THE WORKS OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D,
VOLUME THE ELEVENTH.
Debate on an address to the king.
Debate on a motion for inquiring into the conduct of publick affairs.
Debate on a motion for indemnifying evidence relating to the conduct of the earl of Orford.
Debate on the security and protection of trade and navigation.
Debate on an address to the king.
Debate granting pay for sixteen thousand Hanoverian troops.
Debate on the army.
Debate on spirituous liquors.
REFERENCES TO THE SPEAKERS
Argyle, Duke of, Aylesford, Lord, Bath, Lord, Bathurst, Lord, Bedford, Duke of, Bladen, Mr. Carteret, Lord, Chesterfield, Lord, Cholmondeley, Lord, Cholmondeley, Col. Cornwall, Mr. Delaware, Lord, Fowkes, Mr. Fox, Mr. Grenville, Mr. Gybbon, Mr. Hardwicke, Lord, Herbert, Mr. H.A. Hervey, Lord, Islay, Lord, Limerick, Lord, Littleton, Mr. Lonsdale, Lord, Montfort, Lord, Mordaunt, Col. Newcastle, Duke of, Nugent, Mr. Orford, Earl of, Orford, Bishop of, Pelham, Mr. Percival, Lord, Phillips, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Powlett, Lord, Pulteney, Mr. Quarendon, Lord, Raymond, Lord, Sandwich, Lord, Sarum, Bishop of, St. Aubin, Sir John, Shippen, Mr. Somerset, Lord Noel, Speaker, the, Stanhope, Earl of, Talbot, Lord, Trevor, Mr. Tweedale, Marquis of, Walpole, Sir Robert, Walpole, Mr. Westmoreland, Lord, Winchelsea, Earl of, Yonge, Sir Wm.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, DECEMBER 8, 1741.
DEBATE ON THE ADDRESS.
The commons who attended in the house of lords, having heard his majesty's speech to both houses, returned to their own house, where a copy of it being this day read to them by the speaker, Mr. H.A. HERBERT moved for an address, in words to this effect:
Sir, to address the throne on the present occasion, is a custom which, as it is founded on reason and decency, has always been observed by the commons of Britain; nor do I suspect this house of any intention to omit those forms of respect to his majesty, which our ancestors always preserved even under princes whose conduct and designs gave them no claim to reverence or gratitude.
To continue, therefore, sir, a practice which the nature of government itself makes necessary, and which cannot but be acknowledged to be, in a peculiar degree, proper under a prince whose personal virtues are so generally known, I hope for the indulgence of this house in the liberty which I shall take of proposing an address to this effect:
That we should beg leave to congratulate his majesty, upon his safe and happy return to these his kingdoms, and to return our sincere thanks for his most gracious speech from the throne; and assure him at the same time, that with hearts full of duty and gratitude, we cannot but acknowledge his majesty's regard and attention to the honour and interest of this nation. To observe that the great and impending dangers that threaten Europe, under the present critical and perplexed situation of affairs, have been represented by his majesty to his parliament, for their advice and assistance, with such paternal concern, and such affection to his people, such confidence in his faithful commons, and such anxiety for the general good of Europe, as cannot fail to excite in us a due sense of his majesty's goodness and condescension; and, therefore, to assure his majesty in the strongest manner, that this house will, as often as these momentous affairs shall come under our consideration, give his majesty such advice as becomes dutiful and faithful subjects, and such assistance and support as shall be most conducive to the honour and true interest of his crown and kingdoms.
That we thank his majesty for his royal care in prosecuting the war with Spain; and that in order to answer these necessary purposes, we will grant such effectual supplies, as shall enable his majesty, not only to be in a readiness to support his friends and allies, at such times and in such manner as the exigency and circumstances of affairs shall require, but to oppose and defeat any attempts that shall be made against his majesty, his crown and kingdoms, or against those, who being equally engaged with his majesty by the faith of treaties, or united by common interest and common danger, shall be willing to concert such measures as shall be found necessary and expedient for maintaining the balance of Europe.
This address, which in my opinion, will contain both a proper answer to his majesty's speech, and a decent declaration of our gratitude and duty, will not, I hope, be opposed. For surely it cannot be charged with asserting any thing that is either false or mean, with bestowing any unnecessary panegyrick, or with maintaining any fact that is not generally allowed.
Mr. TREVOR seconded him in the manner following:—Sir, as the necessity of an address to his majesty cannot be disputed, the only question on this occasion must be, whether the address now proposed be such as it may become this house to offer in the present conjuncture of affairs.
In an address, sir, it is necessary to preserve at once the respect due to our sovereign, and the dignity which may justly be assumed by the representatives of the people of Britain, a people whose birthright gives them a claim to approach their sovereign, not, indeed, without the utmost respect, but with language, which absolute monarchs never hear from the slaves by whom they are surrounded.
This respect and dignity appear to me to be very happily united in the address now proposed, in which we join with our professions of duty, our offers of advice, and assert our claim to the direction of the national expenses by our promise to grant the necessary supplies.
As there cannot, therefore, in my opinion, sir, be any thing added to the address now offered, and there appears to me no necessity of any alteration or omission, I second the motion.
Lord Noel SOMERSET spoke next, to this effect:—Sir, though I am far from intending to repress, by sophistical cavils, or trifling objections, the zeal which the honourable gentleman who proposed the address has shown for promoting the publick business, yet, as it is very inconsistent with the duty of a senator to prefer civility to truth, and to sacrifice to ceremony or complaisance the interest of his country, I think it necessary to declare my opinion, that though the address proposed may admit of many amendments, which I leave to other gentlemen to make, I think the addition of one clause absolutely necessary; that his majesty may be desired not to engage this nation in a war for the preservation of his foreign dominions; dominions which, as they are in themselves independent on the crown of Britain, and governed by different laws, and a different right, have been separated by an express clause from these kingdoms, in the act to which his majesty owes his title to the throne.
This request, sir, is at this time particularly expedient, when the continent is in confusion, and the territories of Hanover are endangered by the approach of the French forces. Besides, as nothing is more fatal than groundless expectations of assistance, it may contribute to the safety of that people, to show them that they are to depend upon their own strength, to call their forces together, to fortify their towns, and guard their avenues; and that, if they sit indolent and careless, in confidence that the power of Britain will be employed in their defence, they will only give their enemies an easy conquest, and enslave themselves and their posterity to a foreign power: I move, therefore, that his majesty be petitioned in our address, not to engage these kingdoms in a war for the preservation of his foreign dominions.
Mr. SHIPPEN rose and spoke thus:—Sir, I know not with what success I may assert, in this senate, positions, for which I have formerly been censured, and which few other members have hitherto maintained; but I rise with confidence that I shall be at least acknowledged to act consistently with myself in seconding the noble person who spoke last; and I am convinced, that many of those who differ from me in opinion, would gladly be able to boast of resembling me in congruity of principles, and steadiness of conduct.
But steadiness, sir, is the effect only of integrity, and congruity the consequence of conviction: he that speaks always what he thinks, and endeavours by diligent inquiry to think aright before he ventures to declare his sentiments; he that follows, in his searches, no leader but reason, nor expects any reward from them but the advantage of discovering truth, and the pleasure of communicating it, will not easily change his opinion, because it will seldom be easy to show that he who has honestly inquired after truth, has failed to attain it.
For my part, I am not ashamed nor afraid to affirm, that thirty years have made no change in any of my political opinions; I am now grown old in this house, but that experience which is the consequence of age, has only confirmed the principles with which I entered it many years ago; time has verified the predictions which I formerly uttered, and I have seen my conjectures ripened into knowledge.
I should be, therefore, without excuse, if either terrour could affright, or the hope of advantage allure me from the declaration of my opinions; opinions which I was not deterred from asserting, when the prospect of a longer life than I can now expect might have added to the temptations of ambition, or aggravated the terrours of poverty and disgrace; opinions for which I would willingly have suffered the severest censures, even when I had espoused them only in compliance with reason, without the infallible certainty of experience.
Of truth it has been always observed, sir, that every day adds to its establishment, and that falsehoods, however specious, however supported by power, or established by confederacies, are unable to stand before the stroke of time. Against the inconveniencies and vexations of long life, may be set the pleasure of discovering truth, perhaps the only pleasure that age affords. Nor is it a slight satisfaction to a man not utterly infatuated or depraved, to find opportunities of rectifying his notions, and regulating his conduct by new lights.
But much greater is the happiness of that man to whom every day brings a new proof of the reasonableness of his former determinations, and who finds, by the most unerring test, that his life has been spent in promotion of doctrines beneficial to mankind. This, sir, is the happiness which I now enjoy, and for which those who never shall attain it, must look for an equivalent in lucrative employments, honorary titles, pompous equipages, and splendid palaces.
These, sir, are the advantages which are to be gained by a seasonable variation of principles, and by a ready compliance with the prevailing fashion of opinions; advantages which I, indeed, cannot envy when they are purchased at so high a price, but of which age and observation has too frequently shown me the unbounded influence; and to which I cannot deny that I have always ascribed the instability of conduct, and inconsistency of assertions, which I have discovered in many men, whose abilities I have no reason to depreciate, and of whom I cannot but believe they would easily distinguish truth, were not falsehood recommended to them by the ornaments of wealth.
If there are in this new senate any men devoted to their private interest, any who prefer the gratification of their passions to the safety and happiness of their country, who can riot without remorse in the plunder of their constituents, who can forget the anguish of guilt in the noise of a feast, the pomp of a drawing-room, or the arms of a strumpet, and think expensive wickedness and the gaieties of folly equivalent to the fair fame of fidelity and the peace of virtue, to them I shall speak to no purpose; for I am far from imagining any power in my language to gain those to truth who have resigned their hearts to avarice or ambition, or to prevail upon men to change opinions, which they have indeed never believed, though they are hired to assert them. There is a degree of wickedness which reproof or argument cannot reclaim, as there is a degree of stupidity which instruction cannot enlighten.
If my country, sir, has been so unfortunate as, once more, to commit her interest to those who propose to themselves no advantage from their trust, but that of selling it, I may perhaps fall, once more, under censure for declaring my opinion, and be, once more, treated as a criminal for asserting what they who punish me cannot deny; for maintaining the inconsistency of Hanover maxims with the happiness of this nation, and for preserving the caution which was so strongly inculcated by the patriots that drew up the act of settlement, and gave the present imperial family their title to the throne.
These men, sir, whose wisdom cannot be disputed, and whose zeal for his majesty's family was equal to their knowledge, thought it requisite to provide some security against the prejudices of birth and education. They were far from imagining, that they were calling to the throne a race of beings exalted above the frailties of humanity, or exempted by any peculiar privileges from errour or from ignorance.
They knew that every man was habitually, if not naturally, fond of his own nation, and that he was inclined to enrich it and defend it at the expense of another, even, perhaps, of that to which he is indebted, for much higher degrees of greatness, wealth and power; for every thing which makes one state of life preferable to another; and which, therefore, if reason could prevail over prejudice, and every action were regulated by strict justice, might claim more regard than that corner of the earth in which he only happened to be born.
They knew, sir, that confidence was not always returned, that we most willingly trust those whom we have longest known, and caress those with most fondness, whose inclinations we find by experience to correspond with our own, without regard to particular circumstances which may entitle others to greater regard, or higher degrees of credit, or of kindness.
Against these prejudices, which their sagacity enabled them to foresee, their integrity incited them to secure us, by provisions which every man then thought equitable and wise, because no man was then hired to espouse a contrary opinion.
To obviate the disposition which a foreign race of princes might have to trust their original subjects, it was enacted that none of them should be capable of any place of trust or profit in these kingdoms. And to hinder our monarchs from transferring the revenues of Britain to Hanover, and enriching it with the commerce of our traders, and the labours of our husbandmen; from raising taxes to augment the splendour of a petty court, and increasing the garrisons of their mountains by misapplying that money which this nation should raise for its own defence, it was provided that the emperour of Britain should never return to his native dominions, but reside always in this kingdom, without any other care than that of gaining the affections of his British subjects, preserving their rights, and increasing their power.
It was imagined by that senate, that the electorate of Hanover, a subordinate dignity, held by custom of homage to a greater power, ought to be thought below the regard of the emperor of Britain, and that the sovereign of a nation like this ought to remember a lower state only to heighten his gratitude to the people by whom he was exalted. They were far from imagining that Britain and Hanover would in time be considered as of equal importance, and that their sovereign would divide his years between one country and the other, and please himself with exhibiting in Hanover the annual show of the pomp and dignity of a British emperor.
This clause, sir, however, a later senate readily repealed; upon what motives I am not able to declare, having never heard the arguments which prevailed upon their predecessors to enact it, confuted or invalidated; nor have I found that the event has produced any justification of their conduct, or that the nation has received any remarkable advantage from the travels of our emperours.
There is another clause in that important act which yet the senate has not adventured to repeal, by which it is provided, that this nation shall not be engaged in war for the defence of the Hanoverian dominions; dominions of which we can have no interest in the protection or preservation; dominions, perhaps, of no great value, into whatever hands chance and negligence may throw them, which their situation has made entirely useless to a naval power; but which, though they cannot benefit, may injure us, by diverting the attention of our sovereign, or withholding his affections.
Whether this clause, sir, has not sometimes been eluded, whether the six thousand Hessians, which we once supported, were of use to any of the British dominions, and whether a double number of the same nation, now paid with our money for the defence of the queen of Hungary, have not been stationed only where they might defend Hanover, without the least advantage to our confederates; whether the nation has not been condemned to double expenses in the support of this alliance, by raising, for the queen's service, troops, which were only employed in the protection of Hanover, and then in succouring her with pecuniary supplies, it is, perhaps, at present unnecessary, though, I hope, not yet too late, to inquire.
It is at present unnecessary, because the clause which is proposed cannot be denied to be equally proper, whether the act of settlement has been hitherto observed or violated; for the violation of it ought to engage us in some measures that may secure us for the future from the like injury; and the observation of it is a manifest proof how much it is approved by all parties, since, in so many deviations from this settlement, and an inconstancy of conduct of which an example is scarcely to be found, this law has been esteemed sacred, the bulwark of our rights, and the boundary which the sovereign power has not dared to overleap.
As his majesty, sir, has, in a very solemn manner, called upon us for our advice and assistance, what can be more proper than to lay before him our opinion on this important question? War is, next to slavery, one of the greatest calamities; and an unnecessary war, therefore, the greatest error of government, an error which cannot be too cautiously obviated, or too speedily reformed.
If we consider, sir, the present state of the continent, there is nothing more probable than that the subjects of the elector of Hanover may solicit the assistance of the emperor of Britain, and, therefore, it is necessary to inform them, that their solicitations will be vain. If we inquire into the suspicions of our fellow-subjects, we shall find them generally disturbed with fears that they shall be sacrificed to the security of foreign dominions, and, therefore, it is necessary to recall their affection to his majesty where it is impaired, and confirm their confidence where it has been hitherto preserved, by showing, in the most publick manner, how vainly they have been disquieted, and how grossly they have been mistaken.
It is certainly our duty, sir, to give such advice as may most truly inform his majesty of the sentiments of his people, and most effectually establish in the people an adherence to his majesty; as it is certain that no advice will be seconded by greater numbers than that which is proposed, nor can his majesty, by any act of goodness, so much endear his government, as by a ready promise to this nation of an exemption from any war in defence of Hanover.
I hope, sir, it will not be objected, that by such request a suspicion will be insinuated of designs detrimental to the British nation, and repugnant to the conditions on which his majesty ascended the throne, because an objection of equal force may rise against any advice whatever that shall be offered by the senate.
It may be always urged, sir, that to recommend any measures, is to suppose that they would not have been suggested to his majesty by his own wisdom, and, by consequence, that he is defective either in knowledge or in goodness, that he either mistakes or neglects the interest of his people.
Thus, sir, may the most laudable conduct be charged with sedition, and the most awful regard be accused of disrespect, by forced consequences, and exaggerated language; thus may senates become useless, lest they should appear to be wiser than their sovereign, and the sovereign be condemned to act only by the information of servile ministers, because no publick advice can safely be given him.
That kings must act upon the information of others, that they can see little with their own eyes through the mists which flattery is continually employed in raising before them, and that they are, therefore, most happy who have, by the constitution of the country which they govern, an opportunity of knowing the opinions of their people without disguise, has yet never been denied by any who do not separate the interest of the king from that of the people, and leave mankind no political distinction but that of tyrants and slaves.
This, sir, is the happiness of the emperour of Britain beyond other monarchs, an advantage by which he may be always enabled to contemplate the happy and flourishing state of his subjects, and to receive the blessings and acclamations of millions, that owe to his care their wealth and their security.
Of this advantage he cannot be deprived, but by the cowardice or the treachery of those men who are delegated by the people, as the guardians of their liberties; and surely it requires no uncommon penetration to discover, that no act of treason can be equal in malignity to that perfidy which deprives the king of the affections of his subjects, by concealing from him their sentiments and petitions. He that makes his monarch hated, must, undoubtedly, make him unhappy; and he that destroys his happiness, might more innocently take away his life.
To exempt myself, therefore, from such guilt, to discharge the trust conferred on me by my country, and to perform the duty which I owe to my king, I stand up to second this motion.
Mr. GYBBON spoke next, to the following purpose:—Sir, as it is not easy to remember all the parts of an address by only once hearing it, and hearing it in a form different from that in which it is to be presented, I think it necessary to a more accurate consideration of it, that it should be read distinctly to the house. We may otherwise waste our time in debates, to which only our own forgetfulness gives occasion; we may raise objections without reason, and propose amendments where there is no defect. [The address was accordingly read, and Mr. GYBBON proceeded.]
Having now heard the address, I find by experience the propriety of my proposal; having remarked a clause, which, in my opinion, is necessary to be amended, and which I had not observed when it was repeated before.
It is well known, that the speeches from the throne, though pronounced by the king, are always considered as the compositions of the ministry, upon whom any false assertions would be charged, as the informers and counsellors of the crown.
It is well known, likewise, that whenever this house returns thanks to the king for any measures that have been pursued, those measures are supposed to be approved by them; and that approbation may be pleaded by the minister in his defence, whenever he shall be required to answer for the event of his counsels.
It is, therefore, in my opinion, extremely unreasonable to propose, that thanks should be returned to his majesty for his royal care in prosecuting the war against Spain; for what has been the consequence of that care, for which our thanks are to be, with so much solemnity, returned, but defeats, disgrace, and losses, the ruin of our merchants, the imprisonment of our sailors, idle shows of armaments, and useless expenses?
What are the events which are to be recorded in an impartial account of this war; a war provoked by so long a train of insults and injuries, and carried on with so apparent an inequality of forces? Have we destroyed the fleets of our enemies, fired their towns, and laid their fortresses in ruins? Have we conquered their colonies, and plundered their cities, and reduced them to a necessity of receding from their unjust claims, and repaying the plunder of our merchants? Are their ambassadors now soliciting peace at the court of Britain, or applying to the neighbouring princes to moderate the resentment of their victorious enemies?
I am afraid that the effects of our preparations, however formidable, are very different; they have only raised discontent among our countrymen, and contempt among our enemies. We have shown that we are strong indeed, but that our force is made ineffectual by our cowardice; that when we threaten most loudly, we perform nothing; that we draw our swords but to brandish them, and only wait an opportunity to sheath them in such a manner, as not plainly to confess that we dare not strike.
If we consider, therefore, what effect our thanks for conduct like this must naturally produce, it will appear that they can only encourage our enemies, and dispirit our fellow-subjects. It will be imagined that the Spaniards are a powerful nation, which it was the highest degree of temerity to attack; a nation by whom it is honour sufficient not to be overcome, and from whom we cannot be defended without the most vigilant caution, and the most extensive knowledge both of politicks and war.
It will readily be perceived by the proud Spaniards, that it is only necessary to prosecute their views a little longer, to intimidate us with new demands, and amuse us with new preparations; and that we, who are always satisfied with our success, shall soon be weary of a war from which it is plain that we never expected any advantage, and therefore shall, in a short time, willingly receive such terms as our conquerors will grant us.
It is always to be remembered, how much all human affairs depend upon opinion, how often reputation supplies the want of real power, by making those afraid who cannot be hurt, and by producing confidence where there is no superiority. The opinion of which the senate ought to endeavour the promotion, is confidence in their steadiness, honesty, and wisdom. Confidence which will not be much advanced by an address of thanks for the conduct of the war against Spain.
How justly may it be asked, when this address is spread over the world, what were the views with which the senate of Britain petitioned their sovereign to declare war against Spain?
If their design was, as they then asserted, to procure security for the commerce of America, and reparation for the injuries which their merchants had received, by what fluctuation of counsels, by what prevalence of new opinions, have they now abandoned it? For that they have no longer the same intentions, that they now no more either propose security, or demand recompense, is evident; since though they have obtained neither, yet are they thankful for the conduct of the war.
To what can this apparent instability be imputed, but to the want either of wisdom to balance their own power with that of their enemies, and discern the true interest of their country, or to a mean compliance with the clamours of the people, to whom they durst not refuse the appearance of a war, though they had no expectation of honour or success?
But in far other terms, sir, will the Spaniards speak of the address which is now proposed. "Behold, say our boasting enemies, the spirit and wisdom of that assembly, whose counsels hold the continent in suspense, and whose determinations change the fate of kingdoms; whose vote transfers sovereignty, covers the ocean with fleets, prescribes the operation of distant wars, and fixes the balance of the world. Behold them amused with idle preparations, levying money for mockeries of war, and returning thanks for the pleasure of the show. Behold them looking with wonderful tranquillity on the loss of a great number of their ships, which have been seized upon their own coasts by our privateers, and congratulating themselves and their monarch that any have been preserved. How great would have been the exultation, and how loud the applauses, had they succeeded in any of their designs; had they obstructed the departure of our fleets, or hindered our descent upon the dominions of the queen of Hungary; had they confined our privateers in our harbours, defeated any of our troops, or overrun any of our colonies! In what terms would they have expressed their gratitude for victory, who are thus thankful for disappointments and disgrace?"
Such, sir, must be the remarks of our enemies upon an address like that which is now proposed; remarks which we and our allies must be condemned to hear, without attempting a reply. For what can be urged to extenuate the ridicule of returning thanks where we ought either to express resentment, offer consolations, and propose the means of better success, or cover our grief and shame with perpetual silence?
When it shall be told in foreign nations, that the senate of Britain had returned thanks for the escape of the Spaniards from Ferrol, their uninterrupted expedition to Italy, the embarrassment of their own trade, the captivity of their sailors, and the destruction of their troops, what can they conclude, but that the senate of Britain is a collection of madmen, whom madmen have deputed to transact the publick affairs? And what must be the influence of such a people, and such a senate, will be easily conceived.
If I have given way, sir, in these observations, to any wanton hyperbole, or exaggerated assertions, they will, I hope, be pardoned by those who shall reflect upon the real absurdity of the proposal, which I am endeavouring to show in its true state, and by all who shall consider, that to return thanks for the management of the war, is to return thanks for the carnage of Carthagena, for the ruin of our merchants, for the loss of our reputation, and for the exaltation of the family of Bourbon.
I hope no man will be so unjust, or can be so ignorant, as to insinuate or believe, that I impute any part of our miscarriages to the personal conduct of his majesty, or that I think his majesty's concern for the prosperity of his people unworthy of the warmest and sincerest gratitude. If the address were confined to the inspection of our sovereign alone, I should be very far from censuring or ridiculing it; for his majesty has not the event of war in his power, nor can confer upon his ministers or generals that knowledge which they have neglected to acquire, or that capacity which nature has denied them. He may perform more than we have a right to expect, and yet be unsuccessful; he may deserve the utmost gratitude, even when, by the misconduct of his servants, the nation is distressed.
But, sir, in drawing up an address, we should remember that we are declaring our sentiments not only to his majesty, but to all Europe; to our allies, our enemies, and our posterity; that this address will be understood, like all others; that thanks offered in this manner, by custom, signify approbation; and that, therefore, we must at present repress our gratitude, because it can only bring into contempt our sovereign and ourselves.
Sir Robert WALPOLE spoke next, to this effect:—Sir, I am very far from thinking that the war against Spain has been so unsuccessful as some gentlemen have represented it; that the losses which we have suffered have been more frequent than we had reason to expect from the situation of our enemies, and the course of our trade; or our defeats, such as the common chance of war does not often produce, even when the inequality of the contending powers is incontestable, and the ultimate event as near to certainty, as the nature of human affairs ever can admit.
Nor am I convinced, sir, even though it should be allowed that no exaggeration had been made of our miscarriages, that the impropriety of an address of thanks to his majesty for his regal care in the management of the war, is gross or flagrant. For if it be allowed that his majesty may be innocent of all the misconduct that has produced our defeats, that he may have formed schemes wisely, which were unskilfully prosecuted; that even valour and knowledge concurring, will not always obtain success; and that, therefore, some losses may be suffered, and some defeats received, though not only his majesty gave the wisest direction, but his officers executed them with the utmost diligence and fidelity; how will it appear from our ill success, that our sovereign does not deserve our gratitude? And if it shall appear to us that our thanks are merited, who shall restrain us from offering them in the most publick and solemn manner?
For my part, I think no consideration worthy of regard in competition with truth and justice, and, therefore, shall never forbear any expression of duty to my sovereign, for fear of the ridicule of our secret, or the reproaches of our publick enemies.
With regard to the address under our consideration, if it be allowed either that we have not been unsuccessful in any opprobrious degree, or that ill success does not necessarily imply any defect in the conduct of his majesty, or debar us from the right of acknowledging his goodness and his wisdom, I think, sir, no objection can be made to the form of expression now proposed, in which all sounding and pompous language, all declamatory exaggeration, and studied figures of speech, all appearance of exultation, and all the farce of rhetorick are carefully avoided, and nothing inserted that may disgust the most delicate, or raise scruples in the most sincere.
Yet, sir, that we may not waste our time upon trivial disputes, when the nation expects relief from our counsels, that we may not suspend the prosecution of the war by complaints of past defeats, or retard that assistance and advice which our sovereign demands, by inquiring whether it may be more proper to thank, or to counsel him, I am willing, for the sake of unanimity, that this clause should be omitted; and hope that no other part of the address can give any opportunity for criticism, or for objections.
Sir, it is no wonder that the right honourable gentleman willingly consents to the omission of this clause, which could be inserted for no other purpose than that he might sacrifice it to the resentment which it must naturally produce, and by an appearance of modesty and compliance, pass easily through the first day and obviate any severe inquiries that might be designed.
He is too well acquainted with the opinion of many whom the nation has chosen to represent them, and with the universal clamours of the people, too accurately informed of the state of our enemies, and too conscious how much his secret machinations have hindered our success, to expect or hope that we should meet here to return thanks for the management of the war; of a war in which nothing has been attempted by his direction that was likely to succeed, and in which no advantage has been gained, but by acting without orders, and against his hopes.
That I do not charge him, sir, without reason, or invent accusations only to obstruct his measures, or to gratify my own resentment; that I do not eagerly catch flying calumnies, prolong the date of casual reproaches, encourage the malignity of the envious, or adopt the suspicions of the melancholy; that I do not impose upon myself by a warm imagination, and endeavour to communicate to others impressions which I have only received myself from prejudice and malignity, will be proved from the review of his conduct since the beginning of our dispute with Spain, in which it will be found that he has been guilty, not of single errours, but of deliberate treachery; that he has always cooperated with our enemies, and sacrificed to his private interest the happiness and the honour of the British nation.
How long our merchants were plundered, our sailors enslaved, and our colonies intimidated without resentment; how long the Spaniards usurped the dominion of the seas, searched our ships at pleasure, confiscated the cargoes without control, and tortured our fellow-subjects with impunity, cannot but be remembered. Not only every gentleman in this house, but every man in the nation, however indolent, ignorant, or obscure, can tell what barbarities were exercised, what ravages were committed, what complaints were made, and how they were received. It is universally known that this gentleman, and those whom he has seduced by pensions and employments, treated the lamentations of ruined families, and the outcries of tortured Britons, as the clamours of sedition, and the murmurs of malignity suborned to inflame the people, and embarrass the government.
It is known, sir, that our losses were at one time ridiculed as below the consideration of the legislature, and the distress of the most useful and honest part of mankind was made the subject of merriment and laughter; the awkward wit of all the hirelings of the town was exerted to divert the attention of the publick, and all their art was employed to introduce other subjects into conversation, or to still the complaints which they heard with a timely jest.
But their wit was not more successful on this, than on other occasions; their imaginations were soon exhausted, and they found, as at other times, that they must have recourse to new expedients. The first artifice of shallow courtiers is to elude with promises those complaints which they cannot confute, a practice that requires no understanding or knowledge, and therefore has been generally followed by the administration. This artifice they quickly made use of, when they found that neither the merchants nor the nation were to be silenced by an affectation of negligence, or the sallies of mirth; that it was no longer safe to jest upon the miseries of their countrymen, the destruction of our trade, and the violation of our rights, they condescended, therefore, to some appearances of compassion, and promised to exert all their influence to procure redress and security.
That they might not appear, sir, to have made this promise only to free themselves from present importunity, they set negotiations on foot, despatched memorials, remonstrances, propositions, and computations, and with an air of gravity and importance, assembled at proper times to peruse the intelligence which they received, and to concert new instructions for their ministers.
While this farce was acted, sir, innumerable artifices were made use of to reconcile the nation to suspense and delay. Sometimes the distance of the Spanish dominions in America retarded the decision of our claims. Sometimes the dilatory disposition of the Spaniards, and the established methods of their courts, made it impossible to procure a more speedy determination. Sometimes orders were despatched to America in favour of our trade, and sometimes those orders were neglected by the captains of the Spanish ships, and the governours of their provinces; and when it was inquired why those captains and governours were not punished or recalled, we were treated with contempt, for not knowing what had been so lately told us of the dilatory proceedings of the Spanish courts.
In the mean time our merchants were plundered, and our sailors thrown into dungeons; our flag was insulted, and our navigation restrained, by men acting under the commission of the king of Spain; we perceived no effect of our negotiations but the expense, and our enemies not only insisted on their former claims, but prosecuted them with the utmost rigour, insolence, and cruelty.
It must, indeed, sir, be urged in favour of our minister, that he did not refuse any act of submission, or omit any method of supplication by which he might hope to soften the Spaniards; he solicited their favour at their own court, he sent commissaries into their country, he assisted them in taking possession of dominions, to which neither we nor they have proved a right; and he employed the navies of Britain to transport into Italy the prince on whom the new-erected kingdom was to be conferred.
Well might he expect that the Spaniards would be softened by so much kindness and forbearance, and that gratitude would at length induce them to spare those whom no injuries or contempt had been able to alienate from them, and to allow those a free course through the seas of America, to whom they had been indebted for an uninterrupted passage to the possession of a kingdom.
He might likewise urge, sir, that when he was obliged to make war upon them, he was so tender of their interest, that the British admiral was sent out with orders rather to destroy his own fleet than the galleons, which, in appearance, he was sent to take, and to perish by the inclemency of the climate, rather than enter the Spanish ports, terrify their colonies, or plunder their towns.
But to little purpose, sir, did our minister implore the compassion of the Spaniards, and represent the benefits by which we might claim it; for his compliance was by the subtle Spaniards attributed, not to kindness, but to fear; and it was therefore determined to reduce him to absolute slavery, by the same practices which had already sunk him to so abject a state.
They therefore treated our remonstrances with contempt, continued their insolence and their oppressions, and while our agent was cringing at their court with fresh instructions in his hand, while he was hurrying with busy looks from one grandee to another, and, perhaps, dismissed without an audience one day, and sent back in the midst of his harangue on another, the guardships of the Spaniards continued their havock, our merchants were ruined, and our sailors tortured.
At length, sir, the nation was too much inflamed to be any longer amused with idle negotiations, or trifling expedients; the streets echoed with the clamours of the populace, and this house was crowded with petitions from the merchants. The honourable person, with all his art, found himself unable any longer to elude a determination of this affair. Those whom he had hitherto persuaded that he had failed merely for want of abilities, began now to suspect that he had no desire of better success; and those who had hitherto cheerfully merited their pensions by an unshaken adherence to all his measures, who had extolled his wisdom and his integrity with all the confidence of security, began now to be shaken by the universality of the censures which the open support of perfidy brought upon them. They were afraid any longer to assert what they neither believed themselves, nor could persuade others to admit. The most indolent were alarmed, the most obstinate convinced, and the most profligate ashamed.
What could now be done, sir, to gain a few months, to secure a short interval of quiet, in which his agents might be employed to disseminate some new falsehood, bribe to his party some new vindicators, or lull the people with the opiate of another expedient, with an account of concessions from the court of Spain, or a congress to compute the losses, and adjust the claims of our merchants?
Something was necessarily to be attempted, and orders were therefore despatched by our minister, to his slave at the court of Spain, to procure some stipulations that might have at least the appearance of a step towards the conclusion of the debate. His agent obeyed him with his usual alacrity and address, and in time sent him, for the satisfaction of the British people, the celebrated convention.
The convention, sir, has been so lately discussed, is so particularly remembered, and so universally condemned, that it would be an unjustifiable prodigality of time to expatiate upon it. There were but few in the last senate, and I hope there are none in this, who did not see the meanness of suffering incontestable claims to be disputed by commissaries, the injustice of the demand which was made upon the South-sea company, and the contemptuous insolence of amusing us with the shadow of a stipulation, which was to vanish into nothing, unless we purchased a ratification of it, by paying what we did not owe.
The convention, therefore, sir, was so far from pacifying, that it only exasperated the nation, and took from our minister the power of acting any longer openly in favour of the Spaniards; of whom it must be confessed, that their wisdom was overpowered by their pride, and that, for the sake of showing to all the powers of Europe the dependence in which they held the court of Britain, they took from their friends the power of serving them any longer, and made it unsafe for them to pay that submission to which they were inclined.
The Spaniards did not sufficiently distinguish between the nation and the ministry of Britain, nor suspected that their interests, inclinations, and opinions were directly opposite; and that those who were caressed, feared, and reverenced by the ministry, were by the people hated, despised, and ridiculed.
By enslaving our ministry, they weakly imagined that they had conquered our nation; nor, perhaps, sir, would they quickly have discovered their mistake, had they used their victory with greater moderation, condescended to govern their new province with less rigour, and sent us laws in any other form than that of the convention.
But the security which success excites, produced in them the same effects as it has often done in others, and destroyed, in some degree, the advantages of the conquest by which it was inspired. The last proof of their contempt of our sovereign and our nation, was too flagrant to be palliated, and too publick not to be resented. The cries of the nation were redoubled, the solicitations of the merchants renewed, the absurdity of our past conduct exposed, the meanness of our forbearance reproached, and the necessity of more vigorous measures evidently proved.
The friends of Spain discovered, sir, at length, that war was necessarily to be proclaimed, and that it would be no longer their interest to act in open opposition to justice and reason, to the policy of all ages, and remonstrances of the whole nation.
The minister, therefore, after long delays, after having run round the circle of all his artifices, and endeavouring to intimidate the nation by false representations of the power of our enemies, and the danger of an invasion from them, at length suffered war to be proclaimed, though not till he had taken all precautions that might disappoint us of success.
He knew that the state of the Spanish dominions exposed them in a particular manner to sudden incursions by small parties, and that in former wars against them, our chief advantage had been gained by the boldness and subtilty of private adventurers, who by hovering over their coasts in small vessels, without raising the alarms which the sight of a royal navy necessarily produces, had discovered opportunities of landing unexpectedly, and entering their towns by surprise, of plundering their wealthy ships, or enriching themselves by ransoms and compositions; he knew what inconsiderable bodies of men, incited by private advantage, selected with care for particular expeditions, instructed by secret intelligence, and concealed by the smallness of their numbers, had found means to march up into the country, through ways which would never have been attempted by regular forces, and have brought upon the Spaniards more terrour and distress than could have been produced by a powerful army, however carefully disciplined or however skilfuly commanded.
It was, therefore, sir, his first care to secure his darling Spaniards from the pernicious designs of private adventurers; he knew not but some of Elizabeth's heroes might unfortunately revive, and terrify, with an unexpected invasion, the remotest corners of the Spanish colonies, or appear before their ports with his nimble sloops, and bid defiance to their navies and their garrisons. When, therefore, a bill was introduced into this house, by which encouragement was given to the subjects of this kingdom to fit out privateers, and by which those who should conquer any of the colonies of the Spaniards, were confirmed in the possession of them for ever, it cannot be forgotten with what zeal he opposed, and with what steadiness he rejected it, though it is not possible to assign any disadvantage which could have been produced by passing it, and the utmost that could be urged against it was, that it was unnecessary and useless.
Having thus discouraged that method of war which was most to be dreaded by our enemies, and left them little to fear but from national forces and publick preparations, his next care was to secure them from any destructive blow, by giving them time to equip their fleets, collect their forces, repair their fortifications, garrison their towns, and regulate their trade; for this purpose he delayed, as long as it was possible, the despatch of our navies, embarrassed our levies of sailors by the violence of impresses; violence, which proper encouragement and regulations might have made unnecessary; and suffered the privateers of the enemy to plunder our merchants without control, under pretence that ships of war could not be stationed, nor convoys provided for their protection.
At length several fleets were fitted out, Vernon was sent to America, and Haddock into the Mediterranean, with what coqsequences it is well known; nor should I mention them at this time, had I not been awakened to the remembrance of them by a proposal of thanks for the conduct of the war.
The behaviour of the two admirals was very different; though it has not yet appeared but that their orders were the same. Vernon with six ships destroyed those fortifications, before which Hosier formerly perished, in obedience to the commands of our ministry. How this success was received by the minister and his adherents, how much they were offended at the exultations of the populace, how evidently they appeared to consider it as a breach of their scheme, and a deviation from their directions, the whole nation can relate.
Nor is it to be forgotten, sir, how invidiously the minister himself endeavoured to extenuate the honour of that action, by attempting to procure in the address, which was on that occasion presented to his majesty, a suppression of the number of the ships with which he performed it.
In the mean time, sir, the nation expected accounts of the same kind from the Mediterranean, where Haddock was stationed with a very considerable force; but instead of relations of ports bombarded, and towns plundered, of navies destroyed, and villages laid in ashes, we were daily informed of the losses of our merchants, whose ships were taken almost within sight of our squadrons.
We had, indeed, once the satisfaction of hearing that the fleet of Spain was confined in the port of Cadiz, unprovided with provisions, and it was rashly reported that means would either be found of destroying them in the harbour, or that they would be shut up in that unfruitful part of the country, till they should be obliged to disband their crews.
We, therefore, sir, bore with patience the daily havock of our trade, in expectation of the entire destruction of the royal navy of Spain, which would reduce them to despair of resistance, and compel them to implore peace. But while we were flattering ourselves with those pleasing dreams, we were wakened on a sudden with an astonishing account that the Spaniards had left Cadiz, and, without any interruption from the Britons, were taking in provisions at Ferrol.
This disappointment of our expectations did, indeed, discourage us, but not deprive us of hope; we knew that the most politick are sometimes deceived, and that the most vigilant may sometimes relax their attention; we did not expect in our commanders any exemption from human errours, and required only that they should endeavour to repair their failures, and correct their mistakes; and, therefore, waited without clamour, in expectation that what was omitted at Cadiz would be performed at Ferrol.
But no sooner, sir, had the Spaniards stored their fleet, than we were surprised with a revolution of affairs yet more wonderful. Haddock, instead of remaining before Ferrol, was drawn off by some chimerical alarm to protect Minorca, and the Spaniards in the mean time sailed away to America, in conjunction with the French squadron that had been for some time ready for the voyage.
If we consider the absurdity of this conduct, it cannot but be imagined that our minister must send Haddock false intelligence and treacherous directions, on purpose that the Spanish fleet might escape without interruption. For how can it be conceived that the Spaniards could have formed any real design of besieging port Mahon? Was it probable that they would have sent an army, in defenceless transports, into the jaws of the British fleet? and it was well known that they had no ships of war to protect them. It was not very agreeable to common policy to land an army upon an island, an island wholly destitute of provisions for their support, while an hostile navy was in possession of the sea, by which the fortress which their troops were destined to besiege might be daily supplied with necessaries, and the garrison augmented with new forces, while their army would be itself besieged in a barren island, without provisions, without recruits, without hope of succour, or possibility of success.
But such was the solicitude of our admiral for the preservation of Minorca, that he abandoned his station, and suffered the Spaniards to join their confederates of France, and prosecute their voyage to America without hinderance or pursuit.
In America they remained for some time masters of the sea, and confined Vernon to the ports; but want of provisions obliging the French to return, no invasion of our colonies was attempted, nor any of those destructive measures pursued which we had reason to fear, and of which our minister, notwithstanding his wonderful sagacity, could not have foretold that they would have been defeated by an unexpected scarcity of victuals.
The Spaniards, however, gained, by this expedient, time to repair their fortifications, strengthen their garrisons, and dispose their forces in the most advantageous manner; and therefore, though they were not enabled to attack our dominions, had at least an opportunity of securing their own.
At length, sir, lest it should be indisputably evident that our minister was in confederacy with the Spaniards, it was determined, that their American territories should be invaded; but care was taken to disappoint the success of the expedition by employing new-raised troops, and officers without experience, and to make it burdensome to the nation by a double number of officers, of which no use could be discovered, but that of increasing the influence, and multiplying the dependants of the ministry.
It was not thought sufficient, sir, to favour the designs of the Spaniards by the delay which the levy of new troops necessarily produced, and to encourage them by the probability of an easy resistance against raw forces; nor was the nation, in the opinion of the minister, punished for its rebellion against him with adequate severity, by being condemned to support a double number of troops. Some other methods were to be used for embarrassing our preparations and protracting the war.
The troops, therefore, sir, being, by the accident of a hard winter, more speedily raised than it was reasonable to expect, were detained in this island for several months, upon trivial pretences; and were at length suffered to embark at a time when it was well known that they would have much more formidable enemies than the Spaniards to encounter; when the unhealthy season of the American climate must necessarily destroy them by thousands; when the air itself was poison, and to be wounded certainly death.
These were the hardships to which part of our fellow-subjects have been exposed by the tyranny of the minister; hardships which caution could not obviate, nor bravery surmount; they were sent to combat with nature, to encounter with the blasts of disease, and to make war against the elements. They were sent to feed the vultures of America, and to gratify the Spaniards with an easy conquest.
In the passage the general died, and the command devolved upon a man who had never seen an enemy, and was, therefore, only a speculative warriour; an accident, which, as it was not unlikely to happen, would have been provided against by any minister who wished for success. The melancholy event of this expedition I need not mention, it was such as might be reasonably expected; when our troops were sent out without discipline, without commanders, into a country where even the dews are fatal, against enemies informed of their approach, secured by fortifications, inured to the climate, well provided, and skilfully commanded.
In the mean time, sir, it is not to be forgotten what depredations were made upon our trading vessels, with what insolence ships of very little force approached our coasts, and seized our merchants in sight of our fortifications; it is not to be forgotten that the conduct of some of those who owed their revenues and power to the minister, gave yet stronger proofs of a combination.
It is not to be forgotten with what effrontery the losses of our merchants were ridiculed, with what contemptuous triumph of revenge they were charged with the guilt of this fatal war, and how publickly they were condemned to suffer for their folly.
For this reason, sir, they were either denied the security of convoys, or forsaken in the most dangerous parts of the sea, by those to whose protection they were, in appearance, committed. For this reason, they were either hindered from engaging in their voyage by the loss of those men who were detained unactive in the ships of war, or deprived of their crews upon the high seas, or suffered to proceed only to become a prey to the Spaniards.
But it was not, sir, a sufficient gratification of our implacable minister, that the merchants were distressed for alarming the nation; it was thought, likewise, necessary to punish the people for believing too easily the reports of the merchants, and to warn them for ever against daring to imagine themselves able to discern their own interest, or to prescribe other measures to the ministers, than they should be themselves inclined to pursue; our minister was resolved to show them, by a master-stroke, that it was in his power to disappoint their desires, by seeming to comply, and to destroy their commerce and their happiness, by the very means by which they hoped to secure them.
For this purpose, sir, did this great man summon all his politicks together, and call to council all his confidants and all his dependants; and it was, at length, after mature deliberation, determined, by their united wisdom, to put more ships into commission, to aggravate the terrours of the impress by new violence and severity, to draw the sailors by the promise of large rewards from the service of the merchants, to collect a mighty fleet, and to despatch it on a secret expedition.
A secret expedition, sir, is a new term of ministerial art, a term which may have been, perhaps, formerly made use of by soldiers, for a design to be executed without giving the enemy an opportunity of providing for their defence; but is now used for a design with which the enemy is better acquainted than those to whom the execution of it is committed. A secret expedition is now an expedition of which every one knows the design, but those at whose expense it is undertaken. It is a kind of naval review, which excels those of the park in magnificence and expense, but is equally useless, and equally ridiculous.
Upon these secret expeditions, however, were fixed for a long time the expectations of the people; they saw all the appearances of preparation for real war; they were informed, that the workmen in the docks were retained by uncommon wages to do double duty; they saw the most specious encouragement offered to the sailors; they saw naval stores accumulated with the utmost industry, heard of nothing but the proof of new cannon, and new contracts for provision; and how much reason soever they had to question the sincerity of the great man who had so long engrossed the management of all affairs, they did not imagine that he was yet so abandoned to levy forces only to exhaust their money, and equip fleets only to expose them to ridicule.
When, therefore, sir, after the usual delays, the papers had informed the people that the great fleet was sailed, they no longer doubted that the Spaniards were to be reduced to our own terms; they expected to be told, in a few days, of the destruction of fleets, the demolition of castles, and the plunder of cities; and everyone envied the fortune of those who, by being admitted into their formidable fleet, were entitled to the treasures of such wealthy enemies.
When they had for some time indulged these expectations, an account was brought, that the fleet was returned without the least action, or the least attempt, and that new provisions were to be taken in, that they might set out upon another secret expedition.
But, sir, this wonder-working term had now lost its efficacy, and it was discovered, that secret expeditions, like all other secret services, were only expedients to drain the money of the people, and to conceal the ignorance or villany of the minister.
Such has been the conduct for which we are desired to return thanks in an humble and dutiful address, such are the transactions which we are to recommend to the approbation of our constituents, and such the triumphs upon which we must congratulate our sovereign.
For my part, sir, I cannot but think that silence is a censure too gentle of that wickedness which no language can exaggerate, and for which, as it has, perhaps, no example, human kind have not yet provided a name. Murder, parricide, and treason, are modest appellations when referred to that conduct by which a king is betrayed, and a nation ruined, under pretence of promoting its interest, by a man trusted with the administration of publick affairs.
Let us, therefore, sir, if it be thought not proper to lay before his majesty the sentiments of his people in their full extent, at least not endeavour to conceal them from him; let us, at least, address him in such a manner as may give him some occasion to inquire into the late transactions, which have for many years been such, that to inquire into them is to condemn them.
Sir Robert WALPOLE rose again, and spoke to this effect:—Sir, though I am far from being either confounded or intimidated by this atrocious charge; though I am confident, that all the measures which have been so clamorously censured, will admit of a very easy vindication, and that whenever they are explained they will be approved; yet as an accusation so complicated cannot be confuted without a long recapitulation of past events, and a deduction of many particular circumstances, some of which may require evidence, and some a very minute and prolix explication, I cannot think this a proper day for engaging in the controversy, because it is my interest that it may be accurately discussed.
At present, sir, I shall content myself with bare assertions, like those of him by whom I am accused, and hope they will not be heard with less attention, or received with less belief. For surely it was never denied to any man to defend himself with the same weapons with which he is attacked.
I shall, therefore, sir, make no scruple to assert, that the treasure of the publick has been employed with the utmost frugality, to promote the purposes for which it was granted; that our foreign affairs have been transacted with the utmost fidelity, in pursuance of long consultations; and shall venture to add, that our success has not been such as ought to produce any suspicion of negligence or treachery.
That our design against Carthagena was defeated, cannot be denied; but what war has been one continued series of success? In the late war with France, of which the conduct has been so lavishly celebrated, did no designs miscarry? If we conquered at Ramillies, were we not in our turn beaten at Almanza? If we destroyed the French ships, was it not always with some loss of our own? And since the sufferings of our merchants have been mentioned with so much acrimony, do not the lists of the ships taken in that war, prove that the depredations of privateers cannot be entirely prevented?
The disappointment, sir, of the publick expectation by the return of the fleets, has been charged upon the administration, as a crime too enormous to be mentioned without horrour and detestation. That the ministry have not the elements in their power, that they do not prescribe the course of the wind, is a sufficient proof of their negligence and weakness: with as much justice is it charged upon them, that the expectations of the populace, which they did not raise, and to which, perhaps, the conquest of a kingdom had not been equal, failed of being gratified.
I am very far from hoping or desiring that the house should be satisfied with a defence like this; I know, by observing the practice of the opponents of the ministry, what fallacy may be concealed in general assertions, and am so far from wishing to evade a more exact inquiry, that if the gentleman who has thus publickly and confidently accused the ministry, will name a day for examining the state of the nation, I will second his motion.
[The address was at length agreed to, without a division.]
Mr. PULTENEY then moved, that the state of the nation should be considered six weeks hence; sir Robert WALPOLE seconded the motion, and it was unanimously agreed, that this house will, on the 21st of next month, resolve itself into a committee of the whole house, to consider of the state of the nation. But when that day came, sir Robert WALPOLE having been able to defeat a motion which was to refer some papers to a secret committee, the consideration of the state of the nation was put off for a fortnight; but on the eve of that day, both houses adjourned for fourteen days, during which, sir Robert WALPOLE resigned his employments of first lord of the treasury, and chancellor and under treasurer of his majesty's exchequer; and was created a peer, by the title of lord WALPOLE, and earl of ORFORD.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 9, 1741-2.
ON A MOTION FOR INQUIRING INTO THE CONDUCT OF AFFAIRS AT HOME AND ABROAD, DURING THE LAST TWENTY YEARS.
Lord LIMERICK rose, and spoke in the following manner:—Sir, as I am about to offer to the house a motion of the highest importance to the honour and happiness of our country, to the preservation of our privileges, and the continuance of our constitution, I make no doubt of a candid attention from this assembly, and hope for such a determination as shall be the result not of external influence, but of real conviction.
I cannot but congratulate myself and all lovers of their country, that we are arrived at a time, in which such hopes may be rationally indulged, that we shall soon see the triumph of liberty, and the renovation of senatorial freedom. It is not without the highest satisfaction, that I find my life protracted to that happy day, in which the yoke of dependence has been shaken off, and the shackles of oppression have been broken; in which truth and justice have once more raised up their heads, and obtained that regard which had so long been paid to splendid wickedness and successful rapine.
The time is now past, in which it was meritorious to harden the heart against pity, and the forehead against shame; to plunder the people by needless taxes, and insult them by displaying their spoils before their eyes, in luxurious riot, and boundless magnificence; when the certain method of obtaining what the greatest part, even of good men, cannot but sometimes wish to acquire, interest, affluence, and honour, was an implicit resignation to authority, a desertion of all principles, defiance of all censure, and an open declaration against any other motives of action, than the sole pleasure of an arbitrary minister.
It is now, sir, no longer considered as an instance of disaffection to the government, to represent the miseries and declare the opinions of the people; to propose their interest as the great basis of government, the general end of society, and the parent of law. It is now no longer criminal to affirm, that they have a right to complain when they are, in their own opinion, injured, and to be heard when they complain. It may now be with safety asserted, that those who swell with the pride of office, and glitter with the magnificence of a court, however they may display their affluence, or boast their titles; with whatever contempt they may have learned of late to look upon their fellow-subjects, who have no possessions but what they have obtained by their industry, nor any honours but what are voluntarily paid to their understanding and their virtue; with whatever authority they may dictate to their dependants, or whatever reverence they may exact from a long subordination of hirelings, are, amidst all their pomp and influence, only the servants of the people, intrusted by them with the administration of their affairs, and accountable to them for the abuse of trust.
That trusts of the highest importance have been long abused, that the servants of the people, having long thought themselves out of the reach of justice, and above examination, have very ill discharged the offices in which they have been engaged, that the publick advantage has been wholly disregarded, that treaties have been concluded without any regard to the interest of Britain, and that our foreign and domestick affairs have been managed with equal ignorance, negligence, or wickedness, the present state of Europe, and the calamities of this country, will sufficiently inform us.
If we survey the condition of foreign nations, we shall find, that the power and dominions of the family of Bourbon, a family which has never had any other designs than the extirpation of true religion, and the universal slavery of mankind, have been daily increased. We shall find that they have increased by the declension of the house of Austria, which treaties and our interest engage us to support.
But had their acquisitions been made only by the force of arms, had they grown stronger only by victories, and more wealthy only by plunder, our ministers might, with some appearance of reason, have imputed their success to accident, and informed us, that we gained, in the mean time, a sufficient counterbalance to those advantages, by an uninterrupted commerce, and by the felicity of peace; peace, which, in every nation, has been found to produce affluence, and of which the wisest men have thought that it could scarcely be too dearly purchased.
But peace has, in this nation, by the wonderful artifices of our ministers, been the parent of poverty and misery; we have been so far from finding our commerce extended by it, that we have enjoyed it only by a contemptible patience of the most open depredations, by a long connivance at piracy, and by a continued submission to insults, which no other nation would have borne.
We have been so far from seeing any part of our taxes remitted, that we have been loaded with more rigorous exactions to support the expenses of peace, than were found necessary to defray the charges of a war against those, whose opulence and power had incited them to aspire to the dominion of the world.
How these taxes have been employed, and why our trade has been neglected, why our allies have been betrayed, and why the ancient enemies of our country have been suffered to grow powerful by our connivances, it is now time to examine; and therefore I move, that a committee be appointed to inquire into the conduct of affairs at home and abroad during the last twenty years.
Sir John ST. AUBIN then spoke as follows:—Sir, I rise up to second this motion; and, as the noble lord has opened it in so full and proper a manner, and as I do not doubt but that other gentlemen are ready to support it, more practised in speaking, of greater abilities and authority than myself, I am the less anxious about the injury it may receive from the part I bear in it. I think the proposition is so evident, that it wants no enforcement; it comes to you from the voice of the nation, which, thank God, has at last found admittance within these walls.
Innocence is of so delicate a nature, that it cannot bear suspicion, and therefore will desire inquiry; because it will always be justified by it. Guilt, from its own consciousness, will use subterfuges, and fly to concealment; and the more righteous and authoritative the inquiry, the more it will be avoided; because the greater will be the dread of punishment.
In private life, I am contented with men's virtues only, without seeking for opportunities of blame. In a publick character, when national grievances cry aloud for inquiry and justice, it is our duty to pursue all the footsteps of guilt; and the loud, the pathetick appeal of my constituents, is more forcibly persuasive than any motive of private tenderness. This appeal is not the clamour of faction, artfully raised to disturb the operation of government, violent for a while, and soon to be appeased. It is the complaint of long and patient sufferings, a complaint not to be silenced; and which all endeavours to suppress it, would only make more importunate and clamorous. It is the solemn appeal of the whole people, of the united body of our constituents, in this time of national calamity, earnestly beseeching you, in a legal parliamentary way, to redress their grievances, to revive your ancient right of inquiry, to explore the most remote and hidden sources of iniquity, to detect the bold authors of their distress, that they may be made examples of national justice.
It is to you they appeal, the true, the genuine representatives of the people. Not like former parliaments, an instrument of state, the property of a minister, purchased by the missionaries of corruption, who have been dispersed through the kingdom, and furnished with the publick money to invade all natural interest, by poisoning the morals of the people. Upon this rotten foundation has been erected a towering fabrick of corruption: a most dangerous conspiracy has been carried on against the very essence of our constitution, a formidable system of ministerial power has been formed, fallaciously assuming, under constitutional appearances, the name of legal government.
In this system we have seen the several offices of administration meanly resolving themselves under the direction and control of one man: while this scheme was pursued, the nation has been ingloriously patient of foreign indignities; our trade has been most shamefully neglected, or basely betrayed; a war with an impotent enemy, most amply provided for, unsuccessfully carried on; the faith of treaties broke; our natural allies deserted, and weakened even by that power, which we now dread for want of their assistance.
It is not the bare removal from office that will satisfy the nation, especially if such removal is dignified with the highest marks of royal favour. This only gives mankind a reasonable fear that his majesty has rather condescended to the importunities, than adopted the opinion of his people. It is, indeed, a most gracious condescension, a very high instance of his majesty's just intentions to remove any of his servants upon national suspicion; but it will give his majesty a most unfavourable opinion of his people, if he is not satisfied that this suspicion was just. It is the unfortunate situation of arbitrary kings, that they know the sentiments of their people only from whisperers in their closet. Our monarchy has securer establishments. Our sovereign is always sure of knowing the true sense of his people, because he may see it through the proper, the constitutional medium: but then this medium must be pure, it must transmit every object in its real form and its natural colours. This is all that is now contended for. You are called to the exercise of your just right of inquiry, that his majesty may see what reason there is for this general inquietude.
This motion is of a general nature; whom it may more particularly affect, I shall not determine. But there is a great person, lately at the head of the administration, who stands foremost, the principal object of national suspicion. He surely will not decline this inquiry, it is his own proposition; he has frequently, in the name of the whole administration, thrown down his gauntlet here; has desired your inquiries, and has rested his fate on your justice. The nation accepts the challenge, they join issue with him, they are now desirous to bring this great cause in judgment before you.
It must be imputed to the long intermission of this right of inquiry, that the people have now this cause of complaint; had the administration of this great person been submitted to the constitutional controls, had his conduct undergone strict and frequent inquiries, he had parts and abilities to have done great honour and service to this country. But the will, uncontrouled, for ever must and will produce security and wantonness; nor can moderation and despotick power subsist long together.
In vain do we admire the outlines of our constitution, in vain do we boast of those wise and salutary restraints, which our ancestors, at the expense of their blood and treasure, have wisely imposed upon monarchy itself, if it is to be a constitution in theory only, if this evasive doctrine is to be admitted, that a fellow-subject of our own, perhaps of the lowest rank among us, may be delegated by the crown to exercise the administration of government, with absolute, uncontroulable dominion over us; which must be the case, if ministerial conduct is not liable to parliamentary inquiries.
If I did not think this motion agreeable to the rules and proceedings of the senate; if I thought it was meant to introduce any procedure which was not strictly consonant to the laws and constitution of my country, I do most solemnly protest I would be against, it. But as I apprehend it to arise from the nature and spirit of our constitution, as it will defend the innocent, and can be detrimental only to the guilty, I do most heartily second the motion.
The hon. Henry PELHAM opposed the motion to the following effect:—Sir, if it was not daily to be observed, how much the minds of the wisest and most moderate men are elated with success, and how often those, who have been able to surmount the strongest obstacles with unwearied diligence, and to preserve their fortitude unshaken amidst hourly disappointments, have been betrayed by slight advantages into indecent exultations, unreasonable confidence, and chimerical hopes; had I not long remarked the infatuation of prosperity, and the pride of triumph, I should not have heard the motion which has been now made without, astonishment.
It has been long the business or the amusement of the gentlemen, who, having for some time conferred upon themselves the venerable titles of patriots, advocates for the people, and defenders of the constitution, have at length persuaded part of the nation to dignify them with the same appellation, to display in the most pathetick language, and aggravate with the most hyperbolical exaggerations, the wantonness with which the late ministry exercised their power, the exorbitance of their demands, and the violence of their measures. They have indulged their imaginations, which have always been sufficiently fruitful in satire and invective, by representing them as men in whom all regard to decency or reputation was extinguished, men who no longer submitted to wear the mask of hypocrisy, or thought the esteem of mankind worth their care; who had ceased to profess any regard to the welfare of their country, or any desire of advancing the publick happiness; and who no longer desired any other effects of their power, than the security of themselves and the conquest of their opponents.
Such, sir, has been the character of the ministry, which, by the incessant endeavours of these disinterested patriots, has been carried to the remotest corners of the empire, and disseminated through all the degrees of the people. Every man, whom they could enlist among their pupils, whom they could persuade to see with their eyes, rather than his own, and who was not so stubborn as to require proofs of their assertions, and reasons of their conduct; every man who, having no sentiments of his own, hoped to become important by echoing those of his instructors, was taught to think and to say, that the court was filled with open corruption; that the greatest and the wisest men of the kingdom set themselves publickly to sale, and held an open traffick for votes and places; that whoever engaged in the party of the minister, declared himself ready to support his cause against truth, and reason, and conviction, and was no longer under the restraint of shame or virtue.
These assertions, hardy as they were, they endeavoured to support by instances of measures, which they described as having no other tendency, than to advance the court to absolute authority, to enslave the nation, or to betray it: and more happily would they have propagated their system, and much sooner would they have obtained a general declaration of the people in their favour, had they been able to have produced a motion like this.
Should the influence of these men increase, should they grow secure in the possession of their power, by any new methods of deluding the people, what wonderful expedients, what unheard-of methods of government may not be expected from them? What degrees of violence may they not be supposed to practise, who have flushed their new authority by a motion which was never projected since the first existence of our government, or offered by the most arbitrary minister in all the confidence of an established majority.
It may, perhaps, be imagined by many of those who are unacquainted with senatorial affairs, as many of the members of this house may without any reproach be supposed to be, that I have made use of those arts against the patriots which they have so long practised against the court; that I have exaggerated the enormity of the motion by unjust comparisons, or rhetorical flights; and that there will be neither danger nor inconvenience in complying with it to any but those who have betrayed their trust, or neglected their duty.
I doubt not, but many of those with whom this motion has been concerted, have approved it without seeing all its consequences; and have been betrayed into that approbation by a laudable zeal for their country, and an honest indignation against corruption and treachery, by a virtuous desire of detecting wickedness, and of securing our constitution from any future dangers or attacks.
For the sake, therefore, of these gentlemen, whom I cannot but suppose willing to follow the dictates of their own consciences, and to act upon just motives, I shall endeavour to lay open the nature of this extraordinary motion, and doubt not but that when they find it, as it will unquestionably appear, unreasonable in itself, and dangerous to posterity, they will change their opinion for the same reasons as they embraced it, and prefer the happiness of their country to the prosperity of their party.
Against an inquiry into the conduct of all foreign and domestick affairs for twenty years past, it is no weak argument that it is without precedent; that neither the zeal of patriotism, nor the rage of faction, ever produced such a motion in any former age. It cannot be doubted by those who have read our histories, that formerly our country has produced men equally desirous of detecting wickedness, and securing liberty, with those who are now congratulating their constituents on the success of their labours; and that faction has swelled in former times to a height, at which it may reasonably be hoped it will never arrive again, is too evident to be controverted.
What then can we suppose was the reason, that neither indignation, nor integrity, nor resentment, ever before directed a motion like this? Was it not, because it neither will serve the purposes of honesty, nor wickedness; that it would have defeated the designs of good, and betrayed those of bad men; that it would have given patriotism an appearance of faction, rather than have vested faction with the disguise of patriotism.
It cannot be supposed, that the sagacity of these gentlemen, however great, has enabled them to discover a method of proceeding which escaped the penetration of our ancestors, so long celebrated for the strength of their understanding, and the extent of their knowledge. For it is evident, that without any uncommon effort of the intellectual faculties, he that proposes an inquiry for a year past, might have made the same proposal with regard to a longer time; and it is therefore probable, that the limitation of the term is the effect of his knowledge, rather than of his ignorance.
And, indeed, the absurdity of an universal inquiry for twenty years past is such, that no man, whose station has given him opportunities of being acquainted with publick business, could have proposed it, had he not been misled by the vehemence of resentment, or biassed by the secret operation of some motives different from publick good; for it is no less than a proposal for an attempt impossible to be executed, and of which the execution, if it could be effected would be detrimental to the publick.
Were our nation, sir, like some of the inland kingdoms of the continent, or the barbarous empire of Japan, without commerce, without alliances, without taxes, and without competition with other nations; did we depend only on the product of our own soil to support us, and the strength of our own arms to defend us, without any intercourse with distant empire, or any solicitude about foreign affairs, were the same measures uniformly pursued, the government supported by the same revenues, and administered with the same views, it might not be impracticable to examine the conduct of affairs, both foreign and domestick, for twenty years; because every year would afford only a transcript of the accounts of the last.
But how different is the state of Britain, a nation whose traffick is extended over the earth, whose revenues are every year different, or differently applied, which is daily engaging in new treaties of alliance, or forming new regulations of trade with almost every nation, however distant, which has undertaken the arduous and intricate employments of superintending the interests of all foreign empires, and maintaining the equipoise of the French powers, which receives ambassadors from all the neighbouring princes, and extends its regard to the limits of the world.
In such a nation, every year produces negotiations of peace, or preparations for war, new schemes and different measures, by which expenses are sometimes increased, and sometimes retrenched. In such a nation, every thing is in a state of perpetual vicissitude; because its measures are seldom the effects of choice, but of necessity, arising from the change of conduct in other powers.
Nor is the multiplicity and intricacy of our domestick affairs less remarkable or particular. It is too well known that our debts are great, and our taxes numerous; that our funds, appropriated to particular purposes, are at some times deficient, and at others redundant; and that therefore the money arising from the same imposts, is differently applied in different years. To assert that this fluctuation produces intricacy, may be imagined a censure of those to whose care our accounts are committed; but surely it must be owned, that our accounts are made necessarily less uniform and regular, and such as must require a longer time for a complete examination.
Whoever shall set his foot in our offices, and observe the number of papers with which the transactions of the last twenty years have filled them, will not need any arguments against this motion. When he sees the number of writings which such an inquiry will make necessary to be perused, compared, and extracted, the accounts which must be examined and opposed to others, the intelligence from foreign courts which must be considered, and the estimates of domestick expenses which must be discussed; he will own, that whoever is doomed to the task of this inquiry, would be happy in exchanging his condition with that of the miners of America; and that the most resolute industry, however excited by ambition, or animated by patriotism, must sink under the weight of endless labour.
If it be considered how many are employed in the publick offices, it must be confessed, either that the national treasure is squandered in salaries upon men who have no employment, or that twenty years may be reasonably supposed to produce more papers than a committee can examine; and, indeed, if the committee of inquiry be not more numerous than has ever been appointed, it may be asserted, without exaggeration, that the inquiry into our affairs for twenty years past, will not be accurately performed in less than twenty years to come; in which time those whose conduct is now supposed to have given the chief occasion to this motion, may be expected to be removed for ever from the malice of calumny, and the rage of persecution.
But if it should be imagined by those who, having never been engaged in publick affairs, cannot properly judge of their intricacy and extent, that such an inquiry is in reality so far from being impossible, that it is only the work of a few months, and that the labour of it will be amply recompensed by the discoveries which it will produce, let them but so long suspend the gratification of their curiosity, as to consider the nature of that demand by which they are about to satisfy it. A demand, by which nothing less is required than that all the secrets of our government should be made publick.
It is known in general to every man, whose employment or amusement it has been to consider the state of the French kingdoms, that the last twenty years have been a time not of war, but of negotiations; a period crowned with projects, and machinations often more dangerous than violence and invasions; and that these projects have been counteracted by opposite schemes, that treaties have been defeated by treaties, and one alliance overbalanced by another.
Such a train of transactions, in which almost every court of France has been engaged, must have given occasion to many private conferences, and secret negotiations; many designs must have been discovered by informers who gave their intelligence at the hazard of their lives, and been defeated, sometimes by secret stipulations, and sometimes by a judicious distribution of money to those who presided in senates or councils.
Every man must immediately be convinced, that by the inquiry now proposed, all these secrets will be brought to light; that one prince will be informed of the treachery of his servants, and another see his own cowardice or venality exposed to the world. It is plain, that the channels of intelligence will be for ever stopped, and that no prince will enter into private treaties with a monarch who is denied by the constitution of his empire, the privilege of concealing his own measures. It is evident, that our enemies may hereafter plot our ruin in full security, and that our allies will no longer treat us with confidence.
Since, therefore, the inquiry now demanded is impossible, the motion ought to be rejected, as it can have no other tendency than to expose the senate and the nation to ridicule; and since, if it could be performed, it would produce consequences fatal to our government, as it would expose our most secret measures to our enemies, and weaken the confidence of our allies. I hope every man who regards either his own reputation, or that of the senate, or professes any solicitude for the publick good, will oppose the motion.
Lord QUARENDON spoke to this effect:—Sir, I am always inclined to suspect a man who endeavours rather to terrify than persuade. Exaggerations and hyperboles are seldom made use of by him who has any real arguments to produce. The reasonableness of this motion (of which I was convinced when I first heard it, and of which, I believe, no man can doubt who is not afraid of the inquiry proposed by it) is now, in my opinion, evinced by, the weak opposition which has been made by the honourable gentleman, to whose abilities I cannot deny this attestation, that the cause which he cannot defend, has very little to hope from any other advocate.
And surely he cannot, even by those who, whenever he speaks, stand prepared to applaud him, be thought to have produced any formidable argument against the inquiry, who has advanced little more than that it is impossible to be performed.
Impossibility is a formidable sound to ignorance and cowardice; but experience has often discovered, that it is only a sound uttered by those who have nothing else to say; and courage readily surmounts those obstacles that sink the lazy and timorous into despair.
That there are, indeed, impossibilities in nature, cannot be denied. There may be schemes formed which no wise man will attempt to execute, because he will know that they cannot succeed; but, surely, the examination of arithmetical deductions, or the consideration of treaties and conferences, cannot be admitted into the number of impossible designs; unless, as it may sometimes happen, the treaties and calculations are unintelligible.
The only difficulty that can arise, must be produced by the confusion and perplexity of our publick transactions, the inconsistency of our treaties, and the fallaciousness of our estimates; but I hope no man will urge these as arguments against the motion. An inquiry ought to be promoted, that confusion may be reduced to order, and that the distribution of the publick money may be regulated. If the examination be difficult, it ought to be speedily performed, because those difficulties are daily increasing; if it be impossible, it ought to be attempted, that those methods of forming calculations may be changed, which make them impossible to be examined.
Mr. FOWKES replied in the manner following:—Sir, to treat with contempt those arguments which cannot readily be answered, is the common practice of disputants; but as it is contrary to that candour and ingenuity which is inseparable from zeal for justice and love of truth, it always raises a suspicion of private views, and of designs, which, however they may be concealed by specious appearances, and vehement professions of integrity and sincerity, tend in reality to the promotion of some secret interest, or the gratification of some darling passion. It is reasonable to imagine, that he, who in the examination of publick questions, calls in the assistance of artifice and sophistry, is actuated rather by the rage of persecution, than the ardour of patriotism; that he is pursuing an enemy, rather than detecting a criminal; and that he declaims against the abuse of power in another, only that he may more easily obtain it himself.
In senatorial debates, I have often known this method of easy confutation practised, sometimes with more success, and sometimes with less. I have often known ridicule of use, when reason has been baffled, and seen those affect to despise their opponents, who have been able to produce nothing against them but artful allusions to past debates, satirical insinuations of dependence, or hardy assertions unsupported by proofs. By these arts I have known the young and unexperienced kept in suspense; I have seen the cautious and diffident taught to doubt of the plainest truths; and the bold and sanguine persuaded to join in the cry, and hunt down reason, after the example of their leaders.
But a bolder attempt to disarm argument of its force, and to perplex the understanding, has not often been made, than this which I am now endeavouring to oppose. A motion has been made and seconded for an inquiry, to which it is objected, not that it is illegal, not that it is inconvenient, not that it is unnecessary, but that it is impossible. An objection more formidable cannot, in my opinion, easily be made; nor can it be imagined that those men would think any other worthy of an attentive examination, who can pass over this as below their regard; yet even this has produced no answer, but contemptuous raillery, and violent exclamation.
What arguments these gentlemen require, it is not easy to conjecture; or how those who disapprove their measures, may with any hope of success dispute against them. Those impetuous spirits that break so easily through the bars of impossibility, will scarcely suffer their career to be stopped by any other restraint; and it may be reasonably feared, that arguments from justice, or law, or policy, will have little force upon these daring minds, who in the transports of their newly acquired victory, trample impossibility under their feet, and imagine that to those who have vanquished the ministry, every thing is practicable.