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Let Europe’s Peoples Go! : George Canning begged Britain not to help Europe’s Great Powers deny small states their right to independence.
Let Europe’s Peoples Go!

From a speech at the public dinner in honour of his re-election, in the music-hall, on Saturday March 18th, 1820, as given in ‘Speeches Delivered on Public Occasions in Liverpool’, by George Canning MP (1770-1827).

George Canning MP lived through upheavals across Europe, from the Napoleonic Wars to the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. He warmly supported emerging small independent states such as Greece, and sharply criticised the meddlesome ‘Concert of Europe’ (Austria, Prussia, Russia and Britain) for trying to hammer them back into larger ones.

GENTLEMEN, there is (disguise it how we may) a struggle going on, — in some countries an open, and in some a tacit struggle, between the principles of monarchy and democracy. God be praised, that in that struggle we have not any part to take. God be praised, that we have long ago arrived at all the blessings that are to be derived from that which alone can end such a struggle beneficially, — a compromise and intermixture of those conflicting principles.

England has only to maintain herself on the basis of her own solid and settled constitution, firm, unshaken, — a spectatress interested in the contest only by her sympathies — not a partisan on either side; for the sake of both, a model, and ultimately, perhaps, an umpire. Should we be led, by any false impulse of chivalrous benevolence, to participate in the struggle itself, we commit, and thereby impair, our authority; we abandon the position in which we might hereafter do most good, and may bring the danger of a foreign struggle home to our own hearths and to our own institutions.*

* George Canning served as Prime Minister for a few months prior to his death in 1827. He had been Chancellor of the Exchequer (1827) and Foreign Secretary twice (1807-1809, 1822-1827); at the time of this speech, he was President of the Board of Control (1816-1821), a trade and industry role, and MP for Liverpool. He strongly opposed the Jacobins, British enthusiasts of the French Revolution, and supported William Wilberforce in his campaign for the Abolition of Slavery.

From a speech at the public dinner in honour of his re-election, in the music-hall, on Saturday March 18th, 1820, as given in ‘Speeches Delivered on Public Occasions in Liverpool’, by George Canning MP (1770-1827).

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Picture: © Marcus Cyron, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0. View original
The statue of George Canning in Caningos Square, Athens. Canning was hailed by the Greeks as a great British Philhellene, together with George Gordon Byron. That the statue has been so defaced (see the original picture) says as much about Britain’s abject failure to live up to Canning’s example over recent years as it does about the Greeks.
By Richard Cobden

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