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maxim, “Two can play at that fun.” They know that the next time they are in office the same sort of sharp practice may be used against them, and therefore they will not use it. So strong is this predisposition, that not long since a subordinate member of the Opposition declared that the “front benches” of the two sides of the House—that is, the leaders of the Government and the leaders of the Opposition—were in constant tacit league to suppress the objections of independent members. And what he said is often quite true. There are often seeming objections which are not real objections; at least, which are, in the particular cases, outweighed by counter-considerations; and these “independent members,” having no real responsibility, not being likely to be hurt themselves if they make a mistake, are sure to blurt out, and to want to act upon. But the responsible heads of the party who may have to decide similar things, or even the same things, themselves will not permit it. They refuse, out of interest as well as out of patriotism, to engage the country in a permanent foreign scrape, to secure for themselves and their party a momentary home advantage. Accordingly, a Government which negotiated a treaty would feel that its treaty would be subject certainly to a scrutiny, but still to a candid and lenient scrutiny; that it would go before judges, of whom the majority were favourable, and among whom the most influential part of the minority were in this case much
opposed to excessive antagonism. And this seems to be the best position in which negotiators can be placed, namely, that they should be sure to have to account to considerate and fair persons, but not to have to account to inconsiderate and unfair ones.
At present the Government which negotiates a treaty can hardly be said to be accountable to any one. It is sure to be subjected to vague censure. Benjamin Franklin said, “I have never known a peace made, even the most advantageous, that was not censured as inadequate, and the makers condemned as injudicious or corrupt. “Blessed are the peace-makers' is, I suppose, to be understood in the other world, for in this they are frequently cursed.” And this is very often the view taken now in England of treaties. There being nothing practical in the Opposition
-nothing likely to hamper them hereafter—the leaders of Opposition are nearly sure to suggest every objection. The thing is done and cannot be undone, and the most natural wish of the Opposition leaders is to prove that if they had been in office, and it therefore had been theirs to do it, they could have done it much better. On the other hand, it is quite possible that there may be no real criticism on a treaty at all; or the treaty has been made by the Government, and as it cannot be unmade by any one, the Opposition may not think it worth while to say much about it. The Government, therefore, is never certain of any criticism; on the contrary, it has a good chance of escaping criticism ; but if there be any criticism the Government must expect it to be bitter, sharp, and captious—made as an irresponsible objector would make it, and not as a responsible statesman, who may have to deal with a difficulty if he make it, and therefore will be cautious how he says anything which may make it.
This is what happens in common cases; and in the uncommon—the ninety-ninth case in a hundred-in which the Opposition hoped to turn out the Government because of the alleged badness of the treaty they have made, the criticism is sure to be of the most undesirable character, and to say what is most offensive to foreign nations. All the practised acumen of anti-Government writers and speakers is sure to be engaged in proving that England has been imposed upon—that, as was said in one case, “ The moral and the intellectual qualities have been divided; that our negotiation had the moral, and the negotiation on the other side the intellectual,” and so on. The whole pitch of party malice is then expended, because there is nothing to check the party in opposition. The treaty has been made, and though it may be censured, and the party which made it ousted yet the difficulty it was meant to cure is cured, and the opposing party, if it takes office, will not have that difficulty to deal with.
In abstract theory these defects in our present practice would seem exceedingly great, but in practice they are not so. English statesmen and English parties have really a great patriotism; they can rarely be persuaded even by their passions or their interest to do anything contrary to the real interest of England, or anything which would lower England in the eyes of foreign nations. And they would seriously hurt themselves if they did. But still these are the real tendencies of our present practice, and these are only prevented by qualities in the nation and qualities in our statesmen, which will just as much exist if we change our practice.
It certainly would be in many ways advantageous to change it. If we require that in some form the assent of Parliament shall be given to such treaties, we should have a real discussion prior to the making of such treaties. We should have the reasons for the treaty plainly stated, and also the reasons against it. At present, as we have seen, the discussion is unreal. The thing is done and cannot be altered; and what is said often ought not to be said because it is captious, and what is not said ought as often to be said because it is material. We should have a manlier and plainer way of dealing with foreign policy, if Ministers were obliged to explain clearly their foreign contracts before they were valid, just as they have to explain their domestic proposals before they can become laws.
The objections to this are, as far as I know, three and three only.
We shown prior to
First. That it would not be always desirable for Ministers to state clearly the motives which induced them to agree to foreign compacts. “Treaties,” it is said, “are in one great respect different from laws, they concern not only the Government which binds, the nation so bound, but a third party too—a foreign country
—and the feelings of that country are to be considered as well as our own. And that foreign country will, probably, in the present state of the world be a despotic one, where discussion is not practised, where it is not understood, where the expressions of different speakers are not accurately weighed, where undue offence may easily be given.” This objection might be easily avoided by requiring that the discussion upon treaties in Parliament like that discussion in the American Senate should be “in secret session," and that no report should be published of it. But I should, for my own part, be rather disposed to risk a public debate. Despotic nations now cannot understand England; it is to them an anomaly "chartered by Providence;” they have been time out of mind puzzled by its institutions, vexed at its statesmen, and angry at its newspapers. A little more of such perplexity and such vexation does not seem to me a great evil. And if it be meant, as it often is meant, that the whole truth as to treaties cannot be
spoken out, I answer, that neither can the whole truth · as to laws. All important laws affect large “vested