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BRITISH And FOREIGN
For the Year 1797.
General Reflections on the present State of European Politics. State of Parties in Great Britain. The General Election. The Ministry triumphant. The Meeting of Parliament. His Majesty's Speech. Debate on the Address in the House of Lords. Extraordinary Protest of Earl Fitzvciltiam. Debates on the Address in the House of Commons. Apprehensions of a French Invasion. Measures proposed by the Minister for the Defence of the Country. Debate on these Proposals in the*House of Commons. Debates m the Supplementary Militia Bill in the Commons. Bill for amending the Supplementary Militia Act. Debates in tlie Commons on the Cavalry and Gamekeeper's Bill. Further Debates on the Bill for embodying Gamekeepers. The Measure abandoned. Debates on the Army and Navy Augmentation Bill in the Commons. Progress of those Bills through the House of Lords, SfC. Bill for allowing Catholics to serve rejected by the Lords. Scotch Militia Bill.
THE year 1797 has been distinguished by events the most remarkable perhaps in The annals of modern Europe. That splendid acra, when the whole civilized world appeared to awake from a state of intellectual torpidity, when the chains that superstition had forged and strengthened for ten centuries before were broken by the strong effort of reason and of truth; even that extraordinary period is diminished in its importance on a comparison with the present times. The period of the reformation was however marked by happier characteristics, and happier presages, than
the present revolutionary period. Innovation was then produced by principle; it was sanctioned by piety; it was guarded by morals. In the present state of society, the friends of liberty, of order, and of religion, must discover, with pain, that policy, not principle, seems the groundwork of those changes we have recently witnessed. The French revolution unquestionably originated in the spirit of liberty; but that sacred name was too soon disgraced by the violence and misconduct of factioa. By the unfortunate and impolitic combination against the nascent liberties of A 2 France,
France, the national spirit was excited; and the love of liberty was lost and forgotten in the strong impulse of patriotism. Repeated victory has tinctured the patriotism of France with the less laudable, though not less energetic, passion, ambition; the vanity of a people, naturally 01 habitually ostentatious, has taken the fatal direction of the desire of conquest, and the ardour of domination. To what fatal point, to what awful conclusion, the state of Luropean politics now naturally tend, he must be indeed a bold man ■who will presume to predict. ,
To recapitulate the events which have given birth to these reflections, would be to anticipate the history of the year. Abroad we have seen the enormous increase of the power of France; we have seen Italy conquered, and Germany awed into submission. At home we have witnessed an event which was formerly regarded as one of the most awful and calamitous that could befal us as a nation: the incapacity of the Bank of England to fulfil its engagements. With all this, order and tranquillity have been happily maintained, and the sense and virtue of the British nation have risen superior to the impulse of passion or alarm.
One consequence might indeed have been naturally expected from the disastrous state of the public affairs. A partial change, at least, of ministers, might have been regarded as a necessary consequence of unsuccessful counsels; yet even this political phenomenon has been exhibited, of an administration defeated in almost every project, failing in almost every promise, and mistaken in almost every speculation, and yet p«s-ssing still the confidence of the public. Since the period when a regular op
position was first formed in this country, the party hostile to ministers has perhaps never been weaker than at that of which we are now treating. The state of parties was indeed very fairly put to trial at the general election, which took place in the months of June and July, !70(i. With a few exceptions, where the private character of thf candidate, or the influence of family connexions, weighed against his political sentiments, the tide of success, in the counties and boroughs, ran proudly in favour of the minister and his supporters. In some populous places, where the independent electors were numerous, an appearance of opposition was displayed. In the city of London, Mr. Combe, one of the popular candidates, was elected by a great majority; and, what is still more extraordinary, nearly three thousand liverymen came forward, almost unsolicited, and without the usual inducements of treats and banquets, to the support of alderman Pickett. At Westminster, • Mr. Fox stood at the head of the poll, and nearly three thousand of the electors gave their votes to Mr. Home Tooke, in opposition to the ministerial candidate, admiral sir Allan Gardner. At Leicester, Der- t 'by, and Nottingham, some gentlemen stood forward on the same constitutional principles as Mr. Pickett in London, and obtained respectable support. At Coventry, the opposition candidates were successful; and at Liverpool general Tarleton gained his election against bis brother, whom the ministerial party the're had brought forward to oppose him. From Bristol, Norwich, and some other places, invitations, it is said, were sent to different persons connected with opposition; but the gentlemen to whom these over
lures were made, were deterred by the fear of involving themselves in the ruinous expenses which aie now, to the disgrace and misfortune of the country, the constant concomitants of contested elections.
The new parliament was called together at a season of the year unusually early: viz. the titli of October, I/On. The speech from the throne afforded much satisfaction to the nation, and was welcomed as the harbinger of returning peace. It intimated " that his majesty had omitted no endeavours for setting on foot negotiations to restore peace to Europe; in consequence of which, a way was now opened to an immediate negotiation, which must produce an honourable peace for us and our allies, or prove to what cause alone the prolongation of the war was to be ascribed.
"That his majesty would send a person to Paris, with full powers to treat for this object; but it was evident, that nothing could so much contribute to give it effect as the parliament manifesting both the determination and the resources to oppose the enemy; especially as there was an open design .professed of attempting a descent upon these kingdoms.
"That by the skill and exertions of the navy, our commerce had been protected almost beyond example: the fleets of the ene,my had been blocked up in their own ports; the operations in the East and West Indies had been productive of great national advantages; and though the fortune of war on the continent bad been more various, such a turn bad been given to our affairs by the spirit of the Austrian forces under the archduke Charles, as might inspire confidence that the end of the campaign would prove as disastrous
to the enemy as its commencement had been auspicious."
After his majesty's speech had been read in the house of lords, lord Bat hurst rose to move the address. He had no doubt but that the house would be unanimous in agreeing to return their thanks for the gracious communication just delivered. He adverted to the important contest in which \< e were engaged; to the measure which had been determined on, of sending a person to I'aiis with full powers to treat for peace, and the necessity there would be (in case this negotiation should fail in its effect from the haughty demeanour or extravagant terms which might be demanded by the French directory) to unite as one man, and repel every hostile attempt in as brave and gallant a manner as we had formerly done. His lordship next went into an eulogium on the skill and courage of our naval commanders; he touched upon the war on the continent, and extolled the magnanimity of our ally the emperor; spoke of the flourishing state of the manufactures, revenues, and commerce of this country, and concluded with a panegyric on his majesty for his assurances of its being the wish nearest his heart to secure the prosperity of this country, by an honourable peace, and to maintain inviolate the privileges and liberties of his people.
The earl of Upper Ossory, in rising to second the address, observed that one part of the speech alluded to. the projected descent of the enemy upon our coasts, and thathis majesty had treated si ch f design with the contempt it deserved; though some precautions'would be necessary to prevent, or tuin it to the confusion of the enemy. He hoped that this peace, if we could obtain it, would comprehend the honour and security of our allies, and applauded that prince to whom, under the direction of his gallant brother, we were indebted for a series of military exploits, which in themselves were likely to expedite the negotiation.
Earl Fitzwilliam addressed the house in rather an eccentric harangue. Their lordships, he said, would recollect that he had been an advocate for the war at its commencement, from an opinion of its necessity; and he was now the more confirmed iu it, from the experience of a long train of events. When the war began, it was asked whether it would be prudent to draw the sword, not only in the defence of an ally, but for the preservation of the civil happiness of Europe: it was generally admitted not only to be prudent, but indispensable; the designs of the enemy tended to the destruction of every established government, und the total subversion of order in society; nor had those designs been abandoned. He had trusted, that he should not have heard a word of negotiation like that which had been mentioned, and was surprised to find such expressions used as were common at the end of an ordinary war. When he found the address re-echoed to the crown vague expressions concerning negotiation, without the least attention to the grand principle on which the war commenced, he was constrained to declare he should stand in opposition to it.
To restore order; to defend the states of Europe against the dangers which threatened them; to protect persons and property from a fatal devastation, and suppress the tendency of innovating and pernicious doctrines, were the ostensible objects ef fhe war. What then was the
purport of the proposed address? Why, it was neither more nor less than a recommendation to his majesty to acknowledge and approve that system he hsd formerly reprobated and opposed. If there were any wisdom in negotiation now, the same wisdom should have been manifested four years ago, for the same causes existed then, and proved the necessity of war, which exist at the present moment.
Was the system which had rnuaed our attention, and demanded our exertions, now extinct? Their lordships ought to compare the views of France at that period, with the plans they had prosecuted now. The great and powerful governments of Europe were not the first who were attacked by the spirit of aggression; but the inferior and feeble states had felt theiroverbearing influence, and their subversive authority.
Such instances announced their intention, and success was to afford the means of extending thair principles. He instanced Sardinia. No sooner was the king compelled to submit to a peace with France, than it was succeeded by their interference in the internal administration of his government; they insisted on his restoring to their liberty, and to their effects, all the prrsons who had been condemned to imprisonment or penalties for the propagation of anarchial doctrines. At Rome they signalized their triumphs by imposing the same degrading conditions. In Berlin the standard of insurrection wras reared; the national cockade was worn to attract partisans, and propagate the principles of which it was the emblem.
Were their lordships prepared to submit to such indignities, to allow the national cockade to be worn in this country by every man whom
the the French directory might choose to consider as a Frenchman! By irms alone these attempts and these disgraces were to be resisted; and to these evils we expose ourselves if we conclude any peace with the enemies of established government, and of the moral and religious order of society. Whatever confidence might be placed in the loyalty of the people1 at home, what could be said of our distant possessions? Were our colonies sate? Were the West India islands in a situation in which we could rely on their tranquillity? What had been the effect of French principles in their, own settlements? What ravage had they not extended to our own islands of St, Vincent's and Grenada?
The effect of their system was to overthrow all the barriers by which property was protected, and the tendency was realized by the practice. Even in glancing over the proceedings of their legislative bodies, he had found that one of their reporters states, that the sale of the national property (that is, what was the property of individuals) is the pivot of the revolution. Were their lordships prepared to submit to the mandates or the director}'? At their command were they ready to let loose all who had been doomed to punishment for sedition, and attacks upon the constitution of this country? to set at liberty Mr. Yorke? to recalfrom Botany Bay the Jacobins who bad been transported thither? When they had consented to disband our troops and dismantle our fleet, now in the height of its power, did they imagine we should be able to cope with the forces of the directory, wielding the combined strength of the navies of Spain and Holland? If they did not wish to
expose the country to these disasters, they would not concur in giving his majesty an advice which would strike at the interest of the state, and weaken the security of his government.
From an observation of the noble lord who seconded the address, it appeared, that it was not merely for ourselves but for our allies that this negotiation was to be instituted. He doubted how far ministers were authorized to include them in the measures they were about to adopt: if we could gather the sentiments of the emperor from his conduct in circumstances apparently the most desperate, he would not condescend to treat with the enemy of established order and government. There was a subject on which he proposed a question to ministers: Did they mean to recognize France, circumscribed within her ancient boundaries, or the republic of France, bounded by the Rhine and the Alps? For a aeries of years our ancestors had struggled to limit the territories of France, and to maintain the balance of Europe; and it was no trivial consideration whether this aggrandizement was to be acknowledged, and these acquisitions sanctioned. This, however, was a secondary consideration with him; for his prime objection was to treat with France constituted as that government was. But the effects which our commerce would sustain by its aggrandizement were not indifferent; it was no light reflection that Holland was under the controul of the enemy; tbat Leghorn, once so important in war from the supplies which it furnished, and in peace as the great mart of our commodities and manufactures, was now taken from us. All the coasts of Europe were now shut against our commerce. In Italy