disliked the use of the Holy Alliance as a crusade against liberalism. Castlereagh himself had no sympathy with liberalism, but he detested the idea of intervention in the domestic affairs of another country.
The reason why Castlereagh was accused of having tied England to the tail of the Holy Alliance was because the people did not make a distinction between the Holy Alliance and the Quadruple Alliance. His dose association with foreign enemies of liberalism must have strengthened this belief in the minds of the people. Castlereagh was not a good speaker. He had neither the capacity nor the desire to convince public opinion that he was an opponent of the Holy Alliance.
It is only modem historical research that has revealed the distinction between the Quadruple Alliance and the Holy Alliance. It is this distinction which has revealed the greatness of Castlereagh. His contemporaries who did not make the distinction, dubber him as one in league with Metternich, another conservative and reactionary statesman of Europe. It was on account of this ignorance that Shelley summed up the extreme opinion in these lines in his Masque of Anarchy (1817).
“I met Murder on the way;
He had a Mask like Castlereagh:
Very smooth he looked, yet grim.
Seven blood-hounds followed him.
All were fat and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one and two by two
He tossed them human hearts to chew.”
The greatness of Castlereagh has begun to be realised in modem times. It is true that he failed in his ideal of making the European States co-operate among themselves to settle their disputes which might endanger peace, but he was the pioneer who made the suggestion which was embodied in the Covenant of the League of Nations and later on in the Charter of the United Nations.
Best tributes to his memory have been paid by those historians who have mastered the details of his work. In his “The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh,” Webster describes Castlereagh as “the best European Foreign Minister in (Britain’s) history.” Seton-Watson describes him as “one of the very greatest and most constrictive of British Foreign Secretaries.” According to Webster, “Castlereagh had learnt the great lesson that if he wished to avoid war, he must prepare for peace.”
According to H.A. Kissinger, “Yet it was this man, more than any other, who forged against European connection for Britain, who maintained the Coalition, and negotiated the settlement which in its main outlines was to last for over fifty years. Psychologists may well ponder how this Irish peer, whose career had given no indication of profound conceptions, should become the most European of British statesmen.
No man more different from his great protagonist, Metternich could be imagined. Metternich was elegant, facile, rationalist; Castlereagh, solid, ponderous, pragmatic; the former was witty and eloquent, if somewhat pedantic; the latter cumbersome in expression, although effective in debate; Metternich was doctrinaire and devious; Castlereagh, matter-of-fact and direct.
Few individuals have left behind them such a paucity of personal reminiscences. Icy and reserved, Castlereagh walked his solitary path, as humanly unapproachable as his policy came to be incomprehensible to the majority of his countrymen. It was said of him that he was like a splendid summit of polished frost, icy, beautiful, and aloof of a stature that nobody could reach and few would care to. It was not until his tragic death that the world was to learn the price of solitude.”