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February 15. The House having again resolved itself into a committee, Mr. Pitt read, without any preface, his second resolution: “ That it appears to this committee, that wines, of the produce of the European dominions of the French king, imported directly into this kingdom, shall in no case pay higher duties than the wines of Portugal now pay." Mr. Flood in a long and eloquent speech condemned the terms of the peace. Mr. Wilberforce rose in answer to Mr. Flood. He said, that the right honourable member's speech abounded with false reasoning, and unwarrantable conclusions. He had asserted that the manufacturers disliked the treaty: of his own knowledge he could take upon him to assert the reverse was the fact. He had seen a great number of the manufacturers of different descriptions, he had conversed with them upon the subject, and they all highly approved of the treaty. He next addressed himself to Mr. Fox, and said, he heartily wished he would come down to that House coolly and dispassionately : that he would sometimes forget that he was a politician, and consider matters under discussion with a greater degree of attention to their particular merits. He asked, to what end it was to tell a poor cottager, groaning under a load of taxes, and sitting with scarcely a snuff of candle to light him, while he was poring over a newspaper, containing a violent speech of the right honourable gentleman, so put together that the sense of it could scarcely be made out, that he was a balancer of the power of Europe, and a protector of its liberties ? Was that a proper language to be told to such a man? Was it likely to stimulate him to better exertions or industry? He declared he had been run away with frequently by the oratory of the right honourable gentleman, and obliged to appeal to his reason and his principles to prevent being declaimed out of his understanding.
Mr. Fox rose to condemn the low and desponding arguments made use of by Mr. Wilberforce. That honourable gentleman had stated, in the meekness of his nature, that he dreamt not of power, nor did he wish to tread the paths of ambition; but immediately afterwards, he had a vision, which told him, that the navy of Great Britain must be kept up; and then he drew a most affecting picture of the distresses of poor cottagers groaning under the accumulated weight of taxes ! This was, no doubt, a very ingenious mode of captivating the vulgar; but he would ask the honourable gentleman how the navy was to be supported without taxing the subject? Or how the visions of the honourable gentleman could be realized without a great expence to the nation ? But the honourable gentleman had the admirable talent of making attacks under the shield of modesty. Was this country, then, not in a situation to take a part in preserving the
liberties of Europe? Was she so sunk in distress as to consider herself inadequate to the preservation of that to which she owed her existence, and her rank among the nations of Europe? Did the honourable gentleman mean to hold that language to the world? He wished to know if that was the language meant to be maintained; he wished some person in authority would stand up and say so, because he could then meet it fairly. Would the right honourable the chancellor of the exchequer himself declare, that we were no longer in a situation to hold the balance of power in Europe, and to be looked up to as the protector of its liberties? He should be glad to come at that point. As to the assertion, that a poor cottager was not to be talked to in that manner, he must maintain that he was; and notwithstanding the pressure of taxes under which the lower order of people in this country laboured, yet it was a comfort to hear that she was the balancer of power, and the protector of the liberties of Europe. That it was that enabled him to bear his poverty with cheerfulness, and to feel the satisfaction, amidst all his distress, of reflecting on the thought of his being one of the subjects of a free country, whose characteristic it was to balance the power of Europe. Shameful was the neglect which ministers had shewn in the formation of alliances. Till that unhappy period when we were left without an ally, we had always fought successfully. From that, however, he did not mean to contend, that it was better to build our hopes on the strength of our alliances than on the strength of our navy. He was aware of the difficulty which attended negociations of that nature; but he asserted, that ministers were culpable in turning away with impatience from any object which they might have attained, had they pursued it with persevering firmness. – Mr. Fox severely answered that part of Mr. Wilberforce's speech, in which he charged him with having said, that he had a peace with America in his pocket. The matter it alluded to, passed five years ago, and the honourable gentleman now brought it forward under a gross' misrepresentation. He had never used the words, but had said there were those in Great Britain empowered to treat for peace. And the fact had turned out exactly as he had stated it. With respect to the negociation with the Dutch, if there were any blame to be affixed to that measure, he was willing to take his share of it, though it had been done with the unanimous consent of his majesty's council. That it had failed he did not pretend to deny, and its failure, he verily believed, was owing to the influence of France. On that subject, however, he would say no more, as he could not see the connection between it and the French treaty, though the
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honourable gentleman seemed to consider it as a strong argument in his favour.
After several members had delivered their sentiments,
Mr. Fox rose again and observed, that the circumstance which was very natural to happen, had arisen from the right honourable the chancellor of the exchequer having so properly declined to make any speech; and the debate had proceeded solely on the general merits of the treaty, without a single word'having been said to the particular question before the committee. He would therefore bring forward an amendment which would go to the question immediately, and that was, to add, as part of the resolution, “ that it was the opipion of the committee that the duties on the importation of Portugal wines should at the same time be lowered one third." This, Mr. Fox observed, would be an effectual means of preserving the Methuen treaty in full force, so far as it related to our part of the obligation, and would enable government more advantageously to negotiate the pending treaty with Portugal. The proposition was so self-evident, that he saw not any ground on which it was objectionable; but he was prepared to debate it either then, or, as it was so late an hour, the next day, if the right honourable gentleman and the committee thought proper. He added, that as the committee had not regularly before them any information that a treaty was pending, or what state it was in, it the more became them to convince Portugal, and all Europe, that their wish was to continue the Methuen treaty,
This motion was negatived without discussion, by 91 to 76. The original resolution was then put and carried. - Mr. Fox reprobated the conduct of ministers, and stated that the committee would be disgraced by such rash and ill-advised precipitancy and by such indecent hurry; he declared he would be no sharer in the shame that must result from a conduct so obnoxious to public censure; he therefore rose and left the House, followed by the whole opposition.
This day Mr. Fox made another effort to induce the House to take some step for securing the continuance of the Methuen treaty, and averting the danger, to which he contended it was exposed by the resolution they had come to the preceding evening. On the order of the day being read, for the House to resolve itself into a committee to take into further consideration the treaty of navigation and commerce with France,
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Mr. Fox rose and observed, that he was now resolved to submit to the consideration of the House the question which, on the preceding evening, he had been prevented from introducing, in a manner much more extraordinary than any interruption which, during the eighteen years of his having enjoyed a seat in parliament, he recollected to have experienced. If he might take the liberty of pressing his own opinion upon the House, he should unequivocally declare, that with this particularly important question their reputation and their dignity were closely interwoven. The question was at the same time so intimately connected with that part of the treaty with France then under deliberation, that it was impossible to pass it by, and not come to its consi. deration, without manifesting a disregard to Portugal little short of a direct affront. He had been much blamed, in the debate of the preceding day, and described as a person peculiarly fond of talking of alliances with foreign courts, of treaties, and of negociations. That he was addicted to fall into that vein of debate, unless when it was necessarily and unavoidably connected with his subject, he was not himself aware, nor did he believe that this was really the fact; but how subjects, in which negociations, treaties and alliances with foreign courts were involved, and with which those matters were inseparably connected, could be properly, or rather could be at all discussed, without a reference to those topics, he was at a loss to conjecture, unless that House was to take the advice given by an honourable gentleman, and no longer consider themselves as politicians. That advice not happening to suit with his notion of the duty of a member of parliament, he, for one, must be excused if he continued to think, that it became him, and every gentleman entitled to a seat within those walls, to consider himself as a politician, and to direct his opinions accordingly. He had thought it necessary to premise thus much, because he was afraid that he must again that day incur the censure which had been cast on him the day before, and make mention of those topics once more, which it had been said he was too much inclined to talk upon.
After an exordium to this purport, Mr. Fox said, the subject to which he meant to draw the attention of the House was the reserve made in the seventh article of the treaty of navigation and commerce with France in favour of our connection with Portugal under the Methuen treaty. The committee had the preceding evening come to a resolution to lower the duties on the wines of France on importation into this country; it appeared to him, then, to be highly and indispensably necessary, that the second part of that resolution
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should be a resolution to lower the wines of Portugal to that reduction at which they were intended to stand, provided the Methuen treaty was to continue, and things to go on as they had done from the time of concluding that treaty in the year 1703.
Mr. Fox directed all his arguments to prove the indispensable necessity that he had stated, and to convince the House, that if they did not come to the resolution then, they indicated a negligence respecting the continuance of the connection of the two kingdoms under the Methuen treaty, and an indifference to the commercial benefit thence derived reciprocally to both countries. He professed himself aware that it had been contended that the Methuen treaty bound Portugal only, and that it was optional in Great Britain to take the wines of Portugal or not. This he knew others. contradicted, and maintained that we were bound to take the wines of Portugal on low duties, as much as Portugal was bound to admit our woollen cloths. But in whichever point of view it was considered, the advantages of the Methuen treaty had been so great, that we should act in the most unwise and impolitic manner, if we did not take every step on our part. to convince Portugal that we were desirous of continuing the connection. He had never been fond of that mode of arguing which deemed exports a gain and imports a loss; but admitting for the moment and for the sake of argument, that this was the true way of judging, in the case of Portugal the argument so managed was strong in favour of our adhering to the Methuen treaty. Our imports from Portugal consisted of brazil, cotton, of oil, of dyeing drugs, of salt to salt our fish with, and of other articles without which we could not possibly contrive to go on as a commercial country; if, therefore, imports were a loss, they were a loss in this particular, that we could not possibly do without sustaining. If our connection with Portugal was put a stop to, we must go and purchase our loss at another market; for the articles of our imports from Portugal, as he had before stated, were what we must at any rate procure. On the other hand, our export trade to Portugal, was a most valuable one. It amounted to near a million annually, and was otherwise precious to us, because the commodities now exported to Portugal were saleable in no other market. The Portuguese, he understood, took from us the whole produce of a woollen manufacture in Yorkshire. He knew not the name of the cloths, but it was an undeniable fact, that the consumption of Portugal was equal to the whole produce of the manufactory in question, and that the woollens were saleable no where else. This, then, alone was
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