Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

the Minifter, without alluding to any prior or fubfequent statement. And I take that day because it was a day on which his statement was more to his own fatisfaction, and more to the fatisfaction of the Houfe than at any other period. In the year 1792, three years after the French Revolution, the Minifter came forward with his boafted and triumphant defcription of the ftate of the country, of the profperity of our commerce, of the improvement of our manufactures, of the extent of our revenue, and the profpect of permanent peace. He then admitted that fifteen years peace was perhaps rather too much to expect, but he said that we had as rational hopes of the continuance of tranquillity as ever had existed in the hiftory of modern times. Then full two years and a half (I wish to speak within compafs) fince the first Revolution in France, fince the time that the King had been compelled to return Paris, where, as has been faid, he was committed to jail, that the National Affembly had annihilated the titles, and destroyed the feudal tenures of the nobility; had confifcated the lands belonging to the church, banished part of the clergy, and compelled thofe who remained to take an oath contrary, in many inftances, to the dictates of their confcience; then, I fay, this profpect of fifteen years peace was held out to the country. It was after that the King of France had been made, as was faid at the time, to ftand in a fplendid pillory on the 14th July, after he had filed, and was brought back a prifoner to Paris, that this expectation of lasting tranquillity was raised. So that I am entitled to conclude, that in the opinion of the King's Minifters, the annihilation of the titles of the nobility, and the degradation of the order, the exile of the clergy, and the confifcation of the lands of the church; the invafion of the Royal prerogative, and the infults offered to the Sovereign, defcribed as they then were by their friends, by the terms pillory and imprisonment, (terms which I now repeat, not with any view of courting the favor of those who employed them, but merely to fhew the light in which these events were confidered at the time) not only fo little interfered with the fyftem of neutrality which they had adopted, but were fo little connected with the interefts of the country, as not to damp the profpect of peace, or even to render the duration of tranquillity, for fifteen years, very uncertain. I fo far agree, therefore, with the opinion of Minifters, that inftead of the country being in danger from the French Revolution, there were no circumstances attending it, which rendered the continuance of peace more uncertain than it was before it happened. It may be faid, that at that time France was profeffing pacific views. I have o often feen these profeffions made by the most ambitious powers,

[ocr errors]

in the very moment when they were thirsting most for aggrandizement, that I have little faith to repofe in them-fo little, indeed, that I cannot believe that the pacific views of Minifters were founded upon these profeffions which were made by the French; but at that very time France was either engaged in actual hoftilies with Auftria, or on the point of commencing hoftilities. War was either begun, or there was a moral certainty, that it would take place. Without now difcuffing a point (on which, however, I have no difficulty in my own mind) whether Auftria or France was the aggreffor, it was fufficient that Minifters knew at the time, that an aggreffion had been made on the part of one of those powers. And notwithstanding the defeats which attended the French arms at the outfet, it was the general opinion that the Auftrian territory was defencelefs, and that it would foon be overrun by the enemy's arms. But even then a fifteen-years peace was talked of. I must here state a fact, which certainly is not officially confirmed, but which refts upon the general belief of Europe, that before hoftilities commenced between Auftria and France, an infinuation, or rather a communication, was made by England to the latter power, that if they attempted any aggression upon the territories of Holland, which at that time was our ally, we should be obliged to break the neutrality that we had obferved, and interfere in the conteft. This meffage has been differently interpreted.— Some have put upon it the interpretation, which I think, upon the whole, is the fair one, that it was our policy to take all prudent means of avoiding any part in the war. Others I know have put upon it a more invidious conftruction, and infinuated that our meaning was neither more nor lefs than this, fpeaking to the French, "Take you Auftria and do with it what you please, but we fet up the limits of Holland, beyond which you shall not pass." I ftate this to fhew at that time Minifters did not forefee any probable event which might occasion a rupture between this country and France. That this alfo was the general opinion of the House in the Spring 1792, I need not spend time in convincing them. I shall however barely mention a small circumstance of a financial nature, which happened near the clofe of the feffion, which proves the fact beyond difpute. I mean the measure of funding the 4 per cents. At that time the 3 per cent. confols had rifen to 95, 96, and 97, and it was the opinion of the right honourable gentleman that they would rife to par, and in this conviction, with a view of a probable faving, he had loft the opportunity of a certain faving to the pation of a perpetual annuity of 240,000l.; a thing of fuch magpitude as to prove to the Houfe that at that time the right honour

able gentleman had no expectation that the peace was likely to be difturbed, fince it induced him to forego the great good which was in his power, in the hope of the fmall and trifling addition that might have accured on the extent of the 3 per cents. rifing to par. I mention this as a fact fubfidiary to the declarations which the Minifter made at the commencement of that feffion, and which proved, that to the end of it he continued to entertain the fame confidence of peace. Thus ended the feflion, of 1792. In the courfe of the Summer 1792, various events of various kinds took place. The Revolution of the 10th of Auguft chiefly deferves notice. I fhall not now comment upon the nature of that Revolution, I fhall speak of it merely as a Member of the British Legiflature, and as an event connected with the interefts of this country. The great alteration that it had produced was changing the Government of France from Monarchy to a Republic. I know that these are excellent words, and well adapted, as the history of our country has proved, for enlifting men under oppofite ftandards. But this is not the view in which that Revolution is to be confidered, as affecting the policy of this country. Let us in the first place confider its influence upon this country, in the way of example, and the prevalence which it was likely to give to Jacobin principles throughout Europe. After this country had feen the order of the nobility deftroyed, and their titles abolished, when it had feen the fyftem of equality carried to as great a length as it was poffible to carry it, except in that one inftance of the exiftence of a King, I will even afk thofe who are fondeft of the name of Monarchy, (I beg not to be understood as speaking in the least disrespectfully of that form of Government,) if there was any thing in the Monarchy of France previous to the 10th of Auguft, which tended to fortify the English Monarchy ? Or if there was any thing in the subsequent Revolution which tended to render it lefs fecure than it was immediately before that event happened, when no danger was apprehended? I will ask if there be any so attached to the name of Monarchy, as after having patiently borne every other confequence of Jacobin principles, to induce men to tremble at the annihilation of merely the name? I come now to a nearer view of circumftances-and I will afk, if there be a greater or lefs profpect of peace between this country and France, fince the expultion of the House of Bourbon, than before? It is not my difpofition, an it is far from being my wifh on the present occafion, to triumph over the diftreffes of a fallen family. But confidering them as Kings of France, as truftees for the happiness of a great nation, and rem embering at the fame time my old English prejudices, and I my

farther add, old English history, can I regret that expulfion as an event unfavourable to the happiness of the people of France, or injurious to the tranquillity of Great Britain? Lest, however, I fhould be thought by fome to approve more of the conduct of Minifters than I really do, I here find it neceffary to fay a few words in explanation. I approve of their fentiments, in as far as they thought that the French Revolution did not afford a fufficient cause for this country involving itself in a war, and I approve of their conduct, in as far as it proceeded upon a determination to abide by an invariable line of neutrality, if univerfal tranquility could not be preferved. I differ, however, with them upon the means of preferving this neutrality. I think there was a time before the war broke out with Auftria, which prefented an opportunity for this country to exercife the great and fplendid office of a mediator, which would not only have been highly honourable to itself, and beneficial to Europe, but an office which it was in some measure called upon to undertake by the events of the preceding year. The event to which I particularly refer was the treaty of Pilnitz, by which Ruffia and Pruffia avowed their intention of interfering in the internal affairs of France, if they should be fupported by the other powers of Europe, which certainly was to all intents and purpofes an aggreffion against France. The circumftances of the tranfaction itself, pointed out the propriety of this mediation on the part of Great Britain. This treaty, I really believe, was never intended to be acted upon; but this certainly does not leffen the aggreffion, much lefs the infult which it carried to France. The Emperor at that time was importuned by the emigrant nobility and clergy to infere in the domestic affairs of France. Austria did not dare to interfere without the co-operation of Pruffia, and Pruffia did not wish to hazard the fate of fuch an enterprize. When those powers were in this ftate of uncertainty, that was the very moment for England to become a mediator; and if this country had at that time propofed fair terms of accommodation to the parties, the matter might have been compromised, and the peace of Europe preferved, at least for fome time, for God knows the period of peace is at all times uncertain. If England had then come forward as a mediator, the questions to be agitated would have related folely to Lorraine and Alface; and is there any man that believes, putting out of the queftion the internal affairs of France altogether, that under the impartial mediation of this country, all the difficulties refpecting the tenures of the nobility, and the right of the chapters in thof two provinces, might not have been cafily fettled to the fatisfaction of the difputants? I cannot conceive that Minifters, in concerting

their schemes, adopting the measures which they have pursued, could be influenced by any fecret principle fo depraved and truly impolitic, as to be induced to contemplate with fatisfaction the growing feeds of difcord, under the idea that this country would flourish, whilft the other powers of Europe were exhaufting themselves in contention and war. Neutrality I admit to have been preferable to an active fhare in the conteft; but to a nation like Great Britain, whose profperity depends upon her commerce, the general tranquillity of Europe is a far greater bleffing (laying the general interests of mankind out of the question) than any partial neutrality which it could preferve. I hope, therefore, that it was upon no fuch contracted views that Minifters declined the office of mediators at the period to which I allude. One would think however, that after refufing fuch interference, they would have been the laft men in the world to intermeddle with the internal government of another country. It is not neceffary for me to refer to the horrible scenes that were exhibited in France in the month of September; I merely mention them that it may not be faid that I wished to pass them over in filence, or withou texpreffing thofe feelings which I, in common with all mankind, experienced, on hearing of atrocities which have excited the indignation of Europe, and which have been accompanied with the outcries of humanity. However monstrous they have been, they have no relation to the present question; they have no small resemblance, however, to the maffacres in Paris in former times; maffacres in which Great Britain was much more interested, than in the events of the month of September 1792, but in which he did not then interfere; a conduct, the propriety of which it fell to the province of the hiftorian to discuss.

We come now to the fuccefsful invasion of the Austrian Netherlands, by the French, under General Dumourier. How far it would have been wife in this country to have permitted France to remain in poffeffion of this key to Holland, I fhall not now argue. But what happened in October was apprehended in April; and if 'it is once admitted as a principle, that it was impoffible for this country to have allowed to France the quiet poffeffion of this territory, would it not have been wife in this country to have prevented 'the invafion, by a mediation between the two powers? Perhaps, it may be faid, that they trufted that the great military power of Auftria would be able, if not to refift the invasion in the first inIf this was the policy

stance, at least to compel them to retire. with which they acted, it certainly was a policy more than ordinarily fhallow. It would have been advifable in this, as in every inftance of a fimilar nature, to adopt a resolution at the outfet, and

« ForrigeFortsæt »