THE BRAZIL CONTROVERSY.*
THEREis a rumour—to which Lord Derby's sharp parenthetic cen - sure on our Brazil policy on the opening night of the session may probably have given rise,—that the Conservatives intend a formal attack on the Government on the question of Brazil. There is no doubt an air of promise in this selection of the theme for a party feud ; if there be hope anywhere, it looks as if it would be here. In the first place, the ultra-Radicals are strongly with the Conser- vatives about Brazil. Mr. Bernal Osborne has, if we are not mis- taken, pledged himself to move in the direction of conciliation to Brazil, and Mr. Bright last session significantly pressed on Lord Palmerston the reconsideration of his policy before this session should commence. The adverse decision of the King of the Belgians in the arbitration concerning the alleged Brazilian insult to the officers of the Forte was a conspicuous and public snub to the Ministry, of which party feeling will know how to make very effective use, and may serve to give just one telling feature to a controversy otherwise chiefly promising because its historical in- tricacy and confused details are likely to embarrass the intellect of Parliament, and still more of the outside public. The cry in favour of non-intervention will give the breadth of a general policy to the rather antiquated details of the rupture, and though that cry has no real bearing on the quarrel, yet by judiciously interweaving the policy of the Aberdeen Act with the recent diplomatic differences, by throwing blame on the liberals for not repealing without guaran- tees an Act demanded by a Conservative Ministry and accorded without a division by Parliament,—an act, indeed, which certainly interfered invidiously with the prerogatives of the Government of Brazil, though only because that Government had been guilty of the worst treachery in protecting and fostering, after it had engaged to prohibit, the slave trade,—it will, we think, be quite possible to base, or seem to base, a censure on the Government for its recent policy towards Brazil on the modern gospel of non-intervention. Strategically speaking the Conservatives, if they want to provoke a party contest at all, could scarcely be pardoned for neglecting to choose such promising ground as this for a pitched battle. Covering one flank with " the Nestor of European Sovereigns," and the other with the only abstract principle which has excited any perceptible enthusiasm since England ceased to care about slavery,—with brilliant visions of possible commercial and consular treaties with Brazil carried by Messrs. Bright, Cobden, and Osborne in the van, with Lord Derby's pungent raillery to enhance our failures, with the Canning-Disraeli irridescent apophthegms about the importance of the new world to redress the balance of the old, and the laborious mis-statements of Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald's Brazilian inspirations as to the actual course of our recent diplomacy, to envelope the whole question in a cloud of obscurity,—the Conservatives ought to have as good a chance of success as they can get this session. In the meantime, let us attempt to strip the question of party con- siderations, and look so far as we can at its real merits, which Mr. Christie's clear and accurate, but somewhat one-sided book, the official despatches, and the anonymous pamphlet of Mr. Christie's not very trustworthy and (we assume) semi-Brazilian opponent, will enable us to disentangle.
It is essential to bear in mind throughout that the peculiarity of this question arises from the very great difference that has grown up in the temper of the public between the time in which the seed of the present Brazilian question was planted and the time in which we are now criticizing the fruit. Lord Aberdeen, whose Act it was to empower the English Admiralty Courts to condemn Brazilian slave traders captured by the English fleet, was in 1845 the most opposed to what was then thought a meddling and interfering policy, of all possible English Foreign Secretaries. But what was thought a mild, passive, tolerant foreign policy in 1845 and 1855 is thought a violent, interfering, meddling foreign policy in 1865. The last eight or nine years have witnessed a steady though no doubt temporary flow of laissez-faire and stand-aloof principles into our foreign policy, and Lord Derby now characterizes as " meddle-and-muddle " a policy which he would have characterized as timorous and perhaps craven ten or fifteen years ago. Bearing this always in mind,—for though the Aberdeen Act has really nothing more to do with our recent quarrel than the probably chronic irritation (we do not assert that the irritation was really injurious, very likely it was salutary)
Notes on Brazilian Questions. By W. D. Christie, late Her Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Brazil. London: Macmillan. 1885.
The Relations of the British and Brazilian Governments. London: Chapman and Han. 1865.
which it no doubt exerted on the Emperor and statesmen of Braz11,—it may be possible to come to a fair practical estimate of the right and wrongs of the Brazilian quarrel.
First, it has been a Foreign-Office tradition ever since our moral support helped Brazil to achieve its independence of Portugal, to treat the empire with dictatorial. and cavalier disinterested- ness,—and what is more, it cannot be denied by anybody who knows the facts that twice at least our most cavalier actions have driven Brazil into her greatest practical reforms. Almost immedi- ately on the recognition of the independence of Brazil by Portugal, Brazil concluded with us a treaty making the slave trade piracy, and giving to the ships of both countries the same powers to capture slave traders under either flag as had been given and taken by England and Portugal, and by England and Spain. A mixed Commission of English and Brazilians at Sierra Leone and at Rio Janeiro decided on the legality of the captures, condemned slave traders and set the slaves free,—each Government being responsible to the other for the freedom of the slaves so captured. While, however, the general article of the Anti-Slave Trade Treaty of 1826, declaring the slave trade piracy, was permanent, the special powers conferred by the second article expired in 1845, and the mixed Commis- sions at Sierra Leone and Rio Janeiro with them. From that date we have had two standing controversies with Brazil. On the one hand, the slaves, or emancipados, as they were called (like tutus a non lueendo) theoretically set free in Brazil bythe Rio Janeiro Court were practically not set free, but " apprenticed," and their appren- ticeship somehow never came to an end. On the other hand, when the mixed Commission Courts and the special powers had expired in 1845, the Brazilian Government, which was at heart a thoroughly slave-trading Government, refused to renew them in any shape, and availed itself of its new liberty to foster the slave trade actively. The English Foreign Office irritated with the treachery of Brazil and, though ruled over by Lord Aberdeen, encumbered by no abstract principles of laissez faire, introduced into Parliament and passed without a division (Sir Thomas Wilde, afterwards Lord Truro, speaking, but not dividing the House against it) the famous Act now known as the Aberdeen Act, which gave the Admiralty Courts of this country power to adjudicate on the slave traders, or supposed slave traders, formerly judged in the mixed Commission Courts of Sierra Leone and Rio Janeiro. And in giving notice of that Act to Brazil Lord Aberdeen expressly said :—
"Her Majesty's Government will be ready, so soon as any measures of the Brazilian Government shall enable them so to do, to recommend Parliament to repeal the Bill now about to be brought forward ; but, while the present state of things continues, and until either the slave trade of Brazil shall have entirely ceased, or the Brazilian Government shall have entered into an engagement with Great Britain jointly to carry into execution the declared intentions of the parties to the Con- vention of 1826, that course will not be open to them. You are aware that the measure by which, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, the Government of Brazil would best evince their determination to carry out the intention which they have so solemnly recorded, would be the negotiation of a treaty, similar either to that concluded between Great Britain and Spain in 1835, or to that between Great Britain and Portugal in 1842."
As in spite of this Act the slave trade continued to prosper, the Foreign Office (under Lord Palmerston) took in 1850 the very strong measure of authorizing the capture of Brazilian slave traders even in Brazilian waters, and indeed under the very guns of Brazilian forts, and Sir James Hudson (then Mr. Hudson) gave in a despatch of 27th July, 1850, a very curious account of the way in which this violent kill-or-cure remedy in fact effected the cure of the Brazilian patient of the slave-trade disease. For a time it was doubt- ful how it would act. Sir James Hudson recounted how the Bra- zilian Minister threatened to put Brazil under the French or United States flag, how one day the Council of State decided to put 90 per cent. duties on English goods by way of retaliation, and the next day rescinded their decision ; how all sorts of intimida- tion were brought to bear on him, how the whole capital was in a tumult, and howthe anti-slave-trade party which had grown up dur- ing the previous two years, and allied itself with the English policy, at length carried the day. The Brazilian pamphleteer quotes only such portions of this despatch (and these portions inaccurately) as would seem to represent the violent British remedy as ineffectual, and the change the result of independent Brazilian patriotism. Nothing, however, can be clearer than that the dangerous remedy applied by Sir James Hudson under the instructions of his Government really gave the coup de grace to the Brazilian slave trade. It shamed the Brazilians into putting down a trade in defence of which they could not go to war, and could not appeal to the protection of any honourable foreign power. But though the slave trade was put an end to, the Brazilian Government, piqued by the method used, would never renew the treaties asked for by Lord Aberdeen, which would have guaranteed that it should not be resumed, and hence the Aberdeen Act was never repealed. There was perhaps some reason for distrusting the sincerity of the Brazilian Government on other grounds. At least so our Foreign Office thought. There was no movement towards emancipation, however gradual. In a country, indeed, where the slaves are nearly one-half of the whole population this could not well be hoped for, and the British Government had no right for interfering except so far as the emancipados professedly " liberated" by the mixed Com- mission in Rio Janeiro,—really sold into a rather worse slavery than that of the ordinary slaves,—were concerned. Here, how- ever, they had a right to demand the performance by Brazil of its pledges, but they demanded it in vain. The Brazilian pam- phleteer wishes to make out that the emaricipados had been so mixed up in the ordinary slave population that their discrimination was impossible. In fact, however, Minister after Minister admitted it to be possible, but evaded action. The emancipados hired out to private individuals as well as those employed by the State were all ostensibly registered by the " Court of Orphans," and a very large number of them are even now known to the State. It was not inability but reluctance to comply, which made the Brazilian Ministry put off the English Ambassador with excuses for a period of twenty years. In 1853 it was decreed that all the emancipados bound to private persons were to be freed after they had served in all an apprenticeship of fourteen years—i e., the last of them should have been free in 1859 at latest, because the last of them was received and put to service in 1845. In 1859, however, scarcely any of these had received their freedom. The public slaves or emanci- pados were still worse off. Till 1862 none of them had even a nominal term fixed to their apprenticeship, and the Brazilian anti- slavery party maintained that they were harder worked, less edneated, and generally far worse off, than the private slaves. In 1862 some of them were promised their liberty after a further apprenticeship of six years, though the last of them should have been free years before. Out of (probably) 10,000 emancipados for whose freedom the British Government was in part responsible, about 400 had been liberated in 1863, and no more. This con- duct of course, together with the refusal of any slave-trade treaty, was not likely to induce the British Foreign Office to propose the repeal of the Aberdeen Act.
There were other grievances. In 1858 Brazil agreed with Eng- land to appoint a mixed Commission to decide on disputed com- mercial claims of private Brazilian and British subjects on the Governments respectively of Great Britain and Brazil. Brazil never mentioned that she intended to re-open the decisions of the old Commission Courts existing at Rio Janeiro and Sierra Leone between 1830 and 1845, which had been expressly established as Courts " without appeal ;" nor had the British Government in- tented to admit claims made against it for operations under the Aberdeen Act, which, as Brazil had never admitted the validity of the Act, might have been equivalent to re-opening the whole ques- tion of the contested British right to condemn Brazilian slave traders in its own Admiralty Courts. There were in all fifty-one British commercial claims and nearly forty Brazilian claims, inde- pendently of claims made by way of appeal from the old mixed Commission Courts and the Admiralty Courts under the Aberdeen Act, but the Brazilians by appealing from these Courts swelled their claims to 108, and when the British Commissioner was instructed not to enter on any appeals from the slave-trade and Admiralty Courts till he received further orders, the Brazilian Government would not allow the Commission to proceed at all, and in fact ter- minated its sittings. There is no doubt that it thus endeavoured to re-open questions by a ruse which it might fairly have re- opened, at least as to the Aberdeen Act,—on the other claims it had committed itself to take no appeal,—by direct negotiations. But, as it was, its conduct was tricky and unworthy, and defeated the whole object of the attempt to adjust the reciprocal commercial claims. On this point the Brazilian pamphleteer is very uncandid. He tries to make out that there were no claims of any importance on the part of Brazil except those which the English Government declined to consider, and that the English Government knew this. In fact there were nearly as many Brazilian commercial claims unconnected with the slave-trade condemnations, as British com- mercial claims, and the 16,0001. of indemnities actually awarded .by the commission in its few sittings to Brazilian claimants were all in cases unconnected with these condemnations.
It was under such circumstances that the wreck of the Prince of Wales, the certain plunder of the wreck, the probable murder of British subjects on it, and the supposed insult to British naval officers at Rio Janeiro took place. The British Government had been utterly unable to get any settlement of the commercial disputes with Brazil without admitting appeals from slave-trade Commission Courts established " without appeal," and from the policy of the Aberdeen Act, which, whether rightly or wrongly, was the policy of both the great parties in England. It had also been utterly unable to get any satisfaction at all about the emancipados for whom it was responsible. In the case of supposed insult to the officers of the Forte, we are bound to accept the decision of the King of the Belgians, and say that we were in the wrong, and we think it is quite likely. In the case of the Prince of Wales, there is no doubt that the Brazilian Government did all in its power to evade a full investigation, and to resist compensation for injuries certainly done by its own unruly subjects. Had it been unconnected with all other grievances, reprisals on so weak a Government would have been ungenerous. But looking to the obstinacy it had shown about the emancipaclos, and the trick con- cerning the reciprocal commercial claims of each nation on the Government of the other, we do not wonder that English patience was worn out. At all events the reprisals in 1862 had, like Sir James Hudson's strong measures in 1850, a salutary effect. Though the Brazilian Enemy was withdrawn and our diplomatic relations sus- pended, our Consul reports that never had he met with so respect- ful an attention to his representations and complaints as since the reprisals,—and certainly they have had the effect of expediting the freedom of the emancipados, more than 800 of whom were set free in the nine months following the strong measures of the British Government.
The truth is that nothing is more difficult than to apply a consistent non-interference policy with any good effect to a half- civilized Government. It cannot, we fear, be denied that the Aberdeen Act is a measure such as we should not have adopted towards a strong government, such as we should not just now adopt towards any government to prevent any crime, however grave, and however prolific in misery to the human race. If we are to make our foreign policy uniform, no doubt we must abandon Brazil to her own instincts, whether they be in favour of resuming the slave trade,—as they very likely may be,—or in favour of the consolidation of free institutions. We should also instead of reprisals adopt in case of injury a policy of unlimited conciliation. Whether the change would benefit either Brazil or England is probably ex- ceedingly doubtful. Whether it lies with the Conservative party who initiated the opposite policy towards Brazil to initiate the change, is, we think, more doubtful still.