HC Deb 03 February 1806 vol 6 cc128-40
Mr. Cartwright

stated, that in the motion he had to submit to the house, he should follow the example that was set on the occasion of a former motion, and studiously abstain from any topic that might be likely to produce a difference of opinion; and to insure this the more effectually, he would, as had been done before, adhere to the precedent found upon the journals, in the instance of the late earl of Chatham. He thought, however, that he did not swerve from his purpose, in avowing, that he considered the death of Mr. Pitt a great national loss; and this opinion was certainly supported by the general sense of the people of this kingdom. In making his motion, therefore, he only submitted to the house, what he thought a testimony of the general estimation in which that exalted character was, held. He was free to confess, that if he could bring himself to think, that the vote he undertook to propose, would, in the smallest degree, detract from the fame of that great man, he should never have offered it to their consideration; but seeing, as he did, that a similar vote did not, by any means, diminish the character of lord Chatham, or that his dying in debt had, in the least, sunk him in estimation, he did not conceive, how the same circumstances could have a different effect upon the memory of his son. When the house called to mind, that, for 20 years of Mr. Pitt's life, his attention was wholly occupied in the discharge of public duties, having no other subsistence for the support of his station, but the salaries of his offices; and that, with the exception of the Cinque Ports, he rejected all the emoluments which might have been so frequently within his reach, they must be impressed with a thorough conviction, that his poverty was the best proof that could be given of his virtue. In the investigation of his conduct, which took place in a committee it, as well as the whole house of commons, acquitted him of all blame, and acknowledged, that he came from the enquiry with unsullied hands. This vote, he said, was not meant to operate as a common precedent for discharging the debts of ministers, nor was it brought forward for any common purpose. It was generally, if not universally admitted, that Mr. Pitt was the main instrument of saving the country from that anarchy with which it was at one time threatened. Further still, this great man had done more for the promotion of public credit, and the improvement of the finances, than any other minister recorded in our history. Notwithstanding the difficulties we had to encounter, notwithstanding the calamities that had befallen Europe, he had raised the country to a pitch of prosperity, of which the world did not afford an example. When, therefore, he called upon the house to pass the vote he meant to propose, it would be felt, that he made the claim for a man entitled to this mark of the gratitude of the country ; and notwithstanding the adverse opinions that some political men might entertain, he was sure he asked it for a man possessing in the fullest sense, the esteem and approbation of his country, which would not fail to sanction the vote with its most hearty acclamation and concurrence. With respect to the sum which would be necessary, it was found on the fullest investigation, that 40,000l. would be sufficient to cover the whole of the debts. When that sum was compared with what the nation paid for the late lord Chatham, and when the difference of the times, and the increased value of all articles of consumption were considered, it would be found, that the country was not now called upon to do more, than it did then. He should therefore move, "that an humble Address be presented to his majesty, to represent to his majesty, that this house, having received information that, on the death of the late right hon. William Pitt, he left debts to a considerable amount, for the payment of which his property has been found insufficient, and being desirous to shew every testimony of their esteem and respect for the memory of the said right hon. William Pitt, most humbly beseech his majesty to advance a sum, not exceeding 40,000l. towards the payment of the said debts, and to assure his majesty that this house will make good the same."

Mr. Bootle

rose to second the motion. He seized this as the last opportunity the house would have, of shewing its respect to the illustrious character, which was so much entitled to the gratitude and veneration of the country; and he was sure the house would go with him in paying a just testimony to worth so great, talents so transcendant, and services so extraordinary. The debts which were to be discharged, were contracted while the great man who was no more, was in the public service, and wholly devoted to his official duties; it was therefore the duty of the country to discharge them. The country was the more called upon, as the illustrious person, as soon as he retired from office, adopted a system of retrenchment for the purpose of enabling him to reduce them by the produce of his economy. For this purpose he sold one of his country places, and this system of economy he continued after he returned to office. The hon. gent. said, he would not be the advocate of extravagance. He challenged any man to say, on looking over the list of these debts, that any one of the items could be considered as extravagant. He trusted that as no one ground on which the motion was founded could be denied, and as these grounds were amply sufficient, to warrant the motion, the vote would be unanimous. And he was the more warranted in this hope, as there was no point of political dissension comprehended in the motion. One or two arguments might perhaps be urged against the motion. Some might think it would have been better to have paid these debts by means of a subscription; others might be fearful that this example would afford a precedent for less warrantable claims upon the public. With respect to the first of these objections, the only question was, whether the debts should be discharged by the nation collectively, or by the individuals of whom the nation was. composed, and it would be unjust to deprive the nation of the preference. With respect to the second objection, this was but the second instance of such an application; and he trusted this vote would meet the same unanimous concurrence as that passed on account of the late lord Chatham. It was right that parliament should be jealous in cases like this, but that jealousy should not stand in the way of the just claims of distinguished merit. The debt was, in his opinion, the debt of the country, and the example of paying it would not be near so mischievous as the example of refusing to pay it. The example would not hold good except in cases of similar merit. The greater number of such cases we should have, the better it would be for the country; and on this ground, he trusted that this instance would not be singular. He trusted that no ground or difference of opinion would be found, and that therefore the vote would be unanimous.

Mr. Windham

felt satisfaction in thinking, that it was as easy to concur in this vote, as it was difficult for him to agree to that which was proposed a few nights since. Every thing that related to great talents, long services, and those abilities that were ornaments to the country, demanded and received his approbation. The present motion had his assent, as it fell within the distinction he had already drawn respecting public honours and munificence. It called for no vote of approbation in favour of an individual for the whole of a long and varied course of public measures and public conduct, in contradiction to the opinions held or expressed by any gentleman, on various occasions, in the course of that public career. No man had a right to call on another for any approbation of that nature, and he felt that every man so attempted to be called upon, had an undoubted right to complain. In viewing the character of the deceased, no one could ascribe to him any low attachment to pecuniary gain; his mind was above such considerations; his conceptions had too much grandeur to admit of any thing of that kind. He did not think that any dangerous precedent was set by this measure. If these debts had been contracted by profusion and excess, by dissipation and vain luxuries, they might admit of a question. On the contrary, they were contracted by no lavish expenditure, no useless ostentation. The great character of Mr. Pitt's mind was too sterling to descend to those means of prodigality; and he even neglected what, in these times, was due to the situation he filled. He had an entire superiority to any thing of the nature of affectation. His salary was not enough to provide the indulgencies fit for his station, and the consequence was seen in the incurring of these debts. Insufficiency of salary, want of pecuniary attention, and the necessary impositions to which he was exposed, must have combined to embarrass his affairs. He therefore considered, that, in the part the house were now called upon to act, they were not indulging themselves in an improper sentiment of liberality, nor catching at any transient reputation of magnanimity, nor wasting the public money; nor should he think that the case, even were they to make some provision for those who were most near and dear to the deceased.

Mr. G. Ponsonby,

on a former motion respecting the late chancellor of the exchequer, felt much reluctance in opposing the vote. He felt as much satisfaction in supporting this motion. This was not paying the debt of Mr. Pitt, it was paying the debt of the public. For twenty years Mr. Pitt had been first minister of this country, and that house had supported him in the ministry: but for the same 20 years, it had allowed him too little for his maintenance; and when he was told, that there were 40,000l. to be discharged, he was astonished the amount was so little. If he differed much from the deceased in politics, it was always without rancour. He was always just to his great qualities: now he was particularly so, and at the same time indulgent to his weaknesses.

Lord Folkestone said:

Mr. speaker, I do not very well know on what ground the hon. mover rests his claim to our assent to the motion now before the house. In one part of his speech, he seemed to me to rest upon the ground of public merits. Now, sir, if he does so, on that ground I cannot assent to it, because those public merits I do not acknowlege; and I am glad to take this opportunity of stating explicitly, that I have no share in the merit lately given to gentlemen on this side of the house. The other day, an hon. member for Yorkshire gave great commendation to us, for the candour in acknowledging, as lie said we did, the public services, the great talents, and the disinterestedness of Mr. Pitt. To that commendation I have no share. The public services of Mr. Pitt I deny, His great talents I do not admit. His public disinterestedness I do not admit, his private disinterestedness I certainly do admit. The necessity which has called for the motion now in your hand, sir, proves it: but we did not want that proof. We all know that Mr. Pitt held but one place of emolument, except those which were accompanied with great public labour; and we all know that for many years of his administration he had but that one: and, I dare say, every gentleman recollects the manner in which that was bestowed upon him, equally honourable to the giver as to the receiver, and forming a remarkable and glaring contrast with that in which it has been lately bestowed. On these grounds, therefore, of private worth and private merit, and not at all on the score of public service, do I agree to the motion of the honourable gentleman.

Admiral Hervey, if he had been present on a late occasion, would have concurred in the vote to do honour to the memory of the great man, who claimed the regret and admiration even of those who were politically hostile to him. For himself, he held it his good fortune to have generally agreed with him: but if he necessarily differed with him sometimes, that would not abate Ins sense of his merits; and he hoped they would this night have the unanimous acknowledgment of all, even of those who sometimes differed from him most widely.

Mr. William Smith

did think that he was called on, consistently with the opinion he bad expressed on the former night, not to give an unlimited concurrence to the present motion. It was impossible for him, thinking as he did, and had always done, of the conduct of the right hon. gent. to vote in an unqualified manner in support of the motion. As to the disinterestedness of the right hon. gent. he entirely agreed in that point with the other members who had spoken. How far the country, however, was called on to make up any deficiency in the right hon. gent.'s fortune, must depend on the services he had rendered the country. If the salary was not adequate, an additional burthen must be imposed On the people. This he was averse to do in, times like the present, let who would be in office. Here, however, every thing must be grounded on the opinion of the services performed, and the gentleman who brought forward the motion, even declared that as the express reason of it. If so, how could they call on him, who did not think that the right hon, gent. had done any service to the state, to concur in the address, so diametrically opposite to his own opinion? He was aware that there might be other reasons for pressing the proposed motion, besides the ostensible one. While they seemed, from motives of friendship, to desire that every mark of respect should be paid to the memory of their departed head, was it not apparent that those very gentlemen were indirectly drawing in the hon. member and the house to compliment themselves? He declared that he should never be induced, either rectly or by a side wind, so to libel himself or the persons who had acted with him, as to give an unqualified vote which might seem to warrant this interference. He wished to speak with respect of the deceased, but when he heard him spoken of as having been the saviour of the country from anarchy,—[hear! hear! from Mr. Pitt's friends,]—he regarded the expression as a proof, that in these votes in honour of him, they wished to obtain a substantive sanction of their own conduct, [a cry of no! no! by Mr. Pitt's friends]. He wished gentlemen to reconcile What they said when they at once disclaimed all mixture of politics on this question, and grounded the vote on the very parts of Mr. Pitt's political conduct that were most likely to cause dissension. He believed now as he did then, that the anarchy alluded to was nothing more than a cry raised to bring into disrepute persons for whom he had the highest regard, long since so perfectly justified, that it was unnecessary for him to say one word in their vindication. The clamour was increased to lay grounds for inroads upon the constitution beyond what it had at any other time suffered. These were acts which be could not acknowledge as merits; and if unanimity were wished for in passing the motion, it would have been wise to abstain from touching on such topics. He thought it a degradation to Mr. Pitt's high talents and great mind, to claim credit for him for exemption from acts, that would have debased and degraded him to the level of the lowest and most depraved. Was it to be held out as virtue in him, that he did not condescend to become a peculator? that he did not enrich himself by becoming a plunderer of the public purse ? He believed the right hon. gent. was infinitely above such conduct, and, if he agreed in the vote, it was not for the reasons which had been urged by his friends. He should have thought that he rather degraded the right hon. gent. in taking merit to him from such circumstances. He should have thought the friends of the right hon. gent. would have consulted his honour more in entering into a subscription among themselves to make up the deficiency of his fortune. If their exertions had not been sufficient for the purpose, he declared that he would with pleasure have contributed whatever might have been required from him. If he thought the country at large would agree in thinking this a proper mode of disposing of the public money, he, too, would have agreed in the present vote; as he did not believe that would be the public opinion, he did not think himself entitled to support the motion.

Mr. Rose

disclaimed all idea of ascribing any merit to the late minister for his not descending to the practices of peculation; and the great merit he attributed to his lamented friend was, that he, aided by the worth and private virtue of his sovereign, was an instrument in the hand of Providence to save his country from that anarchy with which it was threatened and surrounded. He felt himself bold to say, that his abstaining from deriving any pecuniary emoluments from the ministerial advantages he possessed, was not his only merit. At the time when some political circumstances induced that great man to retire from office, a great sensation was felt in the city of London, on account of his pecuniary embarrassments; and, at a meeting privately held for that purpose, some gentlemen had come to a resolution to raise, in the space of forty-eight hours, the sum of 100,000l. for his relief. An hon. baronet, who was, probably, then in the house, communicated this resolution to him (Mr. Rose), as a proper person to propose it to his deceased friend, in the manner most likely to reconcile him to it. He did so; and he solemnly declared, in the presence of God, that the answer he received from Mr. Pitt, was:—"no consideration upon earth shall ever induce me to accept it." This was done, too, at a time when his right hon. friend was in circumstances particularly painful. The hon. gent. said it was a fact not generally known, but known to himself and a few friends, that Mr. Pitt had taken a determination to return to the practice of his original profession, and to endeavour, by the industrious application of his talents, to raise a fund to discharge the incumbrances that pressed on him. Another offer of a similar nature was made in 1801, to which he also refused to accede. This surely was disinterestedness of the highest order, for the offer was made on grounds the most honourable to him, and to his great and distinguished public services. He thought it but a justice due from the country that it should pay debts evidently contracted in consequence of the engagements of the man in the business of the country, and from what appeared on the face of them, the result of the official situation his right hon. friend held. He owned that at a meeting of the creditors of his right hon. friend, he had recommended that the money should be raised by a subscription among his friends, rather than that an application should be made to parliament. He believed the money might have been raised by such a subscrption. But it was thought that justice to the memory of his right hon. friend, and to the liberality of the house, and of the country, indispensably required the present mode of proceeding.

Mr. Manning

said, he was very well convinced it would be much more difficult to repress, than set in motion the discharge of the late minister's debts amongst his private friends, who entertained but one opinion as to the value of his public services, and considered him the instrument of Providence in effecting the salvation of his country; but he was, at the same time, satisfied, that the mode now proposed, would be the most acceptable to a great majority of the people of this kingdom. He bore his testimony to the statement made by Mr. Rose, that in 1801, Mr. Pitt resisted the proposition then made for the payment of his debts. He said, that, during the 13 years he sat in that house, he seldom troubled them at all; and never in his life proposed any expenditure of the public money. On the contrary, in a year of great difficulty, he was the first to suggest the plan, which was adopted by the then minister (Mr. Pitt) for raising a sum of money, by voluntary contributions, which, in the result, amounted to 2,000,000 sterling. After this instance, he did not expect to be considered as a squanderer of the public money, if he supported this motion; though he knew, that if this notice had not been given, the sum now demanded would have been raised with great ease and convenience, by the friends of the late minister.

Mr. Cumming

said, that though he never spoke in that house before, he could not now help saying, that he cordially supported the present motion, on the ground of Mr. Pitt having been a great minister, and at excellent statesman.

Mr. Ellison

supported the motion with much earnestness. Mr. Pitt he considered as a character without spot or blemish, There was nothing about him on which malignity could fix. The country and that house had already acknowledged his great and pre-eminent services. Had he pursued any other profession, he might have realized an immense fortune; but he had devoted himself to his country.

The Marquis of Douglas

complained of the arguments used for the motion, as he considered it solely with a view to acting handsomely towards a servant of the public. He acquiesced in it as an act of the public generosity of a great nation to a departed servant; but not on the ground of his being a man without spot or blemish; not on the principle of approbation, but on that of generosity.

Mr. Fox rose and said:—

I certainly did mean to give a silent vote upon this occasion, because I did conceive that if a general unanimity had prevailed, I should have best expressed my opinion, by simply observing, that such a motion had passed nemine contradicente. But, sir, that not being the case, I beg leave to declare to you and the house, that I never gave a vote with more satisfaction in my life than I shall do this night, in support of the motion. I conceive it to be a tribute due to departed worth—the reward of a great and munificent nation to a meritorious servant of the public. I will own, however, that the manner in which the motion was introduced was not calculated, if I had been otherwise disposed than I am, to induce me to give it my assent. I consider this question as perfectly distinct from the vote of Monday last, but I must say a few words with respect to an expression adopted by an hon. gent. on the other side of the house, who, speaking of Mr. Pitt, called him the " saviour of the country." Now, upon that subject, I beg leave to say, that I maintain all my former opinions quite unaltered, as they have constantly been from the moment the country was in the situation in which it appeared in the years 1803 and 1804 I certainly thought it expedient, and for the advantage of the country, that the political debates and animosities of those and former times should, as far as related to persons, be buried in oblivion. I thought it would not be proper for me at that period to take a great and principal share in the administration of the country. I did not conceive it would be behaving in the manner which I have ever felt to be the rule of propriety. I thought, and am convinced, that Mr. Pitt had the same sensations as myself, He certainly did give the most ample testimony of his wish to bury all animosities. From that time, though various warm debates have occurred, I have cautiously abstained from referring to those topics that might excite former differences. I felt that he had given unequivocal testimony of his intention. I confirmed, and we have mutually persevered in our determination. I think, therefore, that the house will do me the justice to say, that if I would not while he lived touch on such subjects, much less would I do so now he is dead. As far as relates to me, neither now nor ever will I touch upon them. But if those who were no parties to our mutual determination think otherwise, and that such topics ought to be discussed, I beg leave to state, that I am not averse from personal motives to enter into them. I conceive it unnecessary to do so for reasons which I think right; I shall religiously abstain from any mention of them. The right hon. gent. himself, when living, did so generally and systematically. I did feel a wish that he should form part of the administration of the country, which I thought it not right at that moment to have any share in; I therefore deemed it improper to refer to his former conduct. If there had been any words in the present motion expressive of any approbation of his measures, it would be impossible that it could be adopted with unanimity; but I give my support to it because it is not liable to any such objection. To speak of Mr. Pitt, that he did not descend to any improper measures with regard to money, would be to dishonour his memory ; but we are to consider other matters in which his conduct was equally unblameable. Mr. Pitt was minister for 20 years, and to the best of my knowledge, except the wardenship of the Cinque Ports, I do not know of any one office connected with him of a personal nature. He had not only the merit of a general disinterestedness, but possessed in every particular that distinguished feature. It is indeed a kind of testimony which, since the accession of the house of Brunswick, I may pay with equal truth to almost every prime minister. I think Mr. Pitt is entitled to that praise, and I think we should bestow it in a manner, that if he could know what was now going on, would not give him pain. The motion has my cordial support.

Mr. Canning

said, he had hoped he should not have been called upon to say any thing in support of the motion. He hoped that in the little he should say, he should not deviate from the candour and moderation so laudably professed on the other side, but used at the same time as a veil to throw over one or two propositions in which he did not agree. Some of the gentlemen on the other side were willing to allow parliament to discharge the debts of his late right hon. friend, as a matter of generosity towards an old public servant. He wished it to be known, how- ever, that the friends of that illustrious person would not be satisfied to receive the vote as an eleemosynary grant to posthumous necessities ; not as the boon of pity or compassion, but as a public debt to a highly meritorious public servant. He was not from the beginning so sanguine as to expect an unanimous vote; he would not purchase unanimity by conceding a tittle of the high and splendid services of his illustrious friend. Referring to the preceding night, he appealed to the house, whether it was not on the other side that the topics of dissension were started? Objections were made on that occasion to the form of the motion. The fault he found with it was, that it was cold and inadequate to the feelings of those who sup, ported it. When the friends of the great man who was the subject of these motions, consented to neutralize the expression of their feelings for the purpose of removing the grounds of opposition to the motion; when they resolved, instead of dipping the pen into the heart, to look into the cold forms of the statute book for a precedent; when they had lowered and diluted every glowing feeling; when they had restrained and chastised their feelings, in order to constitute unanimity, the result had added to the many proofs he had met with in the course of his political life, that nothing was to be gained by compromise. The nice canvassing of particular points began on the other side, and in a quarter, too, which took a great share in all those transactions which were now the subject of criticism and condemnation.—

Mr. C. Wynne

called the right hon. gent. to order ; it being irregular to revert to former debates.

Mr. Canning

said he had no desire to go back farther than to shew, that the agitation of the objects of dissention originated on the other side. It was expected by those who brought forward this motion in such general terms, that it would have been very generally supported. However widely political differences might have ranged, it was hoped that now all those differences would be buried in the grave, and that all political animosities would cease; That it would be said— —"All thy good Now blazes, all thy guilt is in the grave. that brilliant luminary, whether its dawn was clouded or its meridian splendour obscured, had held a course glorious for the country, and worthy to call forth its ad- miration and gratitude.—He protested against the mode in which the hon. gentlemen gave their support to the motion, and wished to restore them the benefit of that consistency, which they laboured so much to reconcile with the support they gave. He gave credit to the hon, gent. who refused his consent, because he did not see the merit. He confessed he did not see the ground on which the hon. gentlemen opposite to him followed a distinct course. If it was given as an eleemosynary grant, without any distinction of merit or demerit, he disdained it. He could not help complaining, that the hon. gent. opposite, while professing to avoid all points of political dissension, had cast a general stigma on the whole system of the present reign, during one half of which his right hon. friend had been at the head of affairs. This was not in the recollection of the hon. gent. when he took credit to himself this night, for not being one of those who introduced such topics. He begged gentlemen again to consider on what ground they agreed to the motion. Those who did not vote for it on the ground of Mr. Pitt's merits, had better oppose it openly. It was only as a tribute to great merits that he would receive it, and if any one supported it on any other ground than as a testimony and a reward of these merits, he wished him to withdraw his support, and preserve his consistency by opposing it.

Mr. Fox

in explanation observed, that there was a considerable difference between commenting upon particular instances of a minister's conduct, and animadverting upon the general system of administration that had been pursued, not only during the late right hon. gent.'s official career, but during the whole of the reign. With respect to what the right hon. gent. had said, as to the grounds upon which he wished the present motion to be supported, he had only to add, that he had distinctly stated the grounds of his own vote in favour of it to be, Mr. Pitt's merits. The motion on the former night had stood on a different footing, and been amply discussed on that occasion. The present question, was totally distinct from that, and ought to be decided upon its own grounds.

Mr. Huddlestone

said a few words in support of the motion. — The question was then put, and carried, nem. con.