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Selected Speeches on British Foreign Policy 1738-1914

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SELECTED SPEECHES ON BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY 1738-1914

EDITED BY EDGAR R. JONES, M.P.

This volume of 'Selected Speeches on British Foreign Policy' was
first published in 'The World's Classics' in 1914

PREFACE

A selection of speeches made for the purpose of illustrating the best
rhetorical form of British Oratory has already been published in 'The
World's Classics'. The governing principle of this volume is not
rhetorical quality, but historical interest. Speeches have been
selected from the earliest days of reporting downwards, dealing with
such phases of foreign policy as are of exceptional interest
at present. They have been chosen so as to cover a variety of
international crises affecting various states.

In such a selection some very interesting speeches have had to be set
aside, because they represented temporary or individual and sectional
views rather than permanent national and official views, and in order
to avoid disproportionate reference to the same situation or country.

It is to be hoped that the selection, such as it is, may, through the
words of the statesmen of the past, help to prepare our minds for
the sound and worthy consideration of the problems of European
re-settlement which will arise at the termination of the War.

EDGAR R. JONES.

CONTENTS

WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM (1708-78)
The Convention with Spain (House of Lords,
March 8, 1738)
The Defence of Weaker States (House of Lords,
January 22, 1770)

RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN (1751-1816)
The Partition of Poland (House of Commons,
April 25, 1793)
The Prussian Subsidy (House of Commons,
February 5, 1795)
Grant to the Emperor of Germany (House of Commons,
February 17, 1800)

WILLIAM PITT (1769-1806)
Overtures of Peace with France (House of Commons,
February 3, 1800)

GEORGE CANNING (1770-1827)
Negotiations Relative to Spain (House of Commons,
April 30, 1823)

SIR ROBERT PEEL (1788-1850)
Portugal--Don Miguel (House of Commons,
June 1, 1828)
Belgium (House of Commons, July 16, 1832)
Russian Dutch Loan (House of Commons,
July 20, 1832)

LORD JOHN RUSSELL, afterwards EARL RUSSELL (1792-1878)
The Annexation of Cracow (House of Commons,
March 4, 1847)

VISCOUNT PALMERSTON (1784-1865)
The Polish Question (House of Commons,
March 1, 1848)

HENRY, LORD BROUGHAM (1778-1868)
Italian Affairs (House of Lords, July 20, 1849)

EARL RUSSELL, previously LORD JOHN RUSSELL (1792-1878)
Denmark and Germany (House of Lords,
June 27, 1864)

LORD STANLEY, afterwards EARL OF DERBY (1826-93)
Austria and Prussia (House of Commons,
July 20, 1866)

JOHN BRIGHT (1811-89)
Principles of Foreign Policy (Birmingham,
October 29, 1858)

WILLIAM EWART GLADSTONE (1809-98)
The Neutrality of Belgium (House of Commons,
August 8 and 10, 1870)
[By kind permission of Mr. H.N. Gladstone and
Messrs. Wyman & Sons, Ltd.]
Right Principles of Foreign Policy (West Calder,
Midlothian, November 27, 1879)
The Aggrandizement of Russia (West Calder,
Midlothian, April 2, 1880)
[By kind permission of Mr. H.N. Gladstone.]

BENJAMIN DISRAELI (1804-81)
Denmark and Germany (House of Commons,
July 4, 1864)

BENJAMIN DISRAELI, EARL OF BEACONSFIELD (1804-81)
Treaty of Berlin (House of Lords, July 18, 1878)
[By kind permission of Messrs. Longmans, Green & Co.]

SIR EDWARD GREY (1862- )
Negotiations (House of Commons, August 3, 1914)
[By kind permission of Sir Edward Grey and Messrs.
Wyman & Sons, Ltd.]

HERBERT HENRY ASQUITH (1852- )
Infamous Proposals (House of Commons,
August 6, 1914)
[By kind permission of Mr. Asquith and Messrs.
Wyman & Sons, Ltd.]

DAVID LLOYD GEORGE (1863- )
International Honour (Queen's Hall, London,
September 19, 1914)
[By kind permission of Mr. Lloyd George and Messrs.
Methuen & Co., Ltd.]

WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM

MARCH 8, 1738

THE CONVENTION WITH SPAIN

You have been moved to vote an humble address of thanks to His
Majesty, for a measure which (I will appeal to gentlemen's
conversation in the world) is odious throughout the kingdom. Such
thanks are only due to the fatal influence that framed it, as are due
for that low, unallied condition abroad, which is now made a plea
for this convention. To what are gentlemen reduced in support of it?
First, try a little to defend it upon its own merits; if that is
not tenable, throw out general terrors--the House of Bourbon is
united--who knows the consequence of a war? Sir, Spain knows the
consequence of a war in America; whoever gains, it must prove fatal to
her; she knows it, and must therefore avoid it; but she knows England
does not dare to make it; and what is a delay, which is all this
magnified convention is sometimes called, to produce? Can it produce
such conjunctures as those you lost, while you were giving kingdoms
to Spain, and all to bring her back again to that great branch of the
House of Bourbon which is now thrown out to you with so much terror?
If this union be formidable, are we to delay only till it becomes more
formidable, by being carried farther into execution, and more strongly
cemented? But be it what it will, is this any longer a nation, or what
is an English Parliament, if, with more ships in your harbours than in
all the navies of Europe, with above two millions of people in
your American colonies, you will bear to hear of the expediency of
receiving from Spain an insecure, unsatisfactory, dishonourable
convention? Sir, I call it no more than it has been proved in this
debate; it carries fallacy, or downright subjection, in almost every
line. It has been laid open and exposed in so many strong and glaring
lights, that I can pretend to add nothing to the conviction and
indignation it has raised.

Sir, as to the great national objection--the searching your
ships--that favourite word, as it was called, is not omitted, indeed,
in the preamble to the convention, but it stands there as the
reproach, of the whole--as the strongest evidence of the fatal
submission that follows. On the part of Spain, an usurpation, an
inhuman tyranny, claimed and exercised over the American seas; on the
part of England, an undoubted right, by treaties, and from God and
nature, declared and asserted in the resolutions of Parliament, are
referred to the discussion of plenipotentiaries, upon one and the same
equal foot. Sir, I say this undoubted right is to be discussed and
to be regulated. And if to regulate be to prescribe rules (as in all
construction it is), this right is, by the express words of this
convention, to be given up and sacrificed; for it must cease to be
anything from the moment it is submitted to limits.

The Court of Spain has plainly told you (as appears by papers upon the
table) you shall steer a due course; you shall navigate by a line to
and from your plantations in America; if you draw near to her coasts
(though from the circumstances of that navigation you are under
an unavoidable necessity of doing it) you shall be seized and
confiscated. If, then, upon these terms only she has consented to
refer, what becomes at once of all the security we are flattered with
in consequence of this reference? Plenipotentiaries are to regulate
finally the respective pretensions of the two crowns with regard to
trade and navigation in America; but does a man in Spain reason that
these pretensions must be regulated to the satisfaction and honour of
England? No, Sir, they conclude, and with reason, from the high spirit
of their administration, from the superiority with which they have so
long treated you, that this reference must end, as it has begun, to
their honour and advantage.

But gentlemen say, the treaties subsisting are to be the measure of
this regulation. Sir, as to treaties, I will take part of the words of
Sir William Temple, quoted by the honourable gentleman near me; 'It
is vain to negotiate and make treaties, if there is not dignity
and vigour to enforce the observance of them'; for under the
misconstruction and misrepresentation of these very treaties
subsisting, this intolerable grievance has arisen; it has been growing
upon you, treaty after treaty, through twenty years of negotiation,
and even under the discussion of commissaries, to whom it was
referred. You have heard from Captain Vaughan, at your bar,[1] at
what time these injuries and indignities were continued. As a kind of
explanatory comment upon the convention Spain has thought fit to grant
you, as another insolent protest, under the validity and force of
which she has suffered this convention to be proceeded upon, 'We'll
treat with you, but we'll search and take your ships; we'll sign a
convention, but we'll keep your subjects prisoners, prisoners in Old
Spain; the West Indies are remote; Europe shall be witness how we use
you.'

Sir, as to the inference of an admission of our right not to be
searched, drawn from a reparation made for ships unduly seized and
confiscated, I think that argument is very inconclusive. The right
claimed by Spain to search our ships is one thing, and the excesses
admitted to have been committed in consequence of this pretended
right, is another; but surely, Sir, reasoning from inferences and
implication only, is below the dignity of your proceedings, upon a
right of this vast importance. What this reparation is, what sort of
composition for your losses, forced upon you by Spain, in an instance
that has come to light, where your own commissaries could not in
conscience decide against your claim, has fully appeared upon
examination; and, as for the payment of the sum stipulated (all
but seven and twenty thousand pounds, and that, too, subject to a
drawback), it is evidently a fallacious nominal payment only. I will
not attempt to enter into the detail of a dark, confused, and scarcely
intelligible account; I will only beg leave to conclude with one word
upon it, in the light of a submission, as well as of an adequate
reparation. Spain stipulates to pay to the Crown of England
ninety-five thousand pounds; by a preliminary protest of the King of
Spain, the South Sea Company is at once to pay sixty-eight thousand of
it: if they refuse, Spain, I admit, is still to pay the ninety-five
thousand pounds--but how does it stand then? The Assiento contract
is to be suspended; you are to purchase this sum at the price of an
exclusive trade, pursuant to a national treaty, and of an immense debt
of God knows how many hundred thousand pounds due from Spain to the
South Sea Company. Here, Sir, is the submission of Spain, by the
payment of a stipulated sum; a tax laid upon subjects of England,
under the severest penalties, with the reciprocal accord of an English
minister, as a preliminary that the convention may be signed; a
condition imposed by Spain in the most absolute, imperious manner, and
received by the Ministers of England in the most tame and abject. Can
any verbal distinctions, any evasions whatever, possibly explain away
this public infamy? To whom would we disguise it? To ourselves and to
the nation. I wish we could hide it from the eyes of every court in
Europe. They see Spain has talked to you like your master; they
see this arbitrary fundamental condition, and it must stand with
distinction, with a pre-eminence of shame, as a part even of this
convention.

This convention, Sir, I think from my soul, is nothing but a
stipulation for national ignominy; an illusory expedient, to baffle
the resentment of the nation; a truce without the suspension of
hostilities on the part of Spain; on the part of England a suspension,
as to Georgia, of the first law of nature, self-preservation and
self-defence--surrender of the rights and trade of England to the
mercy of plenipotentiaries, and in this infinitely highest and sacred
point, future security, not only inadequate, but directly repugnant
to the resolutions of Parliament, and the gracious promise from the
Throne. The complaints of your despairing merchants, the voice of
England, has condemned it. Be the guilt of it upon the head of the
adviser. God forbid that this committee should share the guilt by
approving it!

[Footnote 1: The House of Commons, in a grand committee, in 1737, had
heard counsel for the merchants, and received evidence at the bar, on
the subject of the Spanish depredations.]

WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM JANUARY 22, 1770 THE DEFENCE OF WEAKER
STATES

My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble duke, that nothing less than
an immediate attack upon the honour or interest of this nation can
authorize us to interpose in defence of weaker states, and in stopping
the enterprises of an ambitious neighbour. Whenever that narrow,
selfish policy has prevailed in our councils, we have constantly
experienced the fatal effects of it. By suffering our natural enemies
to oppress the Powers less able than we are to make a resistance, we
have permitted them to increase their strength; we have lost the most
favourable opportunities of opposing them with success; and found
ourselves at last obliged to run every hazard, in making that cause
our own, in which we were not wise enough to take part while the
expense and danger might have been supported by others. With respect
to Corsica I shall only say, that France has obtained a more useful
and important acquisition in one _pacific_ campaign, than in any of
her _belligerent_ campaigns;[1] at least while I had the honour of
administering the war against her. The word may, perhaps, be thought
singular: I mean only while I was the minister chiefly entrusted with
the conduct of the war. I remember, my Lords, the time when Lorraine
was united to the Crown of France;[2] that too was, in some measure, a
pacific conquest; and there were, people who talked of it as the noble
duke[3] now speaks of Corsica, France was permitted to take and keep
possession of a noble province; and, according to his Grace's ideas,
we did right in not opposing it. The effect of these acquisitions
is, I confess, not immediate; but they unite with the main body by
degrees, and, in time, make a part of the national strength. I fear,
my Lords, it is too much the temper of this country to be insensible
of the approach of danger, until it comes with accumulated terror upon
us.

My Lords, the condition of His Majesty's affairs in Ireland, and the
state of that kingdom within itself, will undoubtedly make a very
material part of your Lordships' inquiry. I am not sufficiently
informed to enter into the subject so fully as I could wish; but by
what appears to the public, and from my own observation, I confess I
cannot give the Ministry much credit for the spirit or prudence of
their conduct. I see that, even where their measures are well chosen,
they are incapable of carrying them through without some unhappy
mixture of weakness or imprudence. They are incapable of doing
entirely right. My Lords, I do, from my conscience, and from the best
weighed principles of my understanding, applaud the augmentation
of the army. As a military plan, I believe it has been judiciously
arranged. In a political view, I am convinced it was for the welfare,
for the safety, of the whole empire. But, my Lords, with all these
advantages, with all these recommendations, if I had the honour of
advising His Majesty, I would never have consented to his accepting
the augmentation with that absurd, dishonourable condition which the
Ministry have submitted to annex to it.[4] My Lords, I revere the just
prerogative of the Crown, and would contend for it as warmly as for
the rights of the people. They are linked together, and naturally
support each other. I would not touch a feather of the prerogative.
The expression, perhaps, is too light; but, since I have made use of
it, let me add, that the entire command and power of directing the
local disposition of the army is the royal prerogative, as the
master-feather in the eagle's wing; and if I were permitted to carry
the allusion a little farther, I would say, they have disarmed the
imperial bird, the '_Ministrum fulminis alitem_'. The army is the
thunder of the Crown. The Ministry have tied up the hand which should
direct the bolt.

My Lords, I remember that Minorca was lost for want of four
battalions. They could not be spared from hence; and there was a
delicacy about taking them from Ireland. I was one of those who
promoted an inquiry into that matter in the other House; and I was
convinced that we had not regular troops sufficient for the necessary
service of the nation. Since the moment the plan of augmentation was
first talked of, I have constantly and warmly supported it among my
friends: I have recommended it to several members of the Irish House
of Commons, and exhorted them to support it with their utmost interest
in Parliament. I did not foresee, nor could I conceive it possible,
the Ministry would accept of it, with a condition that makes the plan
itself ineffectual, and, as far as it operates, defeats every useful
purpose of maintaining a standing military force. His Majesty is now
so confined, by his promise, that he must leave twelve thousand men
locked up in Ireland, let the situation of his affairs abroad, or the
approach of danger to this country, be ever so alarming, unless there
be an actual rebellion, or invasion, in Great Britain. Even in the two
cases excepted by the King's promise, the mischief must have already
begun to operate, must have already taken effect, before His Majesty
can be authorized to send for the assistance of his Irish army. He has
not left himself the power of taking any preventive measures, let his
intelligence be ever so certain, let his apprehensions of invasion or
rebellion be ever so well founded; unless the traitor be actually in
arms--unless the enemy be in the heart of your country, he cannot move
a single man from Ireland.

[Footnote 1: Louis XV, in consequence, as was pretended, of the
Jesuits being allowed to take refuge in Corsica in 1767, purchased the
island from the Genoese, and after two years' contest, succeeded
in subduing it. The French minister, Choiseul, induced the British
Government to render no opposition.]

[Footnote 2: In the year 1735, by an arrangement between the Emperor
of Austria and the French.]

[Footnote 3: The Duke of Grafton.]

[Footnote 4: King George III had, by a message through the
Lord-Lieutenant, recommended the Irish House of Commons to augment the
Irish army, and assured them expressly that on the augmentation being
made, not less than 12,000 men should at all times, 'except in cases
of invasion or rebellion in Great Britain,' be stationed in Ireland.]

RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN

APRIL 25, 1793 THE PARTITION OF POLAND

The people of England ought to know what were the views of the
Minister upon this war, and to what extent it was to be carried, that
they might not be proceeding under a delusion. Supposing we had gained
our original purpose, he wanted to know how peace was to be obtained,
without negotiation with those who have the exercise of government. If
we countenanced the memorial of Lord Auckland, we should say, that the
whole National Convention--all the members of the districts--in short,
about eight or nine millions of people, must be put to death, before
we can negotiate for peace. Supposing that we were to join the
conspiracy to dictate a form of government to France, he then should
wish to know what sort of government it was that we were to insist on.
Were we to take the form of it from that exercised by the Emperor, or
that of the King of Prussia? or was it to be formed by the lady who so
mildly conducted the affairs of Russia? or were they all to lay their
heads together, and by the assistance of the Pope, dictate a form of
government to France? Were the French to have a constitution, such
as the right honourable gentleman (Mr. Burke) was likely to applaud?
Indeed, he feared that this was not yet settled; and there were
various specimens of what had been already thought of by different
Powers. There were two manifestoes of the Prince of Coburg; the one
promised the form of government chosen by themselves, in which they
agreed to have a monarchy, and afterwards, in the course of four
days, this promise was retracted in consequence of the accession
of Dumourier to the confederacy. What would the right honourable
gentleman (Mr. Burke) say if they should not give the French the
form of the constitution of Poland, or would he content himself with
saying, they ought not to have such a constitution? He believed that
neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor any of his supporters,
would say anything at present upon that subject. It appeared, however,
somewhat mysterious, perhaps, that after the Congress at Antwerp, in
which Great Britain was not unrepresented, that the intention of the
combined Powers had altered, and that a much more sanguinary mode
was to be pursued against France than had been before intended; and
perhaps the time might come when the parties might follow the example
set by the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, and affirm that these
were threats which were not intended to be carried into execution. But
this was not the way to amuse us. The people of England would not long
be content to remain in the dark as to the object of the war. Again he
must ask, what was the object of the war? Again he must ask, what was
the object of our pursuit in conjunction with the other Powers against
France? Was it to restore the ancient tyranny and despotism of
that nation? This would please some people, he knew, particularly
emigrants; but nothing would be so hateful to the people of this
country, or any other where there existed the least love of freedom,
nor could anything be more destructive to the tranquillity and
happiness of Europe. Were we to join Dumourier in a declaration not
to rest until we had put to death those detestable regicides, calling
themselves philosophers, and all the miscreants who had destroyed all
lawful authority in France? If we were, he would venture to say, this
would be a war for a purpose entirely new in the history of mankind;
and as it was called a war of vengeance, he must say, that we
arrogated to ourselves a right which belonged to the Divinity, to whom
alone vengeance ought to be left. If the Minister said that on our
part there was no intention to interfere in the internal government of
France, he must then ask what were the views of the other Powers,
with whom we now acted in concert against France. Was it to make a
partition of France, as they did of Poland? Or should he be told, that
as far as regarded the affairs of France under the present Power, he
was talking of none who ought to be mentioned as a people; that the
_sans culottes_ were too contemptible a race to be mentioned; he would
say, he meant to ask what was to become of the whole nation of France?
If he was told that it was impossible for the crowned heads, acting in
concert upon this great occasion, to have any but just and honourable
views, he would answer that the subject was of too much magnitude to
be allowed to pass in such a manner; and in his suspicions he was
justified by the example, and fortified by the observation of an
honourable gentleman (Mr. Jenkinson) with respect to the father of the
present Emperor, that no man ought to take his word for one hour. No
material alteration, he believed, had taken place in the views of that
Court since the death of that prince, nor of others in the present
confederacy. Were we to forget that the King of Prussia encouraged the
Brabanters to revolt, and then left them to their fate? Were we to
forget the recent conduct with respect to Poland? Were we to forget
the taking of Dantzic and Thorn? Indeed he thought that those who
every day told us, in pompous language, of the necessity there was
for kings, and of the service they did to the cause of humanity, they
should at least have spared the public the pain of thinking of
these subjects, by not entering into the views of that unnatural
confederacy. Indeed it was impossible for him to dismiss the
consideration of Poland, without adverting to an eloquent passage in
the work of a right honourable gentleman, who was an enthusiastic
admirer of the late revolution there. Here Mr. Sheridan quoted the
following passage of Mr. Burke's Appeal from the Old to the New Whigs:

The state of Poland was such, that there could scarcely
exist two opinions, but that a reformation of its constitution,
even at some expense of blood, might be seen without
much disapprobation. No confusion could be feared in such
an enterprise; because the establishment to be reformed was
itself a state of confusion. A King without authority,
nobles without union or subordination, a people without
arts, industry, commerce, or liberty; no order within, no
defence without; no effective public force, but a foreign
force, which entered a naked country at will, and disposed
of everything at pleasure. Here was a state of things
which seemed to invite, and might, perhaps, justify bold
enterprise and desperate experiment. But in what manner
was this chaos brought into order? The means were as
striking to the imagination, as satisfactory to the reason,
and soothing to the moral sentiments. In contemplating
that change, humanity has everything to rejoice and to
glory in, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to suffer. So
far as it has gone, it probably is the most pure and defecated
public good which ever has been conferred on mankind.
We have seen anarchy and servitude at once removed,
a throne strengthened for the protection of the people,
without trenching on their liberties, all foreign cabal
banished, by changing the crown from elective to hereditary;
and what was a matter of pleasing wonder, we have
seen a reigning King, from an heroic love to his country,
exerting himself with all the toil, the dexterity, the management,
the intrigue, in favour of a family of strangers, with
which ambitious men labour for the aggrandizement of
their own. Ten millions of men in a way of being freed
gradually, and therefore safely to themselves and the State,
not from civil or political chains, which, bad as they are,
only fetter the mind, but from substantial personal bondage.
Inhabitants of cities, before without privileges,
placed in the consideration which belongs to that improved
and connecting situation of social life. One of the most
proud, numerous, and fierce bodies of nobility and gentry
ever known in the world, arranged only in the foremost
rank of free and generous citizens. Not one man incurred
loss, or suffered degradation. All, from the King to the
day-labourer, were improved in their condition. Everything
was kept in its place and order, but in that place and
order everything was bettered. To add to this happy
wonder (this unheard-of conjunction of wisdom and fortune)
not one drop of blood was spilled; no treachery;
no outrage; no system of slander more cruel than the
sword; no studied insults on religion, morals, or manners;
no spoil; no confiscation; no citizen beggared; none imprisoned;
none exiled: the whole was effected with a
policy, a discretion, an unanimity and secrecy, such as have
never been before known on any occasion; but such
wonderful conduct was reserved for this glorious conspiracy
in favour of the true and genuine rights and interests
of men. Happy people, if they know how to proceed
as they have begun! Happy prince, worthy to begin
with splendour, or to close with glory, a race of patriots and
of kings: and to leave

A name, which ev'ry wind to heav'n would bear,
Which men to speak, and angels joy to hear.
To finish all. This great good, as in the instant it is, contains in
it the seeds of all further improvement, and may be considered as in a
regular progress, because founded on similar principles, towards the
stable excellence of a British constitution.

Here was a matter for congratulation and for festive
remembrance through ages. Here moralists and divines
might indeed relax in their temperance, to exhilarate their
humanity.

Such, Mr. Sheridan said, was the description which the right
honourable gentleman gave to that revolution. Was it to be supposed
that he would afterwards say, that this ought to have been trampled
upon and destroyed, or should suffer such an event to happen, and
never utter a word upon the subject? He did not think that monarchs of
the present day had fulfilled the promises that some persons had made,
and which had been expected from them, so that their names might
be handed down to posterity as a glorious example of integrity and
justice. With respect to the future views of the different Powers,
they might best be conjectured by what had already happened. The
Empress of Russia, upon the sincerity of whose motives, and integrity
of whose actions, there could be no doubt, previous to the attack on
Poland, among other things in her manifesto, said by her Minister:

From these considerations, Her Imperial Majesty, my
most gracious mistress, as well to indemnify herself for her
many losses, as for the future safety of her Empire and the
Polish dominions, and for the cutting off at once, for ever,
all future disturbances and frequent changes of government,
has been pleased now to take under her sway, and to
unite for ever to her Empire, the following tracts of land,
with all their inhabitants.

This was the language for which the confederates were to justify
perhaps the future taking under their sway, and uniting for ever to
their Empire, part of the dominions of France. We had heard much of
the abominable system of affiliation adopted by the French; but this
was a Russian impartial affiliation, and no doubt the confederate
Powers approved of it. In like manner will they affiliate all France,
if they can. So will they England, when they have it in their
power; and he was sorry to say, that if we joined in that infamous
confederacy, and the people agreed to it, England would deserve to be
so treated. The Empress then proceeded to state what she expected for
the favour she had conferred:

Her Imperial Majesty expects from the gratitude of her
new subjects, that they, being placed by her bounty on an
equality with Russians, shall, in return, transfer their love
of their former country to the new one, and live in future
attached to so great and generous an Empress.

On an equality with Russians! This was a glorious equality,--liable to
be sent to Siberia with other Russian slaves. For this mighty favour
they were to transfer, as naturally might be expected, the whole love
they had for their native country, to Russia, their new and happy
land; for the same Minister of this equitable and generous Empress
proceeded to say:

I, therefore, inform every person, from the highest to the
lowest, that within one month, they must take the oath
of allegiance before the witnesses whom I shall appoint;
and if any gentlemen, or other ranks possessing real or
immovable property, regardless of their own interest,
should refuse to take the oath prescribed, three months are
allowed for the sale of their immovables, and their free
departure over the borders, after the expiration of which
term, all their remaining property shall be confiscated to
the Crown.

Really after such specimens, one would have supposed, but for the
well-known character of the council of these confederate Powers, they
were actuated under the influence of madness, or they would not thus
think of insulting the feelings of human nature. But this was not
enough: an oath, it seemed, must be taken, for:

The clergy, both high and low, as pastors of their flocks,
are expected to set the example in taking the oath; and
in the daily service in their churches, they must pray for
Her Imperial Majesty, for her successor, Great Duke Paul
Petrovitz, and for all the Imperial Family, according to the
formula which shall be given them.

Here again there was evidence of a great and good mind, for this pious
Empress was determined that perjury should be very general in her
dominions, and that the example should be set by the clergy! Mr.
Sheridan then proceeded to take notice of the great and good King of
Prussia with respect to Dantzic, as specified in what he called his
reason for taking possession of part of Poland with his military
forces.

It would certainly militate against the first rules of a sound
policy, as well as the duties incumbent on us for the preservation
of tranquillity in our State, if in such a state of things in a
neighbouring great kingdom, we remained inactive spectators, and
should wait for the period when the faction feel themselves strong
enough to appear in public; by which our own neighbouring provinces
would be exposed to several dangers, by the consequences of the
anarchy on our frontiers.

We have, therefore, in conjunction with Her Majesty the Empress
of Russia, and with the assent of His Majesty the Roman Emperor,
acknowledged that the safety of our States did require, to set to the
Republic of Poland such boundaries which are more compatible with her
interior strength and situation; and to facilitate her the means of
procuring without prejudice of her liberty, a well-ordained and
active form of government, of maintaining herself in the undisturbed
enjoyment of the same, and preventing, by these means, the
disturbances which have so often shaken her own tranquillity, and
endangered the safety of her neighbours.

In order to attain this end, and to preserve the Republic of Poland
from the dreadful consequences which must be the result of her
internal division, and to rescue her from her utter ruin, but chiefly
to withdraw her inhabitants from the horrors of the destructive
doctrine which they are but too prone to follow, there is, according
to our thorough persuasion, to which also Her Majesty the Empress
of all the Russias accedes in the most perfect congruity with our
intentions and principles, no other means, except to incorporate her
frontier provinces into our States, and for this purpose immediately
to take possession of the same, and to prevent, in time, all
misfortunes which might arise from the continuance of the reciprocal
disturbances.

Wherefore, we have resolved, with the assent of Her Russian Majesty,
to take possession of the above-mentioned districts of Poland, and
also of the cities of Dantzic and Thorn, to the end of incorporating
them to our State.

We herewith publicly announce our firm and unshaken resolution, and
expect that the Polish nation will very soon assemble in the Diet,
and adopt the necessary measures, to the end of settling things in an
amicable manner, and of obtaining the salutary result of securing
to the republic of Poland an undisturbed peace, and preserving her
inhabitants from the terrible consequences of anarchy. At the time we
exhort the states and inhabitants of the districts and towns which we
have taken possession of, as already mentioned, both in a gracious and
serious manner, not to oppose our commanders and troops, ordered for
that purpose, but rather tractably to submit to our government,
and acknowledge us from this day forward, as their lawful King and
Sovereign, to behave like loyal and obedient subjects, and to renounce
all connexion with the Crown of Poland.

Now, after this, Mr. Sheridan said, he wished to know whether any
robbery that had been committed by the most desperate of the French,
or whether any of their acts, were more infamous than this? Of what
consequence was it to any man, whether he was plundered by a man with
a white feather in his hat, or by one with a nightcap on his head? If
there could be any difference, the solemnity with which the thing was
done was an aggravation of the insult. The poorer sort of the French
could plead distress, and could also say that they had endured the
hardships, the toils, and the perils of a winter campaign. But here
was nothing but a naked robbery, without any part taken in the
calamity which gave birth to it. He had alluded to these things merely
for the purpose of giving the Minister an opportunity of disapproving
of them: he hoped he should not hear the principle avowed. Crowned
heads, he thought, were at present led by some fatal infatuation to
degrade themselves and injure mankind. But some, it seems, regard
any atrocity in monarchs as if it had lost its nature by not being
committed by low and vulgar agents. A head with a crown, and a head
with a nightcap, totally altered the moral quality of actions--robbery
was no longer robbery--and death, inflicted by a hand wielding a pike,
or swaying a sceptre, was branded as murder, or regarded as innocent.
This was a fatal principle to mankind, and monstrous in the extreme.
He had lamented early the change of political sentiments in this
country which indisposed Englishmen to the cause of liberty. The worst
part of the revolution in France is, that they have disgraced the
cause they pretended to support. However, none, he was persuaded,
would deny that it was highly expedient to know the extent of our
alliance with Powers who had acted so recently in the manner he
had represented, and to have the object of our pursuit in this war
distinctly known. The Minister may perhaps in future come down to the
House, and say he is sorry, but it has become highly necessary to
interfere with the power of Britain farther, as the crowned ladies and
gentlemen of Europe cannot agree about the partition of France, or
that such a disposition is about to take place, that we shall be worse
off than if we had let France remain as it was. Those who feared the
attachment of men to French principles, argued wrong. From the effect
of the experiment they would never be popular: nothing but crimes and
misery swelled all the accounts from that country. If the peasant
had been represented happy and contented, dancing in his vineyard,
surrounded with a prosperous and innocent family, if such accounts had
come, the tidings would have been gladly received. At present we
hear of nothing but want and carnage--very unattracting indeed. More
danger, he thought, arose from a blind attachment to power, which
gains security from the many evils abounding in France. On the same
principle that Prussia divided Poland, he contended, they might act
here. They declared a prevalence of French principles existed in
Poland: His Majesty's proclamation asserts the same here, and is
therefore, in this sense, an invitation to come and take care of us.
Could such despots love the free constitution of this country? On the
contrary, he was persuaded that, upon the very same principle that
Poland was divided, and Dantzic and Thorn subjugated, England itself
might be made an object for the same fate as soon as it became
convenient to the confederates to make the experiment. He would defy
any man to show the principle upon which a difference could exist with
regard to us and the other sacrificed countries, in the wishes and the
desires of the combined Powers. But supposing this to be out of all
question, and that this country had nothing to dread in that respect,
and that all Europe had nothing to look to but the extermination of
French principles, how would the present prospect of our success then
appear? Could we entertain so vain a hope (indeed he was astonished
to hear it even hinted) that the French, who had all the winter been
lying in the snow at some periods, and wading up to their necks in
water at others, in an enemy's country, fighting for their rights,
will, in their own, submit to give them up in a mild season? The
thought was too absurd, and the expectation too extravagant, to be
harboured by a man possessed of a spark of rationality.

RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN

FEBRUARY 5, 1795

THE PRUSSIAN SUBSIDY

Mr. Sheridan said, that upon a former occasion he and another
honourable gentleman had endeavoured to get some information of the
services performed by the King of Prussia during the last campaign,
in consequence of his engagements with this country. Some returns had
lately been laid on the table on that subject, but these contained no
information. It appeared that the King of Prussia had received from
this country the enormous sum of twelve hundred thousand pounds,
without having rendered it even the smallest service. He thought it
therefore necessary, previous to the discussion of the imperial loan,
to come to some resolution with respect to this conduct on the part of
His Prussian Majesty. It was certainly no argument against granting a
loan to the Emperor, that the King of Prussia had violated his faith.
But this circumstance ought certainly to enforce on the House the
necessity of caution, and induce them to take some step in the present
instance that might operate as a warning, with respect to future
transactions of the same sort. His Majesty had stated in his message
that he had received from the Emperor the strongest assurances of a
disposition to make the greatest exertions, provided he should be
assisted by a loan of four millions from this country. He understood,
if he could rely upon the credit of public statements, that in another
country the Parliament had been told of the absolute determination
of His Majesty to guarantee this loan. This was a language which he
considered as very unbecoming, when addressed to the representatives
of the nation, and as highly improper in Ministers, who were of course
responsible for whatever proceeded from the Throne. Before such a
determination had been expressed, he should have wished to have had
something also like a positive determination from His Imperial Majesty
to make the exertions which were to be the conditions of the loan. He
should more particularly have wished for such a declaration from
the Imperial Court, which had, at all times, been proverbially
distinguished by ill-faith. He recollected on this subject a strong
expression of a right honourable gentleman (we suppose Mr. Windham),
who said, that since the capture of Richard I, the conduct of the
Court of Vienna had been marked by an uniform series of treachery
towards this country. To guard against this treachery, he thought
that nothing would be better than for the House of Commons to show
themselves alive to their duty on the present occasion. There were
some men who, though insensible to the calls of honour, were yet not
callous to the sense of shame. Some men of that description might
be found among the ministers of Austria. It might, therefore, be of
importance, by way of warning to them, to come to some resolution,
expressive of indignation and contempt, with respect to the violation
of faith on the part of His Prussian Majesty. Mr. Sheridan here
referred to that article of the treaty in which it was stipulated that
sixty thousand Prussians should co-operate with the British troops,
and that a commissioner should be appointed for the purpose of
watching over the observance of this article. From the scraps of
letters laid upon the table, it appeared that no commissioner had been
appointed for this purpose. This, he contended, would not have been
the case, except Ministers had been aware that the King of Prussia,
from the very first, was indisposed to perform his duty. He referred
also to the memorial of the Emperor, which stated that the effective
co-operation of the Prussians might have been the means of saving
Brabant, and, in consequence, of preserving Holland. Such were the
effects stated by His Imperial Majesty to have resulted from the
breach of faith in His Prussian Majesty. In his answer to this
memorial, addressed to the circles of the Empire, that monarch shows a
degree of apprehension, that he should have even been supposed to have
had the smallest disposition to keep faith towards this country after
he had once received its money. He should therefore conclude with
moving this resolution--'That it appears to this House, that the King
of Prussia received from the treasury of Great Britain the sum of
L1,200,000 in consequence of the stipulations of the treaty concluded
at the Hague, on the 10th of April, 1794; and that it does not appear
to this House, that the King of Prussia performed the stipulation of
that treaty.'

RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN

FEBRUARY 17, 1800

GRANT TO THE EMPEROR OF GERMANY[1]

The honourable gentleman [Mr. Wilberforce] who has just sat down, and
said he rose only to save himself from misinterpretation, has declared
that he has no objection to peace. Now I should expect a warmer
declaration from that honourable gentleman, when I recollect his
conduct on a former occasion. I recollect a time when he came to
rebuke the violence of the Minister. [Mr. Sheridan read a motion, made
by Mr. Wilberforce, for an address to His Majesty, praying that the
Government of France might not be made an obstacle to peace, when
an opportunity should arrive.] Now, as the honourable gentleman is
anxious to escape from the charge of inconsistency, I should expect he
would state the reason for this difference in his conduct now. Then
the Government was a provisional government; a government from its
nature not intended to stand; a government of furious Jacobins; and
yet the honourable gentleman implored to supplicate His Majesty that
it might not be suffered to stand in the way of peace; but now, when
it is of a less objectionable description, he justifies his friend
from an arrogant, violent, inconsiderate, and I hope he will not find
an unfortunate note, refusing to accept peace from such a government.
An honourable gentleman who has spoken in the debate put a very just
question, whether the country will endure to be governed by words, and
not by facts? I admit it right that it should not be so governed, but
I unfortunately have the authority of the present Government that it
is. The honourable gentleman spoke with great eloquence, I may say
irritation; but never did I see eloquence so misapplied. He has shown
his dexterity in driving the subject from its proper basis; he guides,
urges, and inflames the passions of his hearers on Jacobinical
principles, but he does not show how they bear on the present
question. He has not dared to say, that so far as respects the
restoration of the House of Bourbon, we have suffered by the defection
of Russia. What that Power may still do with regard to La Vendee, or
reconciling the people of Ireland to the Union, I do not inquire;
but with regard to the great object, the restoration of monarchy
in France, we are _minus_ the Emperor of Russia: that Power may be
considered as extinct. Is it, then, to be endured, that the Minister
shall come down and ask for a subsidy under such circumstances? Is it
to be endured, that we shall be told we are at war for the restoration
of monarchy in France, that Russia is pledged to the accomplishment
of that purpose, that Russia is the rock on which we stand, that the
magnanimous Emperor of Russia, the gallantry of whose troops, and the
skill of whose great generals, place them above all the troops and
generals in Europe, is all we have to rest on? Is it to be endured, I
say, that this rock should prove as brittle as sand, and that those
who held this language should come down in a week after, and say, give
us two millions and a half to subsidize Germany, and then we shall
have a better army than we had with Russia? After such unqualified
praise upon Russia, and after her defection, is not such language,
I ask, inconsistent, absurd, and preposterous? If Germany possessed
these wonderful forces before, why were they not called into action;
and if not, why are we to subsidize the _posse comitatus_, the rabble
of Germany? But who is the person that applies for this subsidy? As
to the Elector of Bavaria, I leave him out of the question. It is the
Emperor of Germany. Is there anything in his conduct and character to
incline us to listen to him? I think not, and for these two reasons.
First, he applied once on a false pretence, and secondly, he failed in
performing his stipulated engagement. What was his false pretence? He
said he could not open the campaign without the pecuniary assistance
of this country; and yet he did do so, and displayed more vigour,
energy, and resources than ever. Now, if to this we add experience,
and the evidence of facts, when he dared, though bound to this
country, to break faith with her, and make a separate peace, does it
not furnish a reasonable cause for declining to grant a subsidy to
such a Power? The honourable gentleman is offended at our connecting
the situation of the country, and the present scarcity, with the
question of war. I do not know to what extent this principle is to
be carried. I see no more objection to state the pressure in this
particular from the continuance of the war, than there would be
to advance the increase of the public debt, the situation of the
finances, or any other of those reasons so often repeated without its
having been ever objected that they were of an improper kind. Sir, I
say, there is no more impropriety in urging this argument, than in
urging Ministers not to press the people too far, but to apportion the
burden to their strength to bear it. What has my honourable friend
said? We see an opulent commercial prosperity; but look over the
country, and we behold barracks and broth-houses, the cause and the
effect, the poverty and distress of the country; for surely it will
not be contended, but that among the calamities of war are to be
reckoned families left without support, and thrown upon charity
for subsistence. That the war is unnecessary, as being useless, is
self-evident, and nobody can deny it. But, say they, Buonaparte has
taken us at an unguarded moment: we do not object to peace, but we
have a fear and jealousy of concluding one, except with the House of
Bourbon: in a peace concluded with it we should have confidence, but
we can have none in the present Government of France. I say, were that
event arrived, and the House of Bourbon seated on the throne, the
Minister should be impeached who would disband a single soldier; and
that it would be equally criminal to make peace under a new King as
under a republican government, unless her heart and mind were friendly
to it. France, as a republic, maybe a bad neighbour; but than
monarchical France a more foul and treacherous neighbour never was. Is
it, then, sufficient to say, let monarchy be restored, and let peace
be given to all Europe? I come now, Sir, to the object of the war as
expressed in the note. It is there stated, that the restoration of
monarchy is the _sine qua non_ of present negotiation; and then it
proceeds to say, that it is possible we may hereafter treat with some
other form of government, after it shall be tried by experience and
the evidence of facts. What length of time this trial may require is
impossible to ascertain; yet we have, I acknowledge, some thing of
experience here by which we may form a kind of conjecture.

At the time of the negotiation at Lisle, the then republican
Government had stood two years and a half. Previous to that time, it
had been declared improper to enter into negotiation with it; but,
from experience and the evidence of facts, Ministers discovered that
it was then become good and proper to treat with; and yet so it
happened that, immediately after this judgement in its favour, it
crumbled to pieces. Here, then, we have a tolerable rule to judge by,
and may presume, on the authority of this case, that something more
than two years and a half must expire before any new government will
be pronounced stable. The note, Sir, then proceeds to pay an handsome
compliment to the line of princes who maintained peace at home, and
to round the period handsomely, it should have added, tranquillity
abroad; but instead of this are substituted respect and consideration,
by which we are to understand exactly what is meant by the
consideration with which the note is subscribed, being equivalent to
'I am, Sir, with the highest respect and sincerest enmity, yours',
for, Sir, this consideration which the line of princes maintained,
consisted in involving all the Powers within their reach and influence
in war and contentions. The note then proceeds to state, that this
restoration of monarchy would secure to France the uninterrupted
possession of her ancient territory, by which we are to understand,
I suppose, we would renounce our Quiberon expeditions. In this note,
Sir, the gentlemen seem to have clubbed their talents, one found
grammar, another logic, and a third some other ingredient; but is it
not strange that they should all forget that the House of Bourbon,
instead of maintaining peace and tranquillity in Europe, was always
the disturber of both? In the very last transaction of monarchical
France, I mean her conduct in the American war. His Majesty's speech
begins thus: 'France, the disturber of the tranquillity of Europe.'
But were a person to judge hereafter, from the history of the present
time, of the war we carried on, and the millions we expended for
the monarchy of France, he would be led to conclude that it was our
nearest and dearest friend. Is there anything, then, in the knowledge
of human nature, from which we can infer, that with the restoration
of monarchy in France, a total change in the principles of the people
would take place? or that Ministers of the new King would renounce
them? What security have we, that a change of principles will take
place in the restored monarch, and that he will not act upon the
principles cherished by his ancestors? But if this security is
effected by maiming France, does the right honourable gentleman think
that the people of France would submit to it? Does he not know that
even the emigrants have that partiality for the grandeur of their
country, that even they cannot restrain their joy at republican
victories? But with regard to the practicability of the course to be
pursued, the right honourable gentleman says, he is looking forward
to a time when there shall be no dread of Jacobin principles. I ask
whether he does not think, from the fraud, oppression, tyranny, and
cruelty with which the conduct of France has marked them, that they
are not now nearly dead, extinct, and detested? But who are the
Jacobins? Is there a man in this country who has at any time opposed
Ministers, who has resisted the waste of public money and the
prostitution of honours, that has not been branded with the name? The
Whig Club are Jacobins. Of this there can be no doubt, for a right
honourable gentleman [Mr. Windham] on that account struck his name
off the list. The Friends of the People are Jacobins. I am one of the
Friends of the People, and consequently am a Jacobin. The honourable
gentleman pledged himself never to treat with Jacobin France until we
had

Toto certatum est corpore regni.

Now he did treat with France at Lisle and Paris, but perhaps there
were not Jacobins in France at either of these times. You, then, the
Friends of the People, are the Jacobins. I do think, Sir, Jacobin
principles never existed much in this country; and even admitting they
had, I say they have been found so hostile to true liberty, that in
proportion as we love it, and whatever may be said, I must still
consider liberty an inestimable blessing, we must hate and detest
these principles. But more, I do not think they even exist in France;
they have there died the best of deaths, a death I am more pleased to
see than if it had been effected by a foreign force; they have stung
themselves to death, and died by their own poison. But the honourable
gentleman, arguing from experience of human nature, tells us that
Jacobin principles are such, that the mind that is once infected with
them, no quarantine, no cure can cleanse. Now if this be the case, and
that there are, according to Mr. Burke's statement, eighty thousand
incorrigible Jacobins in England, we are in a melancholy situation.
The right honourable gentleman must continue the war while one of the
present generation remains, and consequently we cannot for that period
expect those rights to be restored to us, to the suspension and
restrictions of which the honourable gentleman attributes the
suppression of these principles. A pretty consolation this, truly!
Now I contend that they do not exist in France to the same extent as
before, or nearly. If this, then, be the case, what danger can be
apprehended? But if this, then, be true, and that Buonaparte, the
child and champion of Jacobin principles, as he is called, be resolved
to uphold them, upon what ground does the honourable gentleman presume
to hope for the restoration of the House of Bourbon? So far I have
argued on the probability of the object, but the honourable gentleman
goes on, and says, there is no wish to restore the monarchy without
the consent of the people. Now if this be the case, is it not better
to leave the people to themselves, for if armies are to interfere, how
can we ascertain that it is a legitimate government established with
the pure consent of the people? As to Buonaparte, whose character has
been represented as marked with fraud and insincerity, has he not made
treaties with the Emperor and observed them? Is it not his interest to
make peace with us? Do you not think he feels it? And can you suppose,
that if peace were made, he has not power to make it be observed by
the people of France? And do not you think that the people of France
are aware that an infraction of that peace would bring with it a new
order of things, and a renewal of those calamities from which they are
now desirous to escape? But, Sir, on the character of Buonaparte I
have better evidence than the intercepted letters, I appeal to Carnot,
whether the instructions given with respect to the conduct to be
observed to the Emperor, were not moderate, open, and magnanimous?
[Here Mr. Sheridan read an extract from Carnot's pamphlet, in support
of his assertion.] With regard to the late note, in answer to his
proposal to negotiate, it is foolish, insulting, and undignified. It
is evidence to me, that the honourable gentlemen themselves do not
believe his character to be such as they describe it; for, if they
did, they must know their language would irritate such a mind; the
passions will mix themselves with reason in the conduct of men, and
they cannot say that they will not yet be obliged to treat with
Buonaparte. I am warranted in saying this, for I do not believe in
my heart, that since the defection of Russia, Ministers have been
repenting of their answer. I say so because I do not consider them so
obstinate and headstrong as to persevere with as much ardour for the
restoration of monarchy as when they were pledged with Russia. There
was not a nation in Europe which Ministers did not endeavour to draw
into the war. On what was such conduct founded, but on Jacobinical
principles? Indeed Ministers, by negotiating at one time with a
Jacobinical government in France, plainly proved they were not so
hostile to its principles as they would now wish to appear. Prussia
and Austria, as well as this country, have acted also on Jacobinical
principles. The conduct of this country towards Ireland has been
perfectly Jacobinical. How, then, can we define these principles,
when persons who would now disavow them fall by some fatality into an
unavoidable acknowledgement of them? The objections that have been
raised to peace have been entirely Jacobinical. If we seek for peace,
it must be done in the spirit of peace. We are not to make it a
question who was the first aggressor, or endeavour to throw the blame
that may attach to us on our enemy. Such circumstances should be
consigned to oblivion, as tending to no one useful purpose. France, in
the beginning of the Revolution, had conceived many romantic notions.
She was to put an end to war, and produce, by a pure form of
government, a perfectibility of mind which before had never been
realized. The monarchs of Europe, seeing the prevalence of these new
principles, trembled for their thrones. France, also, perceiving
the hostility of kings to her projects, supposed she could not be a
republic without the overthrow of thrones. Such has been the regular
progress of cause and effect; but who was the first aggressor, with
whom the jealousy first arose, need not now be a matter of discussion.
Both the republic, and the monarchs who opposed her, acted on the same
principles: the latter said they must exterminate Jacobins, and the
former that they must destroy monarchs. From this source have all
the calamities of Europe flowed; and it is now a waste of time and
argument to inquire farther into the subject. Now, Sir, let us come to
matter of fact. Has not France renounced and reprobated those Jacobin
principles, which created her so many enemies? Are not all her violent
invectives against regular governments come into disesteem? Has
not the Abbe Sieyes, who wrote in favour of monarchy--has not
Buonaparte--condemned the Jacobinical excesses of the Revolution in
the most pointed manner, the very men who have had so large a share
in the formation of the present Government? But I maintain that
Buonaparte himself is also a friend to peace. There is in his
correspondence with the Ministers of this country a total renunciation
of Jacobinical principles. In the dread, therefore, of these, I can
see no argument for the continuance of war. A man who is surprised at
the revolution of sentiment in individuals or nations shows but little
experience. Such instances occur every day. Neither would a wise man
always attach to principles the most serious consequences. Left to
themselves, the absurd and dangerous would soon disappear, and wisdom
establish herself only the more secure on their ruins. I am a friend
to peace at this time, because I think Buonaparte would be as good a
friend and neighbour to this country as ever were any of the Bourbons.
I think also that there can be no time when we can hope to have better
terms. If the King of Prussia should join France, such an alliance
would greatly change the state of things; and from her long and
honourable neutrality, in spite of the remonstrance and entreaties of
this country, an event of that kind is by no means unlikely to happen.
It must be considered also that the First Consul of France must feel
no little portion of resentment towards this country, arising from the
indignity with which his overtures of negotiation have been treated.
It is not improbable that, to satisfy his revenge, he would make
large sacrifices to the House of Austria, that he might contend more
successfully against this country. Such are my fears and opinions; but
I am unhappily in the habit of being numbered with the minority, and
therefore their consequences are considerably diminished. But there
have been occasions when the sentiments of the minority of this House
have been those of the people at large: one, for instance, when a war
was prevented with Russia concerning Oczakow. The minority told the
Minister that the sentiments of the country were contrary to those
of the majority: and the fact justified them in the assertion; the
dispute was abandoned. In the year 1797, the opinions of the minority
on peace were those of the people, and I believe the same coincidence
exists now upon the same subject.

[Footnote 1: Not the King of Prussia; but Francis II of
Austria.--_Ed_.]

WILLIAM PITT

FEBRUARY 3, 1800

OVERTURES OF PEACE WITH FRANCE

Sir, I am induced at this period of the debate to offer my sentiments
to the House, both from an apprehension that, at a later hour, the
attention of the House must necessarily be exhausted, and because the
sentiment with which the learned gentleman[1] began his speech, and
with which he has thought proper to conclude it, places the question
precisely on that ground on which I am most desirous of discussing
it. The learned gentleman seems to assume, as the foundation of his
reasoning, and as the great argument for immediate treaty, that
every effort to overturn the system of the French revolution must
be unavailing; and that it would be not only imprudent, but almost
impious, to struggle longer against that order of things, which, on I
know not what principle of predestination, he appears to consider as
immortal. Little as I am inclined to accede to this opinion, I am not
sorry that the honourable gentleman has contemplated the subject in
this serious view. I do, indeed, consider the French revolution as
the severest trial which the visitation of Providence has ever yet
inflicted upon the nations of the earth; but I cannot help reflecting,
with satisfaction, that this country, even under such a trial, has not
only been exempted from those calamities which have covered almost
every other part of Europe, but appears to have been reserved as a
refuge and asylum to those who fled from its persecution, as a barrier
to oppose its progress, and, perhaps, ultimately as an instrument to
deliver the world from the crimes and miseries which have attended
it. Under this impression, I trust the House will forgive me if I
endeavour, as far as I am able, to take a large and comprehensive view
of this important question. In doing so, I agree with my honourable
friend, that it would, in any case, be impossible to separate the
present discussion from the former crimes and atrocities of the French
revolution; because both the papers now on the table, and the whole
of the learned gentleman's argument, force upon our consideration the
origin of the war, and all the material facts which have occurred
during its continuance. The learned gentleman has revived and retailed
all those arguments from his own pamphlet, which had before passed
through thirty-seven or thirty-eight editions in print; and now gives
them to the House embellished by the graces of his personal delivery.
The First Consul has also thought fit to revive and retail the chief
arguments used by all the Opposition speakers, and all the Opposition
publishers, in this country during the last seven years. And (what is
still more material) the question itself, which is now immediately at
issue--the question, whether, under the present circumstances, there
is such a prospect of security from any treaty with France as ought
to induce us to negotiate, cannot be properly decided upon without
retracing, both from our own experience and from that of other
nations, the nature, the causes, and the magnitude of the danger
against which we have to guard, in order to judge of the security
which we ought to accept.

I say, then, that before any man can concur in opinion with that
learned gentleman--before any man can think that the substance of His
Majesty's answer is any other than the safety of the country required;
before any man can be of opinion, that to the overtures made by the
enemy, at such a time, and under such circumstances, it would have
been safe to have returned an answer concurring in the negotiation--he
must come within one of the three following descriptions: he must
either believe that the French revolution neither does now exhibit,
nor has at any time exhibited, such circumstances of danger, arising
out of the very nature of the system and the internal state and
condition of France, as to leave to foreign Powers no adequate ground
of security in negotiation; or, secondly, he must be of opinion, that
the change which has recently taken place has given that security,
which, in the former stages of the revolution, was wanting; or,
thirdly, he must be one who, believing that the danger existed, not
undervaluing its extent, nor mistaking its nature, nevertheless
thinks, from his view of the present pressure on the country, from his
view of its situation and its prospects, compared with the situation
and prospects of its enemies, that we are, with our eyes open, bound
to accept of inadequate security for everything that is valuable and
sacred, rather than endure the pressure, or incur the risk, which
would result from a farther prolongation of the contest.

In discussing the last of these questions, we shall be led to consider
what inference is to be drawn from the circumstances and the result of
our own negotiations in former periods of the war;--whether, in the
comparative state of this country and France, we now see the same
reason for repeating our then unsuccessful experiments;--or whether
we have not thence derived the lessons of experience, added to the
deductions of reason, marking the inefficacy and danger of the very
measures which are quoted to us as precedents for our adoption.
Unwilling, Sir, as I am to go into much detail on ground which has
been so often trodden before, yet, when I find the learned gentleman,
after all the information which he must have received, if he has read
any of the answers to his work (however ignorant he might be when
he wrote it), still giving the sanction of his authority to the
supposition that the order to M. Chauvelin to depart from this kingdom
was the cause of the war between this country and France, I do feel it
necessary to say a few words on that part of the subject.

Inaccuracy in dates seems to be a sort of fatality common to all who
have written on that side of the question; for even the writer of the
note to His Majesty is not more correct, in this respect, than if
he had taken his information only from the pamphlet of the learned
gentleman. The House will recollect the first professions of the
French Republic, which are enumerated, and enumerated truly, in that
note--they are tests of everything which would best recommend a
Government to the esteem and confidence of foreign Powers, and the
reverse of everything which has been the system and practice of
France now for near ten years. It is there stated, that their first
principles were love of peace, aversion to conquest, and respect for
the independence of other countries. In the same note, it seems,
indeed, admitted, that they since have violated all those principles;
but it is alleged that they have done so only in consequence of the
provocation of other Powers. One of the first of those provocations
is stated to have consisted in the various outrages offered to their
Ministers, of which the example is said to have been set by the King
of Great Britain in his conduct to M. Chauvelin. In answer to this
supposition, it is only necessary to remark that, before the example
was given, before Austria and Prussia are supposed to have been thus
encouraged to combine in a plan for the partition of France, that
plan, if it ever existed at all, had existed and been acted upon for
above eight months: France and Prussia had been at war eight months
before the dismissal of M. Chauvelin. So much for the accuracy of the
statement.

[Mr. Erskine here observed that this was not the statement of his
argument.]

I have been hitherto commenting on the arguments contained in the
notes: I come now to those of the learned gentleman. I understand him
to say that the dismissal of M. Chauvelin was the real cause, I do not
say of the general war, but of the rupture between France and England;
and the learned gentleman states, particularly, that this dismissal
rendered all discussion of the points in dispute impossible. Now I
desire to meet distinctly every part of this assertion: I maintain,
on the contrary, that an opportunity was given for discussing every
matter in dispute between France and Great Britain, as fully as if a
regular and accredited French Minister had been resident here;--that
the causes of war which existed at the beginning, or arose during the
course of this discussion, were such as would have justified, twenty
times over, a declaration of war on the part of this country;--that
all the explanations on the part of France were evidently
unsatisfactory and inadmissible; and that M. Chauvelin had given in a
peremptory ultimatum, declaring that, if these explanations were not
received as sufficient, and if we did not immediately disarm, our
refusal would be considered as a declaration of war. After this
followed that scene which no man can even now speak of without horror,
or think of without indignation; that murder and regicide from which
I was sorry to hear the learned gentleman date the beginning of the
legal government of France. Having thus given in their ultimatum, they
added, as a further demand (while we were smarting under accumulated
injuries, for which all satisfaction was denied), that we should
instantly receive M. Chauvelin as their ambassador, with new
credentials, representing them in the character which they had just
derived from the murder of their sovereign. We replied, 'He came here
as a representative of a sovereign whom you have put to a cruel and
illegal death; we have no satisfaction for the injuries we have
received, no security from the danger with which we are threatened.
Under these circumstances we will not receive your new credentials;
the former credentials you have yourselves recalled by the sacrifice
of your King.'

What from that moment was the situation of M. Chauvelin? He was
reduced to the situation of a private individual, and was required to
quit the kingdom, under the provisions of the Alien Act, which, for
the purpose of securing domestic tranquillity, had recently invested
His Majesty with the power of removing out of this kingdom all
foreigners suspected of revolutionary principles. Is it contended that
he was, then, less liable to the provisions of that Act than any other
individual foreigner, whose conduct afforded to Government just ground
of objection or suspicion? Did his conduct and connexions here afford
no such ground? or will it be pretended that the bare act of refusing
to receive fresh credentials from an infant republic, not then
acknowledged by any one Power of Europe, and in the very act of
heaping upon us injuries and insults, was of itself the cause of war?
So far from it, that even the very nations of Europe, whose wisdom and
moderation have been repeatedly extolled for maintaining neutrality,
and preserving friendship, with the French Republic, remained for
years subsequent to this period without receiving from it any
accredited Minister, or doing any one act to acknowledge its political
existence. In answer to a representation from the belligerent Powers,
in December, 1793, Count Bernstorff, the Minister of Denmark,
officially declared that 'It was well known that the National
Convention had appointed M. Grouville Minister-Plenipotentiary at
Denmark, but that it was also well known that he had neither been
received nor acknowledged in that quality'. And as late as February,
1796, when the same Minister was at length, for the first time,
received in his official capacity, Count Bernstorff, in a public note,
assigned this reason for that change of conduct--'So long as no other
than a revolutionary Government existed in France, His Majesty could
not acknowledge the Minister of that Government; but now that the
French Constitution is completely organized, and a regular Government
established in France, His Majesty's obligation ceases in that
respect, and M. Grouville will therefore be acknowledged in the usual
form.' How far the Court of Denmark was justified in the opinion that
a revolutionary Government then no longer existed in France, it is not
now necessary to inquire; but whatever may have been the fact, in that
respect, the principle on which they acted is clear and intelligible,
and is a decisive instance in favour of the proposition which I have
maintained.

Is it then necessary to examine what were the terms of that ultimatum,
with which we refused to comply? Acts of hostility had been openly
threatened against our allies, an hostility founded upon the
assumption of a right which would at once supersede the whole law
of nations: a demand was made by France upon Holland to open the
navigation of the Scheldt, on the ground of a general and national
right, in violation of positive treaty; this claim we discussed, at
the time, not so much on account of its immediate importance (though
it was important both in a maritime and commercial view), as on
account of the general principle on which it was founded. On the same
arbitrary notion they soon afterwards discovered that sacred law of
nature, which made the Rhine and the Alps the legitimate boundaries
of France, and assumed the power which they have affected to exercise
through the whole of the revolution, of superseding, by a new code of
their own, all the recognized principles of the law of nations. They
were actually advancing towards the republic of Holland, by rapid
strides, after the victory of Jemappe, and they had ordered their
generals to pursue the Austrian troops into any neutral country:
thereby explicitly avowing an intention of invading Holland. They
had already shown their moderation and self-denial, by incorporating
Belgium, with the French Republic. These lovers of peace, who set out
with a sworn aversion to conquest, and professions of respect for the
independence of other nations; who pretend that they departed from
this system only in consequence of your aggression, themselves in
time of peace while you were still confessedly neutral, without the
pretence or shadow of provocation, wrested Savoy from the King of
Sardinia, and had proceeded to incorporate it likewise with France.
These were their aggressions at this period; and more than these. They
had issued an universal declaration of war against all the thrones of
Europe; and they had, by their conduct, applied it particularly and
specifically to you: they had passed the decree of November 19, 1792,
proclaiming the promise of French succour to all nations who should
manifest a wish to become free: they had, by all their language, as
well as their example, shown what they understood to be freedom: they
had sealed their principles by the deposition of their sovereign: they
had applied them to England, by inviting and encouraging the addresses
of those seditious and traitorous societies who, from the beginning,
favoured their views, and who, encouraged by your forbearance, were
even then publicly avowing French doctrines, and anticipating their
success in this country; who were hailing the progress of those
proceedings in France which led to the murder of its king: they were
even then looking to the day when they should behold a national
convention in England, formed upon similar principles.

And what were the explanations they offered on these different grounds
of offence? As to Holland, they contented themselves with telling us
that the Scheldt was too insignificant for us to trouble ourselves
about, and therefore it was to be decided as they chose, in breach of
a positive treaty, which they had themselves guaranteed, and which we,
by our alliance, were bound to support. If, however, after the war was
over, Belgium should have consolidated its liberty (a term of which
we now know the meaning, from the fate of every nation into which the
arms of France have penetrated), then Belgium and Holland might,
if they pleased, settle the question of the Scheldt by separate
negotiation between themselves. With respect to aggrandizement, they
assured us that they would retain possession of Belgium by arms no
longer than they should find it necessary for the purpose already
stated, of consolidating its liberty. And with respect to the decree
of November 19, applied as it was pointedly to you, by all the
intercourse I have stated with all the seditious and traitorous part
of this country, and particularly by the speeches of every leading
man among them, they contented themselves with asserting that the
declaration conveyed no such meaning as was imputed to it, and that,
so far from encouraging sedition, it could apply only to countries
where a great majority of the people should have already declared
itself in favour of a revolution--a supposition which, as they
asserted, necessarily implied a total absence of all sedition.

What would have been the effect of admitting this explanation?--to
suffer a nation, and an armed nation, to preach to the inhabitants of
all the countries in the world, that themselves were slaves, and their
rulers tyrants: to encourage and invite them to revolution, by a
previous promise of French support, to whatever might call itself a
majority, or to whatever France might declare to be so. This was their
explanation: and this, they told you, was their ultimatum. But was
this all? Even at that very moment, when they were endeavouring to
induce you to admit these explanations, to be contented with the
avowal that France offered herself as a general guarantee for every
successful revolution, and would interfere only to sanction and
confirm whatever the free and uninfluenced choice of the people might
have decided, what were their orders to their generals on the same
subject? In the midst of these amicable explanations with you, came
forth a decree which I really believe must be effaced from the minds
of gentlemen opposite to me, if they can prevail upon themselves for a
moment to hint even a doubt upon the origin of this quarrel, not only
as to this country, but as to all the nations of Europe with whom
France has been subsequently engaged in hostility. I speak of the
decree of December 15. This decree, more even than all the previous
transactions, amounted to an universal declaration of war against all
thrones, and against all civilized governments. It said, wherever the
armies of France shall come (whether within countries then at war or
at peace is not distinguished), in all those countries it shall be
the first care of their generals to introduce the principles and the
practice of the French revolution; to demolish all privileged orders,
and everything which obstructs the establishment of their new system.

If any doubt is entertained whither the armies of France were intended
to come, if it is contended that they referred only to those nations
with whom they were then at war, or with whom, in the course of this
contest, they might be driven into war, let it be remembered that, at
this very moment, they had actually given orders to their generals to
pursue the Austrian army from the Netherlands into Holland, with
whom they were at that time in peace. Or, even if the construction
contended for is admitted, let us see what would have been its
application; let us look at the list of their aggressions, which was
read by my right honourable friend[2] near me. With whom have they
been at war since the period of this declaration? With all the nations
of Europe save two,[3] and if not with those two, it is only because,
with every provocation that could justify defensive war, those
countries have hitherto acquiesced in repeated violations of their
rights, rather than recur to war for their vindication. Wherever
their arms have been carried, it will be a matter of short subsequent
inquiry to trace whether they have faithfully applied these
principles. If in terms this decree is a denunciation of war against
all governments; if in practice it has been applied against every one
with which France has come into contact; what is it but the deliberate
code of the French revolution, from the birth of the Republic, which
has never once been departed from, which has been enforced with
unremitted rigour against all the nations that have come into their
power?

If there could otherwise be any doubt whether the application of
this decree was intended to be universal, whether it applied to all
nations, and to England particularly, there is one circumstance
which alone would be decisive--that nearly at the same period it was
proposed, in the National Convention (on a motion of M. Baraillon), to
declare expressly that the decree of November 19 was confined to
the nations with whom they were then at war; and that proposal was
rejected by a great majority of that very Convention from whom we were
desired to receive these explanations as satisfactory.

Such, Sir, was the nature of the system. Let us examine a little
farther, whether it was from the beginning intended to be acted upon,
in the extent which I have stated. At the very moment when their
threats appeared to many little else than the ravings of madmen, they
were digesting and methodizing the means of execution, as accurately
as if they had actually foreseen the extent to which they have since
been able to realize their criminal projects; they sat down coolly to
devise the most regular and effectual mode of making the application
of this system the current business of the day, and incorporating it
with the general orders of their army; for (will the House believe
it?) this confirmation of the decree of November 19 was accompanied by
an exposition and commentary addressed to the general of every army of
France, containing a schedule as coolly conceived, and as methodically
reduced, as any by which the most quiet business of a justice of
peace, or the most regular routine of any department of state in this
country could be conducted. Each commander was furnished with one
general blank formula of a letter for all the nations of the world!
The people of France to the people of ... greeting: 'We are come to
expel your tyrants.' Even this was not all; one of the articles of
the decree of December 15 was expressly, 'that those who should show
themselves so brutish and so enamoured of their chains as to refuse
the restoration of their rights, to renounce liberty and equality, or.
to preserve, recall, or treat with their Prince or privileged orders,
were not entitled to the distinction which France, in other cases,
had justly established between Government and people; and that such
a people ought to be treated according to the rigour of war, and of
conquest.'[4] Here is their love of peace; here is their aversion to
conquest; here is their respect for the independence of other nations!
It was then, after receiving such explanations as these, after
receiving the ultimatum of France, and after M. Chauvelin's
credentials had ceased, that he was required to depart. Even after
that period, I am almost ashamed to record it, we did not on our
part shut the door against other attempts to negotiate; but this
transaction was immediately followed by the declaration of war,
proceeding not from England in vindication of its rights, but from
France as the completion of the injuries and insults they had offered.
And on a war thus originating, can it be doubted, by an English House
of Commons, whether the aggression was on the part of this country or
of France? or whether the manifest aggression on the part of France
was the result of anything but the principles which characterize the
French revolution?

What, then, are the resources and subterfuges by which those who agree
with the learned gentleman are prevented from sinking under the force
of this simple statement of facts? None but what are found in the
insinuation contained in the note from France, that this country had,
previous to the transactions to which I have referred, encouraged and
supported the combination of other Powers directed against them.
Upon this part of the subject, the proofs which contradict such an
insinuation are innumerable. In the first place, the evidence of
dates; in the second place, the admission of all the different parties
in France; of the friends of Brissot charging on Robespierre the war
with this country, and of the friends of Robespierre charging it on
Brissot; but both acquitting England; the testimonies of the French
Government during the whole interval, since the declaration of
Pilnitz, and the date assigned to the pretended treaty of Pavia;
the first of which had not the slightest relation to any project of
partition or dismemberment; the second of which I firmly believe to be
an absolute fabrication and forgery; and in neither of which, even as
they are represented, any reason has been assigned for believing that
this country had any share. Even M. Talleyrand himself was sent by the
constitutional King of the French, after the period when that concert,
which is now charged, must have existed, if it existed at all, with a
letter from the King of France, expressly thanking His Majesty for the
neutrality which he had uniformly observed. The same fact is confirmed
by the recurring evidence of every person who knew anything of the
plans of the King of Sweden in 1791; the only sovereign who, I
believe, at that time meditated any hostile measures against France,
and whose utmost hopes were expressly stated to be, that England would
not oppose his intended expedition; by all those, also, who knew
anything of the conduct of the Emperor, or the King of Prussia; by
the clear and decisive testimony of M. Chauvelin himself, in his
dispatches from hence to the French Government, since published by
their authority; by everything which has occurred since the war; by
the publications of Dumourier; by the publications of Brissot; by the
facts that have since come to light in America, with respect to the
mission of M. Ganet; which show that hostility against this country
was decided on the part of France long before the period when M.
Chauvelin was sent from hence. Besides this, the reduction of our
peace establishment in the year 1791, and continued to the subsequent
year, is a fact from which the inference is indisputable: a fact
which, I am afraid, shows, not only that we were not waiting for the
occasion of war, but that, in our partiality for a pacific system, we
had indulged ourselves in a fond and credulous security, which wisdom
and discretion would not have dictated. In addition to every other
proof, it is singular enough, that in a decree, on the eve of the
declaration of war on the part of France, it is expressly stated, as
for the first time, that England was then departing from that system
of neutrality which she had hitherto observed.

But, Sir, I will not rest merely on these testimonies or arguments,
however strong and decisive. I assert, distinctly and positively, and
I have the documents in my hand to prove it, that from the middle
of the year 1791, upon the first rumour of any measure taken by the
Emperor of Germany, and till late in the year 1792, we not only were
no parties to any of the projects imputed to the Emperor, but, from
the political circumstances in which we then stood with relation to
that Court, we wholly declined all communications with him on the
subject of France. To Prussia, with whom we were in connexion, and
still more decisively to Holland, with whom we were in close and
intimate correspondence, we uniformly stated our unalterable
resolution to maintain neutrality, and avoid interference in the
internal affairs of France, as long as France should refrain from
hostile measures against us and our allies. No Minister of England had
any authority to treat with foreign states, even provisionally, for
any warlike concert, till after the battle of Jemappe; till a period
subsequent to the repeated provocations which had been offered to us,
and subsequent particularly to the decree of fraternity of November
19; even then, to what object was it that the concert which we wish
to establish was to be directed? If we had then rightly cast the true
character of the French revolution, I cannot now deny that we should
have been better justified in a very different conduct. But it is
material to the present argument to declare what that conduct actually
was, because it is of itself sufficient to confute all the pretexts
by which the advocates of France have so long laboured to perplex the
question of aggression.

At that period, Russia had at length conceived, as well as ourselves,
a natural and just alarm for the balance of Europe, and applied to
us to learn our sentiments on the subject. In our answer to this
application, we imparted to Russia the principles upon which we then
acted, and we communicated this answer to Prussia, with whom we were
connected in defensive alliance. I will state shortly the leading part
of those principles. A dispatch was sent from Lord Grenville to His
Majesty's Minister in Russia, dated December 29, 1792, stating a
desire to have an explanation set on foot on the subject of the war
with France. I will read the material parts of it.

'The two leading points on which such explanation will naturally turn,
are the line of conduct to be followed previous to the commencement
of hostilities, and with a view, if possible, to avert them; and the
nature and amount of the forces which the. Powers engaged in
this concert might be enabled to use, supposing such extremities
unavoidable.

'With respect to the first, it appears on the whole, subject, however,
to future consideration; and discussion with the other Powers,
that the most advisable step to be taken would be, that sufficient
explanation should be had with the Powers at war with France, in order
to enable those not hitherto engaged in the war, to propose to that
country terms of peace. That these terms should be, the withdrawing
their arms within the limits of the French territory; the abandoning
their conquests; the rescinding any acts injurious to the sovereignty
or rights of any other nations, and the giving, in some public and
unequivocal manner, a pledge of their intention no longer to foment
troubles, or to excite disturbances against other governments. In
return for these stipulations, the different Powers of Europe, who
should be parties to this measure, might engage to abandon all
measures or views of hostility against France, or interference
in their internal affairs, and to maintain a correspondence and
intercourse of amity with the existing powers in that country, with
whom such a treaty may be concluded. If, on the result of this
proposal so made by the Powers acting in concert, these terms
should not be accepted by France, or being accepted, should not be
satisfactorily performed, the different Powers might then engage
themselves to each other to enter into active measures for the purpose
of obtaining the ends in view; and it may be to be considered,
whether, in such case, they might not reasonably look to some
indemnity for the expenses and hazards to which they would necessarily
be exposed. The dispatch then proceeded to the second point, that of
the forces to be employed, on which it is unnecessary now to speak.

Now, Sir, I would really ask any person who has been, from the
beginning, the most desirous of avoiding hostilities, whether it is
possible to conceive any measure to be adopted in the situation in
which we then stood, which could more evidently demonstrate our
desire, after repeated provocations, to preserve peace, on any terms
consistent with our safety; or whether any sentiment could now be
suggested which would have more plainly marked our moderation,
forbearance, and sincerity?

In saying this, I am not challenging the applause and approbation
of my country, because I must now confess that we were too slow
in anticipating that danger of which we had, perhaps, even then
sufficient experience, though far short, indeed, of that which we now
possess, and that we might even then have seen, what facts have since
but too incontestably proved, that nothing but vigorous and open
hostility can afford complete and adequate security against
revolutionary principles, while they retain a proportion of power
sufficient to furnish the means of war.

I will enlarge no farther on the origin of the war. I have read and
detailed to you a system which was in itself a declaration of war
against all nations, which was so intended, and which has been so
applied, which has been exemplified in the extreme peril and hazard of
almost all who for a moment have trusted to treaty, and which has not
at this hour overwhelmed Europe in one indiscriminate mass of ruin,
only because we have not indulged, to a fatal extremity, that
disposition, which we have, however, indulged too far; because we have
not consented to trust to profession and compromise, rather than to
our own valour and exertion, for security against a system from which
we never shall be delivered till either the principle is extinguished
or till its strength is exhausted. I might, Sir, if I found it
necessary, enter into much detail upon this part of the subject; but
at present I only beg leave to express my readiness at any time to
enter upon it, when either my own strength, or the patience of the
House will admit of it; but I say, without distinction, against every
nation in Europe, and against some out of Europe, the principle has
been faithfully applied. You cannot look at the map of Europe and
lay your hand upon that country against which France has not either
declared an open and aggressive war, or violated some positive treaty,
or broken some recognized principle of the law of nations.

This subject may be divided into various periods. There were some acts
of hostility committed previous to the war with this country, and very
little indeed subsequent to that declaration, which abjured the love
of conquest. The attack upon the Papal State, by the seizure of
Avignon, in 1791, was accompanied by a series of the most atrocious
crimes and outrages that ever disgraced a revolution. Avignon was
separated from its lawful sovereign, with whom not even the pretence
of quarrel existed, and forcibly incorporated in the tyranny of one
and indivisible France. The same system led, in the same year, to
an aggression against the whole German Empire, by the seizure of
Porentrui, part of the dominions of the Bishop of Basle. Afterwards,
in 1792, unpreceded by any declaration of war, or any cause of
hostility, and in direct violation of the solemn pledge to abstain
from conquest, an attack was made upon the King of Sardinia, by the
seizure of Savoy, for the purpose of incorporating it, in like manner,
with France. In the same year, they had proceeded to the declaration
of war against Austria, against Prussia, and against the German
Empire, in which they have been justified only on a ground of rooted
hostility, combination, and league of sovereigns for the dismemberment
of France. I say that some of the documents brought to support this
pretence are spurious and false; I say that even in those that are not
so there is not one word to prove the charge principally relied upon,
that of an intention to effect the dismemberment of France, or to
impose upon it by force any particular constitution. I say that,
as far as we have been able to trace what passed at Pilnitz, the
declaration there signed referred to the imprisonment of Louis XVI;
its immediate view was to effect his deliverance, if a concert
sufficiently extensive could be formed with other sovereigns for that
purpose. It left the internal state of France to be decided by the
King restored to his liberty, with the free consent of the states
of his kingdom, and it did not contain one word relative to the
dismemberment of France.

In the subsequent discussions, which took place in 1792, and which
embraced at the same time all the other points of jealousy which had
arisen between the two countries, the declaration of Pilnitz was
referred to, and explained on the part of Austria in a manner
precisely conformable to what I have now stated; and the amicable
explanations which took place, both on this subject and on all the
matters in dispute, will be found in the official correspondence
between the two Courts, which has been made public; and it will
be found, also, that, as long as the negotiation continued to be
conducted through M. Delessart, the Minister for Foreign Affairs,
there was a great prospect that those discussions would be amicably
terminated; but it is notorious, and has since been clearly proved,
on the authority of Brissot himself, that the violent party in France
considered such an issue of the negotiation as likely to be fatal
to their projects, and thought, to use his own words, that 'war was
necessary to consolidate the revolution'. For the express purpose
of producing the war, they excited a popular tumult in Paris; they
insisted upon and obtained the dismissal of M. Delessart. A new
Minister was appointed in his room, the tone of the negotiation was
immediately changed, and an ultimatum was sent to the Emperor, similar
to that which was afterwards sent to this country, affording him no
satisfaction on his just grounds of complaint, and requiring him,
under those circumstances, to disarm. The first events of the contest
proved how much more France was prepared for war than Austria, and
afford a strong confirmation of the proposition which I maintain--that
no offensive intention was entertained on the part of the latter
Power.

War was then declared against Austria; a war which I state to be a war
of aggression on the part of France. The King of Prussia had declared
that he should consider war against the Emperor or Empire, as war
against himself. He had declared that, as a co-estate of the Empire,
he was determined to defend their rights; that, as an ally of the
Emperor, he would support him to the utmost against any attack; and
that, for the sake of his own dominions, he felt himself called upon
to resist the progress of French principles, and to maintain the
balance of power in Europe. With this notice before them, France
declared war upon the Emperor, and the war with Prussia was the
necessary consequence of this aggression, both against the Emperor and
the Empire. The war against the King of Sardinia follows next. The
declaration of that war was the seizure of Savoy, by an invading army;
and on what ground? On that which has been stated already. They had
found out, by some light of nature, that the Rhine and the Alps were
the natural limits of France. Upon that ground Savoy was seized; and
Savoy was also incorporated with France.

Here finishes the history of the wars in which France was engaged,
antecedent to the war with Great Britain, with Holland, and with
Spain. With respect to Spain, we have seen nothing in any part of its
conduct which leads us to suspect that either attachment to religion,
or the ties of consanguinity, or regard to the ancient system of
Europe, was likely to induce that Court to connect itself in offensive
war against France. The war was evidently and incontestably begun by
France against Spain. The case of Holland is so fresh in every man's
recollection, and so connected with the immediate causes of the war
with this country, that it cannot require one word of observation.
What shall I say, then, on the case of Portugal? I cannot indeed say
that France ever declared war against that country; I can hardly say
even that she ever made war, but she required them to make a treaty of
peace, as if they had been at war; she obliged them to purchase
that treaty; she broke it as soon as it was purchased, and she had
originally no other ground of complaint than this: that Portugal
had performed, though inadequately, the engagements of its ancient
defensive alliance with this country, in the character of an
auxiliary--a conduct which cannot of itself make any Power a principal
in a war.

I have now enumerated all the nations at war at that period, with the
exception only of Naples. It can hardly be necessary to call to the
recollection of the House the characteristic feature of revolutionary
principles which was shown, even at this early period, in the personal
insult offered to the King of Naples by the commander of a French
squadron, riding uncontrolled in the Mediterranean, and (while our
fleets were yet unarmed) threatening destruction to all the coast of
Italy.

It was not till a considerably later period that almost all the
other nations of Europe found themselves equally involved in actual
hostility: but it is not a little material to the whole of my
argument, compared with the statement of the learned gentleman, and
with that contained in the French note, to examine at what period this
hostility extended itself. It extended itself, in the course of 1796,
to the states of Italy which had hitherto been exempted from it. In
1797 it had ended in the destruction of most of them; it had ended in
the virtual deposition of the King of Sardinia, it had ended in the
conversion of Genoa and Tuscany into democratic republics; it had
ended in the revolution of Venice, in the violation of treaties with
the new Venetian republic; and finally, in transferring that very
republic, the creature and vassal of France, to the dominion of
Austria.

I observe from the gestures of some honourable gentlemen that they
think we are precluded from the use of any argument founded on this
last transaction. I already hear them saying, that it was as criminal
in Austria to receive, as it was in France to give. I am far from
defending or palliating the conduct of Austria upon this occasion: but
because Austria, unable at last to contend with the arms of France,
was forced to accept an unjust and insufficient indemnification from
the conquests France had made from it, are we to be debarred from
stating what, on the part of France, was not merely an unjust
acquisition, but an act of the grossest and most aggravated perfidy
and cruelty, and one of the most striking specimens of that system
which has been uniformly and indiscriminately applied to all the
countries which France has had within its grasp? This can only be
said in vindication of France (and it is still more a vindication of
Austria), that, practically speaking, if there is any part of this
transaction for which Venice itself has reason to be grateful, it
can only be for the permission to exchange the embraces of French
fraternity for what is called the despotism of Vienna.

Let these facts, and these dates, be compared with what we have heard.
The honourable gentleman has told us, and the author of the note from
France has told us also, that all the French conquests were produced
by the operations of the allies. It was when they were pressed on
all sides, when their own territory was in danger, when their own
independence was in question, when the confederacy appeared too
strong; it was then they used the means with which their power and
their courage furnished them; and, 'attacked upon all sides, they
carried everywhere their defensive arms' (vide M. Talleyrand's note).
I do not wish to misrepresent the learned gentleman, but I understood
him to speak of this sentiment with approbation: the sentiment itself
is this, that if a nation is unjustly attacked in any one quarter by
others, she cannot stop to consider by whom, but must find means of
strength in other quarters, no matter where; and is justified in
attacking, in her turn, those with whom she is at peace, and from whom
she has received no species of provocation.

Sir, I hope I have already proved, in a great measure, that no such
attack was made upon France; but, if it was made, I maintain, that the
whole ground on which that argument is founded cannot be tolerated. In
the name of the laws of nature and nations, in the name of everything
that is sacred and honourable, I demur to that plea, and I tell that
honourable and learned gentleman that he would do well to look again
into the law of nations, before he ventures to come to this House,
to give the sanction of his authority to so dreadful and execrable a
system.

[Mr. Erskine here said across the House, that he had never maintained
such a proposition.]

I certainly understood this to be distinctly the tenor of the learned
gentleman's argument; but as he tells me he did not use it, I take it
for granted he did not intend to use it: I rejoice that he did
not: but, at least, then I have a right to expect that the learned
gentleman should now transfer to the French note some of the
indignation which he has hitherto lavished upon the declarations of
this country. This principle, which the learned gentleman disclaims,
the French note avows: and I contend, without the fear of
contradiction, it is the principle upon which France has uniformly
acted. But while the learned gentleman disclaims this proposition, he
certainly will admit, that he himself asserted, and maintained in the
whole course of his argument, that the pressure of the war upon France
imposed upon her the necessity of those exertions which produced
most of the enormities of the revolution, and most of the enormities
practised against the other countries of Europe. The House will
recollect, that, in the year 1796, when all these horrors in Italy
were beginning, which are the strongest illustrations of the general
character of the French revolution, we had begun that negotiation
to which the learned gentleman has referred. England then possessed
numerous conquests; England, though not having at that time had the
advantage of three of her most splendid victories, England, even
then, appeared undisputed mistress of the sea; England, having then
engrossed the whole wealth of the colonial world; England, having
lost nothing of its original possessions; England then comes forward,
proposing general peace, and offering--what? offering the surrender
of all that it had acquired, in order to obtain--what? not the
dismemberment, not the partition of ancient France, but the return of
a part of those conquests, no one of which could be retained but in
direct contradiction to that original and solemn pledge which is now
referred to as the proof of the just and moderate disposition of the
French Republic. Yet even this offer was not sufficient to procure
peace, or to arrest the progress of France in her defensive operations
against other offending countries. From the pages, however, of the
learned gentleman's pamphlet (which, after all its editions, is now
fresher in his memory than in that of any other person in this House,
or in the country), he is furnished with an argument on the result
of the negotiation, on which he appears confidently to rely. He
maintains, that the single point on which the negotiation was broken
off, was the question of the possession of the Austrian Netherlands;
and that it is, therefore, on that ground only, that the war has,
since that time, been continued. When this subject was before under
discussion, I stated, and I shall state again (notwithstanding the
learned gentleman's accusation of my having endeavoured to shift the
question from its true point), that the question then at issue was not
whether the Netherlands should, in fact, be restored, though even on
that question I am not, like the learned gentleman, unprepared to give
any opinion; I am ready to say, that to leave that territory in the
possession of France, would be obviously dangerous to the interests
of this country, and is inconsistent with the policy which it has
uniformly pursued at every period in which it has concerned itself in
the general system of the Continent; but it was not on the decision
of this question of expediency and policy that the issue of the
negotiation then turned; what was required of us by France was, not
merely that we should acquiesce in her retaining the Netherlands, but
that, as a preliminary to all treaty, and before entering upon the
discussion of terms, we should recognize the principle, that whatever
France, in time of war, had annexed to the Republic must remain
inseparable for ever, and could not become the subject of negotiation.
I say that, in refusing such a preliminary, we were only resisting the
claim of France to arrogate to itself the power of controlling, by its
own separate and municipal acts, the rights and interests of other
countries, and moulding, at its discretion, a new and general code of
the law of nations.

In reviewing the issue of this negotiation, it is important to observe
that France, who began by abjuring a love of conquest, was desired
to give up nothing of her own, not even to give up all that she had
conquered; that it was offered to her to receive back all that had
been conquered from her; and when she rejected the negotiation for
peace upon these grounds, are we then to be told of the unrelenting
hostility of the combined Powers, for which France was to revenge
itself upon other countries, and which is to justify the subversion
of every established government, and the destruction of property,
religion, and domestic comfort, from one end of Italy to the other?
Such was the effect of the war against Modena, against Genoa, against
Tuscany, against Venice, against Rome, and against Naples; all of
which she engaged in, or prosecuted, subsequent to this very period.

After this, in the year 1797, Austria had made peace, England and its
ally, Portugal (from whom we could expect little active assistance,
but whom we felt it our duty to defend), alone remained in the war.
In that situation, under the pressure of necessity, which I shall not
disguise, we made another attempt to negotiate. In 1797, Prussia,
Spain, Austria, and Naples having successively made peace, the princes
of Italy having been destroyed, France having surrounded itself, in
almost every part in which it is not surrounded by the sea, with
revolutionary republics, England made another offer of a different
nature. It was not now a demand that France should restore anything.
Austria having made a peace upon her own terms, England had nothing
to require with regard to her allies; she asked no restitution of the
dominions added to France in Europe. So far from retaining anything
French out of Europe, we freely offered them all, demanding only, as
a poor compensation, to retain a part of what we had acquired by arms
from Holland, then identified with France, and that part useless to
Holland and necessary for the security of our Indian possessions. This
proposal also, Sir, was proudly refused, in a way which the learned
gentleman himself has not attempted to justify, indeed of which he has
spoken with detestation. I wish, since he has not finally abjured his
duty in this House, that that detestation had been stated earlier,
that he had mixed his own voice with the general voice of his country
on the result of that negotiation.

Let us look at the conduct of France immediately subsequent to this
period. She had spurned at the offers of Great Britain; she had
reduced her Continental enemies to the necessity of accepting a
precarious peace: she had (in spite of those pledges repeatedly made
and uniformly violated) surrounded herself by new conquests, on every
part of her frontier but one; that one was Switzerland. The first
effect of being relieved from the war with Austria, of being secured
against all fears of Continental invasion on the ancient territory
of France, was their unprovoked attack against this unoffending and
devoted country. This was one of the scenes which satisfied even those
who were the most incredulous, that France had thrown off the mask,
'_if indeed she had ever worn it_.'[5] It collected, in one view, many
of the characteristic features of that revolutionary system which I
have endeavoured to trace. The perfidy which alone rendered their arms
successful, the pretext of which they availed themselves to produce
division and prepare the entrance of Jacobinism in that country, the
proposal of armistice, one of the known and regular engines of the
revolution, which was, as usual, the immediate prelude to military
execution, attended with cruelty and barbarity, of which there are few
examples: all these are known to the world. The country they attacked
was one which had long been the faithful ally of France, which,
instead of giving cause of jealousy to any other Power, had been, for
ages, proverbial for the simplicity and innocence of its manners, and
which had acquired and preserved the esteem of all the nations of
Europe; which had almost, by the common consent of mankind, been
exempted from the sound of war, and marked out as a land of Goshen,
safe and untouched in the midst of surrounding calamities.

Look, then, at the fate of Switzerland, at the circumstances which led
to its destruction, add this instance to the catalogue of aggression
against all Europe, and then tell me whether the system I have
described has not been prosecuted with an unrelenting spirit,
which cannot be subdued in adversity, which cannot be appeased in
prosperity, which neither solemn professions, nor the general law
of nations, nor the obligation of treaties (whether previous to the
revolution or subsequent to it), could restrain from the subversion
of every state into which, either by force or fraud, their arms could
penetrate. Then tell me whether the disasters of Europe are to be
charged upon the provocation of this country and its allies, or on
the inherent principle of the French revolution, of which the natural
result produced so much misery and carnage in France, and carried
desolation and terror over so large a portion of the world.

Sir, much as I have now stated, I have not finished the catalogue.
America, almost as much as Switzerland, perhaps, contributed to
that change, which has taken place in the minds of those who were
originally partial to the principles of the French Government. The
hostility against America followed a long course of neutrality
adhered to, under the strongest provocations, or rather of
repeated compliances to France, with which we might well have been
dissatisfied. It was, on the face of it, unjust and wanton; and it was
accompanied by those instances of sordid corruption which shocked and
disgusted even the enthusiastic admirers of revolutionary purity, and
threw a new light on the genius of revolutionary government.

After this, it remains only shortly to remind gentlemen of the
aggression against Egypt, not omitting, however, to notice the capture
of Malta, in the way to Egypt. Inconsiderable as that island may
be thought, compared with the scenes we have witnessed, let it be
remembered, that it is an island of which the Government had long been
recognized by every state of Europe, against which France pretended
no cause of war, and whose independence was as dear to itself and
as sacred as that of any country in Europe. It was, in fact, not
unimportant from its local situation to the other Powers of Europe,
but in proportion as any man may diminish its importance the instance
will only serve the more to illustrate and confirm the proposition

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