Abbildungen der Seite

intentions, and to the sound policy of the gentlemen on his side of the House.

The chancellor of the exchequer had thought to involve them in a difficulty, by insinuating that his honourable friend had argued against the address. But this Mr. Fox positively denied, for he had not opposed the address, but thinking it inadequate fully to express the sentiments which the House ought to feel on the occasion, he had proposed an amendment more definite in its object, and more comprehensive in its provisions. He could not, however, but protest against a mode of arguing, by which a person was not allowed to approve of an address if he ventured to express his disapprobation of the measures by which the situation was produced in which the address was moved. If it should be said, that it was an opposition to the address, because they proposed an amendment, he must protest against such reasoning, which tended to deprive him of the freedom of speech. If he must agree to a proposition only in the terms in which it was put, he was deprived of deliberation, and was no longer permitted to be a free reasoner. But this would not, he supposed, be seriously disputed ; and it would not be ascribed to him, that he was an enemy to peace because he agreed to an amendment to a message which was extremely equivocal. An enemy to peace! The whole tenor of his reasoning from the commencement of the war was, that every moment was favourable to a negociation for peace. Had he any objections to that peace being concluded by the honourable gentleman ? None; for he should think it an addition to the blessings of peace, if the country could along with it procure the advantage of bringing his majesty's ministers into disgrace; and he should conceive that they were completely disgraced by the retractation of every assertion they had made, and by the surrender of every object which they had held out as the pretext of war. If this should be said to be an invidious mode of speaking, he had no objection to plead guilty to the charge, for he most assuredly did think, that next to the blessings of peace would be the disgrace of ministers, who had entered upon the war without reason and rejected every opportunity of concluding a peace upon terms infinitely more favourable for the country than any that they were now likely to obtain. It might, however, be their consoling idea, that if they had rejected peace upon better terms than they were now likely to obtain, still they had brought the country to such a pitch of calamity, and so clamorous were the people, that peace upon any terms would be received from them as a boon and an atonement for all their transgressions. Such might be their feeling. But, if it were possible to believe that the members of that House could so

far surrender their pride, their independence, and their spirit, as to justify such a sentiment, he could only say, that they surrendered their public principles to personal motives, but that such conduct was inconsistent with their duty as representatives of the people, and incompatible with their character as men of honour. No; though they should give peace to the country, he would not agree to forget their demerits. He should still think himself bound to accuse them as the authors of all the calamities that we had suffered, and he should not think it was a sufficient atonement for their conduct, that they had prevailed on a majority of that House to support them in the system.

He now came to consider the question of the amendment. And first, it was necessary to inquire whether the address wanted explanation; and secondly, whether it was not necessary, in addition to the declaration which it contained, to come to some precise expression of the sense of the House as to the necessity and wisdom of negociation, whatever might be the form of the government of France. The right honourable gentleman had said, that they should be left open to negotiate, but not be obliged to it. Upon this he would inquire, whether there did exist at this moment a form of government in France, that in the opinion of his majesty's ministers made it wise, fit, and practicable for them to treat ? This was the question. Was it not the intention of gentlemen, that with such a government they should treat? Last year, when his honourable friend made a motion for pacification, the right honourable gentleman objected to it as being a practical declaration for treating, and he moved an amendment, which he called a conditional declaration, that we were disposed to treat, whenever there was a form of government in France capable of maintaining the accustomed relations of peace and amity with other countries. That time was come. His majesty's message expressly declared that they were now come to such a form of government. Nay, a more precise term was used than in the amendment of last year, for, instead of other courtries, the message expressly stated Great Britain. Then, if they were come to this state, why not declare, said Mr. Fox, that you will treat with them? Why not act upon your own declaration? Why not be steady to the principle which you have pronounced, and declare that you will treat? Since that declaration was made in the month of June last, there was not a statesman in Europe, except his majesty's ministers, who did not believe that France was in a state capable of maintaining the relations of peace and amity with other countries. Their conduct to neutral powers had demonstrated the fact. Prussia had acted upon the demon

stration, and had concluded a peace accordingly. It was evident to all the world, then, except to the king's ministers; and if they had been sincere in the declaration that they made in the month of June last, it would have been manifest to them also, and they would have acted upon it. With this glaring fact before their eyes, would the House again leave it in their power to juggle with words, and to evade their own declarations? Would they not now think it necessary in prudence to bind them down to a specific act upon their own words? If they did not, what possible confidence could they have in the present declaration more than in the past? They might say, it was true that at the time of making such decla ration there appeared to be a disposition in France to treat; but now circumstances have changed, and there is not the same disposition. They might affect to see circumstances unknown or totally disregarded by the rest of Europe, and might say that they were not bound by the present declaration, and that the House had come to no opinion which made it necessary for them to treat; such had been the result of their former conduct. The right honourable gentleman had persuaded the House to leave them to the exercise of their own discretion, and they had neglected the time which other statesmen and other cabinets had wisely seized and happily improved. If the House desired, therefore, that the blessings of peace should be restored to the country, they must take care that the present address should be precise and definitive. If it was not clear and intelligible, it was fit that it should be amended, and the experience of last year ought to convince them that no loop-hole should be left, no latitude given, to that disposition to equivocate which they had so much reason to lament.

Speaking of France, the right honourable gentleman said, that the present was a fit government with which to treat ; and he had accused his honourable friend (Mr. Grey) of having made a slip of the tongue, when he said that by a singular state of things they might be said to be attacking the French constitution which ministers were defending. It was no slip of the tongue; nor was there any thing wrong in the reasoning. His honourable friend never otherwise had defended the former constitutions of France as being good governments for the people of that country, but good in relation to others. He and every gentleman around him had contended, not that the constitutions of France were well framed for the happiness of the people of that country, but that they were sufficient for all the purposes of good neighbourhood, and of preserving peace and amnity with others. They never attempted to defend the government of Robespierre. The right honourable

gentleman would not do him the injustice to impute to him an approbation of that detestable monster. He had always said, that every one of the successive governments of France had shewn a disposition and capacity to maintain their treaties with foreign nations. He was of the same opinion still; and if any one man should rise in his place, and assert that he saw good reason to believe that the present government of France was more capable than any of its predecessors to maintain those relations, he must only say that he should very much doubt either his sincerity or his judgment. It had been a darling expression to call the state of France for three years past a state of anarchy. It would have been a more correct description to have called it a state of tyranny, intolerable beyond that of any, perhaps, that ever was experienced in the history of man. To say that he rejoiced in the probability of its termination was, he hoped, unnecessary. He certainly rejoiced in it as much as he did in the fall of the tyranny of the House of Bourbon. But, was that tyranny capable of maintaining terms with foreign powers? Most certainly it was. And if this assertion should be denied, he called upon gentlemen to produce a single instance in which they had departed from the strict performance of their engagements; a single instance in which any one of the adverse parties that tore one another to pieces, and in their despicable and horrid conflicts tore also the bosom of their country, ever violated the engagements they had made out of France. Did not the Brissotine party maintain the treaties of their predecessors? Did not the execrable tyrant Robespierre himself, observe with equal fidelity the treaties made by Brissot ? Were not his successors uniformly steady in their adherence to the external system which had been adopted ? It had been observed with truth, that no one period in the French revolution had been marked by a more sacred regard to the neutrality of foreign powers, than the reign of that execrable tyrant Robespierre; and it would not be denied, but that treaties had been made with tyrants as execrable; and considering what sort of treaties ministers had made, with whom they had made them, and what acts of base and abandoned tyranny they had not discountenanced, it was not worthy the manly character of the British nation to abet them in their resistance to a treaty with France.

Having thus shewn, in his mind, the futility of all objections to treat on account of the insecurity of treaty, Mr. Fox came to their next argument, that now France was in the greatest possible distress. Granted. Was that a reason for treating now? Was it because this very stable government was on the point of annihilation, that it was capable of maintaining the

relations with foreign powers? The absurdity was too gross for argument.

But, if their distress was a reason for treating with them, had they not experienced this distress a twelvemonth ago? Let the House remember the speeches of the right honourable gentleman and his noble friend (Lord Mornington) on the state of their assignats, when they said that their depreciation was at the rate of 80 per cent. Aye, but they had not then come to sufficient distress to be solicitous of peace, and now it seems they were come to this disposition. And what was of more consequence, it seemed that they had now a constitution which was quite fit for all the purposes of negociation. If ministers depended upon this slender thread, our security was slight indeed. He was not about to praise or to censure their new constitution; that he owned could be properly estimated only by experience. But whether it was good, bad, or indifferent, did not signify a farthing to the present argument. Whether it was calculated to give happiness to the people of France, was none of their concern; it was not with the constitution but with the government of France that they had to do. That government they had before, and had, he would venture to say, in as perfect a shape as they had now. Nay, if he could trust to an assertion that had been made in that House but very lately, had more perfectly, since it was said, that some of their generals had violated the treaty that had been made with Prussia. What was the construction to be put upon this conduct? That this government, the only one under which the slightest violation of

treaty had been known since the Revolution, was also the only one with which it was proper for this country to treat. [It was whispered across the House by ministers, that this violation happened before the establishment of the present government.] Before! said Mr. Fox:- the fact was expressly stated as an argument by the other side of the House, that day se'nnight; that it was totally without foundation he believed; he certainly never had heard it except in that House upon that occasion. But now they were to have perfect confidence in these identical men, because France bad now two houses of legislature instead of one! Their nature was to be changed, their insincerity to be obviated, and every objection to be at an end, because France had now two houses instead of one! There was something so extremely whimsical, and so unworthy of statesmen, in this mode of reasoning, that he would not stop to reply to it. He did not mean to criticise the present French constitution; he certainly thought it better planned than any of the preceding; but he could not look to it with greater confidence than to any of its forerunners.

He came now to speak of the origin of the war, in which



[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »