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Benjamin Disraeli - Peace

Benjamin Disraeli

July 27, 1878; London

"When I study the catalogue of congratulatory regrets with attention, the Convention of Constantinople appears to be the ground on which a great assault is to be made on the Government. It is said that we have increased, and dangerously increased, our responsibilities as a nation by that Convention. In the first place, I deny that we have increased our responsibilities by that Convention. I maintain that by that Convention we have lessened our responsibilities. Suppose now, for example, the settlement of Europe had not included the Convention of Constantinople and the occupation of the isle of Cyprus; suppose it had been limited to the mere Treaty of Berlin; what, under all probable circumstances, might then have occurred? In ten, fifteen, it might be in twenty years, the power and resources of Russia having revived, some quarrel would again have occurred, Bulgarian or otherwise, and in all probability the armies of Russia would have been assailing the Ottoman dominions both in Europe and Asia, and enveloping and enclosing the city of Constantinople and its all-powerful position.

Now, what would be the probable conduct, under these circumstances, of the Government of this country, whoever the ministers might be, whatever party might be in power? I fear there might be hesitation for a time - a want of decision - a want of firmness; but no one doubts that ultimately England would have said: "This will never do; we must prevent the conquest of Asia Minor; we must interfere in this matter, and arrest the course of Russia." No one, I am sure, in this country who impartially considers this question can for a moment doubt what, under any circumstances, would have been the course of this country. Well, then, that being the case, I say it is extremely important that this country should take a step beforehand which should indicate what the policy of England would be; that you should not have your Ministers meeting in a Council Chamber, hesitating and doubting and considering contingencies, and then acting at last, but acting perhaps too late. I say, therefore, that the responsibilities of this country have not been increased; the responsibilities already existed, though I for one would never shrink from increasing the responsibilities of this country, if they are responsibilities which ought to be undertaken. The responsibilities of this country are practically diminished by the course we have taken.

My lords and gentlemen, one of the results of my attending the Congress of Berlin has been to prove, what I always suspected to be the absolute fact, that neither the Crimean war, nor this horrible devastating war which has just terminated, would have taken place, if England had spoken with the necessary firmness. Russia has complaints to make against this country that neither in the case of the Crimean war nor on this occasion - and I do not shrink from my share of the responsibility in this matter - was the voice of England so clear and decided as to exercise a due share in the guidance of European opinion. Suppose, gentlemen, that my noble friend and I had come back with the Treaty of Berlin, and had not taken the step which is to be questioned within the next eight-and-forty hours, could we, with any selfrespect, have met our countrymen when they asked, what securities have you made for the peace of Europe?

How far have you diminished the chance of perpetually recurring war on this question of the East by the Treaty of Berlin? Why, they could say, all we have gained by the Treaty of Berlin is probably the peace of a few years, and at the end of that time the same phenomenon will arise and the Ministers of England must patch up the affair as well as they could. That was not the idea of public duty entertained by my noble friend and myself. We thought the time had come when we ought to take steps which would produce some order out of the anarchy and chaos that had so long prevailed. We asked ourselves, was it absolutely a necessity that the fairest provinces of the world should be the most devastated and most ill-used, and for this reason that there is no security for life or property so long as that country is in perpetual fear of invasion and aggression?

It was under these circumstances that we recommended the course we have taken; and I believe that the consequences of that policy will tend to and even secure peace and order in a portion of the globe which hitherto has seldom been blessed by these celestial visitants. I hold that we have laid the foundation of a state of affairs which may open a new continent to the civilization of Europe, and that the welfare of the world and the wealth of the world may be increased by availing ourselves of that tranquillity and order which the more intimate connection of England with that country will now produce.  

But I am sorry to say that though we taxed our brains and our thought to establish a policy which might be beneficial to the country, we have not satisfied those who are our critics. I was astonished to leam that the Convention of the fourth of June has been described as "an insane convention." It is a strong epithet. I do not myself pretend to be as competent a judge of insanity as my right honorable opponent. I will not say to the right honorable gentleman, 'naviget Anticyram', but I would put this issue to an English jury - which do you believe the most likely to enter into an insane convention - a body of English gentlemen honored by the favor of their Sovereign and the confidence of their fellow-subjects, managing your affairs for five years, I hope with prudence, and not altogether without success, or a sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself?

My lords and gentlemen, I leave the decision upon that Convention to the Parliament and people of England. I believe that in that policy are deeply laid the seeds of future welfare, not merely to England, but to Europe and Asia; and confident that the policy we have recommended is one that will be supported by the country, I and those that act with me can endure these attacks."