On February 13, 1812, Samuel Whitbread brought a motion in the British House of Commons for production of the correspondence exchanged between the British and American governments. Whitbread was opposed to a war with the Americans. The motion was put to a vote and lost by an overwhelming majority.
Whitbread was a passionate and somewhat intemperate reformer whose political efficacy was impaired by his strong admiration of Napoleon. He suffered from depression and, on July 6, 1815, he took this life by cutting his throat with a razor.
The following excerpts deal with his motion of February 13 1812:
MR. WHITBREAD'S MOTION FOR CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO AMERICA.
HC Deb 13 February 1812 vol 21 cc762-801 762
§Mr. Whitbread , in rising to make the motion of which he had given notice, for an Address to the Prince Regent, praying that the correspondence which had pass-ed between the government of this country and that of the United States should be laid before parliament, said, he might be perhaps allowed to indulge in a sentiment of regret, that on a subject so important as a question concerning the situation of this country with respect to America, so few members should be present. He would, nevertheless, bring it forward, as, whatever might be the feelings of others on the subject, their conduct should have no effect upon him, convinced as he was, that, in submitting that motion to the House, with which it was his intention to conclude (and which was merely a motion for information), it was advisable that no delay should occur,—that not a single day should be lost. All parties, both in this country and in America, had professed to deprecate a war between the two countries, and all parties had acknowledged that such an event was but too probable. The government of America and the government of this country, from the beginning of the commercial and the diplomatic contest 763 in which the two countries were engaged, had uniformly professed to be actuated by the most friendly and conciliatory dispositions; but it had unfortunately so turned out, that, professing such feelings, the breach between America and England had been widened from day to day, till at length it appeared from the message of the President of the United States to Congress, that war between the two countries would be the inevitable consequence of a perseverance in that system on the part of England, which had been acted upon for the last five years. That information which it was his intention to call for this night was already before the whole world, with the exception of the two Houses of Parliament in this country. It was before the people of England, of France and of America; it was before every person who could read a newspaper, but it had not yet been given to the British parliament for their information and consideration. One would be glad to know why the right hon. gentleman had near the close of the last session withheld the papers which he (Mr. W.) solicited, and why, with the additional documents on the subject, they were still, as he understood, to be refused to him and the House? Motions of this description were by no means unfrequent. When the conduct of government on former occasions had furnished grounds for jealousies, and for suspicions that the business of the state was not well conducted, as had been the case with respect to the operations in the peninsula, and those of the expedition to Walcheren, and in various other instances, information, when asked for, had at times been given, and at times refused. When it was refused, it had been stated as a ground for such refusal, that the production of the papers called for would disclose secrets which could not be made public with safety; that the granting of the required information would in some respect or other, be dangerous, and calculated to produce inconvenience. Sometimes information had been refused, on the ground that it might injure or impede pending negociations; and it had been stated that foreign governments complained of their correspondence being published, and were more reserved than they would otherwise be, from an apprehension that their letters might be laid before the two Houses of Parliament of Great Britain. In this case, he wished to know what grounds 764 could be found to justify a refusal of the papers called for? No plea of the nature of any of those which he had enumerated could be urged in the present case. The information, for which he called, had already been disclosed to the whole world. He would ask for nothing which was not then on the table of that House, in the two books before him, which had been published by order of the American Congress. From reading these he saw great reason to blame the conduct of those who had conducted the negociation pending between this country and America; but he was not able to make a charge against the parties concerned in them, because the papers he called for were not before parliament, and the House as a House of Parliament were ignorant of the existence of the publications he had alluded to; and it seemed that it was still intended to keep from them that information he felt it his duty to call for. It had been stated by a right hon. gentleman (and wisely stated) that this country, actuated by a sincere desire to conciliate America, could bear more from her than from any other power. If this were wisely said in the first instance, surely it must follow, that it would be wise to act with a greater disposition to conciliate the government of America, than to conciliate the more ancient governments by exhibiting towards that country the strictest and most punctilious attention to decorum: The reasons which recommended such a line of policy were obvious; but, so far from such a principle having been acted upon by his Majesty's government, their conduct had been marked (as he could show from the papers he required) by the greatest inattention to the American envoy, by neglect, amounting to little less than diplomatic incivility, while the conduct of our ministers in America, since the recall of Mr. Erskine, had been in a corresponding degree inconciliatory. But all the means of showing this were to be refused him; and he was the more surprized at this refusal in the present case, as the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning), who was the colleague of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the time the Orders in Council—those 'celebrated' or 'famous' Orders in Council (they might take which term they pleased), were framed, though not in the habit of voting with him (Mr. Whitbread), or with that side of the House on which he usually sat, had never refused papers called for, when a was proved that they 765 had been previously printed by order of the American government. That right hon. gentleman presumed then, as he (Mr. W.) presumed now, that it would be to insult that House, to refuse that information which was before every body else, and therefore never gave opposition to such a motion. The papers before the House at present came down to the end of Mr. Erskine's mission. To that gentleman had succeeded as ambassador to America Mr. Jackson, who had not carried on the negociations between the two countries in such a manner as to conciliate America. So far from it, after he had been there a short time an open rupture broke out, and the recall of that minister was the consequence. He would not now move for the correspondence betweeen Mr. Jackson and the American government, as that business was gone by, and he had no wish to revive it, as to recall it to the memory of the world could do no good. To Mr. Jackson, after a long interval, succeeded Mr. Foster. The mission of Mr. Foster had commenced in auspiciously, and in prosecuting it, he had not given things an auspicious turn; and it had at length terminated most unfortunately for both countries. He felt himself compelled to say that neither the instructions nor the conduct of Mr. Foster bore the appearance or had the effect long desired; that of conciliating America. There was another correspondence of which he had to Speak, he meant the correspondence between the marquis of Wellesley and Mr. Pinckney. That correspondence had commenced in January 1809, and terminated in February last year, on Mr. Pinckney's quitting the country. Of Mr. Pinckney he hardly need say any thing; he was a ma* of sound sense and strict integrity, and had uniformly appeared to be actuated by a sincere desire to conciliate the government of this country. Without losing sight of those interests which were intrusted to him by his country, he had always approached ministers with due diplomatic deference, and with the proper feelings of an enlightened statesman. Firm to his purpose, yet conciliating in his manner, a want of punctuality and attention was in no instance to be charged to him; and the mode in which he had endeavoured to accomplish the object of his mission was in every respect entitled to commendation. But he was very much afraid that Mr. Pinckney had not been treated with the same punctilious 766 respect which had marked the deportment of that gentleman towards the English ministers. At the time the correspondence between the marquis Wellesley and Mr. Pinckney commenced, it was known that there was a great soreness in America, in consequence of what had occurred in the course of the mission of Mr. Jackson. The first letter which Mr. Pinckney had occasion to write to lord Wellesley, was with a reference to the occurrences alluded to. On the subject of the pending negociations, it was known there was a remarkable sensibility in America as to the parties by whom they were to be conducted. After the termination of Mr. Erskine's mission, and the unfortunate (as it proved) substitution of Mr. Jackson, it might have been hoped that the English government would therefore have been particularly careful that no want of decorum should give a new offence. What was the conduct of ministers? Why on the 2d January, 1809, Mr. Pinckney wrote on the subject of appointing a new minister to America, and to this letter no answer was given by the English government till the 14th March. Upwards of two months of precious time was thus wasted. On this subject Mr. Pinckney, in his dispatches to his government, had only observed—"I was prepared to expect some delay, but I did not expect a delay like this." Lord Wellesley gave an answer on this subject on the 14th March. Oh the 15th, Mr. Pinckney wrote again to lord Wellesley on the subject of the English system of blockade, a subject most interesting to America. After waiting more than a fortnight, an answer was returned to this letter on the 2d of the following month. On the 30th of April, he (Mr. Pinckney) wrote again on the subject of the Berlin and Milan decrees, but to this letter he received no answer. On the 3d of May, Mr. Pinckney wrote to lord Wellesley, complaining of the practice of forging ships' papers in London, and of making an open traffic of them. A traffic more infamous and more dishonourable could not exist, and consequently a more serious and more severe charge could not be made against any government. Yet notwithstanding all this, to Mr. Pinckney's communication oft the subject no answer was returned. On the 3d of June, Mr. Pinckney wrote again, referring to his letter of the 30th of April on the subject of the Berlin and Milan decrees, to which he answer had 767 been returned. To this letter no answer was given. On the.7th of July, Mr. Pinckney wrote again on the subject of the delay in appointing a minister. To this letter no official answer was returned. A personal communication as it was called, (a private note) assuring him that a minister should be appointed immediately, was all the notice taken of it. On the 8th of August, Mr. Pinckney wrote again, referring to his (Mr. P.'s) letters of the 30th of April and 23d of June, on the subject of the Berlin and Milan decrees, requesting an answer, but to this letter also no answer was returned. On the 23d July he wrote again, and again no answer was returned. On the 25th August he wrote again on the subject of the revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees, and demanding an answer. To this letter an answer was returned on the 31st of the same month. On the 15th September he wrote again to lord Wellesley, on the subject of the blockade of Elsineur by Sir J. Saumarez, and on the circumstance of four American seamen having been impressed out of the Viola. On Dec. 6, he received an answer to this letter, as far as it related to the blockade, but saying nothing on the subject of the American sea-men. With respect to them nothing appeared to have been done by government, but they were afterwards released by order of the Admiralty. Nothing had ever excited his surprise so much as the conduct of ministers at this period of the negociation. It was known to the whole world that one of the most nice and difficult points to be adjusted between Great Britain and America, was that relating to the seizure of American seamen. Surely then, when an opportunity offered of doing that which America wished, and which ministers admitted to be no more than justice, it might have been expected that they would eagerly embrace it with a view of conciliating America. This might surely have been expected from a minister, who knew how fatal to this country a rupture with America must prove. This, however, was not done, though, by the bye, Mr. Pinckney was apprised of the circumstance of the American claims being admitted to be just, yet, instead of eagerly embracing such an opportunity to conciliate, an answer was coldly and reluctantly wrung forth, not from the noble secretary of state for the foreign department,—not by letter from him—but practically by the discharge of these men by Sir William 768 Scott, in the high court of Admiralty; thereby acknowledging the right and justice of the claim urged on the part of America. This was the conciliation of the noble secretary—that he permitted the sentence of a court of justice to give a practical answer to a foreign minister, whom he would not take the trouble of putting pen to paper to satisfy on so interesting a point! On the 21st day of September, Mr. Pinckney wrote again, referring to his letters of the 30th April, 3d June, and 8th August, on the subject of the Berlin and Milan decrees, and asking an answer. To this no satisfactory answer was given. Letters dated December 8th and December 10th were written, and these leading to no satisfactory result; Mr. Pinckney demanded his audience of leave. A passage in the speech of the Prince Regent to parliament, which appeared at a period not very remote from that last alluded to, on the subject of America, raised new hopes of an amicable termination of the pending negociations. The paragraph, though in itself very equivocal, merely stating that discussions were going on, and that every disposition existed to conciliate America, consistently with the honour and interests of this country, excited considerable expectations that the negociation was proceeding in a way from which there was every reason to hope the issue would be favourable. No such thing. At that time Mr. Pinckney had demanded his audience of leave, and the negociations in America were at an end. The negociations had at that period terminated, and they were resumed, and not continued, when Mr. Foster was sent from this country. After this, little appeared to have been done towards effecting the important object which both governments professed to have in view, from the correspondence between Mr. Foster and the American government, which was then on the table before him. It had been hoped when Mr. Foster was sent out, that he had new instructions, but on his arrival in America, it was found that he only went to offer what had been previously rejected, and to restate what had often before been stated in vain; and thus his mission was only productive of disappointment. He (Mr. Whitbread) purposely abstained from a discussion of the policy of the Orders of Council. Whether they were good or had, and whether the Berlin and Milan decrees were or were not repealed, were questions 769 which would in a few days be brought before that House by an honourable friend of his, when he hoped an attendance more proportioned to the importance of the subject would be given. He would confine himself to asking for that which was necessary to the House, preparatory to their entering into the subject which his hon. friend would bring forward. He only called for that which was necessary to a decision, which (as he thought), must soon be formed on ministers, who, (in his opinion), had brought this country to the verge of a war with America. The last letter which had passed between Mr. Foster and Mr. Munroe, which had been published, was dated October 31, 1811, and he begged to be understood to ask for nothing which had not been printed. The message of the President was sent to Congress on the 5th of November following, and on the 10th, a committee on foreign relations made a report of an unfavourable nature for this country, and there was no doubt but it was the feeling of America, that the mission of Mr. Foster had been totally ineffectual, and was in point of fact terminated. Under these circumstances his humble motion would only call for what had here already been made public. He was sorry to say it, but the correspondence between the two governments was so voluminous, and the novelty was so completely worn off, that to those who were most deeply interested in the question of peace or war between the two countries, it must be very tiresome to read, and in consequence of that, he was afraid but few gave to it the attention it merited. He did not mean to throw any reflection on the talents of the correspondents on either side, as when a correspondence had been carried on for years on the same subject, it was totally impossible to make it otherwise than palling. On the important question of peace or war with America, the House was not called upon to decide that night; he only called upon them to demand that information which could alone enable them to decide on that great question. They could not properly decide on it without having the papers for which he called in a technical shape to refer to on their table. However little might be felt on this subject in that House, out of doors its importance was well known, and no small interest was token even in the success of the motion he was about to make. Whether England had acted unjustly towards America, or whether America had 770 acted unjustly towards England; whether the blame ought to be thrown upon France or upon England, or upon America, he did not call upon them to decide. Whatever was really the case, and whether the Ordersin Council were wise or unwise; whether they had been acted up to, or whether to act up to them had been found impracticable, were things which he would not call in question; but of this, he believed nobody could doubt, that great commercial distress had been experienced, and that if the market of America were to be thrown open to us, it would be felt to be a great and signal blessing. War with America, it was equally obvious, would be a, great evil: and war once commenced, no man could tell what might follow. It was an easy thing to talk and write of putting down America, of inflicting chastisement, &c. as if it was in the power of England to annihilate her: we might talk this well, but we could not put America down. She was there where we had placed her; it was not in the power of England to annihilate her, and it was therefore the interest of England to be her friend.—He was not certain that the time was not gone by for conciliating America, and had he spoke eight and forty hours sooner, he might have been inclined to have pronounced it altogether past. He had had fears that the Constitution frigate, which sailed from France on the 9th of the last month, had carried that with her which might prove fatal to this country. Within the last 2s hours new arrivals had partly dispelled such apprehensions. The act spoken of as likely to pass, admitting English manufactures which had been purchased bonâ fide before Feb. 1, 1811, had given the people of this country great hopes of relief, as it was felt that acting on the false swearing system noticed by Mr. Pinckney, almost any quantity of goods might be sworn into America. The joy, however, expressed at this prospect of an opening market, sufficiently proved how great a blessing such a change would be considered, as that which the revocation of the Orders in Council would occasion. The Orders in Council had disappointed those by whom they were framed; from our principal manufacturing towns—from almost every quarter there were the loudest complaints against them, and there was hardly a merchant to be found, who was not thoroughly persuaded of their mischievous tendency. On this question, however, he did not call upon the House to decide, but 771 he called upon them over and over again to put themselves in possession of that information which he had endeavoured to shew was so necessary. He could not but admit that with him America was extremely popular. He looked back to that contest in which she had been engaged with this country, with reverence and admiration for America. That contest had terminated as all such contests should terminate. He felt no jealousy of the prosperity of America, convinced as he was, that with proper management here, the more she flourished, the more would this country flourish; and that on the other hand, from the flourishing condition of Great Britain, America would derive a fresh impulse and additional vigour. He had seen nothing after all that had been said that could be looked upon as injustice to this country on the part of America. He had heard a very great outcry against her injustice, but he had seen none of it. He had heard it trumpeted forth long ago, that America was engaged in secret hostility against this country, but he did not believe it. He believed that America, placed in the extraordinary situation in which she had stood, that of the only neutral in the world, had done as every other power would, and endeavoured to avail herself of all the advantages of her situation. He thought that England had been unjust to America, and had required that of her which it was impossible she could achieve. He thought France had acted unjustly to her, and required that of her which it was impossible she could achieve. Placed in this situation, she endeavoured as long as she could, to preserve her independence by defensive operations. The Non-Importation Act had therefore been enacted, and afterwards the Non-Intercourse Act. In the measures she had adopted, it did not appear to him that there was partiality towards France or injustice toward England; but he thought the government of France had been wise enough to recede from their measures, and thus gained advantages which we denied ourselves. The news which had so recently arrived from America, made it more important than ever, for the House thoroughly to consider this subject. The Bill spoken of as likely to pass, would, he thought, if passed, be calculated to give umbrage to France, and it was the duty of the English government, to endeavour, by conciliation, to avail themselves of any difference that might arise between America and France. 772 He did not know that any thing that he could say in addition to what he had offered, would be likely to influence the House more than what he had already advanced, he should therefore conclude, and whatever might be the fate of his motion, he should feel the satisfaction which had consoled him on other occasions, however he had failed of gaining the object he had in view, he meant that satisfaction which arose from a conscientiousness of having discharged his duty. He concluded by moving, "That an bumble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that there be laid before this House, copies of all correspondence which may have taken place between his Majesty's principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the ministers or Chargés d'Affaires of the United States of America, resident in England, from the 1st of January, 1810, to the latest period; also of all documents referred to in the said correspondence, together with copies of all correspondence between Mr. Foster and Mr. Monroe, with the documents referred to therein."
§Mr. Stephen expressed his satisfaction at having heard from the hon. gentleman, that he had no intention of going into the justice or policy of the Orders in Council, since the subject would soon come in a separate shape before the House, when it might be discussed with so much more advantage. But while this relieved him from the necessity of entering into the question of justice and policy, which he was fully prepared to do, he could not but regret, that without arguing the subject, the hon. gentleman had jumped to a conclusion—that he had dealt in generalities, and said, that the conduct of this country towards America was wrong. By this proceeding of the hon. gentleman, he was placed in a very unpleasant dilemma. He could not enter fully into the conduct of the Americans, without occasioning a discussion which it was far from his wish to produce; and yet he would assert, in general, that instead of there having been any injustice in the conduct of this country towards America, we had the strongest case against her that ever one nation had against another: but he would not appeal to the evidence which he had brought with him, and he trusted be should be delivered from ever engaging in so unpleasant a dispute. At present, he would only say in general, that there never was 773 a more unfounded position, than that Great Britain had been unjust towards America, or wanting in a spirit of conciliation. On the contrary, nothing but the utmost aversion to a quarrel with America could have enabled this country to have borne so much. So far from having done any thing to provoke a rupture with America, the strongest, most persevering, and almost even humiliating means, had been employed to avoid it. He would forbear entering now into that topic, more particularly because he thought the question was not whether we should go to war with America, but whether America would go to war with us. (Hear, hear.) He saw no good that could result from a premature agitation in that House of the differences between the two countries; but, on the contrary, was satisfied that it might be attended with a great deal of inconvenience and mischief. If, however, he should be forced into a discussion of the justice and policy of the Orders in Council, he would follow the hon. gentleman through the latter branches of them, as he had done through the former; and had no doubt but he could prove what he now asserted,—that they were neither unjust nor impolitic. The hon. gentleman had asserted that even those who had framed the Orders had been disappointed in their expectations of the effect which would be produced by them. In this assertion the hon. gentleman would find himself much mistaken. He denied also that there was any evidence of the mercantile interest in general, considering the Orders in Council as injurious to trade. If they did, they must have forgot the prostrate state of our commerce previous to the issuing of the Orders in Council; and its prosperous condition since that time: the whole forming the strongest body of evidence that ever appeared on such a subject.
With respect to what the hon. gentleman had said about the annihilation of America, he would ask him when or where he had heard a wish expressed, that America should be annihilated? For his part he had never heard any wish expressed with regard to the dispute with America but one, and that was, that a war with that country ought to be avoided, if it could be done without that utter ruin to the maritime rights and commerce of Great Britain which must be the consequence of yielding to the arrogant pretensions of France. (Hear, hear!) When 774 the possible annihilation of America in the event of a war was contemplated, it was only from an idea of the resistance that in such an event the Americans would be likely to make to the measures of their own government. He was however far from thinking with the hon. gentleman that the more America flourished the more Great Britain must necessarily flourish. When the hon. gentleman talked of adopting a proper line of conduct with regard to the the moral effects of the system established by the Orders in Council, had also been the subject of animadversion: but the hon. gentleman was mistaken there as well as in his other positions. He (Mr. S.) denied that they were the source of these moral effects, and did not see what good end it could answer to advert to the subject. No man could more deplore whatever moral depravity might be the effect of the measures pursued by our enemy: but the fault lay with the enemy, and not with this country. When the hon. gentleman spoke of frauds and perjuries, he ought to have stated where these chiefly prevailed. They took place principally in the intercourse with the north of Europe in the Baltic trade, where the Orders of Council had now no operation. The orders of May, June, and January, had confined the previous orders to the countries immediately subject to the controul of France, though the continental system, as it was called, had been extended, as far as depended upon the influence of the French government, to Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden. If, then, these frauds and perjuries were most prevalent in the Baltic trade, let not the hon. gentleman sound the alarm that they arose from the Orders in Council, when in fact they were chiefly practised on a theatre where the Orders in Council had now no operation. It was impossible for the hon. gentleman to deprecate 775 a war with America more than he did; but he had only to say that it was not a question for their determination. It was for America to decide the point—she had fallen upon a new system, and made new and unheard of pretensions; and he was astonished to heat it said that America had evinced no partiality for France. France, it was well known, had made large pretensions on the subject of maritime rights, and in these she had been followed by America. She had asked more than the hon. gentleman himself had ever asked for her before. In conclusion he stated, that war with America would be avoided by the British government, unless they found themselves in a situation in which it could not be avoided—he would not say without risking our greatness—he would not say without risking our honour—he would not say without risking even our security—but he would say without risking our very existence as a nation.
§Mr. Curwen had not heard one argument against the motion of his hon. friend, except the one which went to slate that the House was nor the fit place for discussing the differences between the two governments. He deprecated the idea which seemed every day to be gaining ground, that it was necessary for the well being of the country, to shut out information from parliament on subjects of the greatest importance to the existence of the country. The hon. and learned gentleman had not justified the conduct of the British government towards America, as reprobated by his hon. friend. Was the conduct complained of, such as ought to be pursued, and tolerated against the minister of an independent nation? Was there a single individual in this country (supposing America had treated the British minister in a similar manner), who would not have held up his hand in favour of war; and had not America great reasons for complaining of the arrogant and insolent manner in which her minister was received? He should have conceived under all the circumstances, it would have been impossible for ministers to deny the papers. The state of things called upon them, in his opinion, to review and retrace their steps in the course of the discussions. With respect to what had been stated about the Orders in Council, he thought the hon. gentleman might have retracted his opinion on the effect of those orders, the more so, as a great statesman 776 who had once given his opinion in favour of the Orders in Council (Mr. Canning) had so done. The principle of the measure was founded on injustice, and it would be well for ministers to consider the state of the country, when they resolved to persevere in those Orders. He had the greatest satisfaction, however, in the prospect that with whatever pertinacity the commencers of this system persevered in it, they would not be long enough in their places to carry it much farther. He said this not from any personal dislike to the right hon. gentleman opposite, but purely from a conviction that his measures would be ruinous to the country. A change of men, without a change of sentiments and policy, would have no effect. He would much rather there was no change, if it was to be the case. If the country was doomed to perish, better would it be to perish with the ministers who had brought us into the mischief. There certainly was a lamentable supineness among public men at the present moment. It might not be very agreeable to say it, but it was nevertheless true that they evinced in general too much attention to their own interests, and too little to those of the country. Great Britain did appear to him to be beset with imminent dangers, and to require in the direction of its affairs no ordinary portion of talents and virtue. There were two most important subjects which called for serious attention. The first was the state of Ireland, and that was a subject which required the most minute investigation: next to that was the state of our relations with America. The denial of the right hon. gentleman to furnish the papers asked by his hon. friend was a proof of his hostility to America. (Hear, hear, from the ministerial side!) He would repeat it, a proof of his hostility and would argue that it was not only a proof of his hostility, but that he was afraid to meet the discussion upon fair and equal grounds.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer could not pretend to say what conclusions the hon. gentleman might draw in his own mind, or what he might be disposed to argue; but he assured him that his conclusion was wrong, if he supposed that the refusal of the papers moved for could proceed only from a spirit of hostility to America. On the contrary, if he now wished to withhold those papers from the hon. gentleman, it was merely to avoid quarrelling with America, if it were possible 777 to avoid it. The object of moving those papers was to have a discussion on them when granted; and it appeared to him that any parliamentary discussion which could now take place upon the subject, must necessarily tend to increase rather than allay the irritation on the one side or the other. He agreed with the hon. gentleman in considering the subject as one of extreme importance and interest. It was moreover, a subject of great importance to us, whether this country should be forced into a war (if war could not be avoided) by America, or whether the war should proceed from any misconduct on the part of the British government. He must however always maintain, that as to the spirit of conciliation always professed in the diplomatical correspondence between the two countries, it was most sincere upon our part. The government was alive to all the advantages of reconciliation with America; but still they felt it their imperious duty not to abandon those maritime rights which this country had ever maintained, which were indispensable to its character and safety, and which, if once relinquished, would leave the country but little more to give up. He felt, that the question had been narrowed very much by the hon. gentleman having declined to argue it on the grounds of the policy and justice of the Orders in Council. Those points he had professed a wish to discuss on a future day, when the motion of which an hon. and learned friend of his (Mr. Brougham) had given notice, should be brought forward. He could not but say, that he felt sorry, that since the hon. gentleman himself did not think this a proper time to go into the question of the justice and policy of the Orders of Council, he had not hesitated to pronounce his opinion of their injustice and impolicy. He could not but regret to see the gentlemen who usually sat on the other side of the House had so little hesitation in giving an opinion against the cause of their country. They should recollect, that the 'commencers'—to borrow a phrase from the hon. gentleman; (Mr. Curwen) of this system, were not those who were now his Majesty's ministers. It was from the gentlemen on the other side that this system commenced; and if they had steadily maintained their own principles there would now be much less of that opinion in America of the injustice of the' conduct of Great Britain. It was, indeed, very natural for the Americans, when they read 778 the speeches of leading members-in our parliament, men of weight, character, and influence, charging the government of this country with injustice, to suppose that there must really be injustice. The hon. gentleman had found great faults with lord Wellesley for not going into a detail of the principles of blockade our government were ready to abandon, in order to purchase of France the revocation of the Berlin and Milan Decrees. The first letter which he alluded to, of the 30th of April, was written precisely and entirely for the purpose of asking lord Wellesley that question. The American minister, however, must have been well aware at that time, that if there was any one question more than another which our government were determined not to mix up with the question of the Orders in Council, it was precisely this question about blockades. It could hardly be supposed, that we would give an answer to France, how much of our rights of blockade we were ready to surrender, in order to purchase for the Americans a revocation of the Berlin and Milan Decrees. As to the correspondence between Mr. Pinckney and lord Wellesley, if the hon. gentleman, upon reading it, could discover nothing but what was conciliatory in the letters of Mr. Pinckney, and nothing but what was unconciliatory on the part of lord Wellesley, he could not account for such a construction of the correspondence upon any other principle than the partiality which the hon. member had avowed for America. Now, as to the letter which was said not to have been answered, the subject of that letter was the recall of Mr. Jackson, and the appointment of another minister in his place. Mr. Pinckney himself, in his correspondence with the American government, stated, that after writing that letter, he had had many communications with lord Wellesley on the subject, and repealed opportunities of personal intercourse; and that he was informed by his lordship, and had no doubt of the fact, that a minister would soon be sent out to America. If that letter, therefore, was not formally answered, it was because the information sought for by Mr. Pinckney had been communicated in another manner. The ground upon which Mr. Pinckney specifically demanded his passports was, that no minister had been sent out to America, according to promise. He was informed at the time, that the only reason why a 779 minister had not been sent out sooner, was the situation in which the government found itself for the two months in consequence of his Majesty's illness. He would much rather that the hon. mover had gone into an argument on the justice and policy of the measures pursued with respect to America, than that he should have stated generally as he had done, that those measures were unjust and impolitic. He believed the hon. gentleman did not mean to deny the principle that we had a right of retaliation against France, for all those evils which her injustice to neutral nations and neutral commerce might bring upon this country. At least, this principle was not first promulgated by those who are now his Majesty's ministers: it had been distinctly and authoritatively declared, before they came into office, by the gentlemen who now sat on the other side of the House. The first of those measures was the blockade of 1806, which was imposed by Mr. Fox, and which was at that time loudly complained of both by France and America. The authors of the Order in Council for the blockade of 1807, only acted upon the principle which had been strongly, and, as they conceived, properly laid down by their predecessors, and followed, in this respect, their example. He thought the gentlemen who supported the original measure in 1806, ought not now to be the persons to raise their voice against the justice and the policy of the measures since pursued. He should be at all times ready to maintain, that they were consistent with justice and policy, and with the relation which states bear to each other, in the extraordinary circumstances in which the world is placed at the present moment. When the hon. gentleman talked of mercantile distress, and attributed it all to the Orders in Council, he begged the whole question. He must positively deny that it was occasioned by those measures: on the contrary, it was owing to them that the distress was not much greater. It was to what was called the continental system that this mercantile distress was owing; and this system had been much controlled and checked in its progress by the Orders in Council. As the hon. gentleman had professed not now to enter into the argument of the justice and policy of those measures, he should also content himself with just glancing, as he had done, at the reasons which made him consider them neither unjust nor impolitic. He 780 deprecated hostilities with America (if they could be avoided) as much as any man; for he agreed with the hon. gentleman, in believing, that the true prosperity of America would produce the prosperity of Britain; and that there were much greater advantages to be derived from the wealth of America, in a friendly commerce, than could be expected from provoking her to war. Under these impressions, he thought that peace should be maintained and preserved as long as it could be maintained and preserved, without abandoning those maritime rights which this country had always claimed and exercised. But although he saw great evil in a war with America, yet he could not conceive it an evil of so great a magnitude as it appeared to the hon. gentleman who looked to it as likely to produce the certain ruin of the British empire. No one circumstance would be found in all the papers between America and France, which shewed the least intention of diminishing in any manner the real eftect of the Berlin and Milan decrees. The continental system was to be preserved in all its force, and there was not to be the slightest relaxation, in favour of this country, of a single point of it, even if this country should consent to abandon the Orders in Council. He would refer the hon. gentleman to a letter which was then in his hand, from Monsieur Tureau, the French minister to the American government. In this letter the French minister told America, "that it was to be clearly understood, that France could not consent to alter that system of exclusion adopted by all Europe against the commerce of Great Britain; the wisdom and policy of which system was already developed in its effects upon the common enemy." It then appeared, that if America were to release herself from the operation of our Orders in Council, she was to be consenting to and assisting in the plan for the complete exclusion of our manufactures and colonial produce from every part of the continent of Europe. This being the case, he would wish to know upon what principle any manufacturers or merchants in this country could expect to be much benefited by the repeal of the Orders in Council? If our Orders were called anti-commercial and anti-neutral, what name was to be given to the policy of France? It was her anti-neutral policy to engulph in her own power and dominion all neutral pones 781 which she was able to attack, In this anti-neutral spirit, Hamburgh was deprived of its independence, merely because France declared that this was a means of destroying British trade and taking British ships. What neutral was ever safe that the arms of France could reach? Had she not said to each in succession, "We must take away your independence in order to injure England"? Was it then a question, whether we were entitled to call upon neutral nations to assert and maintain their rights, and not suffer themselves to be made passive instruments in the hands of France, to second her hostile designs against this country? If the French government had resolved to turn trade into a sword, and commerce into measures of hostility against us; and if neutral nations would lend their hands to sharpen this instrument, intended for our destruction, we had a right to arrest the arm that would wield it, and those neutrals had no great right to complain, even although they might suffer something by the operation of the Orders in Council. It was not his wish to enter into a discussion now of those points for which the hon. gentleman desired those papers to be produced. He should vote against the production of them, because he thought that ministers ought not to consent to lay a foundation for a discussion which, in their opinion, might do harm at the present moment, and could be productive of no good. The hon. gentleman seemed to think, that the correspondence between the two countries was now finally closed, and that, therefore, there could be no danger in their production. He, for his part, hoped that the correspondence was not finally closed; and while a hope of that sort remained, however slight, he wished to cherish it, and to do nothing which could increase irritation. He thought it possible that there were points in those discussions which might still be brought to a favourable issue: an event which could hardly be expected if those matters were publicly discussed in that House. He was extremely desirous to believe that the final issue might be different from what appeared from the present state of things, and therefore, he did not feel himself at liberty to go freely into such a discussion until the complete determination of the question. There were many points in the conduct of America which he could not now characterise by those epithets that he would conceive himself justified in using, 782 if an amicable settlement of those points became impossible.—An hon. gentleman (Mr. Curwen) had more than once in the course of his speech, expressed a hope that his Majesty's present ministers were not likely long to hold that situation. (Hear, hear!) Whatever golden dreams might be indulged on this subject, he must say, that as far as he knew any thing about the matter, he rather imagined that the hon. gentleman would find, that his consolatory prospects would not open upon him quite so pleasantly as he had imagined. (Hear, hear!) But if the system which the hon. gentleman so strongly recommended, were ever to be a system dictated to the government of this country by parliament, then, indeed, he should feel happy to quit his present situation, and no longer form a part of any administration which must pursue a course so hostile, as he conceived, to the true interests of the country.
Mr. Bastard said, that when he read the resolutions passed in America, he wished that resolutions of a contrary nature should be passed to meet them. The American government had in fact declared, that they would go to war with this country as soon as they were prepared. He thought that such resolutions might fairly be met by a declaration of war upon our part, for if the alternative was war or humiliation, surely the former was infinitely preferable.
Mr. Herbert (of Kerry) on the contrary was of opinion, that war with America ought-to he avoided as much as possible. He had great doubts whether we were right in the present quarrel. As to what had been so much talked of,—our maritime rights,—he believed that much of what was claimed as maritime right, was somewhat doubtful. It appeared now, that we were to maintain those rights, as they were called, against almost all Europe. He hoped that those rights which were to be maintained against so formidable a force, would be just and clear beyond dispute. The policy of a war with America appeared to him to be as doubtful as the justice of it. It would cause an accession to France of many advantages in naval stores, and of a large body of sailors not inferior to our own.
Mr. Baring thought that notwithstanding the moderation of tone and manner of the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down, it was hardly possible that war between this country and America Could 783 be avoided, if the government were to act in the spirit of the sentiments which had been that night delivered by that right hon. gentleman and the hon. and learned gentleman who preceded him. The House would do well to recollect, that however strong the feeling displayed on the present occasion by the supporters of government might be, the expression of feeling at the beginning of the last war with America was not less violent. He prayed to God that the termination of the war which the country seemed now entering into might be less fatal than that of the former. Bat how could any man reasonably entertain such a hope at the present moment, who took a considerate view of the situation of the two countries? If we were formerly unsuccessful, how could it be supposed that we could be now successful against a people whose population and resources had been tripled? A war with America surely ought not to be gone into with levity—but ought to be preceded by the utmost caution and deliberation. He wished to say a word or two about the question of right. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject had resorted to rather a curious mode of argument, and seemed to think it enough if he could throw the charge of originating the measures which ended in the Orders in Council on the administration which preceded him. Whether these Orders in Council were to be considered as a retaliation of the measures of the French government or not, or whether the French or the people of this country were the original aggressors, was not, in his opinion, the question at present for the consideration of the House. It had been always said by the advocates for these orders, that America would suffer from them. It was France that was said to be in the wrong, and not America; and the injustice of France was the justification of the injury done to America. Admitting then, that America did suffer from these Orders in Council, surely the manner in which they had expressed their sufferings was at least entitled to attention But the question was, had this country redeemed the pledge which it gave the American government respecting the Orders in Council? The Orders were to cease when France should repeal the Berlin and Milan decrees; and it was stated by the British government, that if France were to concede any thing in their decrees, we should go on pari passu with 784 them in revoking the Orders in Council. Now, had France either totally repealed the decrees in question, or done enough to call upon us to concede something on our part? It was necessary before answering this question, to consider what those obnoxious French decrees really were. We never surely could mean to call upon America to resist that part of the French decrees which related to the interdiction of our trade with those parts of the continent over which France exercised authority. The objectionable part of the decrees was, that which related to what was called denationalization. It was not easy to make out from the jargon of the French decrees, the exact meaning of the terms employed; but what America maintained was, that France had actually repealed all this objectionable part of the decrees. It was for the House, therefore, to consider whether or not the promise to America, was to be fulfilled. The Americans contended that France had now repealed that part of her obnoxious decree, which they were called upon by this country to resist. Could it be maintained that America was bound to insist on France recalling what was called the continental system? They might as well be called on to insist that the Bourbons should be restored to the throne of France. He should really feel great satisfaction in hearing any thing like a proof from gentlemen on the other side, that the decrees were not repealed to all intents and purposes as they respected the Americans. But there was not the smallest room for doubt on the subject:—the official declarations were as full as possible. There was an official communication from the French minister to the government of America. After this, what could America do? And how could the relaxation of the Non-Intercourse Act with regard to France be in any way construed into partiality towards that country? The Non-Importation Act was to be relaxed in favour of that country which should first relinquish the system against which America had been complaining. The French government officially notified the repeal of their decrees to the American government, accompanied certainly with this proviso, that the relinquishment did not affect or alter the continental system which France had adopted. What he should ask would have been the language of this country to America if we had officially communicated 785 the repeal of the Orders in Council, and America should say, we do not believe you? In what possible manner could France convey the repeal more satisfactorily than in the manner adopted? He supposed it would be said, that the assertions of the French government ought not to be believed; but since the revocation there was not one instance of the decree having ever been acted upon.—(Hear, from the Treasury Bench.)—The right hon. gentleman seemed inclined to deny this; but Mr. Foster had been challenged on that point and had remained silent. He was ignorant of any instance of a vessel being condemned on these decrees, since early in the month of November. It was surprising to him, that the revocation was so complete on the part of France as it really was; for it was not the interest of France, that the intercourse between America and this country should be renewed; and it might rather have been expected that that government would have left some doubts for gentlemen on the other side of the House to hang a peg on, for the sake of opposing the intercourse. The hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Stephen) had seemed all anxiety for discussion, while he very well knew that he had friends before him who would debar him from entering into discussion. The House, he contended, was very much in want of general information on this question with America. The argument against producing this information at present, was one which had been often had recourse to—he had heard it last year—it was said, that delicate negociations were then going on, which would be affected by the discussions which might ensue; and yet when the papers were looked into, it would be seen that there really was no negociation going on at that time; that there was nothing which could lead to any arrangement of the question between the two countries; and that that question might have been very safely discussed in the House, He was afraid that this argument would be brought forward to the last; and that the country would at once go to war, without any interval being allowed to parliament to deliberate on the policy which ought to guide the government in the dispute. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, indeed, while exposing the fallaciousness of the hopes of an hon. member respecting a change of ministry, told the House that he would 786 not remain in his situation, if any concession was made to America. Upon the shewing, then, of the right hon. gentleman, there was not the smallest prospect of the dispute being ever settled without the interference of the House.—With respect to the Act at present in progress through the American Congress, he did not think it had been properly considered. It was not in any way to be looked upon as expressive of conciliation towards this country, but as an act of simple justice to the American people. The Non-Importation Act necessarily affected the interests of many who had entered into transactions prior to its being passed; and Congress had appointed a committee to inquire into the mode of redress to which these persons were entitled. But to prevent all misconstruction, it was expressly stated by the chairman of the committee, that the report had been delayed till those Acts had passed, which left no room to doubt of the sentiments of America. He really could not help feeling a good deal of surprise, when he heard the hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Stephen) confidently talk of the prosperous state of the trade of this country, and assert that it was now more flourishing than previous to the Orders in Council. Would any man in the House, who was any way engaged in trade, say this? Was there any man so unconnected with trade as not to know how utterly unfounded this assertion was? It was really surprising to him that there should be any man so blind to every thing passing around him, so deaf to the language of every part of the country, or so infatuated by the spirit of system, as to venture gravely to assert such a proposition. Could any man be ignorant of the universal distress of the manufacturing towns; of the petitions from Staffordshire; of the reduced state of that once most flourishing trading town, Liverpool? It was astonishing that the hon. and learned gentleman should be so infatuated as not to perceive the dangerous situation into which he had plunged this country, by his writings. To be sure, the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken a more humble line of argument. He had admitted the distresses of the country; but then he contended that they did not originate with him. He thought that these distresses were so evident, as not to require any argument in that House to prove their existence; and, indeed, he should never have thought of noticing the 787 subject, had it not been for the very singular assertion of the hon. and learned gentleman. One most important effect of the Orders in Council was, the loss of the American trade. The hon and learned gentleman had said a great deal, in a very declamatory and imposing manner, about the maritime rights of this country. The Order of the 7th of January 1806, of the former administration, interdicted the coasting trade; and was only retaliating in so far as retaliation could be useful. He was not inclined to give up the point of the coasting trade. War with America was, no doubt, a great evil; and was, no doubt, to be avoided by every reasonable concession; but he did not know whether the trade with America would be an equivalent in this case. Against this Order, America, no doubt, did complain; but it was that sort of complaint which a neutral nation always makes to a belligerent, and was not such a one as was likely to lead to war. Now with respect to these maritime rights, which were said to be in danger, he did not find there was any difference between Mr. Foster and the American government, on the subject of blockade. Mr. Foster wrote on the 26th of July, that the blockade of 1806, would not be continued, unless there was a sufficient naval force to affect it; and Mr. Monro returned an answer, agreeing to that explanation of the subject, and stating the point in dispute to have been the right claimed by Great Britain, of placing whole coasts under blockade by proclamation, without a sufficient naval force to carry that blockade into effect. He wished gentlemen on the opposite side of the House would condescend to explain how these maritime rights could be endangered by the repeal. There had been, in fact, a practical repeal already; and the Orders had been confined to Holland and France. They did not now extend to the Baltic, nor to the Ems, nor to the territory of Murat, which was considered as not subject to France. France would not agree to receive colonial produce into the Elbe or the Ems; and therefore, if the Orders in Council were repealed, France would not receive American vessels. He intreated the House to bestow the fullest consideration on this deeply important question. It was surely the policy of this country to make as much as possible of those countries which it was beyond the power of the enemy to reach, he meant North and South America, and India, 788 which were, perhaps, a sufficient field for our industry.
§Mr. Stephen explained. He had not said that the trade of the country was at present in a state of the highest prosperity; but, in answer to a proposition of the mover, he had observed, that the commerce of the empire, which had been impaired by the Berlin and Milan decrees, was restored to its original vigour when the system of retaliation was resorted to; and, in fact, it had been raised several millions above what it had ever been before.
§Mr. Wilberforce said, that when two countries were in a state of pending negociation, it was improper to move for papers by which that negociation was liable to be affected. Those who, under such circumstances, called upon the government to produce them, rendered themselves responsible for all the mischief which their production might create. The case was somewhat altered, when these papers were already before the public, but still it was hard to separate them from those which were at the moment passing between the ministers of the two countries. If he agreed in opinion with the hon. gentleman (Mr. Curwen) who had argued with such extraordinary animation in favour of taking the power out of the hands of ministers—if he agreed in his opinion of their principles, he should certainly come to the same conclusion; but reposing as he did a perfect confidence in his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, trusting as he did to the purity of his motives, and the uprightness of his views, he could not deny his claims to the confidence of the House, when he declared that the production of the papers in question would have an injurious tendency. As to the point of conciliation, he agreed in its propriety, and also in the answer which was given to it. If his hon. and learned relation (Mr. Stephen) had followed the last speaker, he certainly must have gone into the whole of the argument respecting the Orders in Council, bat would that have tended to conciliation? When they knew the different opinions entertained by the two great parties, they must know that it was not; when they looked further, and considered the nature of public discussions, on one side the conduct of America arraigned, on the other that conduct justified, and the conduct of England deprecated, and when they considered how far the passions and prejudices 789 of men were liable to hurry them in such a discussion, they must agree that the great and important end of conciliation was not likely to be answered under such circumstances. If the object was conciliation, the discussion of the different topics of complaint and recrimination did not afford the best means of its accomplishment. The motion evidently was not for knowledge, as every person was individually possessed of it at present; it was therefore a preparation for discussion, which, as he had already declared, could not answer the purpose intended.—He would confess, and he was not ashamed to confess it, that there was not at all times a sufficient attention in this country to the spirit of conciliation towards other countries, and particularly towards America. It would be well if persons in high situations of government had been more abundant in their civilities to that nation, which, being a new one, was naturally more jealous of etiquette, possibly from feeling that it did not stand on as high ground as other and older states. The happiness of millions was at stake. There was scarcely any measure likely to prevent a war, in which he would not willingly follow his hon. friend, if he might be permitted to call him so, who with great consistency had always been ready to sacrifice private feelings to the promotion of such objects as the present, and therefore he (Mr. Wilberforce) should oppose the motion, because he did not think it calculated to promote the spirit of conciliation, and consequently not likely to prevent the dreadful extremity which it must be the wish of all to avert. He well remembered that at the time of what was called the great American war, appeals were made to the national honour; he disapproved of such appeals, either then or now, because he did not think the national honour committed. It was not by discussing the various topics of injury, nor by representing the danger to be apprehended, or the melancholy state of our commerce at present, that we should make any advance in the spirit of conciliation. He believed that the state of our commerce was melancholy, but then it should be remembered, that that melancholy state brought along with it dispositions against which it would be necessary to guard, and among others a disposition to impatience, a disposition to grasp at any thing rather than wait for the proper result of measures, the result of which after all might be found to contradict 790 the prophecies of those who opposed them. He should abstain cautiously from discussing the Orders in Council, but he could not help saying, that when they were first issued they were extremely popular among the mercantile classes of the community. This the hon. gentleman (Mr. Baring) had himself allowed in the pamphlet which he (Mr. Wilberforce) had read with all the attention it deserved. The House ought not, in discussing the policy of these Orders to be influenced therefore by feelings, which the present complaints from the same quarter were apt to excite; but to look back on the past, as well as forward to the future, and to form a comprehensive view of what, under all the circumstances of the case, would be most beneficial to the country. He thought the war would be injurious to us, but much more so to America, but he could not think it possible that his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, any "more than himself, could look upon that as a reason for wishing for hostilities. His right hon. friend presided over the country, and was bound particularly to watch over its interests, but his mind was not so narrow, his views so contracted, or his principles and feelings so circumscribed, as to adopt such a rule of reasoning or of acting. He would repeat, they should make any consistent sacrifices, but they should not give up what was necessary to the support of their commerce, to the supply of their marine force, or to the prosperity of the nation. One of his reasons for the vote he should give this night was the propriety of preventing angry discussions, to which America might look, without' making those allowances for the eagerness of debate, which ought always to be made, and which she might be induced to regard as specimens of the more deliberate feelings of the heart, of which in fact, they were no specimen. There was, he would assert, whatever might be the impressions of particular persons, there was a wish in this country to conciliate America, to treat her with every attention and every respect. This was evident from the manner in which the American minister had been received in all public assemblies while in this country, and from the warm and cordial feeling which was manifested towards him. He did not know whether it was prudent to say so or not, but he could not help thinking that the conduct of the American government and people, was not actuated by the same 791 feeling with respect to us. He could not help expressing his astonishment at an assertion of the hon. gentleman on the floor (Mr. Whitbread) that the conduct of the American government had been impartial between this country and France. That hon. gentleman had on this occasion, spoken in a manner very unlike himself. But still he would again assert, that there was hardly any sacrifice compatible with the safety and honour of Great Britain, which he would not make to re-establish and confirm the amity between the two nations; while on the other hand, he trusted that every intelligent American must perceive, that a sacrifice which should ruin our navy, would eventually lead to the destruction of America herself.
§Mr. H. Thornton said, that in voting against the motion, he was not guided by the view taken of the subject by the right hon. (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) who asserted, that the production of the papers might interfere with a pending negociation; nor was he influenced by the argument of his hon. friend (Mr. Wilberforce) that America might be exasperated by such a discussion. But be acted from this feeling, that if the subject were entertained at present, it would be a sort of imputation of blame against the persons who had conducted the negociation, a length to which he was by no means prepared to go. The discussion, in itself, would be harmless; for, in a few days, the subject would be agitated on another motion; but, in his opinion, if the papers were granted, it would be a sort of prejudgment of the question respecting the Orders in Council? He was one of those who voted against the Orders in the first instance, but still he did not think that the high ground of morality which was taken by some who objected to them, was altogether candid.—It was now at least doubtful whether they had been advantageous, or the contrary, in their practical effects; and if it should be found that they had supported the maritime rights of England, without the maintenance of which rights it was impossible for England to exist as a nation, he would then conceive himself right in altering his original opinion concerning them. A great part of the question was, whether the Orders in Council did not prevent America from carrying continental produce into competition with ours in the South American and colonial markets: and he hoped that when the merits of those Orders in 792 Council should come to be discussed, those members who were connected with trade would lay before the House all the information and all the facts in their possession, and thereby enable parliament to form a solemn and fair judgment upon them.
Mr. Hutchinson said, that he differed totally from the hon. member for Yorkshire in giving his confidence to the minister. So far, indeed, was he from placing confidence in the minister, that, not to speak of a measure of such vital importance as that of peace or war, he was not disposed to place the slightest reliance on him even in the most trivial matters. Let the House, by conceding the motion of his hon. friend, shew to the American people that the great body of the House of Commons were really actuated by the true spirit of conciliation. He deprecated a war with America; and recommended conciliation in our counsels at home, not only towards that country, but towards Ireland, an integral part of the empire. He agreed with the hon. member for Devonshire (Mr. Bastard), that war was preferable to humiliation. No brave man—no man living under an arbitrary, much less a free government, could hesitate on the subject; but he conjured them not to let passion and prejudice force them into an unnecessary and ruinous war. He would say most solemnly and most sincerely, that if he were to judge between the two countries, he should be obliged to vote against his own; he should be forced to say, that England had acted most tyrannically and unjustly to America. The rights which the minister claimed for England were those of plunderers; and Englishmen, great with the spirit of their constitution, ought to tell him, that they would not act like plunderers in compliance with his tyrannical policy. The motion for these papers was a most praise-worthy owe. After what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman, how could the House and the country expect a peaceful termination of the differences with America? That right hon. gentleman had said, "I wish for peace; but if we have war, I do not think it will be so fatal as some gentlemen suppose, although of course it must be attended with some disadvantages and inconveniences." Disadvantages and inconveniencies! Was that the way to treat such a serious subject! The man who could speak of the calamities of war so lightly was set worthy of filling a high 793 office in the government of any country. The member for Carlisle had expressed a hope, that other men would soon succeed to those stations, in which the right hon. gentleman and his colleagues had shown themselves so incapable: but what was the right hon. gentleman's reply to this honest hope? He told the House (and it ought to go forth to the country), that whatever golden dreams that hon. member indulged in might be disappointed; he, in fact, told the House, and not equivocally, that he was to be the future minister of England. How the right hon. gentleman could possibly think of facing an indignant country at the commencement of a new era, such as the present awful period was, he could not imagine; but of one thing he was certain, that, if the minister and his colleagues, or any other patched administration, should continue to act on the system which had been hitherto pursued, they would soon shake the monarchy to its foundation, and bury the constitution beneath its ruins. He begged pardon for intruding his observations on the House, and would conclude at once by saying, that he placed no confidence whatever in the plunderers of Copenhagen, or in those who had the baseness to originate the hellish cry of 'No Popery.'
§Mr. Leycester complimented the last hon. speaker on the consistency of the beginning and end of his speech. He had certainly stated his contempt of the minister most cavalierly, and very much, to be sure, to his own satisfaction, but other members might differ from the hon. gentleman, and he for one begged leave to differ from him totally and entirely. For his part, he placed the highest confidence in the minister. He thought that the government had conducted the affairs of the country in the most admirable manner, and that was not his humble opinion alone, but the opinion of many who had more experience and were infinitely of more consideration than himself. But be the talents of the ministers and his colleagues what they might, it was at least evident, that their conduct towards America had been conciliatory; that it was as conciliatory as was compatible with the independence of Englishmen; who, though they should not wish to be the aggressors towards America, did not, however, at the same time, like to receive insult from her. There was a deal of swaggering exterior in the conduct of America; but he was much deceived, if there was not also much 794 wisdom at the bottom of that conduct, and a wisdom which would, in his opinion, recede in the end from a war with this country. But as to the present motion, could it possibly tend to any good purpose, or was it not rather calculated to produce every bad one? He did not much care who was in or who was out; if the preservation of the maritime rights of the country were to depend on the continuance in power of the present minister, he would support the minister for the sake of the rights. Not being able to see the cui bono of the present motion, he should certainly vote against it.
§Mr. Whitbread, although he was aware that the House was anxious to come to a decision, yet hoped that he might receive the customary indulgence of being allowed to answer the arguments of those who had opposed the motion. The hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last, was at a loss to discover the cui bono of the motion;—was extremely anxious to know what good purpose the motion could serve. He could tell the hon. and learned gentleman, that one good purpose which it would evidently accomplish would be, to give him information on the subject of America; for it was quite evident from the tenor of his speech, that he was greatly in want of such information. The hon. and learned gentleman had made a declaration in favour of the minister,—he was ready to place every confidence in him. This was, no doubt, a spontaneous effusion, a gratuitous declaration, springing from his heart, and directed by his understanding. He was even generous without bounds; for he not only loved the minister, but he loved his colleagues too. They were all wonderful men, they were all men of talent! His praises, though very sincere, as it must be supposed, were, however, extremely well-timed; for they came just after the grand announcement of the right hon. gentleman; who, as if he had escaped from durance, had told the country in no very obscure terms, that he was to be the Prince Regent's minister. As far as personal consideration could affect himself, he could assure the House, that he was exceedingly careless who was minister: but, as far as his country was concerned,—as far as higher and more exalted motives could sway his feelings,—he would say, that he most seriously indeed regretted this declaration of the right hon. gentleman. He regretted it, if it were not the mere vapour of arrogance, because it 795 forced upon him considerations of the most melancholy nature; because he knew that the continuance of the right hon. gentleman in power, augured fatally and ominously for the happiness of his country; because such a disastrous fact promised no good, and foreboded every evil; because, calamitous as had been already our situation, this was the shutting out of hope; this was the beginning of despair; this was the consummation of evil. But he would ask the hon. and learned gentleman still, why was his support of the ministers so broad? If the hon. and learned gentleman wished to be considered as delivering a consistent opinion, was he quite right in lavishing his praises on the minister and all his colleagues? Was he not aware that amongst those colleagues there was at least one, who differed from the right hon. gentleman opposite, even on principle; and how, then, could his approbation equally and consistently extend to both? The right hon. gentleman had ventured (as he Mr. W. had conjectured) to deny those papers to the anxious nation, although with no great consistency. He was confident, that if a motion were made in another place for these papers, the marquis Wellesley would not oppose it. The hon. member for Yorkshire had refused his assent to the production of those papers, because in his opinion, they would lead to angry discussions. That hon. member had said, that he (Mr. Whitbread) had spoken to night differently from his usual manner. He was sorry that he could not say the same of the hon. member, for to do him justice, he had indeed spoken most like himself. He had been unfortunately guilty of no inconsistency,—he unhappily had not departed from the usual course which he had marked out for himself in that House. The hon. gentleman had said, that the production of the papers would cause irritation. He deprecated the fiery debate and the hot contentions which these papers would produce; and yet, with marked inconsistency, and almost in the same breath, he said, that we had every information which we could wish before us.; and that every member had already in his hands just as much information as was necessary to be the foundation of a contentious debate. As to what was said by another hon. and learned member (Mr. Stephen), about the disappointment he felt at the course he (Mr. W.) had taken in en-forcing his motion, he could only say, that 796 he was extremely sorry for that hon. and learned gentleman's disappointment, aggravated as it was by the preparation which he avowed himself to have made to follow the question step by step; and to discuss the Orders in Council in all their bearings. It was certainly a great hardship on the hon. and learned gentleman not to have the opportunity of speaking for four hours, as he had done on a former occasion on this subject, although in had health. If the hon. and learned gentleman had been indulged with that opportunity, he would have performed great feats; he would have shewn how wrong America was, and how right Great Britain: he would have shewn how little England had to deplore the Orders in Council; how very slightly her trade had been affected;—not only how slightly her trade had been affected, but how much it had been benefited,—how much her prosperity had increased; how much her wealth had been augmented. All these fine things had been lost, because the hon. gentleman could not make the speech he intended. But the hon. and learned member resisted the pro-dilution of the papers. He denied the member for Milburne the obtainment of his cui bono; and he assisted to keep back that information which would have corrected the erring statements of that hon. and learned gentleman.
It was not surprizing that the hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Stephen), should support the system of which he was the author, for he (Mr. W.) denied, in the name of all that was great, good and wise, that his lamented friend (Mr. Fox) was the author of that system. That great man, had he lived, would have averted the evils which a short-sighted policy had brought upon the country. But to the publication of the hon. and learned gentleman was mainly owing this system—it was he that was to be thanked by a ruined nation that our manufacturers were starving, and that the same Gazette which recorded our victories should also be crowded with our bankruptcies. It was to him that was attributable the closing of the ports of continental Europe, excepting as far as regarded the perjurous trade to the Baltic. He might indeed be called a questionable authority, and it might indeed be his business to maintain the Orders in Council. But if he were so anxious to make a speech in their defence—if he had in his power all the documents required, why did he not produce them? To avoid 797 an angry discussion?—No; he was most anxious to begin one.—To avoid particular topics contained in them? "No," said the hon. member for Yorkshire, "for you may select them from the newspapers."—Why then did he refuse to produce them? "Because he had such confidence in administration." When he, (Mr. Whitbread) first came into parliament, the country was on the ere of a war with Russia; the favourite doctrine then was, confidence in the administration, and papers on which to found an inquiry were then refused on the same account that now operated. He admitted that he was not one of those who concurred with the minister on that occasion—the hon. member for Yorkshire did agree with him; The motion was negatived by a majority, and the House was deprived of all information on which it could form an opinion, whether the negociation had been properly conducted, or whether a swaggering and dictatory attitude had been taken by the British minister. The present case was nearly similar; but the administration had another reason to assign, and it was said that the disclosure would be injurious to the public service, and the House was left in the dark, consoled only by its confiding ignorance. Then, however, all the documents had not, as in the present instance, been previously published; but still the reply was echoed—" I will confide in the minister. I cannot tell whether he have acted right or wrong, but his word is enough to satisfy me—and if he says I ought not to have them, I am contented." Would the hon. member for Yorkshire at once speak out boldly—Had he read the papers? If he had, he would see that all negociations were terminated, and that there was no possibility of averting war. He did not understand the hon. member's pantomime, (Mr. Wilberforce was making signs.) But he said there was none; all negociation was broken off; and in proof of it, be adduced the President's message, which would not have been sent to Congress in the form it bore, had any intercourse continued between Mr. Foster and the American government. All the hon. gentlemen that had spoken, had alluded in terms of triumph, to his hon. friend's (Mr. Brougham's) approaching motion. They were all ready and anxious to meet it, but where were they to obtain their information? Would they derive it from the news-papers, and yet not suffer parliament 798 to be in possession of a single document? Could any conduct of the weakest man be so inconsistent? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that negociations might still, perhaps, be continued; and then he took out of his pocket a piece of a daily print, and read a part of a paper which he (Mr. W.) wished should be laid upon the table. But no; he put it again into his pocket, contented with having read from, a letter of the French minister, Turreau, what were the claims of the United States. (Hear!) Then said he, "America is partial to France." He (Mr. W.) said, this was not true, and he defied the right hon. gentleman to prove, out of any of the papers, the slightest charge of any; attachment to France on the part of the American government. They were at issue on that point—how was it to be decided? By the production of the papers. He had been told also by the right hon. gentleman, that he was partial to America, and that he deserted the cause of his country. What! was his allegiance due to him or to any cabinet that he might patch up? Was that the country? Was the wretched administration which, since 1805, had watched only over the misfortunes of the people, to be called the country? Had the right hon. gentleman the presumption to say that he was the country?—Was he (Mr. W.) when arraigning the absurd, preposterous, and foolish measures the ministry adopted, to be told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, starting up from his seat—" Here I am—I am the country—if you oppose me, you desert your country." (Hear, hear, hear!)—The parties of Charles the 1st and of James the 2d were called the country; the supporters of the American war were called the country: and the right hon. gentleman, taking up the thread of history, now exclaimed, "ministers are the country, and you desert your country's cause." This was to be said to him by a member of that administration, which, being originally formed upon a had principle, was afterwards broken, then put together again, endured, and now as the House had that night been told, selected.—He would not be so imposed upon, however others might find it convenient; and he would maintain his right to state what was his opinion with regard to the conduct of foreign powers.—He thought that both by Great Britain and France America had been most grievously ill-treated; he scarcely knew by which the worse, but he knew 799 that France had the sooner repeated. He was sorry to confess it, but it was unfortunately true, that the American people, as well as the government, after submitting from hard necessity to insult after insult, were strongly disposed to war, and his wish was, if possible, to avert it.—"Oh! impotent attempt!" exclaimed the right hon. gentleman. "Avert war by moving for papers!" He admitted that taken abstractedly, it was not likely to produce the effect, but if he had the good fortune to obtain the concurrence of enough of enlightened members who had read those documents, to carry his motion, he should at least shew to America, that notwithstanding the British minister for foreign affairs had so mis-conducted himself, and notwithstanding the instructions sent out to Mr. Foster, the House of Commons in its inquisitorial capacity called for papers, that they might be technically laid before it for their decision upon the conduct of ministers. It was true it might be a short step towards the hand of friendship, but it would be in advance, and it would not be continuing to recede to such a distance as would enable either party to draw the sword of war. On the American Bill, information respecting which had so recently been received in this country, an hon. gentleman had accused him of laying too great a stress. All that he had said was, that it afforded a slight opening for the possibility of conciliation. Great events sometime" occurred from little causes, and it was not impossible that France might take umbrage at the measure, and that conciliation on the part of Great Britain might improve the impression which that umbrage was calculated to make in America. But with respect to the present disposition and feelings of the American country, he had no hesitation in expressing his decided opinion that they were hostile to this country; and that, considered without the reference to which he had just alluded, the late measure still more strongly than any other manifested their inclination to war. The origin of the present system had been attributed to those with whom he had been in the habit of generally according in political opinion. But he disclaimed on the part of Mr. Fox—he disclaimed on the part of lord Howick and the administration connected with him, any share in the formation of the existing system. Their blockade was not a paper one, it was a blockade which the law of nations justified, 800 and for which they did not issue orders until they had ascertained the possession of naval means by which it might he enforced. But that was not the enquiry of that night. If the documents which he called for were produced, he would undertake to show that the Americans did not insist on the revocation of the Orders in Council of 1806. Let America speak for herself on that subject—let not the House take the assertion of her claims from France, but from herself; and when she spoke, she would say that there was no declaration so preposterous as that cited against her from the mouth of the French minister. He confessed he had been much surprized to hear an hon. gentleman behind, of great learning and research and experience (Mr. H. Thornton), who, when the Orders in Council were first promulgated opposed them; now, that they were universally allowed to be ineffectual, say that possibly some good might have been derived from them, and that good should in the estimation of the country balance the evil which they had occasioned. The evil was unmixed. It was impossible to conceive a more preposterous demand than that made by Great Britain to America, that the latter should obtain from France a restoration of the state in which commerce existed before the Berlin and Milan decrees. To ask this was to ask an impossibility. The Americans might as well have been required to transfer their immense continent to another part of the globe. And this would be still more evident, when it was considered how much the fatal policy pursued by Great Britain in Europe had aggrandised the power of France since the enactment of those decrees. Could the right hon. gentleman for a moment believe, that America had it in her power to force the manufactures of England into any part of the continent? Or supposing that she could do so, what right had the British government to insist that she should? What would Great Britain say, if France should insist on an attempt upon the part of America to force the manufactures of France into England? The papers for which he had moved were divisible into two series; the correspondence between marquis Wellesley and Mr. Pinckney, and the correspondence between Mr. Monroe and Mr. Foster. Was the negociation with Mr. Pinckney allowed to be at an end? If so, what objection could there be to the production of 801 the first series? Even the production of that would wear somewhat of the appearance of conciliation towards America, as it would imply the wish of the House to consider the conduct of the Foreign minister to the American ambassador. Should the result be an opinion expressed by the House that lord Wellesley had misconducted himself on the occasion, would not that declaration be conciliatory towards America? If the reverse should be the judgment of the House, was it not fitting that lord Wellesley should be exculpated and the fact be proclaimed? In any case, the production of that particular correspondence could be productive of no evil, and might occasion much benefit; and he should, therefore, have no objection, if it were permitted him to do so by the usage of the House, to divide his motion, and to move two addresses, the first for the correspondence between lord Wellesley and Mr. Pinckney; and the second for the correspondence between Mr. Monroe and Mr. Foster; always guarding himself by this remark—that he wished for no paper that had not already been published by the American government. In the then state of the House, he would not press longer on their attention. He anticipated that his motion would be unsuccessful. This he should very much deplore. But he should have the consolation of having done his duty; and of having, on the eve of what he feared was an inevitable war with America, advised such measures to be adopted by the British House of Commons as would at least evince a conciliatory disposition on their part.
§ The House then divided;For the motion 23Against it 136Majority 113
List of the Minority.Aubrey, Sir J. Horner, F.Baring, Sir T. Hurst, R.Baring, A. Maxwell, W.Biddulph, R. M. Moore, P.Burdett, Sir F. Morris, E.Busk, W. North, D.Combe, H. C. Scudamore, R.Curwen, J. C. Sharp, R.Fremantle, W. Whitbread, S.Hamilton, lord A. TELLERS.Hibbert, G. Creevey, T.Herbert, W. Smith, W.Hutchinson, C. H.