HC Deb 04 July 1815 vol 31 cc1105-19
Sir J. Majoribanks

, in pursuance of the notice he had given, rose to propose a Vote of Thanks to the Duke of York for his conduct as Commander-in-chief. He said that he could assure the House he was not actuated by any undue motives of private or party feeling, as he trusted those who knew him would be ready to vouch. He had not even the honour of being known to his Royal Highness; and his sole reason for coming forward on this occasion was his hope, that the House might be induced to express their sense of the high services rendered by his Royal Highness to the country, during the long period in which he had had the chief command of the army. His Royal Highness's conduct both in the dispensation of promotions, and in all the complicated military arrangements which his station had imposed upon him, had evinced an activity and a discrimination which redounded to his honour. The illustrious Chief by whom the recent glorious victory had been obtained, had, on the occasion of his appearance at the bar of that House to acknowledge their congratulations on his return from the Peninsula, observed, that to the bravery of his troops, and to the high state of equipment in which they were maintained by the excellent regulations of his royal highness the Commander-in-chief, he was indebted for the power of achieving those exploits which had acquired for him the approbation of Parliament. The value of those regulations was still more unequivocally evinced on the late memorable occasion. By the ample means afforded them, in addition to their native courage, the British army had been enabled to resist for hours the repeated and impetuous shocks of the enemy. Like the stubborn oak, which, with its roots deeply fixed in the earth, withstood the fiercest blasts of the storm, our gallant troops had borne without dismay the hottest assaults of the French army, until at length the moment arrived when in their turn they became the assailants, and carried destruction into the ranks of the foe. Late as was the period of the session, he trusted that the House would not hesitate to express their approbation of the high and meritorious services rendered to the country by the duke of York; and all that he regretted was, that the motion had not been made by the right hon. gentleman opposite, in the pretty and modest manner in which, he usually brought forward similar propositions—[A laugh]. Let the question, however, originate with whom it might, the nation was under the deepest obligations to his Royal Highness, and he earnestly hoped that Parliament would assist in discharging the debt. Leaving it to their own sense of justice, he would not trouble them any further than by moving,

"That the Thanks of this House be given to Field-marshal his royal highness the Duke of York, Commander-in-chief of his Majesty's forces, for his continued, effectual, and unremitting exertions in the discharge of the duties of his high, situation, during a period of upwards of twenty years, in which the British army has attained a state of discipline and military science hitherto unknown, and which, under Providence, have contributed, in a great degree, to acquire for this empire its present height of military glory among the nations of Europe."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was far from opposing the motion, although he certainly was of opinion, that it would have been brought forward with more propriety at the close of the services in which our army was engaged. In no instance had any proposition of this nature been made at a previous period. At the same time, he was sure that the House would do justice to the motives by which, the hon. baronet was actuated, and to the feelings which he had expressed on the present occasion,—feelings excited by the recollection of the glorious exploits of our brave troops, who, by the active exertions of his royal highness the Commander-in-chief, were put in possession of those means which had been wielded with so much success by them and their illustrious commander. In adverting to this subject, he could not refrain from observing, that it was a peculiar and gratifying fact that the whole extent of the services rendered by the duke of Wellington and the British army was known to us not by the modest recital of his Grace himself, but by the narrative of our Allies and by the confessions of the enemy. Those who compared these various documents would feel, that among the eminent qualities of our great commander, the modest simplicity with which he related his own exploits was by no means the least. It was, however, perfectly true, as had been said by the hon. baronet, that the exertions of our gallant troops could not have been successful, had they not been in a state of unrivalled organization. This was the case with every branch of the service. Whether the House considered the unshaken firmness and intrepidity with which the infantry sustained the shock of the enemy, or the vehemence and force with which the cavalry charged the hostile ranks, they must feel that much was attributable to the military equipment and arrangements, which it had been his Royal Highness's sole object, for many years, to approximate as nearly to perfection as possible. He had not particularised the merits of the artillery—not because he was insensible of their extent and importance, but because that was a branch of service not immediately under the superintendence of the illustrious personage who was the object of the hon. baronet's motion.

General Fergusson

said, he had had an opportunity of witnessing the rapid growth and progress of the army, since it had been placed under the command of his royal highness the duke of York; and he considered it as a duty he owed to the House and the country, to state that it was his firm belief that the advantageous state of the army, under his Royal Highness, was derived in a great measure from him. He was happy in having this opportunity of paying his tribute to the merits of the Commander-in-chief.

Mr. Western

said, it was with considerable reluctance he rose to make any objection to a motion like the present, but he thought he was bound to do so, and it was on constitutional grounds alone that he made his opposition. He trusted the House would do him the justice to believe that he was actuated by no wish to detract from the merits of the illustrious person at the head of the army. So far from this, he was ready to allow, to the fullest extent, the services of the Royal Duke. He was not competent to judge of those services with accuracy himself; but he was ready to take the concurrent testimony of those who were competent judges in their favour, and to abide by that decision. He gave, therefore, the fullest credit to the merits of his Royal Highness; but he could not distinguish the constitutional character of that officer from the personal character and rank of the Royal Duke; and he believed that if the office of Commander-in-chief had been filled by any other person than the Royal Duke, the present motion would not have been entertained by the House. He saw nothing to distinguish the office of Commander-in-chief from that of any-other member of the administration—no difference, for instance, between it and that of Master-general of the Ordnance, the Secretary at War, or Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty. Did it ever enter into the contemplation of Parliament to return their thanks to any of the persons holding these several offices? He would challenge the House to produce a single precedent in point, with the exception of the vote of last session in favour of his Royal Highness. Such a vote as that now demanded would go to create an anomaly in the Constitution. How did the Constitution know of his Royal Highness as Commander-in-chief? How did it know that the Royal Duke would not be removed from his office tomorrow? They could not know him constitutionally. If the House should hereafter wish to vote an address for his removal from office, they might be impeded by this act of their own. At the close of the last war, when the thanks of the House were voted to the navy and army, and when scarcely forty members were present, it was without any previous notice, proposed by the member for Taunton (Mr. Baring), that when the House voted their thanks to the army, the duke of York ought to be included. He certainly considered this as unconstitutional. But if the thanks which were now moved for had been postponed to a similar period, to the close of a war, there would be the less objection to the measure. He considered the time and manner in which this motion had been brought forward, independently of other objections, as extremely unfortunate for the duke of York. It was unfortunate that no notice had been given of such a motion, till after another hon. gentleman had, some evenings ago, introduced into another discussion the character and services of the duke of York. It was more unfortunate still that the present motion should instantly follow the rejection of the grant to the duke of Cumberland, that it should appear to arise out of that rejection, and that it should be brought forward on so short a notice at so late a period of the session. It would appear as if the discussion of the grant to the duke of Cumberland had suggested the present motion. If the House must adopt a measure of this sort, let it be postponed to the termination of the war, and after a full and fair notice. If he should not be convinced by some stronger reasons than any which he had yet heard, he would give his vote against the motion.

Sir J. Majoribanks

assured the House, that his motion was altogether unconnected with the question lately agitated, respecting another Royal duke.

Mr. Wellesley Pole

said, that he should trespass for a short time upon the attention of the House. Agreeing perfectly as he did, with every sentiment that had fallen from his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he should have little more to do than to express that concurrence: he was anxious, however, to bear testimony to the exertions of the illustrious person who was the subject of the present motion, and to endeavour to lay before the House the sense entertained of his services by a noble relation of his now in the command of the army abroad. It was, perhaps, rather unfortunate that the hon. member who had brought forward the motion had selected the present moment for that purpose. It certainly in his judgment would have been better to have postponed it till the great work which the duke of York's exertions had enabled our army so gloriously to commence, had been consummated: that, in his opinion, would have been the proper time for the House to have expressed their sense of the services of the illustrious Duke. He was, however, fully convinced that in bringing forward this motion the hon. mover had been actuated only by the most pure and honourable motives, and by sentiments truly British. The hon. gentleman who had just sat down (the member for Essex,) objected to this motion as being unconstitutional. He conceived it to be unconstitutional for the House of Commons to confer their thanks upon a prince of the blood, although his merit n a great and important office might have rendered the greatest services to the state. He thought that the rank of the duke of York should operate as a kind of bar to prevent the House of Commons from considering and acknowledging his services: and that Parliament could not, and ought not to do for a person so illustrious, that which it could, and would do for any private individual, who had rendered such, eminent services to the country. These objections appeared to him to be utterly groundless. Whether the services were performed by a prince or by an individual of inferior rank, the competence of Parliament to confer the high reward of its thanks could not be questioned. Upon what grounds could such a vote of thanks be considered as unconstitutional? Here was a case of an individual, no matter what his rank, who was appointed to a high and most important office, which office he had, for a great number of years, executed in such a manner as to excite universal admiration; and it was now gravely argued, that Parliament should not thank that individual, because he was a prince of the blood;—this, it seemed, made it unconstitutional: but, according to the hon. gentleman, there was another reason for the vote proposed being unconstitutional. "If the House," said the hon. gentleman, "now thanked the duke of York, they might hereafter find it extremely difficult to censure him should his future conduct merit such a proceeding: they might wish to have him removed, from his office, and this vote would stand in their way;" that is to say, Parliament ought not to reward the distinguished services which an individual might render to the state, because he might, at some future period of his life, do something which, should induce Parliament to wish him removed. If that was a right principle to act upon, why had Parliament thanked and rewarded the duke of Wellington, or any other of those eminent individuals who had distinguished themselves in the public service? Could it be for a moment contended, that because Parliament had thanked that noble duke, that it had thereby given up the power of judging of his future conduct with the same jealousy as they would the conduct of any other public servant? God forbid! The thanks of that House were, indeed, a guarantee for the future good conduct of the individual who received them, because, sensible of their high value, he would be naturally anxious not to forfeit such an honourable distinction; but they were no guarantee to prevent the House from judging, and, if necessary, from censuring the conduct of any public servant, be it the duke of York, be it the duke of Wellington, or any individual, whatever his rank or whatever his services. To contend that the thanks of Parliament would fetter its future proceedings, would indeed be to advance an unconstitutional principle. But there was something extremely inconsistent in the argument of the hon. member upon this head: he first objected to the vote of thanks as unconstitutional, and afterwards expressed his wish that the motion had been put off till the conclusion of the war, or till the next session, when it might at least be discussed with a full attendance: but if it was unconstitutional to vote the thanks of the House to the duke of York now, it would be equally so at the end of the war, or at any other period; the time when the vote was proposed, could have nothing to do with the principle of it. If it were unconstitutional now, it must be equally so at all times: and the hon. gentleman would find it difficult, if he admitted the possibility of the propriety of the vote at any time, to argue its unconstitutionally at present. He had, indeed, listened with astonishment to every part of the hon. gentleman's speech. He was not less surprized at his objecting to the vote as being unconstitutional, than he was at his taking so cold and formal an objection to it, as the want of precedent: the hon. gentleman says, "I can find no precedent for such a vote! The services of the duke of York are undisputed—every man in the House, every man in the country acknowledges them; but before you express your thanks for those services look for a precedent, and if your musty old records do not furnish you with one, let your gratitude be buried in silence, and let the illustrious Duke go without his proudest reward—the Thanks of the House of Commons." One precedent, indeed, the hon. gentleman had at last discovered; but, by a most extraordinary species of reasoning, he had found out that it was not applicable. "It is true," says the hon. gentleman, "that the House of Commons were so deeply impressed with the eminent services of the duke of York, that it passed last year an unanimous vote of thanks to his Royal Highness:" a precedent directly in point, and created by the extraordinary merit of the very individual whose services we are called upon to acknowledge; yet this precedent must not be followed, though it met with the universal approbation of the country.

He trusted the House would excuse him if he expressed himself with some warmth upon this subject, but it was almost impossible to comment with perfect coolness upon such objections as those, which had, upon this occasion, been submitted to the House—[Hear, hear!] His principal object in rising, however, was, not to reply to them, but to state what he knew to be a fact, that the noble Duke at the head of the army abroad could not have won the battle which had filled; every breast with exultation, and which had produced such interesting results, if it had not been for the unremitting, the extraordinary, and the able exertions of the duke of York; indeed that illustrious, personage had long been in the habit of giving up his whole time to his public duties; and upon the late occasion it was by very great assiduity he had been enabled to overcome great and serious difficulties which were to be encountered before he could form such an army as that which had obtained the late signal victory. For twenty years the army had been in a state of constant improvement; and he could assure the House, that the duke of Wellington looked with admiration and astonishment at the great and beneficial alterations which had been effected in the army, by the unremitted exertions of the duke of York; but, above all, by the strict impartiality with which he discharged the duties of his high office. His noble relation was, he knew, above all, astonished, considering the immense extent of the charge which was thrown on the duke of York, that so few grievances existed, and at the promptitude and impartiality with which they were conciliated and redressed whenever they were brought before his Royal Highness; there was no part of his conduct which the duke of Wellington more admired than the impartial administration of his high office, and to nothing did he so much attribute the perfection to which the army had attained. He had recently received a letter from the duke of Wellington, in which, after stating that he had never taken so much pains about a battle, and had never been so near being beaten; he expressed, in the strongest terms, his unbounded admiration at the conduct of the British army—infantry, cavalry, artillery—all performed wonders on that glorious day. Knowing, as he did, all these facts, he could not sit silent and hear such a motion attempted to be got rid of by a mere constitutional quack—[Hear, hear! on the Opposition side.] He wished that every man in the House, and in the country, should hear and know what the grounds were upon which this motion was opposed by the member for Essex. He observed, an hon. gentleman opposite to him (Mr. Bennet), who, from his manner and gesture, seemed to support the objection. He was, he confessed, astonished that any man could be found in that House, after the unexampled services which the army had rendered to their country, and to Europe, to object to a motion of thanks to the illustrious person who had brought it to its high state of perfection—upon what he must continue to call (without meaning any offence to the hon. gentleman) a constitutional quack; but he was still more surprised that any gentleman who had ever belonged to the army, who had ever borne arms in the service of his country, could appear to concur in such a mode of depriving the illustrious Duke of that reward which he had so richly merited, and to which he was certain the whole British army conceived him to be justly entitled—[Hear, hear!] Mr. Pole concluded with giving his decided support to the motion.

Mr. Baring

justified the part which he had taken last session, when the name of the duke of York had been wholly omitted in the proposed vote of thanks to the army. He thought the right hon. gentleman who spoke last would have acted much more wisely in considering coolly the arguments which had been most modestly stated by his hon. friend, who had not uttered a single syllable against the conduct or character of the Commander-in-chief, than in adopting a tone of warmth altogether uncalled for. His hon. friend had merely doubted whether the Commander-in-chief was not more a civil officer of the Government than the commander of the forces properly so called. He himself thought that there was a distinction between the Commander-in-chief and any officer under Government. He concurred with his hon. friend and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in thinking that this was not a time for bringing for- ward a subject like the present; but whenever the vote was proposed, he felt it his duty to concur in it. At the same time, he did not think it very constitutional to call on the House to vote their thanks every six or nine months. He did not, however, see that the motion could with any propriety be withdrawn, as the motives might not generally be understood. He hoped the vote of thanks would be followed up with another motion, or an additional provision to his Royal Highness; and if any proposal of that nature should be made, he should also feel it his duty to give it his support. With respect to the services of the duke of York, most gentlemen were aware that they were of a description to take up a great portion of his time. Hardly any department of government had been more regularly attended to. He had, indeed, been informed that his Royal Highness was at his office more regularly than the chief of any department under Government, and that all the results had been produced by the most unremitted exertions. His Royal Highness had now been a great number of years in his office, without having received any addition to his provision. It stood the same now as it was twenty-five years ago. He suggested the propriety of relieving his income from some of the incumbrances contracted by him from the want of economy natural to youth, and to his high rank. No state of the finances ought ever to induce them to disregard claims which were entitled to their gratitude.

Mr. Wilbraham Bootle

replied to the objections urged to the motion by the hon. member for Essex, and denied that it had originated in an invidious desire to raise the character of one Royal Duke at the expense of that of another. In his mind the present question had no connexion with any former subject of discussion. He could see no reason why the House should be bound by precedent when votes of approbation were necessary. It had been asked, why motions of approbation on the conduct of the Lords of the Admiralty and the Masters-general of the Ordnance were not proposed? To this he would answer, that they had not served for twenty years, as had his Royal Highness the Commander-in-chief of the forces.

Colonel Wood

supported the motion, and, to prove that the Commander-in-chief was particularly entitled to the thanks of the House, begged to remind them what had been the situation of the army when the duke of York was first put at the head of it. At that period a practice had obtained of buying commissions, and of running up persons in the service, who had interest so rapidly, that it was not uncommon for the person named in one Gazette as an ensign, to appear in another, a few days after, as a lieutenant-colonel. In this manner mere boys frequently got placed in the command of regiments. The duke of York put an end to this system; he instituted gradations of service, by which it was necessary that every officer, whatever his connections might be, should go through a certain course of service, before he could be promoted; and this salutary regulation had never, in one solitary instance, been broken in upon. He noticed various improvements, of which the duke of York had been the author, and spoke particularly in praise of the present system of tactics which he had introduced. These, which twenty years ago were unknown in the British service, were so simple, yet so applicable to every purpose of movement, that now British troops meeting from remote parts of the globe, could at once unite and act together. This was seen in the late battle. Our infantry (though it was not a picked army), though exposed to a most murderous fire of artillery, whenever they were approached by cavalry, instantly threw themselves into squares, and uniformly beat off the enemy. The confidence of the duke of Wellington in them was such, that when he saw the French cavalry advance, he instantly threw himself into the centre of that battalion which was nearest to him, and remained there till the charge was over. The English foot then fell back about S00 yards, just out of range of the enemy's muskets. The French infantry, on seeing this, advanced, and then the English deployed, charged with the bayonet, and drove them back. This statement of their movements must prove the present system of tactics the best in the world. The duke of Wellington had said, that the infantry was never for a moment shaken. He hoped the thanks of the House would be unanimously voted to the Commander-in-chief.

Mr. Methuen

admitted the claim of the duke of York to the gratitude of the country, but could not think any increase of his income necessary. He had 18,000l. as his ducal income, 18,000l. more on his marriage, the 1st regiment of Guards, con- sisting of three battalions, and the bishopric of Osnaburgh. He considered his Royal Highness to be amply provided for. If it could be proved otherwise, he should be open to conviction.

Mr. Whitbread

thought the House should not be called on to thank the Commander-in-chief of the forces, any more than the head of any other department, which had equally contributed to the efficiency of the gallant army that achieved the triumph of Waterloo. He was sorry for the tone assumed some by gentlemen, who seemed to regard any hesitation to concur in the motion as little less than an act of ingratitude. He sincerely regretted, that the brother of the duke of Wellington had thought fit to take so high and so loud a tone upon this subject, as if the House would be deficient in its duty if it did not concur in the motion before it; since it was unquestionably a subject that admitted a doubt, even if it could not be said that the proposition was not altogether improper. He agreed in the constitutional doctrines laid down by his hon. friend (Mr. Western); but still he thought that the subject having been brought forward, and the services of the illustrious Duke being generally admitted, it would not be a gracious act to refuse the motion. An. hon. gentleman under the gallery had, on a former occasion, thrown out a hint, that a pecuniary remuneration should be granted to the illustrious Duke. The hon. gentleman evidently could have had no other object in view, because the question before the House, at the time he mentioned the services of the duke of York as worthy of reward, was a grant of money to a member of the Royal family. Before the House agreed, in the present moment, to such a proposition as that, they would do well to give it all the attention which it demanded. However, laying all this aside—laying aside different topics which had been mixed up with the present question—wishing the hon. gentleman had not now brought forward his motion—and thanking his hon. friend for the constitutional view he had taken of the subject—still, looking to the compliments which had been paid to the duke of York—compliments, the result, not of partiality, but of conviction—he conceived the House ought to agree to the resolution. When it was recollected, that, by the excellence of the system which had been matured by the duke of York, a number of troops were enabled to act together, who had never before been employed in a united operation, no person could deny his Royal Highness praise; and, admitting praise to be due, it would be rather extraordinary, when the question came before them, to say that, on account of any collateral circumstances, it ought to be withheld.

Lord Barnard

was of opinion, that no man was more deserving of the thanks of that House, and of the country at large, than the duke of York. The duke of Wellington never could have gained so many glorious victories, but for the skill and discipline of the British army—that skill and discipline had been fostered by the duke of York; and therefore his Royal Highness was worthy of every honour that could be conferred on him by Parliament. The satisfaction given by his Royal Highness to the army was universal.

Mr. Serjeant Best

said, from what he knew of the constitution of the country, he had no hesitation in declaring, that the present motion was perfectly parliamentary. Those who opposed it, on constitutional grounds, were not at all justified in their opposition. Some gentlemen expressed themselves hostile to the motion, for fear it should be drawn into precedent. He should be very happy, if many opportunities occurred, in which such a precedent could be fairly acted on. And if no precedent at present existed, no case, he conceived, could more properly call for the establishment of one, than that which they were now considering. It was observed by an hon. gentleman, that the duke of York was at the head of an inferior department, and that, if thanks were voted to him, the head of every other department might consider himself entitled to the same honour. He looked upon this as a very extraordinary observation, and one that carried no weight whatever with it. He could conceive no reason that should debar the House from voting thanks to the head of any civil department, whose conduct was so beneficial to the public as to demand that mark of approbation. He should certainly vote for the motion, although he was sorry it had not been postponed till the army had attained the great objects (the security of this country, and the liberation of Europe) which it was now occupied in effecting. He wished that the motion had been postponed until an Address of Thanks had been proposed to another illustrious Personage, on whose merits, but for the situation he had the honour of filling, he would expatiate at length—and to whom the country was no less indebted for its glory, than to him whose exertions were the subject of their consideration that night. If the duke of Wellington had conquered, who placed the power to conquer in his hands? The Prince Regent! If the duke of Wellington had triumphed, who called him to the situation in which his great abilities had shone with so much lustre? The Prince Regent! Let the House consider the posture of public affairs when the Prince Regent assumed the reins of government. The duke of Wellington was, at that time, cooped within the lines of Torres Vedras—and the only government then existing in Spain was shut up in Cadiz. It was then a question, whether the country should give up the contest, or continue the struggle to the last. In this conjuncture, the Prince Regent adopted the principles of those who wished us to proceed—instead of following the advice of individuals—(given, no doubt, with the utmost sincerity)—which, if pursued, would have placed the country in a situation very different from that in which it at present stood. The hon. and learned serjeant concluded by observing, that if some person of more weight and experience than he possessed, did not bring forward the question to which he had alluded, he would, at a future period, when this country had conquered peace a second time, submit a motion to the House on the subject.

Mr. Alderman C. Smith

spoke in favour of the motion.

Mr. Addington

thought, that after having expressed the gratitude of the House to our great Commander, nothing could be more just than to extend our national acknowledgments to the Royal Duke, to whom the heroic Wellington himself had stated he owed the means by which he had been able to achieve all his triumphs, and especially his last stupendous victory.

Mr. Forbes

thought that it would be proper for ministers to propose a pecuniary grant to reward the services of the duke of York, as it was not in the power of the nation to confer any additional honours on his Royal Highness. He cordially concurred in the present Vote of Thanks.

Mr. Hart Davis

spoke shortly in favour of the motion.

Sir J. Majoribanks

replied. The question was then put, and carried without a division.