War Taxes on Agenda at Second General Peace Conference

On , a meeting of the Second General Peace Congress was held in Paris, presided over by Victor Hugo, at which a number of proposals were debated. One of them concerned war taxes and loans:

The President stated that the discussion would then begin on the fourth resolution, viz:— “The Congress condemns all loans and taxes intended for the prosecution of wars of ambition and conquest.” Richard Cobden Esq., M.P., then said:—

I have the honour to submit to your consideration a motion condemnatory of loans for warlike purposes. My object is to promote peace by withholding the sinews of war. I propose that this Congress shall make an appeal to the consciences of all those who have money to lend. I do not allude to a few bankers who appear before the world as loan contractors. In reality they are the agents only for collecting funds from smaller capitalists. It is from the savings and accumulations of the merchants, manufacturers, traders, agriculturists, and annuitants of civilized Europe, that warlike governments can alone supply their necessities, and to them we would appeal by every motive of self-interest and humanity, not to lend their support to a barbarous system which obstructs commerce, uproots industry, annihilates capital and labour, and revels amidst the tears and blood of their fellow-creatures. We will do more; we will in every possible way expose the character and objects, and exhibit to the world the true state of the resources of every government which endeavours to contract a loan for warlike purposes. The time is gone by when barbarous nations devoted to war could conquer civilized Europe, unless, indeed, the latter will be so very complacent as to lend the money necessary for its own subjugation. War has become an expensive luxury. It is no longer a question of bows and arrows, swords and shields. Battles are now decided by artillery, and every discharge of a cannon costs from twelve to fifteen francs; I wish with all my heart it were ten times as much. The consequence is, that when countries behind the rest of Europe in civilization enter upon hostilities, they are obliged immediately to draw upon the resources of more civilized states — in other words, to raise a loan; and how is the money thus borrowed from the savings of honest industry expended? What is war in our day? Has it learned any of the charities of peace? Let us see. I hold in my hand an extract from a proclamation issued at Pesth, dated , and signed “Haynau.” Praying forgiveness for your outraged feelings, I will read it:—

Any individual who shall, either by word or action, or by wearing any revolutionary signs or emblems, dare to support the cause of the rebels; any individual who shall insult one of my soldiers, or those of our brave allies, either by words or blows; any individual who shall enter into criminal relations with the enemies of the crown, or who shall seek to kindle the flame of rebellion by reports spread for a sinister purpose, or who shall be rash enough to conceal arms, or not deliver them up within the day fixed by my proclamation, shall be put to death without the shortest possible delay, and on the spot where the crime shall be committed, without distinction of condition or sex.

This was addressed to the inhabitants of Pesth; and a few weeks afterwards the same signature appeared to a proclamation addressed to the inhabitants of the countries of the Theiss, from which also I will read a short extract, and which I must declare to be the policy of the devil.

Take care not to incur my vengeance by revolutionary movements. Not being able in such a case to find out the guilty party, I shall be compelled to punish the whole district. If on the territory occupied by my army, or on the rear, any offence shall be committed against my soldiers, or if any of the convoys should be stopped, or a courier, or the transport of provisions prevented, an immediate punishment shall be inflicted on the guilty commune; it shall become the prey to flames, and shall be levelled to the ground, to serve as a frightful example to other communes.

I ask you, whilst your flesh creeps and your hair bristles with horror at these quotations, has war borrowed any of the charities of Christianity? Have modern warriors repudiated the practice of the barbarians of antiquity? For my part, I can see no difference between Attila and Haynau, between the Goth of the fifth and the Goth of the nineteenth century. But we address ourselves to those who, by their loans, really hire and pay men who commit these atrocities, and we say, “It is you who give strength to the arm which murders innocent women and helpless old age; it is you who supply the torch which reduces to ashes peaceful and inoffensive villages and on your souls will rest the burden of these crimes against humanity.” I shall be told that it is useless to make an appeal to the sensibilities of men who, with money lying unproductive at the bottom of their pockets, are thinking of nothing but five per cent. I will undertake to prove, though I shall not weary you with an opinion upon the subject, that peace will offer a far better field for the employment of the savings of agriculture than the field of battle, and that she will afford a much more profitable investment for the accumulations of industry than in partnership with Haynau and Co. This discussion will be raised again and again in various places. The Congress of Nations will make the tour of the civilized world. You, French men, French women, who have received with so much enthusiasm your English visitors, in whose name I thank you — who have known so well how to show the noble zeal in the cause of humanity which has prompted your American guests to cross the great Atlantic — who have welcomed the presence of Germans, Belgians, and Dutchmen, and the representatives of other nations in this hall — you have imparted to the Peace Congress a great moral power, which its members will endeavour to use for the benefit of humanity. We shall leave you with renewed hope and courage, confident that we have only to persevere resolutely, but legally, and always in a moral sense, and step by step we shall propagate the sublime idea which now reigns in this hall, till it embraces within its influence all the nations of the earth.

In the grand tradition of peace conferences, the following speakers preferred mostly to grandly go on at length about their lofty ideals, without really addressing the proposal under discussion. Joseph Sturge suggested removing the phrase “of ambition and conquest” from the end of the resolution, but I saw no indication that this suggestion was voted on. Émile de Girardin had the following to say:

War is made with money.… Let all of you who are here present, engage not to participate, under any form, in a loan contracted for the purpose of carrying on war. Make this engagement; do more, denounce to the indignation of the people those bankers who subscribe to such loans. Brand with infamy all loans and taxes for the support of war; whoever desires the end must employ the means. But, I am told, even if you refuse to make war, that is no reason why others should not make war against you. It is easy to convince you that this objection is futile. If credit does not furnish the munitions of war, there is no nation powerful enough to cause us the least disquietude. Do you require examples of this? You have them before your eyes. During the last thirty years, two revolutions have broken out in this country, two governments have been overthrown. But has war been kindled? No. Has ambition been suddenly extinguished amongst us? Has Europe forgotten all its old hatreds? Neither the one or the other. But a great step towards peace was made when a vast amount of credit was found necessary to enable us to begin and carry on a war. Credit, then, prevented war in the instances I have alleged. If money could have been found, trust me, a war would have broken out: but the money was not to be found. If in the whole of your programme there is one clause to which I more completely adhere than to any other, it is the one which is now under discussion: if people will only bind themselves to the performance of this resolution, I do not think war can again take place.…


The President: As the close of the discussion has been called for, I put the resolution upon loans in support of war to the vote.

The resolution was then unanimously adopted.

From Report of the Proceedings of the Second General Peace Congress London: Charles Gilpin, (pages 78–82).