HC Deb 23 November 1803 vol 1 cc34-8
The Hon. Cropley Asbley

brought up the report of the address proposed to be carried by the house to the foot of the throne, in return for His Majesty's most gracious speech delivered yesterday to both houses of parliament. The address was read a first time, and on the motion that this address be now read a second time,

Mr. Windham

rose and addressed the chain as follows:

Sir; I offer myself to day to your notice, not with a view of retracting in any degree the assent which I gave yesterday in a former stage of this address, but simply for the purpose of marking more distinctly the grounds of that assent, and obviating a misconstruction which might be liable to arise upon it. I wished the question to pass unanimously yesterday, for the same reasons which make me wish it to pass unanimously to day; namely, that nothing may seem to call in question the unanimity or our determination to give to his Majesty unbounded support, and to maintain the cause of the country through every possible trial, and to the last extremity. I should be sorry that any thing should appear on the face of our debates, which, in the mind even of the most rude observer, could create a doubt upon that subject. But while we are guarding against an error of this sort, let us take care not to incur one of an opposite tendency; that, namely, which would suppose, that unanimity in support of the country was unanimity in support of the ministers. There maybe some possibly, who think, as there are many, undoubtedly, who wish to have it thought, that the greater the dangers and difficulties of the country are, by whatever causes brought on, the greater must our acquiesence be in the ministry of the time being, and the more complete our forbearance of all that is usually called opposition. And if by opposition is meant a captious and vexatious opposition, an opposition on things of doubtful nature or inferior consequence, an opposition for the purpose of impeding ministers and making the government difficult to them, the opinion is certainly well founded. What it would be hard to justify at any time, must be wholly unjustifiable in circumstances such as those supposed. But if there are persons, who think that of the danger here alleged as a reason for supporting ministers, the ministers themselves form the principal part; that the preparations of the enemy, however menacing, would have little terror, if met with wisdom and ability; that the seat of the evil is here rather than abroad; that it is the weakness of the defence, and not the vigour of the attack that constitutes the danger; that Buonaparte and his legions, however terrific, are not half so terrific as the little band which we see before us on the Treasury Bench; if there are persons who hold these opinions, to such persons it would be idle to say, that, for fear of exposing the weakness or lessening the authority of ministers, they were to stand quiet spectators of what was passing, and were neither to attempt to prevent the mischief, nor point out the source from which they conceived it to proceed. Such is the situation in which I feel myself stand. I have no wish, and in one view certainly have no right, to speak with slight or disparagement of the abilities of the hon. gentlemen. Individually considered, they are all men of cultivated minds, of liberal education, of good natural endowments, not unread in the history of their country, not unpractised in its business, not unprovided with those talents and acquirements which are necessary for the conducting of business in this House. But if I am to speak of them collectively, as men forming the council which is to guide the affairs of a great empire, which is to rule the world in a crisis like the present, I must say, from whatever causes it arises, that they are weakness itself. I really believe the country will perish in their hands. I believe the hon. gentlemen will fairly see us out; that we shall not outlive their administration; that they will prove, as I believe, I once before took the liberty of remarking to them, the Angustuli in whose hands the empire will fall. There is an old joke which we may remember, of Cicero's, who when some person had ceased to be Consul on the same day on which he had been made, observed, that the person in question might tell of a prodigy which few of his predecessors could boast, for, that the sun had never set during his consulate. I wish that something equally prodigious may not be found in the history of the hon. gentlemen, and that it may not be to be said of them hereafter, that their administration lasted as long as the country.—It is now just two yean and a few weeks since I felt myself compelled to say to them in this place, and upon something of a similar oc- casion, namely, the first day of the meeting of Parliament, "that they had signed the death warrant of their country." * The affairs of the country have been in their hands, without interruption, from that day to this. And can we venture to say, that the gloomy forebodings then expressed have made no progress towards their accomplishment, or that the hon. gentlemen do not bid fairer to put the fuddling stroke to the work which they were then supposed to have begun? With these impressions, it is childish to talk of forbearing opposition, in cases where opposition would otherwise be proper, for fear of impeding the exertions of the hon. gentlemen, or exciting a belief that the country was not safe in their hands. Were I to forbear any opportunities of so doing, I am sure it must be from motives far different from those of regard for the safety of the country.—With respect to the address itself, notwithstanding the care which has been taken, and properly taken, to avoid any occasion of difference, objections to it would not be wanting, were this the moment for insisting upon ihem.—In point of taste, I could have wished, that less even had been said, than has been, of the conquests in the West Indies, and the impression thereby made on the enemy. Wretched, indeed, must be our view of things, if, at a moment like the present, we can amuse ourselves with such objects, and not see, that to the contempt in which the enemy holds them compared with the immense projects which, he is meditating, we owe, in great measure, the facility with which they have fallen into our hands.—Upon the subject of Ireland, I agree entirely in the remarks made yesterday by an honourable gentleman (Mr. Fox), that the hope expressed is too sanguine, either for the nature of the thing, or for any confidence to be reposed in the testimony, on which we receive it. I agree with him also, in the fears which I understood him to express,—fears very far from being allayed by what we have heard subsequently,—that the views entertained respecting Ireland, and seeming in some degree to * The following is the passage to which Mr. Windham alludes.—"Sir, I speak in perfect plainness and sincerity, from the bottom of my heart, and with the solennito of a death-bed declaration a situation much ressembling that in which we all stand), when I declare, that my honourable friends, who, in a moment of rashness and weakness, have fatally put their hands to this treaty, have signed the death warrant to their country They have given it a blow, under which it may languish for a few years, but from which I do not conceive how it is possible for it ever to recover," See Political Register, Vol 2, p. 1093. be indicated in the speech, were far from being of a sort which promised tranquillity or safety to that kingdom. But the part perhaps of the address most objectionable, is that concluding paragraph, which speaks of the issue of the present contest. The language there held has too much tendency to countenance a notion, than which nothing can be more false and foolish, that by the issue of the present contest is to be under stood only the issue of the invasion; which once past and decided in our favour, all be yond is to be security and glory. We know how readily the minds of men out of doors, will run into such a notion, and we may suspect even some of a higher description within these walls; but nothing could be more disgraceful or fatal than that such a notion should appear for a moment to be recognized by the house at large. This is all that I wish to say upon the subject of the present address, either generally or in detail.—One word more only, upon a matter of a different sort, and which I am tempted to introduce to day, principally because it is the first occasion that offers, and because no man can say, in our present circumstances, whether the first occasion may not be the last, nor how soon we may be called away, as was observed by an honourable gentleman yesterday, to the performance of duties more active at least, if not more important, than those which we have to discharge in this house—It will equally with the other subjects which I have touched upon, lead to no debate, nor require from the honourable gentlemen opposite to me, even an answer.—I am come, in common with many other gentlemen, from a residence of some time in my own country: and upon the result of that residence, what I have to declare is, that should any great stroke be struck in the county of Norfolk, of the sort that has been pointed out to the honourable gentlemen, and for want of those precautions, which have likewise been pointed out to them; I shall, certainly, think, that there will be grounds of serious criminal charge against the honourable gent. and should the case not be such as, by the very magnitude of the evil, to put an end to all proceedings, to sweep away both accuser and accusation,

'To take at once the poet and the song,'

I shall probably feel it my duty to stand forward as the bringer of that charge.—More than this upon the present occasion need not be said, nor could, perhaps, be said with propriety. I had prepared, before I left Norfolk, a representation upon the subject, and proposed it to a meeting of gentlemen assembled for other county business, wishing to have transmitted it to government with the advantage of their signatures: but, for reasons, which they, of course, thought satisfactory, which were not explained, as in fact no discussion was invited, and which I shall not presume to guess at, they declined to join in the representation. It was my duty to afford them the opportunity; as I conceive it to have been my duty now to mention the subject in the way that I have done.—The honourable gentlemen will not consider me as bringing a charge against them, at least not one of which it is necessary for them to take notice, as it must rest for the present solely on the authority of the individual who brings it, unsupported by any proof. As a menace even, the honourable gentlemen will be entitled to hold it cheap, if they are confident that no blame can be imputed to them, but that every thing has been done, that can or ought to be done. It is as a menace, however, that I intend it; as the only means which I now possess of compelling attention to objects, which, in my apprehension at least, require to be attended to. This is all that I have to say upon this point. Upon the general topick, I trust I have sufficiently explained myself, and shall therefore no longer detain the house from voting the present address, with that unanimity, which, under the explanation now given, I shall be happy to see it received.

The address was then read a second time, agreed to, and ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the whole house; and those members who were of His Majesty's most honourable privy council were ordered humbly to know His Majesty's pleasure when he would be graciously pleased to receive the same.