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ON THE FOREIGN POLICY OF THE WHIG ADMINISTRATION.
WITH Such rapidity do events, both domestic and foreign, now succeed each other, that before we are well aware of what is doing at home, our external policy has undergone a total alteration. A reforming administration, not content with new-modelling our internal government, have seized the first opportunity of changing our external relations: while all eyes were fixed on the destruction of our ancient institutions, they have at once abandoned the oldest allies, and relinquished the most fixed principles of British policy. With one hand they have repudiated the glories of Salamanca and Vittoria, with the other, surrendered the trophies of Blenheim and Waterloo. We do not believe that Ministers either intend to do, or are aware that they are doing, these things. We give Earl Grey full credit for the sincerity of his declaration, that no man in the British dominions is more anxious to uphold the national honour, and maintain the national interests, than he is. What we assert is, that the passion for innovation has blinded our rulers to the consequences of their actions; and want of due consideration precipitated them into measures as fatal to the future liberties of Europe, as the Reform Bill promises to be to the freedom of this country.
The uniform policy of England since the Treaty of Westphalia moulded the powers, and the preponderance of France fixed the policy of Europe, has been, to support the Low Countries, on the one hand, and Portugal on the other, against the ambition of that powerful state. Lightly as in a moment of political passion we may speak of the wisdom of our ancestors, this system was neither based in unfounded jealousy, nor unreasonable apprehension. Experience has proved, in every age, that France, unless strictly coerced, is too powerful for any of the adjoining states; and that the moment she acquires a decided preponderance in Europe, her resources are directed with unceasing hostility
against this country. It is only, therefore, by coercing the ambition of that country while yet in its cradle, by raising up against it a barrier which in its infantine state cannot be passed, that the storm can be averted from our own shores, and Europe saved from the necessity of contending for its independence, not with France alone, but with France aided by the strength of all the conquered states in its vicinity.
Without referring to other examples of this important truth, it is sufficient to refer to the wars of Marlborough and the French Revolution. The barrier towns in the Netherlands hardly existed in the early part of the reign of Louis XIV., and the consequence was, that in a single campaign, that ambitious monarch overrun the Netherlands, crossed the Rhine, and but for a series of accidents, and most intrepid conduct on the part of the Dutch, would have carried the French standards to Amsterdam, and established the empire of the Grand Nation one hundred and twenty years before the days of Napoleon. There immediately succeeded the usual features of French ambition: Franche Compte, Lorrain, and Alsace were united to the monarchy: the treaty with Spain gave to the Grande Monarque the absolute disposal of the resources in the Peninsula, and the conquest of the Low Countries put its powerful armies in possession of a salient angle, from which they threatened all the divided and exposed states of the German Empire.
Europe then perceived its danger; an alliance of Austria, Britain, and Holland was formed to oppose a barrier to the ambition of France, and after a long contest, and various vicissitudes of fortune, the French were driven back, the Low Countries recovered, and the barrier of fortified towns erected, which for an hundred years restrained the domineering power of that ambitious state within its natural limits.
But what a prodigious exertion of strength and talent was required to
effect this alteration! The genius of Marlborough, the sword of Eugene, were exerted year after year in the mighty undertaking; the victories of Blenheim and Ramilies, of Oudenard and Malplaquet; the sieges of Mons and Tournay; of Lisle and Landrecy; an unconquerable hero, and a quarter of a century of combats were required for its accomplishments. Had the barrier of Flemish towns existed in 1682, the French armies would never have been enabled to pass the frontier, and the imminent peril to European independence, the enormous expenditure of British wealth, the formation of the national debt prevented.
The great barrier of fortified towns which was erected after the Treaty of Utrecht, proved a bridle in the mouth of France, which restrained its ambition for nearly a century. The longest peace which had subsisted in Europe for two hundred years, followed its formation. From 1714 till 1739, a period of five-andtwenty years, England was at peace with France. All the subsequent efforts of French ambition were shattered against that formidable barrier; and though the genius of Marshal Saxe for a time penetrated through the Low Countries, the line was restored by the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle, and Europe still preserved, for half a century more, from the inroads of its most redoubtable enemy. At length, in an evil hour, the Emperor Joseph, dazzled by the marriage of Marie Antoinette with the King of France, misled by the revolutionary fervour of the time, disgusted with the expense of maintaining so costly a barrier, doubtful of the fidelity of the Belgian garrisons who held the fortresses, resolved upon their demolition. "Europe," says General Jomini, "beheld with astonishment that celebrated barrier, erected at so vast an expense, the theatre of so much glory, conquered at so immense an expenditure of blood and treasure, so necessary to the liberties of Europe, sacrificed to the dreams of philanthropy, or the calculations of an ill-judged economy!"* The fatal consequences were not at the time anticipated; the man
date of destruction went forth, and the plough soon moved over the site of the ramparts which had been defended by the heroism of Boufflers, or formed by the genius of Vauban. It was not long before Austria bitterly repented this act of folly. The French Revolution arose the Prussian armies were repulsed from Champaigne, and Dumourier, flushed with victory, advanced to the conquest of the Netherlands. Then were seen the fatal consequences of the destruction of the barrier fortresses. The forces which fought at Jemappes did not, on either side, exceed 30,000 men; the loss of the vanquished did not amount to 3000 men; yet, this inconsiderable victory gave the whole Netherlands to France. An army which would hardly have been adequate to the siege of one of the barrier towns,-a victory which would not have advanced it five miles through that iron frontier,-at once delivered over the whole of those rich provinces to the republicans: a territory won by Marlborough and Eugene by inches, gained after ten campaigns, purchased by the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, was overrun in a few weeks by an army which would not have formed a wing of their vast array.
The Austrians now took the alarm they reinforced the troops under Cobourg, and the battle of Nerwinde, in spring 1793, restored to their empire the whole Netherlands, and had wellnigh proved fatal to France. The forces arrayed on either side on this occasion did not exceed 40,000 men; the loss of the vanquished Republicans was only 4000 men! yet this inconsiderable battle again delivered over the whole Low Countries to new masters. "The retreating French," says Jomini," in an open country, without mountains or great rivers, bereft of its fortresses, could make no head against the advancing columns of the Austrians, even though hardly superior in numbers. The destruction of the barrier towns then proved as fatal to the Republicans as the year before it had done to the Imperial forces."
Again the fortune of war brought the Allies to the French frontier.
* Guerres de la Revolution, ii. p. 236.
England joined the coalition, a vast
The Allies have been severely censured, after the capture of Valenciennes, for dividing their forces, and proceeding, the one-half to the siege of Dunkirk, the other to that of Quesnoy. But, admitting that they erred in pursuing separate objects, the siege of some of the frontier fortresses was unavoidable; for no invading force, unless it consists of the enormous masses which, in 1814,were precipitated on France, could venture to penetrate into that country, leaving an unsubdued line of fortresses behind them. Whatever fortresses they had besieged, the result would have been the same, because the time spent in their reduction must have given leisure to the Convention to complete the vast armaments in the interior, and overwhelm the invaders in the next campaign with an irresistible superiority of force.
The Allies succeeded in reducing the principal frontier fortresses of France; Quesnoy, Conde, Valenci
ennes, and Landrecy, were successively taken; but the time lost in reducing them in spring 1794, proved the salvation of the Republic. The immense levies ordered by the Convention in September, 1793, were, during the following winter, equipped and disciplined, and the French armies, during the course of the following campaigns, at length acquired a decisive numerical superiority over those of the Allies. The battle of Fleurus was fought, and though the action was nearly drawn, and the loss of the Imperialists did not exceed 5000 men, yet, as they fell back on the following day, all the immense advantages of a victory accrued to the Republicans. Flanders, again bereft of its frontier towns, fell a prey to the invaders; the French armies advanced to Amsterdam, and the frontiers of the Republic were permanently advanced to the Rhine.
The consequences of this great event are sufficiently known. Austria, Prussia, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, successively were subdued by the conqueror; Russia itself maintained a doubtful contest on the Niemen, and the whole forces of Europe were speedily arrayed in fierce hostility But for the against this country. unparalleled victory of Trafalgar, the unconquerable firmness of Wellington, and the matchless constancy of Russia, there was an end of the British empire-a wonderful and unprecedented combination, which may not occur again for a thousand years, and on the recurrence of which no future statesman can possibly calculate!
Taught by these disasters, the European powers resolved to oppose anew to French ambition the barrier which had been erected by the genius of Marlborough, and which the experience of eighty years had proved to be so effectual. The triumphs of Wellington had again given the Allies the command of Flanders, and there they resolved to erect the floodgates, which might restrain the torrent, before it had precipitated itself with resistless violence over Europe. The barrier fortresses, insanely destroyed by Joseph, were again erected, and a bridle imposed on French ambition, which might restrain it to its original limits, and prevent it from again arming one
half of Europe for the subjugation of the other. The consequences have again demonstrated the wisdom of the measure: France, thrown back upon its natural limits, ceased to have the power of agitating Europe; and the barrier fortresses proved as effectual a bulwark to the adjoining states, as they did after they were first purchased by the conquests of Marlborough. Five millions sterling, principally British treasure, was expended on the reconstruction of this essential security to European freedom, under the direction of Wellington; and what has been the consequence? Sixteen years of profound peace, undisturbed by Gallic aggression. The only two long periods of repose which Europe has had for two centuries, have been those which immediately followed the first formation and reconstruction of the barrier line.
The circumstances which render a line of fortresses in Flanders indispensable to the liberties of Europe are three. 1. The existence of an extensive and formidable line within the French frontier; consisting of Dunkirk, Lille, Valenciennes, Quesnoy, Landrecy, Maubeuge, Cambray, &c., which not only have in every age proved an almost invincible defence against foreign aggression, but given to an invading French force a base for their hostile operations, which increases to a very great degree their chances of success. 2. The flat and defenceless nature of the Flemish plains, destitute alike of forests, mountains, or defensible rivers, and affording no rallying point whatever to a retreating army. 3. The immense importance, in a political point of view, of these opulent provinces-not only capable of yielding inexhaustible supplies of wealth and warlike stores, but giving to their possessors the command of an advanced post in the centre of Europe, strongly fortified, and almost impregnable to an invasion from the eastward, from whence they threaten with destruction all the Germanic
The Archduke Charles, whose military abilities are so well known to Europe, was the first who pointed
out, in an accurate and conclusive manner, the immense advantages which the French fortresses give to the armies of that nation, not only in a war of defence, but of aggression; and the fatal source of weakness which the want of such a barrier of frontier towns has always proved to the German armies, alike in defensive and offensive contests. When the thing is once stated, it becomes obvious to the meanest capacity. Within the numerous and strong fortresses of French Flanders, the stores, magazines, and equipments of an invading army are securely lodged; its parks of artillery, trains of pontoons, siege equipage, and caissons, rapidly issue from their walls, and put an invading army at once in a condition to pursue, with celerity and confidence, an early success. If they are victorious, they can advance without hesitation, into the enemy's territory, secure of drawing all the necessary supplies from the impregnable base in their rear. If they meet with a check, they have it always in their power to fall back on their own fortresses, without the risk of sustaining any serious loss in magazines, artillery, or military stores, in the course of their retreat. Should the hostile army invade their territory, it speedily finds itself entangled within a line of fortresses which cannot be passed without exposing the invaders, if their force is not of overwhelming magnitude, to certain destruction, nor reduced but by numerous sieges, and the consumption of several campaigns. In this way the possession of a strong line of frontier fortresses is of equal importance to an invading and a defending army; and the want of it is the great cause both of the failure of wars of aggression, and the difficulty of maintaining a defensive contest.
Napoleon's wars afford decisive evidence of the truth of these principles. When, in 1796, he had defeated the Piedmontese government by the triumphs commencing at Montenotte, he immediately exacted from them the surrender of Coni, Alexandria, and the citadel of Turin, the keys of the Sardinian monarchy. From this base he carried on a suc
* Strategie, vol. i. 274.
cessful war of invasion, till he was met by the great fortress of Mantua. And of such importance was this single fortress to the Austrian monarchy, that it enabled them to withstand the destruction of three powerful armies, and above 100,000 men. And during its gallant defence, time was given to assemble no less than four successive armies for the protection of the state. No sooner, however, was Mantua taken, than the fate of the war was rapidly decided; from the secure base of that great fortress, Peschiera, and other smaller forts, the invading army rapidly followed up the career of success. In vain was the Archduke Charles, the victor of Jourdan, summoned from the Rhine with his victorious battalions, to stem the torrent. The Alps could not withstand the conqueror whom the bastions of Mantua had so long arrested, and, within a few weeks, the Austrian monarchy, destitute now of any fortified towns, was reduced to sue for an ignominious peace.
The first use made by the same consummate master of the military art of his victory at Marengo, was to enforce the surrender of Mantua, Coni, Alexandria, and Turin, before he would agree to an armistice: and the consequence of the loss of these fortresses was, that Austria, though the war was still in Piedmont, far from the hereditary frontiers of the empire, was compelled to submit to the disastrous treaty of Luneville.
In the next war, Napoleon attacked Austria on the side where no fortresses exist for its defence; and where, in consequence of their want, the vulnerable quarter has always been found for the monarchy. In the valley of the Danube, a disaster is irreparable; no frontier towns exist to cover the heart of the state; and a single defeat brings the conqueror to the gates of Vienna. There it was, accordingly, that both in 1805 and 1809, he inflicted such disastrous wounds on that great military power, and so rapidly brought to a conclusion a contest, which, in former years, had been so long protracted. No frontier fortresses existed to check the advance of the
conqueror, or afford an asylum to the broken battalions of the vanquished. A single defeat on the frontier brought the invader to the heart of the empire; and a second disaster there compelled the conclusion of peace.
What led to the disaster of Napoleon in Russia? Not the severity of the cold, for that was greater in 1794, when the republican armies in Holland were pursuing an uninterrupted career of success; not the conflagration of Moscow, for ample towns remained in its vicinity for the cantonment of the whole army; but the fatal advance into an enemy's country, without any adequate base of fortresses, to nourish the war during the advance, and protect its retreat in case of disaster. That great commander, better aware than any man alive, of the value of fortified towns, was led to forget it in consequence of the intoxication produced by a long career of success, and he lost his crown in conse quence. What would have been the fate of the war had Riga, Smolensko, Witepsk, and other places, been formed into vast places d'armes, for the base of future operations; and the advance into the interior of the empire postponed till the following season, when the fine weather had returned, and the army was protected from disaster, by their secure places in its rear?
The formation of a line of frontier fortresses, therefore, is at once the rich protection to an empire in defence, and the only secure foundation for a hostile enterprise against its enemies. And of all countries in the world, the Low Countries are those which most require such a protection; both because they are immediately in contact with the great military monarchy of France, in the very quarter where its fortresses are the strongest, and where the genius of Vauban had formed such a formidable base for future conquest; and because the flat open nature of the country renders it totally impossible for a defeated army, without such support, to oppose any effectual resistance to the advance of its opponents.
The late campaigns in Flanders
* Archduke Charles, i. 280.