HC Deb 01 July 1811 vol 20 cc777-82
Mr. Whitbread

observed, that as the House was unoccupied at that moment, he hoped he might be indulged with saying a few words, which it was otherwise his intention to have offered to their notice on the question of adjournment. His object in rising was to give the right hon. gent. opposite, or any other of his Majesty's ministers, an opportunity of making an avowal, similar to that which he understood had been made in another place by marquis Wellesley, on a subject intimately involving the character of the British government, and the welfare and safety of every individual of the royal family. The House would be aware that he alluded to the horrible doctrines which had recently been promulgated by a part of the press respecting Assassination. That had been preached up as a duty under certain circumstances, which no circumstances could justify. Were the writers to whom he alluded aware that they led to the perpetration of crime on the innocent and meritorious, by the arguments in which they recommended the perpetration of crime, on one—certainly not innocent—certainly not meritorious—but of whom they were not to set themselves up as the judges and the punishers. When these persons held out the examples of antiquity for the perpetration of such crimes, or such deeds, as be presumed they would call them—when they described the individuals of former ages, by whom those examples had been afforded, as the benefactors of man kind, and as having ever since been so estimated, he supposed it would be in vain for him to suggest to them the great change which had taken place in moral duly by the Christian system of religion. It would be in vain, he presumed, for him to point out to their consideration, that by the mild doctrines of that religion an eye was no longer demanded for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. To the persons to whom he alluded, such an appeal would, in all probability, be fruitless. But he would call on the advocates of assassination to show a single instance in which the crime had been successful, or had been followed by the advantages anticipated by the short sighted perpetrators of it. After the assassination of Cæsar had the liberties of Rome been better secured than before? Had the knife of the assassin been always pointed at the proper object? Had it not frequently been directed against the breast of the innocent and meritorious? Against the breast of Henry 4, and Louis 15, of France; of the great Prince of Orange: and twice in our own days, of the existing monarch of this country? Had not the king of Sweden been assassinated? Had not the emperors Peter and Paul of Russia been assassinated? And was it, then, prudent to preach up the doctrine that any individual was com- petent to judge who ought to be assassinated and who ought not? Before those persons told the Spaniard that he had a right to assassinate the emperor of France because he invaded Spain, let them recollect how recently Great Britain had attacked an unoffending nation, with whom she was not at war. If their doctrine were wholesome, let them reflect on the right which a Zealander (inflamed by that which he should ever term a most atrocious violence) would possess to arm himself on their principles with the poniard of vengeance. Let them reflect on the progress of our English empire in the East. Let them remember the march of British armies over the guiltless countries of Asia, for the purpose of deposing their unoffending sovereigns. Surely those sovereigns had in their courts individuals personally and warmly attached to them; and were the doctrines to which he had alluded established, the hand of a subject of the nabob of Oude or Tippoo Sultaun might, with justice, be lifted in secret against those to whom his unfortunate sovereign owed his misfortunes! There was something, however, beyond this consideration of the subject. The papers in which these doctrines had been asserted were published in this country in the French language, for the purpose of being circulated on the continent, and supposed to be so circulated under the auspices of the British government, for that which they imagined to be a wise political object. These papers accordingly went forth to the world, as sanctioned by this government. With that feeling they would be read by the person whom they declared it would be not only justifiable, but meritorious, to murder. Let it be recollected, that this person had pre-conceived the opinion that the British government were the instigators of the plot for his destruction, by means of the infernal machine. Let it be recollected, that he had told the people of France that the British government had landed assassins on the French coast for the purpose of secretly destroying him. What a confirmation would such statements on his part receive from the circulation of such doctrines as those recently promulgated? What must be the necessary consequence, but that if this person conceived that the hand of the British government was thus raised against his person, that he would avail himself of "very opportunity of retaliation? The very individuals who published these papers declared, that a person of the name of Haukwitzer had already been sent from France, for the express purpose of attempting the life of the sovereign of Great Britain. At the very moment that they became the advocates of assassination, they expressed their belief that Buonaparté had in his pay a band, ripe for any deed of blood. Were they aware of the vital danger to which they thus exposed the persons of their sovereign and his family? For himself, having seen the doctrines to: which he had alluded maintained in those publications which were generally considered as having the support of administration, and having on the other hand seen the manly disavowal of those doctrines by a noble marquis, in another place, he had felt it his duty not to allow the House of Commons to separate without giving the right hon. gent. opposite an opportunity of making a similar declaration; and with respect to the individual who was the immediate object of these abominable doc trines, was it to be believed that Providence, who, for inscrutable purposes, had raised up that extraordinary man, had led him in safety through dangers of every description, who had preserved him in the field of battle, and who had shielded him from the knife of the assassin—was it to be believed that Providence would allow its object to be frustrated by the puny efforts of such short sighted beings, whose projects would be as fruitless as they were criminal? He trusted that he should hear a distinct disavowal of doctrines, in which was involved the safety of every crowned head in Europe.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

declered, that if the hon. gent, thought it necessary for any one of his Majesty's ministers, by a disavowal of the publications which had been described, to clear himself from the implication of the criminality attached to them, he was very glad that an opportunity had been afforded him for making such a disavowal; but he did trust that the hon. gent. had shewn more than necessary anxiety on the subject. He had no hesitation instating that he could not conceive the existence of any circumstances which would justify the promulgation of sentiments, such as had been described. He perfectly agreed with the hon. gent., that putting out of the question the divine prohibition of murder, those who were disposed to have recourse to such means of hostility, would find them injurious rather than beneficial to their cause. Were such a system established, it would involve the world in calamities greater than any by which it had yet been afflicted. He also perfectly agreed with the hon. gent., that when Providence distinctly assumed the direction of great events, for ultimate purposes unknown and incomprehensible, no short-sighted human effort could retard their progress; but this sentiment ought to be well guarded, and ought not to be permitted in its operation to prevent our resistance to immediate evil. Even if it were declared by Omniscience, that the plans of Buonaparté would be and must be finally executed, yet if they could not be carried into execution without a violation of rights which ought to be defended, it was our duty to make an effort to defend them, however hopeless. Nothing could be more dangerous than to misapply the truth, that all events were under the direction of Providence. It was in the defence of liberty against oppression, that human virtue was most eminently displayed; and those who perished in such a sacred cause, perished gloriously, and not without reward. Irresistible as the course of Buonaparté had hitherto appeared to be, if we indeed thought that Providence superintended human events, we must be convinced that in that course he would yet be checked. This country might be chosen as the instrument of arresting his mighty progress—of deducing good out of the evil which had hitherto existed. What was there, he would ask, in the march of Buonaparté, which ought to induce us to suppose that his ultimate success was irresistibly decreed by Providence? Let this country look to its own exertions, and say whether the success of those exertions had not been as extraordinary as the success of the exertions of the enemy. If it were declared that a superintending Providence had given to France the dominion of the land, it roust also be declared that the same superintending Providence had given to Great Britain the dominion of the sea. The future presented cheerful as well as grave subjects for contemplation. Whatever might be the result, however, it became us, under every variety of circumstances, to choose the noble path of duty and honour. With regard to the particular subject mentioned by the hon. gent., he had no hesitation in repeating, that he disavowed most heartily, and from the bottom of his soul, any doctrines which led to practices so unchristian-like and so foreign to a wise and manly policy.

Mr. Whitbread

thanked the right hon. gentleman for his frank and honourable disavowal. He would not quarrel with him because he had added to that disavowal incitements to national exertion. He trusted that no expression of his would be construed into the declaration that he was a fatalist, or that he thought it impossible to resist the power of France. Ha must be a fool, indeed, to entertain such an opinion at a moment when the power of France was resisted more effectually than at any former period of the present awful contest. Whatever he might think of the ultimate fate of the nations of Europe—whatever opinion he might entertain of the intentions of providence with respect to that extraordinary being who had hitherto possessed such a powerful influence over that fate, he was not the less convinced of the duty of resistance to his designs—of the duty of defending our liberties, even should extermination be the consequence. But it was not for an individual to step forward, and with a criminal hand attempt to accelerate the result. Such attempts were ever destructive of their object. He welt remembered the rejoicings that were occasioned in this country by the news of the assassination of the emperor Paul. It was then said that Russia would turn against France. She did so turn. A most absurd coalition took place between Great Britain and Russia—and what followed? that Russia was completely subjugated, and that the successor of the assassinated Paul became one of the firmest friends of France.