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BRITISH And FOREIGN
For the Year 1798.
Great Britain. State of Public Affairs previous to the Meeting.qf Parliament. Succession of the Whig Members. Observations on that Circumstance. His Majesty's Speech. Debate on the Address—In the'Hottse of Lords—In the House of Commons. Debates on the Negotiation at Lisle—In the House of Lords—In the House of Commons.
FROM the commencement of the French Revolution, every succeeding year has been replete with new and extraordinary incidents; the circle of civil anarchy has gradually extended; state after state has been swallowed up in the vortex; and a general ruin has seemed to impend over the face of Europe. The British empire, of all the adjacent states, had alone enjoyed domestic tranquillity, till the year 1793 brought the calamity within our own borders ; and where French arms could not conquer, French principles had almost been victorious. Though less interesting, perhaps, to the rest of Europe, the annals of the present year are certainly important to Englishmen, •nd, when detailed by the pen of Budour, we trust they will be band not wanting in instruction.
Our last volume closed with an not, which every friend to hu
manity must deeply regret, the abrupt termination of the negotiation at Lisle. Between that time1 and the meeting of the British parliament a very short period intervencd, in which not a circumstance occurred which is deserving the notice of the historian. On the opening of the session on the 2d of Nov. 1797, the friends of liberty could not fail to regret that the benches of opposition appeared almost completely deserted. The memorable secession, which had taken place towards the conclusion of the preceding session, was still religiously observed by the most distinguished leaders of the whig party; and even the ministers themselves regretted, that the nation was deprived at this momentous crisis of that assistance which their brilliant talents' might have afforded to their country.
In answer to the charge of a de
reliction reliction of their duty, it has been urged, with plausibility at least, that the violent state of party politics rendered such a measure indispensable on the part of opposition. "In times when every man who censured the" measures of administration -vas regarded-asin league with the enemy, for what end, it was argued, should we incur so black a censure? If we declare our sentiments, we are proclaimed as the enemies of our king; if we tacitly acquiesce in the measures of the minister, we voluntarily take upon us a share of the responsibility.. We have done our utmost to prevent the war; we have urged repeatedly the necessity of bringing it to a speedy termination; we have not persuaded our opponents—events must now take their natural course —we cannot aid with counsel, it shall not be said that we embarrass by opposition."
The first topic all'jcled to in the speech from the throne, was that which naturally engaged the attention of every man interested in the welfare of his country. "His majesty expressed his sincere cpneern that his endeavours to restore peace had been rendered ineffectual. The public declaration, and the papers laid before them, had fully proved that every step had been taken on his part to accelerate its conclusion; and the long delay and final rupture of the negotiation were, he added, to be ascribed solely to the evasive conduct, inordinate ambition, and, above all, to the inveterate aniinonity of the enemy against' these kingdoms.
"His majesty professed to have the fullest reliance (under Providence) on the magnanimity and courage of a free people, sensible that they were contending for their best interests, and determined to iecder themselves worthy of the
blessings they were struggling t« preserve.
"Compelled as we were by necessity to persevere in the war, till a pacific spirit prevailed on the part of the enemy, we had the satisfaction of knowing that we possessed means and resources proportioned to the objects which were at stake; that during the period of hostilities, and under the pressure of accumulated burthens, our revenues had continued highly productive, our national industry had been extended, and our commerce had surpassed its customary limits.
"The public spirit had been eminently displayed: the troops of every description had acquired the admiration of their country; and the successes of the navy had been crowned by the decisive victory of admiral lord Duncan.
"The state of the war, joined to the happy consequences of our recent success, would admit of some diminution of expence, consistent with the vigorous efforts which our situation required. In considering the best mode of defraying that expence which would still be unavoidable, it was necessary to bear in mind, that the present crisis demanded the most spirited exertions, and the value of temporary sacrifices could be only estimated by comparing it with the importance of supporting public credit, and. convincing the enemy that we were able to continue the contest as long as it might be needful for maintaining the safety, honour, and independence of these kingdoms."
In the house of lords, the earl of Glasgow moved the address: in examining his majesty's speech, and the declaration which had preceded it, be said it was most clearly apparent, that our sovereign had been actuated all along by principles of justice aud moderation.
Thossj Those documents pointed out the malignant and insidious conduct of the enemy throughout the whole of the war; this conduct it was, on their part, which left it no longer in the power of his majesty to indulge his beneficent inclinations towards peace; and in pursuit of this object he had gone as far as was compati* We With the safety of his people, and the dignity of his crown. Much as that event was to be desired, his lordship hoped that there was yet spirit enough in the country not to accept it at the price of the honour of the British empire. Hii majesty had himself proposed a treaty lor peace to the enemy; and after it was abruptly terminated, he had taken the first opportunity of renewing it, and with the most earnest solicitude for that event, directed his minister to continue at Lisle as long as possible, namely, till a positive order from the directory obliged him to return.
From this review, it was obvious, that the prolongation of the war was to be attributed solely to the ambition of France. What, in '.ruth, was the avowed state of the "egociation so lately terminated? Trie enemy bad required a restitutwn of all the conquests our valour bad achieved, and this, not as the price of peace, but negotiation. Such, with their pretended candour, were the terms they had the hardihood to propose; so that we, who had every thing to give und nothing to receive, must resign all as a preliminary to treaty 1 By •his procedure we wete called upon to surrender our national dignity: and if these were the conditions of peace, he was persuaded that the kst resources ol the country would be cheerfully brought forth, rather than submit to compromise our safety, independence, and honour.
Bat what was the situation of the contending parties when this arrogant pretension on the part of the enemy was advanced? Was it in a moment of humiliation, defeat, and disgrace? No; it was in the full career of our conquest that they had dared to bring forward their insolent demands: their fleet was perfectly annihilated, which, his lordship said, left no doubt upon his mind, that they must see the iropotencs of all their schemes in any way to injure this country. The late splendid victory of lord Duncan snowed what our navy could accomplish; and whilst we could command such heroic efforts of valour, we should, under divine Providence, determine to rely upon them: we had prowess, and we had resources; our commerce was extensive, our finances were unimpaired ; and, generally speaking, our military operatianshad been successful. A nation thus circumstanced had no ground for despondency: he therefore was decidedly of opinion that the conduct of ministers was politic and proper, and such as eventually would best conduce to an honourable peace. He concluded with moving an addTess to be presented to his majesty, returning thanks for his most gracious speech.
Lord Gwydir said, that the powers of language had been so often employed to describe the complicated nature of this war, that words had lost their effect by repetition; but the magnitude and importance of the object remaining the same, he thought it necessary to declare the principles which bad governed his public conduct. He had sup* ported ihe war from its commencement, b;pause he had esteemed it a just and necessary war: every event, every circumstance had confirmed his opinion; and from this A 3 conviction conviction he called upon their lordships to support the address.
Three times had his majesty's ministers gone to the utmost verge that prudence or honour would admit, in the hope of ending this unexampled contest by negotiation: the result was well known ; and be was at a loss to imagine a reason for our embassador having been received, unless it was to afford the jacobin party in France an opportunity of adding insult to injury. It had been stated from high authority, that a point of honour was almost the only rational cause of war: a dispute for trade, or territorial possession, might be easily compromised, or given up ; but the honour of a country gone, its importance must fall with it, and it would soon become the derision of mankind. Had the object of the war been changed? Certainly not: the means of carrying it on had varied, but the preservation of Great Britain had from its commencement been , the one grand pursuit.
The aim of France was universal dominion, and whether they pursued it by war or treaty, the object had been never varied.
With professions of justice, good faith, humanity, they had thought no actions too atrocious to be committed; and indulging their imaginations in ideal victory over this country, they already considered it as a conquered enemy, and would listen to no terms but such as they should dictate. The laws which they had made applied only 'to themselves; occasional possession created of itself indeleasible right; but when this doctrine came under discussion with their adversaries, it was exactly reversed as applied to them, and they instantly demanded a previous unconditional restitution of every thing that had been taken either from themselves or their pre
tended allies. Had these haughty terms been acceded to, our dishonour would have been sealed, but peace would have been yet more distant. No negotiator could hare proposed such conditions but with a view of forcing a continuance of the war. So much for the justice of their theory and practice.
His lordship said it would be waste of time to comment on their good faith, either in the treaties they had dictated and broken, or the alliances they had formed and abused; but it would be well if Europe would t;>ke warning, from these treaties and alliances, of what they might expect.
Far different had been the conduct of this country : the state of the fiuds, the pecuniary difficulties under which we had exerted and maintained our public credit, must have convinced our allies of the efforis we made to supply their wants: we had more than Sultillcd every engagement, and in the negotiation we proposed, their interests had been combined with our own.
Perhaps it was wise to learn by negotiation the extent of the insolent demands of the faction in France ; perhaps it was necessary to prove to this country that peace was impossible, in order to rouse that vigorous exertion which it* interest and honour required. The ministers had gone to every length which prudence and dignity permitted—if not farther; and after the reception of such advances, the nation would be degraded in the eyes of the world, if it hesitated one moment in resenting the insult, and accepting the challenge.
Farl Fitzwilliam rose, and with much warmth concurred in the same opinion; but there were some words in the address, he said, to which he could not agree, because, he said, he conceived that they tended to weaken the principle upoo which the house mijrht wish to come forward with their support of his majesty. Every expression implying approbation of the steps which had been taken to restore peace should be omitted; nor would he ever lend his sanction to the carrying on a negotiation with a power so anomalous, so dangerous to the safety of Europe, as the Trench republic.
His. lordship much lamented that his majesty had been advised to make a declaration two sessions ago, affirming that France was then in a state to maintain the relations of peace and amity; whereas between that government and ours there subsisted no common principles; and only the restoration of monarchy could render it capable of existence with safety to the other powers of Europe. He believed this declaration had contributed to the continuance of the war, had weakened energy, had engendered distrust amongst the allies, and that its consequence had been the treaty of U in*.
He wished particularly to call the attention of the house to the object of the French government: it was the lust of universal empire; it had debased their old establishment; it distinguished their new. It was unnecessary, he said, to tiace its revolutionary progress in all their conquests, intrigues, and negociations; but all were strongly and inconteitibly marked with this characteristic feature. He begged their lordships to recollect the professions of liberty and equality with which the Dutch and all their dependencies had been air.used and deceived; their conduct to Avi. gnou (ar.d Avignon had never been their enemy); neither d;d Geneva *-■•- i.i tbat situation; the neutra
lity of Venice, and the complaisance of Genoa towards the French i>«vernment, did not protect them from the rage of jacobin proselytism. Their treatment of . the J aiitirt states also, and their conduct to America, demonstrated their aim. Friendly as well as neutral powers had been deprived of their rights by Buonaparte, on no other pretence than the convenience or advantage of the republic. Disorganisation in all its extent had uniformly succeeded tvery establishment they had been able to overthrow. An incompatibility of coalescing with any power whatever was their own incommunicable prerogative; it was for the privilege of regenerating the constitutions of other nations, and proselyting other states, that they ttirew away all their old forms, burst upon every people in their vicinity, and convulsed them with their enthusiasm: and wherever they penetrated by art or arms, t1 e revolutionary mania followed them.
Never had such swarms of banditti issued (continued his lordship) as bad issued from the cultivated empire of France, and overspread the surrounding kingdoms with madness and with guilt! And was this the nation with which England was ready to make engagements? The character of its. rulers evinced what we might expect from their warmest professions. These were formed upon the spirit of the people, and had presented within these two months a dreadful picture of the cant of liberty, and the horor of despotism. Was not their late proscription of 65 deputies, and tiieir disfranchisement of 33 departments, for whose representation they had arbitrarily and openly sent creatures of their own to the council of £ve hundred, an instance of this? In fact, the councils were A > riot