Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Jersey's Independent Media 1856-1862 - Part 6

"I would... oppose all wars and interventions except those which the voice of the people might pronounce absolutely indispensable for self-defence, or the protection of the weak against the powerful. I would labour to put an end to the alliance of this country with despotic governments..." (George Harney)

The Chartist George Julian Harney had come to Jersey and taken over as editor of the new Jersey Independent. He had fought against local injustices, but his radical temperament had also become more domesticated over the years, as he married for the second time, and settled more into Jersey society. But his principles remained firm, and despite the criticism of Engels, he had not sold out, or been transformed by easier living into a conservative:

A. R. Schoyen's study of Harney notes that:

The economic depression of 1857-58 and the Lancashire slump a few years later during the American Civil War were both attributed by him to the inherent nature of capitalism. The crisis in Lancashire would have come just as surely without the cotton famine caused by the Union blockade, he wrote -- a judgment with which latter-day historians would be likely to agree. His remarks about the "Millocracy" and "political economy" remained as acrimonious as ever; and he continued to maintain that government should be responsible for the economic welfare of its citizens.

But it was no longer solely through the achievement of Socialism that government could exercise this responsibility. Though private philanthropy was unequal to the task, distress in times of depression could be eased by public works and direct relief -- a pernicious enough doctrine to some Liberals, but a great modification of Harney's old "root-and branch" belief.

His approach to foreign affairs became less outspoken, but not because he had changed his position, but because others, in positions of government in the United Kingdom, had moved more towards his views:

One evidence of this is to be found in the fate of Palmerston in 1858 when he attempted to bring in an Alien Act under the pressure of Louis Napoleon, who had just missed assassination at the hands of the Italian revolutionary, Felice Orsini (whose plot and bomb had been made in England). Combined with the bellicosity of the semiofficial French press, Palmerston's action was sufficient to cause a great popular reaction and his fall from office.

The Italian struggle for independence and unity, from 1859-1860, also was a populist cause across Europe which many supported - the slogan of "liberty" rather than "equality" appealed across the spectrum of liberal positions. Parts of Italy came under the political domination of the Austrian Empire and the Habsburg dynasty, and they more or less directly controlled the predominantly Italian-speaking northeastern part of what is Italy today. Leading the struggle against this was Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882):

Garibaldi became a symbol of democratic liberties to the English working classes. The result of this unanimity of feeling was an extraordinary enthusiasm, demonstrated in the impressive sums subscribed for the revolutionaries, and in the even more remarkable (and typically Liberal) form of a private army, the "English Brigade". To avoid the provisions of the Foreign Enlistment Act, the Brigade was disguised as an excursion to visit Mounts Vesuvius and Etna. The "excursionists" were furnished with the "means of self-defence" and a uniform costume to "ensure their recognition" of each other ( Jersey Independent, 3 September 1860.)

The Liberal party was largely opposed to the idea of formal military intervention, so this "back door" was needed. Harney found little to criticise in the English response to supporting the Italians in their struggle to throw off the Hapsburg yoke. But Harney was more critical of the Irish response, which was in defence of Church and Rome, and supported by French troops in Rome. In a way, the struggle for Italian independence mirrored to a small degree the divisions that would later be seen in the Spanish Civil War, where the Papacy, mindful of keeping its powers intact, would support the Fascist regime of Franco:

Harney's growing distaste for a nationality whose grievances he had warmly championed in the past may be dated from the intervention in the Italian conflict of the Irish volunteers, some 1,000 strong, who went to the defence of the Church and Rome. While excoriating this evidence of Popish domination and strongly supporting the Italian cause in the Independent, Harney also found time to organize a Garibaldi fund, and was able to bring Victor Hugo back to St. Helier in triumph to speak at a money-raising banquet. This occasion, no more and no less significant than scores of meetings for a similar purpose that year, showed once again Harney's unchanging conviction that events on the Tagus and Arno -- or the Tiber -- should concern Englishmen as much as events on the Thames. During all of these quiet years in Jersey the Independent's banner motto might well have been John Donne's dictum about the interconnection of all men. And this belief was not limited to lip-service on Harney's part, as the "tolling of the bell" represented in the first cannon-fire on Fort Sumter in 1861 was to show.

Now the field of conflict shifted to the American Civil War. Harney had declared of America that ""America is still the hope of the nations -- the terror of their oppressors; on her, from the first hour of her independence, has the eye of patriotism been fixed . . . in her we find a surety for the final and universal enfranchisement of mankind."

Yet since stating that in his youth , he no longer saw America with such idealism, because of the institution of slavery; the dark contradiction at the heart of the declaration that all men are free. "The slaveholders are the worst enemies to Liberty and Mankind that exist on the face of the Earth, and have done more to prevent the triumph of Washington's principles than all the despots and armies of Europe combined," he declared bitterly in the Independent.

In spite of these faults, however, America still remained in 1861 to him, as it did to the majority of European liberals, the "hope of the nations"--the great example of a working democracy. Consequently, he believed, the ruin of the American system of government would be a fatal blow to the cause of general freedom. Quoting Lincoln's words, Harney asked his readers to consider the fundamental question posed by secession: "'Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?'" If the rebels were successful, the answer could only be that democratic institutions were incapable of enduring when threatened by basic internal disagreement. The effect of Southern success, he wrote, must be to drastically retard the development of free institutions everywhere.

But the American civil war (1861-1865) divided English opinion. Most of the  English working class supported the North and Lincoln, and a small body of  liberals such as Bright, Cobden, and W. E. Forster. On the more conservative  side, trade trumped over slavery, and this reflected the majority of those in power, and the media which they controlled. Against this was the democratic feeling of the workers:

The existence of this feeling was crucial in the initial phase of the Civil War: it was democratic sentiment which sustained the Union cause in England until, after the passage of more than a year, Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" made it possible to appeal to the Nonconformist conscience on the issue of slavery. Those supporting the Union were faced by  a formidable opposition. A majority of the free-trade mercantile class were pro-Southern, as were the anti-democratic aristocracy and fashionable society in general--and, it is possible, a portion of the working class engaged on war work for the Confederacy.

Jersey followed the same kind of pattern as the United Kingdom, with Harney being very much in a minority position. The Jersey archive notes the military record of Philippe du Heaume, a Jerseyman who enlisted in Clingmans Brigade and fought in the Confederate Army of the American Civil War.

The Jersey microcosm faithfully represented the state of opinion in England, the Independent being alone among the island press in supporting the Union. When, in the winter of 1861, an American naval vessel intercepted the British ship Trent on the high seas and seized two Confederate representatives on their way to England, the Independent stood with the minute pro-Northern press against the violent demands for action which swept the British newspapers. Nor did the series of Union defeats in the summer of 1862, and Gladstone's public declaration in November that Jefferson Davis had made a nation--an utterance widely interpreted to mean that the cabinet had decided to recognize the Confederate States--shake his resolution in defending the Union cause.

He was aware that this was not only a thoroughly unpopular policy with the forces that mattered in Jersey, but a dangerous one as well. The feeling aroused by the Civil War was extraordinarily deep in England. As Thomas Hughes, the Christian Socialist, told a Massachusetts audience a few years later, "Our political struggles do not, as a rule, affect our social life, but during your war the antagonism between your friends and the friends of the rebel states often grew into personal hostility. . . .

The support of Harney for the North and against slavery brought him into conflict with the proprietor of the Jersey Independent, against whom he had been increasingly fighting a losing battle, and he was dismissed from his position, although some histories say that he resigned. What was clear was that his position had become untenable. The Jersey Independent then came out with an elegy which showed the Jersey support for the South; what is remarkable to modern sensitivities, is the way religious language is co-opted into this message:

"From this day forth our readers will perceive a difference in our treatment of the American Struggle," a leading article began. ". . . All dispassionate observers of American events must recognize it with the definiteness of a Divine Decree that the North is already doomed to be disappointed in its efforts to re-conquer the South. . . . We cannot help seeing that an almighty blow is to be dealt at that big bloated Yankee idolatry which worshipped the dollar."

It is extraordinary that the leading members of Jersey society were so blind to the issue of slavery, and despite the papers attack on the North's worship of the dollar, there can be no doubt that, as in the United Kingdom, all the benefits of monetary investment and trade that effected Jersey society was with the South; a matter conveniently overlooked by the new editor with the tirade against the dollar.

With the certainty expressed by this writer about the war's outcome there would have been few to disagree in the winter of 1862. It speaks a good deal for Harney's integrity and courage in refusing to compromise his support of the Northern cause that he too was by no means convinced of the inevitability of a Union victory. "All the Jersey papers now sing to the same tune:-'Let the American Republic be dismembered for the greater glory of England,'" he wrote to Charles Sumner, the senator from Massachusetts, shortly after his dismissal. "This I hold to be as stupid as it is brutally selfish, as the Future, should the South prevail, will prove."

Harney was against the prevailing culture, and like a prophet, was giving an unpopular message which the people of Jersey, especially those with wealth and influence, did not want to hear, and now had at last managed to silence. And yet history was to vindicate him; anyone reading his views on the Civil War would see that he was in the right, even though he was, at the time, a lone voice, crying in the wilderness.

After a life which had been a succession of struggles for lost causes, there was a peculiar perversity in the fact that he had now become a fatality in a winning cause.

Harney now faced a bleak prospect of employment in Jersey. He had happy years since 1855 when he had arrived in Jersey, tired and ill. He had married a Jersey woman, and enjoyed his home life. But the future in an Island where any employer would be hostile to him did not seem possible, and so he turned his mind to leave the Island:

Obviously, there was no comfort in this for Harney at the time. Since the winter day in 1855 when he had arrived in Jersey fatigued and unwanted, the years had been happy ones. Those years had also seen him grow into middle age, losing what connections remained with his old life. For an unemployed journalist approaching fifty the prospect was not bright. The alternative that remained was one against which some of his most acrid attacks had been levelled in the past--that "monstrous doctrine preached by non-producers to producers", emigration. After some doubts about whether to respond to the persuasion of friends to come to Australia, he decided to try America; and when his furnishings had been auctioned there remained but one event to keep him in the temporary haven of which he had become so fond.

Early in the year his friends had begun to collect a testimonial for Harney, and at a farewell dinner in April he was presented with a gold watch and fifty gold sovereigns--sovereigns which, he punned, he preferred to all those of Europe. Despite such efforts, the dinner was a pathetic affair, with the dead ring of the past already echoing in the eulogies of his efforts in England and Jersey. The most poignant speech of the evening was that of a Polish exile, Schmitt, who in a voice full of emotion presented "their dear friend Julian Harney" with an address signed by the Polish colony which reviewed his tireless efforts since the 'thirties on behalf of Poland. Above any Englishman, he had personified their struggle, Schmitt declared. There could have been little question in the minds of his listeners as to the justification of the claim by which Harney concluded his brief speech of thanks: "He had always been a democrat, he was one now, and he hoped he should remain one until the day of his death."

Forgotten except by a few in England, but remembered at any rate by the Poles and by the tallow-chandler and grocer at whose expense Engels had made merry, Harney sailed with his wife and son from Liverpool in May 1863. He was only forty-six, but his life as a public figure and moulder of opinion was over.

In Boston, he edited his final newspaper, the the abolitionist Commonwealth,  and as can be seen from his lively observations, he seems to have regained  his old happiness, as can be seen in his wry and pithy comments, both critical but affectionate:

"That portion of the earth's surface termed the United States is very largely a land of cranks. If anyone has a new quack medicine, a new quack government, or a new quack social system to introduce into the world, the States constitute 'his happy hunting ground', and of course, in such experiments, Boston is the 'hub of the universe.'"

After that he spent the remainder of his working life a clerk in the secretary's office at the Massachusetts State House, although he still wrote occasional articles for the "Newcastle Weekly Chronicle". But in 1888, he returned to England in retirement, and his wife nursed him when he fell ill; an illness that was to be his last. The last surviving member of the 1839 Chartist convention, he died on 9th December 1897 at Richmond, Surrey. He was buried in Richmond cemetery.

Shortly before his death Harney was interviewed for the paper "Social Democrat" by Edward Aveling, one of the founding members of the newly formed Independent Labour Party (established in 1893). Aveling wrote: "I see in this old man a link between the years and the years. I know that long after the rest of us are forgotten the name George Julian Harney will be remembered with thankfulness and tears".

Jersey Archive, M/44/A1  American Civil War Records
A. R. Schoyen The chartist challenge: a portrait of George Julian Harney, 1958,

1 comment:

Ian Evans said...

My day today Tony, but still I THOUGHT of you on my special day :)