Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

state secrets, and parliamentary confidence, have always been held forth as a shield for the measures of the servants of the crown; fortunately for the people, however, their constituents have not been always inclined to pay that attention to them, which to superficial observers they may seem to claim. As to the state paper to which the right honourable gentleman referred, and which he said was published at Hamburgh, and was industriously circulated in this country, I have not seen it, and therefore am not qualified to reason upon it. But allowing the sentiments of the directory on the subject of peace, to be as wild, fanciful, and extravagant as it is possible for them to be, that is no reason why these sentiments ought to deter us from offering terms of peace. The time in which we live, is a time in which government must pay some attention to the opinion of the people whom they are appointed to govern. Were a disposition for peace, on the part of the government, discovered to the people of England, it would diffuse general happiness over the kingdom; and if it was made known to France, I am convinced that her cona cessions would be as ample as we could wish. As to the popular opinion in this country, it has for some time been evidently against the war; and I say it to the crcdit of ministers, that they have sacrificed something to the constitution of the country, in permitting the opinion of the people respecting the war, to have some weight in regulating their conduct. If the demands of France are exorbitant, let us meet them with reasonable overtures on our part, and moderation will have a greater effect than the most strenuous resistance, in relaxing their exertions. I know reason has too little to do in the government of the world, and that justice and moderation must often yield to power and lawless might. This has been unhappily exemplified in the fate of Poland. Still, however, it is no light matter in national as well as private concerns to have reason on our side. I know I have been sometimes thought absurd, when I argued, that honour was the only just cause of war; but I still believe, and there has been nothing in late events to contradict the opinion, that reason and justice in any cause are the most powerful allies. If this be the case, let us manifest to France, to Europe, and to the world, a spirit of moderation; and let us this night address his majesty to commence a negociation with the republic of France. I say the republic of France; for there is more in names than one would sometimes be apt to imagine. Ministers have talked of “the French rulers,” of “persons exercising the government of France," &c. It they are serious in their intentions of making peace, they must hold a language more explicit. . They have sent an am

VOL. VI.

I

bassador (Lord Macartney) to the court of Louis XVIII. Do they imagine, after such an insult to the present government of France, that a negociation can be entered upon without a previous and direct acknowledgement? That government has been recognised in various acts, both by us and our allies; in the exchange of prisoners, the release of the princess royal, &c. There is no injury, therefore, but on the contrary much advantage to be derived from a more full and explicit recognition. At the peace of Utrecht, the negotiation and conferences at Gurtruydenberg were injured by Louis XIV. employing an ambassador in the interest of the pretender : wby, then, the Count D'Artois should now be so much countenanced by government as ambassador from an unfortunate prince, I am at a loss to conceive. Is it not highly necessary, then, to make an explicit declaration, that we are really desirous of a suitable and honourable peace. Let us, however, come to the point. Ministers say, all this is very good, if you let us do it; but if the House of Commons suggest it, it is very wrong. Do they think, however, that there is a cabinet in Europe, or even that there is a man who reads a newspaper, who believes, if the motion of my honourable friend were to be carried this evening, that it was forced upon administration ?

administration ? Nay, would he not rather think (if in decency I may be allowed to say so), that minisa ters had made the House of Commons adopt the motion ? Allowing the right honourable gentleman all the confidence which he can desire, as much even as his right honourable friend beside him (Mr. Dundas) reposes in him, nothing could tend more to evince the confidence of the House in administration, than the motion that has been made this evening. Even if it be the etiquette of the minister, that all declarations of this nature shall originate in the crown, (an etiquette which I do not understand,) I would not put a declaration of the crown in comparison, in point of authenticity, with that which the present motion, if carried, would convey. Let him recollect that every moment of delay is a moment of danger, and therefore let him not procrastinate in making the declaration. He may, perhaps, have intended the speech of this evening to serve the purpose of a declaration : but he cannot but know the wide and immeasurable difference between a speech which may or may not go abroad in an accurate manner, and a resolution inserted in the votes of the House of Commons.

I shall not say one word on the relative situation of Gr at Britain. I am not one of those who are inclined to think despondingly of the situation of the country. But if any thing could make me despair, it would be that species of rea

soning, which, after telling me of the increased national debt, the load of taxes, and the consequent misery entailed upon the people, desires me to look to the ruined finances of France for comfort, which are quickly hurrying that power to the precipice of destruction. So that, in proportion as the enemy retreats from the common abyss which would swallow up both, we are encouraged to be under no apprehension for our own safety. I will allow, that the French may be in greater distress than the people of this country are at this time ; but to me it appears to be very poor comfort to the afflicted to hear, that their enemies will fall a little before them. Even supposing France to come and bow at our feet, supposing that Louis XVIII. were to be proclaimed rightful heir of the crown, and supposing that she were tamcly to surrender all the conquests she has made, it would be no recompence for the loss that we have already sustained. According to the statement of the right honourable gentleman, the territorial rental of the kingdom does not exceed twentyfive millions annually. The taxes, if they turn out as productive as they have been estimated, will amount to twentyone millions, which with the poor rates, will make a sum equal to the whole landed rental. Now, though I am not one of those, who with a late petitioner, (Sir Francis Blake,) think that land pays all the taxes, I think the weight of them lies upon the land, which cannot exist very easily under a burden of twenty shillings in the pound. "I am told that things are worse in France; but, will any man be bold enough not to wish for peace, because the finances of France may be in a state still more deranged than ours ? Rather than continue the war for another campaign, independent of the moral reasons against its prolongation, I would not unquestionably give up our honour, our

dignity, or our liberty, which, till I die, I trust I shall never fail to assert; but I would give up all questions of etiquette and accommodation, and in fact every thing short of what most nearly concerns our character. Let it not be understood that I wish for a dishonourable peace, or peace on any other terms than those which are suitable to the interests, and consistent with the dignity of the country; but I am sanguine enough to think, that even now this country may have fair and honourable terms of peace. The governors of France dare not refuse any reasonable terms which we may offer; if they do, others will then be appointed in their place, who will dare to accept

of them. When peace shall be proposed, however, I hope and trust that it will not be proposed on the dividing system, and that this country will never give its sanction to any such transaction as the infamous partition of Poland. Dearly as I love

peace, exclaimed Mr. Fox, and anxiously as I wish for it, that such a peace may never prevail, I most heartily pray. I hope, when peace shall arrive, that the interests of humanity as well as of kings, and that of every particular state will be consulted, and that tranquillity will be re-established on the broad basis of justice, in answer to the prayers

of mankind, who are now fatigued with war, slaughter, and devastation.

Yeas {Mr. Whitbread

}s

The House divided on Mr. Grey's motion :
Tellers.

Tellers.

Mr. Steele
50.-
-Noes

Mr. Adams

[ocr errors]

}189.

ABOLITION OF THE Slave Trade.

February 18.

THI
THIS day Mr. Wilberforce moved, “That leave be given to

bring in a bill for the abolition of the slave trade, at a time to be limited;" and then proposed that the said motion be referred to the consideration of a committee of the whole House.. The motion was supported with much eloquence and ardour by Mr. Fox, Mr. Pitt, Mr. W. Smith, Mr. Courtenay; and opposed by General Tarleton, who moved the other orders of the day, Mr. Jenkinson, Sir William Young, and Mr. Secretary Dundas.

Mr. Fox said :-The sentiment of opposition, Sir, to this trade is one, which if it has once got possession of the breast of an honest man, it is impossible that any mode of debating or of resisting it should add to the impression which must already be made on his mind. But if it were possible that any mode of resistance to the question of abolition could have the effect of inspiring me with a greater degree of earnestness than I already feel on the subject, it would be that which has been attempted by the right honourable gentleman who spoke last (Mr. Dundas). I confess, that I am not a little indignant at the mode in which he has treated the subject. The honour of the House, the honour of the legislature, and a regard to the principles of the constitution, make me feel warm upon the occasion. As for the general subject, it has been already so repeatedly discussed, that it cannot be necessary for me again to bring it before the view of the House. It has been this night so ably handled by the right honourable the chancellor of the exchequer, whose opinion with this House is

[merged small][ocr errors]

likely to have more weight than mine, that I will not venture to take from the impression of any thing he has said. I must, however, take notice of one assertion of the honourable baronet, (Sir William Young) that there were many matters cleared up with respect to the characters of the planters. The honourable baronet will give me leave to say, that it is not to those who live among slaves, that I would naturally look for examples of humanity. To the charges which have been brought of the cruel treatment of slaves, I grant there may be many honourable exceptions. But when I am desired to look for examples of the most exalted humanity and benevolence, to those men who framed the barbarous laws of Jamaica; when I am referred, as a model of mildness and mercy, to the conduct of the men concerned in carrying those laws into execution, I must hesitate a little. What, Sir, must be my feelings, when I read of laws by which men are condemned to be exposed in cages to the burning influence of the sun; and when I learn that such laws have actually been carried into effect! From the perusal of such facts I must necessarily recoil, though, upon the whole, I am not apt to believe that the planters are distinguished by any particular inhumanity in the exercise of a power, with which, I contend, no man ought to be entrusted.

I must remind gentlemen, that at present the question is not emancipation, but abolition. How far the argument of my honourable friend (Mr. Serjeant Adair) might go to the point of emancipation it cannot be now necessary to discuss. The question is, Whether we will suffer a horrible injustice to be carried on under the sanction of our laws? The question is not one that interferes with the local jurisdiction of the colonies; it is, whether we shall exert a right, which undoubtedly we possess, to determine with respect to the continuance of a trade, which depends on ourselves? The confusion in this instance has arisen from the idea, that if the abolition takes place, it must necessarily be followed by the emancipation. I hope and trust that it will; but this point I leave for the decision of the proper legislature, with whose province I have no wish to interfere. But we are told, that we ought not to join with the negroes against their masters. Undoubtedly it would to us be matter of greater satisfaction, if we could in this business obtain the concurrence of all the planters. But how does this argument agree with the other statement of the right honourable gentleman, that by agreeing to the abolition we shall afford an argument to Victor Hugues, who will be enabled to say, “ The French convention liberates slaves, the British parliament takes no care of them; it abolishes, indeed, the traffic in slaves, but leaves

« ZurückWeiter »