William Morris



Friends and fellow-citizens:–
there is danger of war; bestir yourselves to face that danger. If you go to sleep, saying we do not understand it, and the danger is far away you may wake and find the evil fallen upon you, for even now it is at the door. Take heed in time and consider it well, for a hard matter it will be for most of us to bear war taxes, war prices, war losses of wealth and work, and friends and kindred; we shall pay heavily, and you, friends of the working classes, will pay the heaviest.

And what shall we buy at this heavy price? Will it be glory and wealth and peace for those that come after us?

Alas! no; for those are the gains of a just war; but, if we wage the unjust war that fools and cowards are bidding us wage to-day, our loss of work will buy us loss of hope, our loss of friends and kindred will buy us enemies from father to son.

"An unjust war!" I say: for do not be deceived; if we go to war with Russia now, it will not be to punish her for evil deeds done, or to hinder her from evil deeds hereafter, but to put down just insurrection against the thieves and murderers of Turkey; to stir up a faint pleasure in the hearts of the no-nothing fools that cry out without meaning for a "spirited foreign policy," to guard our well-beloved rule in India from the coward fear of an invasion that may happen a hundred years hence – or never; to exhibit our army and navy once more before the wondering Eyes of Europe; to give a little hope to our holders of Turkish bonds:– Working-men of England, which of these things do you think worth starving for, worth dying for? Do all of them rallied into one make that body of ENGLISH INTERESTS we have heard of lately?

And who are they who flaunt in our faces the banner inscribed on one side "ENGLISH INTERESTS," and on the other "RUSSIAN MISDEEDS?" Who are they that are leading us into war? Let us look at these saviours of England's honour, these champions of Poland, these scourgers of Russia's iniquities! Do you know them? Greedy gamblers on the Stock Exchange, idle officers of the army and navy (poor fellows!), worn-out mockers of the clubs, desperate purveyors of exciting war news for the comfortable breakfast tables of those who have nothing to lose by war; and lastly, in the place of honour, the Tory Rump, that we fools, weary of peace, reason, and justice, chose at the last election to represent us; and above all their captain, the ancient place-hunter, who, having at last climbed into an earl's chair, grins down thence into the anxious face of England, while his empty heart and shifty head is compassing the stroke that will bring on – our destruction perhaps, our confusion certainly. O shame and double shame if we march under such leadership as this in an UNJUST WAR against a people who are NOT our enemies, against Europe, against freedom, against nature, against the hope of the world.

Working men of England, one word of warning yet. I doubt if you know the bitterness of hatred against freedom and progress that lies at the hearts of a certain part of the richer classes in this country; their newspapers veil it in a kind of decent language, but if you were to hear them talking among themselves, as I have done, I know not whether scorn or anger would prevail in you at their folly and insolence. These men cannot speak of your order, of its aims, of its leaders, without a sneer or an insult. These men, if they had the power (may England perish rather!) would thwart your just aspirations, would silence you, would deliver you bound hand and foot for ever to irresponsible capital. And these men, I say it deliberately, are the heart and soul of the party that is driving us to an UNJUST WAR. They can harm us but little now; but if war comes, UNJUST WAR, with all its confusion and anger, who shall say what their power may be, what step backward we may make. Fellow-citizens, look to it, and if you have any wrongs to be redressed, if you long to lessen those inequalities whihc have been our stumbling block since the beginning of the world, then cast aside sloth, and cry out against an UNJUST WAR, and urge us of the Middle Classes to do no less, so that we may all protest solemnly and perseveringly against out being dragged (and who knows for why?) into an UNJUST WAR, in which, if we are victorious, we shall win shame, loss and rebuke, and if we are overpowered - what then?

Working-men of England, I do not believe that in the face of your strenuous opposition, the opposition of those men whom War most concerns, any English Government will be so mad as to wrap England and Europe in an UNJUST WAR.


Bibliographical Note


Unjust War: to the Working-men of England.


Burnley Gazette, Saturday 12 May 1877, p.7


The manifesto was orignally issued by Morris as a leaflet. According to the Northern Echo (p. 3, 11th May 1877), which printed a shortened version, it was "a placard which is being largely posted in London". The leaflet itself (almost identical to the version above) was reprinted as an appendix to Philip Henderson, The Letters of William Morris to his Family and Friends, Longmans 1950.

Transcription, HTML and notes

Graham Seaman, December 2020