The foreign refugees

6th June 2017

A defence of Victor Hugo and of free speech from the Daily News (founded as a radical newspaper in 1846 by Charles Dickens. Its editor in 1855 was William Weir, a socialist barrister whose increasing deafness led him to journalism.) 'The political exiles in Jersey, who signed the protest against the expulsion of the three gentlemen connected with the journal L’Homme, have in their turn been ordered to quit the island before the 2nd November. What crime have they committed? They have said in 1855 what Sir Charles Wood, the Duke of Newcastle, and Sir James Graham said in 1851, when they were cabinet ministers.'

The protest signed by the Jersey political exiles is mainly an historical resume of the events of the revolution effected at Paris by the coup d’etat of the 2nd December, 1851. The phraseology employed to describe these events is not over-courtly, but neither was the language of the ministers and journalists we have named. The ministers and journalists have ceased to speak of these events, because they believe that France has acquiesced in the government founded on the coup d’etat; and because they think that as the general merits of Augustus compensated in a great manner for the questionable means by which he attained to power, the reign of Napoleon III may compensate for what is indefensible in the coup d’etat. The Jersey political exiles continue to hold the same language as they have ever held, because they do not believe that France has acquiesced in the government of the coup d’état, and because they do not hope that the benefits conferred on their country by that government will compensate for the vices of its original title. Of these two dissient views, which is characterised by most of sagacity and practical prudence we are not now called upon to decide. Enough that a man may entertain and express either of them without imputation to his moral rectitude. If the press is free in this country, such difference of opinion is a legitimate subject of discussion. To punish men for maintaining either the one or the other side of the question is a great infringement of the liberty of the press.

We shall be told that the discussion was carried on by the Jersey political exiles in language of extraordinary violence. Are we to take exceptions at strong language on the part of men who have been driven from their homes and boards by an act which even those who make the strength of their language matter for an accusation against them do not and cannot defend? ‘But if they are allowed to speak in this manner of the chief magistrate of a nation with which we are in intimate alliance, that alliance may be placed in peril.’ Was not the same person chief magistrate of France, and was not England in amity with France, when Charles Wood, the Duke of Newcastle, Sir James Graham, and the London journalists, spoke of him in pretty nearly the same terms as the exiles do now? Had the president of the republic complained to our government in 1851 of the manner in which he was spoken of by ministers on the hustings and journalists in the columns, the answer would have been—‘The constitution of England does not allow us to deal with men for any latitude of speech in political assemblies or in print, except by due process of law. If you feel aggrieved, the law courts are open to you, and they were in 1782 to the Queen of France, and in 1803 to your uncle, the first consul.’ And if there had been one spark of English generosity and courage in the breasts of our ministers, the same answer would have been made to him now.

There are good grounds for believing that the French government has demanded the expulsion of the Jersey exiles from our ministers, and that instead of answering as they ought to have done, they have complied with the demand as far as they could. In a letter from Vienna, published in the Cologne Gazette, and reproduced in our impression of this day, it is stated that the Austrian government has made application to the court of St James’s for the expulsion of political exiles, and that the French government has instructed its ambassador here to support the application. And the Moniteur of yesterday contains a letter from Jersey, dated the 26th inst., in which it is stated that the exiles have received warning to quit the island. These two documents leave little room for doubt as to the parties at whose instigation ministers have violated the practice of the English constitution. To have complied with such a request from Napoleon III—who has had practical experience of the protection our laws extend to political exiles—would have been bad enough, but to comply with such a request from Austria implies a degree of meanness that we dare not trust ourselves to designate by the epithets which force themselves upon us. Lord Palmerston and his associates affected to deprecate the obsequiousness shown to Austria by Lord John Russell at the conferences of Vienna; the obsequiousness they have now shown themselves to that equivocal power is infinitely more disgraceful. The honour of England has been laid prostrate at the feet of continental despotism by the Palmerston ministry.

This Jersey affair is not the first step of our government in its descent from the proud position maintained by English governments in 1782 and 1803—epochs at which public opinion was for more enlightened than now on the subject of political rights and immunities of citizens and foreign sojourners amongst us. In 1853, the Messrs Hale and Son were summoned to Bow Street, to answer a charge of having in their possession a quantity of gunpowder greater than was allowed by law. Strenuous efforts were made to prove that a connexion existed between the accused and M Kossuth. When this was found to be impossible, the proceedings were allowed to drop—the prosecution was terminated by a compromise. No doubt was entertained at the time that the main object of these proceedings was to obtain an excuse for gratifying the Austrian government, by expelling M Kossuth from this country. In 1853, the government of the day had not mustered courage to depart from the precedent established by the ultra-Tory Lord Hawkesbury half a century before. But when men once venture upon a deviation from the path of rectitude and legality—however slight—their subsequent downward career is rapid. Two short years have sufficed to embolden ministers to their present avowal of disregard for the hereditary liberties of England.

In a letter from Jersey it is stated that M Victor Hugo will remain at Guernsey until Lord Palmerston presents a more stringent alien bill to Parliament. We feel confident that if M Victor Hugo remains at Guernsey till such an event takes place, his presence there will be a lengthened one. Fallen though Lord Palmerston is, he will have too much prudence to risk the damaging debates to which the introduction of such a measure would give rise. Neither he nor his imperial masters will court the renewed publicity that would be given to the transactions of 1851 by the discussions of the House of Commons. And yet we do not wonder that an exile smarting under an act of injustice, seeing that our first protest against the lawless proceedings at Jersey has not been supported by any of the liberal organs in the daily press of the metropolis, and that not a whisper against the outrage has been breathed during parliamentary canvass now in progress in the borough of Southwark, should look forward to such a suicidal move on the part of our premier as probable. The future historian of the 19th century will point to the Jersey outrages, and to the apathy with which they seem to be endured by the English public, as the darkest blot on the history of our age.—Daily News.