Classic Podium: Remember the rights of the savage

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
From two speeches

delivered by the Liberal

Party leader William Gladstone during the Midlothian campaign

(NOVEMBER, 1879)

I AM not here before you as one of those who have ever professed to believe that the state which society has reached permits us to make a vow of universal peace, and of renouncing, in all cases, the alternative of war. But I am here to say that a long experience of life leads me, not towards any abstract doctrine upon the subject, but to a deeper and deeper conviction of the enormous mischiefs of war, even under the best and most favourable circumstances, and of the mischiefs indescribable and the guilt unredeemed of causeless and unnecessary wars.

Look back over the pages of history; consider the feelings with which we now regard wars that our forefathers in their time supported with the same pernicious fanaticism, of which we have had some developments in this country within the last three years.

Consider, for example, that the American War, now condemned by 999 out of every 1,000 persons in this country, was a war which for years was enthusiastically supported by the mass of the population. And then see how powerful and deadly are the fascinations of passion and of pride; and, if it be true that the errors of former times are recorded for our instruction, in order that we may avoid their repetition, then I beg and entreat you, be on your guard against these deadly fascinations; do not suffer appeals to national pride to blind you to the dictates of justice.

Remember the rights of the savage, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God as can be your own. Remember that He who has united you together as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love; that that mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not limited by the boundaries of Christian civilization; that it passes over the whole surface of the earth, and embraces the meanest along with the greatest in its unmeasured scope.

And, therefore, I think that in appealing to you ungrudgingly to open your own feelings, and bear your own part in a political crisis like this, we are making no inappropriate demand, but are beseeching you to fulfil a duty which belongs to you, which, so far from involving any departure from your character as women, is associated with the fulfilment of that character and the performance of its duties; the neglect of which would in future times be to you a source of pain and just mortification, and the fulfilment of which will serve to gild your own future years with sweet remembrances, and to warrant you in hoping that, each in your own place and sphere, you have raised your voice for justice, and have striven to mitigate the sorrows and misfortunes of mankind.

u

THE PRIME Minister has said that there is one day in the year on which sense and truth is to be heard. On that day, the Prime Minister made one of the most unhappy and ominous allusions ever made by a minister of this country. He quoted certain words, easily rendered as "Empire and Liberty", words of a Roman statesman, and he quoted them as words which were capable of legitimate application to the position and circumstances of England.

I affirm that nothing can be more fundamentally unsound, more practically ruinous, than the establishment of Roman analogies for the guidance of British policy. What, gentlemen, was Rome? Rome was indeed an imperial state, you may tell me - a state having a mission to subdue the world; but a state whose very basis it was to deny the equal rights, to proscribe the independent existence, of other nations. That was the Roman idea.

No doubt the word "Empire" was qualified with the word "Liberty". But what did the two words "Liberty" and "Empire" mean in a Roman mouth? They meant "Liberty for ourselves, Empire over the rest of mankind".

I say it indicates a frame of mind, the policy of denying to others the rights that we claim ourselves. No doubt, Rome may have had its work to do, and Rome did its work. But modern times have brought a different state. Modern times have established a sisterhood of nations, equal, independent; each of them built up under that legitimate defence which public law affords to every nation, living within its own borders, and seeking to perform its own affairs.

Comments