LORD STANLEY'S MOTION FOR A COMMITTEE ON THE PETITIONS AGAINST THE OHDERS IN COUNCIL.
HC Deb 28 April 1812 vol 22 cc1092-112 1092
Lord Stanley on rising, expressed his regret that it had not fallen to the lot of an abler person than himself to bring the important subject on which he was about to address them before the consideration of the House. It was not his intention, however, to go at any great length into the general question of the policy of the Orders in Council, a subject so lucidly and eloquently treated on a recent occasion by his hon. and learned friend. He should limit him-self therefore to that view of those Orders which were connected with the immediate motion which he was about to submit. In the year 1806, the violent measures and decrees of the enemy induced the British government to take such steps as seemed best calculated by a counter operation to inflict upon the French government those commercial injuries with which it had endeavoured to assail us. Whatever might be the policy of the Order then issued, he must deny that the Decrees against which it was directed were constructed upon any novel or unprecedented principles. Simi- 1093 lar principles had been adopted in 1739, and 1756. They had been acted on during the American as well as the late wars. Never, however, had they been attended with those consequences which unfortunately now so distinctly depressed the trade and commerce of the country. Never had they been found to produce the practical result of destroying the manufactures, and annihilating the trading prosperity of the empire.—So far from their having been followed by any such effects, it was well known that until the present period, those manufactures continued to flourish more and more, and that prosperity progressively to increase. The measures therefore of 1739 and 1756 had been completely impotent in their effect on British commerce; and in his opinion there had been no reason to expect that the Decree of 1806 would have had a mere extensive operation upon it. Had Buonaparté any greater power than his predecessors in the government of France to enforce his hostile schemes against our commerce? Were his fleets so large, or his command over the ocean so entire as to enable him to do what the former rulers of his territories had never succeeded in accomplishing? But admitting his object to be the complete exclusion of commodities of British growth or manufacture, from all the ports of his dominion, what was this but acting on a policy which had been exercised by other continental powers as well as by the British government at various periods? What was it in short but adopting a principle of policy, and enforcing it with more than ordinary vigour, which every state had an inherent right to adopt, as a principle of mere municipal regulation? It remained for others to shew how any such regulations could affect the trade between neutral states and the belligerent, against whose interests they were directed. They had not operated in the present instance to raise the rate of insurance, and the remittances from Europe rose subsequent to their promulgation. What was the case after the system, the childish and impotent system of retaliation was adopted on our part? The face of things was at once changed.—The remittances fell in a short time in the ratio of 100 to 30; America, almost the only neutral nation, was disgusted; her ports were shut against us, all intercourse ceased, and not only the trade which we carried on directly with her, but that which we maintained circuitously through her means, and which it was beyond the power of the enemy to prohibit, before he was aided in his views by our own injurious and disastrous policy, were sacrificed together. But whether all the evils that were now so deeply felt, ought or ought not to be traced to the operation of the Orders in Council, it was undeniable that there was at present great and general distress, and as a member of parliament, and more particularly as the representative of part of one of the counties affected in a peculiar manner by that distress, he had deemed it his duty to call the attention of the House to the Petitions now lying on the table.—The distresses that at present existed no one could deny, whatever difference of opinion there might be with respect to the cause. In the Petitions with which their table was crowded, various remedies were suggested. It was thought, by some, that relief could be derived from the reduction or abolition of sinecure places, and the lessening of salaries, which were disproportioned to the services performed; but whatever might be his opinion upon the expediency of such a measure, he thought it would go a very short way towards the effectual relief of the country. Another suggestion was, the nonrenewal of the Charter of the East India Company, and the extension of the trade of that country and China to the merchants of the United Kingdom; but even that measure, great an effect as it appeared calculated to produce, could not take place for two years; and the distress of the country was such as could not wait the effect of an operation so distant.—He, therefore, was willing to hope, that something might be devised more likely to be efficacious. One of the Petitions complained of the insensibility which the petitioners declared a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose) had shewn to their sufferings. Whatever might have passed on the occasion alluded to, he was ready to acquit the right hon. gentleman and the government of any decided insensibility to the distresses of the country; but while he abstained from attributing any improper motive to the right hon. gentleman, (which he was sure was far from his mind): he thought, at the same time, that, standing as he did, in the capacity of a confidential adviser of the crown, he should have been a little more cautious in the language he made use of; and he should have recollected, that though what he said might seem to contain nothing extraordinary in its import, yet, its levity, on minds agitated by the feelings of distress, was calculated to produce the worst effects.—The Petitions on the table were unanimous in stating the distress of the country, and most of them ascribed that distress to the operation of the Orders in Council, of which the petitioners appeared to be likely to form an accurate judgment. As a reply to those allegations, he presumed that the late Declaration had been issued by the government of this country, which proceeded on the statement of the French minister to the Conservative Senate. This Declaration contained, in effect, most decidedly the precise purport and meaning of the expressions attributed to the right hon. gentleman; it stated in effect, though not in terms, that Great Britain and France were in the situation of two persons whose heads were immersed in a bucket, to try which could bear suffocation the longer. This document declared, that the government of Great Britain were determined to persevere, on the punctilio of priority in the Orders in Council; and that however great the distress of the people might be, there was no hope of relief, support, or redress, from their own government. But, in a more statesmanlike point of view, who were to be the judges of the continuance of the system? Was the option to be taken out of the hands of this government, and transferred to those of Buonaparté, whose strongest interest it was that we should continue a system so conducive to his advantage? What was this but surrendering our own free will, pledging ourselves to a particular policy, and resolving to make our own future measures, under any circumstances, dependent on those of the enemy? He could see no ground on which such a determination was to be defended. He had felt it his duty to enquire minutely into the extent and magnitude of those distresses, under which the manufacturing classes of the community were now labouring, and from every quarter he had received accounts, varying as to the particular degree in which they were felt in different places, but all agreeing as to their universal existence. From all parts there were statements of the want of employment, scantiness of food, and high price of provisions. The food of the manufacturers in that part of the kingdom which he had the honour to represent, was chiefly potatoes and oatmeal: two hundred and forty pounds weight of pota- 1096 toes could until lately be purchased for seven shillings; they were now advanced to seventeen shillings. The same quantity of oatmeal could until lately be purchased for forty two shillings; it was now advanced to sixty-seven shillings. The average wages of a manufacturer were from nine to eleven shillings a week; and how, out of that sum, an individual could support and clothe himself and family and pay his house rent, he was at a loss to conceive. In other parts they were rather higher, but they were obtained only by working over hours and beyond the usual habits. He then referred to some letters from different parts of the country, confirming these statements. A magistrate of one district, whose letter he held in his band, declared it was impossible in his neighbourhood, that a weaver, with a wife, and two or three children, even though they were in good health, could earn a subsistence, not so much from a depression of wages, which were rather higher than at the same time last year, but from the great increase in the price of provisions. Another letter from Liverpool, stated that the number of vessels in the docks was only 62, the number of carts employed 66, while 127 were idle, the number of ships in the graving docks 11, though they were capable of holding 27, and in the year 1810 were quite full, besides many waiting to go in, and many on the banks—not one-third of the sail makers were employed, and but 24 block makers, with a variety of other particulars, all showing the depression of commerce. The Petitions before the House, and the statements made by several gentlemen in the House, proved that the distress was not merely confined to the commercial and manufacturing towns, but extended to Leicester, Nottingham, Stafford, Birmingham, Kidderminster, Liverpool, &c. &c. and almost through the whole extent of that line of country. Under those circumstances, his lordship thought that there was but one course which presented it-self, namely, a committee to consider the Petitions which had been laid on the table. That appeared to be the only means to have a full, fair, and open view of the subject, and to obtain explicit information upon it. If the House should think it right to recommend to the government and to the Prince Regent, the repeal of the Orders in Council, which had been productive of so much distress, he would feel proud of having been, in any way, the 1097 humble instrument of bringing about so desirable an event. But if the House should decide otherwise, he would have the consolation of reflecting, that he had endeavoured to discharge his duly to his constituents and to the country. He might in that case regret the decision; but he should submit to it, and he hoped that others out of the House would submit also, and that there would be no repetition of those disturbances which had disgraced many parts of the country. But at the same time he could not help saying, that it was almost too much to expect a starving population, deprived of the possibility of getting employment, to submit, without a murmur, to an accumulation of distress. It were much to be wished, that the people should always proceed by the proper and constitutional mode of Petition; but he was not surprised at enormities committed by those who seemed to be influenced by no idea but that of their sufferings; and as he believed they acted entirely from the impulse of the moment, in consequence of the distress they laboured under, he thought that there was much to be overlooked in the misguided conduct of those persons. He would not take up the time of the House any further, but would proceed to move, "That the several Petitions which have been presented to this House, in this session of parliament against the Orders in Council, be referred to the consideration of a Committee of the whole House."
Mr. Rose expressed his satisfaction that the time was come when the subject could be fully discussed. From what had fallen from the noble lord, it appeared that he was wholly unacquainted with the real nature of the Berlin Decree. The noble lord bad described it merely as a municipal regulation, and that of a nature by no means novel. In May, 1806, in consequence of prior efforts of France to distress British commerce, the late government of this country issued orders to blockade ail the ports from Brest to the river Elbe. In the wisdom and justice of this order he perfectly concurred. At that period we had a naval power sufficient to enforce the blockade, and it was consistent with the law of nations to do so. The consequence was, however, the promulgation of the Berlin Decree. This Decree denied our right to take merchant ships at sea, who were endeavouring to violate the blockade. Was that not novel? It declared that a blockade could extend only to fortified 1098 places, actually besieged, a denial extended by a subsequent explanation on the part of the duke of Cadore, to places besieged by land as well as by sea. Was that not novel? It declared the British islands to be in a state of blockade, prohibited all continental intercourse with them, proclaimed all British subjects, wherever found, to be prisoners of war, and what was more extraordinary and unprecedented in the history of the world, all British merchandize, wherever found, to be forfeited. If British goods for instance were found on board of an American ship trading between America and China, by this Decree they were to be confiscated. Was all this not novel? Was it a municipal regulation? Nothing could be more unlike any former proceeding. He had often been told that the Berlin Decree was nugatory, and that our ships had traded after its promulgation as uninterruptedly as before it. He readily admitted, that from the time of its promulgation, in November, 1806, until after the peace of Tilsit, in July, 1807, the Berlin Decree did actually remain a dead letter; because, during that time, the enemy had no means of enforcing it. But what followed? Immediately that the peace of Tilsit placed his army at the disposal of the French emperor, he marched troops into all the ports of the continent, for the purpose of carrying the Berlin Decree into effect. This active operation of the Decree commenced in August, 1807, and it was well known that two months afterwards no less than 65 British vessels returned, heavily laden, from Heligoland, having been unable to get rid of their cargoes. In consequence of this interruption of British commerce, the Order in Council of 1807 was issued, which recited that the former Order had been found ineffectual, and declared all the ports of Europe in a, state of rigorous blockade. This was followed in the succeeding month by the Milan Decree, which enacted that a neutral of any nation, having touched at an English port, or having allowed herself to be searched by an English ship, should for that act be denationalized, deprived of the protection of her king, and treated as English property. These were the two Decrees which the noble lord had characterized as having nothing new in them, nothing that had not been common in former wars; which ought not to have put us on our defence, or led us to retaliate. In April, 1809, the Orders in Council of 1807 were so modified as to confine the prohi- 1099 bition which they were issued to announce to France, and the countries immediately under her domination. This was followed by the Decree of Rambouillet, which confiscated all the American property within the grasp of France. This was an act unexampled in the history of the world; but in answer to a representation made on the subject to the French government by general Armstrong the American minister, it had been stated by the duke de Cadore, "that the imperial decrees were conformable to the eternal principles of justice;" and on the complaint of general Armstrong that 100 American ships had been seized without any notice being previously given of their danger, he was told that the conduct of England had been such that it could only be regarded as a declaration of war against America, and that war was accordingly considered as declared between England and America from the day on which the English Order in Council was issued. He wished the conduct of France towards America to be compared with that of England.—Here, when a number of American vessels were brought in, to save the expences and delays attendant on the ordinary process, a commission had been immediately appointed to investigate the losses sustained by America, in consequence of which, no less a sum than 400,000l. had been paid to Americans. This was certainly a contrast to the conduct of the French government. An objection had been started as to the late declaration issued by government, that it was founded on nothing more than a newspaper statement. But what was the nature of that newspaper? The message inserted in it was as well intitled to be considered authentic as any thing published in the Gazette of this country. Why it was but the other day that the government were blamed for not acting on verbal authority. This last proceeding, on the part of France, was that of issuing a Senatus Consultum, in which it was declared, that till the British Orders in Council were rescinded, and the principles of the Treaty of Utrecht restored to full force, every neutral vessel touching at any British port, would be considered as denationalized, and the Berlin and Milan Decrees enforced accordingly. Much had been heard in that House of the Berlin and Milan Decrees having been actually repealed. He had on former occasions stated cases of American vessels being captured, which be conceived justified him in coming to a 1100 different conclusion; but now they had a positive authentic instrument to refer to, which confirmed those Decree, and which declared all nations to be denationalized who suffered their merchant ships to be searched. The right of searching merchant vessels had never before been questioned. The late declaration of the English government, which the noble lord appeared to view with much dissatisfaction, as he thought the rescinding of the Berlin and Milan Decrees ought not to be the measure on which the resumption of our commerce with America should depend, appeared to him (Mr. Rose) to be most satisfactory, as it declared our Orders in Council to be repealed whenever the Decrees of France should cease, and repealed retrospectively, so as to have effect from the very day on which those measures were actually at an end. Having thus shewn what were really the proceedings of France and England, with a view to correct what appeared to be a very general misunderstanding on the subject; he came to consider what would be the effect of the repeal of our Orders in Council. Would any man say, that if repealed tomorrow, America would open her ports to us? That it was certain she would do so he denied. She had repeatedly told England that that alone would not satisfy her, as she required that we should give up our present system of blockade—Why then we were to purchase our intercourse with America by giving up our maritime rights. These, he contended, by complying with her wishes, would be given up, and given up for, at best, but a precarious commercial advantage. From the moment at which these were given up we should suffer most severely in our trade. The instant these Orders in Council were repealed, the ports of almost all the world would be thrown open to France, to furnish her with raw materials necessary to carrying on her manufactures. The whole French manufactures of last year, of every kind whatever, amounted in value only to 54 millions of livres. This was entirely owing to their not being able to procure raw materials. It was well known that France had a very flourishing cotton, woollen and silk manufacture before the war. Now, if the ports of France were to be open, she would receive cotton from Brazil, and other parts of South America. It was true there was at present a duty on the importation of cotton into France almost amounting to a prohibition. This 1101 duty was continued, because the emperor of "France knew very well that cotton could now be manufactured only for home consumption, and he was careless what duty was laid on, as it would all be paid by his own subjects. But the moment the ports of France were opened, the French would be able to meet us on our own ground. America would be the carrier, and France would have the means of sending her manufactures to Brazil and ail South America—she would be easily enabled to do this from her large population. Now what would those who were so strenuous advocates for our trade say to this?—That the commodities of Birmingham, and other manufacturing towns, would find an immediate vent and a considerable market he did not deny, but it was necessary to consider what would be the consequence to our trade in other respects;—what effect it would have ultimately on our trade to other parts.—The trade at present carried on with the north of Europe, amounted in the last year to 18,500,000l. being 1,000,000l. more than its amount in 1806, and he had the satisfaction to state, that within the last eight weeks it had been increasing 100,000l. per week on what it was at the corresponding period in the last year. Was this then the time at which we should risk the whole of this trade? The exports to America had formerly amounted to about 12 millions annually. Of this about half had been carried on on account of foreign colonial settlements. The fair consumption of the United Slates might then be taken to have been six millions. In the last year our exports to the United States were 2 millions. In 1805, their amount was 11,500,000l. In 1800, and 1807, 12 millions. In 1808, they fell to 5,300,000l. His opinion had been, that as the trade fell off with the United States, it would increase with other parts of America; and this opinion had been borne out for three years, as the exports to other parts had increased from 11,000,000l. to 18,000,000l. in 1808. In 1809 they were nearly the same; and in 1810, they amounted to 17,000,000l. In the last year (1811), they had however again fallen to 11,803,000l. the exports of the United Slates being but 2,000,000l. So that if we could get over the great stumbling block, the Orders in Council, and the trade of America were again open to us, all we ought to expect was, that our exports to the United States would be raised from 2,000,000l. to 6,000,000l. 1102 annually. If, however, we suffered a loss of 4,000,000l. from the want of an open trade to America, what did America suffer herself?—From a paper which had been presented to congress by Mr. Gallatin, it appeared that her exports in 1810–1811 amounted to about 45,000,000 of dollars.—Of these 3,000,000 were to Prussia, 20,000,000 to England, 18,000,000 to Spain and Portugal, 1,190,000 to France, and to all other parts of the world between 2 and 300,000. Compare the importance of her customers. To France her exports were under 2,000,000, to England and her allies 38,000,000, out of 45,000,000, the total amount of her exports. This was the state of American commerce, and if the measures which she had thought proper to adopt were injurious to us, what were they less than ruinous to her? The whole revenue of America, with the exception of the post-office, amounting to about 60,000l. was raised on the imports. There were no internal taxes, they being all repealed a few years ago. America must, therefore, be suffering in her resources and revenue in every direction.
Much had been said of what we had suffered in our shipping; but a much larger part of it was employed in the continental trade, than in the trade with America. There was an account of all the shipping employed by Great Britain, on the table. It had been said, nothing but foreign shipping was employed in the carrying trade, and that not a ship of our own was to be seen at sea. The shipping of 1811, was higher than that of 1806. In 1811, there were 12,774. In l806, 12,239. In the last year he admitted there was a falling off of 300 British ships; but in 1810, there were 6,000 foreign ships employed, and this year they had fallen down to 3,000. It had been stated by the member for Hull, that government stores were frequently carried in neutral ships—but he could say, that the government had always acted sacredly on this principle, never to employ a neutral ship, when a British ship could be found to go. He proceeded to notice the state of the manufactures in this country, and adverted to the West India interests, which he contended, would suffer from an opening of the ports of France. With respect to the license system, it had its origin with the last government, but he thought it perfectly justifiable and necessary, to prevent the trade of the country being cramped. Many of the objectionable oaths had been 1103 now done away. The licensing system had been treated as if new in its nature, but the fact was, that it had always been had recourse to in former wars, in trading with the West India colonies. Notwithstanding what had been said of the unfavourable situation of the country, and all that the French emperor had done to injure us, he hart the satisfaction to state that the exchanges had risen since last April, 15½ per cent. with Hamburgh, 9¼ with Amsterdam, and 12 per cent. with Paris. He thought upon the whole, he had made it clear to the House, that notwithstanding all the power of the enemy, the trade to Europe was still carried on with considerable advantage, and that it would be great indiscretion in us, to give up a more extensive trade than that with America, for the uncertain advantages which might possibly result from opening the French ports, and renewing our intercourse with America.
Having said so much on the question, he hoped he might be excused for trespassing for a few moments on the attention of the House with respect to what concerned himself personally. There was a Petition on the table of the House, in which he was described as holding a large sinecure office, and totally insensible to the miseries of the country. The noble lord had said he had made use on a certain recent occasion, of very indecorous expressions. He owned if he could have been guilty of treating lightly the sufferings of any class of men, he deserved the severest reprehension. It was the first time in his life that such a charge had ever been brought against him—the first instance in a political life of 30 years;—and how far the gentleman who had made it, in the face of the country, could reconcile the declaration to his conscience, it did not belong to him to say. He thought he had not in the slightest degree, either in his words, or in the manner he uttered them, given occasion for offence of any sort. He was not at the period he alluded to, in the discharge of his official duty; but happened to call on his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a very different purpose—he was literally an intruder there. Whatever words therefore might be uttered by him, surely ought not to be imputed as a charge against government. However inconsiderate they might be, surely to make them a matter of complaint in a Petition to that House, was without example in the history of the country. He certainly did say to the gentlemen from Birmingham something like this,—that it might happen that the distress they felt was very great, but still if the relief to them in particular was not consistent with the general good of the country, it could not be granted. If he could not accede to the Petition, his next duty was not to mislead gentlemen. It had happened to him to have more intercourse with the lower orders, than any man either in or out of the House. His doors were always open to all classes, and he never sent any away unanswered. He then produced and read extracts from several votes of thanks from the Spitalfields weavers and the committee of journeymen mechanics, for his kindness to them on several occasions, which instances he selected from a great many for the purpose of shewing, that he was a very unlikely man to treat the sufferings of any classes of the community with levity or disrespect.
Nothing short of an accusation of having committed some horrid crime, could be more revolting to his feelings, than what had been charged against him, and he denied that he had exhibited any such levity. The petitioners from Birmingham he believed to be honest, worthy people, and he was far from charging upon them the malignity of the accusation: but the mind that suggested it was certainly malignant.
With regard to the question immediately before them, there seemed to be a general delusion in the country as to the Orders in Council. "Repeal them, and all will be well: persist in them, and ruin must ensue." That was the general language held upon the subject. Hence, if the House should refuse to go into a committee, the people would think that their sufferings and representations were not attended to; and if the committee was granted, they would then conclude every thing would be accomplished, for parliament was at work in their behalf. He was disposed to admit, however, the propriety of going into a committee; yet he did not wish the people to be deluded by vain and extravagant expectations; he should therefore state it as his firm and unbiassed opinion, that if the Orders in Council were repealed, our trade would be infinitely worse than it then was. But it was due, he thought, to the wishes of the petitioners that their prayers should be taken into consideration; and therefore he should not oppose the motion of the noble lord.
Sir Charles Mordaunt represented the great increase which had taken place in the poor rates in Birmingham, in consequence of the depressed state of the manufactures of that town.
Mr. Dugdale, in answer to a question which was put in the course of the discussion yesterday, upon the subject of the Orders in Council, stated, that, from his recollection of the conversation between the manufacturers of Birmingham, and the President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. gentleman did assimilate the state of this country and France to two persons in a bucket of water. He did not recollect the exact words which had been used, but he certainly could bear testimony to the respect and attention with which the deputation was received. And he denied, therefore, that the right hon. gentleman had treated it with any thing like levity or insult.
Mr. Baring observed, that all the efforts which had been made on that side of the House to obtain a committee proved fruitless; but he was glad to see, that now petitions had arrived from almost every district in the country, that now the voice of the nation spoke aloud, government had so far yielded as to consent to enquiry. Such being the case, he should certainly not go into that length on the subject, which it was otherwise his intention to have done, but should confine himself to a few observations in reply to some part of the speech of the right hon. gentleman, which he thought calculated to deceive the House.
With regard to the expression which had been so often mentioned that evening, he would only say, that he could hardly be induced to believe on any evidence, that the right hon. gentleman would treat with levity and disrespect such respectable persons as those who composed the deputation from Birmingham; but if the right hon. gentleman had really wished to characterise the proceedings of government, he could not have done it more aptly than by those words. As to the matter before the House, the only part of it that was at all interesting, was not how the Orders in Council had originated, not what had been their progress, but whether the period had now arrived when an end ought to be put to them. And this view of the question had a particular reference to America. It had been certainly held out to America that we were ready to repeal our Orders in Council when the French government should substantially repeal its Berlin and Milan Decrees. Whether that repeal had really taken place in such a manner as to call upon us to revoke our Orders in Council, was another consideration; but it was maintained that America was so hostile in its government towards this country, that the mere repeal of our Orders in Council would not now satisfy the United States. He would admit, if that case could be proved, it would be a strong argument why the Orders in Council should not be repealed, supposing them to be beneficial to the country. The fact was not as stated however. Whoever would look into the correspondence between the American and British governments, would find it distinctly stated by the former, that upon the repeal of our Orders in Council, their non importation act should be rescinded. The repeal of those Orders, he contended, was the only thing America required; there was no difference with her—no question at issue, upon the principle of blockade asserted by this country. The correspondence would abundantly prove that; and the result which every person must draw from a perusal of that correspondence was, that the whole depended upon the repeal of our Orders in Council.
Another question was, whether the French Decrees had been actually repealed, and he was willing to admit that there were some circumstances which, in his mind, made him think that France had not acted up to her professions. The point, however, was whether, in connection with this subject, a hostile mind existed in the American government towards this country, which nothing could satisfy? He maintained, however, that at the time America declared that France had revoked her Decrees, she had fair grounds for saying so, and therefore just reasons for expecting us to follow up the commencement of conciliation on the part of France, by a revocation of our Orders in Council. What, he would ask, was the proper mode of communicating from one country to another an act of the government? "In the Moniteur, or the Gazette," said the right hon. gentleman—he, however, (Mr. Baring) thought a direct communication from one minister to another was just as legitimate, and that direct communication the American government had had. But, it was argued, the French government was not to be trusted. Was that language to be used from one country 1107 to another? Was it not a sentiment calculated-to destroy all confidence between nations, and to interpose an impassible barrier to conciliation; but whatever grounds we might have for disbelieving or for doubting the sincerity of the French declaration, America was bound to receive it, as she would the declaration of any other government. Under those circumstances, therefore, and at the period of time to which he was alluding, America was justified in demanding from us the repeal of our Orders in Council, and it was impossible to read the correspondence between Mr. Monro and Mr. Foster, without feeling that there was a strong anxiety on the part of the American government to repeal her commercial restrictions. He had dwelt upon these particulars with the more earnestness, because he was extremely solicitous to convince the House, that there had been nothing in the conduct of America towards this country, at all indicatory of a hostile disposition on the part of her government; and that the construction which America had put upon the declaration of France, that her Berlin and Milan Decrees were substantially repealed, was such as she was justified in putting. For a considerable time after that declaration, nothing occurred on the part of France to prove that her Decrees were not revoked; and when our minister in America maintained that they were not revoked, he was immediately required to shew that any capture of any American vessel had taken place, or any act of the French government, avowed, subsequently to the alleged revocation, which proved his assertion. This he could not do, and therefore at that time America had good grounds for believing in the revocation, and for requiring of us to fulfil our agreement, by repealing our Orders in Council. Nay, even to this day, he did not hear of any condemnation in the French courts of prize, of vessels taken under the provisions of the Berlin and Milan Decrees; captures he knew there had been, since their alleged revocation, but he was not aware of any condemnations.
There was another important question which the House had to consider. Admitting that France had completely put a stop to our commerce on the continent, what remedy did the Orders in Council offer to us? The right hon. gentleman said, that to them we owed the present prosperous state of our trade; if that were the case, if our trade were at this moment 1108 really prosperous, he should be satisfied of their utility and expediency; but was such the state of the trade; or rather, who would venture to maintain that it was, in defiance of all those Petitions, coming from almost every manufacturing district in the country? He would, therefore, say, that if the experiment could at all be justifiable, the state of our trade now justified it, and it was worth while to try the experiment of repealing those Orders in Council. We certainly had nothing to risk, but probably had much to gain; that must be the inference, if we looked practically at the state of things. But, it was said, if we repealed our Orders in Council France would then be able to obtain raw materials from America to carry on her trade. In answer to that, he would reply, that there was nothing in our Orders in Council as they now stood, which at all prevented France from receiving those raw materials to any extent she pleased into the Weser, the Elbe, and the Ems. He should not, however, go further into the general question, as ample opportunity would be afforded for that when the House resolved itself into the committee on the subject.
Lord Castlereagh said, the vote he should give was not an admission upon the merits of the question, but merely a concession to the wishes of the country, to go into enquiry on the subject. The Orders in Council were not mere commercial regulations, but measures of just retaliation against France; and as an effort against the enemy, they had been proved efficient. He thought too, that the country ought not to abandon such a system on account merely of any temporary pressures, which, however, had not been, in his judgment, at all as heavy as might, under all circumstances, have been reasonably expected. The Berlin and Milan Decrees, he contended, were in full force, and England was always prepared to say, that the Orders in Council should fall when those Decrees were withdrawn. The condition, however, declared on the other side, was, that their Decrees should fall with the surrender of our system of blockade. He trusted that if there was any hostile feeling in America towards us, the conduct of France would bring her back to more mild and favourable sentiments. We should not revoke our system in favour of one neutral to the manifest injury of all others. He would allow that Mr. Monroe did not contend against the principle of 1806, but there was a period in which America joined France, to call upon us for a revocation of those principles of blockade which we had hitherto maintained, and the adoption of the maritime rule of France. When such a demand was made, he hoped the House would not be inclined to look upon it as a mere commercial question. It was a question of great national right, and as such it ought to be looked at, and not as a mere calculation of imports and exports. America, he trusted, would not make our conduct a cause of war; but if she did, our duty would be to satisfy our own minds as to the justice of the case, and not to be deterred by our apprehension of war from the maintenance of what we knew to be our right. On the commercial part of the subject, however, he could not help observing, that there was a disposition in gentlemen greatly to exaggerate the difficulties experienced. To impute those difficulties to the Orders in Council, was neither logical nor fair. Looking to the documents on the table, they would find, that the whole state of the commerce during the present war, had experienced an increase rapid beyond example, extensive and unnatural in its degree. They would find that, at the present moment, the export of British manufactures within the year, exceeded the whole amount of the manufactures of France.—The amount of the latter for the last year was 54,000,000l. the amount of the former for the same period, 62,000,000l. for the year before, 66,000,000l. and the preceding year, 49,000,000l. Many of the present difficulties might be traced to this unnatural, and as he might call it, diseased and gigantic success, which recoiled back upon the merchants and manufacturers. There was something in the very prosperity of this country, which rendered it more liable to such difficulties, by rendering the individuals less willing to leave their own trades for others. The direct trade with the United States of America, he would allow, was diminished by the unfortunate commercial hostility; but the exports to the other parts of America had risen in proportion, so that the general trade across the Atlantic did not suffer. Notwithstanding the policy of the emperor of France, there was much of the trade of France now open to us, and even in the last year, when the pressure was the severest, we contrived to convey to the continent of Europe exports to the value 1110 of 18 millions sterling. He entreated that gentlemen would not throw out loose and general allusions upon this subject, calculated to embitter the feelings of those who suffered under difficulties which the remedy proposed must aggravate rather than diminish. He was glad that enquiry was to take place, but wished his assent to the motion to be considered not as any unwise disposition to surrender the rights of the country, but merely as a desire to shew the people that there was no intention to deceive them.
Mr. Brougham said, that nothing that had fallen from the noble lord should tempt him for a moment to deviate from his resolution of saying nothing upon the question till they had come out from the enquiry, which could alone, in his mind, render them competent to speak upon it. He deprecated, however, the exulting tone adopted by the noble lord in speaking of what the noble lord was pleased to term the prosperity of our commerce. As to the meaning put by the noble lord upon his own vote, it appeared rather inconsistent, that if that noble lord and his friends thought that the Orders in Council were not to be abandoned, they should vote to send those measures, as it were, to their trial, by voting to refer them to the consideration of a committee. It was, he thought, practising a gross delusion upon the public, to hold out to them a shew of relief if none whatever was ultimately intended. He could not divine the motives which had at length, after such a manifesto as they had lately issued, induced the ministers—to use no more invidious terms—induced the ministers to agree to the committee. He expressed a wish that the committee might be gone into tomorrow, and continue to sit from day to day, deferring all other less urgent business until the present was disposed of.
Mr. Stephen, in opposition to what had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman, denied that it was the intention of ministers that the Orders in Council should be put on their trial in the committee. The question to be there examined was, whether any part of the commercial distress complained of, was owing to them, and not whether the policy which dictated them was founded upon right or wrong principles, notwithstanding the petitioners from Birmingham had ventured to decide the question, by asserting that the government had overturned the clearest principles of national law. After the wiss 1111 and strong declaration of ministers on the subject just published, it would indeed appear inconsistent if they were to assent to the motion without entering their protest against the supposition that they concurred, because they entertained the slightest doubt as to the propriety of persisting in the Orders in Council. It was a foul libel to assert, that the Orders in Council had been resorted to for the extension of the commerce of Great Britain. He expressed his conviction, derived from experience of the proceedings of a committee four years ago, that little or no benefits would result from the enquiry about to be commenced. He therefore rather assented to the appointment of a committee as a negative good, and to prevent misconstruction; and he trusted that the investigation would be conducted in a fair, temperate, and candid manner. In reply to the speech of another hon. gentleman (Mr. Baring) he maintained, that the government of the United States did insist strenuously not only on the repeal of the Orders in Council, but of the blockade of 1807. After noticing the impossibility that mechanics taken from their looms could be competent judges on a question of such vast magnitude, and asserting that the distresses of trade proceeded from the glut of 1809, and the disturbances from the high price of provisions, he concluded by staling his willingness to go into the committee, for the purpose of quieting the public mind. He reprobated the introduction of such topics as the riots in Nottinghamshire, and the scarcity, in a discussion on the present subject; nevertheless, if the yellow fever raged in the country, and it was the belief of many persons that it proceeded from the Orders in Council, he would consent that the subject should be examined, merely for the sake of removing the false impression.
Lord Stanley, in explanation, said he had not stated that the Berlin Decree was a mere municipal regulation. He wished to enquire whether, if it should appear that the Orders in Council constituted the principal cause of the present distress, his Majesty's government would give up the measure, or persevere in their former declaration?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied, that he did not feel it necessary in this stage of the business, before any enquiry had been made, to enter into any pledge or promise as to his future conduct. Supposing, however, that it were proved that 1112 the distresses complained of were in some degree, or altogether, occasioned by the Orders in Council, it would still remain a question for parliament to decide, whether, weighing the disadvantages against the benefits, they should be abandoned. He was fully persuaded that the result of the examinations would be, that the distresses now felt (in the only year out of the four in which the Orders in Council existed in which they had been complain-ed of) originated in causes completely distinct, connected with the excessive commerce previously carried on. He would, therefore, give no pledge as to his future determination.
Mr. Tierney thought that he could answer his noble friend's question, though the right hon. gentleman would not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had been asked whether he would consent to the committee?—His answer was in the negative. Consulting his friends, however, he found among them such strong symptoms of disaffection as induced him to alter his determination. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was now asked if he would repeal the Orders in Council after the report of the committee had been made? His answer was, No. If the right hon. gentleman should discover, however, that desertion was likely to ensue, and he should be left in a minority, when the time arrived no doubt he would be as ready to repeal the Orders as he was to consent to the committee upon them.
The question was then put, and agreed to, and it was ordered that the committee on the Orders in Council should sit to-morrow, and be continued 'de die in diem.' Witnesses from Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, &c. were summoned to attend on the motion of Mr. Brougham.