HC Deb 13 June 1809 vol 14 cc1023-8
Lord H. Petty

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for certain Papers relating to the attack on the Chesapeake, in addition to those already on the table. The Instructions given to Mr. Erskine on that subject he thought ought to be produced, as well as the communication he Bust necessarily have made to govern- ment, explaining the motives for his recent conduct; for without them, no judgment could be formed of the degree in which he had violated his Instructions, or, indeed, of the general conduct of the American government. If the right hon. secretary, from information which he might possess, should state to the house, that the Instructions given to that gentleman could not be made public without detriment to the public service, he would not press his motion for the present; but the communication from Mr. Erskine, in which he assigned his motives for making those arrangements with America, which had excited so much attention, he thought of such importance, that it ought to be immediately laid on their table. The noble lord concluded by moving, "That there be laid before the house a copy of the Instructions given to Mr. Erskine on the subject of the Attack on the Chesapeake, as also any communication that his majesty's ministers might be possessed of from Mr. Erskine, explaining his motives for making the late arrangements with America."

Mr. Secretary Canning

thought the reasons he should give for not concurring with the motion would be satisfactory to the noble lord. It had been rumoured abroad that Mr. Erskine had not departed from his Instructions: he thought it was proper to prove to this country, to America and to the world, that such a report was not founded in fact. The fact whether the arrangements he had made, were or were not in conformity to the Instructions he had received, was the point in question. The papers already produced were, he thought, sufficient to substantiate the fact of Mr. Erskine's having gone beyond his Instructions. He had, indeed, the admission of the noble lord, that the arrangement was coucluded without due authority. This was the main point which government, in justification of the measures they were under the necessity of adopting, were anxious to establish. All farther discussion of the subject at this moment, would not only be attended with inconveniences, too obvious to put him under the necessity of repeating them, but might possibly endanger the success of ulterior arrangements. The point necessary to establish was, that the Instructions were not followed, and of that the noble lord seemed convinced. With respect to the conduct of Mr. Erskine, nothing was said of it but what the absolute necessity of the case ex- torted from government. The proceedings of that gentleman were productive of very great embarrassment to his majesty's ministers. On the very day that his last dispatch was dated, the arrangement which he took upon himself to make with the American government was made public in that country; and in the course of a few days after, property to the amount of many millions was probably loaded for this country. The noble lord supposed that some verbal assurances were obtained by Mr. Erskine, to the effect of the stipulations contained in his instructions. That was a point upon which he could not be expected to satisfy the noble lord; but if any such assurances had been obtained, they must have been of so satisfactory a nature, as to induce government to act upon the faith of them pending any ulterior security. They must have been such as to induce ministers to acquiesce in an arrangement contrary to the principles by which it was to be defined. That this was not the case it would not be difficult to infer from the circumstance of government being compelled to disown the arrangement. He hoped the house and the country would believe, that if the three points which Mr. Erskine was instructed to require had been obtained, there existed in his majesty's councils a disposition to permit the neutral to carry into effect by himself the principle of the departure from the Orders in Council, and not to resort to the harsher measure. That the first of these three points was not obtained was evident from the papers on the table. This was in fact the most important; it was the sine qua non of the arrangement, that America should maintain her non-intercourse system against France. The third stipulation was not even touched upon. This, though of considerable importance, was not of that paramount consequence that the first was. Government had the right and the power to prevent neutrals from trading with France, and it was mere matter of courtesy to propose any arrangement to the American government on the subject. Now, let the house see in what a situation the relations between this country and America might be placed in consequence of this arrangement. The Non-Intercourse Act Was to expire on the 20th of May, and, in the arrangement of Mr. Erskine, there was no stipulation for re-enacting it, as against France; so that our Orders in Council might be rescinded at the very moment that the trade between France and the United States might be perfectly open. The better half of the agreement into which Mr. Erskine was authorized to enter into with America was, that she should shut her ports against France, and this could only be done by her reviving the non-intercourse system as against that power. There was another question of a curious sort respecting the Non-Intercourse Act. When this country determined to make atonement for the injury committed against America in the affair of the Chesapeake, it proposed, through the medium of Mr. Rose, that the proclamation for excluding British ships of war from the waters and havens of the United States, should be recalled: this was refused. Any power receiving an injury from another, with whom she is in friendly intercourse, has certainly a right to call for atonement for that injury: but if without waiting to see whether it will be granted or denied, she takes her retaliation into her own hands, her right to atonement from that instant ceases. America, therefore, in resorting to retaliation, sided pro tanto, with France. Upon the change of the executive government in America, it was understood, that there was a disposition in the new government to come to an immediate arrangement on the subject of the Chesapeake. The proposal was therefore renewed. How that proposition was received by the secretary of the American government was evident from the correspondence that was published. How far that gentleman was disposed to re-establish the former relations between the two countries; how far he was inclined to strew the path of reconciliation with flowers, any Englishman who read that gentleman's note might judge. By Mr. Erskine's arrangement, our Orders in Council were to be rescinded (they are so in fact at this moment, for they cannot be put in force as against America for a limited period;) and this great price was to be paid—for what? Why, for six weeks liberty to trade with America. If this agreement had been transmitted to government for its approbation, no disclosure would have been made on the subject. But government was under the necessity of coming to some determination on the subject within 21 hours; and being resolved not to sanction it, it was necessary to make the disclosure contained in the papers on the table, particularly as it was said, that the arrangement was agreeable to the Instructions to Mr. Erskine. But these reasons would not justify any farther disclosure; such disclosure might prejudice existing or future negociations, and embarrass that ulterior arrangement, which he hoped would be terminated satisfactorily. There was another point in Mr. Erskine's Instructions to which he found it necessary to allude. He was instructed to procure an interdict of all commerce, as well between Holland as France; for upon what plea could the former be entitled to any exemption? If she were a dependent power, she must follow the fate of France. If she were an independent power, and still submitted to the dictates of France, she was the more blameable, and was therefore the less an object of indulgence, How these instructions were fulfilled, would appear from the correspondence of Mr. Erskine already before the house. He must have known that Holland was exempted from the operation of the Non-Intercourse Act. But it had been suggested that he might have had private assurances, that Holland would be placed on the same footing as France. What! after it was specifically stated in the formal act, that it was not to extend to Holland! But doubts were entertained as to its being applied to the kingdom of Italy, the iron crown of which sits oh the head of the ruler of France! If any doubt existed that Mr. Erskine had gone the full length of the concessions he was authorized to make, without obtaining the whole three, nay, not even one of the points he was instructed to demand, the person who entertained such doubt had only to read the papers already before the house. If these did not remove it, nothing that he could say or produce would. He felt himself under the necessity of opposing the motion for the reasons he set out with stating. This was not the proper time to enter into the discussion of the policy of the arrangement with America; and as the pending negociation might be prejudiced by further disclosure, he trusted the noble lord would see the impropriety of granting the papers he called for.

Mr. Morris

vindicated the conduct of his relative, Mr. Erkine, and abstained from making that reply to the right hon. gent, which his speech seemed to call for, lest such reply might call forth a discussion tending in the slightest degree to interrupt that system of conciliation now likely to take place between the two countries.

Mr. Marryatt

thought the motion, as far as it concerned the affair of the Chesapeake, totally irrelevant to the present juncture. With respect to the dispatch, he thought if it were produced, that so ought the answer of his majesty's ministers, in order that the house might have sufficient evidence whereon to found its decision.

Mr. A. Baring

entered into a detail of our correspondence and intercourse with America. He thought Mr. Erskine must have obtained some substantial concession to the demands of England, with which we were at present unacquainted, and on which he grounded his treaty.

Mr. Stephen

combated the arguments in favour of the motion. He was of opinion that America, in all her proceedings, had no wish to promote an impartial course with respect to France and this country. It was the business of that house to take care lest France should triumph in these negotiations, and lest England should now sanction decrees which she had before arraigned, and desert measures to which she had at other periods given her support. At all events, in his opinon, discussions in that house could not tend at the present crisis to promote amity between the countries.

Lord H. Petty

declared, that as a partial disclosure had already been made on this subject, all he wanted, both for the sake of public utility and private justice, was, that such disclosure might be made as ample as possible. It had appeared, however, from the speech of the right hon. gent., that a negotiation was now pending, to which such disclosure might prove dangerous. Since this was the case, he was willing foe the present to withdraw his motion, until a disclosure could be made without difficulty on the subject.

The motion was withdrawn.