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stood by the House, he would point out the three periods of time, at which the treaty with Portugal could alone have been made, but at each of which periods undoubtedly, there was a material difference in point of ease and advantage. The first of these periods was, that of all others, most desirable, because it must have been free from every imputation, either on the score of impolicy or suspicion of any kind whatever; the last of the three periods was certainly open to a proportion of suspicion, but he really thought, that though some suspicion might at first attach to it, in a very short time that might be done away: but there was between these two periods, an intermediate period of a very doubtful and suspicious nature indeed, and that of all others was the most objectionable. The period most advantageous of the three, obviously was, that prior to the conclusion of a treaty with France. Had a treaty with Portugal been secured and settled at that moment, it would have manifested a fairness and a decency on our part to an old ally; and it would have exhibited a good example of the dignity of this country, by shewing, that before we enter into new treaties, or sought for new friends, we took care to secure the continuance of our old connections. At that time, therefore, in his mind, the treaty with the court of Lisbon ought to have been adjusted, because he never could be brought to admit, that our commercial connection with Portugal ought to be blended with, or make any part of the measure of a commercial treaty with France, though the converse of the proposition might we true, and indeed was so.'.. ; i.
The next best period for making a treaty withethe court of Lisbon, was subsequent to. the parliamentary sanction and finally carrying into effect the commercial treaty with France, and after the reduction of Portugal wines, according to the reserve made in the 7th article of the French treaty. That period, as he had before said, was certainly not so free from objection as the former one, but most objectionable was the intermediate period, namely, that between the signing the French treaty, and the parliament of Great Britain giving it their sanction, and engaging to carry it into execution. In order to illustrate this assertion, and explain more fully what lre meant, Mr. Fox went into a good deal of argument to prove, that if Portugal should, through any perverseness, or ill-judged obstinacy (which Heaven forbid should be the case!) refuse to continue the same connection with us that had subsisted between the two countries under the Methuen treaty, ever since the year 1703; France would, in that case, derive a great additional advantage from us, for which we neither should have an equivalent, nor could claim one.
He knew that some doubts had arisen as to the right construction of the Methuen treaty: a minister when in office, he had felt it to be his duty to negociate it one way, but be was aware that the court of Lisbon had contended that Irish woollens were not comprehended under the Methuen treaty. - [The chancellor of the exchequer said across the table, if the right honourable gentleman acted one way as a negociator when in office, he hoped he would not lend the weight of his authority the other way, now he was not in office.] Mr. Fox said, if the right honourable gentleman had heard him to the end of his sentence, he was sure he would not have thought what he meant to have expressed, to have been wrong, or injudicious, or ill-timed. What he was proceeding to say was this, that the court of Lisbon had contended that Irish woollens were not comprehended within the meaning of the Methuen treaty; but that was an idle and a mistaken notion. The spirit of the Methuen treaty undoubtedly went to Irish as well as British woollens, and to lay down any distinction between the two was narrow and impolitic, and by no means consonant with that generous and liberal line of conduct that the court of Lisbon and the court of London should mutually take care to follow respecting the concerns of each other. His opinion was, and that an opinion founded on conviction, that Portugal was bound to listen to the complaints of our merchants, and that it was the duty of ministers to take care to enforce their just demands, so as to have the Methuen treaty observed as to its spirit, rather than as to its mere letter. On our part we ought to act with equal liberality, and rather grant to Portugal more than she could claim by treaty than less. Upon that principle the two countries might continue connected and be useful friends to each other. If Portugal should, either by the influence of other powers, or the per verseness of her own ministers, break with us entirely, and an end should be put to the Methuen treaty, we should lose a useful friend, and should undoubtedly feel the loss; but, Portugal would soon find, that she had acted rashly and injudiciously, that she had injured herself most essentially by breaking her old connection, and that no new commercial treaty she could enter into or conclude, could possibly prove in every point of view so serviceable and so advantageous to her, as her connection with this country had proved. In that light, he had uniformly considered the Methuen treaty and the connection between Great Britain and Portugal, and so, he believed, every man who knew any thing of the commercial interests of the two countries must have considered them.
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Mr. Fox next proceeded to shew the disadvantages of putting the finishing hand to the French treaty, by parliament coming to a vote upon it, before they knew what would be the state of our trade with Portugal. The principles of the French treaty were reciprocity of advantage in respect to commerce; not that each country was to do the same thing exactly in respect to each commercial commodity, because that would be impossible, but where the duty was lowered upon any commodity in one country, an equivalent was to be granted by the other. But if the treaty with France was sanctioned without knowing what was to be dono with Portugal, we must remain in the dark, and might eventually give France an advantage for which we neither had the prospect of an equivalent, nor could set up any claim to one. Mr. Fox explained this, by putting the case, that Portugal should, either through her own perverseness, or the influence France was known to have over the court of Lisbon, be so unwise as to refuse to come into any treaty with Great Britain; in that case, we certainly should not lower the duty on Portugal wines, and then France would positively have a material advantage, in addition to the advantage already given by stipulation in the treaty, for which additional advantage, we should not have a right to claim an equivalent. Thus France would be in the condition of a person purchasing an estate, with a mine upon it, without having paid for the mine. Would not every man, in that case, blame the seller of the estate, for not having ascertained, whether there was a mine upon it or not, before he sold his estate? The case stood exactly in that manner between Great Britain and France: if Portugal broke with us, France would have all the benefit without having stipulated to give any equivalent to this country. Mr. Fox put this very forcibly, and then mentioned, as another probable inconvenience, that if we should lower the duty on Spanish wines, France would have a right to call upon us to make the same reduction in the duties on the French wines, because we had stipulated that her wines should come in upon as low duties, as were paid on the wines of any country, except the wines of Portugal. The validity of this argument would be seen by reading the sixth, the seventh, and eleventh articles of the French treaty.
Mr. Fox recapitulated the heads of his argument before he sat down, and then said, that if the object he aimed at, which he hoped he had made sufficiently clear to the right honourable gentleman, could be obtained by any other motion, or by any other way of wording his motion, he was ready to give it up, or alter it, though he could not give up his argument, as he conceived nothing could be more evident than the grounds he had rested it upon. Mr. Fox explained why he had selected the year 1782 as the date, from which the papers were to be made out. He said, he would not go so far back as the year 1958, when the merchants began to complain of the conduct of the court of Portugal as to the non-observance of the Methuen treaty, but fixed upon the year 1782, as more modern, at the same time that it was not so modern, as to be a period that interfered with negociations of a nature too recent to be touched upon. He concluded with moving, “ That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that there be laid before this House, copies or extracts of the Instructions that have been given to his majesty's ministers in Portugal since the first of May 1782, respecting the Complaints of the British merchants. As also the answer or answers of the Court of Portugal. to the representations which have been made in consequence of such instructions, with the several dates of the said instructions and answers.”
The motion, after being seconded by Sir Grey Cooper, and opposed by Mr. Beaufoy and Mr. Pitt, was negatived without a division.
The House having resolved itself into a committee of the whole House, to take into consideration so much of the king's speech on the 25th of January, as relates to the treaty of navigation and commerce with France, Mr. Pitt in a speech which lasted three hours, entered into an explanation and defence of the treaty, and concluded with moving his first resolution ; viz. “ That it appears to this committee to be expedient that all articles of the growth, produce, or manufacture of the European dominions of the French king, which are not specified in the 6th article of the treaty of navigation and commerce, between His Britannic Majesty and the Most Christian King, signed at Versailles, the 26th of September 1786, shall be imported into this kingdom on payment of duties as low as any which shall be payable on the importation of the like articles from any other European nation.”
Mr. Fox rose immediately as the chancellor of the exchequer sat down. He began by declaring, 'that he clearly saw that the right honourable gentleman had considered a great and complicated subject on narrow and confined ground. When he was in office he had begun the only system on which commerce between the two countries could have been carried on, without disgrace and embarrassment to Great
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Britain. To the greatest part of what had fallen from the right honourable gentleman with so much eloquence and ability, he was prepared to give a direct and immediate negative; and he at the same time scrupled not to assert, that no one argument the right honourable gentleman had urged in favour of the treaty carried conviction to his mind, or altered his opinion of it in the smallest degree. The right, honourable gentleman had done what he expected, because it was what every person must have done, who undertook the defence of a commercial treaty with France — he had talked a great deal of the assurances given by the court of Versailles of her amicable intentions towards Great Britain, and on these assurances of friendship had he rested his confidence, that France was sincere in her professions, and that she really wished well to this country. In that confidence he never could join; nor could he ever be brought to believe that France was sincere when she professed to be the friend of Great Britain.
The right honourable gentleman had said, “Surely no man would go so far as to assert, that France must be actuated by an unalterable enmity towards us, and that it absolutely was impossible that the two countries could ever be brought to act towards each other with amity and friendship.” He undoubtedly, Mr. Fox said, would not go the length of asserting that France was, and must remain the unalterable enemy of Great Britain, and that there was not a possibility for any circumstances to occur, under which France might not secretly feel a wish to act amicably with respect to this kingdom. It was possible; but it was scarcely probable. That she, however, felt in that manner at present, he not only doubted but disbelieved. France was the natural political enemy of Great Britain. What made her so ?--not the memory of Cressy and of Agincourt; the victories of those fields had nothing to do with the circumstance. It was the overweening pride and boundless ambition of France; her invariable and ardent desire to hold the sway of Europe. If the right honourable gentleman thought the friendly assurances of France were infallible proofs of her sincerity, let him but turn over the correspondence to be found in the secretary of state's office that related to what had passed between the British ambassador and the French ministers at the time that Lord Stormont had been our ambassador, and immediately before the delivery of the French rescript, previous to their breaking with us, and joining America against this country, and he would there see assurances of sincere regard, and professions of firm friendship as warm as could be made. How far those as· VOL. III.