One passage of a famous speech delivered by Canning in Plymouth has already became classic in our language. It has been quoted again and again, but it will bear quotation once more, if only to show the peculiar power and grace of Canning's eloquence. Canning had been declaring that the ultimate object of his Government and of himself was to maintain the peace of the world; but he utterly repudiated the idea that "we cultivate peace either because we fear or because we are unprepared for war. The resources created by peace are the means of war. In cherishing these resources we but accumulate those means. Our present repose is no more a proof of inability to act than the state of inertness and inactivity in which I have seen those mighty masses that float in the waters above your town is a proof that they are devoid of strength and incapable of being fitted for action. You well know how soon one of these stupendous masses now reposing on their shadows in perfect stillness, how soon upon any call of patriotism or of necessity it would assume the likeness of an animated thing, instinct with life and motion, how soon it would ruffle, as it were, its swelling plumage, how quickly it would put forth all its beauty and its bravery, collect its scattered elements of strength and awaken its dormant thunder. Such as is one of those magnificent machines when springing from inaction into a display of its might - such is England herself, while apparently passive and motionless she silently concentrates the power to be put forth on an adequate occasion".
The French invaded Spain, and soon entered Madrid. The Spanish Liberal party had few resources; and had, as was natural, many differences of opinion among themselves as to the extent to which resistance might be carried, and the direction which resistance might most effectually take. Some of the Spanish leaders were summarily hanged; the Spanish King, by proclamation, abolished the Constitution, and reduced, so far as a Royal declaration could do it, the whole nation into a system of serfdom to a despotic Government. Then the French Government, flushed with such a success, actually made it known that the next step was to be the conquest, on behalf of Spain, of the insurgent Colonies in South America.
Then came the moment for Canning to back up his former declaration; and he did so with an emphasis that could not be mistaken. "It could not," he declared, "be now permitted that France should carry the war across the Atlantic, and should reconquer for Spain and hand back to Spain those Colonies over which Spain had no longer any power of her own." "We will not," said Canning, "interfere with Spain in any attempt which she may make to reconquer for herself what were once her Colonies; but we will not permit any third Power to attack or reconquer them for her." The announcement of this declaration sent a chill to the hearts of all the Ministers of the French and Spanish Bourbons. To that policy Canning adhered, as every one might have known that he would; and the first step to make it a reality was taken when it was announced to Spain that British Consuls would be sent to the South American Colonies to protect the interests of British trade and traders there. The Consuls were appointed and despatched, and this was, in point of fact, the recognition by Great Britain of the independence of the South American Colonies. Defending his policy in the House of Commons, Canning made use of some words which are never likely to be forgotten on this or the other side of the Atlantic. Contemplating Spain, he said, "such as our ancestors had known her, I resolved that if France had Spain it should not be Spain with the Indies. I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the old".
This was exactly what Canning had done. The famous Monroe doctrine which has sometimes been criticised very flippantly and very ignorantly in this country, was, in fact, the inspiration of George Canning. When Canning said that he had called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old, he was speaking not merely of the South American Colonies; he had also in his mind the great Republic of the United States. Canning had represented to President Monroe that it would be of immense advantage to the purposes of England and to the peace of the world if the United States were to announce a policy which repudiated the right of any European State to set up a Monarchical Government in any part of America without the consent of the inhabitants who were to be subjected to that Government. President Monroe welcomed the idea, and proclaimed the doctrine that America could not look on with indifference when a foreign Sovereign endeavoured to set up a kingdom of his own on American soil without the consent of the population. So curiously misunderstood has been this Monroe doctrine that writers have often asked in this country why the United States do not attempt to apply the principle to British Canada, and why they did not apply it to the Empire of Brazil. One might have thought the explanation obvious. When the United States had accomplished their independence, they found the population of Canada forming a willing and loyal colony, as they long had been, under the British Crown. When the Brazilian Colonies were changed into an Empire, the United States saw that the change was made with the perfect consent of the Brazilian population. These cases had nothing to do with the Monroe doctrine. The United States never had the least idea of asserting any right to prevent independent countries in South America or Colonies in North, from setting up or continuing any form of Government which suited their feelings and their interests. When, much later on, Louis Napoleon, then Emperor of the French, went about to set up a sort of vassal empire in Mexico with a vassal Sovereign of his own nomination, the United States, then in the midst of their tremendous Civil War, warned him again and again that such a policy could not be tolerated; and when the Civil War was over made it known to him distinctly that he must withdraw the French troops from Mexico or take the consequences. He had no choice; he withdrew his troops from Mexico; the Mexican Empire instantly vanished; and the unhappy Maximilian, the weak, well-meaning instrument of Napoleon's ambitious scheme, lost his life in consequence. But no one can suppose that the Government of the United States would have employed forcible intervention if it had merely occurred to the minds of the Mexican people to convert their President into a so-called Emperor. Canning had fulfilled his words; he had called in the New World to redress the balance of the Old.