SELECTED SPEECHES ON BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY 1738-1914
EDITED BY EDGAR R. JONES, M.P.
This volume of 'Selected Speeches on British Foreign Policy' was first published in 'The World's Classics' in 1914
A selection of speeches made for the purpose of illustrating the best rhetorical form of British Oratory has already been published in 'The World's Classics'. The governing principle of this volume is not rhetorical quality, but historical interest. Speeches have been selected from the earliest days of reporting downwards, dealing with such phases of foreign policy as are of exceptional interest at present. They have been chosen so as to cover a variety of international crises affecting various states.
In such a selection some very interesting speeches have had to be set aside, because they represented temporary or individual and sectional views rather than permanent national and official views, and in order to avoid disproportionate reference to the same situation or country.
It is to be hoped that the selection, such as it is, may, through the words of the statesmen of the past, help to prepare our minds for the sound and worthy consideration of the problems of European re-settlement which will arise at the termination of the War.
EDGAR R. JONES.
WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM (1708-78) The Convention with Spain (House of Lords, March 8, 1738) The Defence of Weaker States (House of Lords, January 22, 1770)
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN (1751-1816) The Partition of Poland (House of Commons, April 25, 1793) The Prussian Subsidy (House of Commons, February 5, 1795) Grant to the Emperor of Germany (House of Commons, February 17, 1800)
WILLIAM PITT (1769-1806) Overtures of Peace with France (House of Commons, February 3, 1800)
GEORGE CANNING (1770-1827) Negotiations Relative to Spain (House of Commons, April 30, 1823)
SIR ROBERT PEEL (1788-1850) Portugal—Don Miguel (House of Commons, June 1, 1828) Belgium (House of Commons, July 16, 1832) Russian Dutch Loan (House of Commons, July 20, 1832)
LORD JOHN RUSSELL, afterwards EARL RUSSELL (1792-1878) The Annexation of Cracow (House of Commons, March 4, 1847)
VISCOUNT PALMERSTON (1784-1865) The Polish Question (House of Commons, March 1, 1848)
HENRY, LORD BROUGHAM (1778-1868) Italian Affairs (House of Lords, July 20, 1849)
EARL RUSSELL, previously LORD JOHN RUSSELL (1792-1878) Denmark and Germany (House of Lords, June 27, 1864)
LORD STANLEY, afterwards EARL OF DERBY (1826-93) Austria and Prussia (House of Commons, July 20, 1866)
JOHN BRIGHT (1811-89) Principles of Foreign Policy (Birmingham, October 29, 1858)
WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE (1809-98) The Neutrality of Belgium (House of Commons, August 8 and 10, 1870) [By kind permission of Mr. H.N. Gladstone and Messrs. Wyman & Sons, Ltd.] Right Principles of Foreign Policy (West Calder, Midlothian, November 27, 1879) The Aggrandizement of Russia (West Calder, Midlothian, April 2, 1880) [By kind permission of Mr. H.N. Gladstone.]
BENJAMIN DISRAELI (1804-81) Denmark and Germany (House of Commons, July 4, 1864)
BENJAMIN DISRAELI, EARL OF BEACONSFIELD (1804-81) Treaty of Berlin (House of Lords, July 18, 1878) [By kind permission of Messrs. Longmans, Green & Co.]
SIR EDWARD GREY (1862- ) Negotiations (House of Commons, August 3, 1914) [By kind permission of Sir Edward Grey and Messrs. Wyman & Sons, Ltd.]
HERBERT HENRY ASQUITH (1852- ) Infamous Proposals (House of Commons, August 6, 1914) [By kind permission of Mr. Asquith and Messrs. Wyman & Sons, Ltd.]
DAVID LLOYD GEORGE (1863- ) International Honour (Queen's Hall, London, September 19, 1914) [By kind permission of Mr. Lloyd George and Messrs. Methuen & Co., Ltd.]
WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM
MARCH 8, 1738
THE CONVENTION WITH SPAIN
You have been moved to vote an humble address of thanks to His Majesty, for a measure which (I will appeal to gentlemen's conversation in the world) is odious throughout the kingdom. Such thanks are only due to the fatal influence that framed it, as are due for that low, unallied condition abroad, which is now made a plea for this convention. To what are gentlemen reduced in support of it? First, try a little to defend it upon its own merits; if that is not tenable, throw out general terrors—the House of Bourbon is united—who knows the consequence of a war? Sir, Spain knows the consequence of a war in America; whoever gains, it must prove fatal to her; she knows it, and must therefore avoid it; but she knows England does not dare to make it; and what is a delay, which is all this magnified convention is sometimes called, to produce? Can it produce such conjunctures as those you lost, while you were giving kingdoms to Spain, and all to bring her back again to that great branch of the House of Bourbon which is now thrown out to you with so much terror? If this union be formidable, are we to delay only till it becomes more formidable, by being carried farther into execution, and more strongly cemented? But be it what it will, is this any longer a nation, or what is an English Parliament, if, with more ships in your harbours than in all the navies of Europe, with above two millions of people in your American colonies, you will bear to hear of the expediency of receiving from Spain an insecure, unsatisfactory, dishonourable convention? Sir, I call it no more than it has been proved in this debate; it carries fallacy, or downright subjection, in almost every line. It has been laid open and exposed in so many strong and glaring lights, that I can pretend to add nothing to the conviction and indignation it has raised.
Sir, as to the great national objection—the searching your ships—that favourite word, as it was called, is not omitted, indeed, in the preamble to the convention, but it stands there as the reproach, of the whole—as the strongest evidence of the fatal submission that follows. On the part of Spain, an usurpation, an inhuman tyranny, claimed and exercised over the American seas; on the part of England, an undoubted right, by treaties, and from God and nature, declared and asserted in the resolutions of Parliament, are referred to the discussion of plenipotentiaries, upon one and the same equal foot. Sir, I say this undoubted right is to be discussed and to be regulated. And if to regulate be to prescribe rules (as in all construction it is), this right is, by the express words of this convention, to be given up and sacrificed; for it must cease to be anything from the moment it is submitted to limits.
The Court of Spain has plainly told you (as appears by papers upon the table) you shall steer a due course; you shall navigate by a line to and from your plantations in America; if you draw near to her coasts (though from the circumstances of that navigation you are under an unavoidable necessity of doing it) you shall be seized and confiscated. If, then, upon these terms only she has consented to refer, what becomes at once of all the security we are flattered with in consequence of this reference? Plenipotentiaries are to regulate finally the respective pretensions of the two crowns with regard to trade and navigation in America; but does a man in Spain reason that these pretensions must be regulated to the satisfaction and honour of England? No, Sir, they conclude, and with reason, from the high spirit of their administration, from the superiority with which they have so long treated you, that this reference must end, as it has begun, to their honour and advantage.
But gentlemen say, the treaties subsisting are to be the measure of this regulation. Sir, as to treaties, I will take part of the words of Sir William Temple, quoted by the honourable gentleman near me; 'It is vain to negotiate and make treaties, if there is not dignity and vigour to enforce the observance of them'; for under the misconstruction and misrepresentation of these very treaties subsisting, this intolerable grievance has arisen; it has been growing upon you, treaty after treaty, through twenty years of negotiation, and even under the discussion of commissaries, to whom it was referred. You have heard from Captain Vaughan, at your bar, at what time these injuries and indignities were continued. As a kind of explanatory comment upon the convention Spain has thought fit to grant you, as another insolent protest, under the validity and force of which she has suffered this convention to be proceeded upon, 'We'll treat with you, but we'll search and take your ships; we'll sign a convention, but we'll keep your subjects prisoners, prisoners in Old Spain; the West Indies are remote; Europe shall be witness how we use you.'
Sir, as to the inference of an admission of our right not to be searched, drawn from a reparation made for ships unduly seized and confiscated, I think that argument is very inconclusive. The right claimed by Spain to search our ships is one thing, and the excesses admitted to have been committed in consequence of this pretended right, is another; but surely, Sir, reasoning from inferences and implication only, is below the dignity of your proceedings, upon a right of this vast importance. What this reparation is, what sort of composition for your losses, forced upon you by Spain, in an instance that has come to light, where your own commissaries could not in conscience decide against your claim, has fully appeared upon examination; and, as for the payment of the sum stipulated (all but seven and twenty thousand pounds, and that, too, subject to a drawback), it is evidently a fallacious nominal payment only. I will not attempt to enter into the detail of a dark, confused, and scarcely intelligible account; I will only beg leave to conclude with one word upon it, in the light of a submission, as well as of an adequate reparation. Spain stipulates to pay to the Crown of England ninety-five thousand pounds; by a preliminary protest of the King of Spain, the South Sea Company is at once to pay sixty-eight thousand of it: if they refuse, Spain, I admit, is still to pay the ninety-five thousand pounds—but how does it stand then? The Assiento contract is to be suspended; you are to purchase this sum at the price of an exclusive trade, pursuant to a national treaty, and of an immense debt of God knows how many hundred thousand pounds due from Spain to the South Sea Company. Here, Sir, is the submission of Spain, by the payment of a stipulated sum; a tax laid upon subjects of England, under the severest penalties, with the reciprocal accord of an English minister, as a preliminary that the convention may be signed; a condition imposed by Spain in the most absolute, imperious manner, and received by the Ministers of England in the most tame and abject. Can any verbal distinctions, any evasions whatever, possibly explain away this public infamy? To whom would we disguise it? To ourselves and to the nation. I wish we could hide it from the eyes of every court in Europe. They see Spain has talked to you like your master; they see this arbitrary fundamental condition, and it must stand with distinction, with a pre-eminence of shame, as a part even of this convention.
This convention, Sir, I think from my soul, is nothing but a stipulation for national ignominy; an illusory expedient, to baffle the resentment of the nation; a truce without the suspension of hostilities on the part of Spain; on the part of England a suspension, as to Georgia, of the first law of nature, self-preservation and self-defence—surrender of the rights and trade of England to the mercy of plenipotentiaries, and in this infinitely highest and sacred point, future security, not only inadequate, but directly repugnant to the resolutions of Parliament, and the gracious promise from the Throne. The complaints of your despairing merchants, the voice of England, has condemned it. Be the guilt of it upon the head of the adviser. God forbid that this committee should share the guilt by approving it!
[Footnote 1: The House of Commons, in a grand committee, in 1737, had heard counsel for the merchants, and received evidence at the bar, on the subject of the Spanish depredations.]
WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM JANUARY 22, 1770 THE DEFENCE OF WEAKER STATES
My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble duke, that nothing less than an immediate attack upon the honour or interest of this nation can authorize us to interpose in defence of weaker states, and in stopping the enterprises of an ambitious neighbour. Whenever that narrow, selfish policy has prevailed in our councils, we have constantly experienced the fatal effects of it. By suffering our natural enemies to oppress the Powers less able than we are to make a resistance, we have permitted them to increase their strength; we have lost the most favourable opportunities of opposing them with success; and found ourselves at last obliged to run every hazard, in making that cause our own, in which we were not wise enough to take part while the expense and danger might have been supported by others. With respect to Corsica I shall only say, that France has obtained a more useful and important acquisition in one pacific campaign, than in any of her belligerent campaigns; at least while I had the honour of administering the war against her. The word may, perhaps, be thought singular: I mean only while I was the minister chiefly entrusted with the conduct of the war. I remember, my Lords, the time when Lorraine was united to the Crown of France; that too was, in some measure, a pacific conquest; and there were, people who talked of it as the noble duke now speaks of Corsica, France was permitted to take and keep possession of a noble province; and, according to his Grace's ideas, we did right in not opposing it. The effect of these acquisitions is, I confess, not immediate; but they unite with the main body by degrees, and, in time, make a part of the national strength. I fear, my Lords, it is too much the temper of this country to be insensible of the approach of danger, until it comes with accumulated terror upon us.
My Lords, the condition of His Majesty's affairs in Ireland, and the state of that kingdom within itself, will undoubtedly make a very material part of your Lordships' inquiry. I am not sufficiently informed to enter into the subject so fully as I could wish; but by what appears to the public, and from my own observation, I confess I cannot give the Ministry much credit for the spirit or prudence of their conduct. I see that, even where their measures are well chosen, they are incapable of carrying them through without some unhappy mixture of weakness or imprudence. They are incapable of doing entirely right. My Lords, I do, from my conscience, and from the best weighed principles of my understanding, applaud the augmentation of the army. As a military plan, I believe it has been judiciously arranged. In a political view, I am convinced it was for the welfare, for the safety, of the whole empire. But, my Lords, with all these advantages, with all these recommendations, if I had the honour of advising His Majesty, I would never have consented to his accepting the augmentation with that absurd, dishonourable condition which the Ministry have submitted to annex to it. My Lords, I revere the just prerogative of the Crown, and would contend for it as warmly as for the rights of the people. They are linked together, and naturally support each other. I would not touch a feather of the prerogative. The expression, perhaps, is too light; but, since I have made use of it, let me add, that the entire command and power of directing the local disposition of the army is the royal prerogative, as the master-feather in the eagle's wing; and if I were permitted to carry the allusion a little farther, I would say, they have disarmed the imperial bird, the 'Ministrum fulminis alitem'. The army is the thunder of the Crown. The Ministry have tied up the hand which should direct the bolt.
My Lords, I remember that Minorca was lost for want of four battalions. They could not be spared from hence; and there was a delicacy about taking them from Ireland. I was one of those who promoted an inquiry into that matter in the other House; and I was convinced that we had not regular troops sufficient for the necessary service of the nation. Since the moment the plan of augmentation was first talked of, I have constantly and warmly supported it among my friends: I have recommended it to several members of the Irish House of Commons, and exhorted them to support it with their utmost interest in Parliament. I did not foresee, nor could I conceive it possible, the Ministry would accept of it, with a condition that makes the plan itself ineffectual, and, as far as it operates, defeats every useful purpose of maintaining a standing military force. His Majesty is now so confined, by his promise, that he must leave twelve thousand men locked up in Ireland, let the situation of his affairs abroad, or the approach of danger to this country, be ever so alarming, unless there be an actual rebellion, or invasion, in Great Britain. Even in the two cases excepted by the King's promise, the mischief must have already begun to operate, must have already taken effect, before His Majesty can be authorized to send for the assistance of his Irish army. He has not left himself the power of taking any preventive measures, let his intelligence be ever so certain, let his apprehensions of invasion or rebellion be ever so well founded; unless the traitor be actually in arms—unless the enemy be in the heart of your country, he cannot move a single man from Ireland.
[Footnote 1: Louis XV, in consequence, as was pretended, of the Jesuits being allowed to take refuge in Corsica in 1767, purchased the island from the Genoese, and after two years' contest, succeeded in subduing it. The French minister, Choiseul, induced the British Government to render no opposition.]
[Footnote 2: In the year 1735, by an arrangement between the Emperor of Austria and the French.]
[Footnote 3: The Duke of Grafton.]
[Footnote 4: King George III had, by a message through the Lord-Lieutenant, recommended the Irish House of Commons to augment the Irish army, and assured them expressly that on the augmentation being made, not less than 12,000 men should at all times, 'except in cases of invasion or rebellion in Great Britain,' be stationed in Ireland.]
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
APRIL 25, 1793 THE PARTITION OF POLAND
The people of England ought to know what were the views of the Minister upon this war, and to what extent it was to be carried, that they might not be proceeding under a delusion. Supposing we had gained our original purpose, he wanted to know how peace was to be obtained, without negotiation with those who have the exercise of government. If we countenanced the memorial of Lord Auckland, we should say, that the whole National Convention—all the members of the districts—in short, about eight or nine millions of people, must be put to death, before we can negotiate for peace. Supposing that we were to join the conspiracy to dictate a form of government to France, he then should wish to know what sort of government it was that we were to insist on. Were we to take the form of it from that exercised by the Emperor, or that of the King of Prussia? or was it to be formed by the lady who so mildly conducted the affairs of Russia? or were they all to lay their heads together, and by the assistance of the Pope, dictate a form of government to France? Were the French to have a constitution, such as the right honourable gentleman (Mr. Burke) was likely to applaud? Indeed, he feared that this was not yet settled; and there were various specimens of what had been already thought of by different Powers. There were two manifestoes of the Prince of Coburg; the one promised the form of government chosen by themselves, in which they agreed to have a monarchy, and afterwards, in the course of four days, this promise was retracted in consequence of the accession of Dumourier to the confederacy. What would the right honourable gentleman (Mr. Burke) say if they should not give the French the form of the constitution of Poland, or would he content himself with saying, they ought not to have such a constitution? He believed that neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor any of his supporters, would say anything at present upon that subject. It appeared, however, somewhat mysterious, perhaps, that after the Congress at Antwerp, in which Great Britain was not unrepresented, that the intention of the combined Powers had altered, and that a much more sanguinary mode was to be pursued against France than had been before intended; and perhaps the time might come when the parties might follow the example set by the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, and affirm that these were threats which were not intended to be carried into execution. But this was not the way to amuse us. The people of England would not long be content to remain in the dark as to the object of the war. Again he must ask, what was the object of the war? Again he must ask, what was the object of our pursuit in conjunction with the other Powers against France? Was it to restore the ancient tyranny and despotism of that nation? This would please some people, he knew, particularly emigrants; but nothing would be so hateful to the people of this country, or any other where there existed the least love of freedom, nor could anything be more destructive to the tranquillity and happiness of Europe. Were we to join Dumourier in a declaration not to rest until we had put to death those detestable regicides, calling themselves philosophers, and all the miscreants who had destroyed all lawful authority in France? If we were, he would venture to say, this would be a war for a purpose entirely new in the history of mankind; and as it was called a war of vengeance, he must say, that we arrogated to ourselves a right which belonged to the Divinity, to whom alone vengeance ought to be left. If the Minister said that on our part there was no intention to interfere in the internal government of France, he must then ask what were the views of the other Powers, with whom we now acted in concert against France. Was it to make a partition of France, as they did of Poland? Or should he be told, that as far as regarded the affairs of France under the present Power, he was talking of none who ought to be mentioned as a people; that the sans culottes were too contemptible a race to be mentioned; he would say, he meant to ask what was to become of the whole nation of France? If he was told that it was impossible for the crowned heads, acting in concert upon this great occasion, to have any but just and honourable views, he would answer that the subject was of too much magnitude to be allowed to pass in such a manner; and in his suspicions he was justified by the example, and fortified by the observation of an honourable gentleman (Mr. Jenkinson) with respect to the father of the present Emperor, that no man ought to take his word for one hour. No material alteration, he believed, had taken place in the views of that Court since the death of that prince, nor of others in the present confederacy. Were we to forget that the King of Prussia encouraged the Brabanters to revolt, and then left them to their fate? Were we to forget the recent conduct with respect to Poland? Were we to forget the taking of Dantzic and Thorn? Indeed he thought that those who every day told us, in pompous language, of the necessity there was for kings, and of the service they did to the cause of humanity, they should at least have spared the public the pain of thinking of these subjects, by not entering into the views of that unnatural confederacy. Indeed it was impossible for him to dismiss the consideration of Poland, without adverting to an eloquent passage in the work of a right honourable gentleman, who was an enthusiastic admirer of the late revolution there. Here Mr. Sheridan quoted the following passage of Mr. Burke's Appeal from the Old to the New Whigs:
The state of Poland was such, that there could scarcely exist two opinions, but that a reformation of its constitution, even at some expense of blood, might be seen without much disapprobation. No confusion could be feared in such an enterprise; because the establishment to be reformed was itself a state of confusion. A King without authority, nobles without union or subordination, a people without arts, industry, commerce, or liberty; no order within, no defence without; no effective public force, but a foreign force, which entered a naked country at will, and disposed of everything at pleasure. Here was a state of things which seemed to invite, and might, perhaps, justify bold enterprise and desperate experiment. But in what manner was this chaos brought into order? The means were as striking to the imagination, as satisfactory to the reason, and soothing to the moral sentiments. In contemplating that change, humanity has everything to rejoice and to glory in, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to suffer. So far as it has gone, it probably is the most pure and defecated public good which ever has been conferred on mankind. We have seen anarchy and servitude at once removed, a throne strengthened for the protection of the people, without trenching on their liberties, all foreign cabal banished, by changing the crown from elective to hereditary; and what was a matter of pleasing wonder, we have seen a reigning King, from an heroic love to his country, exerting himself with all the toil, the dexterity, the management, the intrigue, in favour of a family of strangers, with which ambitious men labour for the aggrandizement of their own. Ten millions of men in a way of being freed gradually, and therefore safely to themselves and the State, not from civil or political chains, which, bad as they are, only fetter the mind, but from substantial personal bondage. Inhabitants of cities, before without privileges, placed in the consideration which belongs to that improved and connecting situation of social life. One of the most proud, numerous, and fierce bodies of nobility and gentry ever known in the world, arranged only in the foremost rank of free and generous citizens. Not one man incurred loss, or suffered degradation. All, from the King to the day-labourer, were improved in their condition. Everything was kept in its place and order, but in that place and order everything was bettered. To add to this happy wonder (this unheard-of conjunction of wisdom and fortune) not one drop of blood was spilled; no treachery; no outrage; no system of slander more cruel than the sword; no studied insults on religion, morals, or manners; no spoil; no confiscation; no citizen beggared; none imprisoned; none exiled: the whole was effected with a policy, a discretion, an unanimity and secrecy, such as have never been before known on any occasion; but such wonderful conduct was reserved for this glorious conspiracy in favour of the true and genuine rights and interests of men. Happy people, if they know how to proceed as they have begun! Happy prince, worthy to begin with splendour, or to close with glory, a race of patriots and of kings: and to leave
A name, which ev'ry wind to heav'n would bear, Which men to speak, and angels joy to hear. To finish all. This great good, as in the instant it is, contains in it the seeds of all further improvement, and may be considered as in a regular progress, because founded on similar principles, towards the stable excellence of a British constitution.
Here was a matter for congratulation and for festive remembrance through ages. Here moralists and divines might indeed relax in their temperance, to exhilarate their humanity.
Such, Mr. Sheridan said, was the description which the right honourable gentleman gave to that revolution. Was it to be supposed that he would afterwards say, that this ought to have been trampled upon and destroyed, or should suffer such an event to happen, and never utter a word upon the subject? He did not think that monarchs of the present day had fulfilled the promises that some persons had made, and which had been expected from them, so that their names might be handed down to posterity as a glorious example of integrity and justice. With respect to the future views of the different Powers, they might best be conjectured by what had already happened. The Empress of Russia, upon the sincerity of whose motives, and integrity of whose actions, there could be no doubt, previous to the attack on Poland, among other things in her manifesto, said by her Minister:
From these considerations, Her Imperial Majesty, my most gracious mistress, as well to indemnify herself for her many losses, as for the future safety of her Empire and the Polish dominions, and for the cutting off at once, for ever, all future disturbances and frequent changes of government, has been pleased now to take under her sway, and to unite for ever to her Empire, the following tracts of land, with all their inhabitants.
This was the language for which the confederates were to justify perhaps the future taking under their sway, and uniting for ever to their Empire, part of the dominions of France. We had heard much of the abominable system of affiliation adopted by the French; but this was a Russian impartial affiliation, and no doubt the confederate Powers approved of it. In like manner will they affiliate all France, if they can. So will they England, when they have it in their power; and he was sorry to say, that if we joined in that infamous confederacy, and the people agreed to it, England would deserve to be so treated. The Empress then proceeded to state what she expected for the favour she had conferred:
Her Imperial Majesty expects from the gratitude of her new subjects, that they, being placed by her bounty on an equality with Russians, shall, in return, transfer their love of their former country to the new one, and live in future attached to so great and generous an Empress.
On an equality with Russians! This was a glorious equality,—liable to be sent to Siberia with other Russian slaves. For this mighty favour they were to transfer, as naturally might be expected, the whole love they had for their native country, to Russia, their new and happy land; for the same Minister of this equitable and generous Empress proceeded to say:
I, therefore, inform every person, from the highest to the lowest, that within one month, they must take the oath of allegiance before the witnesses whom I shall appoint; and if any gentlemen, or other ranks possessing real or immovable property, regardless of their own interest, should refuse to take the oath prescribed, three months are allowed for the sale of their immovables, and their free departure over the borders, after the expiration of which term, all their remaining property shall be confiscated to the Crown.
Really after such specimens, one would have supposed, but for the well-known character of the council of these confederate Powers, they were actuated under the influence of madness, or they would not thus think of insulting the feelings of human nature. But this was not enough: an oath, it seemed, must be taken, for:
The clergy, both high and low, as pastors of their flocks, are expected to set the example in taking the oath; and in the daily service in their churches, they must pray for Her Imperial Majesty, for her successor, Great Duke Paul Petrovitz, and for all the Imperial Family, according to the formula which shall be given them.
Here again there was evidence of a great and good mind, for this pious Empress was determined that perjury should be very general in her dominions, and that the example should be set by the clergy! Mr. Sheridan then proceeded to take notice of the great and good King of Prussia with respect to Dantzic, as specified in what he called his reason for taking possession of part of Poland with his military forces.
It would certainly militate against the first rules of a sound policy, as well as the duties incumbent on us for the preservation of tranquillity in our State, if in such a state of things in a neighbouring great kingdom, we remained inactive spectators, and should wait for the period when the faction feel themselves strong enough to appear in public; by which our own neighbouring provinces would be exposed to several dangers, by the consequences of the anarchy on our frontiers.
We have, therefore, in conjunction with Her Majesty the Empress of Russia, and with the assent of His Majesty the Roman Emperor, acknowledged that the safety of our States did require, to set to the Republic of Poland such boundaries which are more compatible with her interior strength and situation; and to facilitate her the means of procuring without prejudice of her liberty, a well-ordained and active form of government, of maintaining herself in the undisturbed enjoyment of the same, and preventing, by these means, the disturbances which have so often shaken her own tranquillity, and endangered the safety of her neighbours.
In order to attain this end, and to preserve the Republic of Poland from the dreadful consequences which must be the result of her internal division, and to rescue her from her utter ruin, but chiefly to withdraw her inhabitants from the horrors of the destructive doctrine which they are but too prone to follow, there is, according to our thorough persuasion, to which also Her Majesty the Empress of all the Russias accedes in the most perfect congruity with our intentions and principles, no other means, except to incorporate her frontier provinces into our States, and for this purpose immediately to take possession of the same, and to prevent, in time, all misfortunes which might arise from the continuance of the reciprocal disturbances.
Wherefore, we have resolved, with the assent of Her Russian Majesty, to take possession of the above-mentioned districts of Poland, and also of the cities of Dantzic and Thorn, to the end of incorporating them to our State.
We herewith publicly announce our firm and unshaken resolution, and expect that the Polish nation will very soon assemble in the Diet, and adopt the necessary measures, to the end of settling things in an amicable manner, and of obtaining the salutary result of securing to the republic of Poland an undisturbed peace, and preserving her inhabitants from the terrible consequences of anarchy. At the time we exhort the states and inhabitants of the districts and towns which we have taken possession of, as already mentioned, both in a gracious and serious manner, not to oppose our commanders and troops, ordered for that purpose, but rather tractably to submit to our government, and acknowledge us from this day forward, as their lawful King and Sovereign, to behave like loyal and obedient subjects, and to renounce all connexion with the Crown of Poland.
Now, after this, Mr. Sheridan said, he wished to know whether any robbery that had been committed by the most desperate of the French, or whether any of their acts, were more infamous than this? Of what consequence was it to any man, whether he was plundered by a man with a white feather in his hat, or by one with a nightcap on his head? If there could be any difference, the solemnity with which the thing was done was an aggravation of the insult. The poorer sort of the French could plead distress, and could also say that they had endured the hardships, the toils, and the perils of a winter campaign. But here was nothing but a naked robbery, without any part taken in the calamity which gave birth to it. He had alluded to these things merely for the purpose of giving the Minister an opportunity of disapproving of them: he hoped he should not hear the principle avowed. Crowned heads, he thought, were at present led by some fatal infatuation to degrade themselves and injure mankind. But some, it seems, regard any atrocity in monarchs as if it had lost its nature by not being committed by low and vulgar agents. A head with a crown, and a head with a nightcap, totally altered the moral quality of actions—robbery was no longer robbery—and death, inflicted by a hand wielding a pike, or swaying a sceptre, was branded as murder, or regarded as innocent. This was a fatal principle to mankind, and monstrous in the extreme. He had lamented early the change of political sentiments in this country which indisposed Englishmen to the cause of liberty. The worst part of the revolution in France is, that they have disgraced the cause they pretended to support. However, none, he was persuaded, would deny that it was highly expedient to know the extent of our alliance with Powers who had acted so recently in the manner he had represented, and to have the object of our pursuit in this war distinctly known. The Minister may perhaps in future come down to the House, and say he is sorry, but it has become highly necessary to interfere with the power of Britain farther, as the crowned ladies and gentlemen of Europe cannot agree about the partition of France, or that such a disposition is about to take place, that we shall be worse off than if we had let France remain as it was. Those who feared the attachment of men to French principles, argued wrong. From the effect of the experiment they would never be popular: nothing but crimes and misery swelled all the accounts from that country. If the peasant had been represented happy and contented, dancing in his vineyard, surrounded with a prosperous and innocent family, if such accounts had come, the tidings would have been gladly received. At present we hear of nothing but want and carnage—very unattracting indeed. More danger, he thought, arose from a blind attachment to power, which gains security from the many evils abounding in France. On the same principle that Prussia divided Poland, he contended, they might act here. They declared a prevalence of French principles existed in Poland: His Majesty's proclamation asserts the same here, and is therefore, in this sense, an invitation to come and take care of us. Could such despots love the free constitution of this country? On the contrary, he was persuaded that, upon the very same principle that Poland was divided, and Dantzic and Thorn subjugated, England itself might be made an object for the same fate as soon as it became convenient to the confederates to make the experiment. He would defy any man to show the principle upon which a difference could exist with regard to us and the other sacrificed countries, in the wishes and the desires of the combined Powers. But supposing this to be out of all question, and that this country had nothing to dread in that respect, and that all Europe had nothing to look to but the extermination of French principles, how would the present prospect of our success then appear? Could we entertain so vain a hope (indeed he was astonished to hear it even hinted) that the French, who had all the winter been lying in the snow at some periods, and wading up to their necks in water at others, in an enemy's country, fighting for their rights, will, in their own, submit to give them up in a mild season? The thought was too absurd, and the expectation too extravagant, to be harboured by a man possessed of a spark of rationality.
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
FEBRUARY 5, 1795
THE PRUSSIAN SUBSIDY
Mr. Sheridan said, that upon a former occasion he and another honourable gentleman had endeavoured to get some information of the services performed by the King of Prussia during the last campaign, in consequence of his engagements with this country. Some returns had lately been laid on the table on that subject, but these contained no information. It appeared that the King of Prussia had received from this country the enormous sum of twelve hundred thousand pounds, without having rendered it even the smallest service. He thought it therefore necessary, previous to the discussion of the imperial loan, to come to some resolution with respect to this conduct on the part of His Prussian Majesty. It was certainly no argument against granting a loan to the Emperor, that the King of Prussia had violated his faith. But this circumstance ought certainly to enforce on the House the necessity of caution, and induce them to take some step in the present instance that might operate as a warning, with respect to future transactions of the same sort. His Majesty had stated in his message that he had received from the Emperor the strongest assurances of a disposition to make the greatest exertions, provided he should be assisted by a loan of four millions from this country. He understood, if he could rely upon the credit of public statements, that in another country the Parliament had been told of the absolute determination of His Majesty to guarantee this loan. This was a language which he considered as very unbecoming, when addressed to the representatives of the nation, and as highly improper in Ministers, who were of course responsible for whatever proceeded from the Throne. Before such a determination had been expressed, he should have wished to have had something also like a positive determination from His Imperial Majesty to make the exertions which were to be the conditions of the loan. He should more particularly have wished for such a declaration from the Imperial Court, which had, at all times, been proverbially distinguished by ill-faith. He recollected on this subject a strong expression of a right honourable gentleman (we suppose Mr. Windham), who said, that since the capture of Richard I, the conduct of the Court of Vienna had been marked by an uniform series of treachery towards this country. To guard against this treachery, he thought that nothing would be better than for the House of Commons to show themselves alive to their duty on the present occasion. There were some men who, though insensible to the calls of honour, were yet not callous to the sense of shame. Some men of that description might be found among the ministers of Austria. It might, therefore, be of importance, by way of warning to them, to come to some resolution, expressive of indignation and contempt, with respect to the violation of faith on the part of His Prussian Majesty. Mr. Sheridan here referred to that article of the treaty in which it was stipulated that sixty thousand Prussians should co-operate with the British troops, and that a commissioner should be appointed for the purpose of watching over the observance of this article. From the scraps of letters laid upon the table, it appeared that no commissioner had been appointed for this purpose. This, he contended, would not have been the case, except Ministers had been aware that the King of Prussia, from the very first, was indisposed to perform his duty. He referred also to the memorial of the Emperor, which stated that the effective co-operation of the Prussians might have been the means of saving Brabant, and, in consequence, of preserving Holland. Such were the effects stated by His Imperial Majesty to have resulted from the breach of faith in His Prussian Majesty. In his answer to this memorial, addressed to the circles of the Empire, that monarch shows a degree of apprehension, that he should have even been supposed to have had the smallest disposition to keep faith towards this country after he had once received its money. He should therefore conclude with moving this resolution—'That it appears to this House, that the King of Prussia received from the treasury of Great Britain the sum of L1,200,000 in consequence of the stipulations of the treaty concluded at the Hague, on the 10th of April, 1794; and that it does not appear to this House, that the King of Prussia performed the stipulation of that treaty.'
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
FEBRUARY 17, 1800
GRANT TO THE EMPEROR OF GERMANY
The honourable gentleman [Mr. Wilberforce] who has just sat down, and said he rose only to save himself from misinterpretation, has declared that he has no objection to peace. Now I should expect a warmer declaration from that honourable gentleman, when I recollect his conduct on a former occasion. I recollect a time when he came to rebuke the violence of the Minister. [Mr. Sheridan read a motion, made by Mr. Wilberforce, for an address to His Majesty, praying that the Government of France might not be made an obstacle to peace, when an opportunity should arrive.] Now, as the honourable gentleman is anxious to escape from the charge of inconsistency, I should expect he would state the reason for this difference in his conduct now. Then the Government was a provisional government; a government from its nature not intended to stand; a government of furious Jacobins; and yet the honourable gentleman implored to supplicate His Majesty that it might not be suffered to stand in the way of peace; but now, when it is of a less objectionable description, he justifies his friend from an arrogant, violent, inconsiderate, and I hope he will not find an unfortunate note, refusing to accept peace from such a government. An honourable gentleman who has spoken in the debate put a very just question, whether the country will endure to be governed by words, and not by facts? I admit it right that it should not be so governed, but I unfortunately have the authority of the present Government that it is. The honourable gentleman spoke with great eloquence, I may say irritation; but never did I see eloquence so misapplied. He has shown his dexterity in driving the subject from its proper basis; he guides, urges, and inflames the passions of his hearers on Jacobinical principles, but he does not show how they bear on the present question. He has not dared to say, that so far as respects the restoration of the House of Bourbon, we have suffered by the defection of Russia. What that Power may still do with regard to La Vendee, or reconciling the people of Ireland to the Union, I do not inquire; but with regard to the great object, the restoration of monarchy in France, we are minus the Emperor of Russia: that Power may be considered as extinct. Is it, then, to be endured, that the Minister shall come down and ask for a subsidy under such circumstances? Is it to be endured, that we shall be told we are at war for the restoration of monarchy in France, that Russia is pledged to the accomplishment of that purpose, that Russia is the rock on which we stand, that the magnanimous Emperor of Russia, the gallantry of whose troops, and the skill of whose great generals, place them above all the troops and generals in Europe, is all we have to rest on? Is it to be endured, I say, that this rock should prove as brittle as sand, and that those who held this language should come down in a week after, and say, give us two millions and a half to subsidize Germany, and then we shall have a better army than we had with Russia? After such unqualified praise upon Russia, and after her defection, is not such language, I ask, inconsistent, absurd, and preposterous? If Germany possessed these wonderful forces before, why were they not called into action; and if not, why are we to subsidize the posse comitatus, the rabble of Germany? But who is the person that applies for this subsidy? As to the Elector of Bavaria, I leave him out of the question. It is the Emperor of Germany. Is there anything in his conduct and character to incline us to listen to him? I think not, and for these two reasons. First, he applied once on a false pretence, and secondly, he failed in performing his stipulated engagement. What was his false pretence? He said he could not open the campaign without the pecuniary assistance of this country; and yet he did do so, and displayed more vigour, energy, and resources than ever. Now, if to this we add experience, and the evidence of facts, when he dared, though bound to this country, to break faith with her, and make a separate peace, does it not furnish a reasonable cause for declining to grant a subsidy to such a Power? The honourable gentleman is offended at our connecting the situation of the country, and the present scarcity, with the question of war. I do not know to what extent this principle is to be carried. I see no more objection to state the pressure in this particular from the continuance of the war, than there would be to advance the increase of the public debt, the situation of the finances, or any other of those reasons so often repeated without its having been ever objected that they were of an improper kind. Sir, I say, there is no more impropriety in urging this argument, than in urging Ministers not to press the people too far, but to apportion the burden to their strength to bear it. What has my honourable friend said? We see an opulent commercial prosperity; but look over the country, and we behold barracks and broth-houses, the cause and the effect, the poverty and distress of the country; for surely it will not be contended, but that among the calamities of war are to be reckoned families left without support, and thrown upon charity for subsistence. That the war is unnecessary, as being useless, is self-evident, and nobody can deny it. But, say they, Buonaparte has taken us at an unguarded moment: we do not object to peace, but we have a fear and jealousy of concluding one, except with the House of Bourbon: in a peace concluded with it we should have confidence, but we can have none in the present Government of France. I say, were that event arrived, and the House of Bourbon seated on the throne, the Minister should be impeached who would disband a single soldier; and that it would be equally criminal to make peace under a new King as under a republican government, unless her heart and mind were friendly to it. France, as a republic, maybe a bad neighbour; but than monarchical France a more foul and treacherous neighbour never was. Is it, then, sufficient to say, let monarchy be restored, and let peace be given to all Europe? I come now, Sir, to the object of the war as expressed in the note. It is there stated, that the restoration of monarchy is the sine qua non of present negotiation; and then it proceeds to say, that it is possible we may hereafter treat with some other form of government, after it shall be tried by experience and the evidence of facts. What length of time this trial may require is impossible to ascertain; yet we have, I acknowledge, some thing of experience here by which we may form a kind of conjecture.
At the time of the negotiation at Lisle, the then republican Government had stood two years and a half. Previous to that time, it had been declared improper to enter into negotiation with it; but, from experience and the evidence of facts, Ministers discovered that it was then become good and proper to treat with; and yet so it happened that, immediately after this judgement in its favour, it crumbled to pieces. Here, then, we have a tolerable rule to judge by, and may presume, on the authority of this case, that something more than two years and a half must expire before any new government will be pronounced stable. The note, Sir, then proceeds to pay an handsome compliment to the line of princes who maintained peace at home, and to round the period handsomely, it should have added, tranquillity abroad; but instead of this are substituted respect and consideration, by which we are to understand exactly what is meant by the consideration with which the note is subscribed, being equivalent to 'I am, Sir, with the highest respect and sincerest enmity, yours', for, Sir, this consideration which the line of princes maintained, consisted in involving all the Powers within their reach and influence in war and contentions. The note then proceeds to state, that this restoration of monarchy would secure to France the uninterrupted possession of her ancient territory, by which we are to understand, I suppose, we would renounce our Quiberon expeditions. In this note, Sir, the gentlemen seem to have clubbed their talents, one found grammar, another logic, and a third some other ingredient; but is it not strange that they should all forget that the House of Bourbon, instead of maintaining peace and tranquillity in Europe, was always the disturber of both? In the very last transaction of monarchical France, I mean her conduct in the American war. His Majesty's speech begins thus: 'France, the disturber of the tranquillity of Europe.' But were a person to judge hereafter, from the history of the present time, of the war we carried on, and the millions we expended for the monarchy of France, he would be led to conclude that it was our nearest and dearest friend. Is there anything, then, in the knowledge of human nature, from which we can infer, that with the restoration of monarchy in France, a total change in the principles of the people would take place? or that Ministers of the new King would renounce them? What security have we, that a change of principles will take place in the restored monarch, and that he will not act upon the principles cherished by his ancestors? But if this security is effected by maiming France, does the right honourable gentleman think that the people of France would submit to it? Does he not know that even the emigrants have that partiality for the grandeur of their country, that even they cannot restrain their joy at republican victories? But with regard to the practicability of the course to be pursued, the right honourable gentleman says, he is looking forward to a time when there shall be no dread of Jacobin principles. I ask whether he does not think, from the fraud, oppression, tyranny, and cruelty with which the conduct of France has marked them, that they are not now nearly dead, extinct, and detested? But who are the Jacobins? Is there a man in this country who has at any time opposed Ministers, who has resisted the waste of public money and the prostitution of honours, that has not been branded with the name? The Whig Club are Jacobins. Of this there can be no doubt, for a right honourable gentleman [Mr. Windham] on that account struck his name off the list. The Friends of the People are Jacobins. I am one of the Friends of the People, and consequently am a Jacobin. The honourable gentleman pledged himself never to treat with Jacobin France until we had
Toto certatum est corpore regni.
Now he did treat with France at Lisle and Paris, but perhaps there were not Jacobins in France at either of these times. You, then, the Friends of the People, are the Jacobins. I do think, Sir, Jacobin principles never existed much in this country; and even admitting they had, I say they have been found so hostile to true liberty, that in proportion as we love it, and whatever may be said, I must still consider liberty an inestimable blessing, we must hate and detest these principles. But more, I do not think they even exist in France; they have there died the best of deaths, a death I am more pleased to see than if it had been effected by a foreign force; they have stung themselves to death, and died by their own poison. But the honourable gentleman, arguing from experience of human nature, tells us that Jacobin principles are such, that the mind that is once infected with them, no quarantine, no cure can cleanse. Now if this be the case, and that there are, according to Mr. Burke's statement, eighty thousand incorrigible Jacobins in England, we are in a melancholy situation. The right honourable gentleman must continue the war while one of the present generation remains, and consequently we cannot for that period expect those rights to be restored to us, to the suspension and restrictions of which the honourable gentleman attributes the suppression of these principles. A pretty consolation this, truly! Now I contend that they do not exist in France to the same extent as before, or nearly. If this, then, be the case, what danger can be apprehended? But if this, then, be true, and that Buonaparte, the child and champion of Jacobin principles, as he is called, be resolved to uphold them, upon what ground does the honourable gentleman presume to hope for the restoration of the House of Bourbon? So far I have argued on the probability of the object, but the honourable gentleman goes on, and says, there is no wish to restore the monarchy without the consent of the people. Now if this be the case, is it not better to leave the people to themselves, for if armies are to interfere, how can we ascertain that it is a legitimate government established with the pure consent of the people? As to Buonaparte, whose character has been represented as marked with fraud and insincerity, has he not made treaties with the Emperor and observed them? Is it not his interest to make peace with us? Do you not think he feels it? And can you suppose, that if peace were made, he has not power to make it be observed by the people of France? And do not you think that the people of France are aware that an infraction of that peace would bring with it a new order of things, and a renewal of those calamities from which they are now desirous to escape? But, Sir, on the character of Buonaparte I have better evidence than the intercepted letters, I appeal to Carnot, whether the instructions given with respect to the conduct to be observed to the Emperor, were not moderate, open, and magnanimous? [Here Mr. Sheridan read an extract from Carnot's pamphlet, in support of his assertion.] With regard to the late note, in answer to his proposal to negotiate, it is foolish, insulting, and undignified. It is evidence to me, that the honourable gentlemen themselves do not believe his character to be such as they describe it; for, if they did, they must know their language would irritate such a mind; the passions will mix themselves with reason in the conduct of men, and they cannot say that they will not yet be obliged to treat with Buonaparte. I am warranted in saying this, for I do not believe in my heart, that since the defection of Russia, Ministers have been repenting of their answer. I say so because I do not consider them so obstinate and headstrong as to persevere with as much ardour for the restoration of monarchy as when they were pledged with Russia. There was not a nation in Europe which Ministers did not endeavour to draw into the war. On what was such conduct founded, but on Jacobinical principles? Indeed Ministers, by negotiating at one time with a Jacobinical government in France, plainly proved they were not so hostile to its principles as they would now wish to appear. Prussia and Austria, as well as this country, have acted also on Jacobinical principles. The conduct of this country towards Ireland has been perfectly Jacobinical. How, then, can we define these principles, when persons who would now disavow them fall by some fatality into an unavoidable acknowledgement of them? The objections that have been raised to peace have been entirely Jacobinical. If we seek for peace, it must be done in the spirit of peace. We are not to make it a question who was the first aggressor, or endeavour to throw the blame that may attach to us on our enemy. Such circumstances should be consigned to oblivion, as tending to no one useful purpose. France, in the beginning of the Revolution, had conceived many romantic notions. She was to put an end to war, and produce, by a pure form of government, a perfectibility of mind which before had never been realized. The monarchs of Europe, seeing the prevalence of these new principles, trembled for their thrones. France, also, perceiving the hostility of kings to her projects, supposed she could not be a republic without the overthrow of thrones. Such has been the regular progress of cause and effect; but who was the first aggressor, with whom the jealousy first arose, need not now be a matter of discussion. Both the republic, and the monarchs who opposed her, acted on the same principles: the latter said they must exterminate Jacobins, and the former that they must destroy monarchs. From this source have all the calamities of Europe flowed; and it is now a waste of time and argument to inquire farther into the subject. Now, Sir, let us come to matter of fact. Has not France renounced and reprobated those Jacobin principles, which created her so many enemies? Are not all her violent invectives against regular governments come into disesteem? Has not the Abbe Sieyes, who wrote in favour of monarchy—has not Buonaparte—condemned the Jacobinical excesses of the Revolution in the most pointed manner, the very men who have had so large a share in the formation of the present Government? But I maintain that Buonaparte himself is also a friend to peace. There is in his correspondence with the Ministers of this country a total renunciation of Jacobinical principles. In the dread, therefore, of these, I can see no argument for the continuance of war. A man who is surprised at the revolution of sentiment in individuals or nations shows but little experience. Such instances occur every day. Neither would a wise man always attach to principles the most serious consequences. Left to themselves, the absurd and dangerous would soon disappear, and wisdom establish herself only the more secure on their ruins. I am a friend to peace at this time, because I think Buonaparte would be as good a friend and neighbour to this country as ever were any of the Bourbons. I think also that there can be no time when we can hope to have better terms. If the King of Prussia should join France, such an alliance would greatly change the state of things; and from her long and honourable neutrality, in spite of the remonstrance and entreaties of this country, an event of that kind is by no means unlikely to happen. It must be considered also that the First Consul of France must feel no little portion of resentment towards this country, arising from the indignity with which his overtures of negotiation have been treated. It is not improbable that, to satisfy his revenge, he would make large sacrifices to the House of Austria, that he might contend more successfully against this country. Such are my fears and opinions; but I am unhappily in the habit of being numbered with the minority, and therefore their consequences are considerably diminished. But there have been occasions when the sentiments of the minority of this House have been those of the people at large: one, for instance, when a war was prevented with Russia concerning Oczakow. The minority told the Minister that the sentiments of the country were contrary to those of the majority: and the fact justified them in the assertion; the dispute was abandoned. In the year 1797, the opinions of the minority on peace were those of the people, and I believe the same coincidence exists now upon the same subject.
[Footnote 1: Not the King of Prussia; but Francis II of Austria.—Ed.]
FEBRUARY 3, 1800
OVERTURES OF PEACE WITH FRANCE
Sir, I am induced at this period of the debate to offer my sentiments to the House, both from an apprehension that, at a later hour, the attention of the House must necessarily be exhausted, and because the sentiment with which the learned gentleman began his speech, and with which he has thought proper to conclude it, places the question precisely on that ground on which I am most desirous of discussing it. The learned gentleman seems to assume, as the foundation of his reasoning, and as the great argument for immediate treaty, that every effort to overturn the system of the French revolution must be unavailing; and that it would be not only imprudent, but almost impious, to struggle longer against that order of things, which, on I know not what principle of predestination, he appears to consider as immortal. Little as I am inclined to accede to this opinion, I am not sorry that the honourable gentleman has contemplated the subject in this serious view. I do, indeed, consider the French revolution as the severest trial which the visitation of Providence has ever yet inflicted upon the nations of the earth; but I cannot help reflecting, with satisfaction, that this country, even under such a trial, has not only been exempted from those calamities which have covered almost every other part of Europe, but appears to have been reserved as a refuge and asylum to those who fled from its persecution, as a barrier to oppose its progress, and, perhaps, ultimately as an instrument to deliver the world from the crimes and miseries which have attended it. Under this impression, I trust the House will forgive me if I endeavour, as far as I am able, to take a large and comprehensive view of this important question. In doing so, I agree with my honourable friend, that it would, in any case, be impossible to separate the present discussion from the former crimes and atrocities of the French revolution; because both the papers now on the table, and the whole of the learned gentleman's argument, force upon our consideration the origin of the war, and all the material facts which have occurred during its continuance. The learned gentleman has revived and retailed all those arguments from his own pamphlet, which had before passed through thirty-seven or thirty-eight editions in print; and now gives them to the House embellished by the graces of his personal delivery. The First Consul has also thought fit to revive and retail the chief arguments used by all the Opposition speakers, and all the Opposition publishers, in this country during the last seven years. And (what is still more material) the question itself, which is now immediately at issue—the question, whether, under the present circumstances, there is such a prospect of security from any treaty with France as ought to induce us to negotiate, cannot be properly decided upon without retracing, both from our own experience and from that of other nations, the nature, the causes, and the magnitude of the danger against which we have to guard, in order to judge of the security which we ought to accept.
I say, then, that before any man can concur in opinion with that learned gentleman—before any man can think that the substance of His Majesty's answer is any other than the safety of the country required; before any man can be of opinion, that to the overtures made by the enemy, at such a time, and under such circumstances, it would have been safe to have returned an answer concurring in the negotiation—he must come within one of the three following descriptions: he must either believe that the French revolution neither does now exhibit, nor has at any time exhibited, such circumstances of danger, arising out of the very nature of the system and the internal state and condition of France, as to leave to foreign Powers no adequate ground of security in negotiation; or, secondly, he must be of opinion, that the change which has recently taken place has given that security, which, in the former stages of the revolution, was wanting; or, thirdly, he must be one who, believing that the danger existed, not undervaluing its extent, nor mistaking its nature, nevertheless thinks, from his view of the present pressure on the country, from his view of its situation and its prospects, compared with the situation and prospects of its enemies, that we are, with our eyes open, bound to accept of inadequate security for everything that is valuable and sacred, rather than endure the pressure, or incur the risk, which would result from a farther prolongation of the contest.
In discussing the last of these questions, we shall be led to consider what inference is to be drawn from the circumstances and the result of our own negotiations in former periods of the war;—whether, in the comparative state of this country and France, we now see the same reason for repeating our then unsuccessful experiments;—or whether we have not thence derived the lessons of experience, added to the deductions of reason, marking the inefficacy and danger of the very measures which are quoted to us as precedents for our adoption. Unwilling, Sir, as I am to go into much detail on ground which has been so often trodden before, yet, when I find the learned gentleman, after all the information which he must have received, if he has read any of the answers to his work (however ignorant he might be when he wrote it), still giving the sanction of his authority to the supposition that the order to M. Chauvelin to depart from this kingdom was the cause of the war between this country and France, I do feel it necessary to say a few words on that part of the subject.
Inaccuracy in dates seems to be a sort of fatality common to all who have written on that side of the question; for even the writer of the note to His Majesty is not more correct, in this respect, than if he had taken his information only from the pamphlet of the learned gentleman. The House will recollect the first professions of the French Republic, which are enumerated, and enumerated truly, in that note—they are tests of everything which would best recommend a Government to the esteem and confidence of foreign Powers, and the reverse of everything which has been the system and practice of France now for near ten years. It is there stated, that their first principles were love of peace, aversion to conquest, and respect for the independence of other countries. In the same note, it seems, indeed, admitted, that they since have violated all those principles; but it is alleged that they have done so only in consequence of the provocation of other Powers. One of the first of those provocations is stated to have consisted in the various outrages offered to their Ministers, of which the example is said to have been set by the King of Great Britain in his conduct to M. Chauvelin. In answer to this supposition, it is only necessary to remark that, before the example was given, before Austria and Prussia are supposed to have been thus encouraged to combine in a plan for the partition of France, that plan, if it ever existed at all, had existed and been acted upon for above eight months: France and Prussia had been at war eight months before the dismissal of M. Chauvelin. So much for the accuracy of the statement.
[Mr. Erskine here observed that this was not the statement of his argument.]
I have been hitherto commenting on the arguments contained in the notes: I come now to those of the learned gentleman. I understand him to say that the dismissal of M. Chauvelin was the real cause, I do not say of the general war, but of the rupture between France and England; and the learned gentleman states, particularly, that this dismissal rendered all discussion of the points in dispute impossible. Now I desire to meet distinctly every part of this assertion: I maintain, on the contrary, that an opportunity was given for discussing every matter in dispute between France and Great Britain, as fully as if a regular and accredited French Minister had been resident here;—that the causes of war which existed at the beginning, or arose during the course of this discussion, were such as would have justified, twenty times over, a declaration of war on the part of this country;—that all the explanations on the part of France were evidently unsatisfactory and inadmissible; and that M. Chauvelin had given in a peremptory ultimatum, declaring that, if these explanations were not received as sufficient, and if we did not immediately disarm, our refusal would be considered as a declaration of war. After this followed that scene which no man can even now speak of without horror, or think of without indignation; that murder and regicide from which I was sorry to hear the learned gentleman date the beginning of the legal government of France. Having thus given in their ultimatum, they added, as a further demand (while we were smarting under accumulated injuries, for which all satisfaction was denied), that we should instantly receive M. Chauvelin as their ambassador, with new credentials, representing them in the character which they had just derived from the murder of their sovereign. We replied, 'He came here as a representative of a sovereign whom you have put to a cruel and illegal death; we have no satisfaction for the injuries we have received, no security from the danger with which we are threatened. Under these circumstances we will not receive your new credentials; the former credentials you have yourselves recalled by the sacrifice of your King.'
What from that moment was the situation of M. Chauvelin? He was reduced to the situation of a private individual, and was required to quit the kingdom, under the provisions of the Alien Act, which, for the purpose of securing domestic tranquillity, had recently invested His Majesty with the power of removing out of this kingdom all foreigners suspected of revolutionary principles. Is it contended that he was, then, less liable to the provisions of that Act than any other individual foreigner, whose conduct afforded to Government just ground of objection or suspicion? Did his conduct and connexions here afford no such ground? or will it be pretended that the bare act of refusing to receive fresh credentials from an infant republic, not then acknowledged by any one Power of Europe, and in the very act of heaping upon us injuries and insults, was of itself the cause of war? So far from it, that even the very nations of Europe, whose wisdom and moderation have been repeatedly extolled for maintaining neutrality, and preserving friendship, with the French Republic, remained for years subsequent to this period without receiving from it any accredited Minister, or doing any one act to acknowledge its political existence. In answer to a representation from the belligerent Powers, in December, 1793, Count Bernstorff, the Minister of Denmark, officially declared that 'It was well known that the National Convention had appointed M. Grouville Minister-Plenipotentiary at Denmark, but that it was also well known that he had neither been received nor acknowledged in that quality'. And as late as February, 1796, when the same Minister was at length, for the first time, received in his official capacity, Count Bernstorff, in a public note, assigned this reason for that change of conduct—'So long as no other than a revolutionary Government existed in France, His Majesty could not acknowledge the Minister of that Government; but now that the French Constitution is completely organized, and a regular Government established in France, His Majesty's obligation ceases in that respect, and M. Grouville will therefore be acknowledged in the usual form.' How far the Court of Denmark was justified in the opinion that a revolutionary Government then no longer existed in France, it is not now necessary to inquire; but whatever may have been the fact, in that respect, the principle on which they acted is clear and intelligible, and is a decisive instance in favour of the proposition which I have maintained.
Is it then necessary to examine what were the terms of that ultimatum, with which we refused to comply? Acts of hostility had been openly threatened against our allies, an hostility founded upon the assumption of a right which would at once supersede the whole law of nations: a demand was made by France upon Holland to open the navigation of the Scheldt, on the ground of a general and national right, in violation of positive treaty; this claim we discussed, at the time, not so much on account of its immediate importance (though it was important both in a maritime and commercial view), as on account of the general principle on which it was founded. On the same arbitrary notion they soon afterwards discovered that sacred law of nature, which made the Rhine and the Alps the legitimate boundaries of France, and assumed the power which they have affected to exercise through the whole of the revolution, of superseding, by a new code of their own, all the recognized principles of the law of nations. They were actually advancing towards the republic of Holland, by rapid strides, after the victory of Jemappe, and they had ordered their generals to pursue the Austrian troops into any neutral country: thereby explicitly avowing an intention of invading Holland. They had already shown their moderation and self-denial, by incorporating Belgium, with the French Republic. These lovers of peace, who set out with a sworn aversion to conquest, and professions of respect for the independence of other nations; who pretend that they departed from this system only in consequence of your aggression, themselves in time of peace while you were still confessedly neutral, without the pretence or shadow of provocation, wrested Savoy from the King of Sardinia, and had proceeded to incorporate it likewise with France. These were their aggressions at this period; and more than these. They had issued an universal declaration of war against all the thrones of Europe; and they had, by their conduct, applied it particularly and specifically to you: they had passed the decree of November 19, 1792, proclaiming the promise of French succour to all nations who should manifest a wish to become free: they had, by all their language, as well as their example, shown what they understood to be freedom: they had sealed their principles by the deposition of their sovereign: they had applied them to England, by inviting and encouraging the addresses of those seditious and traitorous societies who, from the beginning, favoured their views, and who, encouraged by your forbearance, were even then publicly avowing French doctrines, and anticipating their success in this country; who were hailing the progress of those proceedings in France which led to the murder of its king: they were even then looking to the day when they should behold a national convention in England, formed upon similar principles.
And what were the explanations they offered on these different grounds of offence? As to Holland, they contented themselves with telling us that the Scheldt was too insignificant for us to trouble ourselves about, and therefore it was to be decided as they chose, in breach of a positive treaty, which they had themselves guaranteed, and which we, by our alliance, were bound to support. If, however, after the war was over, Belgium should have consolidated its liberty (a term of which we now know the meaning, from the fate of every nation into which the arms of France have penetrated), then Belgium and Holland might, if they pleased, settle the question of the Scheldt by separate negotiation between themselves. With respect to aggrandizement, they assured us that they would retain possession of Belgium by arms no longer than they should find it necessary for the purpose already stated, of consolidating its liberty. And with respect to the decree of November 19, applied as it was pointedly to you, by all the intercourse I have stated with all the seditious and traitorous part of this country, and particularly by the speeches of every leading man among them, they contented themselves with asserting that the declaration conveyed no such meaning as was imputed to it, and that, so far from encouraging sedition, it could apply only to countries where a great majority of the people should have already declared itself in favour of a revolution—a supposition which, as they asserted, necessarily implied a total absence of all sedition.
What would have been the effect of admitting this explanation?—to suffer a nation, and an armed nation, to preach to the inhabitants of all the countries in the world, that themselves were slaves, and their rulers tyrants: to encourage and invite them to revolution, by a previous promise of French support, to whatever might call itself a majority, or to whatever France might declare to be so. This was their explanation: and this, they told you, was their ultimatum. But was this all? Even at that very moment, when they were endeavouring to induce you to admit these explanations, to be contented with the avowal that France offered herself as a general guarantee for every successful revolution, and would interfere only to sanction and confirm whatever the free and uninfluenced choice of the people might have decided, what were their orders to their generals on the same subject? In the midst of these amicable explanations with you, came forth a decree which I really believe must be effaced from the minds of gentlemen opposite to me, if they can prevail upon themselves for a moment to hint even a doubt upon the origin of this quarrel, not only as to this country, but as to all the nations of Europe with whom France has been subsequently engaged in hostility. I speak of the decree of December 15. This decree, more even than all the previous transactions, amounted to an universal declaration of war against all thrones, and against all civilized governments. It said, wherever the armies of France shall come (whether within countries then at war or at peace is not distinguished), in all those countries it shall be the first care of their generals to introduce the principles and the practice of the French revolution; to demolish all privileged orders, and everything which obstructs the establishment of their new system.
If any doubt is entertained whither the armies of France were intended to come, if it is contended that they referred only to those nations with whom they were then at war, or with whom, in the course of this contest, they might be driven into war, let it be remembered that, at this very moment, they had actually given orders to their generals to pursue the Austrian army from the Netherlands into Holland, with whom they were at that time in peace. Or, even if the construction contended for is admitted, let us see what would have been its application; let us look at the list of their aggressions, which was read by my right honourable friend near me. With whom have they been at war since the period of this declaration? With all the nations of Europe save two, and if not with those two, it is only because, with every provocation that could justify defensive war, those countries have hitherto acquiesced in repeated violations of their rights, rather than recur to war for their vindication. Wherever their arms have been carried, it will be a matter of short subsequent inquiry to trace whether they have faithfully applied these principles. If in terms this decree is a denunciation of war against all governments; if in practice it has been applied against every one with which France has come into contact; what is it but the deliberate code of the French revolution, from the birth of the Republic, which has never once been departed from, which has been enforced with unremitted rigour against all the nations that have come into their power?